Author Archives: Bernadine Racoma

On the other hand, the Philippines claims that the disputed features within this supposed Nine-Dash Line fall within its EEZ, measured off the baselines of Philippine territory – and thus China is in no position to prevent Filipinos to exploit the resources within them. (Image via Atty Harry Roque . Some rights reserved)

The West Philippine Sea Dispute: Is it really over or just the beginning?

Thursday, 14 July 2016 | Written by
On the other hand, the Philippines claims that the disputed features within this supposed Nine-Dash Line fall within its EEZ, measured off the baselines of Philippine territory – and thus China is in no position to prevent Filipinos to exploit the resources within them. (Image via Atty Harry Roque . Some rights reserved)

It is a mum victory for the Philippines. Yesterday, at 5PM PST, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, Netherlands has awarded to the Philippines its claims on the contested islands in the West Philippine Sea against China. The Court favored to uphold the 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone of the Philippines versus the nine dash line historical document being claimed by China.

On the other hand, the Philippines claims that the disputed features within this supposed Nine-Dash Line fall within its EEZ, measured off the baselines of Philippine territory – and thus China is in no position to prevent Filipinos to exploit the resources within them. (Image via Atty Harry Roque . Some rights reserved)

Image via Atty Harry Roque . Some rights reserved

In a 499-page dossier released by the international court, the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Laws of the Sea or UNCLOS became the cornerstone of the rulings made. All evidences presented by the Philippines was clearly deliberated upon and decided on. It clearly declares that China has breached its obligations as stated in the articles of the Convention, which included:

  • China’s unlawful prevention of Filipino fishermen to engage in traditional fishing in Scarborough Shoal
  • Chinese flagged vessels fishing within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines
  • Chinese fishermen damaging the marine environment through hunting endangered species and other marine life
  • The creation of Chinese artificial islands in contested zones through land reclamation and construction while proceedings were ongoing

There was also a declaration on the rightful acknowledgement that Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal are within the EEZ of the Philippines.

A Hollow Victory?

As soon as news broke out, Filipinos all over the world expressed joy and relief after hearing a favorable decision from the Hague. In social media, Filipinos expressed their emotions through #CHexit, an iteration of Brexit which immediately became a trending topic on Twitter. The only one who doesn’t seem so jovial was the Foreign Affairs Secretary himself, Perfecto Yasay Jr., according to some netizens. In a press release from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Secretary stated:

“The Philippines welcomes the issuance today, 12 July 2016, of the Award by the Arbitral Tribunal constituted by the Permanent Court of Arbitration under Annex VII of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the arbitration proceedings initiated by the Philippines with regard to the South China Sea.

Our experts are studying the Award with the care and thoroughness that this significant arbitral outcome deserves. In the meantime, we call on all those concerned to exercise restraint and sobriety.

The Philippines strongly affirms its respect for this milestone decision as an important contribution to ongoing efforts in addressing disputes in the South China Sea. The decision upholds international law, particularly the 1982 UNCLOS.

The Philippines reiterates its abiding commitment to efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of disputes with a view to promoting and enhancing peace and stability in the region.”

The Duterte Cabinet was clear in its stand not to use the arbitral tribunal’s decision to “taunt or flaunt” to China and to the world. In a Cabinet meeting on July 12, the government requested everyone to exercise prudence over the issue. If we clearly observe the news, only Yasay is speaking out in the Cabinet; all others are privy to giving out comments with regards to the issue.

As to why the Duterte government is less celebratory in tone, one can just imagine the aftermath of this decision. Yasay will have to spearhead what might become one of the most difficult diplomatic talks with China especially after the ruling that further aggravates the already irked Chinese government. China’s President Xi Jinping was unfazed by the ruling and has asked for the People’s Liberation Army to prepare for combat in case things escalate in the West Philippine Sea. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs also released a statement, saying:

“With regard to the award rendered on 12 July 2016 by the Arbitral Tribunal in the South China Sea arbitration established at the unilateral request of the Republic of the Philippines (hereinafter referred to as the “Arbitral Tribunal”), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China solemnly declares that the award is null and void and has no binding force. China neither accepts nor recognizes it.”

With such a strong and defiant statement from China, some experts have seen the Court of Arbitration’s award as a hollow victory for the Philippines, as China was unyielding to the court ruling. China further stated that the Philippines’ decision to take the dispute to an international arbitration court was done out of bad faith and had not honored the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC) which stated that disputes should be settled directly with nations concerned. This further explains the non-participation of China in the arbitration case.

But obviously, this sea dispute with China is more than just what it is. There is also the bigger underlying tone, which is an increasing friction between two of the biggest superpowers in the world: China and the United States.

Torn Between Two Powers

This is where the Philippines gets caught in the middle. Both the US and China are our favored allies. Our ties with China goes way back pre-colonial times when trade routes have already been established even before the Philippines was born. On the other hand, the United States has been our strongest ally since World War II and has done much to fight alongside our troops during those trying times. We’ve benefited much from the ties we have with these two countries so it is perhaps unwise to favor a side.

From the perspective of China, it thinks that the “Imperialist Western societies” have given the Philippines jurisdiction over a sea that they have historically owned for the longest time. From the perspective of the United States and other western countries, China is bullying the Philippines by imposing its power and military strength in occupying areas of the West Philippine Sea.

But clearly, China’s call for military escalation does not come from the arbitration ruling alone. It comes from the fact that the United States military has stepped in through an allied partnership with the Philippines. China is not pleased with the Philippines taking the dispute to an international court (as some would say, it was a wrong move by the Aquino administration), but it seems to be more irritated by the US military presence in the West Philippine Sea and South China Sea.

With China provoked, Washington backs the ruling that it is legal and binding, adding that “the world is watching” them. Of course, the United States wants to maintain its strong presence in the Asia Pacific Region but it is still not part of the UNCLOS and has mainly been an “observer and protester” in these sea disputes.

In the end, the ball is still in the hands of the Philippines. The events of July 12 will be the most critical as our country goes back to the negotiation table with China. Surely, nothing is certain at this point, but going to war is the last thing we should all have in mind.

Photo via pcoo.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.

Duterte reveals that the war on drugs is bigger and badder than we thought

Saturday, 9 July 2016 | Written by
Photo via pcoo.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.

And we thought we knew how big our drug problem was.

READ: Beating illegal drugs through education in the Duterte presidency

In a press conference held yesterday in Malacanang Palace, President Rodrigo Duterte unraveled a large map detailing the connections of personalities involved in the illegal drug trade in the Philippines. It’s another shocking revelation for many Filipinos. We always knew our country had a problem with illegal drugs, (Which country doesn’t anyway, right?) but have we imagined that it would be this big?

