July 1, 2022
MANILA – Mr Ferdinand Marcos Jr was sworn in as the 17th president of the Philippines on Thursday (June 30), completing an epic return of his family to power 36 years after they fled the country in shame and giving himself six years to remake the legacy of his father.
“This is a historic moment for us all. I feel it deep within me. You, the people, have spoken, and it is resounding,” Mr Marcos Jr said during his inauguration.
In a 30-minute speech interrupted several times by applause, Mr Marcos Jr extolled the rule of his father, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr, as he gave a broad outline of his plans to deliver on his campaign promises.
“I once knew a man who saw what little had been achieved since independence in a land of people with the greatest potential for achievement… They were poor, but he got it done… So will it be with his son. You will get no excuses from me,” he said.
Talking up self-determination as foreign policy, he again called back to his father.
“We resisted and never failed to defeat foreign attempts to break up our country in my father’s watch. His strongest critics have conceded that,” he said.
As he ended his speech, he again said: “My father built more and better roads, produced more rice than all administrations before his.”
Mr Marcos Jr took his oath at midday in a public ceremony at the National Museum in the capital Manila, which used to house Congress and where three other presidents were inaugurated.
His wife, Ms Louise “Liza” Araneta-Marcos, 62, his sons Sandro, Simon and Vincent, his 92-year-old mother Imelda, and his sisters Imee Marcos and Irene Marcos-Araneta, were with him as he was sworn in.
The scene offered a split-screen image from another presidential inauguration on Feb 25 1986, when the dictator Marcos Sr, Imelda and their three children, including a then 28-year-old Marcos Jr in army fatigue, stood combatively on the balcony of Malacanang Palace, the seat of government, as a coup and an uprising swirled around them.
A defiant Marcos Sr had insisted on a ceremony to mark his fourth term as president. Hours later, he and his family were being flown by an American plane to Hawaii to start their exile.
Mr Marcos Sr ruled the Philippines for two decades from 1965, almost half of it under martial law.
During his rule, thousands were jailed and killed, and the family name became synonymous with cronyism, extravagance and the disappearance of billions of dollars from state coffers.
But on Thursday, Mr Marcos Jr returned triumphantly to Malacanang. Beaming, he walked up the grand staircase leading to the office of the president at around 10.30am to meet his predecessor, Mr Rodrigo Duterte, and give him a ceremonial send-off.
Mr Duterte, whose rule was punctuated by a brutal war on drugs and an ambitious infrastructure plan derailed by the Covid-19 pandemic, departed afterwards for Davao City to start his life as a private citizen.
Mr Marcos Jr then proceeded to the National Museum to take his oath as the 17th president of the Philippines.
Riding on a promise to continue what Mr Duterte started and on the key backing of Mr Duterte’s hugely popular daughter, Ms Sara Duterte-Carpio, Mr Marcos Jr won the May 9 elections with 31.6 million votes – more than double the 15.03 million received by his closest rival, former vice-president Leni Robredo.
“The incoming Marcos government is likely to represent a continuation of Duterte’s style of managing the government and economy, rather than a disruption, with a focus on post-pandemic recovery at the onset,” said Mr Dereck Aw, a senior analyst at the think-tank Control Risks.
That continuity also means inheriting the baggage Mr Duterte is leaving behind.
The Duterte government is leaving a massive debt: over 12 trillion pesos (S$320 billion). Most was money his government borrowed to fund his pandemic response.
Prices have soared, as the ripple effects of the war in Ukraine reach the Philippines.
A sharp spike in petrol prices has spawned a transport crisis. Food prices are forecast to rise even further in the latter half of the year, even as salaries are expected to remain stagnant and taxes likely to head north.
Mr Marcos Jr is taking office as the Philippine peso falls to 55 against the US dollar, making it Asia’s worst-performing currency.
“The situation is very volatile. Prices could still rise,” said Mr Arsenio Balisacan, the new chief economic planner.
Mr Aw said Mr Marcos Jr would have to prioritise trimming the national debt and taming runaway inflation.
But these “will temper the incoming administration’s ambition in terms of ramping up infrastructure spending and tax breaks for pandemic-stricken businesses”, he said.
Mr Marcos Jr, in his speech on Friday, acknowledged the impact of the war in Ukraine on the Philippines.
“We face the prospect of the spread of the war abroad, of which we are totally blameless… Countries like ours will bear the brunt of it, and if the great powers draw the wrong lessons from the ongoing tragedy in Ukraine, these same dark prospects of conflict will spread to our part of the world,” he said.
He said “troubling times” lie ahead, but that “giving up is not an option”.
“In the road ahead, the immediate months will be rough, but I will walk that road with you. The pandemic ravaged bigger economies than ours, but the virus is not the only thing to blame. What had been built was torn down. We will build it back better,” he said.
He talked about sweeping reforms in agriculture and education, helping businesses hardest hit by the pandemic, climate change, and reeling in more private sector help for his infrastructure push.
But Mr Marcos Jr offered little details on what exactly he intends to do, except saying his ministers “are presently drawing up a comprehensive, all inclusive plan for economic transformation” that he promised to unveil in his first State of the Nation Address.
Mr Aw, the analyst, said one advantage Mr Marcos Jr has is that he will be presenting a more approachable, less threatening leader than Mr Duterte.
“A welcome change is likely to be Marcos’ departure from Duterte’s proclivity for theatrical and long-winded policy pronouncements, which worked for his base but tended to spook uninitiated investors and send mixed signals to markets,” he said.