Massive infrastructure development and liberalisation of overseas investment have boosted the Philippines’ competitiveness, but the pandemic has changed everything. What will a newly elected government mean for business-related legal reform? Putro Harnowo reports

Six years ago, former president Rodrigo Duterte vowed to make his entire term and beyond the “golden age of infrastructure”, declaring he would build as many structures as possible to improve mobility and connectivity. His now famous “Build, Build, Build” mantra was expected to spur economic growth, which it did, although the global health crisis has stalled its progress.

Now, a new chapter has opened for the Philippines with the leadership of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, son of the infamous dictator, and Sara Duterte-Carpio, daughter of the strongman former president. Both received more than 31 million and 32 million votes, respectively, out of more than 55 million votes cast in May, securing their triumphs as the 17th president and vice president.

“This is the first time since 1986 that the administration which won had the president and the vice president as a team,” observes Gilbert Raymund Reyes, founding partner at Poblador Bautista & Reyes. “In all of these past administrations, they weren’t teams. During the Duterte administration, the vice president was not with him at all.”

Reyes hopes the new president and his vice can make a good team with a US-type situation where both are on the same track.

Although the landslide win shows a solid political mandate, critics beg to differ. A group opposing Marcos Jr’s candidacy previously had asked the election commission to bar him from running. His opponents worry his victory could reverse democratic achievements gained since his father, Ferdinand Marcos, was ousted by the “People Power” revolution in 1986.

“I think Marcos Jr may have learned lessons from his father [about mistakes to avoid], and that’s hard to accept for his critics because they don’t trust him at all,” says Reyes.

Maintaining momentum Gilbert Raymund ReyesUnity and continuity could be a turning point. Joseph Manolo Rebano, a partner at Del Rosario & Del Rosario, points out that there had been a tendency that regime change meant that laws that had been passed would be reassessed.

“With the daughter of the current president becoming the vice-president of the new administration, some projects and changes in the commercial and investment climate in the Philippines will continue,” says Rebano.

Rebano’s colleague, partner Saben Loyola, believes that Marcos Jr wants those who were in power during the past three administrations to work together under his. To that end, there are some carryovers from the Duterte administration being appointed in the new administration.

“This is something that we have not had for a long time because every time there’s a change of administration, there is a tendency for projects to be halted,” says Loyola. “We do expect some continuity, at least with the infrastructure projects that have been started under the Duterte administration.”

One of the narratives underpinning the president-elect’s popular campaign, according to Najha Katrina Estrella, a partner at PJS Law, is that he will be able to continue his late father’s goals and strategies for the Philippines, with infrastructure development being a highlight.

“If indeed the president-elect will lean on this legacy narrative, then coupled with ‘Build, Build, Build’, we will see a bigger push on the infrastructure front and no slowdown in government spending,” says Estrella. “They will need to get creative in terms of efficient collections of revenue, and possibly taxing other commodities that we’ve seen taxed in other jurisdictions.”

However, Rocky Alejandro Reyes, a partner at SyCip Salazar Hernandez & Gatmaitan, says the public is still waiting for the new administrations economic and development policy details, as there were few if any in-depth announcements made in that regard by the president-elect during his campaign.

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