The item below was a letter I had written in 2002 as Chairperson of the UP Communicators for Good Governance, a student organization I chaired at the University of the Philippines Diliman. I was then a Senior at the UP College of Mass Communication. The letter was printed on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in December 2002, and on the Philippine Star in January 2003.
Much has happened since then, especially in the area of politics and governance. But has much changed? Here’s the letter, followed by an updated commentary, updated 5 years later.
Our crucial part in good governance
Judging the current state of the nation, the country may not be able to expect substantial recovery by 2003. It will continue its rough sailing. The administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo will have to contend with the worsening poverty. It will need to go beyond figures, and truly bring socio-economic reforms down to the grassroots. It will have to continue wrestling with the growing budget deficit and foreign debts. Add to these the endless destructive squabbling among politicians, and the dropping popularity of the present administration, which is just the tip of the iceberg. Many wish to forget 2003, and in hindsight, are just waiting for the 2004 elections.
At the every core of all these concerns are the Filipino people, who are on the receiving end of governance. As no stability is yet in sight, it is not such a surprise that fingers are pointing to the present administration. Clamor for good and effective governance persists and continues to grow, in the desire to get this nation’s act together. What many, however, still do not realize is the vital role of the public in making this possible.
Take for example the country’s budget deficit, which has reached a new high in 2002. Although the tax collection system of the Bureau of Internal Revenue needs a major upgrade, it is highly disturbing to note recent figures indicating that shortfalls in tax collection are due to non-remittances or inaccurate remittances by the professional sector and many businessmen. As reported by this newspaper, the country lost over 600 billion pesos in the 1990s, which is almost a third of the country’s debt, and as big as the budget in 2000.
Would the country really have this big a deficit had the people paid their taxes? Is it then surprising that about 47 percent of the nation’s budget goes to debt servicing instead of vital projects? Is it surprising that the government needs to rely more on indirect taxing schemes, and may now have to consider the International Monetary Fund’s proposed tax on text messaging?
While corruption should be blamed and be eliminated, the public’s responsibilities cannot be overlooked. Good governance will only be possible with good citizenship. Merely changing presidents and Cabinet members will not amount to anything if ordinary people will not do their part. Corruption among government officials does not give the public any license to go above the law. Good governance starts with each individual, who is also a stakeholder in governance, and is as accountable as a government official.
Hence, we call on the government to take action. We call for the continued and immediate strengthening of agencies, particularly the Bureau of Internal Revenue and the Commission on Audit. We call on the public to take action, to take part in governance, and to take responsibility for the welfare of the nation. Lastly, we call on the mass media to actively and consistently use its resources in the interest of nation-building, in calling for good citizenship, and in enjoining the Filipino people to take part of the nation’s governance.
Each Filipino has a stake in good governance and is called to do his duties. The government should not be left alone to shoulder this obligation. (end of letter)
Among the notable things, the Oakwood Mutiny, the 2004 elections and subsequent plots to overthrow the government, the Hello Garci Controversy, changing of political alliances, 3 impeachment attempts against the President, the ZTE Scandal, and alleged Palace Payoffs to lawmakers and local officials, have redefined our country in the past half-decade.
Not much has changed for the country. And maybel only Malacanang would disagree with me.
The good thing is, based on figures, we now have a better economy to boast of than 5 years back. Our growth rates are the highest in 2 decades.
Yes! We are on our way to a balanced budget by this year, and let’s hope that really happens. Moody’s Investor Service has just raised the Philippines’ rating from positive to stable.
But the administration still has a long, long way to go if it wants all these gains felt by the poor. Again, the call is for the government to make these gains felt by poor. Those who are still living with less than a dollar a day, those who experience hunger will not be able to eat government’s boasting of economic figures. Hindi nila “ramdam ang asenso” kung hanggang sa talumpati lang ito.
The E-VAT has brought more revenue to the government. But improving Tax Collection should still be on top of government’s fiscal reform, if it is really serious about bringing revenue. If there’s any consolation, at least President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has almost been literally looking over the shoulders of the Department of Finance, Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Bureau of Customs. Much still needs to be done to strengthen the BIR and the Commission on Audit. Ironically, as I realize all the more after having produced my last Reporter’s Notebook story on the Palace’s unliquidated funds (you can watch the story on the sidebar of this site) as reported by the COA, the COA has not been able to do anything except “reprimand” the Palace. Where’s the strength there?
The great downside: the political landscape has truly degenerated, primarily due to the still largely unresolved doubts of this administration’s legitimacy. This is still an issue.
Still, while I run the risk of over-simplifying matters, I personally think, many of those who claim to be fiscalizers and playing heroes to the media are just after their selfish political interests. Still, true enough, not much has susbtantially been achieved in wiping out corruption.
And if I wrote that many Filipinos back then were just waiting for 2004, now, they couldn’t wait for 2010. The proof is all out there — all these talks about presidentiables, political alliances and parties as early as two or three years before the next polls.
Still, the administration has about two and a half years to implement much needed reforms. Despite the scandals, I personally continue to hope that positive change will happen. This is the only country we have. Which is why the same call to citizens still holds true — that we, private citizens do our part in nation-building, to do our active part in governance, and not just going with the flow out of callousness, thanks to all these unresolved scandals. And the media certainly can do more to promote nation-building.
These are, of course, still easier said than done. But at least they can be done. And that’s what counts.