The official campaign period for the 2016 national and local elections has not begun, but in reality, the battle for election is already heating up, with more and more political ads airing on radio and television, and candidates appearing in any forum available to expound on their platforms of government and, sometimes, to discredit their rivals.
Now that I’m back in business, the circles where I go around are with other businessmen. That doesn’t mean that conversations with other businessmen are necessarily limited to financials, economic ventures and business deals.
Because I was in politics for more than two decades, it is inevitable that informal meetings with entrepreneurs or corporate executives often lead to questions about the forthcoming elections, particularly for the presidency.
I’m in a unique position because I respond to these questions as an outsider looking inside, but an outsider who was an insider (in politics) himself. Also, I personally know the five presidential candidates—Vice President Jejomar C. Binay, former Interior Secretary Manuel A. Roxas II, Senators Grace Poe and Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.
The question other businessmen often ask me is: “Would there be radical changes in the government under a new president?”
My brief response is no. Knowing all these people, I see no ideological differences between them, despite their disagreements on many issues based on their public statements.
The five candidates have different backgrounds and track records, but I believe they are all qualified to be elected president. Even the candidates for vice president are very qualified.
The important thing is that the elections be clean and efficient so the next president will have a clear mandate to run the government in the next six years.
Of course, the candidates will each have their own style of governance if they win. When I say I don’t expect any radical change, I refer mainly to the economy, because whoever is elected president will meet the same fundamentals, like the growing remittances and business-process outsourcing (BPO) industry.
I also expect the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas to continue playing an important role, particularly in keeping interest rates low and in promoting the resiliency, growth and stability of the financial system.
Thus, it is also important that the candidates for president should already have a clear picture of the economic and other conditions affecting the country and a firm plan, more or less, on what they will do in the next six years.
As I’ve said in previous columns, the Philippines in 2016 will not be the same as it was in 2010. For instance, the population has already breached the 100-million mark, which means the demand for new jobs is higher, so is the demand for food, shelter and public services.
Changes in the global economy are also creating new challenges to economic growth—the slowdown of the Chinese economy and the strengthening of the US economy, which is the reverse of the situation in 2010.
All the presidential candidates know the strengths and weaknesses of the policies and programs that were implemented beginning in 2010, including those that were continued from the previous
The Conditional Cash-Transfer (CCT) Program, which was initiated by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has been continued and expanded by President Aquino. Based on their public statements, I believe all of the presidential candidates are also supporting the CCT.
The candidates are also familiar with the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Program, which was launched by the Aquino administration in 2010. It was supposed to be the government’s flagship infrastructure program, a vehicle to enable the Philippines to catch up with its neighbors in infrastructure development.
Unfortunately, numerous problems delayed some of the PPP projects, including disagreements on bidding terms, or right-of-way
acquisitions. To date, only one highway PPP project has been completed, the Daang Hari-South Luzon Expressway link. But the basic program is already in place, some projects have been awarded, and many are waiting in line.
With a good team of expert advisers, each of the presidential candidates should take advantage of the remaining months before the elections to look at the PPP Program, projects and policies so the new president will be prepared to push the projects right after the elections.
I cited the CCT to show that some programs, which have achieved their objectives, such as helping the poor, can or should be continued by the new administration.
If the political slogans that say the country before one’s self are true, then good programs should be maintained, regardless of who initiated them.
The PPP is also worth continuing but it is one program that needs improvement, if we are to accelerate the implementation of infrastructure projects, the lack of which has been cited by experts and businessmen as a major obstacle to economic growth.
We cannot afford to begin laying the foundation for growth each time a new president is elected. Instead, a new executive must add on, improve and build on the achievements of his or her predecessor while launching new initiatives.
That is how this country will climb up to the pedestal of growth, leading its people to the peak of prosperity.
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