Monday, December 25, 2006

The way forward for the Philippines in 2007

WHAT is governance but the judicious use of power—the ability to achieve certain economic, social and political ends—and authority or legitimacy to use such power? And yet, if there’s one factor that’s really preventing the country’s economy from growing faster and creating more jobs, it’s this widening deficit in authority that’s buffeting this administration.

Certainly, we need to add to and improve infrastructure; we need more investments in human resources. We need a lot more to enhance the economy’s competitiveness. But on top of that we need to have a credible government and political leaders and institutions respected by the public and the investors. For most of the year, this country is hobbled by this problem. It seems we are the only country whose leaders are always being regarded with suspicion and contempt by the global community.

Consider SWS’s survey on net satisfaction rating. Since October 2004, GMA’s presidency has been suffering from a negative satisfaction rating. In simpler terms, the majority of the people are dissatisfied with her leadership in ways not seen since the Edsa Revolution. Presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, and Joseph Estrada had their own worst nightmares, but their satisfaction and trust ratings never dipped this low.

Survey numbers from Pulse Asia show that half of Filipinos simply do not trust the President.
They are critical of her on six major issues: criminality, political killings, workers’ pay, poverty, graft and corruption and inflation—the bread and butter issues of governance. When one fails to address these issues effectively, what is one’s to govern?

GMA’s problem is staying there for the sake of being able to finish her term. In this brave new world of globalization and information revolution, political power is diffusing to various political and economic players like corporations, interest groups, civil society organizations, and the Church. Hence, increasingly, political elites worldwide are finding the need to build political alliances with these various players to get things done one project at a time. GMA’s political isolation makes this hard. That explains why her programs and projects can’t seem to take off. Why, even Congress doesn’t pass the annual budget.

In her last State of the Nation Address, she announced huge budget expenditures for her “super regions” program, but until now, the lethargic bureaucracy hasn’t started moving. Her pet projects and legislative programs are stuck through the policymaking machinery, with allies taking pains to appear “independent” these days.

The year 2007 could mark her out as a lame-duck president, an administration with power sans authority. But if she still has energy to govern this country, she could probably recover by reaching out to various social and political groups.

This is important because 2007 is fraught with dangers for the economy. El Niño is a looming threat. As seen in the past three quarters, poor performance from the farm sector usually drags down the entire economy. The manufacturing sector, despite high expectations from electronics, has slowed down in the third quarter even as dollar remittances kept flowing. Not enough jobs are created despite the continuing growth of the outsourcing sector. And lately, inflation has started to manifest weaker demand, a probable indicator of rising lack of consumer confidence.

We can’t blame the people because in the last four quarters, the government did not show economic leadership. The administration simply tried to survive politically by hanging on to power at all cost. The economy went on “autopilot,” relying mainly on the initiatives of the private sector, overseas workers, and just everybody else who tried to live and survive.
The economy cannot go on like this in 2007. To achieve a higher growth level, the government will have to make the move. Reaching out to various social groups and forging alliances with them for a common growth agenda for 2007 is difficult but the government could probably initiate four major initiatives as confidence-building measures.

First—and the most strategic one—GMA should stop talking politics and truly focus on the economy. She should put an end to all political gambits that proved unpopular in 2006, including Charter change. Cha-cha has been a political lightning rod, attracting all sorts of criticisms from various groups. You take away Cha-cha, you stop talking politics, and you will have time to focus energies and resources on the economy.

Second, the immediate passage of the 2007 budget should be a priority. The passage of the budget would not only provide funds for major government programs and projects but also would signal the government’s seriousness about the economy. In 2006, the failure to pass the budget was a source of recriminations about how the government is (mis)managing the economy. People generally thought the failure to pass the budget was a deliberate move by the government to have the flexibility to squander money for elections.

Third, the government should put flesh and blood on the so-called super regions initiative. We really haven’t seen any tangible details of that plan since the President announced that initiative. The National Economic and Development Authority (Neda) and the Office of the President should come clean on this and start the ball rolling.

And fourth, the government should launch a major initiative on education. It can jumpstart the process by bringing together the House and the Senate to pass a law bringing back English as the medium of instruction in all levels of the educational system. It could also announce a streamlining of the school curriculum to give it more focus on the English language, science and mathematics. Such could probably involve certain policy reforms, including higher financial incentives for language, math and science teachers; teacher-training programs; and the opening up of education to foreign participation.

Countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore have been attracting a lot of world-class universities and there’s no reason why the Philippines can’t do the same to boost the country’s educational institutions. A serious student loan program is an investment in human resource. In this age of globalization and information technology, investment in human resources seems to be the fastest way to progress.

Four things, for a start. Christmas is over, let’s get to work.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

off topic...

Merry Christmas, Dave!!!