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Business groups nod as Marcos forms economic team

/ 05:30 AM May 27, 2022

From left to right: Benjamin Diokno, Felipe Medalla, Manuel Bonoan, and Anton Lagdameo

Earning an early thumbs-up from business groups, President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Thursday announced new appointments to his economic team, emphasizing his incoming administration’s focus on steering the economy out of a slump.

A day after he and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte were proclaimed winners by Congress in the May 9 polls, Marcos said he was nominating Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Benjamin Diokno as his finance secretary and then President Joseph Estrada’s former National Economic Development Authority (Neda) chief Felipe Medalla as BSP governor.

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Diokno has been the BSP governor since 2019. He was budget secretary under the Duterte administration from 2016 to 2019 and under the Estrada regime from 1998 to 2001. He was named best central banker in the world, the first for a Filipino, by London-based international finance magazine The Banker. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Syracuse University in New York.

Medalla is an economist and educator. He served under four presidents, with a career spanning more than four decades. He has been a member of the Monetary Board since July 2011. He was Neda chief from 1998 to 2001. He was dean of the University of the Philippines (UP) School of Economics for four years starting 1994. He holds a Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and a master’s degree in Economics from UP. During the press briefing with selected media practitioners, Marcos also named former UP president Alfredo Pascual as trade ecretary and Manuel Bonoan, chief executive of San Miguel Tollways Corp., as secretary of the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH).First priority

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Marcos, who said he intended to include the DPWH chief in the economic team, noted that Bonoan “has spent almost his entire professional life in the DPWH. I know him very well. So I know he will do a good job.”

Bonoan, an engineer, served as a DPWH official during the Ramos, Estrada and Arroyo administrations.Pascual is president of the Management Association of the Philippines and an international development banker. He was the 20th president of UP from February 2011 to 2016. He graduated from UP with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and a master’s degree in business administration.

Marcos said the first priority of his administration would be the economy, “that’s why we have been very, very careful in choosing the economic team.”

“I know the economic team is critical and that is what people are looking [forward] to. I think we have found the best people for it who are able to look forward and to anticipate what the conditions will be for the Philippines [and] the rest of the world in the coming years,” he said.

Earlier, Philippine Competition Commission chief Arsenio Balisacan was tapped to return to his old job as economic planning secretary and head of Neda.

Businesses elated

Local business groups on Thursday welcomed the economic team taking shape.

“They are all seasoned and competent economic leaders. We believe they would do good in managing our fiscal affairs,” said George Barcelon, head of the country’s biggest business group Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

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Barcelon said such leaders were needed as the Philippines faced critical issues, such as the huge debt, budget deficit and the need for postpandemic reforms and programs to sustain recovery, among others.

“With Fred (Pascual) as (trade) secretary, there will be continuity in programs and policies that help and support (micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, or MSMEs) in the country especially now that we are on our way toward economic recovery,” said Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion.

“We are confident that this competent roster of technocrats and scholars will help steer the economy towards recovery,” the Association of Filipino Franchisers Inc. said in a separate statement.

Coco Alcuaz, executive director of the Makati Business Club, said appointment of “experienced, well-known leaders” would boost the confidence of big businesses as well as MSMEs that the new administration would promote liberalizing but inclusive policies to accelerate job creation, competition and economic recovery.

“As the first economic czar who has headed the two other big economic agencies—the DBM (Department of Budget and Management) and BSP—Diokno will have rare insight on how the government and private sector work together to boost jobs and growth,” Alcuaz said, referring to Diokno being assigned to the Department of Finance.

No to corruption

Marcos, however, pointed out that he has not decided on who to nominate as commissioners of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) and of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), saying “there were many applicants.”

“I have many applications to head the BOC. I’m sure we will find the right people. I have a fairly good idea of who has been able to show performance. It’s the same with BIR, what we have to do is make efficient the entire process. Number one is to make it easier for people to understand what the tax structure is,” he said as he acknowledged corruption issues hounding the two agencies.

“There should not be any place for corruption. Unfortunately, in some areas corruption has become endemic. You’ll have to really dig deep,” Marcos said.

He explained that the economy would “simply not succeed if we cannot collect duties, tariffs, etc., through the BOC, and we do not have good collection on taxes. We cannot have that. So that’s why it is very, very important and we have to, at the very least, reduce the corrosive influence of corruption in government, as a general rule.”

During the press conference, Marcos also named long-time friend and former Davao del Norte Rep. Antonio “Anton” Lagdameo Jr., husband of actress Dawn Zulueta, as special assistant to the President. Lagdameo is part of the wealthy Floirendo clan of Mindanao. He is the grandson of Antonio Floirendo Sr., a close associate of Marcos Jr.’s father and founder of Tagum Agricultural Development Corp., a major player in the banana industry. Before he entered politics, Lagdameo was a credit analyst for banks in New York. —WITH REPORTS FROM RONNEL W. DOMINGO, ROY STEPHEN C. CANIVEL, BEN O. DE VERA AND INQUIRER RESEARCH

READ: BSP counters false social media posts: No P500 bill with Marcos face

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