[ANALYSIS] 6 economic issues senatorial bets ought to be talking about
So many problems beleaguer the Philippine economy, yet so few senatorial aspirants – especially of the administration ticket – are talking about them.
In fact, many candidates of Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP) have openly shunned public debates, saying they’d rather go to sorties. One said on Twitter he’d rather win first then debate later in the Senate halls. President Duterte himself said debates are “useless.”
But this dearth of discourse not only robs the people of the chance to make informed choices in May, it’s also patronizing and insulting. In this article I want to list 6 economic issues we ought to be hearing more from the senatorial candidates, but aren’t.
Prices today are abnormally high, thanks to the record-high inflation rates we saw last year (inflation measures how fast prices are rising).
Sure, high inflation was a confluence of both domestic and international factors. But you can argue it was largely borne by the blundering economic management of the Duterte administration.
To wit, the National Food Authority bungled the importation of rice starting late 2017, resulting in delayed imports and sky-high commercial rice prices.
On top of this, Congress also pushed the TRAIN Law which stoked petroleum prices on top of already rising world oil prices. Cash transfers meant to cushion TRAIN’s impact were also adjudged by experts as grossly inadequate.
For passing such an ill-timed and burdensome policy, certain reelectionist senators – especially those who touted TRAIN as the government’s “best Christmas gift” to the people – must be held accountable.
2) War on drugs
Duterte’s pet project, his war on drugs, has miserably failed to contain the country’s drug problem and even demonstrably worsened it. The drug war is also based on wholly manufactured numbers.
Yet despite all these, only a few lawmakers have dared to speak out against the war on drugs. Most senators have chosen to keep mum about it, sit idly on the sides, and allocate billions of pesos of taxpayers’ money for it.
In so doing, they have on their hands the blood of the drug war’s thousands of victims.
Our senators, if they wish, could in fact call for the immediate stoppage of the war on drugs and pass laws addressing the country’s drug problem from the demand side rather than the supply side.
But if recent surveys are any indication, people even seem poised to elect into the Senate the main implementor of the war on drugs himself, Duterte’s first police chief.
3) Traffic congestion
Policy proposals to deal with our daily traffic congestion woes – especially in Metro Manila – have so far been shallow.
In recent debates, some senatorial candidates trumpeted the need for a “no-parking-no-car” law. Yet none sufficiently articulated its pros and cons.
Many allies of the administration also content themselves with supporting Duterte’s infrastructure project called Build, Build, Build, hoping its additional and wider roads could deliver us from daily traffic. But I wrote before that by reducing the cost of driving these infra projects could only induce more people to drive, thus worsening congestion instead of abating it.
Transport experts recommend a fundamental rethink of our relationship with our roads and public spaces. For example, we must rely less on cars and more on public transportation like buses, especially in city centers.
Yet are we hearing this from the senatorial bets?
4) Education and health
By training so much of his attention on “hard” infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), Duterte also seems to be neglecting the country’s “soft” infrastructure (namely education and health).
As for education, more and more are convinced that the K-12 program, despite its good intentions, is ill-conceived and poorly implemented. The free tuition law has also put so much strain on state universities and colleges, many of which have seen ballooning populations without the benefit of extra resources.
As for health, some senatorial bets take too much credit for the recent passage of the Universal Health Care Act. (One even brands himself as “Mr. Healthcare.”) Yet none likes to talk about the remaining gaps in the law.
None also likes to discuss the Dengvaxia scare, how it got out of hand, how it led to deadly and needless measles outbreaks nationwide, and how we could prevent the recurrence of a similar disaster.
China’s increasing presence in the country – whether in terms of its encroachment of the West Philippine Sea, its onerous loans, or its citizens’ mass immigration – also deserves to be debated more by the senatorial bets.
The Senate could again provide valuable counterweight to Duterte’s wholehearted pivot to China by, say, asserting the Hague ruling on the West Philippine Sea, investigating the onerous loans entered into by the Duterte government, or calling out officials who allowed the illegal entry of thousands of Chinese nationals into the country.
Although some senators have initiated investigations on these and other issues, they could certainly be doing more.
We need senators who will staunchly defend our sovereignty rather than bend over and serve it on a silver platter to China (or any other state for that matter).
Lastly, by far the most disturbing economic issue confronting us after May is the prospect of federalism by charter change.
It will likely cause massive upheaval in the country’s economic and political landscape. Even Duterte’s economic managers have expressed deep reservations about it.
Put bluntly, we cannot allow federalism by charter change to happen. Many a legal expert had warned it’s nothing but a vehicle for Duterte to overstay his welcome and stay in power beyond 2022.
The numbers in the House are already secure, and the constitution they drafted—which brazenly removed congressional term limits and the prohibition on political dynasties—was already passed on third reading.
Only the Senate could effectively oppose it now, and the last thing we need is for the Senate to fully transform into Duterte’s rubber stamp (if it isn’t already).
If most administration bets win in May, consider the Pandora’s box of federalism by charter change opened.
No debate, no vote
I can see why many senatorial candidates would choose to avoid debates like the plague.
First, debates might highlight the poor governance and economic management of the Duterte administration, under whose aegis the administration bets are running.
Second, debates may uncover the fact that some candidates themselves had pushed for bad economic policies, and thus contributed to our present economic woes in one way or another.
Third, debates could simply betray candidates’ stupidity and ignorance.
But just as sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant, so public debates could sanitize the festering senatorial campaign trails currently devoid of discussions on pressing economic issues.
Here’s a suggestion: if a candidate can’t be bothered to show up in debates and lay bare their ideas for all to see, let’s not vote for him or her.
If they have their “win-first-debate-later” policy, let’s adopt our own “no-debate-no-vote” policy. – Rappler.com