President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr.’s One-on-One Dialogue with WEF President Børge Brende
WEF PRESIDENT BØRGE BRENDE: Mr. President Marcos, it’s great to have you here. I know you worked extremely hard today. I think I have seen you already three or four times and I know we have had so many sessions.
PRESIDENT FERDINAND R. MARCOS JR.: Well, I could say the same for you Mr. President, we’ve been together most of the day. And I’m very happy that we had this opportunity to have at least a chat about some of the issues of today.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: And congratulations on your elections. How many months have you been in office now?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: I took office, inauguration was the first of July, so more or less six months, seven months now.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: How has it been? As expected or better or worse?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Pretty much as expected. I have the advantage of having spent years watching my father being president.
So I had a very good idea of what it entailed. Now, of course, it’s different from a son watching his dad doing his job as the you, yourself doing that job. So it’s like I’m in the same setting but playing a different role.
But at least I know what needs to be done and I have a fair idea how it used to be done anyway. And so I have models that I can follow, templates that I can follow.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: But in your father’s time, there was no social media?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: No social media. Yes, that’s actually in politics, I think all around the world, not only in the Philippines. Suddenly, social media has become such an enormous force, not only in politics but in all other walks of life. So yes, that is the new feature.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: And I think maybe we could say that the world is more complex and confrontational now than back when your father was…
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Yes, because it was simpler then. For example, when you talk about foreign policy for a country like the Philippines, you choose. You’re with the Americans or you’re with the Soviet Union?
That was still the Cold War. We were still in the midst of the Cold War. And so yes it was simpler then. But it’s — that kind of arrangement or that kind of the spheres of influence as we used to call them, I don’t think applies anymore.
However, we were — we spoke about this in another session and the forces that are sort of tending to push us back into this bipolar, I mean not in a psychiatric sense but bipolar world are quite strong.
But I think most leaders and most strategists have a consensus that we should not fall back into that kind of situation where all countries have to choose which side they will be on.
So when asked which side are you on, I said, well I don’t work for Beijing, I don’t work for Washington D.C.. I worked for the Philippines so I’m on the side of the Philippines and that really translates into a very simple statement of foreign policy which is I promote the national interest. [applause]
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: And the national interest also has led to the fact — I think you’ve been already in Beijing, this is President Xi Jinping. Did your father go to Beijing?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: My father went — well I was… My family has quite a history with the People’s Republic because in 1974, I was 16 years old, my mother took me with her on the first visit of Filipino delegation to China. And that was the precursor to the establishment of diplomatic relations.
And so after that, we met with [unclear] I was — we met with the chairman, Chairman Mao Zedong, and Deng Xiaoping was number three then. So that’s how it all began.
The next year, my father brought a formal delegation because we were unofficial with my mother. He brought a formal delegation where they set the framework for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the PRC and the Philippines.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: I guess a very different China you visited now than you visited in the 1970s.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Completely. Completely and it’s just absolutely remarkable. What we saw in China in 1974 and what we saw because after that there were many visits subsequent to the signing especially of the diplomatic relations.
But the rapid — rapid, rapid growth and modernization of China is just remarkable. I think everyone here is perfectly familiar with how that happened but still when you think of the time that it took them.
For example, a place like Xiamen, when we first went to Xiamen, it’s a little village. Even Guangzhou, Guangzhou was like a — it was a small city and now it’s — you could be in any of the great western capitals in terms of sophistication, in terms of development, in terms of… It has been absolutely remarkable to watch.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Is China now your most important trading partner?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Yes, they are largest. Right now, they’re our largest trading partner.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: And the US no. 2 or?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: The US, I think, is no. 3 now if I’m not mistaken. Because the — especially since the pandemic, the alliances between our neighbors has become very strong.
