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The 2014 wish list (2)

/ 01:07 AM January 09, 2014

Conclusion

Last week I discussed the first half of my wishes for the country that hopefully President Aquino will accept. Today I will discuss the remaining five.

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Sixth on my list is that the Bangsamoro peace deal be finally agreed to and put into effect. The discussions we had with them down there showed a willingness to bring business back into the area and get its economy finally moving. But it needs demonstrated peace before any businessman will move in. 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. However, great challenges for the Aquino administration remain. It must intensify its development efforts in the conflict-affected areas of Mindanao: Improve the delivery of basic social services; enforce the law; keep the public safe; improve transparency in governance; and provide social justice. If these elements are in place, the insurgency becomes irrelevant. Putting these elements in place will be quite a challenge, and will be the real test of the success, or failure, of this peace agreement.

Seventh is that the Supreme Court will recognize that it is the servant of society, and must decide in ways best for society, not on what some pedantic interpretation of the law or even the Constitution suggests. The split in decisions says this can be done. And that the courts will act with much greater dispatch and demonstrated fairness.

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Next is that the government will pay the court-ordered $371 million to get Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport off the books. Don’t be like the last administration and argue over a few millions to save while you lose hundreds of millions in missed tourist arrivals and business opportunities as the disaster of the world’s worst airport gathers more momentum. The terminal opened in 2008 but still operates at half its intended capacity. Make Filipinos proud of their front door, just pay. It’s cheap to just get the terminal finally legally owned, paid for, and operating. And for heaven’s sake, fix the roads on a temporary basis until real expressways can be built.

Ninth is the passage of the freedom of information bill. The measure that seeks to promote transparency in government transactions has yet to be certified as urgent by the President. Several business and civil society organizations have wondered why not, when the President’s “straight path” philosophy must include transparency. Here’s one area where an FOI law can greatly help. All the bill needs is the President’s imprimatur so that it finally goes through Congress—as shown by the speedy approval of the Reproductive Health Law and Sin Tax Reform Act immediately after being certified as urgent by him. The President promised the bill’s passage during the election campaign: He must honor his promise. The measure has been languishing in Congress since 1992, and we may have to wait for another 22 years before it is passed into law, unless President Aquino agrees to prioritize it.

Over the past three years the Philippines’ dismal rankings in global competitiveness and anticorruption surveys have been reversed. My wish is that this trend will continue this year and even for the remainder of the Aquino administration.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness report, for instance, the Philippines’ ranking improved to 59th out of 148 economies surveyed in 2013 from 65th in 2012. The Philippines is now in the upper 40 percent of all countries surveyed, far better than its ranking in 2009, where it placed 87th and was relegated to the bottom 65 percent of nations covered. The report noted that the Philippines fared well in the following indicators: macroeconomic environment, financial market development, and market size. However, vast improvements are needed in terms of labor market efficiency (100th out of 148 countries) and airport (113th) and seaport (116th) infrastructure. This reflects the dismal performance of the Philippines’ flagship public-private partnership (PPP) program.

The country’s rankings in other surveys (Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, the World Bank Group’s Doing Business report, and Internal Institute for Management Development’s World Competitiveness, among others) have also been improving, but much remains to be done if it wants to break into the top one-third of all countries surveyed, a key prerequisite to attracting more investments—investments that will provide jobs to an estimated 11 million unemployed Filipinos and support the Aquino administration’s goal of “inclusive growth.”

So there you have it, my 2014 Wish List: 1) changes in the Constitution to open the economy; 2) long-term infrastructure for disaster victims; 3) infrastructure, not just the promise of it; 4) creation of a Department of ICT; 5) acceptance of the RH Law by the Supreme Court; 6) a Bangsamoro peace deal; 7) recognition that law is the servant of society; 8) a fully operational Naia 3; 9) approval of the FOI bill; and 10) further improvement of the Philippines’ ranking in competitiveness surveys.

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The Inquirer editorial on Dec. 19, 2013, missed one point in its analysis of why such disastrous accidents as the bus plunge from the Skyway occur: greed. The bus had bald tires because the owners won’t spend on anything unless they absolutely have to. I bet the brakes were badly worn, too. Set an example: Cancel the bus company’s license permanently. They killed people.

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TAGS: 2014 wish list, column, Peter Wallace
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