I sometimes wonder if Congress really does represent the people. Everyone is fed up with the traffic chaos that President Benigno Aquino III left us with, our inability to get to work and the hours we spend away from our families.
And everyone is sick of seeing one-third of their hard-earned money going into some god-knows-what hole. But they do know they can’t afford much of what they need, particularly those who earn little. There’s an ill-thought-out law introduced in 1997 that has no ability to move as the cost of living (inflation) moves. Yet it’s been obvious ever since the industrial revolution that inflation is a fact of life. Why wasn’t it incorporated into the law?
It’s been some seven months since the bills on emergency powers to act on traffic and income tax reforms were filed. The executive branch, the business community, and the public have pushed for these bills, yet the House is dragging its feet on them. Instead it passes a bill in two weeks (a two-tier tax on cigarettes) that was not on anyone’s to-do list and would amend “sin” taxes to favor one company. It only shows that Congress can move quickly if it wants to.
You don’t need a survey to tell you that the people really want these two laws—and fast. I appeal to Congress: Give the people what they want. Put these two ahead of everything else. Act on emergency mode.
There are also a number of bills that business as a whole (all major chambers voted on it) wants. Apart from emergency powers to address traffic and transportation crises and the comprehensive tax reform package, there are, finally, the proposed constitutional amendments to remove foreign equity restrictions; amendments to the Bank Secrecy Law, Retail Trade Act, Corporation Code, Public Service Act and Build-Operate-Transfer Law; telecom reforms; Water Sector Reform Act; Apprenticeship Program Act; and, after some 20 years, freedom of information (FOI).
I’m glad to see that Congress is beginning to move on constitutional change. I don’t expect it to move swiftly, nor should it. This hugely complex issue will determine the future fate of society. All proposed changes must be fully and very carefully analyzed.
It’s a list similar to what was presented to then President Aquino, and no action was done. So I hope Mr. Duterte will be the different president he promised to be and goad Congress into action. He needs to have frequent—at least monthly—meetings with Congress leaders, as President Fidel Ramos did, and do what we do in business: Focus. Focus on just these 12 measures for business, and another 12 for societal needs.
Which doesn’t mean everything is completely stopped. Committee hearings can still continue, but where their personnel are needed to move the 24 measures, they should drop what they’re doing and concentrate on those priorities.
President Duterte was elected because people no longer wanted politics as usual. They wanted firm action on issues important to them. Since the start of the 17th Congress last July only two measures have been passed—the national budget (essential if the government is to function) and the measure postponing the village and youth council polls. Bills can sit for 20 years in Congress (several have, including, as I said, the essential one on FOI). This is unconscionable. Nothing, but nothing, takes 20 years to resolve. Or even two, if you care.
Anyone who reads international news knows that worldwide there’s disillusion with the way democracies have been run. People are demanding change despite the risk it may introduce. Donald Trump is a disastrous example, Mr. Duterte is not, but the message to Congress is the people want faster action on what matters to them. So I hope the politicians will realize that what’s happening here and around the world is a wake-up call to act on what’s really important to the people and enact these bills.
There are certain lawmakers who impress me, and who I know from talking to them that they do want change. But they’re hindered by others who just don’t get the message.
Long lists never get done, short ones do. Let’s gallop like a horse, not slither like a snail.
E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.
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