Last week, 10 outstanding young Filipino-American professionals were in the Philippines for a three-day immersion program to get to know the country and their heritage better, and to eventually become champions of the Philippine cause in the United States. Included in their activities were meetings and an audience with key government officials and leaders of top Philippine corporations. This laudable Filipino-American Youth Leadership Program was spearheaded by Ambassador to the United States Jose Cuisia Jr. last year and was made possible by generous support from local corporations and US companies with operations in the Philippines.
At a lunch meeting hosted by the Makati Business Club, one of the Fil-Ams asked the MBC members: Where do you see the Philippines five years from now? A member replied by projecting into the future basically how we are doing at present. This made me think that perhaps, rather than just waiting for things to happen, we should actually try and influence what the Philippines would be five years from now. Rather than being passive observers waiting for events to unfold, shouldn’t we envision the Philippines we want and then do whatever we can to help reach that dream?
Any change, of course, should begin with personal efforts that each of us can contribute. Simple things like driving responsibly and obeying traffic laws, maintaining cleanliness in our own house and in our neighborhood, paying the right taxes and the like would be a good start.
Change is possible if there are enough of us who share a vision and work together for reforms. For one, we can start a people’s initiative to put in place the enabling measures for the implementation of the antidynasty provision in the Constitution, or even to eliminate the pork barrel system.
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The P10-billion pork barrel scam purportedly involving a number of senators and congressmen that came to light last week is perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. There is something inherently wrong with the Priority Development Assistance Fund, or the pork barrel. So many changes and controls have been initiated, but scammers seem to always find ways around them. Perhaps it is because senators and congressmen, whose primary task is to craft laws, are given development funds for projects that are the responsibility of the executive branch. Even the monitoring and publication of the use of the pork barrel, including the involvement of the Department of Budget and Management in the fund releases, has not helped.
One solution to this wanton stealing from the national coffers is the swift prosecution and imprisonment of the thieves, as well as those who obstruct the prosecution process. Until such time that the risks/consequences are commensurate to or higher than the benefits of stealing from the government, the corrupt will always steal government funds.
What is truly sad, however, is that ordinary Filipinos seem not to care much anymore about this shameful thievery. There may be an uproar at this time, but it may be short-lived and ultimately forgotten when another scam or scandal comes along. It seems that the temporary shame these corrupt officials are subjected to for about a week or so is sufficient punishment. We really have short memories, and the resoluteness to prosecute wrongdoers and put closure to their crimes by putting them behind bars is just not there. This failure in our values is reflected in our justice system. Thus, we end up with a long list of high-profile crimes that remain unresolved, languishing in the courts for many years, giving the perpetrators time to cover their tracks or buy the prosecutors, judges and witnesses.
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The economy is awash in liquidity, with the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas having accumulated special deposit accounts (SDAs) averaging over P1.7 trillion for a number of years now. These funds should be put to good use and funneled to the public-private partnership infrastructure projects identified by the government. The actual cost of these funds on the part of the government is lower than the nominal interest rates because the interest incomes are subject to a 20-percent final withholding tax which goes back to the government. These low-cost funds will translate into making the PPP projects more viable and more affordable to the people. The funding mismatch and short-term funding of long-term projects can be addressed through the government’s issuance of long-term SDAs with slightly higher interest rates.
There is a cost to the government in maintaining these SDAs. It makes good economic sense to put this cost to good use by utilizing the funds to speed up the completion of very badly needed infrastructure that will benefit the country as a whole. These infrastructure projects will spur economic activity and generate employment, thus contributing to the alleviation of poverty.
The criticism has been that the 7.8-percent GDP growth of the economy in the first quarter only benefited the very rich because the number of the poor has even increased. The multiplier effect of these infrastructure projects will translate into more wealth filtering down to the ordinary people.
David L. Balangue ([email protected]) chairs the Coalition Against Corruption. He is a former chair and managing partner of SyCip Gorres Velayo & Co.