CRIES OF RELIEF, CRIES OF DISBELIEF
The Philippine Star
05/11/2017

This has been a “people in the news” week.

Filling in for the soon-to-be vacated post of Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas governor, and replacing incumbent and well-respected Amando Tetangco Jr., is Nestor Espenilla Jr., a career government employee who started at the BSP as a working student.

As the news broke out the other night, the business community heaved a collective sigh of relief for Espenilla’s appointment, which is seen as supporting continuity in monetary policies in the Philippines that will affect the financial and monetary environment.

While the three other candidates for BSP governor have solid banking credentials that make them no pushovers, Espenilla wins hands down when it comes to years of experience with regards the ins and outs of central banking, having started from the ranks in 1981, and taking on various positions within the BSP till his appointment as governor.


Digital banking

The most urgent tasks on hand would be ensuring a smooth transformation and the continued integrity of the local banking system as it immerses itself deeper in the digital world, while at the same time mitigating the risks posed by sophisticated cyber criminals and weaknesses in banking security.

Nesting, as he is known to friends, should not have a shortage of experience in this field, having led the BSP’s banking supervision division as deputy governor since 2005. As he takes over in July as BSP governor, it would be interesting to know who would choose to take over his former job.

There can be no area in monetary supervision at this point in time that is more challenging than watching over financial institutions and banks while they and their clients increasingly confront the digital world’s conveniences and risks.


Inclusive growth

He has championed this in many ways throughout his stint as deputy governor, and continues to take up these issues now that he will assume the highest post in the BSP, although as he been taking the higher ground by talking about central bank’s role in helping the country achieve inclusive growth.

In a previous interview, he had expressed the BSP’s task of helping create and sustain the high growth that the Philippine economy is now experiencing. He talked about providing job opportunities and higher standard of living for the country’s 100 million people.

While he admitted that six years, which is the stint of a BSP governor, is not enough to overcome the wide-spread poverty that almost majority of the Philippine population faces, he feels that prudent banking policies will be able to go a long way in building a certain momentum.

Rightly, he says that promoting a modern digital financial ecosystem will be helpful in promoting more jobs and facilitating business growth.

We look forward to Espenilla’s forthcoming stint as BSP governor.


“Balancing” act

Our next newsmaker is former Armed Forces of the Philippines chief Roy Cimatu whose immediate post before being appointed Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources was special envoy to the Middle East.

Cimatu carries no extensive experience in environment management and mining operations, which are two critical issues that he would need to focus on especially with the closure of 23 mining operations by his predecessor, Gina Lopez.

While Lopez’s extreme stance against mining operations in the country has been publicly supported by President Duterte, this was not appreciated by the powerful Commission on Appointments, hence her rejection as DENR secretary.

Cimatu has expressed his belief in “balancing” the needs of the environment and mining operations, which would be a middle-of-the-road position that departs from many statements made by the President during the campaign trail and during his few months in office.

Just how this balancing act would shape up will be seen in the next few months after Cimatu declared he would review existing mining operations as well as the case involving those that had been shut down by the former DENR secretary.


Mixed reactions

Lopez has asked her militant supporters to give Cimatu the support he needs to carry out his duties as the new DENR head. If these various groups, including Greenpeace, will actually heed Lopez’s call is something that would be interesting to follow.

Already, Cimatu has been shunned by human rights groups for his role in several military operations where claimed innocent civilians were rounded up and jailed in Mindanao. Previous accusations of corruption have also been linked to Cimatu.

The mining industry, however, has expressed more optimism about a regime under Cimatu, especially after the former AFP boss had expressed his more conservative views.

The mining sector had questioned the arbitrariness of the former DENR secretary’s decision to permanently close almost half of the country’s mining operations, the demand for P2 million for every hectare of farmland affected by mining activities, the cancelation of dozens of mining contracts, and the banning of open-pit mining.


Social media fireball

The third and last person that caught media attention in the previous days is die-hard (some say, rabid) supporter of Duterte, Margaux Justiniano “Mocha” Uson when she received her appointment as assistant secretary of the Presidential Communication Operations Office in charge of social media.

PCOO Secretary Martin Andanar, who will be Uson’s boss, has just gotten a fireball that could turn out to be too hot to handle, that is, if Uson’s track record as widely-followed blogger and short-lived media personality is to be based on.

The appointment to the position of assistant secretary in any government office is normally acknowledged as below-the-radar news, but since Mocha commands more likes than Andanar on social media, it will be an interesting, if not awkward, relationship to observe over the next few months.

Uson is known not just for her pro-Duterte comments, but her unsavory attacks on media members, calling them “presstitutes,” and the Vice President, which earned her the sack from her job at a popular radio station.

All these interesting developments, indeed, are something to look forward in the coming weeks.


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