May it happen
I don’t think any of us in business can find fault with what President Marcos Jr. said in his State of the Nation Address (Sona). It would be more in what he didn’t say. Admittedly, although there is no set time limit, he has limited time to keep people’s attention, so he can’t cover everything.
But there are some things I’d suggest he should have fitted in. And the easiest and shortest is to have added a 20th bill to his list to Congress: The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) bill. This is just ever so important to pass. We MUST belong to 14 (soon to be 16) other countries in the greatest economic cooperation in the world. Those in agriculture should read Ciel Habito’s column last week as to why it won’t hurt but will help them. Those in Congress who are doubtful should read my three-part column, “We must join RCEP.” Mr. President, add it in now. And Congress, pass it post haste. Nothing is more important for our economic progress.
There are a couple of other issues where reassurance from him would have been very helpful for foreign investors we’d like to attract that this, indeed, is a secure, stable place to invest.
The first of these is corruption, something foreign companies take very seriously. He’s said elsewhere he wishes to address it, but it’s in the Sona where it should have been forcefully stated, possibly with some concrete steps on what he’d do. With an estimated 20 percent of the annual national budget, or around P700 billion, lost revenues yearly, this is ever so obviously a top-of-list endeavor to aggressively pursue for a government desperate for more funds.
Nothing either about free speech and its accompanying freedom of the press. This should not need to be said as it is enshrined in the Constitution. Article III, Section 4 reads: “No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.” But with some of the threats that have occurred in the past (ABS-CBN closure, legal attacks on Rappler and Maria Ressa, doubtful incarceration of Leila de Lima), it would help if Mr. Marcos had clarified his position in his Sona. No one should ever be scared to say what they think. If it’s libelous there’s a law.
I was surprised he didn’t introduce a review of the Constitution. With all the positive things he said about opening up the economy, this would have seemed an obvious issue to address. The clever redefinition of public service went a long way, but it wasn’t complete. To complete the job his Sona portrayed of creating a truly open economy, the economic restrictions in the Constitution need to be removed and replaced with a general national policy statement. Then, a restrictive law can be introduced at any time should it be felt necessary. There are many other areas in the Constitution that are in need of attention too, and initiating that review at the beginning of a term is the time to do it.
I liked his plan to rightsize the government. And digitizing its operations. They are long overdue. But I hope he realizes there’s entrenched opposition to it from so-called public servants who are part of that 20 percent corruption. Computers can’t be corrupted. So, they will surreptitiously undermine any efforts to digitize services, unless what they’ll try to do is recognized and stopped.
He might also have emphasized a little more how the Philippines will strive to be a leader in this rapidly changing ICT world. His focus on STEM and English, the computer language is a good beginning, given how soon we will be living in a metaverse world, but it needs to be fleshed out more. For example, recognizing that hybrid work is now the new normal, so geographic restrictions on Peza companies, for example, no longer make any sense.
A little more focus on the bedlam that exists on our city’s streets wouldn’t have hurt. The people of Manila and Cebu would certainly welcome some relief from the many hours of commuting.
What stuck in my mind out of all he said was when he stated “preservation of the environment is preservation of life.” The world (that includes Republicans) should take this to heart. It should be writ large on the world stage. We are headed for Armageddon if we don’t.
Aside from the omission of these items, it was a well-crafted speech that would have had strong backing from the professional economic team he has put in place. If rigidly pursued in their entirety, it will lead to a stronger, more stable, growing economy. May it happen.
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