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What This Country Needs

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[Photo of Noynoy Aquino III]The business sector is largely ignored in the sound and fury of Philippine elections. We asked the next generation of taipans what they look for in a candidate for President

Blessed are the poor, especially during elections, for they shall inherit a politician's promises and, maybe, riches.

The business sector, on the other hand, seems to hardly be given any attention, especially after the benefit dinners and keynote speeches are done. Motherhood statements are made about increasing competitiveness and making the country world class, but pols seem little interested in asking the business community what it needs.

Mister Clean

While the business sector backed President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2004, its experience with the government since then seems to have made it receptive to the catch phrase of the day: reform politics.

According to Jeffrey Ng, chairman of regents of the Anvil Business Club, the business community is tired of traditional and transactional politics. Ng says, “Anyone with a tainted past will not be able to mobilize any genuine reform efforts and will have to resort to expensive and even more destructive transactional politics to be able to govern.”

Critics and some erstwhile allies of the President have accused her of giving political concessions to allies to prop up her unpopular administration. Anvil chairman Wilson Lee Flores says the scandals and questions of legitimacy of her 2004 election victory, which have dogged Arroyo through her nine-year term, are some of “the biggest sources of political instability and excessive corruption in the Philippines.”

The next President, then, will have to be elected legitimately in a credible electoral process, and will need to have the moral backbone not to resort to a cheap win. “We need a President who would be a catalyst for our moral regeneration, living an exemplary life and enforcing this lifestyle among the people surrounding him,” says Daniel Ching, Anvil president.

Let a Hundred Businesses Bloom

While being morally upright will qualify a candidate for the presidency, the next President should also be able to make the country a more conducive environment for business. One cannot, after all, run a country on good intentions alone.

According to Stefan Tong, Anvil executive vice president, the next administration must create a business atmosphere where legal contracts are binding, and where taxation is not the complicated nightmare it has become. Efficient tax collection and a stronger effort against smuggling will strengthen the country's manufacturing sector already under siege from cheap imports and black market goods.

The government must also undergo a paradigm shift, Ching says, and work towards greater public-private partnership. “They must cease to view businesses as a form of privilege given to businessmen, but instead view businessmen as partners in nation building,” he says.

Ching adds that, while government claims to encourage investors and entrepreneurs, corrupt employees in local and national agencies often harass them and conduct surprise (and redundant) audits. “The cost of doing business in our country has gotten higher and higher, forcing businesses to either have stunted growth or to simply fold up.”

Unpopular Decisions

The next administration may also have to take unpopular stands that will, in the long run, make the country stronger and more prosperous. Ching notes that a review of the Labor Code is in order to remove or replace supposed “pro-labor” provisions in the law that do not encourage competitiveness.

“The quality of our laborers has deteriorated so much that we have became less competitive compared to our neighbors. It has also spawned ingenious ways for businessmen to go around the code by hiring contractual workers, who are then deprived of the usual benefits enjoyed by regular employees,” he explains.

While enabling short-term employment, the quick turnover of contractual workers virtually ensures that they do not develop their skills, and will remain stuck in the cycle of contractual employment. He says that a more equitable labor law will challenge workers to upgrade their skill sets, and will assure investors of continuity and reliability in the labor force.

The culture of relying on overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) may also need a second look, and the country will need a President who will put an end to treating our citizens as our chief export. “The next President must aim to make the Philippines an exporter of goods and not human beings or laborers,” Ching admonishes. “The negative impact on our families, youth, society, and international image by sending our OFW's abroad far outweigh the short-term financial gains enjoyed by our country.”

An even more controversial and potentially widely unpopular item on the ideal President's agenda will be the passage of the Reproductive Health Bill currently in legislative limbo in both houses of Congress.

Flores says that the need for a population policy is an issue that the next administration “should address with political courage, or else socio-economic malaise will continue, and there shall forever be chronic shortages in public schools, teachers, textbooks, public health facilities, malnutrition, or even lack of food.”

The current crop of presidential candidates have tried to steer clear of the reproductive health issue, with some like LAKAS-KAMPI chairman Gilberto Teodoro Jr vowing to support the bill, only to backtrack later on. Liberal standard bearer Sen. Benigno Aquino III, Bagumbayan's Sen. Richard Gordon, and Partido ng Masang Pilipino's Joseph Estrada claim to support the bill, but have yet to include the issue on their platforms.

Nacionalista Sen. Manuel Villar Jr has chosen not to comment on the issue. Advocates of the bill say that pressure from the Catholic Church makes passage of the bill close to impossible.

After almost a decade under President Arroyo, Filipinos look forward to the coming elections as an opportunity for change. As history will be the final judge of Mrs Arroyo's presidency, so will history judge the 2010 electorate. The call for good government comes with the responsibility to be good citizens, and voting wisely is just the beginning. In the end, we will get the government we deserve, and that goes for everyone from taipan to tinapa vendor.

print ed: 01/10


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