Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

[Vantage Point] Economic czar 

Val A. Villanueva

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

[Vantage Point] Economic czar 

Alyssa Arizabal

Having led a multibillion-peso company, Frederick Go is certainly a plus for the Marcos government. He will bring his vast experience in business to spur economic development.

Once in a while – and it’s literally far and few between – a few good men willingly join the government to make a positive difference.

I can only name two – Jaime Bautista and lately Frederick Go. Both men come from the private sector which guarantee them comfortable lives even after retirement. 

What drives Bautista and Go to sacrifice their otherwise  peaceful and comfortable lives to endure scorn and contempt from envious career-clinging government people? Both know that they are entering a snake pit, but the motivation to change what they see as fundamentally flawed system overrides any risks and hardship they will face.

We all know the story of Bautista ever since he took the helm of the Department of Transportation (DOTr). On how some people harboring a corrupt system try as they might to ease him out of office. His clean record has been his armor and to this day, has been impenetrable! Go is built of the same mold and we can expect the same brand of service.

In a December 15 executive order, President Ferdinand (Bongbong) Marcos Jr. announced the creation of the Office of the Special Assistant to the President for Investment and Economic Affairs (OSAPIEA), headed by its first-ever secretary, 54-year-old Frederick Go, president and chief executive officer of Robinsons Land Corporation (RLC). 

By accepting the position, Go divested all of his substantial business shareholdings to eliminate potential conflicts of interest that would compromise his official decision making. For him, the sacrifice was huge, but necessary, if he were to truly serve the public with utmost responsibility, integrity, efficiency, and loyalty.

While Go’s appointment was well-received by foreign and local business groups, the title certainly looks intimidating enough to cause apprehension among some the country’s economic managers. Despite their public pronouncements welcoming Go’s appointment, not all seem sincere. 

One of PBBM’s economic managers sees Go as lacking in the fundamentals of economic management and therefore not qualified for the position. Unfortunately for said secretary, news travels fast. Before he knew it, his antipathy reached the ears of many people. This is why I find it utterly hypocritical of him to be effusive in his praise for PBBM’s appointment of Go in various media pronouncements. 

The chief mandate of OSAPIEA includes supervising and monitoring the National Economic and Development Authority, Department of Finance, Department of Budget and Management, and Department of Trade and Industry, among other agencies.

The heads of these four agencies, the chief of the Presidential Management Staff, and the secretaries of nine other departments make up the Economic Development Group, which is in charge of the major economic policies of the government. This cluster used to be headed by the finance secretary.

One of the concerns raise by some sectors against Go’s appointment is duplicity. The functions of the newly created office, they believe, are already being handled by the country’s economic managers and that there is no need to create an office to do the job. 

This was however shot down by Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) president George Barcelon, who sees Go’s office more as an additional channel to relay the issues that the business sector wants to be addressed.

“I have heard some concerns that it might be an added redundancy. But from what I see, there are really times when the schedule of the president is full because of his many responsibilities. So, it’s an added channel of communication for us,” Barcelon was quoted by the Philippine Daily Inquirer as saying.

The Indonesia experiment

Having someone who has the ears of the president is not unique to the Philippines. The economic success of Indonesia can be largely credited to its Coordinating Ministry for Maritime and Investment Affairs (Kementerian Koordinator Bidang Kemaritiman dan Investasi), headed by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan. The office, created by Indonesian President Joko Widodo on October 23, 2019, is tasked to lead the planning, coordinating, as well as synchronizing of policies in maritime affairs and investments. 

In four years since its inception, the office has been credited with the rapid economic rise of Indonesia. Recently, Pandjaitan has cemented Indonesia’s cooperation with Korea in the field of electronic vehicles and a project to build a new capital of the Southeast Asian country, leveraging Korea’s technological expertise and Indonesia’s abundant resources.

Pandjaitan also met with US Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen in August 2023 to discuss Indonesia’s Just Energy Transition Partnership work on the Comprehensive Investment and Policy Plan. The CIPP will coordinate with partners in allocating the $20 billion in JETP financing towards specific projects and priorities that will support Indonesia’s achievement of the ambitious climate targets that its government has set in the November 2022 JETP Joint Statement.

This is the kind of swift action the Philippines needs to spur much-needed economic activities which government planners, tasked with reading economic data, will be hard put at achieving. Robert Young of the export-oriented Foreign Buyers Association of the Philippines also said in the Inquirer interview that they support Go’s appointment, primarily due to his private sector credentials. “My take is that all these departments that have been placed under his supervision, nothing is happening to the issues that are being raised to them. So, there is clamor to put a person who will be in charge of them all.”

Ebb Hinchliffe, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines also in a message to the Inquirer said: “In our interactions with Secretary Go, we were encouraged by his desire to remove roadblocks to investment and doing business. We’re hopeful that this will translate into his new role and in the policies that the government’s economic cluster will pursue.” 

