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Archive for March, 2010

The 2010 Elections: A Manifesto for our Country.

Posted by conscientioussubversive on March 6, 2010

For quite some time, I have been developing this article to provide a baseline for what I would like the next President of the Philippines to accomplish, and to allow a comparison between Presidential candidates to make voting easier for all Filipino voters. If you want more from our politicians, ask them to do the things I’ve suggested here, or to make even better plans. After all, in a democracy, our leaders are what we ask of them.

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Now, more than any time within the last 23 years, we have a chance to repudiate the destructive pillaging of the state that has existed for as long as there has been a state in this country. Not only is our country at the brink of falling behind some of our poorest neighbours at this point, but our population is exploding, our industries have been all but dismantled, 10 million of our compatriots are unemployed, and real poverty has already afflicted more than 1/3 of our total population. The situation is intolerable, and this does not even take our political situation into account.

On September 9, 2009, Benigno Cojuangco Aquino III announced his bid for the Presidency. Soon, other candidates announced their withdrawal from the Presidential race in favor of Aquino. The first person to do this was Manuel Araneta Roxas II, who had already invested considerable resources in running as the standard-bearer of the Liberal party. This was quickly followed by the withdrawals of Eddie Panlilio and Grace Padaca, the (now deposed thanks to the COMELEC) governors of Pampanga and Isabela, respectively. Both had been expected to carry the banner of the collective ‘reform parties’ in the 2010 elections. Other candidates may yet coalesce behind Aquino’s campaign.

The significance of all these events is that a broad spectrum of reform-oriented groups seem to have found a viable champion to carry their cause to the Presidency. The last time this happened was when Corazon Aquino took power in 1986. However, the elder Aquino left an unfinished legacy, tainted by an inability to introduce fundamental changes to economic policy, land reform, civilian control over the military and governance.

With Aquino’s candidacy, a great opportunity beckons: we have a chance to finish what the 1986 EDSA revolution started: a REAL revolution, changing not only our leaders, or the superficial trappings of our government, but the way our government functions, and the policies its implements. Aquino’s election does not guarantee that, but when combined with the movement of intelligent supporters, the election of reform-minded legislators, the selection of a top-notch cabinet, and a relationship between the public and the government characterized by openness and accountability, change is possible.

This event has its naysayers and doubters. I myself was not terribly impressed by Noynoy’s record in the legislature. As I recall, he even said something at his mother’s funeral when asked about running for President in Filipino. Roughly translated and summarized, he said that “he didn’t want to solve the problems that Arroyo had created for the country, as his family had done enough to serve the Philippines”. This was a terribly disappointing beginning for someone with serious ambitions to be President.

Now, with his announcement, Aquino must roll up his sleeves and acknowledge the massive responsibility that awaits him: the construction of a viable platform from the coalition of forces supporting him, and the translation of this platform into action. Even now, what he proposes to do as President remains a question mark. Manuel Quezon III, a prominent political commentator and historian, raised this issue in a post that summarized the party platforms of the country today and of the past.

Without a strong, coherent, and implementable platform, then Aquino’s campaign will be run on nothing but hot air. Some critics have already pointed out that his platform consists largely of ‘motherhood statements’, and few concrete policy proposals. Fortunately, an internet commenter by the name of ‘SoP’, a contributor on Quezon’s blog, provided a useful list of areas that a Presidential platform should be based on. It is this list that I will base my recommendations on.

This list follows below. I have attempted to make it as complete and as detailed as possible, based on my knowledge of Philippine history, political economy and culture, international relations, and some new ideas of my own. In creating this, I hope that all our Presidential candidates are challenged to present concrete solutions for the problems of our country. We’ve survived on promises and dreams for too long.

While I think that Aquino would greatly benefit from adopting a concrete manifesto such as this one, other intelligent and action-oriented candidates such as Richard Gordon or Nicanor Perlas could adopt this to provide a concrete roadmap for their candidacies.

