The government we deserve

SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Where do you want the country to be in six years?

Is it a place you’d want your children to grow up in and build a life of their own? Or would you want them to join the ever growing ranks of Filipinos who, even outside election season, vote with their feet and leave the country for better opportunities that they can’t find in their own land?

It might be a pipe dream for our nation to catch up with regional achiever Singapore. The tiny city-state with a strong sense of nationhood left us eating its dust years ago under the able leadership of a patriot with vision and integrity, who put a premium on competence and excellence, creating a merit-based society with a strong rule of law.

Singapore founding father Lee Kuan Yew built strong institutions that are the envy of chaotic democracies, while the Philippines, beginning with the wrong authoritarian rule, went in the opposite direction, weakening institutions at every opportunity.

There are civil libertarians who are unimpressed with Lee and the continuation of his policies by his successors. But Singapore through the years has consistently ranked high in all international studies on transparency, good governance, ease of doing business, and happiness as measured by the quality of life rather than the ease by which people laugh and smile.

We can’t catch up with Singapore in six years. But considering the enormous problems faced by the incoming administration, we can at least aspire to keep our country from falling farther behind its Southeast Asian neighbors in economic and human development indicators.

We have heard the admonition that we should be the change we want to see in the world; every citizen has a role to play in building a strong, prosperous republic. But much also depends on proper leadership, especially in a society like ours where underprivileged communities still look up to guidance and protection provided by a benevolent patron.

Today, selecting the proper leader is again in our hands. Let’s not look back at election day 2022 as the start of six lost years for our nation. Taking one step forward and then two steps backward, as we have been doing for decades now, can only lead to national perdition.

Perhaps it’s not too much to ask people so used to satisfying personal interest, to consider – just this once, if only because of the public health and economic tsunami that has rolled across our country – that what is good for the nation redounds to the individual. And that sustained, long-term benefits are always better than instant gratification promised by self-serving politicians.

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Besides the pandemic and fuel prices so high they can make your oxygen level drop to COVID-critical levels, we are currently plagued by an infodemic of fake news, disinformation, trolling and hateful messages.

Another serious problem: the nation is now mired in debt, all the way to your great-great grandchildren. As of end-March, government borrowings had hit a dizzying record-high P12.68 trillion.

The debt pile is projected to hit P13.42 trillion by year’s end. This is 60.9 percent of gross domestic product, slightly above the 60 percent debt-to-GDP ratio considered to be manageable for emerging markets by credit rating agencies.

Servicing this massive debt will require the efficient collection of taxes and other revenues, and their proper utilization. Remember that taxes will never be used judiciously by those who don’t pay them.

To make informed choices in all aspects of life, we need accurate information. This includes having a government that levels with the people, that does not shun close public scrutiny of governance and where our taxes go.

A government that does not lie or twist the truth, that promotes transparency in the way it spends our hard-earned money, is a government that we can trust.

Such a government can make us swallow bitter pills – and there are many ahead – to get our country as quickly as possible, within limited resources, out of its present calamitous state caused by the pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war, which have aggravated a host of festering pre-pandemic problems.

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Voter turnout has always been high in all elections in our country. But this time there seems to be greater determination to vote. Days before election day, people were checking their voting status and precinct assignments not only online but also in the physical voter’s lists in their barangays.

There were people who received an erroneous “deactivated” status report in the online precinct finder, but who upon checking with their barangays found that they correctly remained in the active list.

So just go to the polling centers today, look for your precinct and cast your ballot.

As important as getting the vote out is protecting the ballot and ensuring that the votes are properly counted. The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting has tens of thousands of volunteer poll watchers, but the group says it can always use more volunteers.

The credibility of the vote will help prevent violent or disruptive poll protests, and (let’s hope) ease the deep polarization that has characterized this toxic campaign.

Cynics have dismissed the importance of elections in this country, arguing that we have always managed to coast along regardless of the bad choices we often make.

But surely we are tired of simply coasting along, bobbing up and down and hoping that the waters won’t become turbulent enough for us to end up shipwrecked.

Today we are voting for our future. There is the admonition that the government you elect is the government you deserve.

Surely we deserve better.


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