Last three minutes | Inquirer Opinion
Business Matters

Last three minutes

For a basketball-crazed country like the Philippines, the phrase “last three minutes” conjures up the feverish excitement of being able to put the finishing touches to an apparent march to victory or to come from behind to “snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.” Neither of these is easy to accomplish and both require steel nerves, intestinal fortitude, and calm yet decisive resolve. This imagery is analogous to the situation in which the present administration finds itself. Some would venture to say that for this administration, the halfway mark is at hand. I tend to view the situation with somewhat more urgency and thus think in terms of its approaching the last three minutes of the ball game.

True, from a purely mathematical computation the administration’s term of office that started at noon of June 30, 2010, appears to be more at its halfway mark than at its last three minutes. Still, I choose to use the term “last three minutes” partly to highlight the need for a heightened sense of urgency as the clock ticks away and partly because of political and time-based realities starting in 2014.

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An important question at the outset is whether the situation calls for putting finishing touches to ensure victory or for a come-from-behind effort. I tend to think it’s the former because during the first half of this administration, a number of milestones were achieved as a result of a dogged campaign against corruption that reaped important benefits including upgraded credit ratings, stable inflation and exchange rates, a vibrant stock market, and unprecedented leaps in various aspects of global competitive rankings.

An equally important question is: How is victory to be defined? I believe that the President himself defined it early on in his inaugural address when he said he wished to leave behind a legacy of reforms that would be institutionalized to the point that would make it difficult for subsequent administrations to alter them whimsically, and thus provide a strong foundation of continuity of good governance. Can he pull it off in the last three minutes?

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But again, why “last three minutes”? First, because 2014 will be a year fraught with challenges and distractions, including: a popularity rating for the President lower than he and his administration had enjoyed and which might have led them to become complacent; a massive rehabilitation program for the “Yolanda”-stricken areas that will demand a significant chunk of the administration’s time and effort; and a continuing tempest over the Priority Development Assistance Fund and Disbursement Acceleration Program whose legal processes are complex and whose political capability to be the mother of all mud-slinging extravaganzas remains potent. Second, because 2015 is likely to follow historical precedents of being only a half-year of serious work, with the second half devoted to intense political jockeying toward the next presidential election. And third, because by chronological definition, 2016 is really just six months of tenure left for the administration, with most of that occupied by political campaigning and the presidential polls.

The arithmetic adds up to only about a year and a half left for serious work to clinch some institutionalized reforms.

Certainly, the abolition of the PDAF and the possibility that the DAP will suffer a similar fate can be considered “three-point shots” toward institutionalizing important elements of good governance, even if some may deem the administration’s accomplishment in this regard as somewhat accidental. On the other hand, the much vaunted Public-Private Partnership program now appears too little, too late in terms of actual on-the-ground realization within the term of this administration.

Still, a victory can be eked out if a number of other “three-point shots” can beat the buzzer. The first would address the problem of jobless growth via a constitutional amendment, as proposed by Speaker Sonny Belmonte, that adds the phrase “unless otherwise provided by law” to the Constitution’s economic provisions. Despite the President’s reluctance, the business community still thinks his detachment from desire to cling to power makes him the best hope to pull this off. The second would entail vigorous preparation for the Asean economic integration in 2015. This event will have more lasting impact on our economic future than our hosting of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the same year. But the latest survey of business leaders still reflects a majority who perceive present preparations for this to be tepid. The third would involve decisive action to reform the land reform act so that the fuller contribution of the sector can be unleashed via more attention to farm productivity rather than an obsession with fragmented ownership. The fourth would be passage of a bona fide fair competition act to bring forth a solid foundation for competition policy and to curtail the creeping monopolistic capture of strategic sectors of the economy. The fifth would be passage of a strong freedom of information act as yet another cornerstone of a continuing anticorruption effort.

Tall order? I think not, because most of these are beyond their starting gates, needing just a strong presidential shove forward to ensure many more and merrier Christmases for all of us, the President’s bosses.

Roberto F. de Ocampo, OBE, is a former finance secretary and was Finance Minister of the Year in 1995, 1996 and 1997.

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TAGS: Business Matters, dap, economy, opinion, PDAF, Robert F. de Ocampo
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