P-Noy’s bucket list
- Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2015 - 12:00am

When Tita Cory’s watch was drawing to a close, there was a frantic effort to leave behind some concrete legacy to remember her by. Bringing back democracy is nice but even that… its full meaning was diminished because she allowed the oligarchy to regain strong control of the economy and government.

Then there was the failure to consolidate political power enough to discourage the many attempts at power grab by Gringo and friends. Members of her Cabinet were constantly at war with each other and gave an image of a weak government. Worse of all, bad energy planning (this I fault Joker Arroyo and his Upsilon brods) led to crippling power blackouts.

Things were getting tiresome enough for many to have this urge to ask each morning if she is still there. To her credit, she belatedly realized that she had neglected the need for infrastructure. Her public works secretary was so afraid to taint his clean image so that nothing much was done.

Luckily, she found a good man to take over public works who is not only honest, but methodical and results oriented too. The man is, of course, Ping de Jesus. His mission was to deliver some big infrastructure projects that people can remember Tita Cory after she is gone.

Thus we ended up with flyover fever. We needed those infrastructure projects years before. Ping was able to build the flyovers in record time.

P-Noy could have used Ping again to jumpstart DOTC, but he chose to retain a childhood acquaintance in Tarlac lording it over at LTO than to stand by Ping. Some say P-Noy was uneasy with the old hands from his mother like Ping.

Anyway, what legacy can we remember P-Noy by after he is gone? The Luneta and Mamasapano tragedies may end up being how his watch will be remembered. The power failures, the Energy department says can happen this month, a repeat of what happened in the waning months of his mother’s watch may end up being known as the Aquino curse.

P-Noy wants to be remembered for Daang Matuwid. But even that is at risk with a reported anomaly in the procurement of military helicopters.

Are there still things P-Noy can do to salvage how history may remember him? The positive reviews of economic analysts and even an improvement in our economic competitiveness are likely to melt into the background if certain things are left undone.

 Indeed, economist Romeo Bernardo ,who sits on the board of a number of Ayala owned companies, seem to be expressing a feeling of “sayang naman”. Romy asked in a recent article: What are the areas where reform can focus on for maximum oomph for the buck? Here is Romy’s list:

Infrastructure. This creates immediate growth impact, and relieves constraints for long-term growth. There are now binding constraints on power, airport, cargo, road network and mass transport. Can we grow at seven percent without courting power outage and giant gridlocks in roads, airports, piers?

• Agriculture. I don’t think Sec. Arsi will disagree too much if I said that the depressingly low productivity of this sector and lack of investments are on account of government failure over decades. We will need to see action on two areas: (1) Clarity in land ownership post-CARP (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program); and (2) Reform in rice support policy/the National Food Authority.

Romy points out reforms in agriculture “will help achieve a number of things -- bring down the cost of food which impacts directly poverty and wage competitiveness, release huge amounts of wasted fiscal resources, and attract investments from the private sector into agriculture and agribusiness.”

Manufacturing. Focus on reviving the manufacturing sector by adopting policies that favor job creation. There are a number of initiatives that have been started, and hopefully can be brought to fruition: Rationalization of fiscal incentives so that these are directed to areas with highest linkage/benefits and are performance-based, industry roadmaps that better coordinate efforts of government units and the private sector, and cutting red tape for setting up of businesses.

Romy also pointed out “additionally, labor laws and regulations can be made more investment friendly -- the World Bank shows we have high minimum wages vs. peers. It is in this segment where we need to create employment that benefits most the poor and unskilled.”

Because P-Noy refuses to crack the whip on his DOTC boys, there is a very strong possibility a major accident at the MRT 3 will happen and be blamed on him.  Admittedly, there is nothing they can do on MRT 3 between now and June next year, but they can at least make decisions that will finally get the system on the road to rehabilitation.

It is a pity DOTC cannot even deliver a simple four kilometer extension to LRT 2 by June 2016. That would have been the only deliverable project of DOTC under P-Noy. All the others, including the airports, require a lot more time to accomplish.

In Energy, maybe they can deliver after a long wait, the proper policies and procedures to guide our so-called market-based rate setting for electricity. Sec. Petilla once talked to me about requiring all power distributors, including Meralco, to auction their requirements. He doesn’t find the current system of bilateral agreements transparent enough. Petilla said he is studying the Chilean model.

Reforming the power industry will be a gigantic achievement if they can do it. The biggest oligarchs are in the business and their influence on government policy cannot be underestimated. Petilla told me as much in lengthy conversations we have had.

The question is will Petilla be able to do anything? Or put another way, will P-Noy allow him to do anything to make the system more transparent and more cognizant of consumer requirements?

There are many other things that could be done as outlined in Arangkada, the reform agenda the foreign chambers presented to P-Noy in 2010. I decided to skip this year’s Arangkada reiteration of their suggestions because it is a waste of time to hear them speaking to a choir of businessmen with similar frustrations. Nothing really moved from their original list.

Makati Business Club chairman Ramon “Boy Blue” del Rosario Jr spoke during that Arangkada conference last week and he tried very hard to hide the frustration of the business sector. You could feel the effort to be positive.

Anyway, Mr. del Rosario urged P-Noy “to institutionalize the gains of the last 56 months, the most critical among these is the Freedom of Information Bill, which I continue to hope will finally pass in the House of Representatives this year as promised by no less than Speaker Belmonte.”

Mr. del Rosario continued: “I earlier mentioned some of the government’s transparency initiatives; however, we strongly support the FOI bill as it will institutionalize the culture of transparency and accountability that President Aquino has initiated.

The first FOI bill was filed all the way back in 1987 in compliance with the Constitution. 28 years is certainly too long a time for a Constitutional mandate and a basic right to remain unrealized. The FOI bill must be passed so that our noteworthy good governance gains will be largely irreversible and sustained in subsequent administrations.”

The Makati Business chieftain then asked P-Noy to do what the President already said he is not inclined to do: amend the restrictive economic provisions of the Constitution as embodied in House Resolution No. 1 by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

“The Philippines is among the very few nations with specific economic restrictions lodged into its constitution, whereas a large number of countries subscribe to the principle of allowing their legislatures to determine economic policy,” del Rosario pointed out.

Mr. del Rosario then called on P-Noy to accelerate infrastructure development. “By simple observation alone, the country faces a massive infrastructure gap. These mass transportation projects, expressways, seaports, and airports must be rapidly constructed with little to no blockages present.”

He concluded as I would have by pointing out “Four Arangkada Forums have already been held. It will definitely be a shame if we enter the fifth Arangkada forum and a large number of these recommendations, which have garnered the consensus of almost all the major business groups in the country, remain unimplemented.”

That, in summary, is the story of our lives. We are simply unable to gain enough momentum for economic take off. I find it difficult to understand why P-Noy allowed his economic cluster cabinet members, particularly DOTC, to slacken in delivering much needed infrastructure.

Unless the President imposes a strict discipline among his cabinet member on realizing projects they only want to study, P-Noy will leave office in a whimper and he will be remembered for the stupid mistakes during his watch. That would be such a shame.

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @boochanco

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