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In search of a national strategy

AT ABOUT this time six years ago, a top-ranking government official, without knowing me, invited me to Malacañang after being informed that I had written a book, “Bureaucratic Reform in the Philippines: Issues and Challenges.”

This official wanted me to help him with the piles of papers and documents which have flooded his office, and the heads and tails of which he could not fathom at the time. While I was more than willing to help this new administration at the time, I gently reminded him that without a national strategy, a reorganization of the government, nay, comprehensive bureaucratic reform, cannot be undertaken. I advised him strongly to support instead the crafting of a national strategy without which any and all government efforts will not be linked and integrated into a whole. Mercifully, he agreed.

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I then constituted my research team and worked continuously for six months to craft/draft a national strategy. The composition of my research team came mostly from my colleagues at the University of the Philippines, supported by research assistants who were our star students in our research classes and who were already familiar with the various methods of inquiry that we needed to undertake to fulfill this assignment.

The product of our work was submitted to our principal in Malacañang, and we hoped that it would be made public and subject to the most rigorous debate. In that 140-or-so-page draft, we identified the goal of the Republic of the Philippines as “To be a developed economy in 2030.” The planning horizon, therefore, of our work was 20 years at the time of writing.

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Meanwhile, we participated in many seminars, symposiums and round table discussions where genuine efforts to design a national defense and security strategy and a national military strategy, with concomitant plans for all armed services, were rendered inutile because the mother document, the national strategy, was absent. Like Ben Anderson’s imagined communities, the national strategy was also largely “an imagined document”!

The world has changed radically since. There is now a need to design a new national strategy, which has to take note of the commitment that the Philippines made in Paris in December 2015 where, at every level of planning, climate change mitigation and disaster risk reduction and management have to be incorporated. Then, too, we must continue to be cognizant of our commitment to pursue the goals of the Asean Economic Community, which is a great opportunity to enhance the wellbeing of 100.7 million Filipinos and lift 26.4 million out of poverty. To be embedded in the roadmap toward 2030 are the 17 item goals of the Sustainable Development Goals, to which the Philippines is also committed.

All of these and more should be crocheted together so we have one national plan, one roadmap to lead us to the path of a developed economy in 2030. This will require all agencies of the government to rethink their respective mandates, modernize their structures, and streamline their processes and procedures to respond to the new challenges. We cannot have “silos” where some departments act like they are stand-alones. Everyone has to groove into a trajectory where cooperation, communication, collaboration and coordination will happen seamlessly.

The political leadership with incoming President Rodrigo Duterte at the helm shall steer the ship of state, and it is up to all of us, rowers all, to move in that direction.

So, as this new administration starts its work next month, we would like to offer this draft national strategy as one of the planning documents which it can peruse and challenge and subject to public discourse.

Yes, we are at the cusp of monumental change in the life of our nation and people. But this change needs an intelligently courageous president with fire in his belly.

Clarita R. Carlos, PhD, is a retired professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, a former president of the National Defense College of the Philippines, and executive director of StratSearch Foundation Inc.

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TAGS: administration, bureaucracy, bureaucratic reform, Commentary, Government, opinion, Reform
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