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Monday, March 4, 2024

National unity is the call of the hour

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The landslide victory gave him a mandate unprecedented in contemporary political history that will serve him in good stead as he goes about bringing changes for the better in the economy, our democratic system of governance, and the social fabric.

When President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. takes his oath of office at noon today, June 30, 2022, at the National Museum, he will do so fully aware of both the awesome powers and responsibilities of the highest elective post and the formidable challenges he will have to face squarely in the next six years.

At the same time, the start of the second Marcos administration, which comes 36 years after his father Ferdinand Sr. governed the nation from 1965 to early 1986, marks a new beginning for Philippine democracy under vastly changed conditions at home and abroad.

It’s a new beginning that heralds the prospect of meaningful change and reforms that hopefully will redound to a better future for the entire nation and a better life for all Filipinos, especially those still trapped in grinding poverty.

A winning strategy

Marcos Jr. ran in the May 9 elections with his teammate, Davao City Mayor and now Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, on a platform anchored on the overarching theme of “unity.”

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In fact, he called the tandem “UniTeam” to emphasize his fond wish to unite Filipinos behind his vision of a nation where there is sustained economic growth, lasting political stability, and social harmony.

Part of this strategy to win the hearts and minds of the electorate was to decline participation in most public debates on political platforms. He preferred to go to the people directly throughout the length and breadth of the archipelago and listen to their concerns even as he offered the broad outlines of his future policies and programs once elected.

The strategy clearly worked: he garnered 31 million votes as against the 15 million of his closest political rival—as most opinion surveys before the polls had predicted—a feat unrivalled in recent presidential elections. The landslide victory gave him a mandate unprecedented in contemporary political history that will serve him in good stead as he goes about bringing changes for the better in the economy, our democratic system of governance, and the social fabric.

National unity will revitalize the economy

The clearest indication that the new Chief Executive is determined to hit the ground running and hasten the country’s economic construction in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic is his choice of people for the Cabinet.

He has earned praise from the business sector in particular for designating respected economists as members of his economic team.

Benjamin Diokno takes over the Department of Finance (DOF) after several years at the helm of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP).

Another former UP School of Economics professor, Felipe Medalla, takes over the BSP.

Former Economic Planning Secretary and concurrent National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) Director-General Arsenio Balisacan returns to his old post.

Incoming BSP Gov. Felipe Medalla

Meanwhile, former UP President Alfredo Pascual brings a wealth of experience in government service to his new assignment as Secretary of the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

What brings them together is unity of purpose.

Incoming Finance Secretary Diokno will lead the crafting of the country’s’ first-of-its-kind, six-year fiscal plan, aimed at bringing back to the pre-pandemic budget deficit level by 2028. The plan will contain the 2023-2028 macroeconomic and fiscal assumptions as well as targets. This medium-term fiscal plan will be part of the new president’s State of the Nation Address when the 19th Congress starts session in July.

Incoming Finance Secretary Benjamin Diokno

The main challenge before the economic team is to build the national economy according to what the fundamental law mandates: a more equitable distribution of opportunities, income and wealth; the sustained increase in the amount of good and services for the benefit of the people; and an expanding productivity as the key to raising the quality of life for all, especially the poor and the underprivileged.

Crucial in ensuring sustained economic growth is the continuation of the ambitious infrastructure program begun during the previous administration as this would lay the foundation for further economic advance in the next six years.

National unity will enhance democratic governance

Unity is a prerequisite as well for strengthening our democratic system of governance.

A democratic government, by its very nature, allows the citizenry to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press, as well as the right to peacefully assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. The enjoyment of these freedoms, however, is subject to limitations imposed by law.

The new administration must give the entire population of more than 110 million the means to enjoy the freedoms and rights guaranteed by the Constitution.

Every citizen is entitled to due process of law and equal protection of our laws.

Transparency is another hallmark of good governance. The new dispensation should implement a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving the public interest.

The new administration should mobilize the executive, legislative and judicial branches to work toward good governance, and to uphold public welfare at all times.

The Constitution is very clear: “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”

Beyond appointing the best and the brightest to key positions in the executive and judicial branches of government and ensuring a smooth transition from the old to the new, the new administration should wage a an uncompromising and sustained campaign against all forms of corruption, from street-level bribery and extortion by traffic enforcers to large-scale embezzlement of public funds by the greedy and unscrupulous in the bureaucracy.

The anti-corruption drive should be a whole-of-nation effort, with government, the private sector, civil society groups and ordinary citizens joining hands to stamp out thievery of public funds whenever and wherever they occur.