Photo via pcoo.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.

Photo via pcoo.gov.ph. Some rights reserved.

The Office of the President has yet to release the full chart showing the drug rings embedded in our society but just by looking at it, it seems to be both terrifying and assuring. Terrifying because there are people who are involved in the drug trade whom we thought never were. Case in point, the 5 PNP Generals named by the President himself. At the same time, it feels assuring to see this map as it gives a face and an idea of how big the illegal drugs problem is. It’s no longer a mystery to us, and we now know who are involved and how extensive the connections are.

Why only now?

In a debriefing with the media led by Secretary Martin Andanar of the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) after the above mentioned press conference, many questions arose. One of the queries that caught the attention of Department of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was this: “Did previous government officials [ Department of Justice (DOJ) and Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG)] know about this?” Aguirre’s response was cautious, they may or may have not known, but one can easily surmise that both agencies may have had the information.

This generates a whole new bag of questions like: Bakit ngayon lang? Why was this not exposed to the public before? If both DILG and DOJ knew about this, then why wasn’t there any information-dissemination on this problem? What did the Aquino administration do about this?

It is quite a revelation actually, if taken as an afterthought, to see that this massive illegal drug trade was happening right under the nose of the previous president. And not that we blame him for it. It is just shocking to know about it. Even his most trusted men in the police force, whom he had given his trust, have dipped their left hand in the drug trade while offering their right hand to the then president?

Well, it is up to the justice system to decide on the fate of these five generals, but at the very least, this crackdown on illegal drugs is leading somewhere significant. Imagine all the primetime news stories about pushers and addicts getting killed by police but never actually getting to the drug lords themselves? Some people speculate that the drug killings are just a decoy. Those who get killed by the police are all but petty drug peddlers and shabu sniffers. Small packets of shabu are found in their pockets, and then the police officers being interviewed on TV would say that it was because the suspects fought back. With what? A balisong?

PNP Chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa himself said that he knows what some policemen are doing. They are on a killing spree to end the lives of their assets and small time peddlers in the drug rings, fearing that they might squeal about the involvement of some police officials in the illegal drug trade.

Well it’s too late now. The President himself caught the big fishes. Without the power and influence of the so-called “protectors”, now that they’ve been named in public, the rest of the personalities connected in the drug rings will start to wither. Kill the queen mother alien, and you kill the spawns.

The China connection

Well, you can’t really kill the “queen mother” nor end drugs totally, but we do know that the main source of illegal drugs come from China. For those who’ve been awake in their history classes, this doesn’t come as a surprise. Ever since the Opium Wars, China has been the source of illegal drugs in so many countries. Imagine, France and England waged a war in China just for the sake of opium. It became an addiction in Europe and made people rich. That’s why the British could not easily surrender Hong Kong, the so-called black spice was too precious to give up.

Now, synthetic drugs like shabu are being imported in enormous quantities to the Philippines. One clear example is what happened four days ago in Cagayan, where 180 packs of shabu amounting to PhP900 million was unearthed in a farm. Most likely, they were imported according to police officials with the unconfirmed source probably coming from nearby Taiwan or China.

Again, it should come as no surprise. China has been one of our longest trading partners, even before the Spaniards came. It is great to be a close neighbor to one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful economy in the world. But the underside of this relationship is losing the West Philippine Sea bout and this illegal drugs issue. It seems that China has this negative attachment to illegal drugs in the same way that the United States has a negative attachment to guns.

Narco-politics is real

The word narco-politics has yet to be included in the dictionary but the definition of this term can be deduced from “narco” or narcotics, meaning illegal drugs, and how it influences politics. Duterte has cited Mexico several times as being a narco-state, where drug cartels are able to highly influence national politics and the government. The New York Times has already weaved the sad story of the 2014 Iguala kidnapping that left 6 dead and 43 missing. Until now, Mexico is waging a war against drugs and has still failed to eradicate it totally.

And the Philippines is close to being a narco-state as well, Duterte says. But back in February, PDEA denied that narco-politics is happening in the country. A report from the Manila Times noted that “Public Information Office (PIO) chief Glen Malapad said they do not have hard evidence against top government officials who are said to be involved in the drug trade.” Is that so? So why is it that Duterte is able to present something to the public now? Perhaps our current President has better intelligence units, lest there was something we all do not know about.

But everything is out in the open now. Even the names of mayors and politicians involved in the drug trade are about to be uncovered. Some say it was wrong to reveal or name names in public but I surmise that Duterte is doing this for one very practical reason – if ever he dies out of this crackdown on drugs, at least the public knows who to go after.

It is but right that the President should tell the people everything he knows because his fight will be the fight of every citizen. There is no place for illegal drugs in our country. We are not and will never be a narco-state.

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Beating illegal drugs through education in the Duterte presidency

Thursday, 7 July 2016 | Written by
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According to President Rodrigo Duterte, we are at the brink of becoming a narco-political state. This was his warning to the country as soon as he was sworn in to the top position of the country. He wasted no time in drilling down to the core problem of illegal drugs as it was his pronouncement to totally eradicate, or at the very least suppress it in 3 to 6 months. Just a day ago, he named 5 PNP generals who were involved or protected certain groups involved in the local drug trade. It came as a shocker to everyone, but it will surely not be the last. president duterte Helping the President eradicate this deeply rooted problem is his appointed PNP Chief, Roland “Bato” Dela Rosa. The tough-looking chief immediately got a 4-star promotion from his 1-star rank. Both men have gone a long way fighting crime and drugs in Davao. And now, they are doing it for the whole country. Busting drugs through education Speaking of dela Rosa, he was present during the turnover ceremony of the Department of Education along with newly elected Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, the former Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) head. Their presence was duly acknowledged by the new DepEd Secretary Leonor Briones and outgoing Secretary Br. Armin Luistro. With more than a hundred present in the Bulwagan ng Karunungan of the DepEd, Briones had the first chance to address the Department as the new DepEd Secretary. She pointed out the priority of President Duterte to eradicate or at the very least, suppress illegal drugs and criminality in the country. And she wants the DepEd to do its part by educating the youth on drugs and drug addiction. Briones noted that despite having a topic on illegal drugs in the K to 12 curriculum, it was focused on its scientific aspects and misses out on the practical side. Briones wanted students as early as Grade 4, to be able to identify a drug pusher and know how to respond or who to report to when they encounter one, especially when they are offered to buy illegal drugs. The presence of dela Rosa and Lacson emphasized Briones’ point, as they were the ones who witnessed the turnover of the DepEd seal and Transition Report. Both were open to act as resource speakers through the invitation of the Secretary herself. Drugs and minors In narcotics-infested countries (like in some Latin American countries that the Pesident himself noted), drugs have become so influential that families run the drug trades themselves, and it involves their children. The late Griselda Blanco for example, notoriously known as Colombia’s drug queen (aka the Godmother, La Viuda Negra, La Madrina), was exposed to the drug trade as early as 11 years old. It had become her world, so much so that she had turned it into her empire. She died in a drug-related encounter in 2012. In our country, minors are already exposed to drugs and the drug trade. Some affluent children, aged 12 to 15, were tested positive for drugs after the Close Up Forever Summer Event that left 5 people dead. The horrific tragedy was masked by the hype stirred up by the events organizer, luring the youth to engage in a YOLO-kind of event. It was such a baffling situation as to why minors, liquor (which carried no permit to sell in the event), and drugs made it inside the concert grounds. If YOLO means taking drugs and alcohol, then there should be no more Forever Summer events like these. And the problem of youth and drugs has already been going on for a long time. In 2012, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) reported an alarming increase of minors getting involved in the illegal drug trade. According to the report, “there is an alarming increase in the use of minors as couriers, runners and drug peddlers. It also appears that drug traffickers are targeting children of considerably younger age bracket. In fact, there was one incident in 2012 where a 1-year-old baby was used to conceal shabu being trafficked.” The report also added, “Solvents and other inhalants

