Think beyond politics! Voters deserve a higher level of debate

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase-ADRi

We recently launched the Stratbase ADR Institute (ADRi)’s first book, “Thinking Beyond Politics; A Strategic Agenda for the Next President”. A rare compilation of papers born from a yearlong series of consultations with the country’s most respected intellectuals from the academe, industry, government and civil society.

Our motivation to spearhead this project is best said by the first line of the preface, “For generations, many Filipinos’ aspirations for prosperity have been routinely frustrated by the politicization of policy-making, reactive thinking, bad governance and corrupt politics.”

The authors of the eight papers, which were borne out of eight well-attended forums, include some of the most respected public intellectuals of the country. As ADRi trustees and fellows, these prominent scholars generously shared their valuable insights and analyses that we now publish as a book of policy recommendations that we hope will serve as a comprehensive guide for governments of many political cycles, a roadmap for the country’s future leaders on how to navigate key political and economic issues that will shape the development of the Filipino nation.

We had already been bombarded with non-stop updates about the candidates vying for the top spots in the coming national elections. From Grace Poe’s residency saga to Rody Duterte’s alleged swearing at the pope, from Mar Roxas’ education credentials to Jojo Binay’s trumpeting of his humble roots, such issues compete for precious space in print publications and airtime in broadcast media.

As the campaign period begins three months before the elections, there is a downside to the intense coverage of these entertaining but ultimately empty stories of intrigue and scandal. Important and substantial issues, which should ideally constitute the meat of the discourse, fall by the wayside.

As the all-important Election Day nears, presidential candidates should now concentrate on talking about their presidency in terms of policy directions. Ultimately, this period should be dedicated to getting to know what’s in the minds of these candidates.

The issues are endless: infrastructure, agriculture, internal and maritime security, poverty alleviation, governance reform, and battling corruption, just to name several. How do they plan to institute strategic reforms that will sustain the economic growth and, this time, make it inclusive? How will they balance macro-economic fundamentals with ensuring that no sector of the economy is left behind? What is their vision for the country?

There is also a debate on the sustainability of the incumbent president’s reforms. Therefore, it is important to ask also: Will the new president diverge from the path laid by the incumbent or will he or she opt to create a new path? What are the benefits and downsides of both?

Either way, there is a need to go beyond politics and focus on solutions or, more importantly, how these solutions can be institutionalized. For generations, Filipinos have witnessed a simplistic and shortsighted political agenda. There is a need to disrupt this kind of thinking.

As the world undergoes many upheavals, from climate change to periodic recessions, the Philippines cannot be left behind. In 2016, the new leadership must be decisive. What we need is disruption and innovation in government, which will put strategic and equalizing reforms in place to break the cycle. We need a government ready to harness the best talents of the land, a government with a great vision, an integrated long term strategy, and the iron will to work, under the rule of law.

The circus that often characterizes the conduct of Philippine elections is in some ways reflective of a serious flaw of the entire political exercise. It needs to stop. As the campaign period begins, there needs to be a shift from dramatic sound bites to opinions of substance, from lowly mudslinging to genuine discourse. The entire rationale behind this period is to let ideas compete and then let the people decide. The sooner the intrigues fade in the background, the sooner this shift can start. As voters and taxpayers, we deserve a higher level of debate.

We have provided each presidential candidate with a copy of Thinking Beyond Politics, hopeful that whoever rises to be our next President will be guided by the sage counsel drawn from a rare combination of backward-looking analytics and forward-looking thinking and imagination.

“This body of work will form the foundation of the Institute’s advocacy in the next government. Whoever is elected, whoever gets appointed, our mission will be to transform this compilation of sagacious advice into policy, into laws. We must not be afraid to be disruptive, to break the myopic political cycle that has hindered the velocity of growth and prosperity that all Filipinos have a right to enjoy.”

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