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The economic headwinds facing Philippine President-elect Marcos are stiff

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the Philippines right now is its sluggish economy. The president-elect will need to revive it. But as NPR's Julie McCarthy reports, Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s family legacy complicates that.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: The economic headwinds facing Marcos are stiff. Pandemic-induced spending has saddled the Philippines with a whopping debt. Inflation, a global peril, has jacked prices at the pump to over $5 a gallon.

(SOUND OF ENGINES AND HONKING)

MCCARTHY: Reynaldo Ortega drives a jeepney, a form of cheap local transport

REYNALDO ORTEGO: (Speaking Filipino).

MCCARTHY: "They say the fuel prices are because of the war between Russia and Ukraine," Ortego says. "Before, we used to make a decent living. Now we work longer and earn only half as much." A pandemic and soaring oil prices would be a challenge for any incoming leader. But Ferdinand Marcos Jr. is no ordinary president in waiting. He is the direct heir of a dictator who abused the rights of thousands of Filipinos and, alongside his wife, Imelda Marcos, plundered billions.

PETER MUMFORD: For those of us that are old enough to remember the - when the Marcos family was in charge before - that's a huge thing.

MCCARTHY: That's Peter Mumford with the Eurasia Group. He says you cannot assume that Marcos 2.0 is going to be Marcos 1.0. But businessman Rafael Ongpin says Marcos' chief problem will be overcoming apprehensions that he'll behave like his parents.

RAFAEL ONGPIN: The father and the mother treated the Philippine treasury as their own personal bank account. That is the main headwind. People don't trust him.

MCCARTHY: Analyst Robert Herrera-Lim says, to gain trust, Marcos must first assemble a strong economic team. He says Marcos offered no details on his economic strategy. And the uncertainty saw the main Philippine stock index plunge last week following global declines. Herrera-Lim says prominent economists had backed Marcos' rival, Vice President Leni Robredo, and says some of the best economic minds will have no interest in serving Marcos.

ROBERT HERRERA-LIM: That is one of the challenges of Marcos, that the pool of possible choices that he has among the Philippine elites, among the Philippine bureaucrats, the academe, the business community is smaller, I think, than of the past few presidents.

MCCARTHY: The Marcoses have come to be regarded more as cultural figures than political ones - the Kardashians of the Philippines, as one commentator put it. But Marcos Jr. has also secured a stunning lead in unofficial returns that analysts say might persuade one-time Marcos detractors to join his team. Eurasia Group's Mumford, meanwhile, expects a Marcos administration to continue to welcome foreign investment. But investors will be keeping a watchful eye on who Marcos ultimately names as advisers.

MUMFORD: Is he going to draw in more independent-minded technical experts, or is he going to largely tap into his wider family and personal connections?

MCCARTHY: If it's the latter, Mumford says the cronyism and favoritism long familiar to Filipinos could get worse. In any case, the Philippines is in for a rough ride. JP Morgan this week dropped the country to the bottom of an investment preference list, putting the Philippines behind its other Southeast Asian peers.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Manila.

(SOUNDBITE OF KIASMOS' "HELD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.