President Aquino has just achieved triumphs that eluded every Filipino president in our history, triumphs that match, and perhaps exceed, those of America’s most successful president in the 20th century, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Against all odds, Mr. Aquino took on and bested the Catholic Church, the tobacco industry, the liquor industry, and Filipino billionaires such as Eduardo Cojuangco, Lucio Tan, former first lady Imelda Marcos, and our great and highly popular world boxing champion, Manny Pacquiao.
His victories will have clear and immediate benefits to the Philippines. More importantly, these victories are a signal to the world, including international bankers and investors, that the Philippines is governable and can achieve, within a democracy, what many believe can only be achieved through authoritarian governments, such as the economic progress in China and Singapore.
Family planning has been the key to economic growth in Japan, China, Korea, Singapore and Thailand. We oppose the authoritarian type of family planning that has led to China’s one-child-per-family law. But, we do note that over 80 percent of Catholics in the United States, including Filipino-American Catholics, practice family planning even though it is strongly opposed by the Catholic Church.
The percentage of the population in the Philippines that supports family planning can be just as high as in the United States. The vast majority of our poor understand that 10 poor children per family is not a recipe for quality education, adequate housing, or good jobs. Unlike other Asian nations that support family planning, either informally or formally, the Philippines’ population continues to explode. It was less than 35 million when President Ferdinand Marcos first came into office almost 45 years ago. Today it has tripled.
With over 80 percent of our population being considered poor by standards in other Asian nations, and at least 20 million that the United Nations contends live in extreme slum conditions, reforms were long overdue.
Although our well-spoken boxing champion Pacquiao may be correct in his statement, made only a few days after his losing battle with Juan Marquez, that “only God has power over this,” there may be another interpretation. Specifically, it is for the people of the Philippines, not the Church, to interpret God’s will.
The substantial increase in the “sin” taxes on tobacco and liquor is an equally admirable triumph for Mr. Aquino considering that the tobacco and liquor industries spend more in trying to defeat this tax increase than what is lawfully spent in any Philippine presidential election.
It has been a long time, far too long, since the Philippines had a strong, respected and democratically elected leader. The accomplishments of the President, achieved just before Christmas Day, is an immediate Christmas gift to the people, much as he himself stated when he signed the Sin Tax Reform Law of 2012 in Malacañang. The new law will generate a minimum of P500 billion over the next 10 years because the tax increases are indexed to inflation.
Equally important in the short run and far more important in the long run, these presidential successes are a signal to the international banking and investor communities across the world that the Philippines is on its way as the next successful Asian nation. This will almost immediately enhance the Philippines’ credit rating from junk to investment-worthy, and thereby help promote economic growth rates that can soon rival those in China.
Because the “sin” tax revenue will be allocated for universal healthcare (including new public clinics and hospitals) and encourage the modernization of our substandard infrastructure, economic growth is likely to surpass virtually every other Asian nation, including Japan, Vietnam and Korea.
Also due to family planning, it is likely that we will curtail our unsustainable population growth (tripling over the past two generations and more than twice the growth rate throughout the rest of Asia). We will also finally be able to properly plan for job growth at home. Perhaps within less than a generation, as Thailand and Korea have demonstrated, our best jobs will be in the Philippines, not in the United States, Singapore or the Arab world.
A large number of Filipino-Americans talk and dream about returning to the Philippines when they retire. Perhaps these reforms will also encourage our well-educated and inspired Filipino-American youth to also return to the Philippines to help direct our motherland toward a bright and glorious future.
Faith Bautista is CEO of the National Asian American Coalition (with offices in Daly City, California, in the United States), chair of San Diego’s Housing and Economic Development Advisory Task Force, and a national leader on economic development and job creation. Cora Oriel is the president of Asian Journal and chair of the board of directors of the National Asian American Coalition.