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Opinion

The president's 19-point legislative agenda

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

The president might have promised too much with a 19-point legislative agenda in his SONA. More likely, such a gambit could only generate disappointment if Congress fails to deliver. He listed and numbered his proposed legislative measures and some were too grandiose and difficult to execute even if passed into law. I saw the body language of many representatives as well as a few senators. Many of them knew in their hearts that some of BBM's wishes are very hard to pass. The main problem is how to apply the Pareto Principle: Focusing on the critical few and being ready to give up the trivial many.

First and foremost is the NGRP or the National Government Rightsizing Program, which will inevitably entail firing career personnel. There are about two million working for and in government today, including the armed forces and the police and the LGU employees, many of whom are job orders, contractuals, and fixed-term employees. More will be appointed to the new departments to be created.

This is a huge headache for the Civil Service Commission and its enactment may cause heated debates in both Senate and the Lower House. The Makabayan bloc will not take this sitting down, and the progressive unions will have another reason with which to agitate concerted actions and mass protests. The government is very strict when private companies undertake retrenchments, redundancies, and closures. Any backlash on this would be giving the government a dose of its own medicine.

Number 2 is the Budget Modernization Bill supposedly to instill fiscal discipline in allocation and use of public funds. Well, every president has that kind of mantra. But if to do were as easy as to know what we're good to do, to quote Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice, then we can solve the nation's problems by just delivering grandiose SONAs.

Number 3 is a Tax Reform Package designed to increase revenues. Hopefully, it includes real estate taxes too. Number 4 is Massive Capital Taxation Act. Number 5 is a law to digitize government operations and number 6 is the old song entitled E-Commerce Law. Then something that sparked a light in my imagination is number 7 which is the Government Financial Institutions Unified Initiatives for Distressed Industries. Sounds inviting but wait ‘til we see the fine print.

Numbers 8, 9, and 10 are all pertaining to public health: the Medical Reserve Corps (ala military reserve officers), the National Disease Prevention Law, and agency and the Virology Institute of the Philippines. Number 11 is the law creating a Department of Water Resources and number 12 is the unified government retirement and separation system. That should mean that Central Bank, DBP, and Land Bank personnel who are currently enjoying superior separation and retirement benefits should watch out for some diminution and benefits of the children of the lesser gods would be upgraded. Sounds equitable. Number 13 is just a duplication of number 6 as this too is entitled E-Governance Act.

Number 14 is the National Land Use Act, followed by the amendment to the 1935-vintage National Defense Act to restructure the Armed Forces of the Philippines is number 15. The Mandatory Reserve Act (ROTC) is number 16, followed by number 17, the law on the natural gas industry. Number 18 is the amendments to the highly-onerous EPIRA Law and number 19 is an improvement of the law on public and public sector partnership on infra and other initiatives. The president ended his speech declaring that the state of the nation is sound. Well, I hope it is not just sound but also action that should make all his legislative wishes come true.

Leading a country of 112 million people in a world that is much troubled by a lingering health crisis, an economic recession, an impending food and oil crisis and many political turmoil requires an extraordinary leader with a strong will, a brilliant mind, and a compassionate heart. Here in the Holy Shrine of the Virgin of the Lourdes in the south of France, I hope and pray the president has all these. It is no less than the nation and its people that depend on his leadership. We either swim or sink together.

SONA

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