Every new year holds out a feeling that infects people with a shared sense of optimism that change is within reach. But the fact is, time is finite, a quickly dissipating commodity. Which, needless to say, tells us we can’t wait for forever to resolve pending issues.
First on the list is the Bangsamoro Basic Law, the governing legislation of the Bangsamoro political entity mandated by the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro that was entered into by the Philippine government and rebel group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in March 2014 after 17 years of negotiation. Malacañang sees the law getting the nod of Congress within the first quarter of the year. Senate President Franklin Drilon has assured that Senate will give it priority. The MILF has even set up a political party, the United Bangsamoro Justice Party, to participate in electoral exercises. But with questions being raised about the constitutionality of the Philippine government-MILF agreement from all corners, including Congress, its passage still appears to be a long and difficult drive.
Another is the ongoing corruption hearing involving Vice President Jejomar Binay. He has made no bones about his eagerness to run for president in the 2016 elections. Filipino voters need to find the truth to make an informed choice before then.
Also a priority is the Reproductive Health Law, which remains in the realm of paper. The Department of Health has yet to align the law’s IRR (implementing rules and regulations) with the Supreme Court ruling on some “unconstitutional” provisions of the law. It took 14 years of political wrangling before the RH bill managed to squeak through Congress. Would it take as long for the law to finally be implemented as government policy and public health programs?
Then there’s the Laude-Pemberton case, which has more to it than meets the eye. The current tug of war over Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton’s custody only underscores, once more, the lopsided state of Philippine-American relations. Despite strong evidence warranting murder charges for the death of transgender female Jennifer Laude, the US marine remains in US custody, as supposedly stipulated in the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The case recalls that of another American soldier, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was also remanded to US custody even after being convicted in the rape of a young Filipino woman.
Which brings us to the root issue: The direct, repeated assault on the country’s sovereignty in the name of the VFA. As observed by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima, disagreement over custody of American felons has become an “inevitable and recurring problem” because of some unclear provisions in the agreement signed in 1999.
This has as well raised even more serious concerns about the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which was signed on April 28, 2014, supposedly to “bolster” Philippine-American security partnership and allow US troops and operations on Philippine territory.
Seemingly not given much thought, though a pivotal development, is the Asean Economic Community integration, which comes this year. Some economists are wary: Are we ready for it? Can we compete with other Asean countries in the trade of goods and services without the customary protective tariff? With cheaper Asian goods flooding the market, can local goods hold their ground? Can small businesses and subsistence farmers compete, given that some Asian countries heavily subsidize these sectors to keep them afloat? These are questions we must resolve and emerge from with confidence.
Finally, a closer look at our Millennium Development Goals (MDG). Are we in line and on track to meet the eight MDG targets which are: the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger; universal primary education; gender equality and the empowerment of women; a reduced rate of child mortality; the improvement of maternal health; a renewed war against HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensuring environmental sustainability, and building up a global partnership for development?
The MDG have long been discussed in public forums, but so far only one—the elimination of poverty—has been addressed aggressively with the government’s conditional cash transfer program. What are being done to meet the other goals? What will it take to summon the political will to put this on top of the government’s agenda? What is stopping us from pursuing what is essentially part of good governance?
As New Year resolutions go, this may sound like an overreaching and ambitious list. Well then, we better get going. The year may be new and young, but not for long.
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