By Jun Ledesma
I cannot understand why there is so much brouhaha over the statements of Cabinet members on some contentious issues in the draft constitution. While there are quarters who said that Cabinet members should have taken their stand on the draft constitution in an executive session with the President, airing their views in public would convey a message that the public should freely participate in the debate. That is what Pres. Rodrigo Duterte precisely wants.
Sec. Sonny Dominguez succinctly said his piece. It is better discussed now, he suggested, than leave the discordant issues that may led to regrets later. Indeed, we are traversing the parallel line that will take us from the unitary and highly centralized government that had held regions outside of Metro Manila its vassal to Federalism that would finally share both power and wealth to the regional or state governments.
But then again, we are in a crucial time when the government is embarking on the most ambitious infrastructure programs aimed at addressing complex problems that hounded and deterred development as well as missed opportunities. The Duterte administration launched the aptly worded program: BUILD BUILD BUILD. This comprehends of at least 31 major infrastructures that include railways, roads and bridges, air and sea ports, irrigation projects and information technology.
To translate this program to pulsating reality, the government needs money. And here lies the bitter reality. The economic managers led by Secretary Dominguez had crafted the most comprehensive tax reform for acceleration or inclusion. This, in addition to a no-nonsense tax collection drive drafting Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte as the leading tax collector. To their credit Internal Revenue Commissioner Cesar Dulay and Customs Commissioner Isidro Lapena achieved their collection targets and way beyond their quota. But this unprecedented performance is not enough. The government has to borrow money to build those infrastructures.
Again, we should be lucky. While critics feast on the expletive-rich and the lack of finesse (as Erap puts it) and crude diplomatic language of Duterte we earned the respect and admiration of world leaders – Xi, Trump, Putin and Abe among them. The bilateral talks with Xi Jinping of China and renewal of ties and friendships with Shinzo Abe of Japan earned unquantifiable blessings. Cheap money with grace period to repay debts that is long enough it allows funded projects to be completed first and become financially viable before we start amortising them. And we have some freebees too like bridges across the river Pasig, firearms and ammunitions to fight terrorists and funds to upgrade the broadcast facilities of the Philippine Broadcasting System to name a few.
But obligations are obligations. Thus the TRAIN. Thus the concern of economic managers like Dominguez who worry about how to repay debts. I don’t think that the Consultative Committee that approved the draft charter of the federal government ever consulted the economic team of the Duterte government. Dominguez raised the red flag in the Senate because the upper house will scrutinise the draft and yes, he has to point out early and rather bluntly his issues of concern. And rightfully it is now being debated rather than being swept under the rug. And make no mistake about it. Being one from Mindanao, Secretary Sonny is a disciple of federalism otherwise he would not bother spearheading the move of convincing Mayor Duterte to run for President and rallying friends to support the presidential campaign. Remember the centerpiece of Duterte’s campaign platform was Federalism, war on drugs, crime and corruption.
If we want change, then we are all in this together. The Presidential Communications Operations Office under Sec. Martin Andanar is preparing an arena where exchanges and clashes of opinions from all political and social spectrums will be entertained. There will be no winners or losers, right or wrong ideas. I think the object is to help us hoi pollois crystallise our thoughts and then judgement later whether we shift to federal or stay with the status quo.