The same zeal should be demonstrated by all sectors of society in upholding law and order. Bringing down the crime rate and maintaining peace and order in our communities cannot be done solely by the police, but with the citizenry extending utmost cooperation with law enforcers in keeping our homes, streets, workplaces and neighborhoods safe and secure.

National unity will accelerate poverty reduction

Unity is just as important in winning the war against poverty and attaining social justice.

The Constitution mandates the State to promote a just and dynamic social order that will ensure prosperity and free the people from poverty through policies that provide adequate social services, promote full employment, a rising standard of living, and an improved quality of life for all.

Ample proof that Marcos Jr. is determined to give agriculture the priority it deserves is his decision to take the helm of the Agriculture department for as long as it takes for it to achieve food security and improve the lives of farmers.

Recent appointments by the incoming president augur well for the continuation of social reforms in the next six years.

Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio succeeds Leonor Briones at the Department of Education (DepEd)

Vice President-elect Sara Duterte-Carpio has been appointed to head the Department of Education (DepEd), which has the biggest chunk of the national budget in keeping with the priority given by the State to the education of the Filipino youth.

Another appointee is Bienvenido Laguesma, a former Labor Secretary, who has been tapped to reassume his old post and assist the labor force in getting jobs in the post-COVID era.

Marcos Jr. has also decided to appoint an original member of his father’s Cabinet, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, as Chief Presidential Legal Counsel, who is already 98 years old but can still provide the incoming president with sound advice on legal issues.

The incoming president has also appointed the progeny of two other prominent members of his father’s Cabinet in the 1970s. They represent continuity by serving as bridge between the past and the present—as well as the future.

Susan “Toots” Ople, daughter of the late senator Blas Ople, who was Marcos Sr.’s labor secretary for 18 years, will head the newly created

Susan ‘Toots’ Ople heads the newly created Department of Migrants Workers

Department of Migrant Workers (DMW). She is highly qualified for the post because of her consistent advocacy of OFW rights and her experience with the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute, a nongovernmental organization she organized to provide training to OFWs and assisting them in finding good jobs abroad.

Conrado Estrella III, a former district and party-list congressman and grandson of Conrado Sr. who was Marcos Sr.’s agrarian reform minister for 15 years, will oversee the operations of the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). This office hopes to finish the agrarian reform program begun in the early years of the first Marcos administration but continued since then by succeeding dispensations.

Incoming Agrarian Reform Secretary Conrado Estrella III

The challenges in the social sphere are many. These include reducing poverty incidence to manageable levels; addressing income inequality; giving the basic sectors—farmers, labor, women and children, youth, indigenous peoples, among others—the services they need to improve their quality of life, including education, health, and housing.

Full support should also be given to the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) as it strives to consolidate the gains made in self-government and attaining a significant improvement in the standards of living of the Muslim population in southern Philippines.

National unity will enhance foreign relations

Unity likewise plays a vital role in managing our foreign relations. Our fundamental law explicitly provides that the State should pursue an independent foreign policy. This means that in our relations with other countries, our government should assert national sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the national interest.

Ample proof that the incoming president enjoys the trust and confidence not only of the majority of Filipinos but also of the international community has been the stream of congratulatory messages from world leaders, such as US President Joe Biden, Chinese President Xi Jinping, as well as various heads of state in Asia and Europe, among others.

Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden

The congratulatory messages reflect optimism in the conduct of future bilateral relations in various spheres, such as economic cooperation, trade and investments, cultural exchanges, and tourism.

Initial meetings with ambassadors from other countries also indicate that the Marcos administration can rely on their support on the ground in various fields of endeavor, including economic construction, trade and investments, travel and tourism; and humanitarian assistance to victims of natural disasters such as typhoons that the country must contend with every year.

We expect the new administration to enhance bilateral ties with the United States, China, Japan, Russia, the ASEAN member-states, and the European Union, among others, on the basis of mutual benefit and shared goals of peace and stability.

The new administration is on the right track in vowing to uphold the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague favoring the Philippines in its maritime claims in the South China Sea. At the same time, this should not hinder the robust expansion of the other aspects of bilateral relations, including trade and investments, economic cooperation, and people-to-people/cultural exchanges in the years ahead.

National unity now needed more than ever

The new administration needs the support of the entire Filipino people in the next six years to succeed in the massive effort to rebuild the economy, fortify the ramparts of the democratic system and attain social harmony.

Our national hero Jose Rizal once wrote: “Governments are established for the welfare of the people, and in order to accomplish this purpose properly, they have to follow the suggestions of the citizens who are best qualified to understand their own needs.”

It was true then and it is true now. In unity there is strength. Now, more than at any other time, we need to forge the strongest unity so the nation can surmount all challenges, prevail over difficulties and chart a better future for the nation in the next six years.

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