A sensible presidential or vice presidential choice

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

Election fever is upon us and names of potential presidential and vice presidential candidates have been floating everywhere. Although I have my preferences among the probable candidates, allow me to name one from left field – Joey S. Salceda, the incumbent congressman of Albay’s second district. Here me out…

As an economist and political analyst, I am painfully aware that the country has two fatal weaknesses which, unless resolved, will consign future generations of Filipinos to a life of poverty and struggle. These weaknesses are our ever-eroding educational system and a fundamentally weak economy. Let me explain.

Even before the pandemic stuck, the economy was already standing on shaky ground. Ours is an economy based on consumption, not propelled by production.

Exacerbating matters is our laws, which is one of the world’s most restrictive to foreign investors. Our laws (and also our inhospitable business environment) have deprived us of valuable foreign investments, technology transfer, taxes and jobs. It is why our manufacturing sector has not fully developed and why we will soon be surpassed even by Cambodia.

On education, a global assessment conducted by the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) tells the story of the state of Philippine education.

In reading, or the ability of students to identify the main idea of a moderately long text, Filipino children were dead last among 79 nationalities evaluated. The test showed that none of our students were able to comprehend lengthy text, deal with abstract concepts or make distinctions between fact and opinion. In math, or the ability to interpret how simple situations can be represented mathematically (eg. comparing currencies), Filipino students were second to the last among all nationalities tested. In science, or the ability to recognize basic scientific principles, Filipino students were at 71th place out of 79 nationalities. Less than one percent of Filipino students are at the level of their counterparts from Singapore.

At the rate our educational system is spiraling, the majority of next generation Filipinos are destined to be manual laborers or low cost workers. The need to reform our educational system cannot be overstated.

I have kept tabs on Salceda’s body of work and know that education and economic reform are his main advocacies. It is evident in his body of work. This is why I am vetting him for the highest or second highest office of the land. I hope he can be persuaded to run. Not only does he know what reforms are needed to repair both the economy and our educational system, he also has the sense of urgency to do them quickly.

Three weeks ago in this corner, I said that honesty and decency are the fundamental traits we should look for in our next president (or vice president). I used the word “honesty” to denote someone who is not corrupt. Decency denotes someone who consistently does what is right, decides according to the greater good and enforces policies that are morally correct.

How does Salceda stack-up in these measures? The lawmaker from Albay has been in public service for 23 years and throughout his career, he has never been embroiled in a corruption scandal. Sure, he was accused by Sandra Cam of having received jueteng money in 2008, but the veracity of that accusation was never proven. In fact, following that indictment, Salceda cracked down on all forms of gambling in Albay, including small town lottery operated by the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes.

As far as decency is concerned, Salceda has always been a dignified man who never overstepped his place. He does his work dutifully and has never indulged in self-promotion. He tackles issues with intelligence and reason, not with bullying tactics. Neither is he known to indulge nor abet petty revenge. He was one of the brave few who warned against the blowback of ABS-CBN’s closure on unemployment while everyone else tried to earn brownie points from the President. More importantly, Salceda is among the few who has the courage to stand up to China. During the early days of China’s territorial grab, it was Salceda who called for a boycott on Chinese-made products to protest Beijing’s bullying.

His academic record is impeccable. He graduated cum laude in Management Engineering from Ateneo before earning his MBA at the Asian Institute of Management.

Now, about economic reforms… Salceda has always maintained a pragmatic assessment of the economy. Politics and the interest of allies have never clouded his judgment. This says a lot considering the many congressmen under the “sponsorship” of tycoons.

Salceda has authored most of the high-impact bills that are in various stages of passage. He is the man behind the TRAIN and CREATE Laws – two game-changing reforms that will make our tax regime regionally competitive and more equitable to taxpayers. He is also the champion of the Foreign Investments Act Amendments (HB 1221) as well as the Retail Trade Liberalization Act Amendments (HB 1222), both meant to make our economic environment less restrictive to foreign investors.

He finds ways to raise money for the state without being oppressive to the majority. To this, he sought to tax POGO operations, alcohol and e-cigarette consumption.

On education, Salceda is pushing for the overall reform of our basic education system (HB6247); the universal access to quality tertiary education (RA 10931); the establishment of schools in isolated or conflict-stricken areas (HB 307); the reform of public schools towards technology-based learning (HB311); the creation of Meister Schools or high schools for technology-focused, higher-level learning ( HB6287), among others.

Joey Salceda may not be an obvious nor popular choice, but there is no denying that he is the intelligent option. Is he winnable? We have seen low profile politicians catapulted to Malacañang before. In this town, nothing is impossible. Assuming the electorate cannot accept a man who is more substance than hype, then I reckon, the vice presidency with concurrent leadership of the Department of Finance or Education will work nicely for Salceda. So long as he can dictate policy from the perch of the presidential or vice presidential office, then we will have a fighting chance to solve the country’s weaknesses. Let’s hope Salceda runs.

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Email: andrew_rs6@yahoo.com. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan

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