Grace Poe on good governance: 'Make it a norm'
MANILA, Philippines – “Good governance saves lives.”
Speaking at the Asian Forum on Corporate Social Responsibility on Tuesday, September 2, Senator Grace Poe stressed the need for government intervention before, during, and after disasters. She said this is "a prerequisite to national resilience."
Poe called on Filipinos to look at the local governments of Albay and San Francisco of Camotes Island for inspiration. These two are often visited by typhoons, yet are known for their speedy recovery.
The senator praised Albay’s transformation into a “disaster resilient” LGU through community-based efforts and through the leadership of Governor Joey Salceda. (READ: Lessons from Albay after Yolanda)
San Francisco made headlines when it reported zero casualty after Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The town boasts of its “purok” system – developed by former Mayor Alfredo Arquillano Jr – which ensures everyone’s participation in disaster preparedness.
The barangay is the smallest form of government, but it is further divided into puroks. In the system, each purok has a leader and a committee in charge of disaster risk reduction, hence making community organization easier and faster. Poe added the citizens should be able to trust the government, especially during evacuation operations.
She considers Filipinos' optimism as both boon and bane. “Our optimism helps us bounce back, but our high tolerance for lousy service and corruption disables us from having foresight for what’s best for the country.”
Poe wants the entire country to replicate and institutionalize the best practices of Albay and San Francisco. How? “Create a separate national disaster response and management agency, enact the Freedom of Information (FOI) law,” she suggested.
She wants an independent agency with its own experts, budget, and system.
“Our current set-up is inadequate, although they’re doing their best. Make the NDRRMC distinct from the Department of National Defense," she said.
Poe also stressed the need to scrutinize government transactions through an FOI law. “We can have many useful programs if the government spends its money wisely,” she said, and cited the fertilizer fund scam and the PDAF cases as examples.
She argued that an FOI law can also push officials to perform better since government agencies will have to make their archives accessible to the public.
Poe also discussed the importance of food security in achieving national resiliency.
“It’s daunting to be a farmer. You’re at the mercy of nature and of politicians,” she said. “Some of you are averse to government dole-outs, but at this point, we really need to give farmers a boost.”
Poe suggested improving farm-to-market roads, facilities, irrigation, incentives and cooperatives. And again, she said, under an FOI law, the public "can scrutinize what the government is really doing for farmers.”
Poe is also pushing for a national school feeding program. In the existing system, the Department of Education (DepEd) provides a feeding program for malnourished elementary school students, while the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) targets preschoolers. Poe’s bill, however, proposes free lunch for all public school students, from kindergarten to high school.
“We won’t have a productive workforce if they’re not properly nourished. I urge you to support the bill.”
She added that the 2015 budget for Deped’s and DSWD’s school feeding programs are already in place. “We need to be optimistic, but also vigilant.”
Poe consulted the Deped, the National Nutrition Council, schools, and the private sector in crafting her bill.
Private sector, MRT
Poe also suggested that the government can learn a lot from the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs of the private sector.
“We can learn how they do simple, cost-effective programs; unlike the government where it’s bureaucratic,” she said.
Poe highlighted the private sector’s potential in becoming the “main driving force which can propel our country to inclusive growth and sustainable development.” She asked the government and the private sector to work together.
“CSR programs compliment government programs, or even fill its gaps,” she said.
At the Asian Forum, an Indian businessman asked Poe on her thoughts on India’s new law requiring companies to allot 2% of its earnings to CSR programs.
“I feel that we’re already overtaxed,” Poe replied. “To encourage the private sector to do CSRs, the BIR should acknowledge money spent on CSRs. The government shouldn’t impose how businesses use their money. We shouldn’t burden our businesses anymore; instead, provide more incentives so businesses can contribute more in nation building.”
She also expressed support for Senator Sonny Angara’s bill seeking to reduce income tax rates.
During the forum, the issue of the MRT’s poor operations also came up.
“Our biggest barriers? Bad policies and corruption. Cliché, but true. Our public transportation system is quite depressing," said Poe, who rode the train last week to check its state.
Poe said that better MRT operations can help boost workers’ productivity, hence making a “ripple effect” on the entire economy. She also linked the Manila port congestion problem with the inefficient transportation system in the country.
“The congestion of Manila goes back to our problem in transportation. Businesses won’t set up in an area if there are no proper public transportation systems. Government should step up on infrastructure to decongest cities and to entice people to move,” she explained.
At the end of the forum, Poe answered several questions ranging from disasters to transportation. One question, however, drew more noise from the crowd. “When will you run for national office?” asked Washington Sycip, a Ramon Magsaysay Awardee and founder of the Asian Institute of Management.
“I still have a lot to prove and learn. I’m not really planning for it, but thank you for your trust.” – Rappler.com