Is Estrada Fighting a Losing Battle

By Macrae, Maggie | Business Asia, June 15, 1998 | Go to article overview

Is Estrada Fighting a Losing Battle


Macrae, Maggie, Business Asia


Incoming Philippines president, Joseph Estrada, former movie star, mayor of Manila and friend of Marcos, is going all out to win over the country's still anxious and sceptical local and foreign business community and financial markets.

Estrada will not just be relying on his already hand picked group of advisers come ministers to help him run the country and win over business and the money markets, two very familiar, experienced and trusted statesmen--incumbent president Fidel Ramos and presidential runner up, Jose de Venecia-will continue to play their part in shaping the country's future.

The new president also launched his 10 point policy plan to a gathering of local and foreign business leaders and financial markets analysts, and pledged to continue Ramos' economic reforms.

However, business and financial analysts remain largely unconvinced by these moves and have voiced warnings that the many aspects of the 10 point plan, especially to remove government from business, will be a legal and political minefield and should not be attempted in the current economic climate.

As well, they are worried about the prominence of former allies of former dictator, Ferdinand Marcos, in Estrada's inner circle.

Ramos' and de Venecia's involvement with the new government came after the president-elect approached the two respected statesmen after local and foreign business leaders began to loudly voice their concern at the lack of economic experience Estrada and his team possessed.

Ramos and Estrada have publicly buried their political rivalry and agreed in principle to set up a government of "national unity" to help the incoming administration.

This plan involves setting up an informal coalition in Congress among senators and congressmen belonging to Estrada's and Ramos' parties to ensure the passage of needed economic laws.

"We agreed to set politics aside," Estrada said recently after a meeting with Ramos. "The future of our country is at stake."

Ramos pledged support for his successor in rebuilding the Philippine economy after a bitter presidential election.

Estrada promised Ramos he would pursue the outgoing administration's reform policies, which enabled the economy to post five straight years of growth, but he added there would be no compromise in his campaign pledge to abolish the "pork barrel" funds for members of Congress and to investigate allegedly anomalous deals entered into by the Ramos administration with some private companies.

The "pork barrel" refers to budgetary funds given to each member of Congress to spend on projects in their home districts. Finance officials claim about 40 per cent of these funds end up in the pockets of politicians. This years budget includes a "pork barrel" of US$1.4 billion for around 200 congressmen and 24 senators.

To further reassure anxious business leaders and the financial market, Estrada has drafted a 10 point action agenda for his first 100 days in office and presented it to the country's leading local and foreign business people for approval.

The plan covers governance, fiscal policy, monetary policy and financial reforms, exports and investments, infrastructure, agriculture, safety net and social services, education, science and technology, and environmental protection.

Estrada claims governance must be transparent. …

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