Analysts warn of instability sans anti-graft drive

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

THE MARCOS government’s failure to prioritize anti-corruption measures might lead to political instability that could derail the state’s economic recovery agenda, according to analysts.

“You can’t attract investments and business confidence without assurance of good governance,” Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines, said in a Facebook Messenger chat.

She said President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in his first address to Congress on Monday failed to discuss ways to strengthen the rule of law, ensure accountability and transparency and reform the country’s ailing justice system.

The president also did not discuss political reforms that can strengthen institutions and democratic processes, which are crucial to equitable growth, she added.

Mr. Marcos’ first State of the Nation Address (SONA) focused on the economy and failed to tackle a wide range of political and governance concerns, Sonny A. Africa, executive director of think tank Ibon Foundation, said in a Messenger chat.

“The SONA actually telegraphed our problem with how far we can expect the Marcos administration to deal with human rights, corruption, disinformation, political dynasties, electoral reform and other aspects of poor governance,” he said.

Mr. Marcos on Monday vowed to overhaul the tax system and unveiled a 19-point legislative agenda meant to spur growth and make the Philippines an investment destination amid a coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Marcos started his speech with a promise to implement sound fiscal management and tax administration reforms to boost revenue collections.

The president should have promised the business community he would ensure state accountability and a fair investment climate, said Francisco A. Magno, who teaches political science and development studies at De La Salle University.

“Honest companies that would like to participate in government bidding procedures should be assuaged that there would a level business playing field where favoritism is not the name of the game,” he said in a Messenger chat.

While the president vowed to continue public investments in infrastructure, social development and health services, “he did not touch on the need to apply due diligence procedures in the awarding of contracts,” Mr. Magno said.

“Corruption — whether done in secret or exposed by whistleblowers and legislative inquiries — will definitely dampen pandemic response and economic recovery issues,” Ms. Atienza said.

Mr. Marcos, 64, could not escape pressure to address corruption allegations against him and his family, she added. “It is difficult to lead by example when you and your family have unsettled issues.”

Ms. Atienza said potential corruption issues against the administration would likely be set aside if he has a strong backing from lawmakers, who can investigate just about anything “in aid of legislation.”

It would depend on how popular he remains and whether the super majority will remain loyal to him, she said.

Should Mr. Marcos eventually prioritize good governance and political reforms, “that would mean a major political shift is unfolding,” said Arjan P. Aguirre, who teaches political science at the Ateneo De Manila University.

He said the public should expect Mr. Marcos to consolidate his political base after the SONA “to make sure that their hold on power is stable and strong.”

“It will be personalistic and populist,” Mr. Aguirre said in a Messenger chat. “It is risky for it would mean that the alliances and alignments would change in the coming months.”

Former Senator Franklin M. Drilon also cited President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr.’s silence on his plans for the country’s justice system.

“I wish the president tackled the state of our justice system and the rule of law in his first State of the Nation Address,” Mr. Drilon, who is also a former Justice chief, said in a statement.

“He tackled everything from COVID-19 to our failing education system to our economic recovery. However, one critical ingredient is missing: the rule of law.”  

He said he hoped these issues would not be “swept under the rug,” adding that the Duterte government had also neglected these.

“I was hoping that there would have been a stronger statement in terms of good governance,” Management Association of the Philippines President Rogelio L. Singson told One News channel.

“If I’m a Cabinet member and I want to implement good governance principles, will my president be behind me if I go against contractors or politicians? That will always be a question behind a Cabinet member’s direction,” he added.

The Marcos administration is targeting 6.5-7.5% economic growth this year and 6.5-8% through 2028.

Mr. Marcos pledged to bring down the poverty rate to 9% by the end of his six-year term, and the ratio of the state’s budget deficit to economic output to 3%. The government also seeks to attain upper middle-income status by 2024. — with Alyssa Nicole O. Tan and Revin Mikhael D. Ochave