1. Ending Poverty and Achieving Sustainable Economic Growth
The Philippines has been in a boom and bust cycle for several decades now. We have failed to achieve the necessary GDP growths to bring us to developed nation status relative to other East Asian nations (i.e. 8 percent growth of South Korea in the last 50 years and double digit growth rates of China in the last 20 years). The best in 19 years we have achieved is 7.3 percent growth in 2007. The rest of the decade it has been 3 to 5 percent growth on average annually, too small to overcome poverty levels pegged at nearly 1/3 of the nation.
To achieve economic prosperity we must begin to hit 8 percent GDP growth annually for say at least a decade or so.
How do we begin to achieve this in the next 6 years? Where do we start?
By focusing initially on the following economic engine drivers with relentlessness and zeal namely agricultural and fisheries modernization, rapid infrastructure development, tourism and education.
Agricultural and Fisheries Modernization/Protecting the Environment. If we are to achieve developed nation status in the next decade or so, we must address the incomes of those in the agricultural sector who comprise nearly half of our nation's population. Close to half of the population's incomes come from agriculture. Without a successful modernization of this sector we cannot hope to move away from poverty. The boom and bust cycle of our economy will not end. Upping the incomes of our farmers and fisher folk are fundamental and modernizing our agriculture and fisheries is key.
We must move towards self sufficiency in rice and food. We must ensure that the capacity and productivity of our farmers are increased by way of access to credit, training and other support services. We must mobilize agricultural communities in the local level with strong partnerships with the LGUs to make agricultural and fisheries modernization a reality.We actually have a program called the AFMA or the agricultural and fisheries modernization Act but it has been implemented haphazardly and inconsistently.
Private sector investments in agriculture have also been less than ideal. There must be an effort as well to encourage the private sector to engage in agricultural enterprises.
The vision of AFMA was to pump in funds for the agricultural sector in the form of irrigation projects, farm implements, support services, research, post harvest facilities among others but funding has been minimal for the last decade since its enactment because of budget shortfalls. Also, we have had 5 agricultural secretaries in the last 6 years. Talk about consistency. Of course there is corruption that has taken away meager resources from the programs and benefitted a few rather than the farmers and the fisher folk. This too must be addressed and we will discuss this later on.
Environmental protection and the promotion of environment friendly policies in agriculture and fisheries isa also a must if we are to ensure that development is sustainable. Global warming and climate change issues need to be forcefully addressed if agricultural and aquatic resource productivity are made optimal.
Rapid Infrastructure Development. We need more 6 lane highways throughout the country, more seaports, more airports and more railway systems to move us to developed nation status in a decade. Infrastructure will provide jobs. It will boost tourism providing easy access for tourism spots to tourist arrivals.
We must modernize our infrastructure. Our road systems are antiquated. Our railway and mass transport systems moreso. We need to upgrade our seaports and our airports. All these require massive spending and government alone wont be able to do it. An Infrastructure Modernization Act similar to AFMA is a must. The private sector must be involved in helping fund these projects with a reasonable rate of return.
It is time to rethink how our infrastructure programs are laid down and implemented in the country. It has been riddled with corruption and has been slow in its implementation. The bureaucracy is slow to absorb the funds available for infrastructure. It is time to put in place out of the box solutions to decades old problems that refuse to go away. It is time put in place an Infrastructure Modernization Act (IMA) that will re energize the bureaucracy (or sidestep that part of the bureaucracy that refuses to adapt) and bring it to the level of its counterparts in ASEAN in terms of swiftness and efficiency in the implementation of these infrastructure programs.
Tourism Development. We must aggressively put in place the needed strategic plan to increase our tourism arrivals by 100 percent or some 6 million tourists by the end of 6 years beginning 2010. Data shows that each tourist arrival is equivalent to one job. To achieve this, we must take advantage of the recently enacted Tourism Development Act of 2009 and put in place a system that would harness private sector participation in tourism related enterprises.We need to create more hotel rooms, more transport businesses, more restaurants and more tourism related enterprises to absorb the influx of tourists. We must ensure that the culture of tourism is instilled in the service sector. We must provide the tourism and service sector the needed philosophy and paradigm shift that would make us competitive in ASEAN.
