COVER STORY

What to expect from new leaders, appointees under Marcos admin

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The rising cost of living fueled by the pandemic, the agriculture crisis, and the looming global recession have triggered higher expectations for the administration of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., which is set to start this week.

Marcos, along with his growing Cabinet and allies in Congress, have laid down their visions and platforms to help Filipinos get back on their feet after being crippled by the pandemic and inflation due to supply chain issues caused by the prolonged Ukraine-Russia war.

As the Duterte administration draws to a close, CNN Philippines gives a glimpse of what to expect from the new set of elected and appointed leaders under the next presidency.

Supermajority in Congress taking shape

Marcos' cousin Leyte Rep. Martin Romualdez is expected to take the speakership while ally Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri seems to be a shoo-in for the Senate presidency in the 19th Congress with no other names being floated as contenders to the posts. The two already met with the president-elect together with other lawmakers to discuss the legislative agenda of the next administration.

Returning and neophyte lawmakers will now play a role in formally electing their top leaders for both chambers, since an expression of support usually guarantees specific chairmanships and key posts. Even veteran broadcaster and newly-elected Senator Raffy Tulfo agrees that being part of a "supermajority" will boost his chances of passing measures tied to his labor advocacy.

Political dynasties are still fixtures in the arena. Three political families have tightened their grip on power with another Cayetano and Villar, and two Estrada siblings winning new seats in the Senate. No less than Marcos' sister Imee is also part of the chamber, while his son Sandro is congressman-elect of Ilocos Norte's 1st District.

Meanwhile, having a smaller opposition poses the danger of having a rubber stamp legislature with only either Sen. Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel or opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros set to lead the minority bloc in the upper chamber. In the House of Representatives, there is also a smaller number of progressive lawmakers forming the Makabayan bloc, after Bayan Muna Party-list failed to get a seat for the first time in more than a decade.

Outgoing Vice President Leni Robredo has already passed the opposition leadership to Hontiveros, who is the highest elected official of the group under the next administration. Hontiveros said the recent political developments do not necessarily equate to a "weak" opposition, assuring that the work will still include reaching out to citizens to "arrive at broader unities" in addressing issues of common concerns.

A diverse Cabinet

The initial list of Marcos' Cabinet appointees shows that many came from his political camp, from Vice President-elect Sara Duterte who will head the Department of Education, chief-of-staff Vic Rodriguez as executive secretary-designate, campaign manager Benhur Abalos as interior secretary, Duterte's spokesperson Christina Frasco as tourism chief, staunch supporter Cavite Rep. Jesus Crispin Remulla as justice secretary, and childhood friend Antonio Lagdameo Jr. as his special assistant, among others.

But Marcos' campaign for "unity" is also reflective of the other appointees who served previous presidencies. Philippine Competition Commission chairman Arsenio Balisacan, who served as director general of the National Economic and Development Authority under the administration of the late President Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, will be returning to the post. He will be working with incoming Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor Felipe Medalla, who was a socioeconomic planning secretary under the Estrada Administration. Political scientist Clarita Carlos, who also worked under Metropolitan Manila Development Authority under Aquino's term, will be the next national security adviser.

Some of President Rodrigo Duterte's Cabinet appointees will also continue to serve the next administration. Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra will be solicitor general, Labor Secretary Silvestre 'Bebot' Bello III will chair the Manila Economic and Cultural Office Civil Service Commission Chairman Karlo Nograles will keep the same post, Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Assistant Governor Amenah Pangandaman will be the new budget chief, while BSP Governor Benjamin Diokno will head the finance department.

Former Labor undersecretary Susan "Toots" Ople and former congressman Conrado Estrella III will also serve the Marcos administration as secretaries of the new Migrant Workers department and the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR), respectively. The pair follow in the footsteps of their relatives who performed similar duties for his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

Ople is the daughter of ex-labor chief Blas Ople, while Estrella is the grandson of Conrado Estrella Sr., who once headed the DAR.

Even former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile, a former defense secretary under Marcos Sr. who eventually played a role in the latter's ouster during the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, will now serve as the younger Marcos' chief legal counsel. The 98-year-old actively supported Marcos Jr's presidential bid.

The business community also lauded the president-elect for appointing technocrats who are prominent figures in their respective fields. Aside from Diokno, Medalla, and Balisacan, former UP president Alfredo Pascual is joining the economic team as trade chief. Meanwhile, San Miguel Corp. Tollways President Manuel Bonoan will head the Department of Public Works and Highways, lawyer Bienvenido Laguesma is the next labor secretary, and ex-Philippine Airlines president Jaime Bautista will lead the Department of Transportation.

RELATED: LIST: Who are Bongbong Marcos' appointees? 

Agri chief stint

No less than the president-elect will be at the helm of the Department of Agriculture for the meantime, to prove to the public that he is taking issues concerning the agricultural sector seriously.

READ: Marcos to take charge of Dept. of Agriculture 'for now' 

Critics and supporters are expecting Marcos to forestall the food crisis in the country as his utmost priority, having mentioned the need to increase rice production and restructure the agriculture department under his leadership. Even Balisacan said that the Philippines' agricultural sector is already facing a crisis as farmers and small businesses are directly hit by numerous challenges such as the low profitability of farming in general.