are also a preference and are usually abused by street children.” The use of minors as drug couriers is something that is also prevalent in the borders of Mexico and the United States. Shabu crystals have been hidden in their stuffed toys, inconspicuous objects like baby formula, and almost anything that will smuggle illegal drugs across the borders. In our country’s case, children are used as couriers as they could not really be imprisoned due to the current laws that protect their welfare. In this case, the law was used to abuse. Street children on the other hand, have such easy access to a common binding agent called rugby glue. These solvents could easily be bought in makeshift hardware stores, alarmingly, even in small packets worth PhP5 (not in bottles) as if the real intent was to satisfy the addiction of these kids. And solvents have the power to suppress someone’s feeling of hunger. Helping the youth against drugs The Dangerous Drugs Board (DDB) under the Office of the President has collaborated with different government agencies including the PNP, DepEd, and DSWD to direct the youth away from illegal drugs. One key program is the National Drug Education Program (NDEP) done with the Department of Education. The NDEP is done in compliance with the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act 9165, otherwise known as the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002. Strengthened through DepEd Order No. 12, 2009, there are 5 key components involved in the implementation of NDEP:

  1. curriculum and instruction
  2. co-curricular and ancillary services
  3. teacher/staff development
  4. parent education and community outreach
  5. research, evaluation, and monitoring.

School heads are required to oversee the successful implementation of the program and to ensure that the campaign against illegal drugs are made aware to all students. Other supporting programs of the DDB include:

  1. Barkada Kontra Droga (BKD). A peer-based preventive education and information program that aims to promote a healthy lifestyle free from drug addiction. DDB reported more than 50,000 members across 251 BKD chapters nationwide.
  2. National Youth Congress on Drug Abuse Prevention and Control. An annual 3-day congress that orients the youth on how to move away from drug use. More than 2,000 youth leaders have participated since 2002 according to DDB.
  3. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). A program spearheaded by the PNP where 156 DARE police officers conduct classes and seminars to Grades 5 and 6 pupils on the dangers of illegal drugs and how to avoid them.

With barely 2 weeks in office, President Duterte has managed to have drug pushers and addicts surrender to the police. At the same time, he has dropped the bomb on 5 generals, while PNP Chief dela Rosa reassigns dozens of his erring policemen to Mindanao. But stopping illegal drugs must start from the roots. And the roots are right at the doorstep of DepEd where Sec. Briones will definitely keep watch.

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HIV is a public crisis the Philippines has yet to escape

Thursday, 30 June 2016 | Written by
redribbon2hiv

HIV
The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the country is increasing daily. This is alarming especially while the world’s HIV cases are on a dramatically downward trend. Health organizations have even named the Philippines as one of the countries with fastest growing HIV epidemic around the world.

In 2008, there was one case of HIV per day. In 2010, the daily count went up to 4 cases. In 2012, there were 9 a day and 17 a day in 2014. As of April 2016, the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases is a whopping 26 each day.

For the month of April 2016 alone, 32 deaths were reported.

Alarming details and statistics

According to the April 2016 HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) report from the Department of Health’s Epidemiology Bureau, there were 772 new HIV positive individuals (94% were male, median age 28 years old) in the registry. This is 38% higher than last year’s 560 cases in the same period. Of these, 84% were asymptomatic. More than 50% of persons living with HIV (PLHIV) fall in the 25 to 34 year old group. On the other hand, 29% belong to the 15 to 24 year old group.

There were 520 people living with HIV newly-initiated on anti-retroviral therapy, which is also 38% higher than last year’s 378. A total of 13,908 PLHIV were presently on ART as of April 2016.

The regions with the most number of reported cases were:

National Capital Region –  313 (41%) cases

Region 4A with 133 – (17%) cases

Region 7 with 76 – (10%) cases

Region 3 with 65 – (8%) cases

Region 11 with 43 (6%) cases

A total of 142 (18%) cases came from the rest of the country.

Of the 32 reported deaths, 94% (30) were male while 6% (2) were female. Half of the reported deaths belong to the 25 to 34 year age group, 7 were in the 35 to 49 year age group, 8 were youth aged 15 to 24 years old, and 1 belongs to  below 15 years old age group.

The predominant modes of transmission were: sexual contact (730), needle sharing among drug users (40), and mother-to- child transmission (2). Of those transmitted through sexual contact, 86% were among males who have sex with males (MSM).

However, different predominant modes of transmission are seen in different regions. Nearly half (49%) of the MSM ever reported were from NCR; 99% of the IDU were from Region 7; and 44% of females who engaged in transactional sex were from Region 3.

A total of 73 (9%) cases reported to have engaged in transactional sex. Majority (96%) were males whose ages ranged from 18 to 59 years while 3 were females whose ages ranged from 24 to 31 years. Sixty-seven per cent (47) of males that engaged in transactional sex have paid for sex while 1 of the females have engaged in both.

A total of 36 blood units were confirmed positive for HIV by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

redribbon2hiv

The lowdown on HIV, AIDS and ART

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) if left untreated with antiretroviral therapy (ART) can lead to the end stage disease called acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Unlike most viruses like flu, the body can’t completely get rid of HIV. Once infected with HIV, it stays in the body for life.

HIV relentlessly attacks the body’s immune system and if untreated, it reduces the number of CD4 cells (T cells) in the body until the immune system is unable to fight off disease and other infections. This makes the person more likely to acquire infections, infection-related cancers, and other diseases.