For every tourist arrival, a job is generated. Tourism revenue will boost our economy and provide the nation the needed revenues to fund other projects and programs. We must encourage overseas Filipinos to invest in Tourism related enterprises such as hotels,inns, bed and breakfast lodges, transportation and food businesses.
Ensuring Access to Quality Education and Health Services for All. There are studies that have shown that there is a direct relation between poverty incidence and the level of educational attainment. The higher the level of educational attainment, the less the incidence of poverty. Hence quality education is a means to address poverty reduction. It is also a means to ensure that our economy has the educated and capable workforce it needs to remain competitive in the 21st century where knowledge based economies it has been said will have the edge.
To ensure that quality education is achieved throughout the nation, the education sector must be mobilized down to the grassroots. The Local Governments, Parents Teachers and Community Associations, the DEPED and the CHED must come together. Each play a crucial role in moving the education agenda forward. The national government must work towards providing LGUs with a greater role in pushing for quality education in the public schools system nationwide.
With the huge backlog of classrooms, teachers, desks and textbooks, legislation is necessary to modernize our education system by focusing on decentralization and devolution of both the funding and the responsibilities of the task of providing quality education to the local governments and local school boards.
We must likewise develop a progressive health agenda that will ensure that the poor have access to affordable health care. Productivity of our work force is greatly hampered when access to quality health services are minimal. Rural folk in particular must have greater access to health services if their productivity is to increase. Incidence of malnutrition among children must be curbed if they are to gorw up as productive and responsible citizens of the nation.
In sum, agricultural and fisheries modernization, infrastructure modernization, tourism development and providing quality education for all should serve as the economic growth strategy that will bring us to the initial phase of finally ridding our nation of the poverty is has been saddled with all these decades. We say initial phase because to be sure, there are other key areas and sectors of the economy that need to be developed but what we have laid down are the key areas at this stage. In the medium and long term we must build our manufacturing and industrial capacity. We must strengthen our power and energy sector.
2. Ending Pervasive Corruption; Modernizing the Justice System
Pervasive corruption will not cease unless we punish more and we punish swiftly and we cannot punish more and punish swiftly unless we modernize our Judiciary and provide it with the necessary resources to do so. So many politicians decry corruption yet apart from exposes, they have not presented concrete steps to address corruption. Here are concrete, doable steps to address the scourge.
Increase Conviction Rates. The conviction rate of the Ombudsman in the Sandiganbayan (the anti graft court) for corruption cases is pegged at an estimate of less than 20 percent. For every 10 cases filed, less than two end up in conviction the rest of the cases are dismissed. No wonder there is no fear of committing corrupt acts. More than 8 out of 10 get away it. This is in sharp contrast to the conviction rates in Hong Kong for corruption cases which is pegged at 79 percent. Nearly 8 out of 10 are convicted.
Hence if we are to punish more we must focus on upping the conviction rates to 50 percent within a three year period and perhaps reach 65 to 70 percent within 6 years from 2010. When more are punished and punished swiftly, respect for the rule of law will return. It is the certainty of punishment that instills fear and respect for our laws. It is the task of the Justice system to ensure that the conviction rates are upped. An anti corruption task force must be organized at the highest levels to monitor the big cases and to ensure that government resources are harnessed to ensure convictions within a period of 18 to 24 months from the time of its organization. The proverbial big fish must not be allowed to get away.
Double Judiciary Budget. In addition, we must modernize the Judiciary. The Judiciary Executive Legislative Advisory Council (JELACC) was created in 2007 precisely to address the budget woes of the Judiciary. The Philippine Judiciary receives a measly sum of less than one percent of the national budget. The remaining 97 plus percent goes to the Executive department while some 2 percent goes to the Legislative Department. The bulk of the funds are with the Executive.
