The extended holidays are over. Even the annual Feast of the Black Nazarene, that crush of humanity unparalleled for its socio-cultural fervor in this part of the world, mercifully transpired without much untoward incident.
Now the nation rolls its sleeves and buckles down to work. One of the biggest surprises of 2016, the Trump victory in November, will usher in a new administration in the US of A one week before the Lunar New Year begins. And the whole world anxiously anticipates.
In our country, 2016 ended with Senator Loren Legarda promising to legislate a separate department for culture and the arts. The issue may sound trivial to many, but this writer agrees with the good senadora. We should be serious about our history, culture and the arts, and government should put together the disparate agencies in charge of our cultural heritage under central management. We have the National Museum, the National Library, the National Historical Institute, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Cultural Center, several film development agencies, and God knows whatever else.
Yet we are a people with little sense of history. Worse, many have a distorted knowledge of our history. We have little appreciation for our own culture, ape Hollywood and everything foreign, and confine our art to the latest telenovela. Many regard culture as something for the “rich and highly educated.” Nothing could be more false.
Proper knowledge and deep appreciation of our history and culture are vital to a sense of nationalism which should be engendered among us even at an early age. The Department of Education should be at the forefront of this, and current head Professor Liling Briones is one imbued with a deep sense of history and is a nationalist with few equals, but the department is too big and too saddled with day-to-day operational and administrative responsibilities due to the huge population it must put to school each day. A Department of History, Arts and Culture can be the principal pivot in this very much needed national endeavor.
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We need to pursue the Build, Build, Build infrastructure program of the Duterte administration with a zeal and an urgency never before seen in contemporary history. We have a huge gap to fill, if only to catch up with our Asean and Asian neighbors.
People suffer daily because of our woefully inadequate public transport system. Goods are expensive because transporting these through our archipelagic territory is a difficult and disjointed mess.
The Duterte plan to spend heavily on infrastructure modernization will not only create jobs, but also counterbalance the gloom in the world economy brought about by a recession-wracked Europe, a stagnant Japanese economy, a yet wobbly recovery in the US of A, the end of cheap money with the US Fed upping interest rates, and the end of cheap oil. And China, the world’s second largest economy, will also be affected by the slump in its export markets.
This is why in my previous article last Monday, I harped on the need to pass revenue enhancement legislation, because this catch-up game on infrastructure is our lifeline amidst the harbingers of world economic difficulties as we enter the Year of the Rooster. And we cannot rely on just foreign loans and aid.
We need domestic wherewithal. And with Duterte instilling a sense of urgency and exercising utmost political will in cutting through the tedious bureaucratic malaise that has been an albatross upon our development efforts, we hope 2017 will signal new vigor and determination.
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Let us begin the process of revising our Constitution. Get the preparatory commission for constitutional change organized soonest, and appoint the best minds from the different sectors (please, not just the legal minds) to craft the proposal that should be sent to Congress, which has been agreed upon as the constituent assembly to revise the fundamental law.
We need a Constitution that is not reactionary but is forward-looking, not so rigid that laws and policies cannot adjust to the uber-fast changes that transpire in the world economy.
This is not going to be easy, as we have written in previous columns. There are so many contentious political and economic issues surrounding the shift from unitary to federal. What we should not have is a sudden transition from the present system to federalism. Kinks in implementation should be ironed out gradually, as systemic change is not easy and can be messy. The transitory provisions will be significant.
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Government must pursue the full implementation of the Reproductive Health Law that was passed after so much bitter and acrimonious debate during the previous administration, and despite several attempts beginning with the Ramos and Estrada governments to legislate the same.
While the President is enjoying high trust and popularity ratings, he must damn the Roman Catholic torpedoes and prioritize the implementation of the RH Law, not only to protect our women’s health, but to significantly reduce in the medium and long-term the multiplication of mouths to feed, clothe, shelter and educate.
It is a numbers issue. In 1978, Thailand and the Philippines had almost the same population, at the mid-40 million range. Thailand seriously pursued population planning and implemented it with the late King Bhumibol’s blessings. The Philippines had Tita Cory, who scuttled the nascent population management programs of Ferdinand Marcos, in submission to the Cardinal Sin and the powerful church hierarchy whom she mistakenly believed to be the progenitors of Edsa One that put her in power. FVR and Erap tried, but the implementation, and even the resolve, were patchwork. GMA, threatened by so many threats to her stay in power, caviled to the conservative bishops who stood by her. PNoy to his credit pushed vigorously for the RH Law to pass.
Thailand, with 50 million hectares of contiguous land and ample water resources, has a population of 68 million now.
The Philippines, with 30 million hectares separated by salt water into 7,100 islands and little freshwater resources, has to feed 104 million. When the Rooster gives way to the Dog next year, we will be all of 105.3 million mouths to feed.
It’s the numbers, stupid.
Duterte should teach the bishops simple arithmetic.
There are more in our wish list for the Year of the Fire Rooster, President Duterte’s banner year. These are but some.