HIV is not easily spread. It is transmitted by direct contact of certain infectious body fluids such as blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids, and breast milk with a mucous membrane (inside the vagina, penis, rectum and mouth) or damaged tissue or by direct injection into the bloodstream (by a needle or syringe).

The best and the only way to determine if you have HIV is to get tested. Testing is simple, just ask your health care provider or go to clinics or community centers to get tested.

While no treatment can cure HIV, with appropriate medical care and timely ART initiation, HIV’s progression can be controlled. If taken correctly, this medicine can significantly prolong the lives of most PLHIV, keep them healthy, and remarkably decrease their chance of transmitting the virus to others.  With appropriate treatment, PLHIV initiated on ART before the disease is has advanced, and maintained on ART can live almost as long as someone who does not have HIV.

PLHIV who are not initiated on ART will most likely proceed to the end stage of HIV called AIDS. It is the stage of infection that occurs when the immune system is severely damaged and it becomes more and more vulnerable to opportunistic infections. PLHIV can be diagnosed as having AIDS if he/she develops one or more opportunistic infections, regardless of the CD4 count.

If left untreated, a person who is diagnosed with AIDS normally survives up to about 3 years. If he or she acquires a dangerous opportunistic illness, like some form of cancer, life expectancy without treatment dramatically falls to just about 1 year. Medical treatment is paramount in people living with AIDS to prevent premature death.

Without immediate, targeted intervention, HIV and AIDS will continue to rise in the next 4 years. Vigorous public health campaigns focusing on HIV prevention like condom use, sex education and accessible testing, are urgently needed if the country wants to stop HIV.

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Federalism: Is this the biggest change to happen under Duterte’s Watch?

Thursday, 30 June 2016 | Written by
Duterte-Rally-650x276

“Change is coming.” This is the slogan of President-elect Rodrigo Roa Duterte. In the recently concluded 2016 Philippine Presidential Elections, Filipinos, along with the rest of the world, witnessed the victory of the veteran Davao Mayor. With more than 15 million votes, Duterte has been given the mandate to run the country as the next Philippine president.

Duterte-Rally-650x276

Duterte is scheduled to take the top helm by noon of June 30 in which his first 100 days will start counting. He promised to impose his fight against drugs, corruption, and criminality. But it was not necessary for him to wait for his inauguration. Being the “action man” that he is, he immediately laid out his platform in detail during midnight press conferences in Davao. He openly discussed his plans to the media and the public countless times, and this includes the possibility of moving from a unitary form of government into a federal system.

Past initiatives

But Federalism in the Philippines is not an entirely new idea. In fact, this has been considered since the declaration of the first Philippine Republic. In a research done by Curig and Matunding for the University of the Philippines, during the 1899 Malolos Constitution, Emilio Aguinaldo and Apolinario Mabini have proposed a federal system that would divide the country into three states: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.

This idea did not push through though, with the report citing: “At that period of war, it was agreed that the new Republic would not last nor would it present a unified front against the American colonizers if at the very start, the country is seen to be subdivided politically and administratively. The idea was to present a solid country with power firmly held at the center.

The decision to adopt a unitary system of government is an effect of the statement above. The belief is that if governmental powers were centralized to Manila, the capital, then we have strong Republic. But the nation was still clearly divided after losing the Filipino-American War. We all know this story through Heneral Antonio Luna. His death was a sign of a Philippines that was not unified at all.

The proposal to push for federalism was revived once again in 1935, at the time when the Philippines used the United States Constitution as a basis for developing its own. The federal system part of the US however, was left out in favor of continuing a unitary system. Another call to federalism was made in 1973 during the Marcos Era by Salvador Araneta but it also failed. By the time Corazon Aquino ascended to the Presidency, another call to federalism was made, but this time with very little rapport as the country was just moving on from the Marcos dictatorship.

Pushing for federalism

Today, federalism is advocated by the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-LABAN) political party spearheaded by veteran politician Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III. In 2008, he proposed Joint Resolution No. 10, which would have required the revision of the 1987 Constitution and implement a federal, presidential, and bicameral form of government. In the said Resolution, the Philippines will be divided into 11 states and one administrative region:

  1. Federal Administrative Region of Metro Manila – Manila
  2. Northern Luzon – Tuguegarao City
  3. Central Luzon – Tarlac City
  4. Southern Tagalog – Tagaytay City
  5. Minparom – Mamburao, Occidental Mindoro
  6. Bicol – Legazpi City
  7. Eastern Visayas – Tacloban City
  8. Central Visayas – Cebu City
  9. Western Visayas – Iloilo City
  10. Northern Mindanao – Cagayan de Oro City
  11. Southern Mindanao – Davao City
  12. Bangsamoro – Cotabato City

The 11 States shall operate within their own state governments while power is shared with the federal government, which acts on a national scale. Local issues are handled by the state governments and is responsible for the legislation and economic development within their area. The federal government will mainly be involved in handling national issues and concerns like the safety and security of the country.

Former UP President and Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) recipient, Jose Abueva, also prepared a white paper on federalism. In this 19-page document entitled Some Advantages of Federalism and Parliamentary Government for the Philippines, he laid out all the characteristics of a federal parliamentary system in the Philippines. Roles were clearly stated and went on as far as detailing the system as having a prime minister and president.

Abueva pointed out some clear advantages when the country moves into a federal system. He stated five reasons:

  1. Federalism will encourage peace and unity within the diverse cultures of the Philippines, most especially for the Lumads and the Muslim Filipinos.
  2. Federalism will fully decentralize the entire government system.
  3. Federalism will increase citizen participation in the development of their own states.
  4. Federalism will empower local or state governments.
  5. Federalism will spark growth and development within states and not just in Metro Manila.

One of the biggest supporters of federalism is none other than the incoming president himself, Rodrigo Duterte. Even before his announcement to run for president, he has been going to different provinces in the Philippines to share his stand as to why federalism should be enacted this time around. Even when he was campaigning for president, he was unabashed in telling people not to vote for him if they did not believe in federalism.

Duterte has argued in several for a that there is an unequal distribution of wealth and development across the country. This is largely the effect of having a unitary form of government. Metro Manila has become the center of all activities and developments that other cities in the provinces have been neglected. Duterte said that most of the revenues generated by provinces just stay in Manila and is never given back to the region or province. When it comes to government documents and services, people from the province have to travel to Manila just to get them. Even the best facilities are located in Manila.

Federalism, he says, changes it all, as only 20% of state revenues will go to the federal capital, while 80% will remain with the provinces so it can develop. In the federal system, states have more power and resources in rapidly developing their cities. Essentially, the revenues made by a state will more or less go back to the state.

