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How I’d write it (2)

/ 05:05 AM August 13, 2020

As the Sona moves along, I’d then concentrate on what really matters: the future. Where we are headed. What are the revival plans? What are the plans and goals through to 2022? I’d detail this out with numbers, deadlines, and responsibilities.

I’d focus on some keys. The need to be a leader in ICT, and the commitment to vastly improve the internet and telecommunications services without hitting the two existing telcos because that achieves nothing. And they aren’t the problem (see next week). Threatening them with foreclosure could only be feasible if there was a better alternative. There isn’t. Government is a long-proven failure at running a telecom network. They couldn’t even do it with a vastly simpler landline system. There’s no existing Filipino corporation with the needed expertise and money. It’s like what was done to MRT-3 where they took maintenance away from experts and gave it to neophytes. The system collapsed. Anyway, threats don’t belong in a Sona, make them elsewhere.

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The President did right to praise the Anti-Red Tape Authority (Arta) for its work. They have already reduced applications for telecommunications towers from nine months to 16 days; local governments and village associations can no longer delay. If they do, approval becomes automatic under the law, and they get penalized.

I would certainly include his call to digitalize all government services—and do it swiftly with effective intercommunication between all departments and agencies—and put the proven success of Arta in charge of it, with the DICT providing the necessary technical support.

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Then I’d focus on agriculture: getting people back on the land, not diminishing that land. Too much has been turned over for other purposes. I’d take the plans of Agriculture Secretary William Dar and synthesize them into a three-paragraph overview of producing enough food for a 108 million — and growing — population. This while developing a strong export business. And not to forget, we need fish. Exploiting it needs to be better controlled.

Next would be revival of the “Build, build, build” program which, on reflection, we should never have stopped. We’ll get it back on track and call for more assistance from the private sector as our priority for funds must be the people, not concrete. But we must pour that concrete. For that, we’ll need big business (a good reason not to knock it in a Sona) as they can help build all this infrastructure we can no longer afford to do. Small business can’t. With financial assistance (ODA) from other countries almost certainly shrinking as they grapple with the crisis, turning to business to invest makes sense. We should be tapping their expertise more, too, in designing these projects, to benefit from their experience.

I’d follow this by addressing Congress, and what I expect from it over the next 12 months — with emphasis on priority bills that will get people back into jobs. So I was pleased the President brought out CREATE right up front, where it belongs. But he must add the four other tax reforms for the full package. The other immediate ones that should have been mentioned are amendments to the Public Service Act, the Foreign Investments Act, the build-operate-transfer law, and the Freedom of Information Act. He should exhort legislators to move much faster on passing these, and other bills of importance. This pandemic has shown us we can no longer proceed at the—may I say it—leisurely pace of the past.

I’d then summarize what I wanted done by July 31, 2022:

A fully-computerized government bureaucracy led by an IT-experienced team.

Reliable, fast internet services with adequate IT infrastructure.

Universal health care available for all—at no cost for those who can’t afford. And work on the Philippines being an early recipient of COVID-19 vaccine and drugs.

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A modernized education system, properly funded, with a curriculum adapted to the modern world, and the changing requirements of society.

Poverty reduced to 14 percent, or lower despite the pandemic, by 2022.

Unemployment reduced to 3-5 percent and underemployment to 16-18 percent—with decent, properly paid jobs.

BBB achieving its goals with some carry-over projects to the next administration.

Agriculture focused on indigenous crops, growing at 3 percent minimum annually, and able to support the Philippine population’s growth.

Tax reform and other business bills that need to be completed in 2020.

Lastly, give the marching orders to his government and Congress. And thank the people for listening and supporting him.

Email: [email protected]

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