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Seven imperatives for the next president

EVERY THINKING voter needs to hear from our presidential candidates about their platform of government, or what they, in aspiring to lead the country, consider the foremost priorities in meeting our country’s challenges, and how they propose to address them. I wouldn’t expect to see wide variations in what the candidates have to say on this, as it should be clear to all what our most pressing challenges are. Where I’d expect them to differ would be in the emphasis they would give to the various dimensions of our national development challenge, and in the specific strategies and measures they would take to address those challenges.

In the 1990s, President Fidel V. Ramos aptly summed up his administration’s thrusts into five D’s: democratization, devolution, decentralization, deregulation, and sustainable development. For our next president, I would propose seven I’s that seem to have become apt with the times: integrity, inclusion, institutions, investments, infrastructure, international relations, and intergenerational responsibility—not necessarily in order of importance.

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Integrity underscores the importance of improving on the gains that have been made in strengthening accountability in governance. While most of us have disappointments about the much vaunted daang matuwid (straight path), progress was made in freeing up large amounts of public funds that used to flow into the wrong pockets (although such flows have obviously not stopped); in holding high officials accountable for their actions (even as many see this as having been selective); in raising business confidence enough to push the annual growth rate of aggregate investments (gross fixed capital formation) to double digits from nearly zero in most of the preceding decade; and more. But the next president must make good on what could be this administration’s biggest letdown: its turnaround on the freedom of information law. Transparency is the partner of accountability, and one cannot be totally effective without the other.

Inclusion reflects the need to ensure that the country’s development in the economic, social and environmental dimensions uplifts the lives of all Filipinos, and leads to significant reduction of poverty, especially in the countryside. Poverty remains unduly prevalent, and the economy’s gains remain largely reaped by too few. In the economic sphere, small enterprises must have much greater participation in and benefit from our economy’s growth, and enough quality jobs need to be generated to bring decent work and ample incomes to our workers right here at home, not overseas.

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Institutions, including those that should be the recourse of the most disadvantaged among us, have been damaged over many years of ill-motivated governance, and need to be repaired and strengthened anew. Government must reverse the widespread perception that justice is for sale, that lawmakers make more money than they do laws, that local governments tend to run at cross purposes with national development goals, and that our public facilities and services are designed to inflict the greatest pain to the Filipino public. It is time to pursue fundamental restructuring of our institutions, including merging related ones (e.g., putting transportation and public works together), and creating new ones to meet the needs of the times (e.g., a Department of Information and Communication Technology).

Investments, whether domestic, foreign, private or public, have surged in the last six years, and yet we could have still done so much better. We particularly need more investments in small enterprises, particularly micro, small and medium scale, if our economy’s growth is to uplift a much broader base of the population. We also need far greater, large-scale investments, especially in agriculture/agribusiness, manufacturing and tourism to create the jobs where our more than 2 million jobless Filipinos can best fit in. And for the sake of greater competition and less-concentrated economic power, we need to open up our long outdated constitutional restrictions on foreign investments in public utilities, mass media, advertising and education.

Infrastructure as a government priority hardly needs further elaboration, as we all suffer from our massive inadequacies in this on a daily basis, be it in badly congested roads, unreliable and costly electric power, inadequate water and sanitation facilities, or crawling Internet speeds. We need to do a massive catch up in infrastructure if our country is not to fall into being the “sick man of Asia” anew.

International relations have come to the fore of our national concerns in the face of stronger regional integration, along with escalating threats to our territorial sovereignty. While political diplomacy is vital (especially to address the latter), we need to also highlight the crucial importance of economic diplomacy in a globalized economy where economic interdependencies across borders have become critical to development.

Intergenerational responsibility, finally and certainly not least importantly, must be an underlying concern of all our development efforts. Our decisions and activities today must not compromise the welfare of our children and their children and descendants after them. The world community has adopted a 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with attendant Sustainable Development Goals as a sequel to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). After missing our own MDGs last year, we had better redouble our efforts to keep in step with our neighbors, and the rest of the global community, in ensuring a better world for all of humanity, now and in the future.

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