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Without structural reforms, we are doomed Featured

AS expected, the President’s SONA was coasting along nicely in the first 30 minutes or so. With uncharacteristic aplomb, he opened his discourse boasting of the latest survey results that showed a disapproval rating of only 3 percent, taunting Congress “sana hindi kayo included sa 3 percent.” Conversely, the high approval score, again with atypical display of humility, “…inspires me with determination to pursue relentlessly what we have started at the start of the administration….” We must give it to the President. The economy is doing well, thanks to his superb economic team. As described succinctly by Bangko Sentral Governor Diokno, “We’re doing great at this time. I describe it as ‘Goldilocks economy’ — not too hot, not too cold — just right. Strong growth, low inflation.”

Although not detailed in the SONA, the economy’s numbers are indeed admirable, growing at an annual 6 percent rate during DU30’s three-year watch. The strength and resiliency of the economy is expected to go beyond this year, barring any global economic headwinds brought about by the challenges and dislocations of the US-China brewing trade war.

Whether the economy is all-inclusive benefiting the greater mass of our people and lifting them out of stark poverty, is a subject of debate best left to the partisans of the Deegong versus the naysayers of the opposition — now lumped incongruously and misnomered as the Yellows.

But the President couldn’t help reverting to a familiar rehashing of his old song and dance number on illegal drugs, the foundation on which his killer-strongman reputation was built, while skirting the issue of human rights violations. This has demonized his international image and for someone who is hypersensitive to criticism and an avowed misogynist, it is ironic that he is now pitted against world-famous celebrities fronted by the beauteous lawyer Amal Clooney before the international courts. But the Deegong doubled down as if taunting the whole world. The man really doesn’t give a damn! His first request to Congress was the reinstatement of the death penalty for crimes covering not only prohibited drugs but corruption-related plunder and other heinous offenses. The uproar that ensued from the local Catholic Church hierarchy was echoed by the world’s liberal bleeding hearts.

It may be recalled that quite a few suspected drug lords were compelled to take a shortcut from the Deegong’s formal path through the justice system and court trials; and have been efficiently dispatched while being arrested, or worse, while incarcerated.

From this point on in his SONA, he discarded his written speech and degenerated into his rambling off-the-cuff remarks and inane ad libs that held the audience self-consciously uncomfortable with the predictable sexiest jokes. For one who just signed the Bawal Bastos law, he detracted from his narrative of cleaning and turning Boracay into a real world-class resort with a tasteless aside teasing a cabinet member on ogling the skimpily clad foreign women, and peppering his storyline with comments of his “smelly” girlfriend during a water crisis in Manila. The audience response was a half-hearted, timid and polite applause, mostly by congressmen, senators and their spouses pusillanimously tolerant of the Deegong’s breach of decorum.

Digressing from the details of the SONA, this column will now attempt to parse the implications on the big elephant in the room; the intentional lapses on his campaign promises. For one, he may have written finis to the shift to federalism and stick to the dysfunctional unitary form, which to the advocates is really the main root of the politico-economic systemic anomaly (please refer to my 4-part series July 10, 17, 24, 31, 2019). From the standpoint of the serious reformers, this could be construed both as a disaster and an opportunity. A fiasco in the sense that the President who rode on the crest of federalism as a slogan to capture power has failed to define its core concept and parameters, leaving federalism as a mere mantra with its promises still-born. But it could also be an opportunity in that the serious reformers confronted with this setback can now interject their agenda of real political reforms that must be put in place now while DU30 still rules, leading towards a Federal Republic, after he exits the scene.

In other words, the federalists, political reformers, the centrists — all advocates can best use this hiatus to refocus their energy to work with the two houses of Congress who really hold the power for legitimate change. First is for the advocates to accept DU30’s paradigm shift. Oddly enough, a few of the President’s men, particularly in the DILG, his political party and allies in the academe are second-guessing the President, refusing to take his definitive statement that “federalism will not happen during my watch.”

As I have argued in past articles, federalism is not a surgical procedure to be applied to the republic. There is the imperative to introduce the issues to the populace with clarity and shape the debate on the definitions of the federalist universe. In short, the people need to buy in as they are the true beneficiaries of the real changes these reforms towards federalism will result in. And the biggest hurdle here are the opposing forces of the partnership of the traditional politicians, the elite and the oligarchy who feed on the confusion and dislocations that ambiguous federalist reforms will entail. And these are the true enemies of change, and like the proverbial biblical outcasts, they are legion; their tentacles extend to the two houses of congress. Our Centrist Democratic (CD) position is to accelerate the demand for the revision of the 1987 Constitution, Cha-cha, and support the President to achieve the achievable within the rest of his remaining term. This is the marching orders which the DILG and the PDP-Laban, the President’s main political instruments, must adhere to.

The three-year relentless pursuit of a nebulous federalism sloganeering shunted aside the multitude of problems facing the country calling for immediate solutions. But the political components of DU30’s government is in a disarray. We see no strategy for reforms — but merely relying on coping mechanisms.

Corruption in government, his other mantra, has been so persistent and overwhelming that DU30 has succumbed to knee-jerk policy and oftentimes contradictory declarations: suspend operations of PCSO, disallow nationwide gambling, replace leadership in PhilHealth, MWSS, GSIS. Customs personnel that can’t be fired due to security of tenure are made to report to Congress. Improve and simplify services at the LTO, SSS, BIR, LRA and Pag-IBIG. “Pag hindi pa ninyo nagawa ‘yan ngayon, papatayin ko talaga kayo.” Even the threats coated in the colorful lingo of the streets that earlier had endeared him to the masses have lost their edge and have become mere platitudes, a presidential lament of exasperation and perhaps despair. DU30 and his government have so far instituted only palliatives. A permanent systemic long-term solution is imperative — the revision of the 1987 Constitution. If our leadership cannot see beyond the end of their noses, then the Deegong’s rephrasing of an American cliché is indeed applicable: “I have seen the enemy, and it is us!”000
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