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Unfinished priorities: the end game

Most of us in the business community would give the Aquino administration positive marks, mainly for its economic achievements. But much work remains, and as the administration enters the homestretch, the President and his team would be well advised to focus on the priorities that will preserve its gains.

On the legislative side, the highest priority should be given to the passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law to pave the way for a new era of peace and development in Mindanao. The peace accord with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front is unquestionably one of the most outstanding accomplishments of the Aquino administration, but this accord may be rendered meaningless if the enabling law is not passed and the required referendum held within the administration’s term.

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Another key legislative priority should be the freedom of information bill, which will contribute significantly to the institutionalization of the culture of transparency and accountability that the administration has initiated. The passage of an FOI law will go a long way in assuring our people and the world that the gains in good governance will be largely irreversible and sustained in future administrations.

The third legislative initiative I would endorse is the amendment of the economic provisions of our Constitution as proposed by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. The amendment will empower Congress to determine which areas of the economy should be opened to increased foreign participation based on what Congress believes will best serve the interests of the Filipino people. That this responsibility is lodged in the legislature is the norm in most countries today, for very few nations have economic policies embedded in their constitution. The business community supports the Belmonte resolution as we believe that opening up the Philippine economy at this time of Asean integration and enhanced investment attractiveness will result in the significant increases in investments and jobs sorely needed to achieve inclusive economic growth.

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There are also landmark cases in the judicial branch that cry for resolution in the next 18 months, the alternative being the prospect of justice being forever denied. Ultimately, what is at stake is our people’s faith in our judicial system.

The most urgent cases concern the Maguindanao massacre. The defense strategy is clear: Delay until a friendlier administration takes

office, and surely the accused are salivating at the idea that such an administration may be in place in only 18 months! Given this obvious strategy, is the Department of Justice doing all it can to get these cases resolved at the earliest possible time? At a recent conference, a prominent law school dean suggested that it is not too late to separate the cases against the Ampatuans and prioritize them so that at least their cases can be resolved expeditiously. He also suggested that access to the assets and communication devices of the accused be severely curtailed to prevent any further intimidation or elimination of witnesses. In sum, what is being advocated is a greater sense of urgency and stronger resolve to see these cases concluded within the next 18 months.

The cases against former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo similarly cry for early resolution. Will these cases survive in the next administration? If not, shouldn’t everything be done to bring them to a just resolution, again at the earliest time possible? And shouldn’t these same concerns apply to the cases of the three senators accused of plunder in the Napoles pork barrel scandal?

In the case of the executive branch, there are ongoing major initiatives that need to be followed through with intensity, competence and persistence. In education, the shift to the K-to-12 regime needs a steely determination among all government leaders to see this through no matter the transitional challenges that arise. Infrastructure development, especially mass transit and airports, must be pushed with utmost urgency, with the government and the private sector working as partners, not adversaries.

The adequacy of electricity in the short- and medium-term must be addressed now, and for the medium term, base-load as well as peaking plants must be allowed reasonable returns with regulatory consistency. And surely the thousands displaced by the Zamboanga siege, “Yolanda” and earlier calamities should expect permanent homes, classrooms and health facilities by mid-2016!

This year, we will have the extraordinary opportunity to host the visit of His Holiness Pope Francis, as well as the Apec Leaders’ Summit. We will be on the world’s stage with a unique opportunity to showcase not only our warmth and friendliness but also our recent progress and the competence, efficiency and organizational skills of our people. What better way to proclaim that a renewed Philippines is prepared to play a more prominent role in Asia than our successful hosting exhibiting world-class standards? Yes, we can!

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Ultimately, the most critical remaining challenge for the administration is the choice of the presidential candidate who will enjoy the endorsement of a respected and popular president and the support of the administration’s political party and machinery. This should not be taken lightly. At the end of his successful term, President Fidel Ramos failed to forge a consensus among his political allies around a winnable and worthy successor, and the result was 12 bleak years for our country. Woe to us if that were to be our fate all over again.

Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. ([email protected]) chairs the Makati Business Club.

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TAGS: Bangsamoro Basic Law, business community, charter change, column, freedom of information bill, maguindanao massacre, Philippines, Ramon R. del Rosario Jr., unfinished priorities
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