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Duterte as possible 'drug czar,' P20/kg of rice 'aspiration,' and other highlights from Marcos Jr.'s debut presscon as president-elect

By NICK GARCIA Published May 26, 2022 5:06 pm Updated May 26, 2022 5:20 pm

President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. held his first-ever press briefing on May 26, a day after he was proclaimed as the country's 17th chief executive.

The press briefing was moderated by Trixie Cruz-Angeles, Marcos Jr.'s newly tapped press secretary.

Hours after Marcos Jr.'s briefing, his outgoing spokesman and incoming executive secretary Vic Rodriguez said only three media organizations—namely Net25, SMNI, and GMA—were invited as they expressed interest in conducting a one-on-one interview with his boss while he was still a candidate.

"Ito iyong commitment na ibinigay ng aming media team noong kampanya sa tatlong network na agad nagpasabi na, 'Kung saka-sakaling mananalo si then-candidate Bongbong Marcos, maaari ho ba kaming mapagbigyan ng one-on-one interview?'" he said. "As you can see, pinagsabay-sabay na namin ang networks na nagpakita ng interes noon pa man."

"It doesn't mean we have intended to exclude anyone," Rodriguez said, thanking all media organization for the past coverages.

The questions mostly revolved around his plans during his first few days in office. Contentious issues about the Marcoses however, were left unasked, such as the outlook on their family's unpaid estate tax, Imelda Marcos' graft conviction, and the assets still being sought after by the Presidential Commission on Good Government, including a Picasso painting whose photo recently made the rounds online. 

Here are some of the highlights of Marcos Jr.'s hour-long interview.

Presidential appointments

Marcos Jr. bared more of his picks for his Cabinet, saying he wants to "really hit the ground running" upon officially assuming office on June 30. The new key appointments were

  • Benjamin Diokno - Department of Finance
  • Fred Pascual - Department of Trade and Industry
  • Manny Bonoan - Department of Public Works and Highways
  • Felipe Medalla - Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas
  • Anton Lagdameo - special assistant to the president (SAP)

Outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte created the position of SAP to supervise the Presidential Management Staff. Bong Go, Duterte's aide since his Davao City mayor days, served as his SAP.

"He knows me very well," Marcos Jr. said of Lagdameo. "He's been with us working for me for the past ten years."

Lagdameo, the husband of actress Dawn Zulueta, is a member of the powerful Floirendo clan of Mindanao. He's the grandson of Antonio Floirendo Sr., one of the cronies of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. dubbed as the "banana king" for owning a 6000-hectare banana plantation in the province.

Marcos Jr. said he's also "still waiting" for retired University of the Philippines professor Clarita Carlos to select a government position where she could be most effective.

Marcos Jr. has yet to announce the country's new top diplomat, as well as the new solicitor general. 

There are also "many applicants" for positions at the Bureau of Customs and Bureau of Internal Revenue, the president-elect said.

Duterte as 'drug czar'?

Marcos Jr. also claimed to have met with Duterte "several times" before the elections. During the meetings, Duterte supposedly advised him to "modify" his administration's flagship war on drugs program and continue it.

"'Basta itong mga bagay na ito ituloy mo,' that is the request that is so important to him," Marcos Jr. said. "'Do it your own way,' he really said that. 'Palitan mo pero huwag mong iiwanan.'"

Duterte earlier admitted that he was wrong to promise that he could end the country's illegal drugs problem in "three to six months" time.

During the campaign, Marcos Jr. said his UniTeam will "pursue" the war on drugs and win it through "love."

The president-elect said he is also open to appointing Duterte as a drug czar "if he wants to." They, however, haven't yet talked about it, he said.

P20 per kilo of rice 'aspiration'

When asked about his campaign promise of having P20 per kilo of rice, the president-elect said it is "an aspiration."

"That [P20 per kilo of rice] is the aspiration. Bubuin natin iyong value chain,” said Marcos Jr.

Marcos Jr. said for now, he has already talked to some traders about holding the price of rice.

“Kausap ko na yung mga ibang trader, baka puwede na natin i-hold ng ilang buwan, yung presyo na yun. I think we will be able to do it as a first step,” Marcos Jr. said.

"But in the long term, we really have to fix our value chain," the president-elect said, referring to the stages where a product or a service is brought to the market

"We have to do research and development... find new varieties, find new techniques. With the price of fertilizer getting so high, ano ba ang alternatives natin? We have to bring all these new technologies to the farm. And we have to teach them how to best take advantage of all the things we have discovered. We have to find new ways of production," he said.

He also wants to address the aging population of farmers, noting most of them are already in their late 50s.

"Our farmers are aged 56, 57. That is not a good number," he said.

The Department of Trade and Industry said Marcos Jr.'s campaign promise is plausible but not immediately, as a thorough study is needed in gradually implementing it. Progressive farmers group Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas, meanwhile, outrightly said it's impossible due to the rice tariffication law.

Signed in 2019, Republic Act 11203 removes quantitative restrictions on rice imports and places a 35% tariff instead. Part of the proceeds from the tariffs was in turn allocated to a fund meant to help affected farmers by capacitating them with the technology and skills that could help them compete.

Fuel excise tax suspension to undergo study

Marcos Jr. said proposals to suspend fuel excise taxes due to rising prices brought about by Russia's invasion of Ukraine must first undergo a "cost-benefit" analysis.

"I think in terms of oil excise tax, I think we still have to look at it very well," Marcos said. "There are other ways to handle oil price increase, we can support the hard-hit areas like transport."

"If there is a commensurate return to somehow deferring the collection of excise tax, what would be the bearing?" he asked, adding that the government needs to balance the interest of the people and the generation of government revenues.

There have been many calls to suspend excise taxes, but Duterte decided to keep them in accordance with the Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion or TRAIN law. He said suspending it could reduce government revenues by P105.9 billion.

Instead, Duterte approved of cash subsidies for drivers and farmers.

West Philippine Sea stance

Marcos Jr. said his administration will "not allow a single millimeter of our maritime coastal rights to be trampled upon” in the West Philippine Sea.

"In terms of sovereignty, there is no wiggle room there. Our sovereignty is sacred and we will not compromise it in any way," Marcos Jr. said, adding that "there is no room for negotiation" over the country's "sacred and inviolable" rights.

He, however, noted that the Philippines cannot afford to "go to war" with China, noting that it's the "last thing" the country needed at this point.

Instead, Marcos Jr. said his administration will talk to China "consistently with a firm voice" along with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations or ASEAN. He also vowed to uphold the Hague ruling awarded to the Philippines in 2016.

"We have a very important ruling in our favor," the president-elect said. "We will use it to continue to assert our territorial rights."