Questions for the candidates

CONJUGATIONS - Lila Ramos Shahani - Philstar.com

As the election season officially commences, what sorts of questions would you ask the presidential candidates? I’m offering my own provisional list on ten topics below. In the future, I hope to expound and refine these questions, but at the moment, I wanted to put forth a checklist of sorts that one can quickly consult throughout the campaign season.

Some of these questions are familiar, but often left unaddressed. Some in the media have done a good, if unsystematic, job of pursuing them, but the candidates themselves, or their spokespersons, have been less than forthright in addressing them.

1. On poverty:

How do you intend to alleviate poverty?

How do you propose to narrow the glaring income inequality in this country?

How do you propose to address the conditions of informal settler families and street dwellers?

How would you address the specific issue of rural poverty, where the majority of our food-poor are to be found?

2. The economy:

What are your views on land reform? How would you enable the justice system to implement the unfinished goals of the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law?

How would you encourage the creation of better quality jobs from the private sector, which constitutes as much as 86% of our entire economy?

How would you improve the rate and quality of public-private partnerships, which have arguably been rather sluggish?

How would you revitalize Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, as well as the manufacturing sector as a whole?

How would you deal with the red-tape and long delays in starting up businesses?

What role do you see for foreign direct investments? What changes would you make in order to increase—or regulate—them?

Do you see the tax structure as requiring major adjustments? What tax reforms can be put into place to lessen the burden on lower income workers? How about further taxing the rich?

Should the 1987 Philippine Constitution be amended to allow foreign ownership of our lands?

3. Infrastructure:

How would you address the great need for more Farm-to-Market Roads?

What would you do about urban traffic, especially the MRT, and public transportation generally?

What about the slow speed and cost of the internet? Would you allow foreign competition among internet service providers?

Moving government responsibilities for internet from the Department of Communications and Transportation to the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) was an early—and controversial—Aquino decision. Things have since changed. The US government now treats internet service as a regulated public utility. Also, the DOST has found workable methods for speeding up our internet service. But the application of those methods has been blocked by the financial and political might of a single large corporation. The internet is an inherently fast-changing field. If this administration has not been able to keep up the pace, is the next one going to do any better? How?

4. Social services:

Where do you stand on the Reproductive Health Law, which has not received a budget for contraceptives? How would you ensure its continued funding?

What will you do to ensure that it can carry out its mandate of providing access to free contraception and adequate pre- and post-natal care for poor women?

What about Conditional Cash Transfers (CCTs)? Do you intend to continue the program? If not, what alternatives do you have in mind for the poorest of the poor, who comprise almost 30% of our population?  

What about PhilHealth? Do you intend to expand its services and provide more help for people in dire need of medical care?

Would you regulate the price of medications, which has gone sky-high?

What about the desperate need for more nurses and doctors, especially in the rural areas?

5. Education and the arts:

What are your views on the recent reforms regarding K-12?

What will you do to improve the quality of public and private education?

How would you provide for more research and teaching resources for the University of the Philippines and other state universities and colleges?

How would you provide for greater resources for artists, writers and other cultural workers? How would you strengthen cultural institutions and make them less politically partisan?

Do you support on-going legislation seeking to establish “artist” as an officially recognized profession?

6. Corruption and criminality:

How do you propose to address the problem of corruption?

How would you deal with government agencies where corruption is apparently “hard-wired” into their way of doing things, e.g., Customs, Immigration, as well as certain LGUs?

Do you see a connection between corruption and political dynasties? What would you do to lessen the hold of political dynasties?

How would you deal with the Marcoses and with GMA?

How would you address the problem of jueteng, which fuels much political corruption, especially among LGUs?

Would you prosecute officials close to you who are guilty of graft, corruption and collusion?

How would you strengthen the Ombudsman’s office to enable it to pursue high-level corruption cases with more vigor, efficiency and detachment?

How would you deal with corruption within the police and military?

How would you deal with high-level criminals, drug lords, smugglers, and other racketeers, especially if they are politically well-connected?

How would you deal with death squads?

Where do you stand on the death penalty?

Do you think it is justified to forego the human rights of people accused of crimes? In fact, how important is the issue of human rights to you?

7. OFWs:

How do you propose to help OFWs in distress, especially in the wake of the Iran-Saudi crisis?

How will you reform the ways government agencies come to their aid when they are abused by their employers overseas? How would you make Philippine Embassies and Overseas Labor Offices more responsive to the needs of OFWs?

How would you strengthen and make more effective the agencies in charge of helping OFWs, such as the DFA, CFO, OWWA and POEA?

Many distressed OFWs return home hoping to go to TESDA to improve their skill sets so they can find other types of jobs. Unfortunately, high school degrees are required, which few of them have. The government offers them the chance to get high school degrees through DepEd’s Alternative Learning System, but few have the time to pursue this, just as many educators do not always formally appreciate its value. How would you help them turn their lives around so they do not go back to an unremitting cycle of abuse overseas?

8. Human trafficking:

What will you do about the sky-rocketing cases of human trafficking, especially the trafficking of children?

What kind of resources will you put into reducing, if not eliminating, this scourge altogether?

Will you intensify the prosecution of traffickers?

Will you also augment aid to victims when they arrive home? At the moment, there are no government shelters for trafficked boys/men and no half-way houses, where survivors are allowed to leave the premises and use cell phones—factors that tend to dissuade many from entering shelters altogether. Would you approve a budget for this?

How will you address the disturbing rise of child prostitution, especially on the internet? Will you increase the woefully inadequate budget of the PNP’s Women and Children Protection Center?

What reforms would you make to the agencies charged with dealing with human trafficking, such as the DOJ and DSWD, as well as the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT)? Will prevention be given as much priority as prosecution?

9. Moros, NPAs, lumads and the peace process:

Where do you stand on the BBL? What would you change about it?

How would you deal with the CPP-NPA and what kind of peace agreement would you strike with them?

How would you deal with the plight of the lumads? How would you mitigate the problems they face from mining, logging companies, and militarization? How would you improve their lives, especially those mired in poverty?

Would you push for fuller implementation of the Indigenous People’s Rights Act?

10. Governance:

What is your position on the proposal to shift from a presidential to parliamentary form of government?

Should the country consider federalism? If so, how do you define federalism in the Philippine context?

Arguably, the Local Government Code has devolved more responsibility than capability to LGUs—assigning them duties (such as mental health care) they are in no way prepared to fulfill. How would you bring them up to speed? How could these underserved communities be helped in the meantime?

If you favor shifting to a parliamentary or federal form of government, how well-prepared are we to successfully implement either? Could we avoid the kind of unintended consequences we’ve suffered with our under-equipped, under-trained LGUs? Can the Local Government Code be updated and amended?

11. Foreign policy:

What would you do about the increasing Chinese presence on the islands of the West Philippine Sea, which has ultimately become an increasingly domestic issue?

Where do you stand on EDCA and the return of US visiting forces?

What about the modernization of the Philippine military? How do you propose to sustain that, along with the continued professionalization of the Armed Forces?

Do you agree that the Philippines should pursue, as much as possible, an independent foreign policy? If so, how would you go about it?

What exactly will it take to make us ready for ASEAN integration?


As complicated as they are, these questions and more should be on any president’s plate daily. I don’t expect these questions to be answered comprehensively. I think of them rather as touchstones for inquiring into the substantive positions of candidates and as aids for shaping a more informed electorate.

Let the debates begin. 

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