New Year’s Day, no matter how bad things have been in the year past, somehow, always heralds the promise of a better year. It’s a strange human quirk, though a very favorable one because with a positive outlook we do pursue things.
I can’t understand it: We have a president who didn’t want to be president, but the reluctant candidate for president has somehow eased into the job and has achieved a total turnaround for the country. Indeed, the Philippines has gone from being “the sick man of Asia” to being “Asia’s next economic tiger.” An impressive feat, but so many things that could have been accomplished are yet to be. I attribute this to a dysfunctional political and bureaucratic system aggravated by a preponderance of legal interventions that make it almost impossible for any leader to achieve results.
Still, I do feel more could have been done despite the obstacles—like the lack of any real reduction in the number of poor (around 24.4 million in 2010 versus 24.5 million in 2013) and those without sufficient work (2.79 million in 2010 as against 2.63 million last year) show. Yes, on the employment front, there has been an improvement, but it has been marginal at best. In fact, despite the high GDP growth rates the Philippines has achieved in the past few years, the country still has one of the highest poverty and unemployment indices among major Asian economies. No leader should resign to this situation.
For President Aquino, these are the last few “minutes of the game.” He has maybe a maximum of 12 months to get anything substantive done. After that, politics kicks in—in a big way.
Many like to prepare a wish-list for the new year. This is not at all a bad thing to do. In fact I write a “to-do list” every week, updating the longer-term items as needed, and pursue it. The President might want to have his own, but may I suggest that it contain practical, specific actions. Not ephemeral plans. Let me suggest some:
• Resolve the MRT 3 mess. The commuting public has suffered enough. Coaches get derailed, or run even with a door still open or, in a number of instances, suddenly stop, injuring passengers.
• Address the catastrophe that is the Manila traffic. Remove 50 percent of the buses plying Edsa. Just do it. Put thousands of trained traffic aides into action and instill in drivers discipline and the concern for others’ safety. Get products moving quickly into and out of the port. You can’t do business in a car or bus.
• Solve the traffic chaos on expressways. The problem is not the expressways; they are in excellent condition, except for the stupidity of having only one lane at the end of South Luzon Expressway. The problem is the tolls. Some suggested solutions: 1) Have a uniform pass for all expressways (technology can assign payments to the various owners); 2) give the passes away for free, and increase the toll slightly on those passes to cover cost; 3) remove the barriers, just drive through; this is done in other countries, so why not here?
• Decide where a second international airport will be.
• Ask for emergency powers to provide homes for some 25,000 calamity survivors in Leyte, Eastern Samar and nearby provinces, as well for the 20,000 displaced survivors of the Zamboanga siege, who are still living in tents or temporary shelters.
• Agree to the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology. The DICT will provide support to one of the most dynamic sectors of the economy today, the ICT-BPO. Enactment of the measure would also complement the Aquino administration’s anticorruption agenda.
• Support the call for Charter change to open up key sectors of the economy. The amount of foreign direct investments (FDI) we draw every year is tiny compared to what our neighbors Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore get. Let’s attract more foreign investments into this country and create more jobs and livelihood for millions of Filipinos.
• Aggressively push for the enactment of the Freedom of Information bill and of major economic and business bills (e.g., the Customs Modernization and Anti-Smuggling bill). Implement flexible labor laws and amend the 40-year-old Labor Code so businesses can prosper and enough number of jobs can be created.
• On public-private partnership (PPP) projects, don’t allow objections once the award has been made. Also aggressively push for the approval of the proposed measure amending the Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) law that will expedite the approval of projects under the PPP scheme.
• Spend 5 percent of the GDP on infrastructure in 2015, not wait for 2016 to spend this much. Currently, our Asean peers allot 7-9 percent of their national output on infrastructure projects.
• Encourage the construction of base-load power plants. Reliable power supply is crucial if the country is to attract more FDIs.
• Build family planning clinics and have them adequately manned.
• Put up properly-built and -equipped emergency centers. Churches and schools are not properly equipped to host people threatened or victimized by disasters.
• Put more grafters in jail, be they allies or foes.
This is by no means a comprehensive list primarily because of space limitation. But I’m sure you can add to the list. Please do. Let us help the President decide on what’s best to do, and encourage him to do it. The suggestions here may be too many to pursue all at once; I suggest further that President Aquino choose just four or five and put every effort into getting those done. Time is of the essence here, and those specific goals must be accomplished before the start of the campaign season.
Let’s make the coming year a truly successful one by accomplishing the much-needed improvements.
Happy New Year to all!