Now is a time for action. George Bernard Shaw once said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to his environment; the unreasonable man adapts the environment to himself. All progress depends on the unreasonable man.” If being unreasonable is the price we must pay for progress, then I adopt it wholeheartedly.

An Agenda for 2010: The section that follows is a comprehensive list for what I believe should be the national agenda of any Presidential candidate. While they should take the lead in implementing this, they will require the support of competent public officials to make this a reality, and as such applies to all our public servants.

The list shall be divided into four sections: The Economy, Security, Governance, and Culture. As the list is quite long, the remainder of this article will be published in segments.

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PART 1

THE ECONOMY

*LAND REFORM

Without any significant progress in land reform and the creation of a more efficient agriculture industry, our country will simply not be able to improve its economic and political stability. The reasons for this will be elaborated below, as I feel that it is more important to explain how better land reform can be achieved.

Our Department of Agriculture (DoA) must integrate the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program into its overall strategy of planning the development of agricultural capacity in the country. In determining the importance of various crops and correspondingly identifying which lands should be reserved for the cultivation of those crops, the DoA should identify areas that cannot be converted for other uses, such as residential and industrial purposes.

Rational planning can help ensure that farmers till the most productive lands and grow the most useful crops. While this is being achieved, the DoA should also prioritize crops and products where we retain a competitive advantage. While I will leave it to other authors to elaborate on this, I believe that we must give priority to coconut oil, rice, fruits and vegetables endemic to the country, and related processing industries (including the use of endemic herbs and plants for processing into useful and affordable medicines).

However, efficiency isn’t the only concern that the DoA should preoccupy itself with. Equity is equally important at ensuring that the benefits of improved agricultural production are shared those who toil on the land. However, this effort should not be piecemeal, as has been the case. The division of agricultural lands into small areas barely large enough to be tilled by a former tenant farmer is a recipe for unsustainability. Few farmers are able to produce enough per capita from their redistributed land to support themselves, and are thus forced to sell these lands back to their original landlords, or to developers.

The solution will require creative means. As part of the problem lies in the inability of small farmer-owned lands to generate sufficient yields, it is of paramount importance to ensure that the shareholders of redistributed land have the means to ensure that their land is used efficiently. To address this, I advocate the creation of mandatory agricultural collectives for the tenant farmers of all farming estates. Uniting individual tenant farmers into a collective with coherent planning and management capacities can help guarantee that the turnover of land from absentee owners to their tenants does not compromise an estate’s economic viability. The creation of collectives should be promoted and be made mandatory by the state, with standards for the size of these in terms of land and farmer population.

Civil society should be involved in the training and oversight of the performance of these collectives to ensure that they perform as expected. For collectives that fail to achieve these goals, their leaders should be removed and elections conducted to appoint head officials (such as the President and the Comptroller), who should then be allowed to appoint their own ‘cabinet’. These measures can help ensure the viability of these collectives.

Then, national agricultural development plans must also incorporate the protection of the environment. Sensitive areas, such as watersheds and areas with high terrestrial and marine biodiversity should not be developed in disruptive ways to ensure that the ecology of these environments are preserved and that environmental disasters are prevented. The government can engage environmental NGOs by giving them seats in a national policy planning body to ensure that environmental concerns are not ignored. To prevent the occurrence of deadlocks in planning, a full consensus should be required for the submission of agricultural plans and strategies for implementation. Deadlines should then be imposed for the achievement of this consensus, varying according to the scale of these plans (national, regional and local plans), with penalties for the entire panel for corresponding delays.

Finally, to catalyze this process, Mr. Aquino should set an example by surrendering his family’s estate for land reform, without reservations. By doing so, Aquino can demonstrate his commitment to reform and send a powerful signal to many less powerful families that they are equal under the law. Even if he is a minority shareholder in Hacienda Luisita, he as a lawmaker has the power to compel his family to divest itself of majority ownership in the estate. This is a non-negotiable, as failure here will greatly weaken the credibility of a future Aquino government.

