Personnel is policy. As the Cabinet of President-elect Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. takes shape, what could then be gleaned for the country's future in the next six years?
Marcos Jr. is set to assume power on June 30 with a Cabinet that still lacks some major appointees, including the health and foreign affairs departments.
The first of many appointees—Vic Rodriguez, Sara Duterte-Carpio, Benhur Abalos, and Boying Remulla—drew mixed reactions, with critics saying Marcos Jr. handpicked them as gratitude for their efforts during his presidential campaign. He also chose personalities that have connections with their family.
But other names eventually announced—which included Arsenio Balisacan, Ben Diokno, and Felipe Medalla—earned a more positive reception because of their considerable experience that dates back to past administrations.
And with the country’s record P13-trillion debt, the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, and a slew of much-needed infrastructure projects, among many other issues, there are lots of expectations for the 17th president and his men.
Analysts and former cabinet officials alike noted that it’s important to hit the ground running as soon as possible, as the urgency of the tasks ahead does away with the privilege of having a lenient learning curve.
“No need for time to understand the role that they need to play,” Dindo Manhit, president and founder of think tank ADR Stratbase Institute, told PhilSTAR L!fe.
These monumental challenges include crafting a bounceback strategy from the record economic recession amid the public health crisis, according to Lito Banayo, who served under the Aquino, Estrada, Aquino III, and Duterte administrations.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) suffered a record 16.9% slump in the second quarter, with a record 7.3 million Filipinos left unemployed. The GDP also contracted for five consecutive quarters.
“You need people who already know what they are doing, not people who would still try to learn the ropes,” Banayo told PhilSTAR L!fe.
Knowing the gravity of the situation, Marcos Jr. appointed old hands to manage the pandemic-stricken economy the Duterte administration will leave behind.
He handpicked Balisacan to lead the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA), Diokno the Department of Finance (DOF), and Medalla the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).
Balisacan first headed NEDA in 2012 under Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. In 2016, he left the department to chair the fledgling Philippine Competition Commission.
He’s part of Aquino III’s economic team that helped the Philippines secure its first-ever investment-grade status from international credit ratings agency Fitch, lowering interest rates on debts and attracting more foreign investors in the country. Under his and other economic managers’ watch, the Aquino III administration accomplished a record 6.2% GDP growth and a benign 2.7% average inflation rate.
Diokno, meanwhile, is no stranger to economic issues, having worked for three administrations.
Under Rodrigo Duterte, he served as secretary of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) from 2016 to 2019. He then became the fifth governor of the BSP to fill in the shoes of Nestor Espenilla Jr., who succumbed to cancer.
Diokno also served as a DBM official under President Corazon Aquino, as undersecretary for DBM's Budget Operations (1986 to 1991), and under President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, as secretary (1998 to 2001).
Medalla, meanwhile, is a BSP Monetary Board Member since 2011 who will succeed Diokno as the central bank chief. He was also the NEDA director-general during Estrada’s term.
You need people who already know what they are doing, not people who would still try to learn the ropes. — Lito Banayo
“So far, we have an assurance from them,” Edwin Lacierda, the palace spokesman of Aquino III, told PhilSTAR L!fe, referring to the incoming economic team. “For the international community, crucial iyon. Maaapektuhan ang credit ratings natin.”
“I’d like to congratulate him (Marcos Jr.) for picking a very strong economic team,” Banayo also said. “Fortunately, he did not choose economic managers who do not have the requisite experience.”
Cabinet appointments due to ‘utang na loob’
Some, however, were skeptical when Marcos Jr. appointed Duterte-Carpio as Department of Education (DepEd) secretary; spokesman Rodriguez as executive secretary; and national campaign manager Abalos as Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) secretary.
There’s been a perception of the proverbial “utang na loob,” especially with the appointment of known Marcos supporters Boying Remulla, who is Cavite 7th District Rep., as Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary and Solicitor General Jose Calida as Commission on Audit (COA) chairman.
The tourism portfolio being assigned to Christina Frasco, Duterte-Carpio’s spokesman who’s also the daughter of Marcos-Duterte ally Cebu Gov. Gwen Garcia, also had its share of skeptics.
But Banayo noted that appointments are not only about a person's competence but also reflect the level of confidence and trust of the appointing power.
Banayo noted that the executive secretary, for instance, is someone expected to be in touch with the president every day, and Rodriguez’s previous role simply makes him the man for the job.
“There’s really nothing wrong with that,” Banayo said. “All presidential appointments are measured how the president trusts their ability and integrity.”
In an interview with online talk show Facts First, Maria Ela Atienza of the University of the Philippines Diliman’s Department of Political Science said a presidential candidate already has names in mind as early as the campaign period. With Cabinet officials serving as the “alter ego” of the president, Atienza pointed out that their appointment is inevitably hinged on familiarity.
