Sona episode 4: Corruption is the enemy

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

Fighting corruption and criminality was the framing theme of President Duterte’s fourth State of the Nation Address (Sona), two strong campaign promises that continue to drive his high trust ratings from a nationwide cross-demographic constituency.

“I have identified the enemy who dumped us into this quagmire we are in. I have met the enemy face-to-face, and sadly, the enemy is us,” the President said.

The silent pause in the plenary hall underlined the strong point, and perhaps, or hopefully, a realization that the President was referring to the reality of corruption in government that the public officials before him all represent.

Passing the halfway mark of his political timeline, Mr. Duterte has increasingly looked to solidifying his legacy, promising to do more and accomplish more in the next three years.

In the latest Pulse Asia survey, the people were asked, “What would you most like for President Duterte to discuss or mention in his coming State of the Nation Address or Sona?” The responses were as follows: “Pagpapataas ng sahod” or higher wages (17.1 percent); “Pagpapababa ng presyo ng bilihin” or lowering of commodity prices (17.1 percent); “Pagpapalaganap/pagbibigay ng trabaho/hanapbuhay” or more jobs (15.2 percent). All of these are economic concerns. Meantime, 9.2 percent wanted to hear about the raging West Philippine Sea issue with China (“Isyu sa Tsina–Soberanya ng Pilipinas”).

On raising wages, the President talked about his vision of a “comfortable life” and a “better Philippines,” and specifically urged Congress to pass the Tax Reform for Attracting Better and Higher-quality Opportunities or the Trabaho Bill, highlighting its objective to energize micro, small and medium enterprises and create 104 million jobs in the coming years.

On fiscal policy, the government aims to fund the “Build, build, build” program and deliver the gamut of committed public services. The country’s economic managers were instructed to raise the required funding, which means the public can expect more taxation measures.

While the Duterte administration has thus far demonstrated a judicious approach in continuing, improving and even institutionalizing programs by the previous administration in terms of infrastructure, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program and conditional cash transfer, these programs could likewise be further improved to cushion the impact of the expansionary fiscal policy on the general population.

With regard to the West Philippine Sea issue, the President reiterated his strategy of appeasement to avoid escalation to war and the legality of allowing fishing rights in the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. He also expressed openness toward an advantageous sharing arrangement in exploring energy resources, while assuring that he would not compromise the country’s sovereignty.

Most notable is his long discussion on the deplorable bureaucratic mess of local permits and clearances that has been a handicap for entrepreneurs and has, for decades, pushed down the Philippines’ global competitiveness. The President directed all local government units to streamline all their frontline services to process the public’s demand for these documents within a maximum of three days. This means the automation of all government transactions consistent with the ease of doing business law.

Two notable quotes: “We in government talk too much, act too little and too slow… We are long on rhetoric but short on accomplishment… That is why I implore those who occupy positions of power and authority to let your deeds and accomplishments do the talking. Lead by example. Words ring hollow when not followed by positive and prioritized action.”

“Our goal for the next three years is clear: A comfortable life for everybody, all Filipinos.”

With big political capital and a strong win in the Senate and the House of Representatives in the recent midterm elections, the President is in an ideal position to fulfill his dreams for the country, or at least most of his Sona points. Institutional reforms to substantially curb corruption in government will be a feat that will need heroic determination from him and his trusted lieutenants. Less corruption will mean less leaks in government revenues, which will in turn lessen the burden on the people.

The fourth Sona is just the start of the 18th Congress. After the pageantry and political intramurals, legislators need to keep in mind the people’s wish list of urgent concerns that must be addressed. Take note: These are all gut economic issues.

 

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. Image Source:  Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News.

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