Top Ten (2)
This is the continuation of my column on the Top 10 things the Duterte administration should do that would really make a difference in the way we live.
6) Tax reform, to change a system that was designed in the horse and buggy era, is long, long overdue. A courageous Department of Finance took on the task and designed a structure well suited to the modern world. Congress, though, has been too slow to adopt it, causing us losses running into the billions of dollars. If they want us to recover quickly from COVID-19, they’ll act more quickly now to pass all four of the outstanding tax bills, with CREATE (Corporate Recovery and Tax Incentives for Enterprises Act) being the first and most urgent. Time to stop arguing the details, there’s been more than enough time to do that. Just pass CREATE now.
That it wasn’t done before recess is a sad indictment of a Congress that has misplaced priorities. It should have learnt from when it did pass a tax bill, TRAIN-1 (Tax Reform for Acceleration and Inclusion). Workers have more money in their pocket, and government has more funds to spend where needed. It worked. CREATE will, too—if Congress will just pass it.
7) Giving everyone access to affordable health must be top of the list; COVID-19 told us that, if we needed telling. When you’re sick, it dominates everything, and you can’t do anything else. The Universal Health Care Act was a much-needed start, and PhilHealth a well-considered mechanism to deliver. Except it’s not working. PhilHealth doesn’t have enough funds (even less now with so many contributors out of work) and, reportedly, too much of it stolen. But PhilHealth is just one part of the whole system. Health clinics and family planning clinics need to be everywhere, easily accessible, so hospitals can focus on treatment of the serious cases and not be sidetracked attending to the easily treated ones. Public hospitals need a huge upgrade in capability, given the facilities they’re now woefully deprived of. Health care workers need to be decently paid. COVID-19 has told us that the budget for health must be massively increased.
Universal Health Care for all must be complete by June 2022,with adequate funding assured despite the pandemic.
8) In a country with a population growing faster than can be supported, it’s been clear to everyone that family planning is essential—except to a Church that is still living in a world that had 300 million people 2,000 years ago, in a country that had 667,000 people some 490 years ago when the Spanish arrived, but now has an almost unsupportable 107 million. It’s time the Church woke up to the reality of an overpopulated world.
People should have the right to choose what they think is best for them. In a nonsectarian society, the Catholic Church must allow them to make that choice. Family planning clinics need to be more universally available. The Philippines has one of the highest adolescent birth rates in Southeast Asia.
9) A national ID system has been called for since forever. It was tried, but the Unified Multi-Purpose ID or UMID was a failure. Let’s hope this one won’t be, too. COVID-19 (again) showed us how essential an ability to identify people is. Putting in place a modern, digital system that covers all public and private transactions is where the world is going, and there we must go, too. An ID system needs to be designed so that you need nothing else to transact any and all activities—from registering a birth to paying a sari-
sari store bill. So it’s good the government is rushing to provide it, but disappointing that it doesn’t seem to be designed to have the capability to provide all the services a modern system could.
10) Finally, there’s what the government has initiated well: building infrastructure. President Duterte and his economic team rightly identified that building infrastructure had a wide multiplier effect in growing the economy more rapidly, yet had been basically ignored in the past. COVID-19 disrupted the program, but it must now get back on track, though alternatives need to be considered now with less government funds available and probably less ODA, too. A shift back to public-private partnership, where possible, makes sense. The government said public infrastructure spending will not be disrupted by COVID-19. Let’s hope not, and that the infrastructure projects will be completed as scheduled.
All in all, there’s been commendable progress in areas that hadn’t seen sufficient progress in the past. Concluding them all over the next two years is the direction the government is taking, but achieving them all will be a real challenge. Particularly as COVID-19 has dislocated things, and has first to be brought under control. Once it is, I see a government working assiduously to complete the Top 10. It won’t be easy, but that it’s trying is commendable.
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