Monday, December 11, 2006

Read the people's lips: no short cuts!

NOW that Con-ass is dead, will the government please do the real business of governing?
In the last several years, the residents in Malacañang have been pretending to govern while putting out political fires. Now it has to do it for real because the stakes are high for the Philippine economy. We are approaching 2007 and that year might yet be a crossroad for us Filipinos.

In the last several months, international institutions have been saying positive things about the Philippines. For instance, the World Bank, traditionally conservative about our growth prospects, has predicted a better figure for the country’s gross national product. We just had our upgrade from Moody’s to stable. Revenue collections are improving. Tourism arrivals are improving. And investments, although loose change by Chinese standards, have started to breach a billion-dollar mark. And for sometime last month, the stock market was brimming with exuberance.

But lately, dangers signs are appearing in the horizon. Typhoons have ravaged the country’s agricultural production areas and the manufacturing sector—based on the third quarter economic performance—is slowing down. El Niño has started to rear its ugly head. And the inflation rate, normally a positive sign when it’s slow, has declined uncomfortably for too long, indicating a strong likelihood that people are not buying. December is normally a season of good cheer but we don’t seem to see retailers jumping up and down like monkeys. It seems like consumers, the main pillar of the Philippine economy, are holding on to their money.

Why? Political uncertainty related to Charter-change campaigns by the administration and its allies at the House of Representatives should really be the reason. When Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. tried to railroad Charter change through the constitutional assembly in the wake of the Supreme Court rejection of the “people’s initiative” months ago, many people (many of whom stayed apolitical in the last several years) were jolted out of their political slumber. Had de Venecia and his gang pushed through with their antics despite popular opposition, they could have had another “revolution” in our midst, an event that would have killed whatever respect the world has for us Filipinos.

From the start, JDV and his manipulators in Malacañang should have realized that Con-ass didn’t really have an iota of a chance to succeed. For one, its acronym really stinks, something that sounds like a brazen con game straight out of some despicable trapo’s ass. Second, the haste with which they rammed it through the House of Representatives tells us they are up to something that we ordinary people don’t know. Or maybe they are really desperate to push a certain agenda, making them even more dangerous.

Of course, we all know that Malacañang dwellers dread the coming May election as it will produce a Senate that is totally dominated by the opposition. With an opposition-dominated Senate, it would be much easier for the many balimbing in the House of Representatives to shift allegiance away from the ruling party as they, more than ever, have the greater chance of getting a conviction for President Arroyo in the Senate. So Joe de Venecia huffed and puffed but he had to back off when they saw the dark clouds of public opinion in the horizon brewing dangerously like a supertyphoon about to sweep off Malacañang from it foundations.
It’s a good thing that JDV and Malacañang backed off from Con-ass; but there are indications it’s just a tactical retreat, and it would help us right if they would start burying it in the dumps of history.

Certainly, people are sick and tired of the convenient and short-sighted shortcuts that characterized Philippine politics in the last decade. After all the mess that came in the wake of the extra-constitutional means with which former President Joseph Estrada was removed from power, the people—including the Church—have certainly matured politically by ignoring attempts in the past to topple Mrs. Arroyo’s government through yet another extra-constitutional means. And certainly it maddens them that Mrs. Arroyo herself would seem to resort to the same sleazy shortcuts just to push for a Con-ass amid popular resentment.

Read the people’s lips: no short-cuts!

If JDV and GMA want to change the Constitution badly, they should do so using the right and constitutionally mandated procedures. Certainly, there are archaic provisions in the Constitution that need to be updated (like allowing more competition in utilities, media, banking, shipping, port operations, retail, among others, we would effectively deal with monopolies), but we have to do it the right way, through open debates, in a truly transparent and democratic way. We reform while ensuring that the beneficiaries of such changes are the people and not the current crop of politicians who are a party to the current state of paralysis and incompetence.

Certainly, JDV’s and GMA’s defeat should be painful. But they can redeem themselves by refocusing their energies on the economy. As we have pointed out earlier, we are at the crossroads; what they do in the next two or three years would define much how our economy would perform and where this country will go. If they would do further stupid political mistakes in the next few months (like reviving Con-ass in other forms), the creeping political uncertainty would gain momentum, thus derailing the economy in 2007 and beyond. But if it is stopped and officials started to exercise prudence, we might yet come out of 2006 and 2007 with better economic numbers.

As they lick their political wounds, GMA, JDV and their minions could do this country some good if they work together to focus their minds, energies, and resources on the Philippine economy. We haven’t seen anything tangible since the President promised to spend billions for the “super-regions.” We have not seen anything tangible since the President held an investment summit with the local and foreign chambers of commerce and industry. We haven’t seen any gains in terms of mobilizing government resources to pursue infrastructure development. Now that all their political gambits were check-mated by the people at every corner, they should have more time to really look at the Philippine economy and do their jobs.

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