Let’s not squander another 6 years

Dindo Manhit, President, Stratbase ADR Institute

Worsening poverty and inequality, rampant corruption amid the pandemic, brewing tensions in the West Philippine Sea, and devastating calamities such as Supertyphoon “Odette” are among multi-dimensional challenges the government has had to face in the past six years.

Our sociopolitical-economic conditions are further aggravated by the rising polarization of Philippine society, fanned by strongman populist rhetoric that has produced only failed promises, but which continues to derive legitimacy from systematic disinformation.

The new administration will need a forward-looking governance outlook with a multifaceted approach toward effectively leading, managing, and empowering society without sacrificing any sector. It should be a three-pronged governance anchored on the collaboration of government, private sector, and civil society, and one that is people-centered, sustainable, and globally competitive.

The May 2022 national elections represent an opportunity for us as a people to test the integrity, competence, governance platform, and democratic (or undemocratic) principles of the politicians wooing our votes to be in power.

The latest Stratbase-commissioned Pulse Asia survey conducted this December on the “Most important characteristics that candidates for national position should have” clearly reveals the kind of leaders Filipino voters want. A 53-percent majority of respondents said they want a candidate that “Has concern for the poor,” which highlights the dominance of poverty among the population. Revealing the people’s disdain for plunder and similar crimes, respondents also said they want leaders who are “Not corrupt” (47 percent), and are “Honest and trustworthy” (45 percent). And they desire leaders with a “clear plan for solving the country’s problems” (31 percent), which means that candidates platforms’ will be scrutinized by the electorate.

When asked what issues candidates running for national positions should focus on based on a list, and with a choice of up to three issues, respondents came up with five: “Controlling the prices of basic services and commodities” (45 percent), “Providing jobs” (44 percent), “Eradicating graft and corruption in government” (36 percent), “Increasing the wages of workers” (34 percent), and “Reducing the poverty of workers” (32 percent). Again, these are predominantly gut economic issues, with corruption seen as an aggravating factor in the protracted economic crisis.

The next five issues will be major problems as well for the next administration: “Fighting illegal drugs” (26 percent), the loudest campaign promise of President Duterte; drug remains a major menace and will not end with his term; “Defending the territories of the Philippines against China” (19 percent), underscoring the escalating geopolitical problem that threatens the region’s stability and questions the appeasement stance of the current administration; “Improving public health and COVID-19 response through Universal Health Care” (18 percent), which shows public dissatisfaction with and urgently calls for addressing the gaps in the country’s health care system; “Fighting crimes that victimize ordinary citizens” (17 percent), another perennial problem; and “Ensuring the availability of quality education” (12 percent), which for many citizens is the key to escaping poverty.

What’s remarkable is how the respondents appreciate the role of the private sector in boosting the economy. Given up to three choices on what the private sector could do to help boost the Philippine economy, the majority said “Creating jobs” (58 percent), “Helping uplift the lives of Filipinos out of poverty” (57 percent), and “Expanding livelihood opportunities” (52 percent).

The issues revealed in these findings are wearyingly familiar, because they are stubborn problems that successive administrations have tried to address with varying degrees of success.

The Philippines is a country with not only so much untapped potential, but, more pointedly, with so much mismanaged potential. Let us not squander another six years of our future with the kind of strongman populism that, at the very least, has failed to work with and fully enable the private sector — a segment of society that has the capacity, drive, and innovative spirit to move the country forward from this long crisis and get it back on the path to progress.

This article was originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

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