So when Duterte says, “change is coming,” shifting to a federal government must be one of them. However, it will still take several steps and years before this will be in full swing. Duterte needs to open a referendum first (like Brexit) in order to get the nation’s pulse on the issue. It is only then when a Constitutional Convention has to be enacted with the approval of both upper and lower houses will federalism take shape for our nation.

 

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Final preparations are up for the inaugural of the 16th Incoming Philippine President

Wednesday, 29 June 2016 | Written by
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The preparations for the inauguration of Rodrigo Duterte, the incoming 16th President of the Republic of the Philippines are underway. Updates were shared by incoming Presidential Communications Office Operations Secretary Martin Andanar and incoming Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella. What the media know is that it will be a simple affair to be held at the Rizal Ceremonial Hall of the Malacañang Palace at 12 noon on June 30.

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A week ago, the guest list for the simple inaugural event has ballooned to 657, but according to the latest news, the final guest list has been trimmed down to 150. This includes diplomats, Cabinet members and family, among others. The incoming President said that he does not want to cause traffic buildup during that day, which is a Thursday and still a work and school day. Duterte will take his oath before Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes of the Supreme Court.

Speech

Duterte’s inaugural speech, which he will deliver after taking his oath, is being written by two persons. It is expected to be in English, Filipino and Bisaya. In all probability, it would be projected on a teleprompter, but this is not yet final because Duterte might opt to memorize or read his entire speech. A teleprompter has been sent to Davao so that Duterte can practice using it.

Reception

In line with the president-elect’s wishes, the reception is said to be very simple as well. They will do away with the vin d’honneur, the formal reception after the inauguration where wine is served, as this would incur additional expense. It is said that maruya (fried bananas in batter) and buco juice will be part of the menu.

Media coverage

Previously, media coverage of the affair was banned. The latest word is that there will be nine national broadcasting companies that will cover the event, although the names of these broadcast companies are yet to be released. Andanar said it would be announced at a later date. Likewise, he added that the change in media protocol followed the adjustment of the guest list. He also assured the media during the press conference held in Davao City that the incoming president will not be late for his inauguration. It is widely known that Duterte was always late for events during the campaign period because he likes working late into the night. Andanar said that Duterte would be at Malacañang Palace at 10:30 in the morning to begin preparations for his inauguration. They have already met with Facebook Public Policy for Asia Pacific so that the inauguration can be streamed live to allow Filipinos around the world to watch it.

No joint inauguration

Incidentally, only the incoming president will be inaugurated at Malacañang Palace on June 30, as Duterte already told incoming Vice-President Leni Robredo that there would be no joint inauguration. This is the first time that this will happen.

On Robredo’s side, they said that they were preparing for the joint affair but since Duterte is not open to this, they will be preparing a simple inauguration ceremony on their own, although the Metro Manila venue has not yet been announced. Robredo plans to take her oath in front of Ronaldo Coner, the barangay chairman of Punta Tarawal in Calabanga, Camarines Sur. It is said to be the poorest, farthest and smallest village in the province.

This plan, according to a retired provincial prosecutor, Agapito Rosales will not have any force and effect, since a barangay official only has jurisdiction within the village where he was elected chairman. It will only be official if the oath-taking ceremony is held right there at Punta Tarawal.

drug problem

How Far Will Duterte’s Administration Go in the Crackdown on Drugs?

Monday, 27 June 2016 | Written by
drug problem

Yung mga kasama ko noon, humihitit ng shabu bago bumiyahe,” said Rodel (not his real name), a driver of a popular personal driving service app. He has opened up the topic to me, his passenger, and it was surprising to know that he was quite straightforward in telling that he has seen his fellow bus drivers sniffed some crystal meth or methamphetamine (aka shabu) right before they started their shifts. Apparently, excluding himself, bus drivers and conductors have habitually taken shabu to keep them awake in early morning shifts or straight 24 hour shifts. “Para ka daw bagong gising,” he described.

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The topic arose when we were talking about Rody Duterte’s crackdown on illegal drugs. It was lengthy conversation that we’ve had as we crawled throughout our journey along EDSA on a Thursday morning rush hour. The incoming president is not just a hardliner against illegal drugs, he is enraged by it; so much so, that he is willing to have all drug lords, pushers, and users die if need be.

But what is the real score when it comes to eradicating illegal drugs in our country? Ever since Duterte’s win, people have been seeing more and more deaths related to drugs. The police beat reporters never seem to run out of shocking stories to tell as well.

Illegal drugs international data

On a global scale however, the issue on drugs is just as concerning. In the 2016 World Drug Report published by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC),  “it is estimated that 1 in 20 adults, or a quarter of a billion people between the ages of 15 and 64 years, used at least one drug in 2014.” The number of users can be compared to “roughly the equivalent of the combined populations of France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom.”

The report further emphasized that 247 million drug users in 2014, 29 million suffer from drug use disorders. Sadly, only 1 in 6 of these people have been or are in treatment.

And here’s the biggest catch. According to the report, “there is a large and growing market for both methamphetamine tablets and crystalline methamphetamine” in Southeast Asia. It further added that, “in 2014, crystalline methamphetamine was the primary drug of concern in Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines and the Republic of Korea.”

drug problem

Image taken from UNODC Word Drug Report 2016

This perfectly connects the end-users mentioned by the driver earlier. Shabu use is a growing problem and it has already caused a lot of accidents on the road. Remember the news stories on the killer buses? Need not to mention the bus companies, but the notoriety of public buses speeding off the highway and ending up in a fatal crash is actually caused by drug use. No wonder some of them sounded like freak accidents.

No Forever Summer

Drug use however, is not just prevalent amongst drivers. If it were, drug lords would not be making so much money to the point that they can raise funds as a “cash reward for those who kill Duterte.” Such bold pronouncements can only tell us that there is another connection to this illegal drug trade, the rich, and young party-goers.

It is perhaps an open secret, that behind the walls of the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, are the Chinese drug syndicate heads cooking shabu like a normal meal. But crystal meth is not the only choice for the moneyed youth. For the past years, the so-called Forever Summer event has been a topline event that invited the best music artists and DJs for one night of reveling. But the euphoria brought about by such an event seemed to be not in a natural way but in an illegal drugs way.

There was no denying that behind the flashy ads and tongue-in-cheek advertising of the toothpaste brand, the popularity of the event was marred with drug use and distribution of it. Rappler did an interesting article on this and it was because of the drugs that people attended the event. The jampacked MOA concert grounds were populated by music, sex, and drugs. And none of the police enforcers were able to shut down a party that left 4 teenagers dead, their hearts burnt to black.

The drugs suspected to have been used were traced back to a so-called “green amore” pill, among with other tablets like ecstasy.

