Bongbong Marcos: Food sufficiency, infrastructure among priorities of 'comprehensive' economic plan

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 30) — President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. has committed to working on the country’s economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic in his inaugural address, listing some of his administration’s priority sectors.

“We are presently drawing up a comprehensive all-inclusive plan for economic transformation. We will build back better by doing things in the light of the experiences that we have had, both good and bad,” Marcos said in his first speech as chief executive.

“In the road ahead, the immediate months will be rough but I will walk that road with you,” he added.

Agriculture and food sufficiency came first among priorities discussed by Marcos, who earlier announced he will lead the Department of Agriculture for the meantime

“Food sufficiency must get the preferential treatment the richest free trade countries always gave their agricultural sectors. Their policy boils down to ‘don’t do as we do, do what we tell you to’,” said the country’s new president.

“I am giving that policy the most serious thought if that doesn’t change or make more allowances for emergencies with long-term effects,” Marcos explained.

He also promised to continue the infrastructure developments made under his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte.

RELATED: Hits and misses of Duterte's 'Build, Build, Build' 

“I will complete on schedule the projects that have been started. I am not interested in taking credit. I want to build on the success that’s already happening,” said Marcos.

Marcos added that the government will be presenting a “comprehensive” infrastructure plan - with the next six years “just about enough time” for it.

The chief executive likewise touched on environmental issues, criticizing the lack of “large-scale practical” solutions to pollution and how "the rich world talks a great deal but does a lot less” in addressing climate change.

“We will look to our partners and friends to help the Philippines who despite having a very small carbon footprint is at the highest risk. First, spare victims and help them recover, and move on to lessen the harmful impact of climate change,” Marcos said, also acknowledging the country’s role as one of the world’s biggest plastic polluters.

Marcos also stressed that these partnerships with allies will also strengthen the country's recovery from the health crisis and "make a more balanced and stable new global environment for us to work in" during his Vin d’honneur with foreign diplomats after the inauguration.

Not detailed enough?

Analysts, however, criticized the lack of specific measures in the president’s first-ever speech to the nation.

“There was mention of economic transformation, revival of our economy, solutions on our food insecurity issues but it was oversimplified without really giving us a detailed approach on how to provide solutions to these problems,” political sociologist Frederick Rey told CNN Philippines.

For IBON Executive Director Sonny Africa, Marcos’ speech did not give enough attention to the “very serious social economic problems we are facing.”

There were also no mention of new directions to fix such economic issues, he observed.

“Anyone who has the ambition to become president should be preparing long in advance. We think it’s unfair to the Philippines and to the need to fix our problems to just think about the problems once you are elected,” Africa said on CNN Philippines’ The Exchange.

“We don’t think we deserve this kind of cramming for fixing our problems,” he added.

Meanwhile, an infrastructure-oriented think tank noted the Marcos administration cannot build back better if it won’t prioritize the hungry, sick, and homeless in its first months in power.

“The roads and bridges can wait, but not hungry stomachs,” said Terry Ridon, convenor of Infrawatch PH.

“Of course, the inaugural rhetoric is brimming with messages of hope for the future, but the reality on the ground will show serious difficulties in government spending in the short-term,” said Ridon, referring to the limited fiscal space the Marcos administration has to work with.

Ridon also suggested providing sustained, targeted subsidies for the transport sector, which has heavily borne the brunt of surging oil prices. Such measures be done by trimming the fat in previous national spending programs, which he said had an “inflated focus” on intelligence funding.

RIdon said the Marcos administration could prioritize public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects--a view shared by Bank of the Philippine Islands lead economist Jun Neri.

In an interview with CNN Philippines' The Final Word, Neri said the President's statements were "very broad" but understandably so, considering this is only the inaugural address.

He noted that the new economic team of Marcos was able to present earlier the priorities of the new administration anyway. 

Neri sees Marcos still prioritizing reforms that have been put in place with the "core objective" of getting a higher credit rating. The better a country's credit rating, the cheaper it will be to borrow abroad as this testifies to its economic stability and government's ability to pay loans.

RELATED: More expensive loans, fewer jobs loom with Fitch Ratings 'negative' outlook 

Policies that are "populist" must be avoided, along with those that could make credit agencies perceive the country's fiscal situation as not sustainable, stressed BPI's top economic analyst.

The Philippine economy grew 8.3% in the first three months of 2022, currently above the adjusted 7-8% target band set by former economic managers. Marcos’ budget chief said the economic team will revisit assumptions set by the previous Development Budget Coordination Committee.