*AGRICULTURE AND BIOTECH

With regards to coconut oil: despite the fact that we devote more than 1/3 of our farm area to coconut production, it is an industry in decline. Efficiency must be improved by support for farm inputs, the resolution of labor disputes, and by government investment in refinery technology and machinery, to refine coconut oil into more valuable coco-methyl ester (CME). For all you laypersons like me out there, that translates to BIODIESEL. At the moment, we are forced to import a large percentage of our biodiesel, which is insane given the fact that most of our coconut producers are stagnating and the men who till them wallow in poverty. Globalization may be inevitable, but we need to pull our bootstraps up to compete, with government leadership!

Given the rich biodiversity of our country, we should ensure that our universities are able to network with the pharmaceutical and biotech industry to find ways to continue harnessing our indigenous flora for industrial purposes; food, energy, medicine and other applications. Given the fact that we already enjoy the advantage of being the only country that possesses these plants, our tropical climate and the possession of folk wisdom on their use endow us with the means to create an industry that can generate high value jobs and products.

*LINKING THE ACADEME AND INDUSTRY

One of the greatest flaws in our educational system is the near absence of linkages between the academe and educational institutions. Countless undergraduates scramble for internships every year because most of them take degrees with skills that don’t match what industries are looking for. Companies on the other hand fail to take advantage of new technologies and strategies developed at our own universities, stunting innovation.

What we need is a government office that could act as a liaison between the academe and industry. Various departments could be established for different disciplines, i.e. engineering, biosciences, energy, information technology, business and sociology. Then, all companies could register with this department’s database with information about their business upon renewal of their business permits. The companies would be informed via email or regular mail of the different educational institutions doing research in a relevant field. In turn, academic institutions could also register the areas that they do research in with the department periodically. Matching could be done using software based on the two archives, and matches recommended to both parties to allow them to connect with one another. Doing so could provide useful internships for students, usable research for businesses, and innovation for all. The government could also choose to fund research grants in areas deemed critical to national development, as identified in the national long-term plan.

*INFRASTRUCTURE

Its no joke that our infrastructure spending lags behind all of our ASEAN neighbors. We spend less than 3% of our GDP on infrastructure, which is a travesty when compared to countries like Thailand or even Vietnam! But then, we don’t need to look far to see how fall we’ve fallen behind: our main airport possesses a single international runway, with the most discombobulated terminal system in the region. Our city roads resemble the surface of the moon, and we’ve constructed only three expressways in the country (NLEX, SLEX-STAR and the SCTEX) despite having built the first one in the region (NLEX in 1969). Our once extensive railroad system has been cannibalized and neglected, to the point where cargo trucks clog our roads when railroads used to ferry goods between our ports and the city. We have no real or consistent public housing program, our urban transport systems are a mess and don’t interlink properly, and our cities have seen their once tree-lined and orderly lines degrade to sewage clogged canals.

All the major business clubs with a presence in the Philippines all say that the number one deterrent to investing in our country is poor infrastructure. Not corruption, not crime, but infrastructure, and with good reason. Without infrastructure, goods don’t get where they’re supposed to, profits are lost, and businesses lose money. Our neighbors are corrupt too, and this is a problem that we must address as well, but its clear that our comparative disadvantage is our dearth of new infrastructure and poor maintenance of what we have. If this is not addressed, our country will be bypassed and forgotten.

What should be done? First, reallocate the way money is disbursed for infrastructure. Instead of frittering it away on LGU allotments (aka the Pork Barrel), lets either dig up or commission a comprehensive development plan for the whole country, long term! (No 6 or 10-year plans!) What we need is similar to the Winsemius Report that Singapore used to guide its development. Where do we focus development efforts? Biotech? Agriculture? Services? How do we raise money to fund investment in these sectors? How do we reinvest returns from these industries? This is what needs to be set out and set in stone. All our infrastructure related departments should be centralized into a ministry or department of infrastructure, covering transport, urban planning, housing, utilities, and health and education infrastructure. What the other ministries should focus on are programmes and staff management respectively, instead of worrying about buildings and hard infrastructure.