By upping the budget of the Judiciary to say 2 percent of the 1.17 trillion national budget we give rise to the swift dispensation of justice, the creation of more courts, construction of justice halls, the filling up of vacancies of existing courts, the augmenting of the compensation and benefits of judges, prosecutors and court personnel. Through the JELACC, the budgetary target of 2 percent or in real terms some 20 plus billion pesos can be achieved within a period of 6 years or within the term of a sitting president.
Reduce Average Case life/Create more Courts. It takes 6 long years on average for a case to be decided upon in the first level courts. This is too long. With the increase in budgetary support for the judiciary, our courts through the leadership of the Supreme Court must endeavor to reduce the average life span of a case that remains pending before our courts. Today, data reveals that the average case life is 6 years. This does not include appeals. This is totally unacceptable. Within a period of six years and with the creation of more courts, appointment of more judges, the filling up of vacancies in the judiciary the life span of a case on average should be reduced to 2 years maximum.
Research provided by the Supreme Court shows that the ideal ratio of the number of judges per number of people is one judge for every 10,000. Our situation is that there is one judge for every 50,000 or 5 times more than the ideal number. We must create more courts to be able to reach the ideal level and to be able speed up the disposition of cases. When cases are resolved swiftly and fairly then the respect, trust and confidence in our justice system is reinforced immensely.
If the nation is likened to a computer, the judicial system is the hard drive and its natural resources, its educated workforce and its economic investments among others its software. No amount of the latest software made available will matter if the hard drive is not effectively in place.
3. Achieving Lasting Peace; Ending Armed Conflict
The Philippines has been afflicted with social unrest armed conflict for several decades, The roots of the insurgency are poverty and underdevelopment. Apart from an aggressive peace negotiations that must lead to a peace settlement and a peace accord amongst the different warring factions, economic growth and good governance must be put in place to achieve lasting peace in war torn areas. The communist insurgency and the Muslim separatists have cost us the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the last half a century. It has also drained our national coffers of meager resources that could have been used to fund basic social services for our people. Achieving lasting peace is therefore essential if we are to truly move the nation forward.
How do we achieve lasting peace? The peace initiatives during the Ramos Presidency of 1992 to 1998 are a rich source of lessons that can serve as a template for future peace negotiations with the CPP NPA NDF and the MILF. The Ramos Presidency arguably was the most successful presidency in terms of pushing for a genuine peace agenda with various rebel groups such as the CPP NPA, the MNLF, the MILF and including rightist rebels from the RAM.
The ceasefire talks and negotiations with all armed groups created an atmosphere of relative peace in the years 1992 to 1998. The peace accord with the MNLF signed in 1996 created a window of opportunity for development in Mindanao. Through aggressive peace negotiations and an aggressive enticing of the private sector to invest in Mindanao, a wave of development was realized which gave way to the development in cities like General Santos, Cagayan de Oro and Davao City. Prior to the 90s, these cities were all backward and underdeveloped. This progress was achieved as well in part due to the emergence of reform minded local leaders in these areas.
The Ramos administration's peace and economic initiatives together with the efforts of strong leaders in the local level made progress in many areas in Mindanao possible. It is a template that should be built upon by future administrations. A second wave of peace and economic development initiatives can lead to the emergence of more progressive cities like Marbel, Iligan, Cotabato and Zamboanga in Mindanao and progress in provinces such as those in Samar and the Bicol Region where the incidence of poverty continue to be very high.
4. Making Government Relevant; Reshaping our Nation through Effective Public Leadership and Active Citizenship
Ever since I can remember, we have heard never ending complaints about how government has become a stumbling block for progress in the country. Because of corruption and inefficiency as well as a lack of vision and direction, government has become a deterrent to reforms and genuine change when it ought to be in the forefront of helping make change happen. Many are beginning to realize that the quality of life in our country is directly and intimately linked to the quality of leadership and governance.
