MATALAM, North Cotabato – (MindaNews / 17 March) – Had politicians asked us what we wanted from them, it would have been a different story. The problem is they don’t seem to care. Every election time we receive volley of promises from politicians, never mind if they are doable/attainable or not. What matters to them is that they have something to offer. They try to outwit each other by the number of promises they make. They try to entertain themselves with the idea that the more promises they make, the more votes they get.
Take for example some of these campaign promises that are not tenable given the fact that we are not a rich country: a) jobs for all those in the labor sector; b) free housing for all homeless people in this country; c) minimum wage resulting to a gross monthly income of not less than P50,000 in both government and the private sector, and scores of others with a few bordering on the nonsense.
If these politicians ask us, I have this to say. In a way, this is an unsolicited advice or proposal to the next President who may work it out with Congress.
On Constitutional Reform
I would agree to a limited and very specific amendment to the Constitution to accommodate the regionalization of senators. As it has been, most of our senators are from the National Capital Region and Luzon. Very few from the Visayas and Mindanao get elected simply because the National Capital Region and Luzon have the most number of voters. Electing Senators by region will not only give justice to equal representation but will also spare the senator-candidates from the rigors of a national campaign and having to spend more.
In the U.S. two Senators are elected from each State.
I think there is also a need to review the parity rights under the Constitution. Article XII of the Constitution gives exclusive rights to the State in the matter of defining the ownership and utilization of all lands of the public domain, waters, minerals, coal, petroleum, and other mineral oils, all forces of potential energy, fisheries, forests or timber, wildlife, flora and fauna, and other natural resources. At present our laws allow the participation of foreigners in these investment opportunities in partnership with Filipinos who should own and control at least 60% of the capital. Some shrewd foreign investors use Filipino dummies to outwit the said provisions of the law.
Also, some quarters are already toying with the idea of going back to the two-party system. They opined that the personality oriented Filipino voters have been so polarized under the multi-party system. And the number of political parties has been increasing at the regional and national levels. The next President may create an ad hoc committee that will study the pros and cons of the multi-party system and compare them with the two-party system.
The partylist representation in the lower chamber of Congress is also under scrutiny by a small quarters of the electorate but, personally, I don’t favor scrapping them out. I would rather recommend that the COMELEC should stick to the impositions on the requirements for partylist representations. As it is now, the so-called progressive blocks have dominated the partylist representations in Congress.
Originally, the partylist was open only to sectors or groups representing marginalized and under-represented sector of the society. However, a 2013 Supreme Court decision clarified that the partylist is a system of proportional representation open to various kinds of groups and parties and not exclusive to marginalized sectors.
On Build, Build, Build
The physical infrastructure is one of the vital components of our economy. Aside from creating jobs it provides much needed facilities such as roads, bridges, airports, seaports, industrial water systems, communication and power facilities which are acknowledged requisites for industrialization. However, rather than a build-all strategy, a more focused approach will be more appropriate. We have to prioritize things because we are not a rich country.
The next President shall have to prioritize inter-connectivity of major islands of the country because aside from the convenience it gives in terms of mobility of people, goods, and services, it is one of the sure-fire guarantee to spur economic growth in the countryside. A more direct connection between the source of production and urban market centers would minimize, if not totally eradicate, the involvement of middlemen players who buy agricultural products at cheap prices and sell them at high prices to recover high cost of transporting them in the absence of good arterial roads and bridges.
Eventually as the world of production and market centers becomes smaller there is a great possibility for dispersing the industries to the countryside. This, in turn, will give employment opportunities for rural labor and expand businesses as the so-called forward and backward economic linkages shall begin to take roots.
The next best thing under the build, build, build program shall be to continue modernizing our airports and seaports and improve management and automation thereon. In this aspect, I cannot avoid mentioning to the next President of this country to help in completing the much delayed construction of Mlang Airport in North Cotabato, not to mention the tremendous economic impact it will bring to the province, in particular, and Region 12 in general.
