WE WILL be electing our next president in 16 days. Amid the political noise and clutter, it may be good to pause to consider just what it is we are trying to achieve.
From my perspective as a business executive, I can say unequivocally that the economy has had an unusually good six-year run. Simply stated then, our aim should be to preserve and build on our gains while also effectively addressing our shortcomings. We can start by recalling that it was improved governance that served as the foundation of our gains—good governance built around a President with a thin resumé, whose main credentials were his impeccable pedigree, his personal integrity, and his ability to bring together a core Cabinet of dedicated, honest and competent professionals, particularly in the social and economic clusters, and to forge working partnerships with the legislature and the private sector.
Together President Aquino and his team crafted a reform agenda that resulted in major achievements. In the social area, very significant were the expanded conditional cash transfer program (or 4Ps), education reform and the K-to-12 program, and the expansion of PhilHealth. In the economic area, sound fiscal and monetary policies, including the passage of vital “sin tax” reforms, set the stage for a strong fiscal environment that enabled the pursuit of aggressive social and infrastructure spending programs, and fostered low inflation and interest rates that spurred investments and spending. We gained recognition through improved credit ratings, moving up now to investment grade or better, and in numerous surveys on competitiveness and quality of governance.
The administration’s anticorruption campaign also gained credibility and public support with the appointment of courageous corruption fighters as ombudsman, justice secretary and chairpersons of the Commission on Audit and the Securities and Exchange Commission, in addition to the highly respected Chief Justice. And these appointments and initiatives achieved remarkable results: the impeachment of a chief justice, the imprisonment of a former president and three sitting senators, and the removal of significant officials including the mayor of Makati City.
But there have also been major failures.
Foremost among these is the failure to effectively spread the benefits of economic progress among the majority of our people. Too many remain jobless and poor. To achieve more inclusive growth, we need more and better-quality jobs. To generate more jobs, we need more investments, especially in sectors with abundant employment opportunities even for those with modest skills and limited education, such as agriculture, tourism and manufacturing. To generate more and better investments, we must learn to treat investors fairly, with predictable and consistent policies, and to hold contracts as sacred and honor their provisions. Government agencies, including local government units, must be well coordinated and pushing in the same direction, all appreciative of the value of investments in creating jobs and improving the lives of our citizens.
Clearly, these elements have not been evident. Effective, clear-minded leadership is what we need.
Also, in an increasingly integrated Asean and global community, and in our interest to generate more investments, we need to open more sectors of our economy to international investors. Reputable investors bring not only capital but also world-class managers and practices. The Belmonte amendment to the Constitution, that would shift economic-policy formulation from the charter to Congress, continues to enjoy the very strong support of the business community. And such a move would be particularly timely, now that the Philippines is more favorably appreciated by prospective investors. The only reason this amendment is not yet in place is the lack of leadership at the top, due to an incomprehensible unwillingness to recognize the amendment’s vital importance.
Another glaring failure is basic transportation—infrastructure development, including the mass transport system of Metro Manila. This is a failure, not of planning, but of implementation. Far too many sound projects remain unimplemented, mainly due to managerial timidity and incompetence. The net result is Metro Manila in gridlock, resulting in tremendous personal suffering and economic costs and unrealized tourism potentials.
Effective leadership that addresses bottlenecks and brings parties together to find workable solutions has been woefully nonexistent.
Who then should we choose to provide effective leadership on Election Day?
To build on the gains of the past six years, we must select a person of integrity who will passionately pursue programs of good governance, and who will be able to inspire patriotic men and women of integrity and competence to join his or her Cabinet. To address the shortcomings of the past six years, we need a leader who is not stubbornly attached to the ways of the past, but has the foresight and creative energy to pursue new paths that will open the economy to new opportunities of broader investments and best practices.
Most importantly, we need a leader who will get things done, not alone or in a highly partisan manner, but through inclusive strategies that will inspire elements of Philippine society to link arms and come together in one well-coordinated and cohesive effort to pursue a better future for our people.
And it would help, too, if that leader has a real shot at winning on May 9.
Let us not waste our vote. Let us all vote intelligently!
Ramon R. del Rosario Jr. ([email protected]) chairs the Makati Business Club.
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