After the successful impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona the question this writer asks what’s next in the mind of President Aquino. With two thirds of his term left, there is much more to do and achieve if we want a better life particularly those who continue to struggle to meet their basic needs. I suggest only a few more that his administration can boast of achieving aside from Strong Governance. More Jobs. Higher levels of Education. Universal Health Care.
From BusinessWorld Philippines
June 24, 2012
President Aquino has just finished the major political initiative of his administration — the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. He gambled his political capital, and won. He has removed a major stumbling block to impose a “matuwid na daan.” But what’s next? What does he do for a second act, considering his popularity continues to slip, with surveys showing that people are giving him low marks on the economy?
For sure, he has to prosecute Corona for whatever crimes the latter may have committed and he has to make sure Corona’s patron, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), stays in jail and is convicted for the many crimes he has accused her of. Otherwise, the adage “crime doesn’t pay” will lack bite and his efforts for a clean government will fall short.
Obviously, however, Aquino’s anti-corruption efforts are not enough. What does he need to do to build on the momentum of the successful impeachment of Corona?
Politically, he has to strengthen the state. This is all the more urgent now with the threat posed by China on our national territory. Perhaps the Chinese gunboats in Scarborough Shoal can be to the Philippines what the gunboats of Commander Perry did to Japan in the 19th century — they prompted the elite to dismantle the feudal structure that made Japan weak and vulnerable to external threats, and to modernize the economy and the state.
There are several steps he can do to strengthen the Philippine state. First, he has to strengthen the central government by dismantling private armies, like that of the Ampatuans. The Maguindanao massacre exposed the existence not only of Ampatuan’s private army, but many other private armies in other regions as well. However, nothing has been done to dismantle these private armies, and even the Ampatuan’s private army remains intact. These private armies remain a threat to the state, not only by their ability to undermine free elections, but peace and order as well.
Second, he has to strengthen the state’s finances. A state with weak finances is a weak state. It would have no money to modernize the military to counter external threats. The state can’t be dependent on the US and other countries for its external security because they would have their own agenda.
The tax effort to gross domestic product remains low at 12.5%. The administration is trying to push the “sin” tax bill, which is a good start, but it won’t be enough, especially in the amended version passed by the House. The administration must do more, and President Aquino must abandon his unreasonable pledge not to raise any taxes. He must go against vested interests and rationalize tax incentives. He must consider raising the value added tax rate or impose higher petroleum taxes, now that oil prices are falling.
Third, President Aquino has to try to unify the country to strengthen the state. The peace talks with the MILF and the CPP-NDF are in the right direction and must be speeded up, although these must be concluded without sacrificing the Constitution or the country’s democratic principles.
Lastly, he must modernize the country’s politics. It’s not enough to wage an anti-corruption campaign but he must also push for institutional reforms that will ensure that the Garcis, the GMAs, and the Coronas will not be able to return and restore the crooked path. Only political reform will help sustain his vision for good governance even beyond his term.
Perhaps using the battle cry of modernizing the country’s politics, President Aquino can direct Comelec to purge itself of all Garci elements, urge the passage of the Party Development Bill filed by
Senators Angara and Estrada to strengthen the party system and reform campaign financing, and with Congress, adopt measures to professionalize the bureaucracy.
In the economic field, he can do more than just promise to launch more PPP projects. He has to modernize the economy by calling for charter change to amend the outdated economic provisions of the Constitution. With the job of impeaching Corona and jailing GMA done, now is the best time for President Aquino to initiate charter change, even just on the economic provisions of the Constitution.
There are so many Constitutional limits, from the ownership of media by foreigners to the 60/40 rule on ownership of utilities that are clearly outdated. Restrictions to foreign ownership, whether because of national security or other considerations, must be left to Congress and not be part of the basic law of the land. Liberalizing the economic provisions of the Constitution will turbo-boost the economy by signaling to foreign investors that they are welcome and by showing the administration’s commitment against monopoly.
Finally, President Aquino has to tackle the problems of unemployment, widespread poverty, and income inequality by pushing for agro-industrialization, i.e. the balanced and integrated growth of agriculture and industry. For too long has agri-industrialization been neglected in favor of services growth, but the latter has limited spread effects.
To be sure, the problems in industry and agriculture are many and complex with roots in labor rigidities, exchange rate competitiveness, misguided subsidies, high power costs, monopolistic structure in key industries, and insecure property rights, especially in the ownership of agricultural land. However, that’s no excuse for not doing anything because if President Aquino wants to tackle the problems of poverty and unemployment, he must solve these problems dogging agriculture and industry head on.
What’s next after the impeachment of former CJ Corona? “Back to regular programming” as I heard people say? Back to campaigning against wang-wangs? Or capture the imagination of the public through bold political and economic initiatives that modernize the country’s economy and politics?
Calixto V. Chikiamco is a Board Member of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis.
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