By Jim Paredes
Sunday, April 20, 2008
I was watching a video of Al Gore at www.ted.com where he posed a really intriguing question. He asked his audience, “What would you set out to do if the whole world depended on you?’ The question got me fired up and I’m sure my Ateneo upbringing and being my parents’ son had a lot to do with it. I often ask myself similar questions, especially when I read about the big issues like global warming, world hunger and war. Some people might say I have a messianic complex. But I say it’s a refusal to surrender to such difficult realities.
If last week I was light and flippant in suggesting solutions to national problems, today I will be more serious. But unlike Al Gore, I will peer through a smaller telescope and instead of the global arena, I will focus on a tinier and not necessarily more manageable geographic area — the Philippines. Thus, I will ask and answer the question “If you ran the Philippines and could change anything, what would you change?”
I know there are a million things that are begging to be fixed in our country but for this article I will focus on just a few. I am not a lawyer and so I will not worry about the legal implications of what I intend to do if given the chance. Nor will I flesh them out since I do not have the space to do it. This is simply the idealist in me talking, who, despite all the disappointments, still refuses to give up.
I am not running for office but will support anyone of like mind who will. This is incomplete but it is already mean list as it is.
1. End all pork in Congress. I suspect that without the pork perks more than three-fourths of the people sitting in Congress now would not care to be there. In a setup without all that unaccounted money flowing, Congress will most likely attract a different set of people who may actually have the people’s welfare in mind and will hopefully do some serious legislating at far less cost.
2. Totally de-politicize the bureaucracy. In other words, absolutely no appointees, interference, intervention and undue influence should sway government workers in the way they execute their jobs. This way, policemen and military personnel will not be forced to pick up people illegally on orders of some higher-ups, or participate in stealing the elections. An honest guy in government will not be forced to play ball to save his job when he reports on corrupt practices.
3. Install an electoral system that is fair, credible and actually counts the votes. No ifs and buts about it. Election results should not take more than 24 hours to report to the electorate. A whole plethora of reforms should be put in place, including mechanisms for the less-moneyed but qualified candidates to actually be able to run and win. And yes, anyone running for national office MUST be at least a college graduate. There should also be strict rules in curbing election expenses by political parties, including proper accountability on where campaign funds come from.
4. I would impose a national ID system to simplify all transactions, as it is done in many democratic countries. In Australia, every ID is given an equivalent number of points. To rent a house, for example, one needs a 100-point ID. That means a driver’s license and a passport. Activities can be accounted for and everyone is identifiable.
5. Put in place a justice system that is swift, fair and relentlessly carried out until justice is served. People should fear the law. This should include no pardons without serving a minimum of four years, and if pardoned, a convict must make a public apology and show true remorse.
Added to this, I would like to borrow a concept from some European countries that implement proportionate fining. The idea is that all fines and financial penalties should be based on an individual’s capacity to pay in order to make them true deterrents. The poor and the rich violators should both suffer proportionately for breaking the law.
6. Ban all signage that identifies politicians and officials as the source of public works or infrastructure. Politicians should simply do their jobs. Too much money has been spent on self-promotion.
7. End all political dynasties. A public trust is not an inheritance to be passed on to family members. We have to get out of a feudal mindset and into a democratic one. There are many other talented Filipinos that should be given the chance to serve.
8. Accelerate the devolution of power from Manila to the rest of the country. The planning and progress of local government units should not be dependent on Manila and the president for things to get moving.
9. Offer an aggressive and choice-based family planning program. This should lower our population growth to half within five years. Abortion should still be illegal.
10. Modernize the economy, commerce, agriculture and lift curbs to economic growth. Cut down bureaucratic red tape to two or three signatures. Simplify and systematize all revenue collection efforts and faithfully execute these. Promote the culture of growth to create employment, competitiveness, productivity and the creation of wealth and value in all endeavors.
11. Revolutionize the educational system so all Filipino children finish high school. A private sector-led corresponding movement in education in the mold of Gawad Kalinga should be initiated to tie up with government efforts. This should include modular curricula that are highly functional and easily transmittable even in the barest of classroom settings. There must be more emphasis on quality and trades training leading to employment.
12. Lead a cultural revolution that will encourage the serious and enthusiastic appreciation of both our traditional and contemporary culture and all types of art forms. Every Filipino should be knowledgeable, proud and have an emotional connection to his past and how it connects to his present. A vibrant culture makes a people secure in their identity and allows them to dream of a future that will take them to a greater plane than where they are now.
This will also mean harnessing media for real nation-building. At present, the media are too entertainment-oriented and exploitative and do not transmit the values that even their owners and operators would wish to transmit to their own children. Too much airtime is wasted on gossip and trivia. We must look at the BBC in Britain and SBS TV in Australia as models of television that can deliver riveting documentaries and great entertainment that do not demean the public or foster a mendicant sensibility in their audiences.
13. Aggressively protect and nurture the environment. Our biodiversity is the envy of the world and we should be protecting this national treasure. We should also bite the bullet now with regard to pollution because the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. I also believe that we can re-allocate a lot of our land resources for greater food security.
As I gaze at the presidentiables who are hogging the media these days, I am more than ever concerned about what is in store for us. None of them seems to be bold enough to deliver the grim message of real change and reforms that will demand sacrifice from everyone before things get better. I believe our next leaders should not be just the usual successful operators from within the system but the discontented outsiders who harbor enough disdain for the system itself to want to change it. And I am confident that our society will produce the leader we will need.
Lastly, I wish for leaders who are in a hurry and who look at the opportunity of public service as their one great shot at saving this country, even at the risk of their own lives and treasure, leaders who will act as if the salvation of the Philippines depended on them — entirely.
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