PEOPLE should welcome the fact that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is racking up air miles, as that gets prospective foreign investors, tourists and other people abroad talking about the Philippines. But sooner rather than later, he should delegate some of his other duties to give proper attention to his emerging role as the country's top salesman.
More to the point, he should consider naming a full-time agriculture secretary to work on national priorities assigned to that official, particularly food security. Of course, some had suggested this earlier when he initially took on that Cabinet portfolio. But that was before anyone knew the outcome of his foreign trips. Besides, people gave him the benefit of the doubt, that he can handle the additional load without compromising his work at the Palace. As Mr. Marcos explained, there are things that only a president can do.
That statement certainly applies to his official travels. A visiting head of state attracts a lot of attention, perhaps more than what the country can practically spend on advertising and promotions. Also, presidential trips create opportunities for other Philippine officials to meet with senior political and business leaders in other countries.
Jose Maria “Joey” Concepcion 3rd, a former presidential adviser and champion of small businesses, defended Mr. Marcos from criticisms about his frequent foreign trips. In an interview on ANC, Mr. Concepcion pointed out the intense competition for investors. “Everybody is competing for all these investors. It's important that the President gets to be known out there. He's the No. 1 salesman of the Philippines.” He said later that “… you cannot build relationships through a phone call.”
Critics pointed out, however, that the trade and investment pledges signed during his foreign trips are merely photo opportunities. Besides the fact that they are nonbinding, those agreements would have been signed anyway. That may have some truth to it, but their argument falls apart when one quantifies the publicity and goodwill generated by presidential trips.
Having said all that, even Mr. Marcos seems to realize that being away often can be problematic. When he met with reporters during his trip to Cambodia for the Asean leaders' summits, he was undecided about attending the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. Asean is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional bloc that includes the Philippines.
The President said he might be traveling too much, if he were to accept the invitation of the WEF founder, Klaus Schwab. He even quipped that his mother, former first lady Imelda Marcos, might ask him when he would have time for the office.
That is history, as Mr. Marcos prepares to depart for Switzerland. And since going to Cambodia, he has been to Thailand for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Belgium for the Asean-European Union meeting, and recently to China for a state visit. Earlier, he attended the United Nations General Assembly in New York City and was in Singapore twice, once on a state visit.
Meanwhile, the agriculture sector is scrambling to counter shortages of some commodities, most recently onions, and fending off high inflation attributed mainly to imported commodities. External headwinds are mainly to blame, but the growing public dissatisfaction they cause could become a liability for Mr. Marcos. He may need to preserve his political capital for the many other challenges that typically come with his office. He still has five more years to go, after all.
By naming an agriculture secretary now, someone can be in the office, or to be more precise, at the department. Having his alter ego there can also isolate the President from the fallout from problems that are, as mentioned earlier, caused by external factors.
Delegating the Cabinet work will also free up Mr. Marcos to focus on other pressing issues, both here and abroad. That seems practical.
On the other hand, no representative of Mr. Marcos will attract the level of attention and interest from a foreign audience like a president. Delegating that seems like foregoing opportunities.
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