The good, the bad and the ugly of 2019

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan - The Philippine Star

As we face a brand new year, it is always good to take stock of the events that shaped the nation in the year that passed. In it are lessons to be learned and opportunities to do better. Here is my list of the good, the bad and the ugly for 2019.

The good

More than a hundred projects either broke-ground or were completed by the Department of Transportation despite intense bureaucratic challenges. Among the projects rolled out were the Paranaque Integrated Terminal Exchange, the commissioning of six brand new trains for the PNR line and new airports at Panglao, Sangley and Ormoc. Big ticket projects that have commenced construction include the Metro Manila Subway, the PNR line to Clark and the long delayed LRT1 extension, among others.

At the Department of Tourism, visitor arrivals increased by 14.37% from January to September making it highly probable to surpass its 8.2 million visitor target. Moreover, the DOT’s campaign for sustainable tourism has gained traction.

The Departments of Finance (DOF) and Budget and Management (DBM) have successfully implemented a catch-up plan to make-up for the sluggish growth of the economy in the first semester due to the budget impasse. Infrastructure spending went on overdrive in the third quarter resulting in a growth rate of 6.2 percent. The economy needs to expand by 6.7 percent in the 4th quarter to reach the minimum growth target of six percent. To this, aggressive spending continued and bank reserve requirements were further reduced.

After achieving a BBB+ credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, the DOF and the BSP launched another program to achieve an “A” credit rating. An “A” rating is equivalent to a seal of good housekeeping and a signal to investors that investments in Philippine debts bear almost-zero risks. We applaud the DOF and BSP for pursuing this audacious goal.

The Department of Trade and Industry has successfully tamed inflation from a high of 6.4 percent in August 2018 to .08 percent last October.

After decades of being a sitting duck, the Armed Forces is finally re-arming. Thanks to the initiative of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippines is acquiring two French-made Scorpéne submarines, 16 Black Hawk Helicopters and six brand-new Embraer A-29 Super Tucanos planes, among many others. All these, along with 125,000 men in active service, will enable the Philippines to put up a credible defense if armed conflict arises.

After decades of falling into urban blight, the nation’s capital, Manila, is finally in the midst of an urban renewal, thanks to Mayor Isko Domagoso. Although still in its early stages, the corridors of Liwasang Bonifacio and Roxas Boulevard are looking better than they ever did under Mayors Erap, Lim or Atienza. They are clean, well-lit, tastefully curated and safe. We look forward to seeing the same transformation occur in the Malate and Ermita districts.

The staging of the SEA Games and the Philippines’ victory put the spotlight on sports development. Not only have budget allocations increased for our athletes, the Philippines announced its intention to bid for the 2030 Asian Games. If successful, an event of this magnitude will auger well for the country’s soft power (our ability to attract coalitions, followers and cliques not by force but by a favorable reputation).

The bad

Government’s P1.6 trillion infrastructure program is in threat of failure. According to Senator Frank Drilon, only nine of 75 projects have broken ground. BCDA head, Vince Dizon was appointed as advisor for flagship programs with the purpose of hastening the implementation of infrastructure projects. We hope Mr. Dizon makes a difference.

DOF Secretary Sonny Dominguez seems to be throwing one monkey wrench after another on the much awaited Bulacan Airport. Despite having settled all terms and conditions to the PPP deal, Secretary Dominguez continues to ask for more concessions, in effect, putting the project in limbo. The Secretary must realize that we, the citizens, want this project to push through as we need to prepare the aviation sector for the future.

Despite numerous calls by civil society on the Department of Public Works and Highways to crack down on illegal billboards, the DPWH continues to turn a blind eye on violations to the national building code. Our cities continue to be visually trashed by this urban pest.

Foreign direct investments dropped for six months in a row due to the uncertainty brought about by the ongoing rationalization of investor’s incentives. While the rest of ASEAN is trying to woo investors, we are taking incentives away. No surprise our share of investments is less than 12 percent of the ASEAN pie. We need to expedite the passage of the CITIRA law soonest to dispel doubts about the tax regime.

The Highway Patrol under the command of Brig. Gen. Dionardo Carlos seems to think that they are more important than the tax-paying citizens. With their wang-wangs, they bully other motorists to move aside even if there is no urgency. It is out of control. It is a display of entitlement and abuse of authority.

The ugly

The traffic crisis in our cities could have been solved if Malacañang was given emergency powers to supersede the legal bottlenecks that stand in the way of quick-fix solutions. Despite having passed Congress, Senator Grace Poe, who chairs the committee on public services, gave it the thumbs down.

Malacañang’s refuses to honor the ruling of a Singaporean Court to recompense Maynilad and Manila Water Co. for losses due to a delayed rate increase. Worse, it is insistent on imposing new terms on a pre-existing and binding agreement. This sends a signal that government does not respect the integrity of contracts and decisions of the courts. Perceived political risks will damage the country’s reputation as an investment destination.

General Oscar Albayalde was exposed for protecting and abetting 13 ninja cops. Having hoodlums in highest levels of the police force gives us a chilling effect.

Despite strong growth, the economy’s expansion is still fueled by consumption and government spending, not by investments and exports. This puts our growth story on shaky ground. For decades, the flawed economic laws of the Constitution have caused scores of investors to choose Vietnam and Thailand over the Philippines. As a result, we lose out on infusion of capital, jobs and revenues from exports and taxes. Our manufacturing industries are weak and our exports are declining. President Duterte promised to correct what is wrong with the Constitution. We are still waiting for this promise to be fulfilled.

May we march into 2020 with greater wisdom and a strong determination to achieve our national aspirations. Happy new year to all!

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