Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Agenda for the 14th Congress

Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself. —Mark Twain (1835-1910)

NOW that we have the 14th Congress, what do we do?

Certainly, there’s a lot of unfinished legislative business in the 13th Congress. But before lawmakers even start working on these unfinished bills, they should undergo a change in perspective, a “paradigm shift,” to make their work relevant to the demands of the times.

Congress should cast away its insularity, its tendency for inertia and navel-gazing, which has paralyzed economic policymaking, and look far greater into the bigger picture, this fast-integrating and globalizing world.

If there’s one thing that characterized past Congresses, it’s the pettiness of the chamber’s politics, and the total lack of ambition in its legislative agenda. Hostage to the political-survival instincts of the ruling party, the 13th Congress, for instance, was notorious for delayed passage of the budget necessary to finance development.

With a thin legislative output, most of the more important economic legislation necessary for addressing vital issues, like fiscal rationalization and land administration reform, were sidelined for reasons that the public could only speculate upon.

Insularity of outlook, a sort of small-barangay thinking among many of its members, explains this lack of energy, focus and legislative ambition. Coming largely from the landed gentry and rentier classes, many of Congress’s members view the Philippines as an isolated island, no different from their beach hideaways where they have fun and frolic, blissfully unmindful of what’s going on in the larger world.

Hence, while legislators in the rest of the Asia-Pacific region were preoccupied with sharpening their policies to maximize gains and adjust to changes brought about by the global economy, our legislators were busily haggling over pork barrel, or grandstanding on endless investigations that led to nowhere.

The Executive of course was mired in dozens of scandals (e.g. election cheating, fertilizer scams, the Bedol affair, etc.), dragging down Congress and other social institutions deeper into the mire of political paralysis and social stasis.

And while members of Congress where preoccupied with petty bickering, entrepreneurs chaffed at the difficulties of having their businesses registered because of a tangle of obsolete rules; locators in some special economic zones were panicking at the prospect of losing fiscal incentives promised them when they registered; and the general public was left wondering whether or not it would ever have better infrastructure or improved social services. These sad truths didn’t help our efforts to attract foreign investments.

The new Congress should wake up and change its ways of doing things to make it more responsive to the demands of the “brave new world.”

Unknown to many members of Congress, more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product are accounted for by the globalized sectors (e.g. outsourcing, electronics, remittances and the rest of the export-oriented industries). That means most Filipinos are deriving money and livelihood from the dynamics of the globalized world. Focusing legislation on economic issues relevant to this economic transformation, therefore, should be the primary business of the new Congress.

Is the country’s business sector globally competitive? How should the country respond to the accelerating exodus of professionals and skilled people? Is the educational system producing enough graduates with the skills needed by industry? Is the country’s policy on language and the medium of instruction helping the fast-growing information technology sector? Is the policy environment conducive to interisland trade? Are we unnecessarily putting barriers to foreign investments? Are we developing our science and technology capabilities?

These are among the questions that need to be addressed by the new Congress for them to be socially relevant. And it’s encouraging that Sen. Edgardo Angara is one of those actually responsive to these issues. Recently, he called for the creation of a congressional committee on science and technology, an initiative that will surely engender a lot of soul-searching and rethinking about how we can sharpen our capability in science and technology.

Congress should go strong on initiatives like this. It’s high time it exerts its leadership in the policy arena because, based on the tone of the President’s State of the Nation Address (Sona), the ruling party is not so keen on crucial reforms anymore.

It seems like Malacañang is going to spread the grease off pork barrel around (e.g. the construction of bits and pieces of a highway here, a few bridges there, and some septic tanks somewhere).

For a presidency that was bent on bringing us the “hallmarks of modernity” by 2010, the only economically pressing economic policy reform that it has proposed is the reform of the Epira bills to promote open access and greater competition. What the Sona revealed to us is a lame-duck presidency that is just coasting along for a less bumpy transition to oblivion.

Yes, we believe that Congress could actually take the policy leadership. The 2010 elections could be a distraction, but most of the would-be presidential aspirants appear to be mavericks not likely to benefit from endorsements from the current political partisans (Arroyo and Estrada). Hence, there would be more room for independent initiative and statesmanship.

We are crossing our fingers, of course. (Note: originally written as editorial for BusinessMirror, July 26 2007)


sparks said...

more than 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product are accounted for by the globalized sectors

And I've also learned very recently that Manila accounts for 30% of the whole country's GDP. We need to integrate.

Dave Llorito said...

you mean greater articulation between the cities and the farm sector? i agree with you.