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A changed society

There are some major changes occurring in this society that could make it a quite different one. Not just steps forward, but changes.

The latest one involving reproductive health is an example. The RH Law will lead not only to a significant slowdown in population growth—and hence fewer in poverty, fewer without jobs—but also to a dilution of the Church’s historical power, or perception of it, over the government of the country. A President has shown he can buck the Church and get away with it. It’s already been acknowledged (through surveys, etc.) that its influence on the vote—which is a politician’s real fear—is not as high as perceived. And Mr. Aquino lost nothing in popularity as a result of his stand. So that leaves the Church having to put the fear of God’s wrath into politicians. Given the ungodly way many politicians live (start with Commandment No. 7, “Thou shall not steal,” and go on from there), that may be difficult.

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The removal of the pork barrel from national politicians diminishes to a huge extent the ability of these politicians to not only steal from the public (but some ability will undoubtedly remain somehow) but also divert some of the loot to what seems like personal largesse (“See what I did for you, so vote for me”). To an extent, it will level the playing field during elections. “Small” candidates will no longer be hugely disadvantaged by the largesse of the incumbents, and it will make dynastic progression more difficult, hence less widespread. The lure of easy money will no longer be there. A different breed of politicians may appear.

Emanating from that is a public now more aware of national events and willing to bring them widely into the open through that new miracle, social media. This could well lead to a genuinely more open, democratic society—one that was pretty good by world standards already but could be even better now. And if the proposed freedom of information law is ever passed, it will be a major tool for catching corruption.

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There’s now an effort to go after some high-level people to a degree not attempted before. A chief justice removed through impeachment for the first time ever, and an ombudsman fleeing tail between her legs on the threat of it. A second president in jail, but not yet convicted in the second case. Three senators on their way to jail—probably, but wriggling out may still occur in this dysfunctional court system. Whichever it is, their reputations are shot, and Jinggoy Estrada and Bong Revilla have no chance of vying for the presidency, as they once desired. There’s a genuine scrutiny of miscreants that wasn’t there before.

Then there’s the Sin Tax Law. It’s not just the extra revenues to the government—for health services—and the eventual discouraging of a product that is harmful. It’s also that a highly influential person in the past who had never lost before, lost. It could lead to more prudent taipans. It will lead to better health services for more.

The Philippines’ removing itself from among only three countries in the world without it by moving to a 12-year basic education cycle will give a wide swath of the populace a much better opportunity to be job-ready. That should encourage more foreign investments.

These are changes that mean there could be a quite different environment going forward, changes whose impact will—or, more correctly, may—come down the years.

The “may” is another fork just a couple of kilometers down the road. And that’s the 2016 presidential election. Unfortunately, the Philippines has a history of inconsistency. Its ill-conceived presidential system in an entrenched hierarchical system means that continuity of policies and actions may or may not occur. It will be all up to the next country leader. His ideologies, beliefs, even foibles, will set the direction. That could put, for example, the RH Law under threat if a highly religious person takes over and has convincing majorities in both chambers of Congress.

So until the candidates are known and their supposed policies announced, we won’t really know what to expect. “Supposed” because politicians of any ilk aren’t particularly known for adhering to their campaign promises. One has to delve into their character—no easy task.

Mining would be a good example of this. Developed under President Fidel Ramos who pushed for and got agreement for fully-foreign-owned corporations to develop mines and supported under President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, it was dealt a death blow by President Aquino whose ill-advised attempt to change taxes and apparent dislike for the industry have caused major investors to leave, and no new ones to come.

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Overall, however, most businesses aren’t affected, as the strong performance of the top Filipino companies and multinational firms shows. They witness growth year after year. The changes, unpleasant though they can be, can be adjusted to. And improvement does occur. There’s a chance, for instance, that the next president will lower corporate income taxes and increase the value-added tax to ensure a revenue-neutral change.

What Mr. Aquino hasn’t achieved, though, is growth of business. Oh, there’ll be protestation that things are better, and they are. But not at the scale that’s needed. The bigger number of people without jobs than when he started says it all. The lack of foreign investments confirms it (and if you delve into the numbers, the story is even worse). The revolution in the business climate hasn’t happened. I put it down to his personal discomfort with business and reluctance to face bad news squarely, so he’s not given it.

So he will bow out of the scene in 2016 with an impressive legacy of societal change, but without the solid foundation for business to rush in. That will be for the next president to do, so the choice of who that will be is critical.

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TAGS: Benigno Aquino III, Jinggoy Estrada, President Aquino, RH law, sin tax law
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