Then, we should focus on the highest priority infrastructure to develop. I would give first priority to interlinking the 3 Manila terminals with a monorail, removing all legal barriers to operating Terminal 3, and relocating all international airlines there. Terminal 2 should properly be our domestic terminal, as it was designed for that purpose. Terminal 1 should be remodelled to be more ergonomic and made into our budget terminal. NAIA can then become our main ‘international commuter’ or city airport, targeting business visitors or tourists heading to Manila. Then, the Northrail system with its terminals at Clark and Fort Bonifacio should be made operational, enabling the government to fully develop DMIA as our main international gateway, with wide and ergonomic terminals, good expressway and rail interconnections, and good radar and baggage handling systems. This should be combined with an open skies policy for our main international gateways to encourage foreign airlines to make Manila and Cebu important international destinations and regional stopovers, increasing tourist and business traffic and making flights more affordable for all Filipinos as well. To counter unfair competition from Middle Eastern Airlines, tariffs will be imposed on airlines that enjoy subsidies from their governments for fuel charges. The tariffs will be imposed on the airline itself, not on customers using the airline, as a form of ‘competition tax’.

While this is being done, the government should reorganize all our rail systems under one command, with all future planning and expansion done centrally. Our ground rail system should be revived and reconnect our ports and industrial zones to take cargo away from the streets and back to the rails. Better intermodal terminals linking different rail lines with bus systems should be developed to allow commuters a choice aside from private transport. Our metropolitan bus and jeepney companies should be combined into a single cooperative with each bus company owning a share proportionate to their bus fleet. This new cooperative should have organized routes and fixed stops (connecting rail stations with neighborhoods) and should pay all employees (especially drivers) a fixed salary, to discourage reckless driving. With the added capital earned from better economies of scale, jeeps should be phased out within 10 years, and replaced with either clean diesel engine buses, natural gas engine buses, or electric powered buses, with external design incorporating Filipino creativity and culture without compromising safety standards (no borloloy lights or heavy metal trinkets please!) With the revival of a usable rail system, long-distance cargo and personal transport will become more affordable for all, boosting commerce and industry. The road taxes collected annually from private car registrations should be detached from the budget of the DPWH and put into a special managed fund for this.

Of course, expressway development should not be ignored, as we need rapid road transport to expand our tourism potential and to allow small businesses to ship goods quickly. Under the Department of Infrastructure, coordinated plans to link the NLEX, SCTEX, Tarlac-Pangasinan-La Union Expressway all the way from Manila to Baguio should be implemented. The current system of disjointed expressways connected by slip roads is unacceptable. We need straight, uninterrupted access, and simplified toll barriers! Further expressways such as the North East Luzon Expressway linking Tuguegarao to the NCR, as well as the expansion of SLEX to Legazpi should be completed and interlinked with other expressways. New expressways should be constructed in Cebu connecting its northern and southern tips, Panay from Iloilo to Capiz, and in Mindanao from Cagayan de Oro to Davao, and Davao to Zamboanga as demand for transport increases.

The government should provide concrete plans including the location of exits, interchanges and the right-of-way for such projects to private corporations interested to develop them, as well as guaranteeing a minimum period of operation and maintenance to enhance investor confidence, while also ensuring that no private interest alters these plans for their own good. Having concrete, well-defined plans encourages stability and predictability, which entice private investment in infrastructure in areas the government cannot fund itself.

To aid in the acquisition of right of way, our government should reform our land laws to revert all land ownership rights to the government in high density urban areas or in areas critical to industry or transport (as identified in our long-term plan) with current tenants reduced to leaseholders. Should the government choose to develop these areas, lease rights will be terminated with the remaining terms of lease compensated either in cash, tax holidays, or other government services to allow quick use of the land and fair compensation (even when government cash coffers are short).