On Curbing Graft and Corruption
A world Bank report mentioned that about 36% of the national budget is lost to graft and corruption. Our approved national budget for fiscal year 2022 was P5.024 trillion. Thirty six percent of this is P1.8 trillion which is a tremendous amount of money. The WB report may be a bit exaggerated but let us take the figure provided by Senate President Tito Sotto, who put the total amount of money lost to graft and corruption at P700 billion every year. Still, a very big sum of money! This money could either be used to sustain any of the following: a) double the salary of all government employees, b) free hospitalization for every sick Filipino, c) subsidize the cost of living for every Filipino family whose gross annual income is below P20 thousand, or d) improve the Pan Philippine Highway from Aparri to Mindanao.
There is no need to imagine additional taxes, which only hurt small businesses, because a big sum of money can be generated just by completely eradicating graft and corruption. I do not have a fool-proof formula. Several administrations have tried in the past; from Pres. Cory Aquino to Pres. Duterte, but they have all failed. Worst, they ended up being suspected by their political enemies and “haters” as accessory to the commission of graft and corruption due to their failure to curb the same.
A few of our laws, like the ones below, have significantly curbed graft and corruption, but still, much have to be done to make them completely effective.
- Automation of all government transactions to the extent they are possible. I have been a gun enthusiast since I learned safe gun handling in the late 1980s. One of the best examples I can cite is R.A. 10591 – the law which automated the procurement process for guns and issuance of firearm registration through the LTOPF (License To Own and Possess Firearm). This system has completely stopped graft and corruption as fees collected from this transaction are directly remitted by the applicant to the PNP Account in Camp Crame. In the old manual system, most of these fees were lost either by non-remittance, over-pricing, issuance of fake firearm documents or all of the above.
- Another law worth mentioning is R.A. 9184 or the Government E-Procurement Law. Bidding of government projects has been one of the major sources of corruption in the past. The automation of the entire process and geotagging of government projects have significantly reduced the magnitude of corruption. But wait. There is still rampant commission of graft and corruption even after this law was passed and the required structures installed at different layers of the bureaucracy down to the local government units. This time it is the bidding process that is rigged or corrupted. The law requires a minimum of three qualified bidders but these bidders often connive with each other by sharing their bid costs and other details. Through this connivance system the lowest bidder is already pre-determined among themselves. The end-result? There was no actual competitive bidding that happened.
By this time, there is no need to identify the most corrupt government agencies. They had been exposed several times before. Knowing where the opportunity for corruption takes place is knowing one-half of the solution to the problem.
On Fighting Illegal Drugs
The biggest haul in the campaign against illegal drugs took place in Infanta, Quezon province on March 15, 2022. Agents of the National Bureau of Investigation seized some 1.2 metric tons of shabu with an estimated value of P12 billion.
This should be an eye-opener to law enforcers and other authorities that the drug trade has been taking place on the high seas. With our long scattered shorelines, the sea routes have been the most feasible means of transporting drugs from foreign sources (most notable is China) to the Philippines. I wonder if our law enforcers were provided with fast sea craft interceptors, satellite phones, night vision goggles, armored vests, etc. I wonder if we have enough PDEA agents who were trained to run after syndicates peddling illegal drugs on the high seas.
The best way to curb illegal drugs is to prevent its entry into the country. If law enforcers have to kill, they kill foreign nationals and a few Filipinos, not the drug users on the streets.
Again, if these “promising” politicians will ask me what to demand from them when they get elected, I will tell them to prioritize and focus on these four major concerns: 1) exercise strong political will and work closely with Congress to realize much needed constitutional reforms, 2) improve national connectivity by land, air, and sea, and build more efficient and effective communication system, 3) stop graft and corruption in all levels of the government bureaucracy, and 4) improve on the fight against illegal drugs. And they better make good; they better succeed.
Of course, side by side with the above proposed priorities are sound economic policies and viable foreign relations inspired by strong political will. Having a clear economic agenda that will ensure fast recovery of our battered economy due to the pandemic is much better than promising the moon and the stars to gain more votes. Our political leaders should stop dreaming of providing everything free to the people or trying to move this country towards being a welfare state. That is simply not possible.
At the end of the day people would know how to handle their social, health, and educational needs if and when they have the money.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Maugan P. Mosaid holds a doctorate degree in rural development. He is a freelance writer, planning consultant and teaches Statistics and Methods of Research in the graduate school.)