For example, the biggest contributor for foreign direct investment now is Singapore, into the Philippines.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Wow.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: And I think the next — Japan and Korea are following on its heels. So it’s very much a regional… Because I think there has been a consensus amongst the Southeast Asian countries, Asia-Pacific countries that we have to build these partnerships together.
And the idea was really that because we need to encourage trade and to have this partnership because we are coming into an uncertain world with the post-pandemic global economy.
And so those partnerships are strong. So we have been very active in ASEAN, APEC to promote those partnerships and that’s why I think the balance in terms of trade and in terms of assistance has changed over the years.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Well, I was quite surprised to hear that Singapore was no. 1 on the FDI side and you said second Japan and then Korea.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: I think that’s where we are now but I think it’s going to move.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: But I expected maybe China among the three but maybe many Chinese companies invest through Singapore?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Yes, well, they invest everywhere. I mean, you know, before the pandemic, the economic activity of China in other places because they were — with the rapid growth that they had planned for themselves, the demand for resources, mineral resources, all kinds of different resources that they cannot produce as quickly as they needed. So they’ve gone to other areas for their supply.
So it’s been the same thing with the Philippines especially at that period a few years back where China was growing at 10 percent every year, 10 to 12 percent.
In fact, there were years that they were saying that they’re posting 12 percent growth. And that was the time that China was really hungry for all the different resources. Energy for example, building materials for example, minerals for example. All of these was in high demand by the Chinese economy.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: It is incredible that — I think now, Philippines is the fastest growing of the ASEAN countries.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: I think in ASEAN. I think we’re still the fastest.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Yeah, around 7, 8 percent. But since China is also such an important market for you, how do you explain that when China now has been growing a bit slower that you have maintained or created such an impressive growth. Because that’s not the situation in the rest of the world, because their growth has been going down.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, it’s a deliberate effort on our part because when we look at the alarming number such as debt-to-GDP ratios in the Philippines. Although I always say we are doing better than our neighbors, the number is 62 percent. It is now — it’s still very high for us. The strategy is to have high growth rates and to pull us out of that situation. And so we’ve done everything.
First of all, after the pandemic, or after — as we came on as the pandemic has begun to subside, the main concern were jobs and that was one of the… We concentrated on the MSMEs, the micro to medium scale enterprise, micro, small, medium scale enterprises because that comprises such a large part of our economy and it’s the same in most ASEAN countries.
And I think that’s where the growth is coming from. So we were always very worried that of the talk that we were hearing on the forecast, on the international — on the economies of different countries, and we kept hearing especially later last year, we kept hearing about a recession that will be coming, so we look very — we kept looking very closely at our unemployment rate which is now running at 4.1, 4.2 percent and is coming down.
And in fact, our unemployment rate now is lower than it was before the pandemic. So we estimate that we have created about two million jobs since then.
So as long as the — my theory, my belief, and I think I’m right in that is that, as long as the unemployment rate stays low, then the recessionary forces are something that we can resist.
And so that’s why I think — that gives a good foundation for growth.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: What are the key growth areas?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well we have — let me talk about the areas that did well during the lockdown, the strict lockdown in the pandemic, in the past two years.
One of the businesses that was business processing, the BPOs, that kept going simply because of the nature of the technology. People could work from home.
The other area that has been very active and continues to grow is mining. That side of the — that part of the economy. We have been a traditional exporter, manufacturer and exporter of semi-conductor products, of chips. And that continues to be an important factor.
But the Philippines also has a very specific advantage in that we have approximately 10 million, maybe more overseas workers that are working all over the world and who remit to their families so that — remit money to their families. And that has been in the times of real difficulty for the economy that has really been a buffer for us.
The remittances now comprise about nine percent already of what we — what the government is using to fuel this growth.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: You also have seven decades long agreement with the US on security. Is that something that you want to keep?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Oh it’s probably, I would say, not even more than seven decades. It’s been over a century in different guises we… So that has evolved in very many ways. I mean we started off as commonwealth of the United States earlier in the 20th century and then further on, we’ve gained liberation after the war, after the second world war in 1945.
