A storm is raging as we enter the last quarter of 2016. A stormy Christmas ahead?
The unabated killings arising from the war on drugs. The ranting on the United States, the European Union, and the United Nations. The muckraking in the chambers of Congress. The loud threat of the House Speaker to scuttle the tax reform, particularly the tax on gasoline and the expansion of the coverage of the value-added tax. The urban gridlock that cannot be solved by continuing and expanding the number-coding scheme or by changing road rules daily but can be effectively addressed by the gasoline tax that the Speaker does not like. All this creates a tumultuous season.

 A stormy Christmas but a happy one nonetheless. The Pinoys are an optimistic lot. They cheer their leader and trust him, so Pulse Asia and Social Weather Stations say.

There’s one reason, especially for the marginalized, para sa laylayan, to be hopeful. Christmas 2016 might not produce palpable gifts that will lift the people out of poverty, but good initiatives make a bright future. One such initiative is the Partnerships against Poverty Summit, which the Office of the Vice-President is facilitating.

On Oct. 10, 2016, a thousand people — leaders and members of the organizations for the poor — community groups and people’s organizations — will meet with local and national government officials, the representatives of other civil society organizations, the academics and technocrats, the public intellectuals, the businessmen with moral sentiments, and the donors and philanthropists. They will talk about how the pamilya sa laylayan can secure access to food, health care, education, and life-long learning and how they can gain formal employment, participate in the market and increase productivity.

The summit will focus on the all-round development of 60 poor municipalities, particularly those that have a concentration of the most vulnerable groups — the indigenous peoples, the Moros, the fishing communities, and the informal settlers.

The summit will discuss ways to build capacities of the local governments and the communities; empower the people through information, education, and collective action; increase scale for efficiency, effectiveness and bigger impact; search development innovations; and link stakeholders towards getting resources and technical help.

This initiative, Partnerships against Poverty, deserves full public support. I anticipate though that some quarters will raise eyebrows and question this.

The issue, for them, is not the program itself. After all, who will dispute the correctness of forging partnerships against poverty? Their uneasiness is about the Vice-President Leni Robredo embarking on this noble yet practical project.

For those rabid red-blue-and-white adorers of President Rody Durterte but who hate Leni for being associated with the color yellow, they might ask: How come Leni is doing this program? Why not let the other agencies that deal with poverty undertake this?

My answer: The concept note from the Office of Vice-President (OVP) Robredo states that “the OVP seeks to contribute in the administration’s poverty alleviation efforts.” A cursory look at the program of the Partnerships against Poverty shows its consistency with the Duterte administration’s 10-point socioeconomic agenda, namely on “rural and value chain development toward increasing agricultural and rural enterprise, security of land tenure, human capital development, including health and education systems, and social protection programs.”

Moreover the anti-poverty program or Duterte’s socioeconomic agenda should be seen as an integrated, inter-departmental approach.

For example, Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez III is involving the other Cabinet secretaries in the comprehensive tax reform program though this is the domain of the Department of Finance. This is because the proposed tax reform legislation gains credibility and support if it is linked to government spending and the delivery of public services.

And recently, the Office of Cabinet Secretary Jun Evasco took the lead in organizing a Development Summit, though it can be said that the National Anti-Poverty Commission or the National Economic and Development Authority could have done this.

The anti-poverty program is a team effort, and the Office of the Vice-President is contributing to the team effort.

Which leads me to a question raised by some who are strongly anti-Duterte: Why is Leni deodorizing or giving legitimacy to the Duterte administration? Why hold this Summit when it politically benefits the Duterte administration?

My answer: In the first place, the Duterte administration is legitimate. Duterte won the elections convincingly.

Like it or not, the people trust him and are satisfied with his performance for the first 100 days. This administration, despite Dutertes’s violence and brashness, is unlike the Ferdinand Marcos regime that had no legitimacy by grabbing power through a coup d’etat and by imposing a dictatorship. As far as I know, people, including the harshest critics, can exercise freedom of assembly, freedom of organization, freedom of the press, and other rights. In short, the political space is there to advance reforms.

Yes, extrajudicial killings are on the rise, and we should condemn all this. But we should not reject the opportunities for change and progress — and there are real opportunities like the peace with the Moros and the communists, the comprehensive tax reform package, the primary health care program, the continuation and expansion of the reforms done by the previous administration. It is not Duterte that gets hurt by non-cooperation with respect to reforms but the people, especially the pamilya sa laylayan, who desire change.

Vice-President Robredo, as demonstrated by Partnerships against Poverty, takes the long view. She will build, not destroy, institutions. She will advance reforms no matter how incremental. Incremental reforms become big changes in the long run. And she will not hesitate to contradict the President, in the same manner that other Cabinet Secretaries do, when justified.

Our Vice-President gives a new meaning to what the late Jaime Cardinal Sin called “critical collaboration.” Let’s support her Partnerships against Poverty.

Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.