PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte has yet to consider candidates to succeed the late Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP) Governor Nestor A. Espenilla, Jr. who died of tongue cancer just last Saturday, his spokesman told reporters on Tuesday, but Malacañang expects to see some basic qualities as well as reforms sustained.
Dalawa lang naman ang palagi niyang sinasabi (There are only two traits that the President always says he looks for): integrity and competence,” Presidential Spokesperson Salvador S. Panelo said in a news conference in Malacañan Palace.
Widely perceived to be in the running to succeed Mr. Espenilla are BSP deputy governors Diwa C. Guinigundo, Chuchi H. Fonacier and Cyd N. Tuaño-Amador, who will be the central bank’s officer-in-charge until Mr. Duterte appoints a new acting chief or a successor to serve out the remainder of Mr. Espenilla’s six-year term ending mid-2023; BSP Monetary Board member Peter B. Favila; BDO Unibank, Inc. President Nestor V. Tan; as well as even Finance Secretary Carlos G. Dominguez III and House Speaker Gloria M. Arroyo, who had been Philippine president from 2001 to 2010.
Asked on Mr. Duterte’s expectations of Mr. Espenilla’s successor, Mr. Panelo replied: “I suppose it’s the same — it’s the continuity of the work done by the previous governor.”
Mr. Espenilla took the reins of the central bank in July 2017 amid expectations the US Federal Reserve would embark on aggressive interest rate hikes the following year.
He pledged a “Continuity Plus Plus” reform agenda, which meant building on the gains of his predecessor, former BSP Governor Amando M. Tetangco, Jr.
Under Mr. Espenilla, BSP’s Monetary Board last year raised benchmark interest rates by a total of 175 basis points to 4.25% for overnight deposit, 4.75% for overnight reverse repurchase and to 5.25% for overnight lending in a bid to tame inflation that had clocked successive multi-year highs beyond the central bank’s 2-4% target range before starting to ease slightly in November.
Headline inflation clocked in at 5.2% for full-year 2018, the fastest in a decade. The central bank forecasts the overall increase in prices of widely used goods to log 3.1% this year, after it was actually recorded at 4.4% in January, down from December’s 5.1%, November’s 6.0% and the nine-year-high 6.7% in September and October.
The central bank last year also saw banks’ reserve requirement ratio trimmed by two percentage points to 18%, which Mr. Espenilla had pledged to bring to single-digit level by the end of his term to free up more cash for lending to businesses and consumers.
Mr. Espenilla had also pushed rollout and use of digital payment systems in a bid to serve unbanked, uncarded Filipinos.
The central bank is looking to lift the share of digital payments to 20% of total transactions from just one percent in 2013, with the country still cash-reliant at present. — A. L. Balinbin