Economics, defense behind Bongbong’s travels abroad

By Antonio V. Figueroa

Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. (Wikipedia)

Since assuming the leadership of the archipelago last year, President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr., including his May 2023 visits, has gone to a dozen sovereign nations, three of which twice, or the equivalent of roughly one country per month.

His jet-setting travels, described as a chance for the President to ‘foster and maintain’ stronger diplomatic ties with friendly nations, have brought him to countries like Belgium, Cambodia, China, Japan Switzerland, and Thailand, and twice to the countries of United States, Singapore, and Indonesia.

Excluding the investments sealed during his May 2023 travels to the US, England, and Indonesia, his previous trips, based on trade and industry department (DTI) estimates, managed to snare nearly US$62.93 billion in investment promises, or about P3.48 trillion from the 116 various pledges.

“Total foreign investments committed during the President’s official travels,” the DTI reported, “include in Indonesia, $8.48 billion; Singapore, $6.54 billion; United States, $3.847 billion; Thailand, $4.62 billion; Belgium, $2.20 billion; China, $24.239 billion; and Japan, $13 billion.”

Trip classifications

The travels of the President, the foreign affairs department said, can be calssified into three, namely state visit, official visit, and working visit.

State visit is defined as a ceremonial visit to another country by a head of state where he is given the highest level of hospitality and formality by the host country while an official visit is an invite to visit by another country to the Philippine president.

On the other hand, a working visit is akin to a state visit but less formal and grandiose.

An example of a working visit is the execution of an invitation to attend a global conference hosted by a foreign country or held in another state with the usual meeting between heads of states on the sidelines.

Investment pledges

The most fruitful visit President Marcos has so far made until April was the five-day Tokyo itinerary that yielded roughly US$13 billion in investment pledges and 24,000 new job openings for Filipinos.

By pledges, former National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) director-general and socio-economic planning secretary Solita ‘Winnie’ Collás-Monsod explained that investment pledges are just what they are named for until such time the promised money, whether grant, loan, or development assistance, arrive in the country.

This clarification echoes evidently the failures of the Duterte administration to bring in the investment pledges the President brought to the country upon his return.

In that well-hyped visit, China promised the Philippines US$24 billion in assistance and investment divided as follows: $15 billion for business-to-business deals and $9 billion for loans made available to firms and projects through Chinese credit facilities.

Only a small fraction of the deals reached the country even after a new administration was installed on June 30, 2022.

Interestingly, during the Marcos visit to China in January 2023, the President got also US$22.8 billion in investment pledges but, like his predecessor, the trip to Beijing was only promise-laden. Even when the country was hard hit by catastrophes due to natural calamities, China was lukewarm in extending assistance to the Philippines which she calls a “friend,” a negative manifestation.

Unclear promises

Despite the impressive figures that come with every visit to a foreign land, most of the pledges do not materialize, and a host of factors ranging from the delay in the conduct of feasibility studies to hurdling issues on road right of way affecting projects, often become the stumbling blocks that make the memoranda and agreements outdated.

In short, pledges are easy to come by and become part of publicity, but putting the money into a project or investment requires the collating and compliance of documents required by the country offering the loans and the country that borrows.

Each country, as a matter of rule, has its own set of rules to follow, regardless of these guidelines are bent or loosened to allow for the faster release of money.

The early pledges the country was promised reached US$62.93 billion, the equal of P240 billion, were under different stages of development. Meaning, these were only covered by memoranda of understanding (MOUs) and letters of intent (LOIs), not by any document that makes a deal final and executory.

On the other hand, US$28.863 billion or nearly ₱1.6 trillion worth of undertakings from the previous trips were still in the planning stage, which is actually a concept on paper.

Consolidating all the proposed projects takes time, and every administration, through the Office of the Presidential Assistant on Investment and Economic Affairs (OPAIEA), understands the difficulty of piecing together the document requirements in compliance with the release of a loan, grant, or development assistance.

Second US visit

Unlike the first working visit of President Marcos to the US where he met on the sidelines American President Joe Biden, the April 30 – May 4, 2023, visit comes on the heels after both countries had agreed to open four new military sites under the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

Prior to this, the US gave the country a US100 million military aid, an initial grant purposely made to assure the Philippines that similar ‘gifts’ would be coming in the near future of the American overtures are honored and taken into consideration. Expect bigger assistances to come as soon as Philippine-US defense alliance further warms up.

Principally, the second US visit is anchored on two items, defense and economic. Even Malacañang stated that the visit is “aimed at reaffirming the special relationship between the Philippines and the United States”

Prior to the trip, the White House has already issued a statement saying: “President Biden will reaffirm the United States’ ironclad commitment to the defense of the Philippines, and the leaders will discuss efforts to strengthen the longstanding US-Philippines alliance.”

But in numerous statements made to the press, including interviews, the President was also clear in saying his US visit, like the one in Japan, will be focused on economics. The presence of a business entourage in his state visits allows a clearer perspective on the direction the incumbent leadership is heading to in terms of alliances with friendly nations.

Others see the Marcos leadership, however, as piggyback-riding on US support as a way of restraining the expanding aggressiveness of the Chinese juggernaut in the South China Sea.

So far, observers have placed the economic and defense gains the second US Marcos visits can bring to the country can be in the ballpark figure of US$3 billion.


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