Experts dissect SONA, spot key to investments

Governance is key to attracting investments and achieving sustainable long-term economic growth after the havoc caused by the pandemic, and the new administration must, first and foremost, address the issues – soaring prices, low wages, poverty, jobs, and corruption – that Filipinos deem most crucial in their everyday lives.

Policy and governance experts gathered virtually three days after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s first State of the Nation Address to analyze his speech and recommend an agenda for development as the nation strives to recover from the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Organized by top think-tank, the Stratbase Institute, and advocacy group DemocracyWatch Philippines, the online discussion called “A Government Agenda for Development in the Marcos Jr. Presidency Post-Pandemic” centered on what experts in public policy, governance and economics believed should be given primary attention by the Marcos administration.

Professor Victor Andres “Dindo” Manhit said that while the worst of the COVID crisis is now perceived to be over, it is the economic consequences of the pandemic that need to be squarely addressed. This is especially true since, according to a recent Pulse Asia survey, 77% of Filipinos rate themselves as poor.

“There is enough legal framework to move from a consumption-based economy to an investment-led growth,” Manhit said. “But we need sound fiscal management to attract local and foreign investment.”

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Dr. Francisco Magno, Trustee of The Stratbase Institute, said there are many ways for the government to develop integrity – specifically, passing laws such as the E-Government Act, Freedom of Information law, and amendments to the Civil Service Code.

He also said Sustainable Development Goals must be localized: “This would involve the creation of smart, inclusive, and resilient local government units that rely on open data and governance innovations that address demand for better public services.”

Calixto Chikiamco, President of the Foundation for Economic Freedom, said three sectors need to be given priority: agriculture, forestry and energy, with laws needing amendments to reflect the challenges of the times.

Zy-za Nadine Suzara, Executive Director of the Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy, said we have to work on increasing the absorptive capacities of agencies in the bureaucracy so that they could implement programs as envisioned.

“Without a strong commitment to good governance and anti-corruption, it will be difficult to achieve expenditure results, fiscal sustainability, and better yet, meaningful development outcomes for our country,” she said.

“Fiscal policy will only benefit society if it is contingent on addressing democratic deficits,” she said, adding that civil society must reclaim that space and participate in democratic governance. This way, fiscal policy will benefit not just the elite and the politicians but various sectors of society.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ronald Mendoza, former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government, said a balance of priorities will be crucial to the Marcos administration.

He said he saw some good signs during the SONA, like the Land Use Law and increased efficiency in the public sector, but there was also a signal of increased spending, and higher investments in other areas.

“What that will result in, likely, is a challenge for balancing priorities as well as a drive to improve governance, particularly in tax collection as well as in spending efficiency, lessening leakages, and focusing spending on key areas,” he said.

Dr. Julio C. Teehankee, Full Professor of Political Science and International Studies and Former Dean of the College of Liberal Arts, De La Salle University, proposed that the Marcos administration begin from “minimal practicable results, working up to the more complex and widespread changes.”

Specifically, Teehankee said, the administration should revisit the notion of political parties, the conduct of elections, and ultimately and if done correctly, a change in the Constitution.

Dr. Imelda Deinla, convenor of Boses Pilipinas, showed the Philippines’ dismal performance in the World Justice Project, where it ranks 102nd out of 139 globally, 13th out of 15 regionally. For her, Filipinos should check its executive, because not doing so can lead to impunity, violence, and a lack of accountability.

Finally, Stratbase Trustee and former International Criminal Court, Judge Raul Pangalangan said many of Marcos Jr’s proposed reforms will require constitutional change.

“Once again we might see a constitutional change attempt as a mechanism to lift term limits or otherwise pave the way for the continuation of the incumbent in power,” Pangalangan said.

That President Marcos talked about his targets and his 19-point legislative agenda shows that he has given the country’s political, social, and economic direction plenty of thought, said Professor Manhit in an earlier post-SONA opinion piece.

“However, these plans of action still need to be explained and so these could address Filipinos’ most urgent concerns, particularly within the year,” Manhit said.

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