Duterte’s Sona: finally beyond promises

By: Peter Wallace July 28,2016 - 09:10 PM

In a well-crafted State of the Nation Address (Sona), President Duterte laid out his action agenda — not grandiose plans that never get done and not promises that are not kept, but a list of things to be done. Spoken with sleeves rolled up, to hell with protocol and tradition. I love it: “Get things done” is the message. And getting things done is certainly what we’ve seen.

Seen since June 20 when he called 340 businessmen to Davao to get their inputs on what business needs.

Seen five days ago when he ordered all executive departments to release information when asked — something five previous presidents promised yet never did. The Freedom of Information Law will follow.

Seen with the launch of the new emergency hotline (911) replacing the 117 emergency number. The citizen hotline (8888) for government-related complaints will be operational next month.

Seen six days after being sworn into office when he ordered the Aviation Security Group to put an end to “tanim-bala” as he barred authorities from arresting passengers caught with bullets in their luggage.

Seen when he didn’t dwell on the past or attribute all kinds of ills to the previous administration. “We cannot move forward if we allow the past to pull us back. Finger-pointing is not the way,” he said, adding that he’d “continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies, and even do better.” It’s a continuity that’s been too often lacking in the past.

Probably the one promised action we all liked was to reduce taxes. I can’t wait. As to how to pay for it, I’ve suggested early on the following: from the Marcos family members, the estimated P290 billion still unreturned monies they took; some P372 billion by improving the current too-low tax effort of 14.2 percent (for January-September 2015); P95 billion from the over 500 tax evasion and smuggling cases just sitting in the courts; up to P40 billion if the Bureau of Internal Revenue stops fuel smuggling by marking all legitimate fuel imports; and an estimated P22 billion by reviving the excise tax revenue loss due to illicit cigarette trading.

The money is there to bring the taxes down. It just needs Congress to rush amendments to the laws.

Mr. Duterte was cheered for extending the validity of driver’s licenses from three years to five. But why only five? What’s wrong with 50? It’s not dramatic enough. What’s needed is a review of all licenses, permits, etc. under the basic precept. What is the longest period of validity? And finally, how simple can we make it?

The most momentous decision was to review the Constitution. It’s a long-overdue review, initially called for to remove the no longer relevant restrictions on foreign investment. It’s something that could have taken effect now — if then president Benigno Aquino III had listened to those around him on its desirability. But now, through his intransigence, it is now delayed for probably four or five years before a plebiscite can be held and implementing laws passed.

The review will now go well beyond the economy. A complete change in the political system of the country can be expected. The detail of what that will be will take years to argue, but a general outcome is inevitable. There will be a federal system in some form. Whether still presidential or parliamentary will consume much of the debates and arguments.

Another major shift that can be expected is for a Manila-centric government to focus on improving rural areas. Agriculture Secretary Manny Piñol, under Mr. Duterte’s guidance, will finally oversee a real shift of attention to farming and fisheries — the sector that employs around a third of the workforce, at appallingly low incomes and without even being able to keep up with population growth (in 2015 agriculture grew 0.14 percent, and population 1.7 percent). The low productivity, absence of necessary support, disruptive policies and rip-offs by unscrupulous middle men will hopefully now go because they will not be needed.

With his overwhelming majorities in Congress (20 of 24 senators, 251 of 288 district and party-list representatives in the House), he can rush through some long-needed laws. After getting tax rates down, the next we’d all like is emergency powers to speed up solutions to the horror of Manila traffic. As then president Fidel V. Ramos showed when he was given such powers to rush the construction of power plants, real action can be achieved when the inhibitions of the procurement law are bypassed. A shift to efficient, coordinated public transport that could include the intelligent trackways I raised last week should be a priority.

I am excited by the promise of what the new Department of Information and Communications and Technology (DICT) can do. This is the future of the world, one you can only begin to imagine. Just look at your mobile phone compared to the clunker of a mere decade ago. A computer in your hand, one that is more powerful than the multistory IBM building in the early days.

Rudy Salalima seems the right choice to head the DICT. A former executive of Globe, he has been heavily involved in this sector (I’ll forgive him for being originally a lawyer; he has hopefully forgotten all of that) for over 40 years and has begun to write the implementing rules to put the law into action. His biggest task will be to fully computerize all government services in a holistic manner — a one-stop shop for all of those services in the simplest possible manner. The private sector needs minimal regulation but major support. This is the role of the DICT.

There was ever so much else that the hour-and-a-half Sona presented that said just one thing: There will be action.

It wasn’t a State of the Nation Address; it was a Statement of Action into the Future.

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TAGS: 8888, 911, ASG, Aviation Security Group, citizen hotline, Department of Information and Communications and Technology, DICT, Duterte, emergency hotline, President Duterte, SONA, State of the Nation Address, tanim bala

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