BizNews Asia/December 13 – December 20, 2004
The Basic Reforms We Must Carry Out
Senator Edgardo Angara
(Speech before the Senate November 2004)
The need to carry out the basic reforms is more urgent now than any other point in the recent past. Either we begin now or the decline of the national condition becomes irreversible.
There is not much time left to carry out the urgent task. The window to reform is fast closing. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has likened the situation to a ticking time bomb.
There is definitely no more place for government-as-usual.
The minority in the Senate, if it were just interested in narrow, partisan ends, could just watch from the sidelines and shirk from active participation in the reform process. But we are Filipinos first and oppositionists second.
The dangers our nation faces and the palpable loss of hope in the future compel us all – majority and minority – to speedily address the crisis.
Suggested reform areas
Today, I shall propose a framework for change and reform. The proposal is not an exhaustive and all-inclusive agenda. For a comprehensive reform agenda will require much time and even much more money, both of which we do not have the luxury at the moment. The proposals relate broadly to four foundation areas of development: human capital buildup, food and income generation, government and governance reform, and the peace process.
I submit reforms can begin with the following specific concerns:
- Basic Education
- Primary health care
- Agriculture, rural infrastructure and agro-tourism
- Political and constitutional reforms
- Security and public order reform
Strengthening basic education
Basic education is the first and largest building block of the Philippine educational system. Ninety two percent (92%) of Filipino children go to public elementary schools, while seventy-nine percent (79%) attend public secondary high school.
The reform program shall, first of all, make up the shortage of teachers, classrooms, textbooks, desks and other physical requirements. But even more pressing is an intensive training program for teachers, math and science teachers in particular.
We should fund a year-round training and retraining program for our elementary and high school teachers. Any effort to reform education has to start with creating a vast pool of good teachers at the basic education level.
Primary health care
Reform in the health sector should focus on primary health care. This means immunization, maternal and child health care, and nutrition.
Six of the top ten causes of death and diseases in the country are all poverty-related and only four are lifestyle related.
Our infant mortality rate of 29 deaths per 1,000 live births is one of the highest in Asia. This only means that we have to take better and focused care of our mothers and infant children.
One in every four children under age ten is seriously malnourished.
Addressing now the diseases linked to poverty and improving maternal and child health, I believe, offer a more viable, long-term investment in our people’s health.
Agricultural reforms should concentrate initially on building a network of post-harvest facilities across the country to reduce loss and wastage. Right now, this is the most strategic investment in the sector. We need to provide every province with an integrated milling complex. We need dryers and silos, grains handling facilities in ports, cold chain system and refrigeration facilities.
In 2001, the total losses of palay due to lack of post-harvest facilities represent 14.84% of the country’s total production, or the equivalent of P15.23 billion we spent for rice importation. On the other hand, the recorded losses in our corn production reached 12.70% or P2.15 billion in value, which is more than our imports for the same year totaling P1.46 billion.
Plugging, therefore, these huge post-harvest losses in the grains sector even only by half would dramatically reduce our import dependency ratio.
These post-harvest facilities shall be strategically placed in areas around the country that are highly suitable for agriculture. For instance, for corn, we can deploy the facilities in the country’s top-producing provinces of Isabela, Bukidnon, South Cotabato , Lanao del Sur, North Cotabato , Maguindanao, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Cebu , Cagayan, Pangasinan and Saranggani.
For palay, Nueva Ecija, Isabela, Pangasinan, Iloilo , Cagayan, Tarlac, North Cotabato , Leyte , Camarines Sur, Negros Occidental, Sultan Kudarat, Zamboanga Sur, Bulacan, the two Mindoro provinces, Bukidnon, South Cotabato , Maguindanao, Ilocos Norte, Antique, Nueva Vizcaya, Pampanga, Palawan , Lanao del Norte and Aurora can be the initial recipients of these crucial facilities.
Food production, rural infrastructure and agro-tourism should in fact be the Three Cogs of a viable job-generation and poverty-alleviation strategy. The pursuit of the three goes hand in hand. Prioritizing the three under on comprehensive program will provide a major solution to generating jobs and increasing income in the countryside where it matters most.
We can capitalize on our vast natural attractions and rich historical and cultural activities while preserving our rural environment. Local governments, with the full backing and support of the Department of Tourism, can conduct home stay programs in places where hotels are inadequate or lacking. They should strongly promote sanitation and cleanliness, and ensure peace and order in their communities.
In this pursuit, government should promote the development of sites that are out of the traditional tourist destination loop, especially in the eastern portion of the country, which happens to be the most depressed areas. These potential areas can be found starting from the up north in Cagayan, Isabela, Aurora, Quezon, Camarines Norte, Albay, Catanduanes, Sorsogon and stretching down to the southern provinces of Eastern Samar, Surigao Norte, Misamis Oriental, Saranggani, the Zamboanga Peninsula, and Tawi-Tawi.
Legislators, especially Senators, can allocate some of their pork barrel budget for projects such as farm-to-market roads, abattoirs, public markets, communal irrigation and other water resources. These key rural infrastructure projects are critical in helping promote economic growth and progress in the countryside.