MANILA, Philippines – President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. on Monday, January 23, defended his frequent travels, telling a panel of television journalists and presenters to “look at [the expenses] as ROI (return on investment).”
“In terms of the cost, you know, the way I see it, you have to look at it as ROI. Do we bring something back or do we not?” said Marcos in an interview with several select media personalities in Malacañang Palace.
Marcos was asked if his administration would publicize how much his many trips – to Indonesia, Singapore, the United States, Singapore again, Cambodia, Thailand, and Brussels in 2022, and China and Switzerland in 2023 – cost Filipino taxpayers.
Initially, the Philippine president said he did not have the figures ready. When pressed if they would eventually be “revealed,” Marcos said it would, “once we’ve calculated everything.”
Of his trips, three are state visits while the rest were made to attend international and regional gatherings.
In defending his trip, Marcos highlighted the pledges or promises his administration got from governments and private businesses.
“Now, the measure of success will be, you know, cost-benefit, very simple. How much effort did you put into it? It’s not just the money. It’s the time that you put into it. It’s the time and the effort that goes into it is really… That’s what I was trying to explain earlier. The reason that we have everyone on the delegation,” he said.
Pledges, however, don’t always turn into anything concrete. Marcos highlighted the over $22 billion pledged to the Philippines during his January 2023 state visit to China – but did not mention that China pledged almost just as much during his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte’s time without most of them materializing.
What exactly would “ROI” mean in the context of his trips abroad?
The President’s answer was long and indirect: “So again, the way I approach this is ROI. How much did you spend? How much did you get? And again, as I’m saying, if we get just one of the MOUs, isa lang, napakahina naman natin if isa lang ang makuha natin. Hindi namin ginagawa trabaho namin kung isa lang makukuha natin. But sabihin na lang natin, isa lang ang makuha natin. Bawi na lahat nung trip ko.”
(…just one, that’s really incompetent of us if we only get one. That means we aren’t doing our jobs right if we only get one. But say we do get one? That makes up for all my trips.)
‘Accountability and transparency not an issue’
Marcos also defended his delegation size, saying it was just select Cabinet, their staff, and security. What he didn’t mention, however, are the people who tag along who are not staff or security – his sons who aren’t in government, for instance, or the spouses of top officials.
Marcos vowed “accountability and transparency in everything that we do,” when pressed by CNN Philippines’ Rico Hizon on the release of details about his trips.
But the President disagreed with the TV anchor, who said it was hard to invite investors if “there’s a lack of transparency, accountability.”
“This has not been an issue that the private businesses bring up. They bring up ease of doing business. They bring up the cost of energy. They bring up the problems of legislative guarantees,” said Marcos.
He added: “So the critics will have their say. But those who are actually contemplating putting good money into the Philippines have other issues and that is not… accountability and transparency is not an issue.”
The Palace has yet to release expense reports on Marcos’ visits. It has also not officially made delegation lists public, despite repeated requests from the media.
In all of Marcos’ visits around the world, both he and the Palace have highlighted the importance of selling the Philippines to the world, particularly in the economic aftermath of COVID-19.
Marcos himself said the results won’t be instant. “Proseso ‘yan….Pagka hindi tayo bumiyahe at nagpakita diyan sa mga conference na ‘yan, hindi tayo iniisip. Wala sa isip nila ang Pilipinas (It’s a process. If we do not travel and attend those conferences, we won’t be top of mind. The Philippines won’t even be considered),” he said.
But the President said part of it is also about introducing himself. “I’m the new kid on the block. Nobody knows who I am. Kailangan kong magpakilala (I need to introduce myself),” said Marcos, whose father was president and later, dictator, for over two decades.
“That’s important also na magkaroon ng personal, halimbawa personal sa mga lider na kaya ko ngayon – hindi ko kayang gawin ‘yun dati. Ngayon kaya kong buhatin ang telepono, tumawag diyan sa lahat, tatanggapin naman ang tawag ko at mayroon na kaming mapapag-usapan, and that’s very, very important,” he added.
(It’s important for leaders to have personal connections. I wasn’t able to do that before. Now I can pick up the phone, call them and expect them to answer my call, talk about these issues and that’s very, very important.)
Former socioeconomic planning secretary Solita “Winnie” Monsod shared her assessment of Marcos’ Davos trip in her January 23 blog.
“Generally, a cost-benefit analysis is done before an activity is undertaken, and only if the perceived benefits exceed the costs of the activity will it be undertaken. Obviously this was not done with respect to the President’s Davos trip. If this is an indication of how decisions are made by the President, it does not augur very well for the country,” Monsod said.
Monsod said that one of the goals of the WEF trip was for the soft launch of the proposed Maharlika Investment Fund (MIF). Judging by the video footage of this event, she said, there were only “13 anonymous people out of a possible 2,500 WEF participants” who showed interest by attending the soft launch.
“What does that say about the success of the President’s ‘soft launch'”? she asked.
She also said that based on a “very understated cost of travel, food and accommodations,” the Swiss trip bill would “come up to P65.35 million.”
“A trip costing at least P65 million results in expressions of interest about the MIF/SWF from, at most, 13 nameless attendees of the WEF, if we assume that all who attended the country dialogue were impressed,” she said.
The President had said in his January 21 arrival statement that he did not only pitch the proposal, he also sought advice from “friends and partners in Davos” on how best to package the country’s planned sovereign wealth fund.
Economist JC Punongbayan had also summed up Marcos’ participation at the WEF in Davos as marked by “economic lies and cherry-picking galore.” – Rappler.com