Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

[ANALYSIS] Marcos as economic salesman: Perception vs. truth

JC Punongbayan

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[ANALYSIS] Marcos as economic salesman: Perception vs. truth
While some investors may push through with their investments as pledged, many will see through the presidential sales talk

Let me take up from the last sentence in my last column: “Perception is real, the truth is not.

It’s a quote that comes directly from former first lady Imelda Marcos, one that encapsulates one aspect of her worldview. And it seems now that Marcos Jr. is applying the very same idea in the way he’s presenting the Philippines – especially our economy – to the world.

As you’ll know, Marcos just came from an official working visit from Japan on February 8 to 12 – his 9th foreign trip in his 8th month in office.

There he made wild claims to our kababayans that seem to imply that the Philippine economy now is in tip-top shape.

In his meet-and-greet with Filipino expats there, Marcos said, “Sinasabi namin na maganda na ngayon ang sitwasyon sa Pilipinas. Nakaahon na kami sa mga problemang hinarap natin noong pandemya, noong lockdown.” (We’re saying that things are okay now in the Philippines. We’ve recovered from the problems we faced during the pandemic, the lockdowns.) He also mentioned that we had the world’s longest lockdowns.

Marcos continued: “Binibida nga namin sa ating mga kaibigan na nakakaahon na ang Pilipinas at gumaganda na ang takbo ng ekonomiya…” (We’re boasting to our friends that the Philippines has recovered and that our economy is running smoother now.)

Yes, we’ve gone back to pre-pandemic levels of production, and growth reached a stellar 7.6% in 2022. But that stellar growth is partly explained by what Marcos himself mentioned: we had the world’s longest lockdowns.

If we hadn’t closed our economy so drastically – due to the gross mismanagement of the previous Duterte administration – maybe our growth today wouldn’t be all that impressive as well.

In many ways we’re bouncing back hard because we fell so badly.

Marcos and his economic managers are also focusing too much on the economy’s growth rates, as if those were the only macroeconomic variable that matters. In their trips, Marcos and his advisers carefully omit or downplay record inflation, which far from dampening, has even spiked more in January 2023, to 8.7%. (READ: [ANALYSIS] Taming runaway PH inflation: More difficult than it looks)

I’m sure our kababayans in Japan are well aware of the domestic inflation situation, as they see in the news how onion prices have skyrocketed, and more practically in the fact that OFWs’ remittances have flowed into the country stronger over the past year, partly to help their loved ones cope with accelerating prices.

The surprise inflation in January 2023 has nudged the Bangko Sentral to further raise its policy interest rate on February 16, to 6%. This, to discourage borrowing which stokes spending and prices.

The BSP also foresees that inflation might reach an average of 6.1% this year – much higher than they had previously anticipated.

In their press release, they included a most illuminating sentence: “The Monetary Board also reiterates its encouragement and support for timely and more aggressive whole-of-government actions to mitigate the impact of persistent supply-side pressures on food prices, including trade positive measures and significant progress to boost productivity.”

Translation: other agencies are not nearly doing enough to combat inflation, and they should step up their game. Nudge/wink in the direction of agencies like the Department of Agriculture, which supposedly manages the country’s food supply (half of inflation is because of food). Specifically, the BSP is subtly saying that the DA should make food importation more timely and efficient, and also work to improve the productivity of farmers and fishers.

Remember what happened to sugar last year? People resigned after Marcos Jr. admonished people who supposedly allowed sugar imports – even if importation is a perfectly sound measure to temper sugar prices in the short run.

Fast-forward to February 15, the Sugar Regulatory Administration issued an order authorizing 440,000 metric tons of sugar imports – but it still doesn’t bear Marcos’ signature. Why does agricultural policy seem disjointed more than seven months into the new administration?

Is the agriculture secretary even taking a hint from the myriad calls for the DA to do a better job? Maybe the BSP should spell it out more explicitly in their next press release.


Marcos is also busy boasting that he’s bringing home with him billions worth of investments from the foreign trips.

From Japan, Marcos supposedly carried back with him $13 billion worth of investments, which he says, will “create approximately 24,000 jobs.” He added that Filipinos will benefit from the discussions with prospective investors “very, very soon, very rapidly.”

All good to hear. But I hope journalists are allowed to ask: Will government release a comprehensive summary of all those deals and track them diligently? Where did the 24,000 jobs figure come from?

By the way, how will Marcos’ promotion efforts work if the BSP has been raising its interest rates precisely to discourage spending that might just contribute to the acceleration of prices domestically? Not to mention all the other things that remain unfixed in the country and have long turned off investors (like weak rule of law, red tape, lack of infrastructure, etc.).

Some investors may push through with their investments as they pledged. But many, I suspect, will see through the presidential sales talk, coated with the shiny credentials of Marcos’ Cabinet members and peppered with just a tiny hint of self-delusion. Certainly, the economy is not as sound nor as attractive as an investment destination as they’re letting on.

As the adage says, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.”

How I wish that worked just as well in politics as in economics. – Rappler.com

JC Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the UP School of Economics and the author of the forthcoming book, False Nostalgia: The Marcos ‘Golden Age’ Myths and How to Debunk Them. JC’s views are independent of his affiliations. Follow him on Twitter (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ Podcast.

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JC Punongbayan

Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). His professional experience includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, the World Bank Office in Manila, the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and the National Economic and Development Authority. JC writes a weekly economics column for Rappler.com. He is also co-founder of UsapangEcon.com and co-host of Usapang Econ Podcast.