A small but very significant shift happened within the economic management team of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. Last week, former Senator and outgoing Batangas Representative Ralph Recto was sworn in as the new Secretary of Finance replacing Secretary Benjamin Diokno, who I understand is moving over to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas as Monetary Board Member.
Secretary Diokno should be proud of what he has accomplished during the first 18 months of this administration. I commended Pres. Bongbong when he first assembled his economic team because it was composed of respected and experienced people—Diokno foremost among them—who have the capabilities to help the new administration steer the economy into full recovery. As he himself proclaimed: “I am proud knowing that I will be leaving my post at a time when the Philippine economy, in general, and the DOF, in particular, are in a better state of affairs than when I inherited them.”
Congratulations are in order to my good friend Ralph Recto on his well-deserved appointment. Ralph should be able to breeze past the powerful Commission on Appointments not only because he was a former member of the House of Representatives and the Senate but more importantly because his former colleagues know first-hand his expertise on economic and finance matters. Ralph is like a walking encyclopedia in terms of the ins and outs of the Philippine economy.
Ralph and I followed similar paths in our legislative careers. We both ran for Congress for the first time in 1992. I won as Representative of the then Las Piñas-Muntinlupa district while he represented the 4th District of Batangas. Together with the late Joker Arroyo, we would win three terms in the lower house and then successfully ran for the Senate in 2001. In the House of Representatives and the Senate, Ralph was legendary in the breadth of his knowledge of economics and finance.
This economic intelligence was in full display during the budget hearings. Ralph’s penetrating questions and comments were enough to send chills to executive officials who were not prepared to defend their budget. Sometimes, while watching Ralph grill executive officials, you get the feeling that Ralph knew the department’s budget better than the officials defending them. I know that even Senators who defended the budget of certain agencies on the plenary would take more time to prepare whenever Ralph was scheduled to interpellate them. This made him the perfect legislator. And these are the same qualities that make him the perfect choice to lead the Finance portfolio. He reads and prepares like a general preparing for war. While respected as an intellectual, Ralph also has a wit and a charm that makes him avoid the label of being a geek or a boring academic.
I would experience this wisdom with a dab of banter and wordplay during meetings of the Wednesday Club which Joker, Ralph and myself co-founded as a social group designed to discuss different issues and topics. In the informal setting of the Wednesday Club, Ralph would talk about economics and finance with aplomb and in a manner that can easily be grasped by anyone. This is another strength of his—he can communicate even the most difficult concept or policy in a way that makes it intelelctually palatable to those who may not be trained in economics.
I know that Ralph, who was the main proponent of the Expanded Value Added Tax Law in 2005, probably lost his 2007 reelection bid because of this unpopular law. But I see it as a strength. I know him as a person who understands deeply, and who has a longterm perspective, of what is necessary to make the country prosperous. And he is not afraid to make unpopular decisions if it will benefit the nation.
While an expert on economics and finance, Ralph also has impressive political acumen that allowed him to navigate the politics of governance. During our Wednesday Club meetings, his understanding of political dynamics and relations were unparalleled. His political pedigree is unquestioned which is something that will serve him in good stead in helping the President gain poltical support for his economic reform policies in Congress.
As the President said, we have good economic fundamentals but there are challenges ahead. Ralph’s appointment is a strong signal that this administration is serious in putting in place a strategy to face those economic headwinds and sustain the recovery we have been experiencing since pandemic restrictions were lifted.
In 2007, in his valedictory speech in the Senate, Ralph uttered these words: “If I shall end up as a footnote in history, I shall be blissfully content of being remembered as one who chose principles over popularity and did what was right rather than what was expedient.”
I am not sure whether he will be merely a footnote in Philippine history but as the new Finance chief he has the opportunity to be a significant part of the nation’s main narrative.
Good luck my friend!