‘Brilliant N.E.R.D with K-Pop looks’

National Economic and Development Authority Director-General and Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning Karl Kendrick T. Chua. | File photo by the Philippine News Agency

(Palawan News is reprinting the following endorsement speech of Senate President Pro Tempore Ralph Recto to the Commission on Appointment of NEDA secretary Karl Chua, for its flair and brevity. – Editors)

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

The nominee is a NERD – but with K-Pop looks.

By NERD, I mean our National Economist for Recovery and Development.

In the Cabinet, he is the youngest in years, but one of the wisest in experience.

And it is not only his youthfulness which makes him stand out in a Cabinet of D-O-Ms – Davao connection, Oldies but goodies, and Military – but his intellect, too.

His CV is a fine print of academic and professional achievements. Taken together, they are the social and economic reforms writ large.

He has logged 18 years of experience in each of the following disciplines: economic policy, fiscal policy, tax administration, political economy, and tax policy.

Speaking of tax, he is the architect of the biggest tax hike—or make that plural, tax hikes in history—without having to be punished by the voters at the ballot box, like the fate of another NEDA head.

Add 16 years of work in statistical development, plus 15 in public expenditure management, 13 in labor and social protection policy, and 11 in poverty studies.

The sum, which is more than a hundred years in multiple career tracks, is twice Enrile’s professional record but achieved at half his age.

Every leader, Mr. President, is dependent on some form of AI, or artificial intelligence.

And the President should be lucky to have this nominee, who is a walking terabytes of knowledge, in his official family.

It is good that he has topnotch qualifications, because the Cabinet portfolio he holds is one of the most important today.

The reason is that the pandemic has unleashed a health crisis and an economic crisis all at once.

It is a war being fought on two fronts. One is where lives are saved. The other is where livelihoods are salvaged.

The fact is, only a few of those that have gotten the virus may manifest severe body ills.

But you don’t have to get hit by COVID to be hurt by the economic hardships it has caused.

Not all COVID victims will see the inside of an ER. But this virus has placed our entire economy in the ICU.

Our GDP cratered last year, sinking to a negative 9.6 percent growth.

The unemployment rate seesaws between 7 and 18 percent. As businesses bled, the economy shed 2.7 million jobs.

For every day of ECQ, income lost is P2.8 billion.

The toll on millions is best captured by this observation: “Ang dating isang kahig, isang tuka, ngayon ay kahig ng kahig, walang matuka.”

It falls upon the nominee as economic war minister to ease their pain, to prevent the economy from fully flatlining, and to lay the foundations of a turnaround.

A suki of this institution, he has been counselling us on the relief, recovery, resilience measures that we must undertake if we want the greatest threat to this nation in 75 years to be over soon.

Mr. President, I have been working with the nominee for many years now on all the measures the economic team wanted us to pass.

I always find my encounters with him a learning experience for me, although I suspect that he may not have treated it as a teachable moment for him.

I value the hundreds of hours we have discussed policy, even if I know that he looks forward to meeting me with the same excitement as when he goes to the dentist for a root canal.

We have crossed swords on many issues, and we have lost count on the times we put each other’s ideas on our own crosshairs.

But always I come out of those encounters with a higher respect and deeper admiration for this patriot and professional, whose love for his country and people is beyond doubt.

Mr. President, the likes of him should be the rule in the Cabinet, not the exception.

The presence of the NEDA chief in the Cabinet serves as a constant reminder of the essential things a government must do for its people.

I mean the things that truly matter, not the trivial ones trolls want.

Things like jobs created, investments generated, GDP growth, exports, the poverty incidence slashed, literacy, among others—this is the scorecard NEDA keeps. And it is the only accurate barometer which tells us where we are.

The true state of the nation is in our economic numbers.

They are not in opinion polls which report the perception of the polled. Neither are they in the reach of socmed posts. Surveys can never be a substitute for the development index.

And the nation can only score high in that index if it follows and funds the plans of NEDA and if the government heeds the advice of its head.

Mr. President:

There is one line in the nominee’s official CV which strikes me the most.

No, these are not the impressive catalogue of his published works.

Neither are these his academic credentials, his AB from Ateneo, and his MA and PhD in Economics from that public school down the road which, as one joke goes, served as a re-education camp for anyone coming out of a Jesuit school.

Rather, I find it on his civil status, where he writes: “Married with one happy little boy who misses his dad.”

That boy is Keid Ashby, an incoming Grade 1 student at, where else, the Jesuit school Xavier, where his dad was the high school valedictorian 25 years ago.

“Keid” is a star in the constellation of Eridamis, where habitable planets may exist. And “Ashby”, from what a contact tracer told me, is some economist.

Obviously, he was named after his father’s two passions: astronomy and economics, which bookends the day of this busy man.

Mornings, he bikes to work, with two pieces of pan de sal as baon, to his day job as the lead government economist.

And after a day of poring over spreadsheets, he searches the sky for stars.

So when we had that lunar eclipse some nights ago, I imagine father and son watching it together, with the dad annotating the phenomenon to his class of one.

But if he had the nation as audience that night, Karl Kendrick Chua would be telling us that we must have a “man on the moon” goal.

I am referring to the moment when Kennedy boldly vowed to put a man on the moon before the Sixties was over.

That we must break free of the political culture which treats grandiose dreams as grandstanding.

That although we are in the gutter, let us reach for the stars.

That we can do it in a way that we secure our children’s future without mortgaging it.

Mr. President, my dear colleagues:

It is my honor to sponsor the confirmation of the appointment of Karl Kendrick T. Chua, father of a boy who misses him terribly, as the Secretary of Socioeconomic Planning and the Director General of the National Economic and Development Authority.

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