Commentary: A dream Philippines
Personnel conduct maintenance work at Andres Bonifacio National Monument in Caloocan City on June 10, 2021, days ahead of the 123rd anniversary of Philippine independence.
The STAR/Michael Varcas

Commentary: A dream Philippines

Alex Lacson (Philstar.com) - June 12, 2021 - 9:26am

In the late 1950s, the World Bank projected the Philippines to become one of the most developed and prosperous countries in Asia. 

At that time, the dominant development theories and technologies were mostly written and taught in English, and the Philippines had a distinct advantage in the English language compared to most countries in Asia. There were also more Filipinos studying at schools in the United States, many of them in Ivy League universities, than any other country in Asia, except Japan.

But despite these perceived advantages, the World Bank’s prediction did not come about. Instead, from being the number one country in Southeast Asia (SEA) in the 1950s, the Philippines was overtaken by seven of its neighbor countries in the next seven decades – by Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Vietnam. Today, only four countries in SEA – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and East Timor – have not yet overtaken our country.

Last year, under the Bayanihan Acts 1 and 2, the government distributed ayuda or financial assistance to 18 million families (roughly 90 million Filipinos, five per family) to help them cope with the pandemic. These were the ones classified by the government as belonging to low-income families.

This means that, out of our current population of 110 million, only 20 million Filipinos are in a good and stable economic situation, while 90 million Filipinos are vulnerable to any major crisis, like this COVID-19 pandemic.

Our country’s tremendous economic growth, based on GDP growth rates, from 2010 to 2019, did not improve the economic situation of those 18 million low-income families. While the wealth of the top 15 wealthiest Filipinos tripled on the average, in billions, their wealth in the last decade, the economic situation of the 18 million families was highly vulnerable that just after a few months into the pandemic, whatever savings they had were wiped out. 

In 2015, the Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) reported that there were about 12 million Filipinos who lived in “extreme poverty” at that time, who experienced moderate to extreme hunger regularly. In 2018, PSA reported that the number was reduced to 9 million, without explaining how the 3 million Filipinos got out of extreme poverty in three years. 

In late 2015, I was glad to have joined the Institute for Solidarity Asia (ISA), a public institute that implements and runs governance and development programs in various national government agencies (NGAs) and local government units (LGUs). 

ISA was founded by a group of reform-minded leaders led by Dr. Jesus Estanislao, former Finance Secretary and Chairman of the Development Bank of the Philippines.

ISA is pursuing a vision of Dream Philippines – a country where there is enough for everyone, where no one is left behind in poverty, where every Filipino family lives in comfort and dignity, where every person may attain his dreams and highest potential, however high it may seem; a country where all these are possible because our government institutions, both at the national and local levels, practice good governance, and deliver public services most effectively and efficiently, and because our political and government leaders serve the people, instead of serving themselves, and finally because the citizenry participates actively in nation-building.

To realize this dream, ISA uses the Performance Governance System (PGS), as its tool. PGS is a good governance mechanism that translates vision into specific strategy, strategy into actions, and actions into results. As a mechanism, PGS closely monitors the performance of the agency every step of the way as it seeks to realize its vision.

In essence, Good Governance is a system that makes a government agency performs its duties and delivers its services to the public most effectively and efficiently, given the limitation of its resources. 

The practice of Good Governance involves Honesty, Integrity, Meritocracy, Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability. Meritocracy in the appointment, promotion, granting of benefits and awarding of projects.

Can you imagine if every government agency in the country, both at the national and local levels, is performing effectively and efficiently, delivering the needed services to the public, especially the poor?
If that happens, our Philippines would become one of the most developed and prosperous countries in Asia and the world.

During my time at ISA, I had seen the transformative power of good governance.

The National Electrification Administration was able to install electricity in 32,440 sitios around the country from 2011 to 2015. In less than seven years, the Philippine Heart Center was able to upgrade the medical facilities and train heart surgeons in all 17 regions and many provinces in the country, so the poor with heart ailments from the provinces need not travel anymore to Manila to get operated at the Philippine Heart Center in Quezon City.

Among the early LGUs which partnered with ISA were Naga City (Mayor Jessie Robredo), Marikina City (Mayor Marides Fernando), and Calbayog City (Mayor Mel Sarmiento). Among its recent success stories are Balanga City (Mayor Joet Garcia), Butuan City (Mayor Ferdinand Amante), Dipolog City (Mayor Evelyn Uy) and San Fernando City, La Union (Mayor Mary Jane Ortega).

In the famous book “Why nations fail”, the Harvard professor authors concluded that the big difference between those countries that prosper from those that fail are – “Institutions! Institutions! Institutions!” Those countries that have strong, inclusive, and sustainable public institutions succeed, develop and prosper.

To realize our Dream Philippines, we need leaders to believe in the importance of good governance, in strengthening our public institutions. But equally important, we also need a community of Filipino citizens who believe in it, citizens who need to vote for and elect leaders who put high value to good governance.


Atty. Alex Lacson is the former president & CEO of ISA, and the bestselling author of the books “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help Our Country” and “Five Hundred Years Without Love.” To learn more about ISA, visit isacenter.org. You may contact the author at alexlacson12@gmail.com

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