And so in that — the connection between the Philippines and the United States has remained strong and we are their only treaty partner in Asia and so that has grown stronger and stronger but it has to — I always say that we can — the only way for it to remain strong and to remain relevant is to evolve that relationships so we can no longer be simply a what it was before as…
And the Philippines has changed. The United States has changed. The world has changed. And now, we are living within the context of all of these other forces that are coming out, especially around the region, around South China Sea so again, to be able to respond properly we have to evolve these relationships.
And then I have to say that it continues to go, we are progressing along that evolution very well. And we are able to continue not only in terms of trade, and in terms of diplomatic relationship but beyond that we have security arrangements with the United States and that has come to the forefront whereas perhaps we were bit on the back burner for a little while, that has again come to the forefront because of the increased tensions in our part of the world.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Yeah and you mentioned the South China Sea. Is that something that keeps you up at night? The South China Sea situation is that something that keeps you up at night?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Keeps you up at night, keeps you up in the day, keeps you up most of the time. It’s something… It’s very dynamic. It’s constantly in flux. So you have to pay attention to it and to make sure that you are at least aware of the present situation so that you’re able to respond properly.
So it’s — we… In terms of let’s say cross-trade tensions, we are at the very frontline.
We are at the very frontline. And so whenever these tensions increase, when the ships come out, the Chinese and their Coast Guard vessels, the Americans answer. We are watching as bystanders. If something goes wrong here, we are going to suffer. And that’s why the — when asked what is your foreign policy and how would you describe it, I say, it’s a commitment to peace and a very — very, very close — and guided very, very closely by our national interest as I mentioned before.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Well, did the — if I may, did the South China Sea complex come up in your conversations in Beijing?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: There’s no way to avoid it. There is no way to avoid it. We describe it and I suppose in diplomatic language as one part of our relationship but it is an important and unavoidable issue that we have to ventilate and we cannot also put it — sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s not happening because there are effects not only in the diplomatic sense, not only in the security sense but even in the livelihood of our citizens.
So it is unavoidable to speak about that and it — I would not be doing my job if I did not bring up these issues with President Xi when I had the opportunity.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: And what is your main concern related to this? Is that these islands or is it your fishing vessels or is it the principles for what defines what is Filipino territory and what is Chinese territory?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: All of the above. All of the above. All of those issues are open issues right now. So in terms of the territorial, let’s say — we have no conflicting claims with China. What we have is China making claims on our territory and that is our — that is how we approach the problem that we find.
Because we’ve established our baselines. The baselines was drawn out, was given to the UN and UNCLOS has accredited those baselines as the baselines of the Philippines. And we live with them for many, many years without a problem. And suddenly, things have changed.
So I supposed China has some strategic concerns that have caused them to do this. So it is again — we are always… If you have been listening to the ASEAN pronouncements, it is always to the rule of law, it is always UNCLOS that we talk about.
Because it’s not only the Philippines who has these issues with China, amongst the ASEAN members. And so that is the approach. I mean some people say — even within the Philippines that we should do more. I said, what do you want to do? Go to war? Nobody wants to go. We don’t. China doesn’t. The United States doesn’t.
Just having the tensions increased in the region already has an effect on trade, on all of the exchanges that we have within ASEAN, within the region, with China, with the United States and now with the aggrupation that are being formed, with Australia, with Japan, with South Korea. Once again, these are the elements that now have made the situation there very, very dynamic, very, very complex. And we are hoping to simplify them as much as possible if we can. But they are not simple problems and they — because of that there are no simple solutions.
And there are players that come in from everywhere, from Europe, the United States. So that is what we have to deal with in the region. However, there is also a unanimity of the belief amongst the leaders in ASEAN that we must be committed to the idea that — we call it ASEAN Centrality but it essentially boils down to the idea that the future of the region must be decided by the region. It cannot be decided by outside forces, by outside powers.
