Wanted: A sense of urgency
As the country began emerging from the worst of the pandemic earlier this year, I wrote of the need for us to go back to the basics in plotting our way forward. I was alluding to the need to focus on our two most basic and most critically challenged assets: our people and our lands. The latter must be understood to include our seas and inland waters, which are actually several times larger than our land territory itself.
Five months into the new administration, it’s hard not to get a sense that rather than receive priority attention, these basics have instead taken a backseat in the President’s focus—a glaring sin of omission indeed. Not a few have expressed the even unkinder view that there is in fact no clear focus emanating from the presidency so far, and it’s indeed hard not to fall into this conclusion.
That the basic welfare of our people needs paramount and urgent attention, especially now, should be obvious to all of us. The pandemic afflicted more than 4 million and killed more than 64,000 Filipinos; many still suffer from lingering long-term health impacts of the disease. It also battered our people with escalated poverty, hunger, and malnutrition, with the last having permanent effects on the youngest of our children as it impairs their brain and physical development for life. On top of that, education of our children and youth was set back by one of the longest-known school closures worldwide, even as Philippine education was already in serious crisis based on pre-pandemic cross-country comparisons of education outcomes. The adverse impacts of the double whammy on health and education may not be evident today, but will surely stare us in the face many years from now when today’s young children become the country’s workforce on which our economy and society run.
Our lands and waters demand paramount attention as well, as our inadequacies therein directly feed into the compromised health and nutrition of our people, as they already have. Most analysts believe that we have yet to see the worst of tightened food supplies and the resulting escalation in food prices worldwide, naturally implying that urgent measures are needed so we can get much more out of our farm and fisheries resources.
And so, while it’s extremely urgent that we buckle down to work and fix long-standing and now extremely urgent problems facing our top two assets—our people and our lands—where is the government in all of this? We still have no secretary of health, at a time COVID-19 remains a problem in our midst, and yet we are offered the twisted logic that a secretary will be appointed once COVID-19 is behind us. We have a part-time secretary of agriculture in the person of the Chief Executive, who has clearly had very limited time for the sector, as he must oversee the concerns of some two dozen other departments as well—if he is indeed doing so. Department of Agriculture insiders privately admit that the department feels “paralyzed,” the logical outcome after the extremely competent and highly respected official that the President had designated as his alter-ego there was “thrown under the bus,” as many have described it, for obvious political reasons.
Meanwhile, we have a secretary of education in the person of the Vice President, whose appointment was justified by her being a mother, but has had no demonstrated experience and expertise in managing education other than as a local chief executive. The last Congress actually passed in its homestretch a law establishing an education commission (EdCom) that is supposed to gather top lawmakers, with counsel from the nation’s best brains, to plot our way out of our education crisis. I would have thought that this EdCom, similar to its early 1990s precedent, would be convened within the first 100 days of the administration, given the urgency. Yet we still hear nothing about it to date.
The honeymoon is long over. It’s time that the President convincingly demonstrates that he truly has a heart for us Filipinos, and clearly shows us where his priorities are (and that he has any at all). Or he may yet be remembered for, as a columnist from another paper put it, a “detached presidency.”
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