We must endure

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

The national mood is down. Our people are weary not only from all the negative outcomes of COVID but more so from the way government has handled the pandemic. Let’s face it, the lack of testing and tracing mechanisms have caused us to have the second highest COVID case load in the region while also suffering through the most severe economic devastation in our post-war history. It is a stab with a two-edged sword. Along with the economic devastation comes hunger, desperation and anguish. Adding salt to our wounds is an insensitive government that allegedly plundered the limited funds we have to fight this pandemic. They enriched themselves while our people die by the thousands. It is merciless… it is evil. Whether proven guilty or not, the optics have done the damage.  Millions have lost confidence in our institutions and in the future.

Except for fanatics and those who financially and/or politically benefit from Mr. Duterte’s presidency, the rest of us recognize that the country has deteriorated on multiple fronts. The economy is on its knees, with many industries permanently damaged, our institutions are beset with corruption and ineptitude and our leaders govern with impunity and shamelessness. In terms of national security, China’s territorial grab continues to advance while our own President passively watches  without consequence. We have fallen  so low since being heralded as Asia’s brightest star just seven years ago.

However hopeless the situation may be, patriotic Filipinos must not lose hope. We must endure…we must dig deep to fight another day. When this administration is over, we must pick up the pieces and effect the reforms needed to make our country the great economic and political power it was meant to be. Although sometimes it may seem that we stand alone, in truth, we stand as millions. The collective power of true patriots should never be underestimated.

At the heart of our wound is where enlightenment lives. Perhaps we needed to go through this dark time to realize what we really need to do. Many of us have gone through a  dark phase bemoaning the country’s  situation, suffering through frustration, struggling with anger and grieving our own helplessness. I am one of them. But in the dark space, I gained clarity… clarity on what we need to do to repair the nation.

In that moment of clarity, I realized  the need for eight basic reforms as we move forward.

First,  a government will always fall short of its mandate for as long as it is corrupt. The next president will set the tone of governance. Hence, he/she must live by the tenets of honesty, integrity and accountability; adhere to transparency; impose the highest standards of ethics; punish the guilty, whether friend or foe; and maintain zero tolerance towards petty thieves and  plunderers alike, starting with himself/herself.

Second, the country cannot spend its way to prosperity using borrowed money. To become sustainably prosperous, we must build our manufacturing capabilities. Rapid  industrialization is key. Attracting  foreign direct investments (FDIs) is the fastest way to achieve this. FDIs will fill our supply-chain gaps, increase national productivity and  boost revenues. That said, I propose the establishment of the Office of Strategic Investments and Economic Coordination, directly under the Office of the President (patterned after InvestVietnam). More than proactively reaching out to investors and providing investor concierge services, this office will oversee industrial planning, lead reforms towards economic competitiveness and liaise between government agencies and private industry stakeholders. It is the BOI on steroids.

Third, ours is an economy that is 73 percent consumer-driven and only 27 percent led by production. We import everything we need including simple consumer goods. This must be recalibrated to a 60-40 ratio. Again, this calls for building manufacturing capabilities. We must become less import dependent, especially for basic food. A manufacturing bias will allow subsistence farmers and low-wage earners to migrate to higher paying jobs in factories.

Fourth, government’s debts have risen to alarming levels. This is due to government’s preference for  ODA loans over private-public partnerships in infrastructure development (a big mistake!) and  borrowing trillions to fill the COVID-induced budget gap. We must act quickly to infuse foreign exchange to the system lest debt service take up the chunk of our national revenues. Hence, the next administration must quickly monetize low-hanging fruits to raise revenues. Responsible and sustainable mining, maritime-related industries and tourism are such low-hanging fruits. Government must also control its spending by doing away with projects that yield low social impact, projects that are poorly planned  and those prone to leakages. PPP must be reactivated.

Fifth, on education, we must compensate for the learning deficiencies of children resulting  from 18 months of home isolation. Upon achieving herd immunity, I recommend the implementation of a trimestral school year to accelerate learning. And to address the educational crisis, we must channel even more financial resources towards education. DepEd’s  ineffective programs such as its Performance Based Bonuses, School-Based Management, etc. must be broken down and re-written. Mother-tongue learning, teacher training and curriculum development must improve. High-touch, high-tech learning should be adopted, nationwide.

Sixth, on China’s territorial grab, the next president must assert and enforce our victory in the Permanent Court of Arbitration at UNCLOS. The decision of the UN tribunal is the single document that legitimizes our ownership of the disputed waters. It’s imperative that we push back. China’s territorial grab will  continue to escalate unless we do.

Seven, invest in culture, in strengthening of national identity and in national pride. I recommend the adoption of a program similar to the “hallyu” movement in Korea. A Basic Law for Cultural Industry Promotion must be established and financially supported. In parallel, we must make it a national priority to improve our country brand. Doing so will give the nation gravitas in  diplomacy, add  a premium to the “Made in the Philippines” brand and,  most importantly, give our countrymen the pride they long for and deserve.

The country’s core problem has never been drugs or lawlessness. It has always been poverty brought about by corruption, inept governance and counter-productive laws. The beauty of our system is that no regime is permanent and we are assured change through elections.  We must choose wisely in 2022. Until then, we hang on…we endure.

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Email: [email protected]. Follow him on Facebook @Andrew J. Masigan and  Twitter @aj_masigan


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