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The Manila Times : Wish list from candidates

News & Interviews
3 September 2021

By Ma. Isabel Ongpin | The Manila Times

APPARENTLY, this month of September will come to a climax as political candidates (most of them self-nominated) decide how and with whom they will run for office. There will be the usual hostility and unpleasantness as already shown by our leader's ad hominem remarks against people who disagree with him.

Let us leave them to that and think of ourselves and what we need in this country at this time. We should make an inventory of our immediate needs and make them into demands on the candidates who will present themselves to us. And we should analyze their responses.

For material needs, adequate, well-designed, well-located and well-managed public housing is a great need. The majority of Filipinos need help in getting a home; it is a basic service that the government owes them for their work, their taxes and their dignity as Filipinos. So far, we have not had models of public housing that people accept totally. Many of them are far from workplaces, have shoddy construction, limited in space, inadequate in sanitary facilities, and basic services like education, transportation, health services and government offices that are needed to meet requirements like baptismal and marriage certificates, business permits, identification, taxes. Moreover, current public housing that goes back many years has been allowed to fall into slum-like conditions and decrepitude due to neglect of management and maintenance, a duty that the housing authority must respond to. Whichever agency is mandated to do public housing must have the special expertise to do it right. So far it is not only not done right but virtually not done at all.

Health facilities must be expanded as much as needed. The budget has to be expanded judiciously under the expertise of those in charge. The present pandemic has shown the utter neglect, poor planning and lack of expertise that our Department of Health has exhibited. Throwing money at it is not the answer as has been noted - they can't manage to handle the money or buy the right supplies at the right time for the right price. They need people with vision, better management (not every medical person is fit to be the secretary, a good manager sans a medical degree may be better as the present moment shows). Health facilities must not be just for dire cases or emergency cases but for preventive medicine, everyday care like the distribution of vaccines, the right information to stay healthy. Family planning, maternity and well-baby services, nutrition information and assistance - the necessary supplements for enhanced health must be made available everywhere from rural areas to urban areas. Endemic diseases like diabetes, tuberculosis, hypertension and even leprosy and now HIV must be addressed properly. Health services here are characterized by a lack of hospitals, hardly any laboratories that work at their maximum best, no local manufacture of vaccines (while our neighbors are already on it). There is a paucity of research on our endemic diseases. Lack of support in terms of budget and attention are a factor but management is the vital need. The Health Department is laboring under red tape conditions just like other government agencies. In the pandemic conditions of today, that failing is paid for in multiples of no service, no safety precautions for workers and inability to pay them their due. We have to demand a simpler form of doing things that will be efficient enough without being negligent or open to manipulation by people serving themselves and not those deserving of service.

Speaking of red tape, what is the mandate of the Anti-Red Tape Agency? Is it only for the facilitation of licenses and investments? These are areas of need but there are more needed like government procedures that they must attend to. We are having a red tape crisis that must be addressed.

Education has to be revisioned and reorganized. The education department has the biggest budget, the biggest mandate and the most important duty to bring up our youth for the future. So far, so bad. I will not list their inadequacies; we all see them as taxpayers' funds wasted or not used for optimum results. And from all these failings, an inadequate education.

Then there is transportation which is chaotic. What is the transport department pushing for? Simplification of traffic and the transportation of people is a must but somehow the efforts have not brought the needed results. Too many players, too many vehicles, too many regulations, not enough roads, not enough efficiency in toll booths, a proliferation of antique vehicles that pollute. And not to forget, sudden and inexplicable changes of rules without prior information and preparation.

Food security for our country is absolutely necessary. We are importing fish and pork and smuggling in vegetables, do not have enough rice, and do not help farmers make a living despite the large demand for their produce. The agricultural sector needs expert and minute attention, greater support to promote more and better harvests. Rural areas must be given the facilities for post-harvest, refrigeration, terminals, not just in certain places but in every region or province that needs them.

Mindanao has to be attended to and not just Davao City that seems to be in its acme of success. Rural Mindanao, the islands around it, the feudal conditions in which the poor people there live must be corrected. Put in economic solutions, infrastructure, education, health and equal opportunities for all, not just for their royalty or elites.

Finally, I think the Constitution must be reviewed. Some of its precepts need to be revisited to be more useful and more equal. The anti-dynasty provision has to be put to work. We are slowly turning into an oligarchy of political families that capture all the resources. There are protectionist precepts in it that keep the economy in the hands of the few and well-connected. The economic side of it must be reviewed and understood so as to be open to improvements.

You may want to question anti-corruption ideas and measures from candidates, just do not waste your time asking that of any of the candidates from the current administration. They have already failed spectacularly on this pernicious subject and what they will say will be, to put it kindly, of no consequence.

There is also the need to clearly define the term limits, both in accordance with the letter and the spirit of the law. As of now, we can see in lurid terms how the spirit of the law is subverted due to the lack of clarity.

Above all, make candidates see these demands as serious and timely so that they can tell us what they will do after thinking about it. Note the true from the false in what they promise, the knowledgeable or the pretending to knowledge when they reply and their sincerity, which is a tough one to discern.

Let us be more demanding and less entertained by candidates' antics. Enough of singing and dancing, dirty jokes and uncivil criticisms. Let us rise from our present indignities and come into our better selves.