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Editorial

Fiddling while the country burns

/ 04:08 AM October 01, 2019

In case our representatives in Congress have been living in a cave, here is the current state of the nation in terms of significant components in the economy, as highlighted in recent columns by former Neda (National Economic and Development Authority) chief and Inquirer columnist Cielito Habito:

On economic growth: The country’s economic progress as reflected in the gross domestic product (GDP) is decelerating, the second-quarter figure of 5.5 percent representing two successive quarters now falling below the average 6-7 percent of the last eight years — “a disturbing trend that we must find a way to arrest,” warned Habito.

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On overall investments: “There are no ifs and buts about it: The news on overall investment in the country isn’t good,” said Habito. “For the first time in 30 quarters (seven and a half years), fixed capital formation in our economy actually fell, registering -8.5 percent growth in the second quarter of this year… Our foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows fell by a steep 39 percent in the first half of this year, and by an even steeper 54 percent counting the second quarter alone… The global economic slowdown is no excuse for this, as FDI inflows to neighbors like Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam have actually jumped this year so far.”

On manufacturing: “Our manufacturing sector, which had sustained impressive growth at 7-8 percent annually from 2010 to 2018, has seen a significant slowdown in the last four quarters, to just 4-5 percent.”

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On housing: The Philippines, noted Habito, has the lowest public housing expenditures as a ratio to GDP among the original five members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at only 0.12 percent from 2000-2014 compared to, say, Singapore, which spent 13 times more at 1.6 percent. “The Philippine Development Plan notes that housing has consistently received less than 0.5 percent of our government budget” despite “the 1.7 million households targeted for direct housing assistance from 2017-2022. This target is still far less than our people’s actual housing needs.”

The news on the public-health front, of course, is even graver: simultaneous outbreaks of dengue, measles, polio and now diphtheria as the government’s mass vaccination program has suffered a meltdown, even as the health department’s budget has been cut by as much as P10 billion. And while 2.3 million new jobs have been created over the past year, “the unemployment rate actually remained at 5.4 percent, the same as last year,” according to Habito.

In other words, the house is practically tottering and needing serious repair, but what’s occupying the minds of lawmakers these days? (Or, in the vernacular, ano ang inaatupag nila?)

Charter change, that’s what. More specifically, moving to extend their hold on power by giving themselves and local government officials longer terms of office from the present three years to four or five years.

The grasping proposal Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano had first floated in his bid to secure the speakership is being pushed by Cagayan de Oro Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, chair of the committee on constitutional amendments, who said the “prevailing sentiment” among his colleagues was that “three years is too short for good work.” Natch.

Rubbish. The three-year system has been good enough for outstanding LGU executives like the late Jesse Robredo, the Fernandos of Marikina, even the former mayor of Davao City who would go on to fame and the presidency on the back of that renewable three-year term of office.

Three years is indeed too short for a good official (who then deserves reelection), and too long for a lousy one (who then must resort to desperate measures such as outsize election spending and public-relations ploys to gain reelection).

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But if it would take an official at least three years to go from clueless to halfway competent, he has no business doing the job in the first place, the critical work of public office not being a platform for on-the-job training.

The cabal of unblushingly self-serving lawmakers now intent on term extensions is mistaken to think the public will take this abomination sitting down, with the rest of the country beyond the Batasan enclave virtually fraying apart from their neglect and opportunism.

As surveys have repeatedly shown, there is absolutely no clamor for Charter change, let alone for term amendments. That concern, in fact, comes dead-last in the people’s priorities, food and jobs being always the most urgent needs. For Congress now to busy itself with yet more ways to feather its members’ nests is to fiddle while the country burns.

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TAGS: 18th Congress, charter change, Cielito Habito, economy, Inquirer editorial, term limits
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