Marcos' first 100 days: 'Putting out fires' as more crises loom ahead

In contrast to his predecessor, Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr Marcos has tread more carefully in his pronouncements. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA - Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr has cited forming a "functional" government focused on economic recovery as a key accomplishment so far, but analysts say he needs to produce concrete solutions to tackle the Philippines' soaring inflation and post-pandemic recovery.

Friday marked the 100th day in office of Mr Marcos, the first Filipino president to win by a majority vote - immediate past president Rodrigo Duterte took 39 per cent of the votes in 2016 - since the bloodless revolution in 1986 that ousted his dictator father, after whom he was named.

Asked at a public forum on Wednesday to cite his accomplishments so far, Mr Marcos lauded the "best and the brightest" people he appointed in his Cabinet for doing what they can to extinguish problems thrown their way.

"I think what we have managed to do in the first 100 days is put together a government which is functional, and which has a very, very good idea of what we are targeting in terms of strict economic targets," Mr Marcos said.

"We were putting out fires. We were just trying to make things work," he added, referring to shortages and price hikes in agricultural products like sugar and fertiliser.

Breaking with tradition, Mr Marcos has not released a detailed "First 100 Days" report.

Mr Marcos inherited a 12.8 trillion pesos (S$310.5 billion) debt from Mr Duterte.

He also has to deal with an economy crippled by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, which have sent the prices of goods soaring and weakened the peso against the US dollar.

Economist JC Punongbayan, an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines, said Mr Marcos was "unlucky" to lead at a time of mounting global economic headwinds.

But the President, who concurrently heads the Agriculture Ministry, could have done more to address overall inflation driven by higher food costs, said Dr Punongbayan.

"He could be doing things to at least abate the worst effects of these economic developments. For example, ensuring an adequate supply of agricultural commodities, as well as targeted subsidies for the extremely poor. In both aspects, the President has under-delivered," he added.

Dr Aries Arugay, chairman of the University of the Philippines' political science department, said it has been a "slow 100 days" under Mr Marcos.

"He has put the country under cruise control, rather than actually trying to set the pace, set the direction, the trajectory of his administration," he added.

"Why can he afford it? In their minds, there's this invincibility because they have this huge electoral mandate."

Still, this is unlikely to make a dent in Mr Marcos' approval among the 31 million Filipinos who voted for him, Dr Arugay said.

Mr Marcos appointed some technocrats to his Cabinet, signalling his government's push for evidence-based policymaking. Some ministers got the posts even though they did not support his candidacy, in what the President said was a sign of "unity" - his key campaign message.

But three months into his term, cracks are already emerging with the exit of three top officials: Vic Rodriguez as executive secretary, Trixie Cruz-Angeles as press secretary and Jose Calida as Commission on Audit chairman.

Political circles are rife with talk that Mr Marcos' influential wife Louise Araneta-Marcos is booting out members of the faction linked to Mr Rodriguez.

In contrast to his predecessor, Mr Marcos has tread more carefully in his pronouncements, staying clear of the bluster and unrealistic deadlines that found Mr Duterte international infamy.

Mr Marcos has continued Mr Duterte's anti-drug campaign but dropped his brutal approach.

He has also started a diplomatic charm, pushing for the Philippines to become a more active player in South-east Asia.

In his official trips to Singapore, Indonesia and the United States, Mr Marcos did play the part of the country's "top salesman", securing billions in investment pledges that could potentially generate more than 134,000 jobs.

But Dr Punongbayan said the President has yet to foster an investment-friendly climate at home to ensure these pledges would become reality.

Investors are still concerned about issues Mr Marcos has yet to address, like the rule of law, a looming energy crisis, slow Internet speeds and red tape in government transactions.

The analysts believe Mr Marcos must do more in the coming months to address the problems plaguing the country.

"Results speak for themselves," said Dr Arugay. "So long as Marcos cannot deliver, it's just going to be all smoke and mirrors and propaganda."

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