- Geoff Donald
What Will Bong Bong Do?
With just 6 weeks away, the Philippines will hold their national election selecting a new President, Vice President, and Congress. Throughout the campaign period, Ferdinand “Bong Bong” Marcos Jr. has held a commanding lead in the polls with 60% of respondents choosing him as their preferred choice as the next president. His polling lead is forty-five points higher than his next closest opponent.
While the polls may tighten over the next 6 weeks as people opposed to Marcos decided to coalesce around a single opponent, barring a major new scandal it is likely that a Marcos will be back in Malacañang Palace as President for the first time since 1986.
But if elected President what changes will Bong Bong bring to the Philippines?
That is where things get tricky.
In political campaign parlance, Marcos Jr. is running a classic front runner bubble campaign. This means that he is campaigning on a message of unity, focusing on collecting endorsements from political and business leaders, and limiting his public and media appearances including missing the first Presidential debate instead using social media to communicate directly to the Filipino public.
While this is an effective strategy for winning an election campaign, unfortunately the Marcos campaign noticeably light on what a President Marcos would do if elected in May. Let’s examine what he has said so far on economic and foreign policy issues.
While the Philippines economy bounced back at the end of 2021 with strong GDP growth, unemployment in the Philippines remains the highest in Southeast Asia. So while economic issues should play a large role in the upcoming election, it is striking that Senator Marcos has yet to release a detailed economic plan despite saying that “Jumpstarting our economy would be a top priority for us.”
At a macroeconomic level Marcos Jr. has talked about allowing Philippines debt-to-GDP ratio to continue to rise by pointing out that other countries have ratios over 100% vs the Philippine current level of 63%. He has also talked about the need to improve the ease of doing business in the Philippine in order to allow new businesses to be created and about fostering a business environment that would allow businesses to thrive. But what the actual specifics steps a Marcos administration would take to achieve ease doing business in the Philippines has not yet been made public.
One issue that Marcos Jr. has laid out a plan for is on Philippine’s electricity costs and its impact on everyday Filipinos and businesses. His plan consists of increasing Philippine’s energy supply through the addition of new geothermal and hydroelectric power plants, more solar and wind farms, and nuclear power. The addition of nuclear power would be carried out by finally starting the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant which was originally completed in the 1980s but never commissioned.
Other economic issues that Marcos Jr. has addressed include simplifying taxes for Philippines companies, increasing support to MSME, improving the Philippines food supply and agricultural sector. Regarding issues relating to infrastructure and transportation, Marcos Jr. has committed to continuing President Duterte “Build Build Build” program.
The discussion around foreign policy on the campaign trail so far has revolved around the issue of China, the US and how the Philippines can best navigate between these two major powers. When ask about on foreign policy issues Bong Bong has made the following statements:
When asked if his foreign policy will be anti-China or pro-China or anti-United States or pro-US in an online interview, Marcos replied "Pro Philippines, I've always said that, I don't work for Washington DC, I don't work for Beijing. I work for the Philippines."
That the Philippines needed to be "friends with anyone"
Has referred to China as a “friend” and spoken of “coming together” with China. 
Marcos Jr. has repeatedly said the Philippines’ arbitral win against China by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s in 2016 could not be enforced.
That he (Marcos Jr.) would seek an agreement with China to allow Filipinos to fish in the West Philippines.
That he was open to sending ships from the Philippine Navy or Coast Guard to the West Philippine Sea “to make their presence felt.”
He has also said that he would deploy Philippine warships to “defend” the country’s fishers as well as sovereign rights in the South China Sea.
On defence related issues, Marcos Jr. describes the Philippines relationship with the United States as “special and very important” and that he would continue the Philippine’s Visiting Forces Agreement and Mutual Defence Treaty with the United States.
In addition, he has also talked about entering into security dialogues or agreements with other countries if these agreements clearly benefit the Philippines though who these other countries are was left unmentioned.
Bong Bong’s foreign policy will continue to be in line with that of current President Duterte in trying to build better relationships politically and economically with China but falling back on its treaty ally, the United States, on security related issues when needed. Whether a future Marcos administration will be able to pull off balance between the two sides remains to be seen but it will be exceedingly difficult.
As mentioned in the first part of this post, the Marcos’ campaign strategy has limited his discussion on most policy issues including economic and foreign policy choosing instead to focus on the issue of unity. As result of the lack of policies, it is not clear what a Marcos administration will do that is different in any way from the current administration.
The lack of an economic plan makes it difficult to get certainty for companies looking to expand the Philippines, for attracting the foreign investors that the Philippines desperately needs and for creating new jobs good paying jobs for the millions of current unemployed Filipinos.
While it certainly sounds nice, “You have to be friends to everyone. You don't want to be enemies with anyone," is not a viable foreign policy. A foreign policy needs to lay out what the outcome the Philippines is looking for and how this outcome is to be achieved yet so far, we have not seen such sort of the thinking from the Marcos camp. For those looking for any meaningful change to the Philippines foreign policy under a President Marcos will be disappointed.
While supporters on each side of the campaign, pundits and scholars will make claims about how the Philippines will dramatically change under a Marcos presidency, the muddle-along rule of geopolitics will apply – barring a major shock, the Philippines will muddle along regardless of the trouble it faces internally and externally and that life for most Filipinos will not change.
 https://www.manilatimes.net/2022/02/01/news/national/marcos-foreign-policy-pro-ph/1831369  https://news.abs-cbn.com/news/03/16/22/bongbong-on-us-china-conflict-you-want-to-be-friends-with-anyone  https://www.rappler.com/nation/experts-comment-ferdinand-bongbong-marcos-jr-view-west-philippine-sea/  https://www.bworldonline.com/analysts-decry-unclear-foreign-policy-direction/  https://www.rappler.com/nation/experts-comment-ferdinand-bongbong-marcos-jr-view-west-philippine-sea/