Suffice it to say that the old methods of governance have not worked and the old style of electing our political leaders characterized by patronage and money politics has failed us. The old ways of choosing our leaders, the old ways of electing our politicians have not resulted in a better run nation. In fact , we are in a mess because of their failure to lead us. We must get rid of the old ways, reject the previous political approaches and bring in the new. We must be willing and ready to try new methods, new approaches and we must be willing to take risks, to experiment and be daring if we are to expect real changes to take place.
People's Participation in Governance. At the heart of it all is that the saying 'we get the government we deserve' and only when the citizens and citizen's groups are organized to push for community and national development will we see genuine community and national development taking place. When there are less of us interested in wanting change to happen AND are actually doing something about it and there are more of us simply watching, cursing in the darkness and refusing to get involved then the change we seek will happen later rather than sooner.
The key is active citizenship. More and more people are beginning to realize that there is a direct relationship between the quality of leadership and governance and the quality of life. It is fast becoming clear to the vast majority of our people that corrupt and inefficient leadership leads to a poor quality of life for our people. Only when a critical number of citizens begin to realize that governance is everyone's business and are willing to do their share in this regard will governance become more relevant and responsive and doing one's share includes participating in the elections by supporting candidates who are capable or by being a candidate as well if one feels that he or she has the capacity and the commitment for public service.
Supporting and/or Electing Capable Public Leaders; Public/Private Partnerships in the Communities.
In the final analysis, communities will be reshaped and our nation will move towards a new direction when the citizens together with capable public sector leaders come together, partner with each other in pursuit of a common vision for the future. It is essential therefore that citizens be engaged in supporting public sector leaders who are capable and willing to move their communities and our nation towards a new direction.
There are a number of very successful local governments in the country that exemplify this reenergized partnership between the citizens and their leaders. Naga City, Marikina City, Bulacan Province, General Santos, Cebu and Davao and Puerta Princesa Cities are just a few examples of governance in the grassroots that are truly changing the quality of life in their respective areas. The challenge is to further expand these pockets of good governance and bring it to the national level to become the general rule in governance rather than the exception.
The synergy of government and private sector partnerships can bring about sustainable reforms for our communities, our nation. Community development is a necessary first step towards national development. It must be an effort that recognizes that the grassroots is where the hard work is to be done. Local communities are in the forefront of providing a better quality of life for our citizens. They must be given the necessary resources by the national government for them to do the job well.
The Gawad Kalinga phenomenon (this writer has been an active government partner of GK since 2001) best describes how communities can be changed for the better with the active partnership of committed citizens as well as committed public sector leaders in the local and national level.
Building a National Reform Constituency; Mobilizing the Nation
In sum, to be able to address poverty, the quest for peace and ending pervasive corruption among other serious challenges facing the nation, it is essential that various stake holders are mobilized and are involved in the full implementation of these reform programs. Ultimately, the beneficiaries of these reform efforts must be involved in the realization of a better quality of life for all.
It is essential that a national reform constituency is forged and cobbled together by groups and individuals whether in government or in the private sector all of whom are committed to genuine reforms and sweeping change. Crucial in this national reform constituency are the youth and students, civil society groups, faith based organizations, farmers, fisher folk and labor groups, the academe, business groups, local and national public sector leaders and Filipinos overseas. Even the independent media groups must be mobilized to help galvanize this national reform constituency.
Committed and capable national and local public sector leaders together with the active participation and support of a vigilant and mobilized citizenry will usher in the genuine reforms we all wish for our nation.
Finally, we all yearn for a better Philippines. We all have our hopes for a better nation and as a people, we will collectively realize these hopes only when more of us are willing to make a stand, take the risk, move out of our comfort zones and pledge to commit to doing our share in helping shape our communities, in helping move our nation towards a new direction. Given the gravity of the challenges facing the nation, only an effort that is nationwide in scope, inclusive in nature and firmly rooted in the grassroots will truly bring about the change we seek for our nation.