OFFLINE: Can his regime deliver?

The question is not whether he can deliver or not, but does he even realize that failure is not an option?

In a few weeks, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. assumes the post of 17th President of the Republic of the Philippines, thereby making him responsible for the fate of more than a hundred million Filipinos, more or less.

He must assure the safety and security of the country, first and foremost. This means dealing firmly with China, which has been encroaching on Philippine waters for the entirety of the Duterte administration. This has resulted in serious loss of income for our fishermen.

I will never forget the experience I had less than two years ago when, at the height of the pandemic, I was able to head to Zambales for a short vacation at a friend’s resort. My partner and I headed for a nearby fishing community, where we bought some of the day’s catch.

One middle aged fisherman took me aside and pointed to a ship that was unmoving on the horizon.

It was a Chinese fishing vessel, he told me, and it was siphoning off what should have been the daily livelihood of hundreds of Filipino fishermen in that area alone.

He was resigned to his sad fate, and was appreciative that we didn’t ask for a discount for the catch that we purchased, even if it seemed a bit expensive.

The local government could do nothing about the Chinese boat, he told me. He and his community were told to welcome the crew of the vessel who would regularly come to shore to purchase supplies.

It was all BS, of course. The small sums spent was nothing compared to the lost income of the fishermen.

Very lately, it was reported that the Philippines would be importing fish to meet the growing demand. Local fishermen, it seems, are no longer able to supply the needs of the growing market.

As one wag said, we are importing fish that comes from our own waters, which were caught by Chinese boats, frozen, repacked, and exported back to our country. At a tidy profit, of course.

This is but one of the myriad of problems that the new president faces. Food security is under threat because Rodrigo Duterte was too scared of China to raise a diplomatic protest or to send Philippine Navy or Coast Guard ships to face off against the Chinese fishing vessels.

Marcos Jr. also has to face the loans incurred by the Duterte regime from China at usurious rates.

Soon, payments for those loans will be due, and not paying them is not an acceptable option. Not to China, at least.

Very lately, news of the serious problems facing Sri Lanka has come to light, and at the root of that country’s deadly economic problems can be traced back to the corrupt political leadership which availed of massive loans – with substantial kickbacks, for sure – that are now due and payable.

That country has no means to pay for those loans, and China is now putting the squeeze on the poor country, whose solution is to print more money.

Any economist will say that this is no solution at all, as it results in the loss in the value of the currency. Sooner or later, hyperinflation sets in, and the majority of the people will be unable to pay for even the most basic of necessities.

That country is no longer able to pay for its needed imports, nor pay for its current debts. This has sparked a political crisis as a result of shortages in such necessities as food, power, medicine, and fuel. In recent weeks, rioting has taken place.

At the root of Sri Lanka’s problems is – wait for it – the election of a president who supposedly won by a landslide. The first thing he did was to appoint his own brother to a high post, rewrite the Constitution, and give himself extraordinary powers.

Sound familiar?

Marcos Sr. did pretty much the same thing, and Marcos Jr. has indicated that he could take similar steps. For one, he has indicated that he is willing to appoint his wife, among others, to a high post in his administration.

Imelda 2.0, anyone?

Sri Lanka today could well be the Philippines in the near term if Marcos Jr.’s economic team is unable to solve the crisis looming ahead.

A similar crisis actually happened many decades ago, during the Japanese occupation. However, those who still remember are now a tiny fraction of the population.

During that time, from 1942 to 1945, the Philippines was in dire straits, and so-called Mickey Mouse money was used as legal currency.

To his credit, the incoming president has chosen some very competent people to his Cabinet. If they give him sound advice and he listens, the country could avoid a possible collapse.

On the other hand, he has made some truly awful choices.

A controversial broadcaster to head the Social Welfare portfolio? Not good.

A political crony to serve as Justice secretary? Two thumbs down to that.

A press secretary who is a classic balimbing or turncoat? A really horrid choice.

That incoming press secretary, incidentally, said she would accredit bloggers and vloggers as part of the Malacanang press corps.

This has regular newsmen/women up in arms, as these bloggers and vloggers are mostly men and women who have zero training in responsible journalism. Worst of all, some of them were part of the troll army that Marcos Jr used to spread lies to the electorate.

In effect, they will be paid to praise the new regime to high heavens.

By his latest actions, therefore, it can be concluded that Marcos Jr. is somewhat aware that the country is in deep doodoo where the economy is concerned, but is more concerned in making sure that he is not forcibly removed from office. For the latter reason, he has chosen to appoint blind followers and abject yes men to his Cabinet.

He should be given the benefit of the doubt, but excuse me if I am not totally convinced that he can deliver the goods for the people.