BBM’s seven issues

VIRTUAL REALITY - Tony Lopez - The Philippine Star

After 19 months into his presidency of six years, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Romualdez Marcos Jr. has focused on seven major issues:

One, he unified the country. For the first time in over half a century, or since the first Marcos Sr. presidency, Bongbong Marcos is the president elected with a majority vote of the people, with the largest share of the vote (59 percent since Marcos Sr.’s 61 percent in 1969), the largest margin (32 percent since Ramon Magsaysay’s 37 percent). BBM won in May 2022 in all regions except two, Bicol and Western Visayas.

Unity also means divisive elements in the political structure will be neutralized, if not eliminated.

Two, BBM has reconnected with America, allowing up to nine military bases for US troops and probably, the stationing of sensitive weapons and war materiel.

The pivot to Washington DC means he reverses the controversial pro-China policy of his predecessor. Warmer ties with the US achieve two things: help in the modernization of the Philippine Army to cope with external threats and assertiveness in protecting Manila’s territorial and sovereign rights (over fisheries, minerals and other ocean wealth) in the West Philippine Sea.

Three, BBM is modernizing the economy, opening it up to new players and easing the rules of engagement to allow for a more competitive business environment, one that promotes efficiencies, lowers costs, promotes quality of products and services and is more inclusive. This is the Bagong Pilipinas.

Four, he is the “Infra President,” keen to spend for roads, bridges, airports and other infra, a record P8.3 trillion during his six-year presidency.

Metro Manila will have more airports than it probably needs in the next half century – a rehabilitated Manila International Airport or NAIA, a new Manila International Airport in Bulacan by San Miguel Corporation, Sangley Airport by the Henry Sy family and the government-built Clark International Airport that is now run by the Gokongwei and Aboitiz families.

Five, he emancipated 600,000 agrarian reform farmers, condoning P58 billion of their debts.

Sixth, BBM is keen on climate change adaptation and mitigation. He knows fully well that the Philippines is among the top three countries to be devastated by a climate gone berserk. Hence, the country must prepare for climate doomsday.

Seven, he seeks to amend the 1987 Constitution to soften if not remove restrictive provisions that bar foreigners from owning land, schools, ad agencies, media and chunks of natural resources and utilities.

This last platform is controversial and requires investment of enormous political capital to cover just the first base, a snowballing popular initiative, wherein at least 8 million voters sign a petition to amend the Constitution and mandating the legislature to do it.

The 24-member Senate thinks amendments can only be done with the two houses (Senate and the House of Representatives, HOR) voting separately to achieve the enabling three-fourths vote – 18 of 24 senators, and 233 of 310 congressmen.

The HOR, under Speaker Martin Romualdez, thinks the two chambers can vote as one (24 plus 310), as a single constituent assembly, diluting the senators’ objections.

In lawmaking, the Senate and House vote separately. But as a constituent assembly, not exactly a body of lawmakers, the delegates vote as one chamber.

At the moment, BBM seems confused. To clear things up, he wants to listen to various sectors, particularly constitutionalists and eminent jurists.

That opportunity comes this Thursday, Feb. 8, at 5:30 p.m. at the Shangrila Makati ballroom, when he speaks before the Philippine Constitution Association (Philconsa) and the Manila Overseas Press Club (MOPC) to commemorate Constitution Day.

Feb. 8 is the birthday of the late senator Claro M. Recto, the father of the 1935 Philippine Constitution, being the president of the constitutional convention that produced what is considered the best Constitution ever.

Although the 1935 Constitution also restricted foreign investments, the Philippines became the most prosperous country in Asia outside Japan. That growth was because of the American presence (with its two major bases, Clark Air Force Base Subic Naval Base) which made investors feel safe and checked threats, like Japan then and China later.

In BBM’s view, the return of troops and opening up the economy through Charter change will convince investors to come back in droves.

Marcos Jr. today is the second most popular leader in the free world. His approval rating of 68 percent (per Pulse Asia), is eclipsed only by the 77 percent of India’s Narendra Modi. Plus his 59 percent electoral mandate in 2022, BBM has awesome capital to take risks as gigantic as Charter change.

In ASEAN, the Philippines has the most restrictive regime for foreign direct investments (FDI), with a restrictiveness index on primary sectors of 0.64. Compare that with the 0.01 of Singapore, 0.04 of Cambodia, 0.06 of Vietnam, 0.30 of Malaysia, 0.44 of Thailand and 0.46 of Indonesia, per Albay Rep. Joey Salceda’s data.

No wonder, FDI’s share of GDP in Singapore is high, 28.3 percent; Cambodia 13.5 percent; Vietnam 6.2 percent and Indonesia 2.2 percent. FDI’s share of Phl GDP – just 2.0 in 2019.

In 1980, seven years before its 1987 Constitution was adopted, the Philippines was the third richest country in ASEAN, with GDP per capita of $774, after Singapore’s $5,000 and Malaysia’s $1,930. Phl’s $774 was ahead of Thailand’s $705, Indonesia’s $673 and Vietnam’s $652.

Then Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam all opened up their economies.

These results have been dramatic. In 2023, per IMF data, the Philippines had a per capita GDP of just $3,910 – sixth and behind No. 1 Singapore, $91,100; No. 2 Malaysia $13,380; No. 3 Thailand $8,180; No. 4 Indonesia $5,020 and No. 5 Vietnam, $4,480.

Between 1980 and 2023, Singapore’s per capita income grew 18.22x, and that of Thailand 11.6x, Indonesia 7.5x, Vietnam 6.87x. And the Philippines? Just a 5x gain in per person income of Filipinos – the worst of ASEAN’s major countries.

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