The Duterte Effect

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When Rodrigo Duterte ran for president, he vowed to eradicate (or okay, lessen) criminality in the country within 3 to 6 months. This is now something he still wants to commit to once he takes his seat by June 30.

But even if his presidency is not yet in effect, people have been feeling the so-called “Duterte Effect.” His character is so powerful and intimidating to criminals that some have openly volunteered to surrender themselves to the police. On the other hand, the tainted police force, as described by Duterte, seemed to have pressed the panic button and went on a killing spree to eradicate people involved in the drug trade.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) already noted that around 68 drug-related suspects have already been killed since January of 2016. In the 2015 statistical report from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), more than 9,000 people have been arrested out of the 11,542 operations conducted.

The problem is, those who got killed don’t seem to measure up to the real situation. Meaning to say, certain people speculate that the police are just eradicating their assets to cover up their own involvement in the drug trade. Duterte himself revealed to the media that there were 35 local executives involved in the illegal drug trade. There is so much more in the PNP rumor mill where police officers get involved in the illegal drugs confiscated. General Rolando ‘Bato’ dela Rosa, Duterte’s handpicked PNP Chief, backs this by asking the corrupt police officials to pack their bags before he and his boss assume their positions.

With such a strong political message from Duterte, other government leaders have taken drug busting into their own hands as well. Tomas Osmena, mayor of Cebu, and Antonio Halili, mayor of Tanauan, Batangas have used controversial means to handle the drug problems in their areas. Osmena offered cash rewards to citizens who get to kill a drug pusher while Halili permits a ‘walk of shame’ for those who have been arrested for drug-dealing.

The crackdown on drugs has definitely been a growing issue, and this has been happening even prior to Duterte officially taking the presidential helm. It will be a headache for everyone in the Commission on Human Rights but for now, it seems this is the only way forward in eliminating illegal drugs in the country.

Photo by OnCall team via Flickr. Some rights reserved

When Salaries Become the Plight of Pinoy Nurses

Sunday, 26 June 2016 | Written by
Photo by OnCall team via Flickr. Some rights reserved

In the Philippines, one of the major professions of people that go abroad is nursing. Filipino nurses are known around the world for their exceptional care for patients and dedication to their work. But even if a lot of Filipino nurses are enjoying the rewards of greener pastures, our own country could not provide the same for nurses staying in the country. This is part and parcel of our healthcare system which still has a lot to improve on, especially the salaries of nurses.

Photo by OnCall team via Flickr. Some rights reserved

Photo by OnCall team via Flickr. Some rights reserved

In a report from the Manila Times, 200,000 registered nurses are jobless as of April 2016. In addition, around 200,000 registered nurses are working in a different profession or job. Only 500,000 registered nurses are working in government and private hospitals.

For those working in their practiced profession, the salary is far from the ideal. As of this writing, the current starting salary for nurses is pegged at Salary Grade 11 which is at PhP19,000. This amount already reflects the provision of Executive Order 201 of 2016 which mandates the increase of wages in each salary grade. In previous years, it has been at roughly PhP18,000. This salary is more or less at par with a Teacher 1 position in a public school.

Legislation background

But the security of salaries among nurses has already been enclosed in two important legislations: Republic Act 9173 or the Philippine Nursing Act and Republic Act 7305 or the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers.

RA 9173, otherwise known as the Philippine Nursing Act was passed on October 21, 2002. This provides the complete stipulations, rights, and responsibilities of nurses. The law’s Declaration of Policy is as follows:

Section 2. Declaration of Policy. – It is hereby declared the policy of the State to assume responsibility for the protection and improvement of the nursing profession by instituting measures that will result in relevant nursing education, humane working conditions, better career prospects and a dignified existence for our nurses.

The State hereby guarantees the delivery of quality basic health services through an adequate nursing personnel system throughout the country.”

The law is clear on how it protects the nursing profession and what duties and responsibilities are entailed herein. In addition, the salaries of nurses are pegged at “Salary Grade 15.” As mentioned earlier, the current wages of nurses are pegged at “Salary Grade 11.” Section 32 of the law states that:

“Section 32. Salary. – In order to enhance the general welfare, commitment to service and professionalism of nurses the minimum base pay of nurses working in the public health institutions shall not be lower than Salary Grade 15 prescribed under Republic Act No. 6758, otherwise known as the “Compensation and Classification Act of 1989″: Provided, That for nurses working in local government units, adjustments to their salaries shall be in accordance with Section 10 of the said law.”

As a complementary legislation to the law stated earlier, another law, RA 7305, otherwise known as the Magna Carta for Public Health Workers, emphasizes the following benefits to be received by health workers such as nurses. These include:

  • Night Shift Differential
  • Hazard Allowance
  • Longevity Pay
  • Laundry allowance
  • Remote Assignment Allowance

(A complete description of each item can be read here.)

A reiteration of the expected salary for nurses is Senate Bill 2720 or the Comprehensive Nursing Act of 2015. This was approved by the upper and lower houses and has been passed to the Office of the President for signing into law. SB 2720 safeguards the “Salary Grade 15” for nurses, which was stated in RA 7193. Under section 47 of the Senate Bill, it stated that:

“Sec. 47. Salary. – The minimum base pay of nurses working in governmental health institutions, upon entry, shall not be lower than Salary Grade IS (SG-I5). This is to enhance the general welfare, commitment to service, and professionalism of nurses. In non-governmental and/or private health institutions, the minimum base pay for the nurses upon entry shall be equivalent to that of Salary Grade “15” in public hospitals and institutions.

The Senate Bill ensured that the amount of Salary Grade 15 is consistent for both private and public health institutions and hospitals. However, the said bill became quite contentious as it was vetoed by outgoing President Benigno Aquino III in the final days of his office.

The issues that surround the vetoing of the President have sparked outrage amongst legislators, nurses, and other civic groups. Some said that the Senate Bill was only a reiteration of a law that already exists. The government however, stated that the disadvantages of approving the Senate Bill were more compelling.

Nurses’ wages against health care expenses

One example is the rising cost of health care in the country. Some groups have argued that increasing the wages of nurses will increase the cost of hospital and health services. But in April 2016, the Philippine Nurses Association (PNA) released a position paper, entitled: “WHY PRESIDENT BENIGNO C. SIMEON AQUINO III MUST SIGN THE COMPREHENSIVE NURSING BILL.”

In the said position paper, the PNA laid out all the arguments and addressed the following issues should the Comprehensive Nursing Act be signed:

  • Higher cost of hospital services
  • Salary distortion
  • Will affect the universal healthcare program
  • Setback hospital modernization
  • Overlap with other existing laws

The PNA answered all the issues in the position paper stating that the nurses’ wages were just as important as the issues being raised. The association emphasized the importance of quality service from nurses that should be addressed through incentives like increased pay or salary.