And I think that has been a good guide for the foreign policy and our dealings with the superpowers.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: News in Japan has now committed to double their defense budget from 1 percent of GDP to 2 percent of GDP. Is that something you run onto on your ticket or is that something that you’re reflecting on in the Philippines?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I think to an extent but not — because the belief is that first of all, there is no point the Philippines building up its armory. First, we are not in a economic situation that we are able to build up to the levels that the Americans had, to the levels that the Chinese have and more importantly perhaps is our abiding belief that the solutions are not going to be military.
And if they are going to be military, then they are not solutions because this will — it will end badly if it goes that way. It will end badly for everyone involved. And even those who are not involved.
And when I say that I’m thinking of the war in Ukraine, we were quite, I think all of us were quite surprised, especially us in the Philippines to think that a war in Eastern Europe would affect agriculture in the Philippines and I guess it just goes to shows how well connected that is.
Like I say, if a similar situation would arise in the region, then it would be actually — I would say it would be disastrous for the rest of the world as well, not only for the region but for the rest of the world.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: As you said, Mr. President, the way you see it is territorial claim on your territory, that has been agreed on. So was there any understanding for that perspective when you were in Beijing?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, when I spoke to President Xi, I preface our discussion by saying we are not going to decide here today the issues that are between the Philippines and China in terms of territoriality.
And so I chose to raise subjects, to raise issues that have a good possibility of actually being resolved and these are the incidents that have been happening in the South China Sea, between our Coast Guard, between the Chinese Coast Guard, between our fishing boats.
And of course, every so often, the American vessels, the American Navy that comes in, when they feel that they have to project a presence in the area. So that precludes the possibility of just saying — look we come to an agreement between the two of us and we will take away all the issues there as we keep coming back to, the fact that it has become terribly complex and very, very dynamic and requires a good deal of attention.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Mr. President, coming back to the economic potential of the Philippines, as you said, you have a young population, you also saw during the lockdowns that there were possibilities to work from home. People are tech-savvy.
If you look at for example, like South Korea and other nations in the region, they’ve leapfrogged from a certain point. Do you see a possibility now in the years to come that the Philippines can really leapfrogged and take the step into a situation where you could follow some of your most successful neighbors?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, we sincerely hope so. And I think that is a distinct possibility simply because we also hold a great deal of — we also recognize a great deal of potential in the new technologies in terms of course in the economy.
And the advantage that we have, that new tech has is that it is not like the traditional industries where you have to slowly build it up over the years. You come — you have a problem, you engage new technologies and bring it on and you don’t need to buy second-hand technology. You can buy the state-of-the-art immediately.
So that’s the leapfrog, is you come from very old tech and you go straight to the cutting edge of technology. So that I think — that is also I think South Korea was one — was the first highly digitalized country in Asia and followed by many of our other neighbors in ASEAN.
It is a central tenet of the development strategy of ASEAN and of all the member countries in ASEAN.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: What do you think are the main obstacles today that you will look at? Is it infrastructure, is it quality of education, is it R&D, is it red tape, is it taxes, is it fiscal stability or all of the above?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: I guess again, all of the above. But what the approach that the Philippines has taken is — are lessons learned, the hard lessons learned from the lockdown, from the pandemic, from the height of the pandemic, where it became very, very clear where the weaknesses were in terms for example, we talked about agriculture, in terms of agricultural production, in terms of distribution, in terms of supply, and pricing as well.
The areas… Infrastructure I think, we have made the commitment and I am confident that with that commitment and we follow through on that commitment that our infrastructure development will proceed [unclear]… And that is something that we have control over simply because these are government projects and we are again promoting PPPs, especially in the infrastructure projects because these are big-ticket programs.
So that is one area. The other one — in my view, are the — for example are the systems that we have in place and the bureaucracy has a part to play in this because the bureaucracy has been formed to respond to a different kind of economy and a different kind of global economy as well.
