Planning by listening
In crafting the now well-publicized “Ambisyon Natin 2040,” the National Economic and Development Authority, as the country’s premier planning agency, sought to start right in embarking on the formulation of the next six-year Philippine Development Plan. Any planning exercise must address three basic questions: 1) Where are we now? 2) Where do we want to go? and 3) How will we get there? Ambisyon Natin 2040 provides the answer to the second question, taking a long-term view.
“Starting right” refers to how Neda has crafted the nation’s 25-year vision by upholding its tradition of participatory planning, listening to the views of the wide mass of Filipinos to bring out what we want for ourselves and for the country. Dozens of focus group discussions were held across the country, especially with the poor and marginalized whose voices are seldom heard. These shaped the questionnaire for a national survey conducted on a sample of 10,000 Filipinos from all walks of life spanning all ethnicities, classes, or occupations. In short, Neda practices planning by listening, rather than by “playing God” and pretending to be all-knowing of what the nation needs and wants. In so doing, it promotes wide ownership of the defined national vision, thereby gaining wide support toward pursuing the vision and implementing the plan to achieve it.
The resulting 2040 vision sees the Philippines as “a prosperous, predominantly middle-class society where no one is poor, where people enjoy long and healthy lives, are smart and innovative, and live in a high-trust society.” It also sees Filipino families enjoying “a stable and comfortable lifestyle, secure that we have enough for our daily needs and unexpected expenses, that we can plan and prepare for our own and our children’s futures; with our families living together in a place of our own, yet having the freedom to go where we desire, protected and enabled by a clean, efficient, and fair government.”
I once found myself arguing with someone who held what to me was a surprising view that the basis for national planning should be our leader’s personal vision for the country. He believed that the national vision is for the president to define, based on the platform on which he/she won the people’s votes. This draws from the argument that the elected president represents the aspirations of the voters who brought him/her to office. But that view forgets that we elect our leaders via a plurality rather than majority vote, making it likely, as has often happened, that the majority of our voters actually voted against the winning president. Besides, the body of registered voters may not represent the entire Filipino people, as it excludes nearly half of our population who are mostly too young to vote, or too marginalized to be heard in the electoral process. Yet it is the children and youth who will inherit and most feel the consequences of plans that we draw up today.
This is not the first time Neda has taken a long-term view. In 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos saw the need to plan well beyond the time frame of his administration’s Medium Term Philippine Development Plan (MTPDP) for 1992-1998. He thus instructed Neda to craft a 25-year framework plan to the year 2020. When the MTPDP was promoted with the catchphrase “Philippines 2000” at the start of his presidency, malicious minds accused him of planning to stay in power beyond his constitutionally mandated six-year term. Yet he merely saw the need to ensure that the six-year plan of his administration would take a longer view, set within a long-term strategic perspective of the nation’s future. He sought to ensure continuity in our development directions across presidential terms, if the country was to move consistently in pursuit of our shared goals and aspirations.
Sadly, the resulting “Plan 21” document, named to denote our entry into the 21st century, was set aside by succeeding presidents, and is all but forgotten today. Perhaps this is why Neda calls Ambisyon Natin 2040 a visioning exercise, but unlike Plan 21, stopped short of issuing a long-term plan to pursue it.
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