Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Philippines: Moving Forward with Reform Plan

The Philippines has recently launched its Medium Term Development Plan. In a nutshell, it is a proposed road map for the future of this country. Its about time they came out with that.

The 2004-2010 Medium Term Development Plan is a laudable and welcome relief to the day-in-day-out madness coming out of Media. The road map is an excellent first step especially amidst constant crisis and useless investigations in Congress. It shows us that at the very least, the Executive Department is serious about doing its work. That there are men and women in society serious enough to want a vision of the future and are doing ways to make that future a reality.

Now, are these goals achievable? Thats a tough question to answer.

We must ask, how much political muscle does President Macapagal-Arroyo have? One must understand that her government stands one step from falling off the precipice--- should she step on too many toes. The Philippines is a feudal society held together by myriad factions--- the civil (a.k.a. “evil”) society groups (composed of non-government organizations), labour, organized unions, business (and their different factions), provincial-feudal lords, crime families, political parties, the church, the military and media. Together they can topple her government.

This Philippine President must hold and keep in check all these factions together if she wants to stay in power or to enact even the least credible reform. But the power and resources that the President and the Party hold can bring a reform agenda over the top.

The Palace holds a great deal of power and resources but the powers that be in Congress and in her party determine whether she stays or not. Don't mistake this as being powerless. The Office of the President controls a major chunk of money and resources that Congress does not have control over. These resources are at the discretion of the President--- from legal gambling resources of the Government, call it her personal pork barrel. The President is Queen of this kingdom.

Can this president command enough authority in Congress that her party controls to bring her agenda forward? Does she have the political muscle and skill to make credible reforms happen in spite of personal hidden agendas of the party? Even if she does, is this President willing to flex those muscles? Remember: if she steps on too many toes, all the other factions may withdraw their support for her government and like Estrada before her, she may find herself queen without a kingdom.

What are the fundamental reforms that need to be enacted to move this country forward? The Medium Term Development Plan lays out a road-map. Its growth targets are bordering on that line between conservatism and optimism. The cynic can say that these targets as very optimistic. The believer will say it is a conservative assessment.

The Medium Term Development Plan lays down a vision of providing businesses a level playing field. It proposes reforms in banking and finance, in labour, in job creation, in agriculture production among many things. It is a design for the future and certainly is a step towards the right direction.

So, to answer our question whether or not the 2004-2010 Medium Term Development Plan is achievable? These goal-targets are optimistic--- but admirable and even achievable. However, only when the leadership can come together and move beyond their political self interests and put the nation's interests first can it be made reality. That is the stumbling block. At the end of the day, leadership will play a role whether or not reforms are carried out into its desired completion. The key to structural reforms in the Philippines is in the President's leadership of her political clique and they, together hold the key to delivering swiftly and surely a key reform agenda.