Marcos has yet to fulfill his controversial promise of ₱20 per kilo of rice to the public which some experts think would not be "economically viable" and would only cause the government huge losses amid already rising costs of production and transportation.

He is also being urged to act on agricultural smuggling, after the 18th Congress of the Senate released a report tagging government officials as alleged protectors and smugglers of agricultural products worth hundreds of millions of pesos.

Battle for truth, gov't transparency, freedom of expression

The president-elect is faced with the challenge of proving that he will champion government accountability under his term. He earlier promised that he would go after other individuals tagged in corruption and "lead by example" in anti-graft efforts, but he is also linked to controversies surrounding his family's alleged ill-gotten wealth and estate tax issues.

Apart from reported human rights violations, the presidency of Marcos Sr. was marred by corruption with the declaration of martial law in 1972. The late dictator's widow Imelda was found guilty of graft in 2018 over crimes during her husband's regime but the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan also dismissed some civil cases due to lack of evidence.

The younger Marcos himself faced multiple protests in his presidential bid for his failure to file his income tax returns when he was Ilocos Norte governor and vice governor, but these cases were already junked by the Supreme Court.

READ: LIST: Petitions against Bongbong Marcos' 2022 presidential bid 

Incoming Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner Lilia Guillermo said the agency will also comply with the Supreme Court's decision ordering Marcos heirs to pay up to ₱203 billion due to penalties and surcharges. 

Meanwhile, concerns mount over the future of journalism after incoming Presidential Communications Operations Office chief Trixie Cruz-Angeles announced that vloggers will be invited to "some briefings especially those conducted by the president-elect." Cruz-Angeles is a lawyer-turned-vlogger herself.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines previously expressed concern over this plan, noting that pro-Marcos vloggers and influencers would widely benefit from it as they outpace professional journalists providing vetted information.

Marcos also heavily utilized vloggers during his presidential campaign. Fact-check coalition Tsek.PH reported in February that Marcos was the biggest beneficiary of fake news, while his opponent Leni Robredo was the top victim of disinformation. But Marcos told CNN Philippines that he himself was a victim of fake news, challenging the media to present proof to back their reports that he is paying trolls.

Cruz-Angeles herself agrees that "lack of discourse" on important issues has led to the spread of misinformation and disinformation, and these have been rampant especially during the elections.

But it can be remembered that Marcos himself, along with then-running mate Sara Duterte, refused to take part in most of the presidential debates that tackled pressing problems that are crucial for aspirants of the top posts. Back in March, Marcos admitted that he had reservations in joining debates, noting that the format is usually "problematic" and would often get personal. He said he'd rather personally discuss his future plans with the people during his campaign.

Addressing the pandemic, inflation, fuel crisis

All eyes are on the Marcos administration as it carries forward government initiatives and important economic choices to cushion the effects of the pandemic and rising prices of basic goods that have saddled Filipino consumers and households.

So far, his administration is not planning to suspend the excise tax on fuel products anytime soon according to Diokno, noting that targeted assistance to jeepney drivers, farmers, and fisherfolk would be a more efficient step for now. He acknowledged, however, that lapses in the rollout of subsidies must be addressed.

READ: Expect no fuel tax suspension under Marcos admin; Diokno to push for 'efficient, timely' aid 

The Department of Finance had reported that suspending the excise tax would cut government revenues by ₱105.9 billion this year, amid the consecutive fuel price hikes that have prompted some public utility vehicle drivers to stop plying their routes.

The country's outstanding debt is at ₱12.76 trillion as of end-April, surpassing the ₱12.68 trillion record set in March. Diokno said there is nothing to worry about as this is part of the outgoing administration's medium to long-term plan to bounce back from the negative economic impacts of the pandemic.

RELATED:'Dutertenomics': President Rodrigo Duterte and the Philippine economy

As the Ukraine-Russia war is expected to drag on, Marcos said he intends to take the same approach adopted by his father during the 1973 oil crisis when his administration negotiated with oil-producing nations to lengthen the payback period.

Outgoing Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua earlier said Balisacan had expressed support for the next Philippine Development Plan to focus on climate change, as the Philippines is one of the countries most vulnerable to typhoons and other climate-related hazards. Chua also addressed the need to pursue policies promoting a shift to renewable energy under the next administration.

Marcos has yet to appoint a health chief, but outgoing Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said his successor must be personally well versed in dealing with the pandemic. He urged the government to extend the mandatory wearing of face masks and boost vaccinations amid a new rise of COVID-19 infections in the country.

From placing 57th in December 2021, the Philippines has been gradually improving its COVID-19 response, now ranking 33rd among 121 nations and one of two Asian nations that logged the best performance in infection management, vaccine rollout and social mobility as of this month, according to the latest COVID-19 Recovery Index by Nikkei Asia.

Marcos will take his oath and begin his term on June 30, the same day that President Rodrigo Duterte steps down. By then, the president-elect has to prove that he can address the worsening problems of poverty, and improve performance to boost trust in an uncertain economy, among other issues that require solutions more concrete than his "unity" rhetoric.

READ: Here's what to expect on inauguration day