Action for Economic Reforms:

Michael Alba, Krupskaya Añonuevo, Manuel Buencamino, Jenina Joy Chavez, Lisandro Claudio, Sylvia Estrada-Claudio, Ramon Fernan III, Mario Galang, Yusuf Ledesma, Corinna Lopa, Nepomuceno Malaluan, Hazel Malapit, Cristina Morales, Rene Ofreneo, Rafael Paredes, Rene Raya, Jessica Reyes-Cantos, Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III

Senator Noynoy Aquino has emerged as the people’s candidate. That he has made the accountability of Gloria Arroyo and her regime a central plank of his program boosts his position as the most suitable to preside over the next administration.  We have identified Arroyo’s illegitimacy, plunder, and destruction of institutions as the main obstacle to our country’s progress.

The mission for the next six years is gargantuan. The next President carries the responsibility of resuscitating our institutions of democracy, transparency, and accountability from the vicious blows inflicted by Arroyo. But to get there, Arroyo’s forces must first be overcome. This will not be easy, given the state machinery that Arroyo commands.
This is where the candidacy of Noynoy Aquino finds relevance. By far, he appears most capable of generating the broadest coalition that stands the best chance of defeating the vilest, most dangerous enemy.

Noynoy’s democratic credentials have deep roots. He is personally closest to the legacy of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, two Filipinos to whom people and country mattered most. Noynoy, as he proclaims to continue the fight of his parents, resonates as well the people’s unfinished fight for democracy and decent governance. He also lays claim to a moral uprightness that the likes of former president Joseph Estrada cannot hope to match.

Moral uprightness and the fortitude to fight for people and country – nothing less is needed to be up to the daunting tasks of 2010-2016.

To be sure, most aspirants to the presidency will put forward their respective platforms to address the most critical development challenges for the next administration. We offer below a focused program.

First, we need to launch an economic recovery that is broad-based, and powered by the resurgence of the domestic economy that is not confined to the service sector. The growth strategy must target chronic unemployment, food insecurity, ecological degradation, and persistent poverty.

An immediate binding constraint on growth is the very low tax effort, which can lead to another fiscal crisis.  Resolving the fiscal problem requires implementing serious reforms in tax administration, fighting smuggling and other forms of tax evasion, reformulating the excise taxes on sin products to become robust, rationalizing fiscal incentives, stopping the indiscriminate creation of special economic zones and free ports, and rectifying spending anomalies.

On infrastructure, we must address not only the backlogs but also the geographical imbalance.  We give special attention to boosting agriculture and uplifting the rural poor.  Among other things, we must rethink the agrarian reform program, which has failed both on equity and efficiency grounds.

And once the global recovery sets in, we must not allow our currency to overvalue and thus lose competitiveness. Strategically, we have to undo the failed trade, industrial and agriculture policy of the last four decades.
Second, towards diminishing the politics of patronage and avoiding a repeat of elections being stolen, we need to make elections clean, honest and fair as well as to even the playing field in political contestation.

Third, we have to resolve the crisis in Philippine education. At all levels (primary, secondary and tertiary), education is beset with serious problems of quality, attendance and mindless commercialization. Complex problems in human resources in agriculture and the vast informal economy are hardly being tackled. Already we are suffering from the consequences of poor education outcomes. This will hobble the country in the long term if not effectively addressed soon.
Fourth, the next administration must move the process of achieving peace, especially in Mindanao. The long-standing conflict has continued to cause peoples and communities untold suffering. Learning from Barack Obama, the next leadership should junk the ideological and bellicose stance of previous administrations and be open to principled concessions to secure a just and long-lasting peace.

The most decisive issue that the next president must confront is to make Mrs. Arroyo and her accomplices account for the crimes they have committed in public office.  These include rigging the elections, plundering the public coffers through various scams, flouting the rules of accountability, committing human rights violations including extra-judicial killings and forced disappearances.

The next president should vigorously resist the idea of forgetting the past and moving on. Forgiveness, reconciliation, and mercy should not be used as a shield against accountability. The issue is not just about personal guilt or redeeming souls, but principally about rebuilding institutions that have been decimated.

As support for Aquino’s candidacy snowballs, care should be taken that the emerging movement is not hijacked by opportunistic forces and self-interested operators as well as by exclusivists.

We also share the hope that Aquino can unite the broad spectrum of the anti-Arroyo opposition, from the revolutionaries and reformers to decent conservatives as well as the other mainstream political parties.  The broadest coalition not only ensures the defeat of Arroyo’s party. Such unity is likewise critical as we embark on a tough reform program and as we shape the nation’s collective identity towards a bright and prosperous future.

The change we seek cannot be the sole responsibility of the political leaders. A responsible citizenship—informed, vigilant and active—will deter cheating in the 2010 elections, push back the forces of darkness, and sustain the reform struggle. Responsible citizenship means helping out the new government. We cannot leave to government alone the fulfillment of so many tasks.  The post-Arroyo period will be an opportunity to recover our sense of community.

At the same time, responsible citizenship will call on the new President and his coalition to account for his and their action or inaction on crucial matters. We must guard against giving false hopes to the people.

To reiterate, the fight is against Arroyo and those like her who use their position for personal aggrandizement. Arroyo is the symbol of what’s despicable with the system. This is a struggle between change and more of the same.

This statement was published in the BusinessWorld’s September 21, 2009 edition, pages S1/4 to S1/5.