Friday, October 27, 2006

It's time to move on

Now that the Supreme Court has rejected Sigaw ng Bayan’s petition for Charter change through the “people’s initiative,” let’s bury that effort deep into Hades and move on with our lives.

If there’s one major political issue that’s dividing the country and has prevented the government from focusing its energies on the Philippine economy, that’s the Cha-cha. Let’s now consign it to the dustbin of history. Let’s work together as a nation to focus on the economy where we could really make a difference in the lives of ordinary people.

Actually, the Filipino people have moved on a long time ago and focused on what really matters most—their means of living. In the 10 quarters the Philippine economy has been growing within the 5-percent to 6-percent growth rate band despite all the handicaps of having to put up with corrupt leaders and perpetually squabbling politicians. And it’s quite a broad-based effort as the farms, factories and services all contributed significantly.

Our entrepreneurs, despite all the odds, moved heaven and earth to set up as well as attract investors in call centers, shared services, software developers and electronics if only to provide job opportunities and hopes to young college graduates.

Sick and tired of negativism and continuing tales of corruption in high places, many of our countrymen, many of them women, have left the country to slave it out as domestic helpers, nurses, engineers and service workers so they could send back dollars to their families and save the country from tearing apart. The government, the State and its leaders, have failed them but those OFWs can’t afford to fail their families so they just closed their eyes and out they went to endure loneliness and hard work in foreign shores.

Now, the entrepreneurs’, the farmers’ and OFWs’ money are lifting the economy out of its boom-bust cycles, creating demand for goods and services, giving life and more profits to factories, banks, hotels and restaurants, and shopping malls. Certainly, these gains are not enough to create a million jobs and soak up joblessness, but the people have done a lot of their own to kick-start an economic revolution that may yet lift the economy into a higher growth path if only the country’s political leaders would cooperate.

Yes, in the last 10 quarters, the economy—and we call it a people’s economy because it has been moving steadfastly on autopilot —grew amid declining capital expenditures from the government. Yes, the people—the entrepreneurs, including foreign investors; the working people in offices, farms and factories; and OFWs have moved on and tried hard to do business and create jobs while bureaucrats and politicians holding the levers of power are preoccupied with nothing but their day-to-day political survival.

And yes, the people sacrificed a lot by agreeing to a higher value-added tax if only the country’s finances could rise up beyond the shortsightedness of their political “leaders.”

Now, it’s high time that our political leaders, especially those in the ruling party, perform their own “sacrifice” by reining in their irrational political exuberance and focus their energies on the economy. Right now, the Philippine economy has reached a stage where shifting to a higher growth path requires a constructive role for the State, something that it has failed to do in the last three years.

In 2001, the country’s national government deficit was equivalent to 4.1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). By this time of the year, the government’s national deficit is down to about 2 percent of the GDP, an indication that the people have done their share of moving this country forward.

We are not saying here that we should forget all about the sins of the malefactors in this government. Certainly we still want to have real closure to the Bolante fertilizer and other scams. We are saying that the rule of law should proceed to its due course while doing away with the unnecessary political distractions that could derail the country from its path to development. Surely, the political questions will linger. But we should let the May election next year and other legal procedures available to the opposition settle those political questions.

We are not blind to the arguments for economic reforms advocated by the proponents of Cha-cha. Indeed there is a need to remove the remaining obstacles to entrepreneurship and investments in this country. The main problem that stops us from supporting this effort is its political complications. When “economic reforms” are clouded by political opportunism, such a process of change loses credibility and therefore creates uncertainty that hampers economic expansion.

Some Cha-cha proponents say we need to dance the Cha-cha now or we lose the chance forever. We share their concern for stasis, but we believe that if the economic reforms being pushed through Cha-cha are really such good ideas, they are going to have a momentum of their own. No one could stop the flow of good ideas; they are going to gain flesh, blood and passion at the right time sans the baggage of partisan political considerations.

Stability, continuity and order. That’s what the country needs now.

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