So that structural changes in the bureaucracy for example have to — there are quite painful changes as well, have to be made and that is part of it. Digitalization is going to play a large part in that process.
So again, but the — on the plus side, what — when I am asked why are you so optimistic about the future, and I always say, you know when there is — what we have been given is that people say we have to recover, you know, we got into this death hole and we have to dig ourselves out of it. I don’t really see it the same way.
What I see is that we are reforming, reshaping the global economy and that gives us an opportunity. It’s not a clean sheet of paper but maybe half clean sheet of paper where we can still design and draw, put down our ideas for what the global economy should look like.
And the reason that I’m very optimistic and very confident of the future, in fact we have a sort of bet going with Madame Georgieva of the IMF in terms of — they predict a growth rate of 5 percent for the Philippines. And we said, well our projection is six and a half and we’re still hoping that it will be able to grow beyond that.
And the reason that I’m so confident about that is because we have this workforce, we have a very, very good workforce in the Philippines.
We have the youngest workforce in Asia. You might be surprised to know, to learn that the average age of Filipino worker is 23 and a half years old. So that is a huge demographic dividend.
But demographic dividend is not paid out just as a matter of course. You have to develop. You have to develop now. Some of the concepts that we keep hearing about is upskilling and reskilling and that we have concentrated on.
But again, the raw material in terms of our workforce is very, very advantageous. Our workforce is well-trained, our workforce is sophisticated, very — and English-speaking, a quite — in terms of technology I would say that we are on equal footing as any other country.
So that is where my confidence comes from and that is the confidence that I hope to exude sufficiently to bring that confidence also to all of you and all of our potential partners in the world.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: So thank you. It has been fascinating discussion. [applause] I guess just to round off. How many years is it since your father left office?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: 34?1986, we left the Philippines in 1986 so…
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Did you expect to come back as a president of your country?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Not as president. We were in exile for six years so we weren’t sure if we were coming back at all, physically coming back. My father never made it back. He died in Hawaii. So that was a very trying time, those were dark days for the family and I dare say even for the country.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: But you didn’t have an ambition to become a president of your country back then?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well, I need to explain this to people. As I was going — coming out of schooling, out of university, I did — I avoided politics. I was determined not to go into politics. I said, why would I go into politics? My father has done everything in politics and the life is difficult and I could see the sacrifices that they had to make, that he had to make to get to do a good job and I said, maybe that’s not what I’m meant to be doing.
But after we came back from the United States, after exile, when we were first allowed to come back, the political issue was Marcos. And for us, we, for us to defend ourselves politically, somebody had to enter politics and be in the political arena. So that at least, not only the legacy of my father but even our own survival required that somebody go into politics.
And so upon arrival in ’91, the following election was in ’92, I immediately ran for congressman in our province, at House of Representatives and you know, like I always say, it’s not where — if you were to ask me when I was 23, 24, 25 years old, will you enter the politics? Before you finish asking the question, I’ve already said no, no, no, no. But you know, life takes you to certain — to places that you did not expect.
And so once I was entrenched in the political arena, I said, well — if we’re going to do this, you better do it well.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: You’re about to be president?
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Well… Every lieutenant wants to be a general, right? Every [clerk?] wants to be the CEO. So I’m saying if I’m going to be in politics, let’s do the best we can and take it as far as we can take it. So we just never stop. But you know, this is your career now, so work hard at it and do it well.
Do it the best that you can. And I was blessed that the Filipino, the voting population, the voters — Filipino voters agreed with the message that we put out during the campaign and return a very strong mandate for the presidency.
WEF PRESIDENT BRENDE: Congratulations on that and also thank you for sharing this with us sir, today. And thank you for coming to Davos. Thank you, Mr. President.
PRESIDENT MARCOS: Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you very much. [applause]
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SOURCE: PCO-PND (Presidential News Desk)