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A clean Philippines

It’s hard to go beyond discussing Rodrigo Duterte because, really, what else is there? The subject must consume our interest because it will consume our lives over the next six years. (And, yes, Mr. Ferdinand Marcos Jr., it will be six years. There is no “Plan B” or any other wild idea. And in regard to the VP race, I hope whoever loses has as much love for the Philippines as Mar Roxas does. He said: “It’s not about me. It’s not about anyone. It’s about how we love our country and how we’ll do all that we can for her.” The loser should not drag out the decision, but just accept it graciously.)

Today I’m going to suggest a few things that presumptive President-elect Duterte might want to do. The people voted for him because he promised what this administration didn’t give: action. It was change they wanted; the straight path (daang matuwid) was but a rutted dirt road. They want a cemented one, built fast. But fast wasn’t in this administration’s vocabulary.

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Expectations are high, but so is the level of fear. No one quite knows what to expect from this enigma of a man. A man who came from nowhere to become the leader of 100 million people. What will he do? Are his threats and outrageous comments just comments? Or is it really the way he is going to direct the country?

If I were an optimist I’d say, as his supporters have, that it’s all just winning talk. He’ll be different. A pessimist would fear the return to Marcosian dictatorship. Well, I’m neither an optimist nor a pessimist. As an engineer, I’m a realist. The glass isn’t half-full or half-empty; it’s too big. Disciplining buses on Edsa or restricting them to curbside lanes won’t solve the problem, as optimists might hope. Taking half of them off the road and paying drivers a fixed salary will.

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President Duterte needs to start with some quick actions that have immediate and noticeable impact so that people come quickly on board. They can say, “Wow, this is a man who gets things done.” Longer term support then follows.

President Aquino’s “no wangwang” policy had that effect. But he didn’t go beyond it, so it remained an isolated, out-of-the-box change. I believe Duterte is going to be very out-of-the-box, sometimes—and it may be cause for  worry—on things about which we may not be too happy. For instance, I don’t believe in a liquor ban or in any other ban unless really, really necessary. Bans only encourage violation and crime.

There are things I’d do immediately that would really make people sit up and take notice: Declare a clean Philippines, rice at half price, and free-flowing traffic in Manila.

Puerto Princesa is a clean city. It is because there are rubbish bins everywhere and littering is penalized. The bins aren’t stolen because there are holes in them (you can’t take them home for storing rice or water), and the penalty for theft is high. President Duterte can order it nationwide. He did at his miting de avance in Luneta, and several hundred thousand people took their trash with them. Those at the rallies of others, or at the polling stations, didn’t, because there was nowhere in which to put the trash. And people are careless of their trash.

So, bins. Let the private sector provide them so none of the nonsense of public bidding, lower bidder (a subject I’ll discuss one day), etc. Corporations can do it as a public service and, in return, be allowed to advertise on the bins.

I’d also require the beneficiaries of the conditional cash transfer program to devote a day a week to cleaning their environs as payment for the handout. Then establish awards (Filipinos love awards) for the cleanest city, the most beautiful city, overall cleanest and most beautiful. Let’s have a clean Philippines.

As to rice, I mentioned this in my column on Nov. 12, 2015 (“Give the consumer a break”). Unbelievably (does no one want cheaper rice?), there was no reaction. A well-researched PIDS (Philippine Institute for Development Studies) report determined that if rice were traded on an open market, it would, like other products openly marketed, result in lower prices as competition and source selection flourish. The study concluded that if the National Food Authority were taken out of the trade and control of rice and tariffs were removed, the price of regular milled rice would fall from P33.08 per kilogram to P19.80/kg. I venture to say that 100 million Filipinos would be very happy about that.

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The negative side is that it would make life even more difficult for the 2.4 million rice-growers. But would it? It wouldn’t if they were assisted to shift to other, higher-value crops, and if they were provided with the water, the seeds, the tools and the techniques that rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand use. The soil and climate are much the same, so the differences are man-determined. And so, man can fix them.

The thing is it can be done if the will is there.

There’s a third thing I’d do for Manila, and that’s get traffic moving. It can be done by implementing the one word that defines Duterte: discipline. Buses and jeepneys stopping only at designated stops and close to the curb. Malls and schools with off-street parking, pickup and drop-off areas. Intersections kept clear. Traffic aides trained in ensuring rapid traffic flow. The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority given full authority (which local mayors will agree to cede) over traffic movement on all roads. There’s much, much more that’s beyond this column, but has been well detailed by Eddie Yap of the Management Association of the Philippines and others (myself, too, in my column on July 9, 2015, “Get Angry”). It can be done. Discipline.

A clean Philippines, cheap rice, traffic moving. Awake to a new day. With a new President.

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E-mail: [email protected] Read my previous columns: www.wallacebusinessforum.com.

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TAGS: cleanliness, discipline, garbage disposal, Poverty, rice, Rodrigo Duterte, traffic
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