Focus on domestic problems, not on foreign affairs

WHAT MATTERS MOST - Atty. Josephus B. Jimenez - The Freeman

When the country is not in good shape, when national debt is mounting, the poverty incidence is rising, and the economy's growth is not trickling down to the poor, with an impending food and oil crisis and more natural disasters coming, the national leader's priority should be to put his own house in order first, before building relations with richer neighbors and more stable economies.

Charity indeed should begin at home. All things are important but a few are what matter most. It's a matter of prioritizing. The leader must focus on the critical few and leave the trivial many to the underlings and subalterns. The Philippine STAR reported last week that the Philippine national debt is projected to balloon to an unprecedented ?14.63 trillion this year. That is huge and in trillions with a T. Based on the government's own BESF or Budget of Expenditures And Sources of Financing, following the approval of the whopping ?5.268 trillion national budget for 2023, outstanding debt will reach this unprecedented amount of ?14.63 trillion by end of this year. The president should really sit down with his economic team and find ways and means to minimize the far-reaching negative impact of such a huge financial obligation to the taxpayers who are already overtaxed and underserved.

The president should take the coming food crisis seriously, especially because he took it upon himself to head the Agriculture department and thus take full responsibility for the country's strategic and tactical plans to cope with such a humungous problem. According to the FAO and other world organizations, a record of 349 million people across 79 countries are facing acute food insecurity. The impending food crisis this year shall continue to be exacerbated by the disruptive Russian invasion of Ukraine which is derailing the global supply chain. Additionally, there are pockets of wars and terrorism across Africa, the Middle East, and South America as well as eastern Europe, thereby disrupting the supply chain globally. These are all further made even more complicated by many natural disasters driven by climate change.

The Philippines is one of the more vulnerable economies. We cannot produce enough rice to feed our 111 million people. Vietnam and Thailand may stop selling rice to us if and when they decide to reserve their stocks for their own burgeoning population. The Philippines is branded as an agricultural country but sadly, it cannot even manage the supply of and demand for onions, eggs, and meat. Our country is an archipelago and our fish and other marine resources are being stolen by China. Yet, we unabashedly import large tonnages of fish from that country. This is what the president should consider as top priority, not foreign trade and foreign investments that shall benefit only the taipans and tycoons who keep on accompanying him in his series of foreign travel caravans.

The drug problem is still here, crimes and the questions on mystery killings which the ICC wants to look into. There is an on-going cleansing process in the national police. If not managed well, this could demoralize the police generals. Also the questionable rapid changing of armed forces chiefs of staff may likewise cause demoralization among the military generals. There are problems of smuggling and trafficking. The Customs and Immigration authorities need to clean up their organizations. The airport management has shown palpable evidence of mediocrity and ineptitude. There is a learning crisis in the education sector as a result of the pandemic hiatus. The maltreatment, rapes and murders of Filipina women in the Middle East and many other problems need presidential decision-making and action. The constant travels abroad are bringing the chief executive away from the tempests in the teapot so to say.

Building bridges to connect us with our neighbors is, of course, a nice thing to do. But our own house is falling down and the overall head of the family should be always around, hands-on, and always ready and available to make draconian decisions. Going abroad nine times in seven months after assuming the presidency is too much focus on the external while there are mounting problems inside our own country. Let our leader focus on first things first. Let us advise him to rearrange his priorities. He has a country to lead and a people to serve.

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