Our public housing programme should be made into a massive programme to ensure that our squatter programme is forever eliminated. All real-estate taxes should be separated from LGU and national revenue and put into a special managed fund (with accounting oversight) to fund public housing construction and maintenance. In urban areas like Manila, areas identified as key residential areas (near core commercial areas but still far away enough from industrial areas to avoid health risks) should be redeveloped for high-density urban housing, with greenery, access to transport and the availability of public services. Consultants both local and foreign should be brought in to create a comprehensive urban plan for Manila and other major cities in the manner that Filipino urban planners designed Singapore’s new towns. At the same time, historical sites should be preserved and the area around them developed in a manner that is sensitive to the context of that site.

*ENERGY SECURITY

Guess which country generates the largest amount its total energy from renewable power in Southeast Asia? Its not Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia or Singapore, it’s the Philippines! Our country generates over 33% of its power from renewable sources, mainly from hydroelectric and geothermal sources. Thanks to a farsighted energy development programme begun in the 1970’s, the Philippines has created the second largest geothermal capacity in the world after the United States (1.2 gigawatts of power). However, our massive population growth has outstripped current capacity. This year is critical, as shortages have already darkened Mindanao and have begun to hit Luzon. If we don’t fix this now, we may face an exodus of industries from the country.

The passage of our Renewable Energy Law in 2008 was a step in the right direction, but it needs to be augmented by implementation. Given our strengths in renewable energy, the government must aid private investors in setting aside land and efficiently processing permits for the construction of wind farms, geothermal plants, and solar (PV and thin film) farms throughout the country. Studies have already been conducted determining where certain energy technologies are most appropriate, so the government should aid companies in getting power generation projects off the ground and to generate power as quickly as possible. Our Pacific coastline provides a prime location for wind power, as well as Tagaytay ridge.

The government should also ensure that the all power transmission authorities are combined into a single government entity, run for profit to ensure that it does not incur massive debts. This new corporation, perhaps a reconstituted National Transmission Corporation, should buy energy at market prices that are benchmarked to a global index of energy prices for that source, ensuring that power suppliers are compensated fairly and that our government purchases power at competitive rates, lowering our stratospheric electricity prices and encouraging investment.

The government should also form a multi-sectoral commission composed of foreign and local consultants on nuclear energy, representatives from environmental and civil society groups, and academics to study whether we will need nuclear power in the future. While it would be preferable to rely primarily on renewable sources, a backup option in the form of reactivating the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant should be considered in case the power shortage becomes acute before new plants come online. The purpose of this commission should be to examine scientific and economic studies to determine whether the operation of the BNPP is advantageous to the general welfare of our country. The diversity of this commission should enable a balanced assessment of the BNPP, to determine whether it should be reactivated once and for all.

*OVERSEAS FOREIGN WORKERS

Our country relies to a dangerous extent on the toil of our foreign workers. Remittances from OFWs generate one of the single most important sources of foreign exchange for our country. While all other plans for boosting and diversifying our economy are being pursued, we must improve the welfare of our kababayans abroad and make it easy for them to return and to reinvest in our country.

We should abolish all taxes and red tape on remittances sent to our country. Considering how much OFWs sacrifice to send money home with little support from our country, we should allow them to enjoy the fruits of their labor fully.

On the other hand, our government should also restructure OWWA to source part of its funds from licence fees collected from recruitment agencies. Doing so will provide an incentive for the organization to ensure that the industry is well regulated and grows at the same time. The fee should be consolidated into one lump-sum payment and collected annually to simplify paying, and should be audited externally to prevent abuse.

Our diplomatic posts overseas should also ensure that they have a centralized office exclusively dedicated to services, such as passport renewal and issue, voting, registration, and legal assistance. Separated from the main embassy and run like a business, an efficient services post will encourage OFWs to utilize consular services that they are entitled to as Filipino citizens by improving efficiency. As many of our OFWs are abused in overseas workplaces, permanent shelters should be established in consular compounds to shelter them if they cannot find legal residence while cases are pending against their abusers. Our consular offices should also coordinate directly with Philippine law enforcement to arrest unscrupulous recruitment agencies and human traffickers.

Eventually, as our economy diversifies, the government should cease relying on overseas employment, and offer tax holidays, business support programmes and education to help OFWs reintegrate and reinvest in Philippine society.

