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Now is the time

At the Makati Business Club’s annual membership meeting two days ago, Senate President Franklin Drilon presented a justifiably proud accounting of the work done by Congress over the last five years. The landmark accomplishments are well-known: Basic Education Reform (K-to-12), Sin Tax Reform, Reproductive Health Act, the long-awaited Fair Competition Act, Cabotage Law amendments, and five consecutive National Budgets enacted before the start of the fiscal year, to name some of the most significant. I commented that if history views the P-Noy administration kindly, a large part of that would be due to the outstanding work of the two chambers of Congress.

While the last two Congresses from 2010 to the present have accomplished much more than the preceding, I would certainly hope that Congress is not disposed to rest on its laurels. Indeed, much work remains, and its final months must focus on the enactment of more laws that will have a lasting impact on our nation’s future. The elements that have allowed this Congress to do outstanding work remain in place: an administration that continues to enjoy strong public support, credible and enlightened leadership in the executive and legislative branches, and admirable cohesion not only between the two branches of government but also between the two chambers of Congress. Having demonstrated what it is capable of doing, Congress must in its final months continue its bold efforts to lay the foundations for a strong Philippines, and not slide into complacency and timidity.

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It is in this context that, almost like a broken record, I repeat my appeal for determined congressional action on just three pieces of basic legislation vital to our nation’s future. While opinions may vary on top priorities, these three undoubtedly enjoy widespread support from business.

Because I believe it is a critical element in the institutionalization of the culture of transparency and accountability that this administration has initiated, I again urge the passage of the freedom of information bill. The Senate passed this bill long ago under the able leadership of Sen. Grace Poe. The House of Representatives must now do its part. Access to good and complete information is a vital tool in a nation’s continuing fight against corruption. Ninety-five nations have a Freedom of Information Law, and we have been trying to pass ours since 1992. Now is the time to finally put FOI in place!

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Next, I again add my voice to those clamoring for the passage of a Bangsamoro Basic Law that adheres to our Constitution, addresses the Bangsamoro clamor for meaningful self-governance, and provides adequate resources to fulfill the aspirations of development in the area. The aim is to bring lasting peace and development to Mindanao and an opportunity for a better future for the people of the Bangsamoro and all of Mindanao.

Building peace is a long and difficult process that must be based on mutual confidence and trust. This administration has earned the trust and respect of the leaders of the Bangsamoro, particularly of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, who have decided to partner with it in the pursuit of peace rather than persist on the path of armed conflict. Our national leaders must seize the rare opportunity that now exists, as this will not be there forever. While there can be no absolute guarantees that lasting peace will indeed be achieved, let us give peace this chance as opportunities as favorable as now exist do not come often in a lifetime! And it will not just be the Bangsamoro or Mindanao that will benefit, but the entire Philippines and all Filipinos.

Finally, because I am hard-headed, I appeal once again to Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Senate President Drilon to pursue amendments to the economic provisions of the Constitution, thus empowering Congress to enact economic policies that will allow our country to compete effectively for much-needed job-creating investments. They have assured us on numerous occasions that they favor these amendments, and that they can muster the needed support in the two chambers of Congress. At least two of the senior economic managers in the Cabinet have told me of their personal support. The domestic and foreign business communities are unanimous in their support of these amendments. And Malacañang has not to my knowledge offered any explanation for its adversarial attitude.

We like to brag about our increased foreign direct investments, but we hide the reality that we continue to have the lowest FDI levels among the major Asean nations, and that the gap between us and our neighbors continues to grow. Vietnam is aggressively pursuing investments and is poised to be a founding partner in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, gaining preferred access to the key TPP markets including the United States and Japan, two of our major trading partners. With the onset of the Asean Economic Community this year, our enhanced international standing and credit rating status, and the increased interest of investors from countries like Japan and Singapore, now is the time to do away with archaic restrictions that limit investments and reduce job opportunities.

Mr. Speaker and Mr. Senate President: Now is the time to again assert your leadership and independence for the good of our nation!

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

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TAGS: BBL, charter change, congress, Franklin Drilon, freedom of information bill, Grace Poe, Makati Business Club
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