“Hindi talaga maiiwasan,” Atienza said, “kasi mayroon talagang mapagkakatiwalaan, nakasama na sa kampanya, o kahit noon pa, may mga kakilala na siya.”
Such was also the case for Lacierda. As part of the “Daang Matuwid" campaign team, Lacierda alongside former DepEd secretary Butch Abad (who was Aquino III’s campaign manager), former DOF secretary Cesar Purisima, and former Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) secretary Dinky Soliman were eventually appointed to their respective posts when Aquino III won the presidency.
Lacierda said that much like other political parties, they already started considering names for Aquino III’s would-be Cabinet since the filing of candidacy in October.
“Some people will look at it as bayad-utang, pero kasama mong nagtrabaho sa kampanya (ang mga iyan),” he noted. “Nakita na rin ng kandidato na, ‘Uy, marunong pala ito, pwede sa gabinete.’”
Banayo, who served as Duterte’s campaign manager, was also appointed as chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office (MECO), the country’s de facto embassy in Taiwan. He resigned from the post to lead the presidential bid of Isko Moreno Domagoso.
Even Duterte himself has the penchant for appointing people from his hometown Davao City, having known them for years due to his mayoral stint since the ‘80s.
Atienza on Facts First also said a Cabinet appointee can be someone who has established rapport with the president inasmuch as someone who is deemed to have expertise in their field.
Some people will look at it as bayad-utang, pero kasama mong nagtrabaho sa kampanya (ang mga iyan). — Edwin Lacierda
She cited Abalos as someone worthy of the DILG portfolio, taking note of his track record as mayor of Mandaluyong from 1998 to 2004 and from 2007 to 2016. In between these terms, he also served as Mandaluyong representative from 2004 to 2007. He also chaired the Metro Manila Development Authority from 2021 to 2022.
Atienza also took note of Remulla being a graduate of the UP College of Law. She, however, expressed concern over his past red-tagging, as he will be among those at the helm of the Anti-Terrorism Council under the controversial anti-terrorism law, in charge of assessing whether individuals and organizations are terrorists.
Frasco, meanwhile, hails from Cebu, considered as among the country’s foremost tourism hubs. According to Banayo, this makes Frasco “aware” of what to do in office as Tourism secretary.
The ties that bind
Aside from Balisacan, Diokno, and Medalla, Marcos Jr.’s other picks also piqued interest because of the ties that bind them and the past administrations, including his father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
For instance, Toots Ople, who was chosen by Marcos Jr. to lead the newly created Department of Migrant Workers, is the daughter of Blas Ople, Marcos Sr.’s labor secretary of 18 years (1967 to 1971, 1972 to 1986). Conrado Estrella III, incoming Department of Agrarian Reform secretary, is the grandson of Conrado Estrella Sr., who held the same post under Marcos Sr. for 15 years (1971 to 1986).
Anton Lagdameo Jr., Marcos Jr.’s Special Assistant to the President, is the grandson of "banana king" Antonio Floirendo Sr., one of Marcos Sr.'s known cronies. The president-elect even said he and Lagdameo Jr. have known each other since they were young.
Juan Ponce Enrile, Marcos Jr.'s chosen presidential legal counsel, is Marcos Sr.'s Justice secretary and Department of National Defense minister. Enrile is known to be the architect and administrator of Martial Law. He later on became a key figure in the military-backed 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that threw the Marcoses out of Malacañang. Decades later, Enrile has turned into a staunch supporter of his old boss' son and namesake.
Former police chief Ricardo De Leon, who'll serve as director of the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, is the longtime aide of Marcos Jr.'s sister Imee. De Leon, then a lieutenant colonel, accompanied her when the Marcoses fled the country during the People Power. Aquino III appointed him as president of the Philippine Public Safety College in 2014.
Former Manila Rep. Naida Angping, incoming head of the Presidential Management Staff, served as a technical assistant of the Office of the Governor of Leyte, the hometown of Marcos Jr.’s mother Imelda. Angping also served as the executive assistant of the late Leyte Gov. Benjamin “Kokoy” Romualdez, Imelda’s brother and father of Martin Romualdez, who is reportedly poised to become the next House Speaker.
Silvestre Bello III will be heading MECO under Marcos Jr. after serving four presidents. As Duterte's outgoing Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) secretary, Bello III also served as the cabinet secretary of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, solicitor general of Fidel V. Ramos, and DOJ secretary of Aquino.
Bienvenido Laguesma, Bello's successor as DOLE secretary, held the same post under Estrada from 1998 to 2001. He’s also Ramos’s special assistant from 1996 to 1998. Aquino III then appointed him as chairman of the Social Security System’s Audit Committee and in 2013 became an SSS board member.
