More bayanihan, less partisanship

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

Jose M. Montelibano

It is tempting to write about the hottest issue in town today – the Senator Trillanes amnesty controversy. Or, if I may define it in another way, the Presidential proclamation voiding the amnesty ab initio for not having complied with the minimum requirements. Subsequent developments, however, show there has been compliance -at least on certain conditions that were openly pointed to the reasons for declaring the amnesty void. I think every other Tom, Dick, and Harry are already on top of the same subject, most probably with more information than me.

But at the risk of being irreverent, I would like to say that the possibility of President Duterte simply playing a deliberate prank on Sen. Trillanes crossed my mind several times. I could not imagine why else would the President void a granted amnesty by saying the erstwhile rebel had not applied for amnesty and had not acknowledged his wrongdoing when this information is easy to source. Trillanes and Duterte have had a running thread of accusations and counter-accusations that I think both of them are looking for ways to make the life of the other more miserable. Anyway, it is just speculation, pure speculation on my part.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Filipino people who are not that interested in jumping into the amnesty drama between the President and the senator go through their daily routine trying as best they can to make life better for themselves and their families. In a period of change, and it seems there is great universality that we are in one such period, there is always a struggle just as there are opportunities. The more dramatic or radical the change, the more the threats and the opportunities. Therefore, it would be wise for most Filipinos to address more squarely what they have to resolve and what risks are worth their gamble.

I think that the more important concern is how the government focuses on present needs yet invests in the future. We have recently been hit by an inflation rate that is worrisome. In fact, if the same inflation rate continues, it could lead to a financial crisis that we have not experienced for a long time. I am no economist and, at best, listen to friends whom I look up to for their economic expertise and to key government officials who have a way of explaining economic dynamics in laymen’s language. There have been several reasons given as to why our inflation rate has gone up to worrisome levels, and the TRAIN law has been one of them. In fact, some lawmakers had serious reservations in supporting TRAIN when it was not yet a law precisely because they saw its inflationary tendency.

I am not mixing up the disgraceful spike of rice prices and the sheer inefficiency in the maintenance of adequate supply by the agency mandated to oversee both. The rice crisis was absolutely avoidable because there was no supply problem in the world nor unusual fluctuations of global prices. Of course, unusually high prices will add to inflation and the rice crisis is giving an already high inflation rate a more emotional color. But the rice crisis should be something that can be resolved very soon while the inflation rate is more difficult to curb and reverse to safer levels.

What appears to me as more substantive a concern is how government balances the need to provide cushion for our people trapped in poverty, invest more heavily in infrastructure that looks forward to facilitating the flow of goods and services for the next decades, yet keep taxation at levels that do not break the back of the working class and depress the mood for business growth. I think every country is in the same boat as the Philippines, constantly challenged to raise the quality of life in a competitive world. I admire those in government and business who are able to keep our economy vibrant. At the same time, I question why we cannot take tens of millions of our people out of poverty – or build clear pathways that enable them to do so.

I return to two sectors that have heavily contributed to our economy and succeeded in reducing poverty substantially. I refer to the OFWs and BPOs. In truth, I do not see that their ascendancy was caused by visionary and proactive leadership. Rather, Filipinos simply responded to the needs of other countries with native Filipino human resources. Other countries were poorer than us yet the world gave preference to Filipino workers in the service industry. On the other hand, other countries were more advanced than us but Filipinos excelled in BPO business. There remains a strong future with tourism when our infrastructure can accommodate and facilitate the inflow and outflow of tourists to match the beauty of our island and the hospitality of the Filipino.

Language, too, plays a key role in strategic industries like science, medicine, technology and. business because everything is becoming global and all people are trying to communicate with one another. The use of English has become so primordial that people in many countries are trying to learn English – a language Filipinos know better than most and can still improve on greatly if policy favors that direction.

In other words, the future for Filipinos is not dark at all. Our potential for growth is large and we have the talent and resources to go for it. But the future needs our investment, our sacrifice today as in any other country that wants greener pasture for more of us. I know most Filipinos are already in that mode, and I can only point to small agriculture as needing a stronger and more consistent helping hand.

Considering everything, I am optimistic. The journey will not be easy, but it need not be excruciating either. If we can move towards working together more and fighting each other less, if the spirit of bayanihan overcomes partisanship, tomorrow sure looks good.


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