Business leaders agreed at an economic-security forum that the Philippine economy has been stagnant for the last five years because of President Duterte’s foreign policy shift away from the United States and European Union toward China and Russia, for which reason they rejected the candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as one “no different than Duterte’s.”

Michael Ricafort, chief economist of Rizal Commercial Banking Corp. (RCBC), noted Marcos’ pro-China bias and could not be expected to improve the country’s foreign policy and veer away from China.

Apart from foreign policy, the rule of law and governance, health care and property rights also need fixing, Ricafort said.

“The PSEi (Philippine Stock Exchange index) has been stagnant for five years at 7,000. It’s because of, we all know what happened five years ago — a shift of foreign policy away from the US and EU, and toward Russia and China,” Ricafort emphasized.

Ela Atienza, UP political science professor, said that based on Marcos’ answers on the issue, his foreign policy stance is no different from the current president’s.”

Atienza said Marcos had a defeatist attitude and “shows a lack of appreciation of international politics, alliance building and foreign policy.” Marcos also ruled out asking help from the US if tensions with China escalate, noting that “if Americans come in, it is bound to fail.”

Fitch Solutions Country Risk and Industry Research earlier said Marcos “appears one of the few candidates to agree with President Duterte’s policy of engagement with Beijing, potentially offering the most policy continuity out of the announced candidates.”

Security and defense analyst Jose Antonio Custodio said Marcos might be trying to get the support of China like Duterte did. “Marcos has cases in the US, of course, he is very vulnerable to Chinese persuasions.”

“Bongbong Marcos is showing his pro-China bias, which will be problematic to the Philippine’s interests in our exclusive economic zone and the West Philippine Sea,” Custodio said, referring to parts of the South China Sea within the Philippine exclusive economic zone.

Because foreign investors, pension funds, retirement funds and the largest fund managers are all from developed countries, Ricafort believes it is a matter of reinforcing the country’s foreign policy.

It would be extremely beneficial to the country’s foreign direct investment and hot money inflows, as well as the property sector, Ricafort said, especially now that the government has implemented reforms on foreign ownership limits.

“After the pandemic, there is a need to strengthen again the country’s fiscal performance to make debt management more sustainable over the long term,” the RCBC economist noted.

RCBC Securities’ head of retail sales and online marketing, Antonio Garcia, agreed with Ricafort but added that the next president should also focus on health care, given the threat of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I think the pandemic is not over yet, so that is something that has got to be addressed,” he said.

For David Leechiu, chief executive officer of Leechiu Property Consultants Inc., property rights and rule of law go hand in hand.

“You fix the property rights and the application of the rule of law because in the Philippines, we have so many rules but nobody implements them.

So, we get these two things fixed, and they go hand in hand. Everything will get fixed,” Leechiu emphasized.

Robert Ramos, the head of the RCBC Trust and Investments Group, emphasized the need for governance improvements in attracting foreign investors in the Philippines.

“From governance, everything else emanates. I mean, how do we entice foreigners or other people or other countries to invest with us?” Ramos said, “We have to highlight that we have a high level of governance.”