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Holiday reflections

/ 09:39 PM December 25, 2013

(Second of two parts)

Last week I discussed the negatives that happened in 2013 and during the early years of the Aquino administration, negatives that can be corrected for the remainder of President Aquino’s term—if the recognition that they exist is there.

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This time I’ll discuss the positives. And I’ll start with praising the Supreme Court for getting rid of the political pork. It was a courageous decision that can reform the electoral process as it will significantly reduce the power of dynasties and better level the playing field for future elections. Avaricious opportunists won’t run. The number of popular but unqualified candidates running for the posts will drop significantly. As a result, the better-qualified and more well-intentioned candidates will have greater chances of being elected.

Despite this, the citizens must be vigilant. Public anger must be sustained until genuine reform that can be maintained is achieved. The people must block any attempt to circumvent the ruling. As a start, national-budget deliberations by the bicameral committee must be opened to the public. Also, all politicians involved must be brought to account, and not escape on legal technicalities as the P10 billion (or more) pork barrel scam is not a legal issue. It’s a social, moral issue where the guilty must be punished.

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The implementation of a 12-year basic education program brings the Philippines into the modern world. It widens the opportunity for young Filipinos. High school graduates become more employable as they will be trained to acquire in-depth knowledge of the career track that they wish to pursue (e.g., science and technology, agriculture, business, or technical-vocational courses).

The first-ever investment grade rating is something Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima can well be proud of, as he can also be, together with Bangko Sentral Governor Say Tetangco, for the strong financial position of the Philippines. One of the best in the world.

Tied into the investment-grade rating is the reversal of an ever downward trend of all the international comparisons over the previous decade. From levels of corruption to ease of doing business, they are all doing better.

The lifting of the European ban on Philippine Airlines, with the United States expected to follow soon, is a signal that the world is recognizing the improvement that is occurring in ensuring safety in the air in the Philippines. This should help the government bring in more tourists. Given the trend, a total of 5-6 million tourists is possible in 2014, then around 7-8 million by 2015 and 2016—although the tourism department’s goal of 10 million tourists by 2016 appears unlikely to be achieved given the poor state of the country’s tourism-related infrastructure, such as air and sea ports. To achieve the target, Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez needs the cooperation of the various stakeholders and other government agencies (e.g., those tasked to build and rehabilitate airports). But the disgraceful condition of all the so-called international terminals, where nothing has happened except promises, only shows that Jimenez has not been getting that much-needed support.

The continuation of the high economic growth rate is another creditable achievement, but (somehow there’s always a “but”) the noninclusion of the poor and the unemployed in that growth is a major area for correction. This must be President Aquino’s focus, not just for 2014 but for the remainder of his term. He must think: jobs, jobs, jobs.

The President showed commendable determination in successfully forcing the Sin Tax Reform and Reproductive Health measures through, but the courts, prompted by the Church, have conspired to prevent the RH Law from being put into effect—as 11 dead mothers daily will be able to tell the bishops when they, too, get to heaven.

As earlier mentioned, some 300 cases have been filed against tax evaders and smugglers, but no one has been convicted.

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PhilHealth coverage was greatly expanded, with more indigents covered, and the Conditional Cash Transfer program now covers some 4 million families and has proven to be of great assistance. Next year the program will be expanded further to cover an estimated 10 million high school students. But (that word again) the jobs to take them out of the CCT program aren’t occurring fast enough. An exit strategy for the poverty alleviation program must be implemented soon; otherwise, it will just become a very expensive subsidy program.

The peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front has made amazing progress, and just may be brought to final fruition. Credit can be given to the President for his sincere effort to try. The level of trust that was missing in previous attempts is now there.

The shakeup at the Bureau of Customs—where Ruffy Biazon’s efforts were thwarted by the courts (them again), and now his resignation—leaves the outcome very much up in the air. A tough, no-nonsense businessman who understands the workings at Customs should be installed as its head. We are dealing with some of the worst scoundrels in a system where bribery is institutionalized throughout the bureau (see my Oct. 10, 2013, column “Can Customs be cleaned up?”). Successful implementation of reforms there will be a major test case for this administration. If the President can force real change there, others may follow. That would be a great legacy.

Overall it’s a mixed bag, as any other country’s performance is, but with more positives than negatives.

What stands out is a country that is politically stable with a fast-growing economy, albeit in need of a shift in emphasis to creating more jobs, in a world in turmoil or economic doldrums. It’s a nice change.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino, business, economy, education, Government, Graft and Corruption, Tax Collection, Tourism
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