Just a spoonful of sugar
The Mary Poppins song’s refrain goes, “just a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down.” A spoonful of sugar is now the latest icon of the malady afflicting the Filipino people that points to the direction of the Marcos Jr. administration—down. Filipinos are down to selling sugar by the spoonful. The media has reported a sari-sari store that has begun selling a spoonful of sugar at P2, and a teaspoon’s worth at P1. This is not an exaggeration or fake news—a kilo of sugar now sells for over a hundred pesos.
From a major sugar exporting nation, we have come to this. Speaking before the Sugar Planters Convention on Feb. 24, 1971, Ferdinand Marcos Sr. was laying the predicate for martial law using sugar lands as the platform. He said, “This is the new direction—the new goal. From now on, we shall measure progress in the sugar industry no longer in terms of new millionaires, but in terms of the number of people rescued from poverty, ignorance, and disease. How do we bring about this transforming redirection in the sugar industry? The answer, as I said in my State of the Nation message, is a democratic revolution designed to integrate the working masses into the mainstream of wealth and power in the sugar industry. The main agents of this revolution—a peaceful revolution for progress and social justice—are the trade union movement and the cooperative system.”
If these same words were spoken today by some teacher, student, nun, or social worker, she would most likely be Red-tagged by the NTF-Elcac, the police, and the military.
The point is that there was a time the structural problems of the sugar industry and the nation at large were understood by the President and the top officials of government. That is why they took what they thought was commensurate political action—martial rule as the hardware, constitutional authoritarianism as the legal ware, and New Society as the peopleware. This martial law regime did not work, brought more misery and division to the nation, but provided the incontrovertible insight, still unlearnt, that “the family is the greatest rival of the state for the loyalty of its citizens.”
As for President Marcos Jr., he attempts to mimic the stylistics, but so far none of the strategic thinking of Marcos Sr. For weeks now, the level of the national political debate centers on the slow appointment of crucial top officials, the usurpation of authority to import, whether or not there is a sugar shortage, whether or not there is a crime wave, whether or not the COVID-19 pandemic has ebbed, whether the Department of Education laptops were an “honest” or “dishonest” scam.
I tested whether there are, indeed, strategic initiatives that could be started in six years that can capture the imagination and inspire the people to think there is a responsive government after all. I thought I’d share my short list:1) Heartland reform. Conversion of Metro Manila, with its 16 cities and one municipality, into a single, unified, metropolitan area headed by an elected governor guided by a real metropolitan-level development plan. Use this as a template for further metropolitanization—Metro Cebu, Metro Iloilo, Metro Cagayan de Oro, Metro Davao, Metro Baguio, Metro Naga.
2) Digital governance. Facilitate the implementation of citizen charters and provision of government goods and services, including “ayuda” distribution. Make every Filipino GCash- (or equivalent) capable.
3) Inclusive mobility. A real bus rapid transit system in Metro Manila and aggressive promotion of the policy of moving people, not vehicles. Replicate in other metro areas.
4) Sustainable livelihood. Mandatory training and certification of Grade 11 and 12 students by Tesda on community governance and development, disaster risk reduction and management, and entrepreneurship, livelihood, vocational, and technical training. Dovetail these capability-building programs with the various sustainable livelihood programs across government, such as the sustainable livelihood programs in government, starting with the SLP of the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
5) People’s relocation plan and community mortgage development program for providing shelter to informal shelter families “on site,” “in-city,” or “near-city.”
6) Continuous improvement in government appointments and housecleaning at the top levels of government. Improve the character and competence of the Cabinet. Test their ability to perform in their designated areas, as well as their contribution to public trust in the government.
I look at these as low-hanging brilliancies that can trigger a civic sense of purpose and hope.
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