Mixed Bag of Marcos’ Initial Year in Philippines

Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has made significant strides in his first year in office, signing the New Agrarian Emancipation Act and the Regional Specialty Centers Act. He also granted amnesty to rebel groups, resumed peace talks, and re-empowered the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict.

The Philippine economy has seen a significant recovery, with inflation dropping from 8.7% in January 2023 to 3.9% in December 2023. The country also experienced the strongest third-quarter growth in Southeast Asia at 5.9%. Marcos has walked back controversial policies from former president Rodrigo Duterte, admitting drug war abuses and cleansing the Philippine National Police. He has also defended the country’s sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

However, other policy areas need attention, such as the price ceiling on rice in September 2023, which caused confusion and dissent among government officials. In 2023, public transport operators protested the Public Utility Vehicle Modernization Program, which aims to replace traditional jeepneys with modern vehicles.

Marcos promised legislation to help drivers purchase modern vehicles, but Congress has yet to enact such a bill. Marcos signed into law the Maharlika Investment Fund, the country’s first sovereign wealth fund, despite the risks it poses. Marcos must address reported military unrest before it spirals out of control.

The biggest controversies of 2023 centered around confidential funds and rumored disunity within the government. In September 2023, Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio received confidential funds worth US$2.3-million with Marcos’ approval and spent it in just 11 days, leading to double-digit declines in both Marcos’s and Duterte-Carpio’s approval ratings.

The administration is also hampered by cracks in the UniTeam Alliance, the political coalition that paved the way for Marcos’s and Duterte-Carpio’s historic majority victories in the 2022 elections. In May 2023, former president Gloria Arroyo was relegated from senior house deputy speaker to one of nine deputy house speakers, and Duterte-Carpio resigned from the party after the demotion.

In November 2023, former senator Leila de Lima was released on bail, a critic of Duterte’s drug war, and Marcos announced the government’s consideration of returning to the International Criminal Court for drug war investigations.

Duterte may return to politics after his daughter’s impeachment and potential ICC investigation into his drug war. Marcos may become an unlikely ally of the ICC and local human rights groups in holding the Duterte regime accountable. 2023 was a year for Marcos, who governed moderately and restored bureaucratic normalcy.

However, allegations of military dissent and disunity in the UniTeam Alliance have eclipsed the promising progress in the early Marcos presidency. Marcos should focus on fulfilling his vision of transformational reform for the Philippines, allowing him to leave a greater legacy than his predecessors.

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