By Andreo Calonzo and Ditas Lopez
Philippine President-elect Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. said he wants to boost trade ties with the US instead of a “dependence” on aid, and signaled openness to join an economic initiative pushed by President Joe Biden to counter China’s influence.
Marcos, who is set to take office on June 30, said he wants to attract more private investments and joint ventures from the US — one of the Philippines’ top trading partners — even as he welcomes economic assistance.
“Trade, not aid — we always go back to that,” he said at a media briefing Monday after meeting with diplomats from US, Japan, South Korea and India.
The Philippines under his watch will be “involved” with the US-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, Marcos also said. “We have to open as much of the economy as we can to trade, and that’s where this kind of treaty will come in,” he said.
The Southeast Asian nation has been a longtime US ally in the Asia-Pacific, but has moved closer to China during President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration. Marcos earlier said he would maintain the alliance with America, while seeking a deal with Beijing to settle the South China Sea territorial dispute.
Marcos said he discussed how to “redefine” the Philippines’ visiting forces agreement with America during his meeting on Monday with US Charge d’Affaires Heather Variava.
The incoming leader also said he discussed the following with the ambassadors:
Marcos will study South Korea’s recommendation to rehabilitate the nuclear power plant, which was built during his father’s term, in Bataan province north of Manila
Japan wants more Filipino workers and pitched infrastructure projects it can fund
Marcos sought partnerships with India on drug manufacturing and agricultural technology
On the local front, Marcos said he plans to move some public spending to more investment-led expenditures “to revitalize and retool the economy.” He added he’s “always very wary of selling government assets” to raise revenue.
The Philippine economy outperformed expectations in the first quarter and grew at one of the fastest pace in the region. But the incoming administration faces a slew of challenges including the need to boost government revenue and pare down its mounting debt.
Veteran economist Arsenio Balisacan will join Marcos’s Cabinet as economic planning secretary, his chief-of-staff Vic Rodriguez said. Balisacan held the same post during the term of the late President Benigno Aquino III, and is currently chairman of the Philippine Competition Commission.
Marcos is tapping Bienvenido Laguesma to return as Labor Secretary, and has picked overseas Filipino workers’ rights advocate Susan Ople to helm the newly created Department of Migrant Workers.
Marcos, son of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, said that he still needs a few more days to announce other cabinet members. Duterte named his finance chief immediately after his 2016 election win, but Aquino named Cabinet officials closer to his June 30 inauguration.
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