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The 2014 wish list

/ 08:35 PM January 01, 2014

(First of two parts)

Happy New Year! We all like to have a new year’s wish list, so let’s have one for the nation that hopefully the President will accept.

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Top of the list is one I’ve hammered at endlessly: a single-minded focus on job creation, from which everything else flows. And a focus not just in words but in solid commitment, in solid achievement. There are many things that become part of that action: a better, more affordable education for all; a health system that everyone can access; infrastructure that meets all requirements; a court system that is swift, fair and puts society first; a bureaucracy that is simple, computerized and requires no bribes; a Congress that swiftly passes needed laws in a thoughtful manner; and so on. But you see what it all funnels into if done correctly: It creates jobs.

To be more specific, as a wish list should be, let me concentrate on a few I consider of utmost importance. You can add your own to the list. I’ll start with Congress. I fully support the Speaker’s move to open up the economy by amending the Constitution to add the words “unless otherwise provided by law,” and then rapidly pass laws to provide that opening up. Mind you, I’d rather see the restrictive articles fully removed from the Constitution, but political reality tells me the Speaker’s approach is the only one with a chance given the President’s inexplicable reluctance. I say “inexplicable” because everyone who has some understanding of this economy agrees it needs opening up—80 percent in a survey we did of businessmen, virtually unanimously in the Foundation for Economic Freedom (a group of former Cabinet secretaries and intellectuals). So why is the President reluctant? I think he has an obligation to tell us, his bosses, why so we can answer those objections.

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I believe the Senate will agree as the benefits come more to light in the House’s deliberations. To me, one of the principal benefits is not that it gives foreigners access to now-restricted sectors, although that, too, but the dramatic message it sends to a jaded world, a message that will get business headlines, that will get CNN and BBC to take notice.

“In this world of controversy and turmoil today here is a country, the Philippines, that is proving its stability and confidence in itself by opening up to the world. A true democracy with fair labor laws and a talented people, it must be on your list of places to look as you expand or relocate your business.”

If the President wants a legacy, none can be better than this; it can all be done this year. Even the necessary plebiscite, the Commission on Elections is set up for it.

Next on my list is to get the poor, poor people devastated by calamities last year into proper houses and given decent jobs. There are thousands still in tents from Typhoon “Pablo/Bopha” (Dec. 4, 2012). Is that to be the future of the reported four million people from “Yolanda/Haiyan” (Nov. 8, 2013)? The necessary schools, hospitals, roads, power and water, etc. follow, but must also be done. Ping Lacson has a herculean task here, but one I believe he is eminently capable of doing. The President made a good choice.

Incidentally, as an aside, why are eminently qualified and proven Cabinet secretaries continually bypassed by the Commission on Appointments? Dinky Soliman has done a sterling job in the aftermath of Yolanda and in the implementation of the Conditional Cash Transfer program. Leila de Lima has more than shown her mettle in the investigations she’s undertaken. I think I can guess why, and it adds even more credit to the two that they resisted. Why does Congress have a say at all, anyway? The three branches of government are constitutionally independent; the President should have sole right to choose who he wants in his team. This practice should be stopped.

Third on my wish list is infrastructure. This, quite simply, must be built. Built fast. The President should put experienced professionals in charge: construction engineers who know what they’re doing, electrical engineers who understand the difference between a volt and a watt, and aeronautical engineers who know what an airport requires. And lawyers, too, but lawyers that can ensure that the request for proposals (RFPs) the engineers prepare cannot be challenged by some lawyer with a personal agenda to oppose.

The President must step in to enforce the constitutional right of eminent domain and pay above the market price, I suggest 50 percent, even 100 percent, above. It’s cheap compared to the litigation and long delays that now occur.

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Fourth is for Congress to pass the law to create a Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT). This century is the age of computers. The computer, the Internet are revolutionizing the world. The Philippines can be at the forefront of it, as it is already positioned to be, with its success in call centers and other back-office operations. Or left behind, as it was in the industrial revolution. It can’t be done without a dedicated department with the power and budget to accomplish what must be done. Full computerization of all government services, which is an inevitability, needs an independent, central authority to oversee its cohesive implementation.

Fifth is for the Supreme Court to act sensibly and accept the judgment of its coequal partners and agree that the Reproductive Health Law is constitutional, and do so early, very early, this year. The benefits family planning services can bring have been enumerated endlessly—and have resulted in 70 percent of the populace wanting it.

That’s the first half of my wish list for 2014. I will discuss the rest next week. Again, Happy New Year, and may it be a successful one for you all.

(To be concluded)

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