First things first: Where should the next President start?

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First things first: Where should the next President start?
Experts give their views on what the Philippines' next leader should address in terms of disaster preparedness, health, corruption, and education

MANILA, Philippines – Only 4 issues will be at the center of today’s (March 20) round of the debate for presidential candidates, which will be held in Cebu. But these issues are broad, and the list of challenges under each is long.

We asked informed sources what they thought were the first 3 things the next President should address under each issue.

What would your first 3 things be? How do these compare with what your preferred presidential candidate thinks?

Disaster preparedness and climate change

The next President needs to:

1. Make the poor, who suffer most during natural calamities, less vulnerable. Focus on those who live beside creeks, under bridges, on seashores or in houses on stilts.

2. Encourage and bring in more investors to develop renewable energy sources, like solar and wind farms.

3. Create incentives so that local government leaders will prioritize disaster preparedness.

(Source: Councilor Alfredo Arquillano of San Francisco, Camotes, The 2011 United Nations Sasakawa Awardee for Disaster Risk Reduction; He attended the Climate Change Reality Project with former US Vice President Al Gore in Manila from March 14 to 16.)

Health

The next President needs to:

1. Add more psychiatrists and psychologists to the existing mental institutions. “Cebu and Central Visayas only have one acute care institution, which is in the Vicente Sotto Memorial Medical Center and two treatment and rehabilitation centers.”

2. Ensure continuity in public health infrastructure projects. “This includes the expansion of hospitals, improvements of rural health units, and making birth centers ready.” Work on the barangay health stations’ (BHS) infrastructure needs to continue, and human resource needs to be prioritized by putting a midwife and a nurse in each BHS.

3. Expand Philhealth coverage for poor families. About 45 to 50 million individuals in the country are currently covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation. This needs to be expanded so that all Filipinos will have free consultations, medicines and in- or out-patient services.

(Source: Dr. Jaime Bernadas, Central Visayas director of the Department of Health)

Corruption

The next President needs to:

1. Ensure that he or she does not buy votes during the election. “Kay kon mopalit sila og boto (If they pay for votes) that means they will have to raise funds, that means mobawi gyud na sila (they will have to find a way to recover those expenses). We need to watch out for that.”

2. Prosecute all those responsible for abusing the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), including the President’s political party allies. “This fund has a way of resurrecting itself. It used to be the Countryside Development Fund before it became the PDAF. Only the name changes.”

3. Reform the Department of Education. This includes stopping the alleged practice of making applicants pay for teaching positions or promotions. Any corruption in DepEd “has a huge impact. That’s a body that is tasked to educate our young people. If there’s corruption there, so many will be affected.”

(Source: Fr. Carmelo Diola, chair of Dilaab Foundation)

The next President needs to:

1. Cause the amendment of the restrictive bank secrecy laws and allow the Ombudsman to examine bank accounts of public officials and employees who are subjects of investigation or inquiry. Section 15 of Republic Act (RA) 6770 empowers the Ombudsman to “Administer oaths, issue subpoena and subpoena duces tecum and take testimony in any investigation or inquiry, including the power to examine and have access to bank accounts and records.” In Marquez vs. Desierto, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the Ombudsman can examine bank accounts only when there is a pending litigation before any court of competent authority pursuant to Section 2 of RA 1405 (Law on Secrecy of Bank Deposits).

RA 6426 (Foreign Currency Deposit Act of the Philippines), on the other hand, makes the revelation of foreign currency details unlawful, except upon a written permission of the depositor.

2. Hire personnel and provide sufficient legal and investigative tools. Legal and logistical barriers prevent the Office of the Ombudsman from adopting best practices in the global anti-corruption community.

It has no authority to wiretap into conversations. It has no sufficient manpower or resources to conduct surveillance or activities requiring focused monitoring. It has no dedicated anti-corruption law enforcement units in its organization.

The Office of the Ombudsman, unlike its counterparts in more developed states, has limited access to formal and informal channels of cooperation with anti-corruption and law enforcement entities abroad.

3. Create specialized anti-corruption courts for criminal cases involving low ranking officials. Unlike cases involving high ranking officials which are filed and tried before the Sandiganbayan, cases concerning low ranking officials are filed before lower courts and are tried along a plethora of other cases of varied issues.

The lack of specialized anti-corruption courts at the lower levels of the Judiciary impedes the speedy resolution of corruption cases, allowing corrupt officials to remain in office or run for a public post.

(Source: Elmer Paul Clemente, deputy ombudsman for Visayas)

Education

The next President needs to:

1. Provide the needed structures. “If you go to the field, they’ll tell you kulang (there aren’t enough classrooms and facilities), they have two shifts, they even have high school at night. Can you imagine going to high school at night? If you read the papers from DepEd they’ll say they have no more backlogs. So what’s the truth? And the truth is there’s not enough.”

2. Provide enough books and improve the curriculum. “You hear very often that they (the children) cannot take books home, there are not enough books, the books that they have are full of errors. What’s going on? Can’t we get this right?”

3. Enhance the structure of the Department of Education (DepEd) as an institution.

Empower the regional office to respond to local problems and issues. “The top people in DepEd are smart people, they know what they’re doing. But why is it that from a very smart top, at the very, very bottom, the residual benefit is dismal? We have to get institutions to work. There’s no doubt that talent exists at the top, the secretaries are good but along the way in the cascade of the bureaucracy of departments, the outputs in the regional offices are minimal. It’s not that the desire is not there on top, it’s just that somewhere along the line the organization is not aligned in purpose… it’s too big or too scattered, maybe?… If institutions of the government do not perform, how do you expect the services of the government to accrue to citizens?”

(Source: Roberto E. Aboitiz, president of the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Incorporated or Rafi. Rafi’s help proved critical in the repairs and rebuilding of schools in northern Cebu, among other areas, after the quake and Yolanda in October and November 2013.)

The next President needs to:

1. Continue upgrading the salaries of teachers and provide masteral and doctoral scholarships to teachers with an outstanding performance.

“Although the teachers will be receiving the first tranche of a salary increase this year, there is still a need to augment their compensation, maybe in terms of more benefits. In that way, the government can attract more highly skilled and highly qualified teachers.”

2. Continue increasing the budget allocation for education.

“The budget allocation has kept on increasing for many years now. However, it still needs to continuously increase so that the maintenance and operating funds per school will also increase. This will provide crucial resources such as teachers, textbooks, school buildings, water and sanitation facilities, and school furniture, among others.”

3. Develop e-classrooms. Transform all public school classrooms into information and communication technology-enabled classrooms.

(Source: Dr. Bianito Dagatan, Cebu City Schools Division superintendent)

– Linette Ramos Cantalejo, Philip A. Cerojano, Gerome M. Dalipe, Shiela C. Gravinez, Herty B. Lopez, Oscar C. Pineda/Sun.Star Cebu

This article is republished under Rappler’s content sharing agreement with the SunStar network in the coverage of the 2016 national and local elections.

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