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Priority reforms for the homestretch

As there continues to be interest in my remarks at the Fourth Arangkada Philippines Anniversary Forum last March 3, allow me to share some

excerpts:

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The Aquino administration is now entering the homestretch of its term. There are now only 16 months remaining to institutionalize the much-needed and long-overdue reforms that will ensure that the considerable gains of the last four-and-a-half years will not be reversed. After all, the President himself stated in his inaugural address that he wants strong institutions to be the legacy of his term—and this is a goal that the business community wholeheartedly supports.

To give credit where it is due, the Aquino administration deserves high marks for its excellent handling of our economic fundamentals as well as much credit for its transparency initiatives. In international relations, the Aquino administration likewise deserves credit for the very principled position it has taken of insisting on resolving our maritime disputes through the rule of law, which has gained the country unprecedented admiration and respect in the community of nations. Clearly we are in much better shape today than we have been for the last 16 years.

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If we truly wish to institutionalize the gains of the last 56 months, the most critical legislative agenda item is the freedom of information bill, which I continue to hope will finally pass in the House this year, as promised by no less than Speaker Sonny Belmonte. The first FOI bill was filed all the way back in 1987 in compliance with the Constitution. Twenty-eight years is certainly too long a time for a constitutional mandate and a basic right to remain unrealized. The FOI bill must be passed so that our noteworthy good governance gains will be largely irreversible and sustained in subsequent administrations.

Next, I strongly reiterate our call to amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution as embodied in House Resolution No. 1 by Speaker Belmonte. This amendment will give Congress the flexibility to determine which areas of the economy should be opened to increased foreign participation based on thorough deliberations. The Philippines is among the very few nations with specific economic restrictions lodged into its constitution, whereas a large number of countries subscribe to the principle of allowing their legislatures to determine economic policy. There is no better time than now to accelerate the process of opening up our economy as we host the annual meeting of Apec, which champions policies of open markets and enhanced investments and trade among its member economies.

I also add my support to well-publicized initiatives from business for the creation of a Department of Information and Communications Technology, which will give appropriate focus and support to a sector that should continue to experience dynamic growth. Critical also to maintain our growth momentum is a well-crafted Competition Law to promote a level playing field in our country and further improve our investment climate. Finally, we fully support the passage of the amendments to the Build-Operate-Transfer Act, which will institutionalize the PPP Center and its various mechanisms, and further strengthen the present processes in big-ticket project procurement.

Moving now to the executive branch, the most critical priority area is accelerating infrastructure development. Since 2010, we have seen the PPP program steadily gain steam, with about 50 projects of varying sizes in the pipeline due for implementation. By simple observation alone, the country faces a massive infrastructure gap. These mass transportation projects, expressways, seaports and airports must be rapidly constructed with little to no blockages present.

Stability in policy is also important in ensuring adequate electricity supply and price competitiveness. We maintain our position that opening the Electric Power Industry Reform Act to amendments will result in regulatory uncertainty that may cause the deferment or cancellation of

power-sector investments. Epira aims to privatize the power industry, foster competition, and bring down power prices. The first goal has been achieved, but the critical bridge between the first and the third goals is missing. Thus, what is needed to solve our energy supply and pricing woes is the full and proper implementation of Epira.

Besides this, investments in more base load and peaking plants must be encouraged by formulating a clear energy security and price competitiveness roadmap with specific targets and timelines. The business community is still looking for such a genuine roadmap.

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In terms of other critical job-generating sectors, we note that agriculture continues to perform below its potential. A third of our workforce is employed in agriculture; therefore, it is imperative that roadmaps for specific agriculture subsectors be formulated and immediately implemented. These roadmaps must be supported by adequate investments that will focus on increasing the productivity and welfare of both our farmers and fisherfolk.

These are just a few of the unfinished priorities that the business community believes will greatly assist us in our shared goal of inclusive growth. The country is facing a great test brought about by the Mamasapano incident. Nevertheless, this brings with it a choice that we must collectively make as a nation: to unite and work together toward our common aspiration of a progressive Philippines, with peace reigning in the conflict areas in the South, with institutions that are strong and politically mature, and with an inclusive economy that gives every Filipino a fair shot at improving his or her lot in life.

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

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TAGS: column, government president Aquino, Ramon R. del Rosario Jr., reforms
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