That the upcoming democratic exercise in May will spell the difference in our nation’s life is no longer open to question. The campaign period has started and the fever is on. TV, radio and social media are replete with images, songs, slogans and buzzwords propagating each candidate’s avowed program of action for the country and constituents.
The focus is on who the candidate is, his or her background, competencies, personality and, more important, the promises committed once elected.
Our countrymen will be inundated with all sorts of information so that they will be empowered and enabled to make the right choice, supposedly.
There will be enormous opportunities for Juan de la Cruz to make the right choice. Keenly observe, closely listen and learn the positions being taken by the candidates with respect to certain issues that matter most if we want the Philippines to surge forward and turn into a truly democratic and developed nation.
But what are these issues? First, we must assess the candidates’ view on Charter change. Our Constitution is now 29 years old. While it has enshrined basic freedoms and equality, provides the right of suffrage to our people and guarantees other civil and political rights, it has glaring limitations that fail to provide the necessary foundation for accelerating inclusive economic progress.
The restrictive investment climate is traced to our basic law, which still imposes a nationality requirement (60/40 capital) for public utility operation, schools, media and other businesses. Tougher requirements are imposed on ownership of land and practice of professions. This fact has posed a hindrance to the country’s membership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade covenant that aims to slash tariffs on different categories of goods. Other Asian countries, like Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, chose to overhaul their strict legal requirements for foreign investors just to come in.
There are other provisions in our Constitution that demand a re-evaluation, like decentralization and the right to autonomy of certain regions in the archipelago, the presidential system of government, which appears to be increasingly misaligned with the political culture of our people, undermines the credibility and effectiveness of the political party system, promotes personality- driven leadership and engenders the proliferation of corruption.
Another topic to monitor is where the candidates stand on critical legislation. The 16th Congress has adjourned and it will only resume on May 22. Data would show that only two of the priority bills of President Aquino were passed, namely the establishment of the Department of Information and Communication Technology and the Foreign Investment Act. The fate of the other pending bills, like the amendments to the Electric Power Industry Reform Act, the National Land Use Act, and the Freedom of Information law, remain uncertain. Equally distressing is the failure to pass a legally acceptable Bangsamoro basic law, a piece of law that can somehow address the armed conflict problems in Mindanao. And whatever happened to the anti-dynasty bill? Surely, if we want true democratization and a wider participation of other citizens who have sincere intentions to serve the public, the perpetuation of deeply entrenched political clans should be put to an end. Those who aspire for public office should be queried, challenged and pushed to provide their plan of action with respect to alleviating poverty, hastening infrastructure development, addressing the worsening peace and order situation, establishing the rule of law, and eradicating all forms of corruption and poor governance practices. The real meaning of electoral participation lies in a full understanding of what is at stake if we make the wrong choices. The difficult and most painful questions should be asked. Demanding for a leadership that will truly respond to our needs and shall take care of our future is plainly obvious. This is undoubtedly not an expectation but an entitlement. We deserve nothing less.
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