An open letter to Sen. Manny Pacquiao

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

Last week, businessman Ramon Ang declared that Manny Pacquiao’s would likely be the next president of the republic given his immense popularity. I cannot argue. Even I believe that if elections were held today, the boxing champ will probably win the presidency.

Since Senator Pacquiao seems to be positioned to run for the highest office in the land, I thought an open letter might be apt if only to provide the good senator with a perspective of what the presidency entails and what is at stake.

Dear Senator Pacquiao,

First of all, let me say that I have always admired you as an athlete. Throughout your sporting career, you have displayed discipline, strategy and a warrior-like spirit. These attributes have rightfully earned you fame and fortune and consequently, brought honor to the country. If only every Filipino adopted these attributes and channeled them towards nation building, we will surely liberate ourselves from this vicious cycle of underachievement we are in and become one of the greatest nations of our era. Your success in boxing has shown us that the Filipino is capable of greatness.

I understand how enthralling it can be when people goad you into running for president. The flattery, the affirmation and the gestures of worship can be intoxicating. But before vanity and ego get ahead of reason, allow me to give you a perspective of the challenges that lie ahead.

The country is in bad shape. Our people are going through immense suffering. One out of every 11 Filipinos is unemployed and one out of every six is underemployed. Worse, one in 6.6 Filipinos is living in abject poverty. On the shoulders of the next president is the enormous task of easing their anguish through job creation.

Do not be fooled… job creation is not as easy as it sounds. It necessitates creating the right conditions for industries to thrive. For this, you must first solve the problem of our uncompetitive tax structure. Although we recently passed the TRAIN and CREATE laws, our national and local taxes are still higher than those of other ASEAN countries. How do we compete? The new president must find ways to compel investors to choose the Philippines, notwithstanding our high tax regime.

You may say our English speaking workforce is our greatest asset. This is only partly true. While it has served us well for low value-added jobs like call centers, the reality is that our educational system has eroded so badly that Filipino children are dead last among 79 countries evaluated in terms of math, science and reading skills. Our youth cannot compete with their counterparts from India, Singapore or Malaysia. If we do nothing to fix our educational system, the next generation of Filipinos will be consigned to be the manual laborers of the world. Our educational system needs to be broken down and re-built from the ground up. How do you do this with a limited budget? This is the challenge you will face.

In health care, be aware that 1 out of 4 children is a victim of stunted development. They will either be mentally retarded or physically unhealthy as they reach adulthood.

Ease in doing business is another impediment to attracting investors and creating jobs. It is not as simple as facilitating business permits. To be truly competitive, you must streamline the bureaucracy, reform the justice system, fix expensive power cost, build upstream and downstream supply chains and ensure that our logistics chain is seamless.

Most importantly, you must curb corruption.  Corruption is the basic evil that has consigned our people to poverty. You and I know that the most corrupt among us are those in the highest positions in government, those in the legislature and those in big business. They manipulate public biddings, divert funds from their intended purposes (congressional pork barrel) and engage in scams like the SEA Games Caldero and PhilHealth scam. Big business customarily “sponsor” public officials to protect their business interest even if doing so works against public interest. You must lead by example and criminalize all grafters, including those who may be your friends. You will have no credibility if you do not. You will have to strengthen checks and balances without impeding productivity.

Which leads me to political reform. We all know that political dynasties have worked against national interests. They concentrate power on narrow elite, they preclude our best and brightest from serving in public office and sow a culture of dependence among poor constituents towards a single family. But how do you undo this if the very people who can pass the Anti-Dynasty Bill are themselves members of political dynasties? It is a slippery slope that you would have to navigate.

And then there is the problem of China’s escalating territorial grab. How do you protect our sovereign territories without armed conflict? How do you enforce legal victory at ITLOS without risking retaliation? How do you rally international support without compromising our (or their) economic interest?

These are just the tip of the iceberg. The problems of the country are as many as they are complex.

It is easy to think that good intentions will win the day. But history has taught us that good intentions are never enough. It is also easy to think that if you have best and brightest by your side, you can surmount any problem. Although this may have some truth, you must realize that everything starts and ends with you. You must be the architect and the driver of your own reform agenda. You must be able to discern between good and bad advice. Your insights on issues must be so profound that you are able detect when opportunistic politicians attempt to manipulate you.

Make no mistake, Mr. Senator, the presidency is unforgiving. People can tell if you are faking leadership. People will keep tabs of your attendance. You will be surprised how quickly tides can turn – from being the most revered man in the country to the most ridiculed. Look no further than Erap in 2001. These are the realities of the presidency.

Do take the time to be alone with your God. Take stock of the enormity of the responsibility and be honest with yourself if indeed, you have what it takes to lead the country through these perilous times. Remember, what is at stake goes beyond you and your family. On your shoulders will lay the welfare of 110 million Filipinos. I trust you will arrive at the right decision, whatever it may be.

Respectfully yours.

*      *      *

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

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