We call him Deck

I first met Go as a 19-year-old newly minted BS Management Engineering graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University. He was endorsed to me by his uncle, the late Robinson’s patriarch, John Gokongwei Jr. (Mr. John), for training in the business section of the Manila Times which I then headed as editor. 

A year prior, Mr. John and I were conceptualizing how he would run Manila Times which he had just bought from the Roces family. At the time, I was the assistant business editor of the Philippine Star. Mr. John was a good friend and my business mentor, but I turned down his offer for me to be the publisher and editorial board chair of the Manila Times. I felt that I was too young and inexperienced to handle such a critical position. I gave him some names: the late Johnny Perez and the late Frederick “Ricky” Agcaoili, who became the Times publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively. The two then proceeded to fill in the editorial staff, with Mr. John’s daughter Robina Pe overseeing the Times’ editorial makeup. I settled for the position of business editor, and Mr. John allotted some company shares to me. 

The thing I admire most about the Gokongwei Family is how each member had to learn the ropes, starting at the lowest possible job, before being considered for key positions in one of the companies they own. 

Deck proved more than up to the task. I assigned him to cover the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the stock market beat where he honed his business writing and news gathering skills to near perfection. In the beat, he befriended government functionaries and business leaders, all the while concealing his family background. Diligent in his assigned task, he worked his butt off, never complaining and always keeping his two feet on the ground. 

I left the Times for a more lucrative offer from a foreign business publication, but never lost touch with Mr. John whom I communicated with on a weekly basis. Deck was transferred to a new department where he also excelled. 

I wasn’t surprised when Mr. John finally assigned Deck to take care of RLC as its president and CEO. In the past three decades, Deck has parlayed RLC into a P223-billion property conglomerate with 53 malls, 28 office buildings and 24 hotels. He was also instrumental in the group’s expansion move to the casino business, infrastructure (Luzon International Premier Airport Development Corporation), and banking.

The Gokongweis have never used their prominence or businesses to acquire political influence in furthering their own interests. When Mr. John built the Gokongwei family business in Cebu, he toiled hard and succeeded on his own entrepreneurial and leadership savvy, not on family relations or political influence. He guided each member of his family who now works for a family corporation to use the same work ethic.

Deck Go’s position as the President’s special adviser is not meant to substitute for the expertise of department heads, all of whom were appointed for their competence. President Marcos Jr. only sought to create the position so that he can have more help in coordinating his key policies and economic priorities.

What Go brings to the table

Joining the government is definitely a huge sacrifice for Go. I could only surmise that the decision is spurred by the business sector’s lament that nothing is getting done to fast-track economic progress in the country.  Having led a multibillion-peso company, Go is certainly a plus for the Marcos government. He will bring his vast experience in business to spur economic development. The realms of business and economics after all are intricately connected, with both playing vital roles in shaping the global landscape. While economists analyze and interpret economic phenomena, businessmen actively engage in the practical application of economic principles. Compared to economists who often operate at a more theoretical level, businessmen – with their hands-on approach to economic activities – are better-positioned to drive innovation, create value, and spur economic growth. 

Businessmen are at the forefront of innovation and agility, constantly seeking new ways to meet market demands, and stay ahead of the competition. Unlike economists who may rely or focus more on analyzing historical data and formulating theories, businessmen operate in the dynamic and ever-changing business environment. Their ability to identify opportunities, take risks, and innovate in response to market needs allows them to contribute directly to economic progress.

Entrepreneurs possess a unique vision that goes beyond theoretical economic models. While economists may study and predict economic trends, businessmen have a tangible impact on the economy by bringing their visions to life. Successful businessmen often possess a deep understanding of consumer behavior, market dynamics, and emerging trends, enabling them to create products and services that resonate with the public.

Businessmen are instrumental in job creation and wealth generation, which are essential components of a thriving economy. Through the establishment and expansion of businesses, entrepreneurs contribute to employment opportunities, thereby reducing unemployment rates and fostering economic stability. Additionally, successful businesses generate wealth, not only for the entrepreneurs themselves, but also for their employees and stakeholders, thus creating a positive ripple effect throughout society. – Rappler.com

Val A. Villanueva is a veteran business journalist. He was a former business editor of the Philippine Star and the Gokongwei-owned Manila Times. For comments, suggestions email him at mvala.v@gmail.com.

1 comment

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  1. ET

    This a very good article that is greatly in favor of the new economic czar Frederick Go. Let us hope that this statement is true and will continue to be true: “The Gokongweis have never used their prominence or businesses to acquire political influence in furthering their own interests.” Concerned, open-minded, and critical-minded Filipinos should be watchful for the possible resurgence of “Marcos Kleptocracy” but this time under version 2.0. Yet, this type of Filipino will always need the help of investigative journalists and proven independent and resilient media channels like Rappler.

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