The Captain and her leaking ship

Buencamino does political affairs analysis for Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the newspaper Today, 03 August 2004 edition, page 11.

Many watched the SONA (State of the Nation Address) because they wanted
to know if the Ship of State was seaworthy. They were not really
interested in the destination. All they wanted to know was whether to
board, disembark, or throw the Captain overboard. The Captain knew she
had to start with the good news.

She told luxury class passengers, “Inflation is under control”; new
investments were made; three million more people found jobs; people are
safer in the streets, in their homes, and in their places of work” ;
and to steerage class passengers, she reported, ” Angelo de la Cruz is
home, and malaki ang pag-unlad sa pangunahing pangagailangan.”

I shouted, “Hoist the sails!” upon hearing the good news, but the
Captain said the ship was not ready to set sail and pointed to a gaping
hole in the ship’s hull. One look at the hole and it was obvious that
plugging it was going to be very difficult. But she offered the
consolation that, “the beauty of the fiscal problem is that all the
solutions are known, though applying the right ones is tricky.”

The Captain intends to sell some of the ship’s fixtures, “NAPOCOR power
generating plants and transmission lines must be privatized,” but even
if she makes a good sale, the proceeds won’t be big enough to plug the
leak. She would have to “ask Congress to pass eight revenue measures
that will collect P80 billion more.”

“Great!” I said to myself, “she is going to make everyone else pay for
the hole she made with her three-year presidential campaign.” Be that
as it may, she was not going to let the buck stop at her desk. She
threw it at the first-class passengers, “The worst offender, yet the
hardest to pin down, is corporate corruption. Businessmen must adopt an
attitude of tax acceptance, not tax avoidance. They must stop trying to
outrun the tax collector.”

She threw it at her crew, “Bureaucratic corruption with its numerous
leakages is bad. So is government incompetence” and threatened them
with more firings, “I have abolished eighty offices under the office of
the President. I will abolish thirty more. I ask Congress to pass a law
on government re-engineering.”

Then she appealed to the restive steerage class for a little more help,
as if the $8 billion a year they pay for third-class accommodations was
not assistance enough. “Maraming magsasabi: matagal na silang
nagsasakripisyo. Ngunit hinihingi ko sa inyo: konti pang sakripisyo,”
she implored.

Before anyone could ask, “What happens if after all you have said you
would do, the ship is still not seaworthy?”, she said, “Once we have
proved to our people that we have done what we can within the present
structure of government… I expect that next year, Congress will start
considering the resolutions for Charter change.” I laughed with a
wisecrack who asked, “Does she mean, next year she abandons ship?”

But my mood soured when I realized that some passengers may have
decided right there and then that it was time to build gangplanks—to
disembark.

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