Fighting for democratic and economic recovery

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Three things drove the 6th Pilipinas Conference held recently: the urgency of an economic recovery, the fight against disinformation, and the push for democratic renewal.

Stratbase ADR Institute’s conferences gather experts, former and current government leaders, international partners and stakeholders, members of the academe, civil society, and the media in bringing the most pressing social issues to the fore of national attention.

A recent Stratbase-commissioned Social Weather Stations survey revealed that four out of the top five issues that Filipinos believe national candidates should address are gut economic concerns. These are “controlling the prices of services/commodities” (57 percent), “providing jobs” (54 percent), “increasing the wages of workers” (27 percent), and “reducing the poverty of Filipinos” (24 percent).

The fifth top issue is “eradicating and fighting graft and corruption in government” (44 percent).

Equally important are the perceived characteristics that candidates should possess: “Has concern for the poor” (66 percent), “Honest and Trustworthy” (49 percent), and “Not corrupt” (41 percent).

The same survey revealed that eight out of 10 Filipinos believe that collaboration between the public and private sector will accelerate growth. This is proof that the private sector is seen as a reliable and effective partner of government.

Indeed, the economic consequences of the pandemic, aggravated by the administration’s mismanagement of the health crisis, have resulted in record economic decline, unemployment, hunger, poverty, and a much-depressed quality of life.

It is in this context that Professor Ernesto Pernia, former socioeconomic planning secretary and director-general of the National Economic and Development Authority, raised the glaring discrepancy between the projected COVID-19 loans of $72 billion and the spending of $31 billion.

“Where has this $41 billion gone? How can this huge differential be accounted for?” he asked.

Pernia proposed a 10-point agenda to sustain economic recovery: fortify the health system; revamp education; prioritize science, technology, and innovation; revitalize agriculture and expand manufacturing; open further the economy; foster public-private partnerships; invest in environment and nature protection; protect the blue economy in the West Philippine Sea; strengthen sense of urgency; and address the population problem.

For his part, Diwa Guinigundo, former deputy governor of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, emphasized three reasons why investments matter in our recovery: “First, investments can open in periods of stress. Second, massive investments, both public and private, can address health care deficiency. The government cannot do it alone, nor can the private sector do it alone. And three, investments can prepare the Philippine economy transition to post-pandemic world.”

Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, former ombudsman and former Supreme Court associate justice, emphatically called for a renewed fight for democracy, stressing that democracy cannot coexist with dictatorship and is not an “anything goes” kind of government where abuses can be tolerated in the guise of a greater good, such as peace and order or national discipline. “Accountability is not limited to determining who is at fault but extends to the government’s capacity to be answerable to the people and to provide solutions, and to redeem itself after failure,” she said.

The Pilipinas Conference 2021 demonstrated the following critical linkages toward an inclusive and resilient recovery: an investment-led economy under a favorable business environment; emphasis on putting sustainability and environmental concerns in the mainstream of Filipinos’ consciousness; the leveraging of strategic partnerships and alliances for regional security concerns; and the imperative of holding our leaders accountable for their actions and decisions. Or, more accurately, inaction and imprudent decisions.

We are in for another battle to fight for our democracy. Fighting corruption and advocating transparent and responsive governance is a stand we must all make, because real change is a collective endeavor. All stakeholders need to work together and exert effort to usher in truly meaningful reforms, and not the cosmetic kind. These we have to keep in mind as we choose our next leaders.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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