Tuesday, August 01, 2006

welcome to wherever you are

Quite recently, President Macapagal-Arroyo gave her State of the Nation Address. (for the technical report click here) It was a wonderful vision. Everyone has agreed that it is something we ought to be doing. When we were done dreaming, the reality set in. How are we going to do it?

Mrs. Arroyo, like a lot of leaders, dream, and set a vision. It is a mark of a good leader to do so (which isn't an admission that she is one). To dream, even a mere illusion of which is something we haven't done, not since Ramos' Philippines 2000. Why is this important? Simply this: to be honest, to feel good about ourselves and more importantly, set pace to accomplish that vision, to aim to achieve a goal. Mrs. Arroyo however, didn't tell us how to do it, just we had the funds to do so, she said. Does she have the political capital to do so? Can it be done? As the hours turned to days and President Arroyo's address picked apart, her ministers announced that it would be funded through Government Controlled Corporations and that because of our improving fiscal position, we can fund these projects. It may read and sound cynical but this translation is a pragmatic way of looking at reality: more manipulation, more magic.

Is it therefore difficult to put down nay sayers when they conclude that the only ones going to profit from such an endeavour are the deal makers? Why can we not do it this way: when all is said and done, give to Caesar what is due him--- meaning shouldn't there be a mechanism by which legally deal makers are given a legitimate fair share of the work they have done and thereby, Government can tax such fine work?

Where are the resources to build a massive infrastructure endeavour as outlined by Mrs. Arroyo? To accomplish such massive infrastructure project and then some, the money has always been there. After all, how much is the pork barrel of Members of Congress? How about the President's? We have the credit rating to finance our infrastructure endeavors, if only the money would be properly spent. A particular flaw of government is this: lowest bids do not necessarily constitute the best deal.

It is cynical to think that the President can not do what she outlined. Her past track record however, speaks for itself and being pragmatic, doesn't that prevent you from believing she can do it? A case in point: Mrs. Arroyo asked Congress during 2005's state of the nation address to do this: "the pre-need code to rehabilitate, reform and regulate the pre-need educational programs that worked so well in the past as a major vehicle for youth education entitlement". This should reform the Education Pre-Need plans industry which our people needed yesterday, what has happened to it?

Do you know what is the requisite to improve our people's lives? Willpower.

NEDA reports the following: improved our fiscal position, positive economic growth, non performing assets of Banks have gone down, underemployment and unemployment are still high likewise, Inflation is high.

Higher taxes have made up the inefficiencies in our tax collection. More importantly, it is true that we have the most expensive Electricity in the region and our per capita income has not improved regardless of the “growing” economy.

Similarly, it is also true that infrastructure--- investing in ourselves will boot economic growth because it provides businesses and industries faster delivery vehicle and the needed resources to make their investments more efficient, spurring more profit and hopefully job creation. We certainly need better and more efficient ways to getting around and it helps boost tourism as well.

It is difficult for an ordinary person to grasp the differences in these points of view. The government has said things are getting better, yet the meager wage of an ordinary person isn't and the increasing demand of so many “needs”--- telecommunications, Internet, Fuel/Transportation, Electricity, Water, Food, Education, Health Care and disposable income leads people to question, is this a better life?

On the side, not every government service is doing a great job. Simply going to a Land Transportation Office outside of Manila will lead you to spend literally hours, just to renew a license. Quite recently, the President personally showcased the efficiency of the LTO. Naturally all the screws work right at the main office. In the outlying provinces, even ones two hours away from the capital, corruption and inefficiency in such an outpost remain a prevailing cancer.

Certainly not every service is such badly ran. In Quezon City, they have made setting up a business very easy. In under an hour, you'd have your business name through the local Department of Trade and Industry Office and all you need after is to get your Mayor's Permit which is equally straightforward and efficient.

Is the state of this country depressing, as many in the Opposition believe? It isn't that bad. However, it isn't as rosy as the President's camp may want us to believe. Certainly there are loads of things that we need to improve, just take a look at ourselves. Ask yourself this: are you ready to take responsibility? Because we need to take greater responsibility individually.

Democracies are about electing people to run a nation. We choose them because of our personal interest and belief in a person. A candidate would make campaign promises. He would improve healthcare, or education or promise more jobs for example--- it is something he believes his community needs right here, right now and in the future and something he knows he can deliver. It is a mark of a good leader to draw such a vision. On occasion, we cast our vote and the “wrong” people win. Do they? Or simply have we let them?

Across the Philippines, local officials have improved the lives of their people. Many great examples: Cebu, Davao, Batangas. Though not a barometer of an improving economy (personally, i prefer more industrial parks): malls from the big names are springing all over the country. In many cities and provinces, local officials are working to improve their fiscal position and/or improve services. Does it mean they are doing a perfect job? Certainly, people would disagree, some may have improved their fiscal position like in Quezon City, yet is Quezon City better off in terms of Health Care or Education? How about say in the city of Lipa, Batangas, which is about 2 hours drive from Manila, is Health Care any good there? How about their education or crime prevention?

Still, MLQ3 wrote this in his blog: "If we look at Naga, Capiz, and General Santos, cities as places where the country is moving forward, how far behind are other places? In terms of how these cities have harnessed information technology, one person sadly says, other parts of the country are behind “as much as thirty years.” If these three cities, among others, are places fostering a culture of cooperation and excellence, how much is that culture dependent on dynamic local executives? Almost totally it seems -which shows how much more has to be done: were their chief executives to pass from the scene, there seems to be no consensus advances would survive those local executives."

Exactly. No matter how "good" these Local Governments are, there is always room for improvement that may or may not be addressed by their incumbent leaders. Sadly, our progress is dependent on People Electing the "right people" and those "right people" need to do the job they were elected to. It is slow. At the end of the day, we the people, must realize, it is an evolution not a revolution that will win the day. Don't you sometimes wish the wheels could move a bit faster?

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo said many nice and right things during her State of the Nation. It makes us feel good. It is a good vision and those things we should have been doing anyway. What has stopped us? A terrible fiscal position? Seriously? On one hand, we have to improve our Social Responsibility. We need to improve people's lives and truthfully, it varies across the nation. We need to seriously tackle our increasingly growing concern on Education and in Health Care, both of which are in a terrible state.

In one voice, the building and strengthening of our communities and ultimately our nation is our collective goal and it is through an evolution rather than a revolution that we will succeed in doing so. Demand and expect greater, more efficient government service as much as we demand for ourselves, greater discipline and work ethic. For all her sweet sounding words and feel good speeches that Mrs. Arroyo have made and will make, how can we believe her, when most of the time she speaks from the politician's podium and not the statesman's? However that doesn't take away the work we should have been doing six years ago and what we must be doing today: build infrastructure, more efficient revenue collection, better social services particularly in health care, in education and utilizing our diversity and our myriad differences by making stronger regions. We confront responsibly, with open eyes our social responsibility because ultimately our people's lives is what it is all about. Our situation isn't as bad as some would paint it, neither is it as good as the Government may want us to believe. To borrow Bon Jovi's words, this is the State of the Philippines today: we're exactly where we're suppose to be, welcome to wherever you are.