Government on auto pilot
DEMAND AND SUPPLY - Boo Chanco (The Philippine Star) - October 14, 2019 - 12:00am

So, a Cabinet member President Duterte adores because he was his law class valedictorian, is insisting there is no transportation crisis. Let us not argue with him and just check the facts.

It is difficult to appreciate the JICA estimate in billions of pesos lost while stuck in traffic. Let us bring the numbers closer to personal experience.

A friend crunched the numbers: 6hrs/day*5 days /wk*52 weeks/yr = 65 days/year wasted on traffic. (Data for NYC is 29 days/yr). If you work 40 years in MMA, that equates to seven years spent on traffic.

Think about it. Seven years of your life wasted. Yet you have to pay taxes for all of those seven years.

Duterte spokesman Sal Panelo took 3.5 hours one way from Marikina to Malacañang on public transport. And Marikina is a mere 12 kilometers away. He left his house at 5:15 a.m.

 I saw an interview of Duterte’s valedictorian classmate and he was blaming the past administration of mismanaging the maintenance and inventory of spare parts at LRT-2. Surely, the inept DOTC of P-Noy is to blame but so is the current DOTr because they already had three years to make things right and obviously didn’t.

This is definitely not the same man I met with before he took office. He said at that time that after he takes office, the problem is all his. The challenge of the job is too much for him, it seems.

That’s the problem with a President who is running the country on auto pilot. He has said time and again he does not enjoy his job and would rather go back to Davao. So, he gave his Cabinet members wide latitude to run the country.

Unfortunately, very few Cabinet members are worthy of the President’s trust. One is Sonny Dominguez and the others are Delfin Lorenzana, Teddyboy Locsin and Berna Romulo-Puyat. But Sonny is busy trying to fix long term structural problems that have hindered the country’s economic growth.

Sonny is focused on fiscal reforms which no other finance secretary before him dared to do. Luckily, Duterte doesn’t understand any of that and just allowed Sonny to do what he needs to do.

But Sonny cannot be everywhere. He is fighting battles he shouldn’t be fighting in a Duterte-controlled Congress… and things are falling apart elsewhere.

We believed Sonny’s word that increased taxes will help finance Build Build Build that will in turn push economic growth faster. Most of the money was collected but the implementing agencies, DOTr and DPWH were not up to the challenge. Congressmen took the money instead to fund outrageous pork allocations and allowances.

Departments like health and education, vital in the investment we need to make on our people, have also fallen on the job. A long dead polio virus is back… record number of deaths due to dengue… measles and other childhood diseases are also on the surge.

Education? Recent surveys show the IQ of Filipinos today is lowest in ASEAN. How can we be competitive if we don’t have the brain power to compete in a challenging tech environment?

The World Bank said the Philippines performed below the average for the East Asia and Pacific region in the World Bank Human Capital Index. That means children born in the Philippines will only fulfill 55 percent of their potential when they grow up.

We need help from foreign investors but our business climate continues to be less than hospitable so they go elsewhere in the region. We could have attracted businesses moving to ASEAN from China because of the trade war. But no one came.

Indeed, foreign direct investments (FDI) in July incurred a substantial 41.4 percent drop to $543 million, latest BSP data showed. This is the fifth straight month of FDI decline this year.

Year-to-date, FDI registered inflows of $4.1 billion, that’s 39.1 percent lower than the $6.8 billion posted during the same period in 2018.

FDIs are preferred investments compared to portfolio investments in the stock market. FDIs create jobs, bring knowledge, skills, and technology.

No wonder our GDP growth this year is only expected to hit 5.8 percent, according to the World Bank.

GDP for ordinary Pinoys means: if economic growth measured by GDP slows, so does the rate of poverty reduction. A family eating twice a day will only eat once.

And despite all the good intentions expressed in press releases about cutting red tape and improving government efficiency, the Philippines slipped eight notches in the 2019 Global Competitiveness Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

We placed 64th out of 141 countries, lower than our 56th spot last year. We have an overall score of 61.9, lower than the 62.1 points in 2018.

Grief is in the details: Institutions – 87th from 101st; Infrastructure – 96th from 92nd; Health – 102nd from 101st; Labor market – 39th from 36th; Information communications technology adoption - 88th from 67th; Macroeconomic stability – 55th from 43rd; Skills – steady at 67th; Product market – 52nd from 60th; Financial system–- 43rd from 39th; Market size – 31st from 32nd; Business dynamism – 44th from 39th; Innovation capability – 72nd from 67th;

Our lowest ranking is in health, at 102nd overall. Yet, the Duterte-controlled Congress is cutting the budget of the health department significantly.

The national report card shows a country in serious crisis and not just in transportation.

I am afraid that if the administration continues to live in the delusion that it is doing well because the surveys say the people love Duterte, we will end up worse than when Duterte came into office.

Duterte cannot continue to run this country by auto pilot.  Or he should get more Sonny Dominguezes to help him… not just friends who failed to perform over the last three years. Otherwise, he will leave a negative legacy for future generations to remember him by.

Yes, he probably couldn’t care less.

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

AUTO PILOT
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