Marcos to serve as agriculture chief amid food crisis fears

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Philippine President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. expressed concern Monday about rising food prices caused in part by the war in Ukraine and said he will serve as secretary of agriculture when he takes office to prepare for a possible emergency.

Marcos Jr. and Vice President-elect Sara Duterte take office June 30 after winning landslide victories in May 9 elections.

They will inherit daunting problems, including a coronavirus pandemic-battered economy, soaring inflation, unemployment and mounting foreign and domestic debt, in addition to longstanding poverty, insurgencies and political divisions.

After meeting with his designated finance, trade and economic secretaries, Marcos Jr. told reporters on Monday that he will temporarily serve as agriculture secretary and will reorganize the Department of Agriculture to foster an economic recovery following two years of coronavirus outbreaks and lockdowns.

“I think the problem is severe enough that I have decided to take on the portfolio of secretary of agriculture at least for now,” he said, adding he has asked his key advisers to anticipate “emergency situations, especially when it comes to food supply.”

Marcos Jr. said skyrocketing oil prices, disruptions in the supply of agricultural feed, and decisions by Thailand and Vietnam to temporarily restrict exports of rice — a key staple for Filipinos — could send food prices higher.

Marcos Jr. has named about two dozen Cabinet members so far, including his economic team, a temporary defense chief and a national security adviser. A key appointee who has drawn attention is Juan Ponce Enrile, a 98-year-old retired politician and lawyer who will serve as presidential legal counsel.

Enrile was the defense chief who defected with his forces from Marcos Jr.'s dictator father in 1986 in a turbulent series of events that led to the army-backed “People Power” pro-democracy uprising that toppled the elder Marcos.

The dictator was driven into exile in the United States with his family and died in Hawaii in 1989. His widow, Imelda Marcos, and her children were allowed to return to the Philippines in 1991 and accomplished a stunning political comeback, helped by a well-funded social media campaign to refurbish the family name that had been tarnished by human rights atrocities and plunder during the Marcos dictatorship.

Enrile has since reconciled with the Marcoses and backed Marcos Jr.'s presidential run.