Newly elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. inherits a series of problems, including the fact that the country’s economy is too dependent on its army of foreign workers around the world who send their remittances back to support those at home. File photo by Rolex Dela Pena/EPA-EFE
May 24 (UPI) — Prospects for the Philippines under the newly elected president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos have as much to do with a troubled past as with modern challenges. elect the son of a former dictator may not make sense to many outside, or to the many liberals inside the country who are doing deep thinking. But other cold hard truths await the Philippines.
The crimes of members of the Marcos Clan’s very recent past have still not been fully explained. Ferdinand Marcos Sr. fled the country after years of dictatorship which plundered about 10 billion dollars of public funds.
There is also interrogation point on the Marcos family’s unsettled estate tax debts. A 1997 decision of the Supreme Court had ordered the Marcos to pay 23 billion pesos ($439 million) in inheritance tax. When asked about the issue in the run up to the election, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. called the issue “fake news”. “Let the lawyers discuss that.”
But this is just the latest unsolved case against the Marcos clan. The Imelda family matriarch, the mother of Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has even more a dozen cases pending against her after being found guilty of seven heads of transplant in 2018. But no one should seriously hope that these will come to a resolution or that Imelda Marcos will be held responsible for steal obscene sums of the country’s wealth under her husband’s rule, which the family vehemently denies.
The shamelessness of the Marcos clan over this reported looting in a country struggling with crippling levels of poverty has been well covered recently in the media. Imelda was photographed at home with a Picasso on the wallalthough it was one of many objects targeted by anti-corruption measures in 2014. An excellent survey Reuters report released a week before the election laid bare the brazen way Ferdinand Marcos Jr. could prevent any further recovery of the family.
The Philippines’ bloated and archaic legal system desperately needs reform, but no president has the incentive to do so when he can govern using it. Without real separation of government and judiciary, presidents – especially those who win landslide victories – can rule and flout the rules. Under Ferdinand Marcos Jr., there are no signs that reform is imminent.
Unfortunately, the cronyism extends far beyond the justice system and into an economy that desperately needs a revival after crippling decline under former President Rodrigo Duterte. The Philippines consistently ranks among the worst countries in the world for “crony capitalism”, meaning it relies on a transactional relationship between the government and powerful oligarchs who own and control much of the country’s economy. These are the same oligarchs against whom Duterte rose up and pledged to uproot.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also inherits a series of problems. For one thing, the country’s economy is overly dependent on its army of foreign workers around the world who send their remittances to support those back home.
In 2018, these remittances were estimated to constitute 11% of Country’s GDP. Nurses, sailors, servants and construction workers, estimated at around 2.2 million around the world, providing a living income to a nation lagging behind others in the region.
Tourism has been massively affected by the pandemic, and given the mishandling of COVID-19 by the outgoing Duterte administration, much needs to be done to improve the state of domestic health care before international tourism can be rebuilt.
If all this were not enough, the country still lacks essential infrastructure to be able to respond to the massive natural disasters that regularly besiege the country. Volcanic eruptions, super typhoons, landslides, earthquakes – all devastating in themselves – have all left behind a need for temporary housing, plunging the country further into a spiral development trap he cannot get out of it.
Some research even suggests that the corruption endemic in Philippine politics is built on the country’s geographic challenges and the mismanagement of the response.
Perhaps most troubling is the prospect of a lawsuit a culture of violence standardized under Duterte. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and his vice president – Sara, Duterte’s daughter – are poised to continue, if not strengthen, the security state that allows attacks against journalists and extrajudicial fate murders not investigated.
Unabashed militarization under Duterte is apparently Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte’s main political problem. They plan to do compulsory military service for all adults and make the Reserve Officer Training Corps mandatory in college programs, for which they face student opposition groups.
While Communist and islamist insurgencies continue to threaten the country, increased militarization, building on Duterte’s war on drugs and the use of the military in various government weaponsis risky.
These longstanding insurgencies stem from deep social and political grievances – many of which are legitimate – against the state. And increased violence at the hands of an expanded military is unlikely to address the root causes of the conflict. Duterte’s army demolished the city of Marawi in 2017 when it was dragged into a siege by local clans claiming to be affiliated with the Islamic State, and did not bother to rebuild it, leaving thousands moved and resentful.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has a lot to reform and rebuild. The electorate will support him for six to twelve months, like all their new leaders. Capitalizing on this wave of support with bold new steps to rebuild the robust infrastructure and trust in institutions that the next Marcos badly needs will be necessary for the next Marcos to take the throne in 35 years.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.