Hospitals feared though that a nursing hike, especially for private health institutions, would incur higher service rates. This will then be the burden of the patients, and health care will lack accessibility and affordability to many Filipinos. Obviously, this is a battle of quantity and quality.

Do we allow higher wages for nurses? If we do, we may get better quality health care services. But the downside here is that not everyone may even be able to afford such services. If we do not allow higher wages for nurses, quality will be compromised, but more people will be able to access average (if not mediocre) health care services.

Nurses’ wages against wages of other professions

When President Aquino vetoed the bill, he was clear that “the government must be fair to all workers and that the nurses’ appeal for higher wages, along with teachers and other employees, had been addressed through performance-based compensation,” Presidential Spokesperson Herminio Coloma Jr. said. The bill was not necessary according to Aquino as EO 201, s. 2016 is sufficient for the increase in salary. Salary Grade 11 has been raised from PhP18,000 to PhP19,000-PhP20,000 which will be implemented in four tranches starting 2016 and ending in 2019.

The government emphasized that the increase in all sectors of government was more of a fair deal than approving a bill that is specialized towards the increase of salary in one profession only. This is a difficult tipping point as the President had to consider salary movements not only within one field but across different fields of work as well. An increase to Salary Grade 15 for a nurse might impact other professions like teaching who share a leveled rate with nursing.

On the other hand, RA 9173 does state that nurses should get wages at Salary Grade 15.

Nurses’ wages against foreign competition

As a result of Aquino’s decision, nurses have reacted negatively. Many of them who are already jobless or in another job position, are only feeling more compelled to go abroad. This is a tightrope situation now for the incoming president Rodrigo Duterte. The temptation to seek jobs in the US and UK has become more viable as these two countries have a large population of nurses. But Filipino nurses would probably even go to the most remote areas of the world as long as they earn salaries higher than what is provided for by the government.

In the end, it is crucial for the next administration to review and revisit the law again and come up with measures on how to improve our health care system which includes the wellbeing and financial stability of our most loved Filipino nurses.

 

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What Worked and What Didn’t Work in the Aquino Administration (Part 2 of 2)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016 | Written by
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Continued from  “What Worked and What Didn’t Work in the Aquino Administration  Part 1 “

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What did not work in the Aquino Administration

  1. Criminality and security

The Aquino administration was marred by controversies on safety and security. Some of these were the Quirino grandstand hostage crisis, the still unresolved Maguindanao massacre, and the killing of 44 SAF Officers in Mamasapano, Mindanao. There is also a weak crackdown on drugs and corruption amongst ranked officials.

What could be done? The incoming officials of the PNP, AFP, need to be hardliners when it comes to managing the police force and military. Duterte fits perfectly as Commander-in-Chief as this is one role that Aquino was not able to fulfill so well.

  1. Disaster response

The devastation of Typhoons Pablo and Yolanda has left a huge mark to the administration of President Aquino. The effect of climate change on the country plus the natural dangers that surround the archipelago have placed the Philippines to be among the “most natural hazard-prone countries” in the world per a published report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). It cited the Philippines on the third spot in the 2011 World Risk Index. In the 2014 World Risk Index, the Philippines ranked as #2. The Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards or NOAH has become a successful tool in averting disasters since its launch in 2012, however, the country still needs to be more prepared for all possible disasters – from storm surges, to typhoons, and earthquakes.

What could be done? It is important to continue innovations in NOAH, which can also help promote a culture of readiness among Filipinos. Expanding emergency response units like 117 and the Philippine Red Cross is critical when it comes to preparedness and response. The next administration could also focus on building permanent evacuation centers and emergency shelters.

  1. Passing of bills

Towards the end of the Aquino term, several bills have not made it as laws despite strong lobbying from civic groups and legislators. Until now, the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act has not been passed, nor the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) which will supposedly strengthen the relations in Mindanao. Aquino also vetoed the SSS pension hike and the salary hike for nurses, both of which would have benefited these underserved sectors in society.

What could be done? It would be helpful if the next administration could review these again and instead of outrightly denying, offer alternative options to the affected sectors and explore other means of making it work other than just saying ‘no’.

  1. Transportation problems

Every commuter knows the plight of having to take public transportation in the Philippines. There’s the terrible MRT line system, the tanim bala, extortion, and luggage stealing at airports, and the super congested roads due to poor road discipline and unregulated ownership of cars. Public transportation is also as frustrating with lots of bus accidents happening due to reckless and even drugged drivers.

What could be done? The solutions to daily traffic problems are also problematic. The P2P buses are often empty as they ply less traveled routes. The people in DOTC should have better knowledge by having the staff commute, even the secretary. The department should just stop giving elitist solutions to everyday transportation woes, regulate cars on the road, and improve public transportation.

  1. Agrarian reform and agricultural support

Up to this day, farmers in the Philippines are still treated so lowly. In other countries like Japan, Australia, and the United States, farmers live dignified lives for they all get a fair share of what they have worked for. But in the Philippines, farmers still pay just to irrigate their farms. On top of that, they get very little compensation for their hard labor. The hacienderos get a larger pay cut for owning the land and the harvesters are left with very little.

Our country is also highly dependent on rice imports which hurt local produce and there is a lack of agricultural support in farming and fisheries sectors.

What could be done? It is but proper to give rightful compensation to farmers. They should be given the chance to own farmlands. If landowners cannot take care of his own land, then they should sell that farm to someone who wants and can take care of the farm.

  1. Growth was good but not inclusive

Finally, the Aquino government did a lot of wonderful reforms, but those who benefited were either mostly the rich ones (effects of economic growth) or the really poor ones (through 4ps). Those in the middle were mostly left behind. Changes were not felt and these are the people who commute everyday, pay taxes, and have multiple jobs.

What could be done? Inclusive growth is something that should be clearly defined by the next administration. The term “inclusive” itself can already mean so many things. It is pertinent for each government agency to align and cooperate with each other rather than acting as a single institution rolling out a project on their own. The lower middle class, which constitutes the majority of our population, should also be given a chance to earn better wages to catch up with the rising expenses.

It is important that both the outgoing and incoming governments engage in dialogues in order to discuss these things and weave together a plan that carries over the good things of the Aquino administration and the plans of the Duterte administration. Politically, it has been a tradition to leave behind projects of a previous or opposing administration, but it is very impractical especially if it benefits the nation. With a few days left, we hope that both administrations cooperate in the transition to help the new administration in leading this country with a fresh mandate.

President Noynoy in Yolanda visit . Photo via facebook.com/presidentnoy. Some rights reserved.

What Worked and What Didn’t Work in the Aquino Administration (Part 1 of 2)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016 | Written by
President Noynoy in Yolanda visit . Photo via facebook.com/presidentnoy. Some rights reserved.

