Tuesday, December 12, 2017
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At Large

The ‘best women’

“MAY THE best woman win” was certainly the clincher in the closing remarks of the only woman vice-presidential candidate, Rep. Leni Robredo, at the close of Sunday’s vice-presidential debate.

May I just say that I find the debate—sponsored by CNN Philippines and the Commission on Elections—the most organized and lucid of the series of candidates’ debates in this year’s campaign. Despite the candidates occasionally talking over each other, even if moderators Pinky Webb and Pia Hontiveros repeatedly admonished them to observe the rules, the public still managed to get a lucid and even entertaining view of where each of the six candidates stood on a welter of issues.

For a while there, it seemed as if the debate would get stuck on the issue of corruption, dynastic politics and hidden wealth, with Sen. Bongbong Marcos turning out to be the focus of much of the brickbats and name-calling. But soon the session “moved on” and managed to cover a wide range of issues, from the peace process to Internet coverage, from criminality to China, from transportation to connectivity.

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But to return to Robredo’s closing statement. While she couldn’t match Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano’s relentless pursuit and dogged questioning style, Sen. Chiz Escudero’s “balagtasan” posing or even Marcos’ smooth dodging of accusations, Leni did women proud. She was rational, reasonable, calm and collected, and while lacking in the zing that people had come to expect of women pols like Miriam Defensor Santiago, she managed to score key points.

She may be the “best woman” running for vice president, but Robredo is not the only woman running in this year’s elections. She leads a lineup of women endorsed or supported by the majority of members of the TOWNS Foundation, composed of past awardees of the national biannual search for the country’s “outstanding women.” The congresswoman from Camarines Sur leads a multipartisan lineup of four senatorial candidates, all of them women, endorsed by TOWNS. They are: former congresswoman Risa Hontiveros, Lorna Kapunan (who is a TOWNS awardee in the field of law), former justice secretary Leila de Lima, and OFW advocate Toots Ople.

It is a roster I am very comfortable with, and I would urge readers to look into the qualifications and records of Robredo and the other women when drawing up their own lists of candidates for election day.

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TOWNS has likewise come out with a set of policy recommendations drawn up by “clusters” of members, divided into key issues, that the women are disseminating to the various candidates’ camps in hopes that some (if not all) of them will be adopted by the eventual winners (or even by “losers” who will continue with their public service careers). Excerpts from the document follow.

In the field of business and entrepreneurship, TOWNS recommends concrete measures to increase “ease of doing business” by small entrepreneurs, especially in accessing licenses and following procedures, and simplifying the tax code to make it more user-friendly, with rates comparable to our neighbors.

The transportation cluster echoed the calls of many sectors for improved infrastructure, the elimination of “colorum” vehicles, and synchronized interconnection of the many forms of urban public transports. As for Internet traffic, the women called for greater transparency in the operations of telcos, including properly matching the capabilities of the providers with the number of subscribers and removing the expiration feature of prepaid cards. It also recommended the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology.

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IN THE field of science and technology, the TOWNS document calls for a drastic increase in the budget to 1 percent of GDP as recommended by Unesco and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for developing countries.

Strengthening the local government units is also needed, the document says, focusing on these as the primary responders in case of natural disasters and with responsibility for creating land use policies.

The document also strongly pushes for the development of tourism infrastructure and facilities, while protecting heritage structures and institutions. It also said that arts and culture should not only be promoted and promoted, but also recognized as a “commercially viable” resource.

Among the recommendations for health, the TOWNS document bats for the “full implementation” of the Reproductive Health Law, the passage of pending legislation on mental health, and further studies on the health impacts of climate change and the emergence of new viral diseases linked to changing weather patterns.

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AGRICULTURAL sustainability was a particular concern of the TOWNS women, who called for more measured responses to climate change by increasing productivity and improving yield stability. They also called for the separation of the functions of research and regulation among government agencies related to agriculture, natural resource management and environmental protection.

The TOWNS women also call for the creation of a separate Department of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources which can provide better strategic directions and overall care for this sector. Those in the agricultural and fisheries cluster also called for shifting focus from “just” rice production to the propagation of higher value crops like fruits and flowers and vegetables.

It is indeed a daunting list of recommendations, but at least the men and women who will be taking office in May can no longer complain about lack of direction or guidance on what they are to do with the mandate given them.

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TAGS: debate, Elections, leni robredo, opinion, Robredo, Vice President, VP, VP debate
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