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Daring greatly

Ronald U. Mendoza, Ph.D.

With healthier mothers and stronger investments in children (and in tandem with the effort to build the country’s social protection system), this reproductive health law, if implemented properly, could help break the inter-generational poverty trap by deepening investments in the country’s future generations.

The Act Restructuring the Excise Tax on Alcohol and Tobacco (Republic Act No. 10351), more popularly known as the “sin tax law,” will see the application of what economists’ call a Pigouvian tax. It’s named after the French economist who pushed for taxation on activities that create negative spillovers—activities with adverse effects on other people not directly involved, in this case primarily smoking. This has the expected impact of increased tax revenues and lower incidence of smoking among youth, if one follows the evidence from other countries.

With the signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, the peace agreement in Mindanao is another major reform accomplishment. Many who have been working to promote peace in this part of our country now see more reason to hope for much better days ahead. With peace Mindanao now has brighter prospects for economic development, catching up with (or perhaps even leading?) the rest of the country.

Amid these gains, the country lost a reform champion in Secretary Jessie Robredo. His life shone as a beacon of good governance at the local government level, buttressed by his integrity, track record and success in creating the constituency for governance reforms in Naga City. As DILG Secretary, his legacy includes key reforms such as the Full Disclosure Policy and Seal of Good Housekeeping, that not only promote transparency and accountability in governance, but also active participation and constructive engagement of civil society organizations and the concerned public.

One hopes his example has already inspired a new generation of leaders and even more voters to begin to change the way local governments are run—from traditional and patronage-based politics to one that sees citizens participate more proactively in governance.  

2013 challenges

No doubt, these pockets of excellence need to be scaled up and out, inspiring the entirety of the government bureaucracy. The challenge here is for a new breed of leaders to follow (indeed improve) on Secretary Jessie’s example, first by effectively communicating and getting elected on a compelling message of alternative politics, and then actually delivering on it, in partnership with the people.

This will not be easy in a country where many have already become too cynical. The country will face an immediate test on this front in the coming mid-term elections in April. More Secretary Jessies bringing merit, integrity and competence to public office? Or business as usual for traditional clan-based politics? Change politics will take both innovative leaders and a critical mass of voters to dare greatly.

In addition, the road to sustained peace and development in Mindanao and other conflict-prone areas of the country is still a long one.

Further, the sin tax and RH laws are also just the tip of a broader reform effort that would promote good governance and inclusive growth. Much needed legislative reforms would need to ensure citizens’ empowerment through freedom of information, the promotion of free and fair competition policy to finish the agenda that creates a level and fair economic playing field, and also implement investment incentives reforms that would infuse financing and technology to boost economic competitiveness and produce jobs in the country.

All of these need to be addressed in the context of now-recurrent climate shocks (e.g. Ondoy, Habagat, Pablo), possible foreign policy challenges due to disputed territories in the South China Sea, and the overall challenge to create economic opportunities for millions of young people entering the Philippine workforce in the next several decades.

Now is not the time to delay ambition, nor settle for the mediocre. Here’s to daring greatly in 2013! -

(The author is an associate professor of economics at the Asian Institute of Management.)