As the famous Andrea Bocelli would sing it, “con ti partiro”. It is time to say goodbye, at least for outgoing president Benigno Aquino III and his administration. Some say it has been a legacy that has come full circle – what the father has started, the son has finished. And though Ninoy Aquino became the president we never had, Noynoy Aquino became the president we never thought we’d have.

President Noynoy in Yolanda visit . Photo via facebook.com/presidentnoy. Some rights reserved.

President Noynoy in Yolanda visit . Photo via facebook.com/presidentnoy. Some rights reserved.

His presidency is one that is marked by extreme circumstances and outcomes. Some results turned out extremely well (like our fiscal standing amongst credit rating agencies) and some results turned out really terrible (like the handling of the Mamasapano Massacre where 44 Special Action Force troops got killed). So much so that these incidents have polarized the nation when it comes to having an opinion with regards to Aquino and his administration. People either liked “Daang Matuwid” so much, or people just simply grew tired of it.

But when it comes to evaluating the performance of any administration, it is important to look into the long-term goals they have set. This is usually found in the Philippine Development Plan (PDP) prepared by the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). It is a good basis for determining if the government has succeeded in its goals for the past six years or not.

It is also a blueprint followed by all government agencies as it laid down all the strategies, actions, and outcomes for each sector.

However, in reading the PDP, it must also be analyzed with a critical lens in order to see not only the achievements but also the setback areas that need more attention. Below is an outline of all the areas the Aquino administration wanted to focus on based on the PDP for 2011-2016:

  • Inclusive Growth
  • Macroeconomic Policy
  • Competitive and Innovative Industry and Services Sectors
  • Competitive and Sustainable Agriculture and Fisheries Sector
  • Resilient and Inclusive Financial System
  • Social Development
  • Good Governance and Rule of Law
  • Peace and Security
  • Sustainable and climate-resilient environment and natural resources
  • Accelerating infrastructure development

The PDP is downloadable for free at the NEDA website and it is a good basis for seeing if the government has met its goals for the country. This is a good starting point for those who want to know more about the direction and plans of the government.

Again, every administration has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, achievements and failures. The State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs) of the President bare these strengths and achievements. While critics provide the weaknesses and failures. It is a symbiotic relationship of checks and balances that say if the government is doing its job in meeting its goals.

With a new administration taking over in a couple of days, it is critical for the Aquino administration to engage the Duterte cabinet and bare everything to them – both the achievements and the failures. This is an essential element in achieving a successful transition.

When engaging in transition talks, it is good to discuss the things that worked, and the things that did not work in the past six years, after which, the next steps is to be discussed in a collaborative and consultative manner. From a bystander’s and citizen’s point-of-view, here are the things that worked and what did not work during the Aquino administration, and what could be done by the incoming Duterte administration.

What worked in the Aquino Administration

  1. Campaign on good governance

The Aquino administration did a good job in cleaning up agencies like DPWH, DSWD, DepEd, DOLE, TESDA, PAG-IBIG and other social service institutions. The appointments of Secretary Babes Singson and Secretary Armin Luistro were a good decision as they were able to herald the needed changes in their respective departments. Singson was able to rid corruption from public infrastructure projects, which was then tainted by corrupt officials during the Arroyo administration. Luistro on the other hand, was able to steer the largest government agency in the country into implementing the K to 12 Reform Program.

What else could be done? More agencies need to be cleaned up. LTO, LTFRB, and most of all the Bureau of Customs (BOC) have to be led by strong-willed individuals. Those government officials who tolerate corruption and red tape in their ranks have to be weeded. It is also but timely to improve the services being given to the public like preventing long lines and long hours of waiting in processing documents.

  1. Tax collection

Despite the flak received by BIR Commissioner Kim Jacinto-Henares over her relentlessness in collecting taxes, she has actually done a good job in straightening up the bureau. Crackdown on tax evaders including high profile businessmen and celebrities has increased tax revenues.

What else could be done? Tax reform is something that should be prioritized. Even though tax collection has improved, tax evasion will still be prevalent because the taxes are already too steep for many Filipinos. Income taxation should be anchored to inflation rates in order to adjust to the current situation of our working citizens.

  1. Education reform

Changing the education system from a 10-year to a 12-year cycle was no joke. The K to 12 Reform Program took immense amount of efforts and political will in order to be enacted into a law and implemented. This long overdue reform will set Filipinos at par with other countries and our ASEAN neighbors.

The addition of Senior High School (SHS) on the other hand was a huge gamble for DepEd. Its implementation happened at a very tight timeframe, eventually leading to a school opening where some classrooms were in the middle of being constructed.

What else could be done? The next DepEd Secretary could start thinking of ways on how to rollout the final installment of the K to 12 cycle while ensuring that improvements are being done on the previous ones.

  1. Strong macroeconomic policies

The Aquino administration could actually be credited for the good economic performance of our country in the past years. We’ve got improved credit ratings from S&P, Moody’s, and Fitch. The New York Times even dubs the Philippine economy as “Asia’s bright spot.” The economic minds under the Aquino administration worked aggressively on business development and leveraging on partnerships in order to spur economic growth.

What else could be done? Despite the improvements in the economy, businesses still find it hard to set up camp in the Philippines. With 16 procedures to go through before starting a legit business, more local and foreign entrepreneurs find it hard to put up shop. Streamlining government procedures should be put into place to make transactions smoother and easier.

  1. Infrastructure development

The government could also be praised for successes through public private partnerships or PPP. One project called the PPP School Infrastructure Project (PSIP), in partnership with DepEd, was able to gain international recognition due to the collaborative effort between private and government entities. The project was able to build more than 9,000 classrooms in selected regions in the country.

What else could be done? Infrastructure development is always centralized in Metro Manila. And with such a dense population in such a small land area, living within the metropolis just becomes harder. The next government should prioritize the decongestion of Metro Manila and encourage investments in the provinces. There is also a need to improve the infrastructure in rural areas and other cities located in the provinces.

  1. Poverty alleviation

One of the highlights of the Aquino administration is the 4Ps or the Pantawaid Pamilyang Pilipino Program which aims to provide financial support to the poorest Filipino families through a conditional cash transfer program or CCT. Through the 4Ps, poor families are able to move above poverty line with the cash incentive they get from DSWD so long as they meet the conditions set by the social welfare agency like having the children go to school and having pregnant mothers go through routine check ups.

What else could be done? The CCT idea can be applied to people who are living in similar circumstances. Expanding the list of eligible beneficiaries like the elderly, the disabled, or abandoned children and individuals will be helpful in turning around their lives for the better.

Continuation in Part 2

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