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Opinion

What took Ralph Recto so long?

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales - The Philippine Star

It was in September last year when Ralph Recto’s name appeared in a thread among individuals who wield enough influence on the powers-that-be. No, they’re not part of the government but consider them as little presidents, consigliere or kingmakers of sorts. They’re close enough to the halls of power to have enough say on who gets what.

True enough, more than a week after that conversation, the Deputy Speaker from Batangas was seated across President Marcos to discuss his possible appointment. But initially, Recto wasn’t exactly eager to inherit the country’s fragile fiscal health. 

“It’s the weak balance sheet,” says a source close to Recto when I asked why the lawmaker wasn’t too keen on accepting the job. 

Supposedly, during that meeting with Marcos, Recto even suggested to Marcos another name – or perhaps names – who are just as capable of heading the finance portfolio. 

After that initial meeting, Recto eventually accepted the offer to head the Department of Finance to help the country. Yet, no announcement came, not even after Recto joined Marcos to the United States last November. 

The whole time, Republic of Marites was already buzzing with rumors of Recto’s impending appointment and that Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno would cross the bridge back to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) as a member of the powerful Monetary Board.

So what caused the delay? 

Apparently, say my sources, there were several reasons. One is that Marcos wanted the 2024 budget to be passed first. That happened in December.

Another issue was that some bankers did not want Sec. Diokno, an economist, to join the Monetary Board. They wanted a banker and not surprisingly so.

But Diokno prevailed. Friday saw him take his oath as the newest member of the MB.

Diokno’s conundrum

So why the need to name a new Finance chief? 

Our Finance reporter Louise Maureen Simeon, citing her sources, has reported that the move was triggered by Diokno’s initial pronouncements on the rice price cap issue in September last year when he said the economic team was not consulted about it.

Another source cited Diokno’s strong push in the middle of last year to reform the military pension, citing it as a strain to state coffers. This, not surprisingly, drew the ire of affected personnel.

60th birthday

Another reason for the delay is that Recto supposedly agreed to join the Cabinet only after his 60th birthday on Jan. 11. Perhaps he wanted to make sure he would be able to celebrate his special day with his loved ones before plunging into the chaos.

But he has taken his oath now and is ready to serve.

Debt and taxes

The task ahead of him is immensely challenging. He needs to fix the country’s mounting debt and may have to come up with another unpopular measure as drastic as the 2001 VAT increase to 12 percent from 10 percent, which he authored and caused him a Senate seat later on.

Luckily for Recto, he has been a longtime lawmaker and knows the ins and outs of the legislative branch, which means he can push for legislative economic reform measures, a.k.a. new taxes. He also served as NEDA chief during Gloria Arroyo’s time.

I heard that former NEDA undersecretary Rolando Tungpalan, will be helping him. In what capacity, we’ll have to wait and see.

Members of the business community are looking forward to seeing him again in the economic arena. Bankers expect to see him at the upcoming Annual Reception for the banking community hosted by the BSP.

Will his wife, the Star for All Seasons Vilma Santos, accompany him to the annual event? Some Ate Vi fans surely hope so.

Firefly

If you have time today, treat yourself to a spectacle of glowing fireflies. It’s a sight to behold and certainly worth the light.

I’m referring to Firefly, GMA Network’s simple yet brilliant movie written by Angeli Atienza and directed by Zig Dulay starring Alessandra De Rossi and child actor Euwenn Mikaeli.

The movie is part of the 49th Metro Manila Film Festival which has been extended.

Firefly is about the power of stories. As Joan Didion said, we tell ourselves stories in order to live. Firefly is a testament to this. 

It is also an ode to mothers and motherhood. 

What is a mother, really, aside from being our very first landlord, who provided our barely alive, barely human selves our very first home, her womb?

A mother is a complex human who, despite having none, musters the power to protect her children from everything. She is, as Gang Capati said, that metaphorical roof above our head that protects us from earth’s elements so much so that when she is gone, that roof is blown away and there is nothing between us and the falling sky anymore. 

You will feel the cold, damp night or get rained on, or get burned by the scorching sun.

What’s left would be the stories she told you or the stories you have with her. Not every mother though had the time to tell stories to her children as De Rossi’s Elay did in Firefly.

My mother didn’t tell me fairytales or childhood stories while I was growing up but it is she who gives me strength to tell stories. She held my hand – and continues to do so – as I navigate this dizzying world to find stories worth telling.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzalesColumn archives at EyesWideOpen on Facebook.

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