Manny Bonoan, incoming Department of Works and Public Highways secretary, is the president and chief executive officer of San Miguel Corp. Tollways. He also served as an undersecretary of Estrada and Arroyo.
Lilia Guillermo, Marcos Jr.'s appointed Bureau of Internal Revenue commissioner, was a former deputy commissioner in charge of the Tax Computerization Project launched during the Ramos administration. Guillermo is also the head of the BSP Technology and Digital Innovation Office.
Amenah Pangandaman, incoming DBM secretary, is Diokno’s chief of staff at the BSP. Pangandaman was also an undersecretary at the DBM during Diokno’s secretary days. She’s also the chief of staff of the late Senate President Edgardo Angara, from 2007 to 2013.
Ivan John Enrile Uy, incoming Department of Information and Communications Technology secretary, was the former chairman of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology under Aquino III.
Menardo Guevarra, incoming solicitor general, served as Duterte's deputy executive secretary from 2016 to 2018 before being appointed as DOJ secretary. He was also Aquino III's deputy executive secretary in 2015.
Calida, the outgoing solicitor general, was a DOJ undersecretary and Dangerous Drugs Board executive director under Arroyo.
Karlo Nograles, who served as Duterte's cabinet secretary and acting palace spokesman, will retain his post as chairman of the Civil Service Commission after Marcos Jr. renominated him.
Trixie Cruz Angeles, Presidential Communications Operations Office secretary-delegate, was previously the PCOO’s social media strategist under Duterte from 2017 to 2018.
A number of appointments, however, also fell to people who are government service for the first time.
Alfredo Pascual, incoming Department of Trade and Industry secretary, was the 20th president of the University of the Philippines System, as well as co-chair of the UP Board of Regents, from 2011 to 2017.
Prior to his UP stint, Pascual worked at Asian Development Bank for 19 years under various positions, including director of Private Sector Operations, Director of Infrastructure Finance, and Advisor for Public-Private Partnership. He’s also among the pioneers of investment banking in the Philippines, holding executive positions in Bancom Development Corporation, Philippine Pacific Capitol (now RCBC Capital), and First Metro Investment Corporation. He’s also the head of the prominent business group Management Association Philippines.
Clarita Carlos, a retired UP professor who was a panelist at the SMNI presidential debates, is set to become Marcos Jr.’s National Security Adviser.
Erwin Tulfo, a news anchor at state-run PTV, will take charge of the DSWD. He’s the brother of fellow broadcast personalities Ben, Ramon, and Raffy, who’s also a senator-elect, as well as former DOT Sec. Wanda Teo.
Jaime Bautista, former president of flag carrier Philippine Airlines, is taking the Department of Transportation portfolio.
Jose Arnulfo Veloso, Philippine National Bank president and CEO, is the next president and general manager of the Government Service and Insurance System.
Old hands, new blood
Manhit is hoping for the president-elect to consider appointing new blood, especially to the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).
“In these departments, you need people who are ready to act, ready to execute,” he said. “Old hands with non-political appointees, but very energetic young appointments to lead other cabinets—that is what we need.”
Such a balancing act, Manhit said, would manifest Marcos Jr.’s promise of “unity” during his campaign.
“I hope it becomes strategic in the sense that it looks at the Philippines beyond the next six years,” he said. “How do we really recover from this pandemic? How do we protect the Philippine national interest beyond our borders? I hope we can harness them (Cabinet appointees) together along that line (unity).”
Old hands with non-political appointees, but very energetic young appointments to lead other cabinets—that is what we need. — Dindo Manhit
Marcos Jr. will take his oath on June 30 as the 17th president of the Philippines with no appointments just yet to the following departments, which he said will comprise the “best and the brightest”:
- Office of the Presidential Spokesperson
- Office of the Cabinet Secretary
- Department of Foreign Affairs
- Department of Health
- Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development
- Department of Science and Technology
- Philippine Competition Commission
- Armed Forces of the Philippines
- Philippine Sports Commission
- National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council
In a press briefing on June 29, Cruz-Angeles said Marcos Jr.'s team is still carefully vetting nominees for the vacant offices.
"Dahil nga sinasabi niyong mahalaga ang mga posisyong ito, hindi ito pwedeng madaliin," she said, adding that cabinet appointees after June 30 would have a separate oath-taking.
Marcos Jr. previously said he’s not keen in appointing a spokesperson, noting a president can explain things by himself. He also appointed himself to the Department of Agriculture portfolio "at least for now," citing "severe" problems in the sector.
“We'll just have to wait what he intends to do in the first 100 days,” Lacierda said.
(with reports from Ayie Licsi and Brooke Villanueva)