By SONNY AFRICA
MANILA — The country is at the dawn of a new administration and the most natural feeling for many is optimism. This optimism for change is a nation’s response to nine years of economic and political disarray under the Arroyo administration, and indeed from worsening poverty and backwardness.
Yet even more welcome than the sense of hopefulness would be laying the basis for real change to happen. The challenges that the looming Aquino administration faces are gigantic but can be addressed if only it has the readiness to act. Its initiatives in the first 100 days are crucial in setting directions for the country.
The Aquino administration is faced with an on-going economic crisis. Aside from the global economic slowdown are persistent domestic weaknesses showing up as a jobs and livelihoods crisis and the onset of renewed fiscal turmoil. There is also the unstable political situation from unrelenting political ambition that the recently concluded polls have perhaps only momentarily stabilized. These may be immediately addressed.
The drastic socioeconomic reforms the country needs are coming from years of neglect and regressive policy-making. The requisites are people-oriented reforms founded on a genuinely nationalist development agenda, which also creates a strong base to face the inevitable next global economic shock. On the political front, the general public has long been denied of, and thus desires inclusive and democratic governance, which should be viewed as opportunity for the next administration to launch meaningful political actions.
The Aquino candidacy rode high on a promise, albeit ill-defined, of change. Among the major challenges it faces to make this promise of change real are the following:
1) A reliable process of holding the Arroyo clique accountable for its offenses. This will contribute to lessening political instability, as well as serve as the groundwork for repairing the damage to the country’s political institutions.
2) Immediately addressing the country’s fiscal troubles in a pro-people manner. This includes:
a. On the revenue side – lifting RVAT as a first step towards a progressive tax regime demanding more from those with the capacity to pay (e.g., corporations and high income individuals) and unburdening those with less to begin with, reducing fiscal and other incentives given to foreign investors, and resuming collection of tariffs particularly on imports used chiefly by foreign export-oriented interests, as well as basic agricultural products and food.
b. On the expenditure side – easing up on debt payments by subjecting these to more sensible prioritization (e.g., stopping payments on onerous and odious debts, negotiating better credit terms, and giving preference to creditors more amenable to the country’s development efforts), cutting back on militarization, cracking down on the corruption causing gross leakages of public funds to private pockets.
3) Increasing public spending on vital social services of education and health to improve the welfare of a crisis-battered population.
4) A solid repudiation of the obsolete globalization policies of the past that have caused so much damage to the domestic economy. Economic growth must benefit the larger population and not just big foreign and domestic corporate interests and this can be done with a concrete and genuine economic reform agenda in place starting with:
a. Government formally declaring a standstill on further globalization policies that have put domestic producers at a disadvantage to foreign competition (e.g., multilateral, regional and bilateral deals).
b. A multi-stakeholder review of how to provide necessary protection and support for local agriculture and industry. Among others, immediately maximizing tariff space that the government has foregone such as in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and other deals will send a strong signal of decisiveness to pursue development.
5) Government formulating an explicit strategy for building domestic economic foundations and reducing the reliance on external sources of growth (which reduces the emphasis on an export rebound or in remittances as keys to recovery). An initial major effort is decisive implementation of a real agrarian reform program that speedily distributes land to the tillers.
6) A more equitable distribution of the gains from economic activity to its direct producers through just wages and benefits for workers and a fair share of farm output for the peasants.
7) Giving momentum to the democratization process by immediately stopping state-sponsored attacks on progressive forces. The militarist approach to the country’s armed conflicts also needs to be repudiated towards genuinely seeking to address the roots of poverty and underdevelopment– the peace processes with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), which has socioeconomic reforms as its next agenda, and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are important.
Underlying all these is the basic need to build a real democracy that advances social progress. This would give greatest priority to the right of the majority of Filipinos to work, education, health, housing and life. Giving such priority means not sacrificing these rights by invoking the right of landlords to land, of corporations to profits, and of elites to exploit others. The country deserves to be optimistic but the conditions for that optimism have to be there and, if not, built. (Bulatlat.com)