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Competent leadership

FILIPINO WORLDVIEW - Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) - April 23, 2021 - 12:00am

In my column of April 4, I posed several questions which I believe will be hot button issues in the forthcoming presidential elections, namely corruption, peace and order, economic inclusion, foreign affairs particularly related to the West Philippine Sea, and the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. I was surprised at the number of readers who responded and was greatly impressed by the depth of their analysis and the passion behind them. Unfortunately, my column allocation could not accommodate all the responses. Here I quote verbatim some of them. I apologize to those which I could not accommodate at this time.

1. Is there less corruption now because of government’s approach?

• Yes, there is notably less petty corruption in agencies with ‘structured high volume public interface’ like SSS, LTO, etc.

• (However), corruption is now better organized, through law enforcement activities or massively through application of blackmail and power politics.

• If exposed, it is done so blatantly, then ignored and forgotten or worse, accused persons are “punished” by being assigned to new posts.

• We have yet to see a big fish go to prison since day ONE of this administration.

• We wonder about whether really huge crimes have been solved, such as the reported multi-billion peso entry of illegal drugs through the Port of Manila during the watch of former Customs commissioner Faeldon. It is believed that a caper of that magnitude would not have been possible without the approval and connivance of some really big, well-connected names.”

2. Do you feel safer from crime now and trust the police and judicial authorities to keep you from harm and respect your rights?

• There is more distrust of police as the law enforcers have become law violators. Killing with impunity and with their master’s blessings.

• The government claims to be winning the war against drugs, with the killing of thousands of suspected drug dealers and users, but the drug lords remain untouchable.

• As a member of the Philippine Bar and as an ordinary Filipino, I cannot feel safe and secure with the government leading the charge against the legal community and assaulting with impunity those holding opposite views to it. (Note: According to data collated by Rappler, 61 lawyers were murdered under this administration.)

• Less safe, not more safe…..motorcycle assassinations. Almost no prosecutions and it has made the Philippines the unsolved murder capital of Asia. State terrorism against its citizens?

3. Do you feel that economic opportunities are more accessible to all and do you trust government to improve your lives?

• New business SME start-ups are on the rise due to the low entry / high market access business environment that the digital world provides. On the other hand, Mr. Duterte sought to destroy the businesses of those he perceived to be against him and has consciously built up a new oligarchy of friends and supporters. He has used his powers to assist them and he feels it unnecessary to even put up a mask of fairness or a semblance of legality for his support to the favored few.

• The patronage /palakasan system is as firmly entrenched as ever.

4. How would you assess the administration’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic?

• Responding to COVID, the government’s goal should have been to control the spread of the disease while maintaining economic activity. Unfortunately, the government failed to develop an overall strategy to accomplish the goals simultaneously. Instead, we have seen a series of tactical initiatives bouncing from one goal to the other. As a result, the war has already been lost and folks at the bottom of the socio-economic spectrum are paying the highest price. I know that hindsight is 20-20, but it seems clear that a strategy focusing on the nexus of disease spread would have been the best strategy. I don’t know why that didn’t emerge, but it seems clear that blanket lockdowns are ineffective, at least in part, because people are tired of the ineffective lockdowns and capricious enforcement.”

• We are bottom dwellers among ASEAN members in terms of COVID 19 recovery planning and implementation....Without vaccines, it has chosen to prioritize saving lives over savings jobs.

• Compared to most of our ASEAN and Asian neighbors, the Philippines has become the “perfect storm” in responding to the pandemic – late in recognizing the seriousness of the problem, a country with many economic deficiencies needing to be addressed, a by and large intellectually deficient leadership and a populace somewhat lacking in appreciation of the need and importance of self-discipline.

5. Do you think that our foreign policy goal of “asserting our sovereignty” has resulted in economic and other benefits? Has our international image been improved?

• Our international image is in the dumpster and we have become an object of pity during this pandemic while Duterte is a laughing stock outside the Philippines.

• Our foreign image is more accurate than what our local press allows. Foreign press has been open to local news about extra judicial killings. Local media is very careful about ensuring that they do not step on sensitive toes.

• The long Philippine experience with colonialism has made it challenging to develop a robust patriotic nationalism. This produced the current naive policy of over-befriending the current “invader” who doesn’t need war to assert its false claims and made false promises of huge economic benefits that after 4.5 years have barely materialized. In the process, the Philippines has risked losing its best friends. This should not be described as “asserting sovereignty.” New foreign investors have been cautious and cool to investing due to the negative international publicity of the drug war, uncertainty of fiscal policy, government rejection of contracts, and better investment environments in competing regional locations.

• Fostering closer friendship with a certain Asian neighbor while making light of some of our historic alliances has not translated to economic gain for our country. Sadly, we seem to be the only nation in the world with a leadership that has officially moved to strengthen friendship with a foreign power which has invaded our sovereign maritime territory.

•  The Philippines still retains high potential for high growth and reduction of poverty in a region that will be the most developed and populous in the world. But without good leadership, better and consistent policies and reforms, and their full implementation, the future for a still-increasing population of 110 million is less bright than it should be.

•  Our government is like a 747 piloted by a jeepney driver.

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