*POPULATION CONTROL

Our population grows at more than 2% per annum, one of the highest growth rates in the world. At the same time, our arable land is decreasing as more farmland is converted into housing and urban sprawl. The rest of our territory consists of highly mountainous areas and watersheds that we need to preserve to ensure our long-term environmental sustainability. (as Ondoy proved in 2009) If we want to ensure that our country can provide enough food, jobs and services for all, and to ensure that our total population does not outstrip the capacity of our long term economic plan to provide for its, we need a well-managed and comprehensive population programme.

Beyond passing the Reproductive Health Bill, we should have a national campaign to educate people to limit the number of their children to two (or the replacement rate), to provide natural and artificial reproductive health education and tools for free at all public health facilities, and to provide fiscal incentives for families that limit the number of their children by means of tax holidays, lower education and health fees, or subsidies for housing. By using the carrot, we encourage Filipinos to exercise reproductive responsibility, without violating their right to choose to have more children (if they have the means to do so).

*POVERTY ALLEVIATION

Poverty is the single biggest hurdle to developing our country. A population mired in ignorance and deprived of the skills to become self-sufficient generates crime, reduces life expectancy, and leads to social unrest. While the solution to poverty is complex and is answered by a combination of other strategies listed throughout this manifesto, there are certain points specific to poverty reduction that must be made:

First, the government should drop the mendicant attitude it has encouraged with the poor. Politicians are not benefactors. They are public servants. Programs that distribute petty largesse to the poor (i.e. politicians giving away land or food for free without any long term plans) should be banned.

The first step to ending poverty is to ensure that the poor have a stable household that provides them with basic utilities and security, allowing them to focus on work and maintaining their families. For this, the homeless shall first be evaluated whether they have the capability to maintain a household responsibly before given subsidized housing (those with serious criminal records or a history of drug abuse will be subject to rehabilitation, and given low priority).

Housing will be subsidized by the government, but must be managed by a homeowner’s association partially funded by the residents, to ensure that grantees maintain their property. Grantees will be banned from selling their property until 5 years after they are granted a housing unit, and subletting will be regulated. Public housing estates will also incorporate medium-density designs to permit efficient land use, but also maintain open areas for greenery and parks. The ground floors of all housing will be set aside for the provision of community schools, clinics, and homeowners association offices, with spaces available for rent should residents wish to put up businesses. Doing this can ensure the quality of life of all residents, and will encourage entrepreneurship and self-help.

Next, our education system must be reformed to ensure that our manpower is equipped with skills in demand in the marketplace, and to generate innovators and leaders. The education budget will be expanded, from revenue collected from improved fiscal management and from a tax on texts, as recommended by Sen. Richard Gordon. Such an expanded budget will be used to increase teacher’s salaries and to fund expanded training, as well as to purchase books, computers, and other educational resources to equip our schools.

Our national curriculum should be remodelled to emphasize the importance of mathematics and science, with well-funded scholarships in the country and overseas for students to excel in these fields, in exchange for working for the government for a number of years. The curriculum will emphasize skills in engineering, biosciences, energy, information technology, food production and other areas relevant to the propagation and expansion of industries as identified by our national long term plan. The curriculum will be revised every five years to ensure it remains up to date and equips our youth with employable and usable skills.

We must also fix our broken health system. Far too many of our doctors go abroad due to poor compensation, yet too few doctors are present in areas of the country that need them most. For our public health system, an apprenticeship system should be established for young doctors and nurses, especially those on scholarship, to do service in areas that do not have sufficient and competent medical personnel. To make this sustainable, the government should slash income taxes and provide incentives to hospitals for them to hire these doctors and nurses first. Doing so will encourage the demand for health care professionals, and encourage doctors to stay in the country. Our national health system should provide subsidized or free care as determined by an individual’s income. This means-based system should ensure that subsidies go to those who deserve it the most.

All of these measures should be coordinated in concert with other national plans to ensure that all Filipinos have the opportunity to become educated and to live a life free from the fear of disease, homelessness, and poverty.

PART 2: Security will follow this entry.

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