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Buenaventura struggles to stabilize the Philippines

It's a wonder that the Philippines is still afloat. Rafael Buenaventura, central bank governor, has steered it clear of disaster. But with a presidential election this month, an unimpressive line-up of legislators and the governor's term coming to a close, the republic faces an uncertain passage.

Rafael Buenaventura

THE STICKY MORNING chaos on Manila's Roxas Boulevard seems a thousand miles away from the cool equanimity that pervades the top floor of Bangko Sentral Ng Pilipinas, which sits imposingly on the busy thoroughfare. The central bank's governor, Rafael Buenaventura, Pa Eng to his friends – a nickname is de rigueur in the Philippines – is busy putting the finishing touches to a press release explaining in the simplest terms the difference between debt refinancing and debt restructuring. The text reads like a teacher's gentle admonition of a schoolboy dullard. That would not be so far from the truth. The worrying thing for the future of this nation of over 80 million is that the recalcitrant pupil is Fernando Poe Junior, one of the leading candidates in the May 10 presidential elections.

In a campaign speech in March, the retired movie star, alternatively known as Da King or FPJ, addressed the serious issue of the government's burgeoning debt mountain, floating the idea of a restructuring if he were elected. His timing was impeccable. Buenaventura was just putting the finishing touches to a $500 million debt issue to help plug the government's funding gap.

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