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Action, not words

/ 12:30 AM September 15, 2016

There’s been some concern that President Duterte’s cursing and seeming attacks against the United Nations, the United States, and others may turn off foreign investors and reduce aid to the country. And they might—if those investors and aid donors don’t look beyond the words.

Beyond the words, for investors, is a President who has proved to be pro-business in over two decades of running a city successfully. During his term as mayor, Davao City was hailed as the Philippines’ fifth most competitive local government unit, after Manila, Cebu, Makati and Quezon City, according to the annual survey of the National Competitiveness Council (NCC). It was among the Philippines’ top cities in the World Bank’s annual Doing Business survey, and among the best LGUs in terms of health and education support services, according to the NCC. Davao was the most efficient in terms of business registration (one day versus an average of six days in the Philippines), and the third best business process outsourcing destination in the country. With the Pearl Farm Beach Resort and the scenic Mount Apo, it is also among the five largest tourist destinations in the Philippines.

The President also has an economic team that knows its job and is responsible. Many of its members have been in business or interacting with it over the years. The President defers to them in economics and business. He listens. So if the investors look at results, and not listen to the cuss words the results are there. (Mind you, I am concerned about what he did to Bobby Ongpin; I don’t understand that. And the uncertainty that’s been brought to mining is putting into question his earlier support of responsible mining.)

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As to aid, that isn’t given to one man. It’s given to people that need it. That need hasn’t gone away, and it would be a small-minded agency that withdraws support because of perceived slights. You don’t decide on aid on the basis of the character of one man. At least I hope you don’t. The wide international condemnation by human rights groups of drug-related killings may give some donors no choice, though.

There was a recent letter to the editor from Fernando Cardoso, the former president of Brazil; Louise Arbour,  the former UN high commissioner for human rights; and Richard Branson, on the futility of violence to stop drugs. As I pointed out in my column “Ban bans” (8/11/16), the war against drugs hasn’t worked. It’s been around for centuries; the Opium Wars date back to the mid-19th century.

The solution, I’m increasingly convinced, is to legalize drugs and control them, with education on the harm they do. As Cardoso et al. explained, “countries as diverse as New Zealand, Canada, Mexico, Portugal, the Czech Republic, and West African nations are now considering and even implementing alternatives, including laws regulating the use, possession and/or production of drugs with marked success in harm and crime reduction.” It’s certainly an alternative to seriously consider. Mr. Duterte has promised to be a radical leader, breaking from the mold. Well, here’s a radical solution to an enduring problem that just might work.

The country wanted a break from those who say what they think you want to hear, or who act to protect their positions, to one who says it as it is. They got one. And one who promised in the campaign to get things done. And look at just some of the actions taken in less than 80 days: executive order on freedom of information, after nearly 30 years of presidents promising, but not doing; initial agreement for a ceasefire with the New People’s Army; extension of driver’s licenses’ validity to five years; launch of new emergency and government service hotlines; order to end the “tanim-bala” (bullets in passengers’ luggage).

Also: reduction of the time private planes can use the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; establishment of a one-stop shop for overseas Filipino workers; order to LGUs to release business permits and licenses within one to two days; development of software that will automate the recording, assessment and issuance of business permits and licenses in LGUs nationwide (the Department of Information and Communications Technology is now testing the software in Tanay, Rizal; formation of an anti-red-tape unit at the Department of Finance tasked to streamline the delivery of services there and in its attached agencies such as the Bureaus of Internal Revenue and of Customs and improve transparency in government transactions; simplified permit requirements for infrastructure projects; and submission of a national budget that would support his commitment to improve the infrastructure network, invest in education and health, and modernize agriculture (the budget bill is expected to be approved on time to prevent the corruption-laden practice of a reenacted budget).

Other actions are hindered from quick accomplishment by a bureaucracy and court system that is broken, and will take much time to fix, if at all. Full computerization will help, so thank god (well, also then Senate President Frank Drilon and Speaker Sonny Belmonte for convincing then President Benigno Aquino III to sign it) we now have a DICT to implement it, at least in the government. For the courts, the Chief Justice has indicated she will fully computerize the courts, and initiated the e-subpoena system. But she needs Congress to approve a much bigger budget to further computerize the judicial system and hasten the resolution of cases.

I’ve always believed in action over words; getting things done is the priority. I don’t think any of us are much for the swear words (didn’t he promise to stop?), but I think we all want much faster action. With traditional politicians, we get words; with Mr. Duterte, we may get action.

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E-mail: wallace_likeitis@wbf.ph. Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com

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TAGS: bureaucracy, Davao City, drugs legalization, Rodrigo Duterte, United Nations, United States
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