Questions I’d like to ask the presidentiables

Posted on May 2, 2009

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It’s a Saturday morning, and politics should be the last thing on my mind, especially as I see sunlight filtering in through my sliding door, beckoning me to come out and take a walk already. But I will postpone my grocery trip for at least another hour because the first thing on my mind when I woke up this morning was Barack Obama’s relatively successful first 100 days, and an article that my favorite editor, Fareed Zakaria, wrote about it on Newsweek (May 4, 2009 issue).

“No other American president in modern memory has faced a learning curve as steep as the one Barack Obama has encountered,” Zakaria begins. “When he began his quest for Democratic nomination three years ago, the Dow Jones industrial average was 14.000, and the world was in the midst of a great economic boom. By the time he took office, America’s financial industry was in chaos, credit markets were frozen, housing values were plummeting and the economy was in its worst contraction since the Great Depression. Add to that Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, and you get an extraordinary set of challenges.”

“And yet, by most measures, President Obama’s first 100 days have been successful… So far, any president would be envious of Obama’s accomplishments.”

Zakaria rightly points out that all these policy changes and acts of reaching out are merely overtures, whose effects and endings have yet to be determined. Still, America, who has lost and suffered much since September 11, 2001, is feeling hopeful again. In spite of the continuing spate of bankruptcies and job cuts, Americans are talking about “green shoots”—bright spots that denote recovery in the US economy. Thanks to President Obama, Cuban Americans can now visit the land of their roots. There is optimism in the air, because of a calm and collected leader who knows how to steer a panicked crew through tumultuous waters.

We can’t say the same for the Philippines. In contrast to the United States, we have not encountered major upheavals similar to 9/11 and the 2008 financial crash since the 1997 Asian financial crisis—two presidents ago. We are not engaged in any external war that threatens the lives of millions of our citizens—and the insurgency in the South has been going on for decades. (It’s hardly a crisis; sadly, it’s already practically a state of being for that region.) Our biggest problems now are the same problems we’ve been facing since 30 years ago. Sen. Kiko Pangilinan pointed out in a news release just yesterday that the Philippine economy hasn’t moved in decades, and he’s right. Except for a couple of sunshine industries, the poor 30 years ago are still poor now—if not poorer.

We are the laughingstock of Asia, people. Wake up.

So unlike the 50 or so congressmen who have Pacquiao on their minds this weekend, I am wondering about the state of things and whether or not they will ever change. I am wondering about whether or not our presidentiables really have a clear program of action to steer our country out of the mess we’re in. I am bombarded with political ads every time I tune in to the local channels, and I wonder if their soundbites and their advertising messages will really be backed up by clear policy measures.

More specifically, here are some questions I’d like to ask the presidentiables:

1. How will you create more quality jobs in the Philippines ? (And this means not hiring thousands of street sweepers that wear shirts with your name, and say that you’ve just created thousands of jobs.) What industries will you support? How will you ensure global competitiveness among our students and workers? What is your take on serial contractualization?

2. How will you protect overseas Filipinos and the families from the rising social costs of migration? Will you introduce more safety nets for the families left behind? Will you eventually curb overseas deployment in favor of job creation and investment in the Philippines?

3. How will you make the economy less reliant on overseas remittances?

4. HOW WILL YOU ELIMINATE CORRUPTION?

5. Will you elevate graft and corruption to heinous crimes? (After all, when you rob your citizens of millions or billions of pesos that should be going to basic services and it results in more people starving, I think that’s heinous enough.)

6. How will you ensure that big-time, high-profile tax evaders (some of whom might be your funders) are caught and punished?

7. Will you be willing to declare the full extent of your campaign fund sources and expenditures?

8. How will you stop smuggling, drug trafficking, people trafficking, and prostitution?

9. What is your take on nuclear energy, and what are we to do about the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant?

10. What is your take on the reproductive health bill?

11. What is your plan to move the Philippines towards eco- and energy-sustainability by 2020?

12. How will you balance food security and self-sufficiency while promoting the production of biofuels?

13. How will you lower our power rates to be at par with those of our Asian neighbours?

14. What is your stand on decriminalizing marijuana, to be in the same classification as tobacco and alcohol?

15. What is your stand on divorce? (And I don’t mean, “Let’s follow Church doctrine.” Even Italy has divorce laws.)

16. What is your stand on the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Extension and Reforms?

17. What will be your plan to boost tourism to overtake Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia?

18. Will you go after Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, her husband, their cronies, and all those who ought to be punished post-2010 (e.g., Virgilio Garcillano, Benjamin Abalos, Romulo Neri, etc.)?

19. Who will your cabinet members be?

20. What role will you give your Vice President?

21. How will you trim down the government bureaucracy to make it more streamlined and efficient?

22. How will you ensure sufficient healthcare services especially for indigents?

23. What is your plan for upgrading our state colleges and universities? How will you ensure global competitiveness among our students?

24. How would you amend the Constitution, if you were to do so? (This is not a “yes” or “no” answer.)

25. What is your stand on the VFA? On the Spratlys? What will be the bases of your foreign policy?

26. How will you end extra-judicial killings and ensure the end of human rights violations in government?

And here are some questions for specific presidentiables:

For Chiz Escudero: Aside from producing great soundbites, what have you really DONE throughout your entire political career? Why should we trust you?

For Loren Legarda: You wept when the second envelope was not opened in 2001, and then you joined the opposition’s camp in 2004? Why should we trust you?

For Jejomar Binay (“Dito sa Makati…”): How do you plan to produce “the Makati effect” in provinces and regions that have a very low revenue base? How will you encourage investment and tourism and enable tax collection in fifth- and sixth-class provinces? How will you ensure equitable distribution of resources across the country? And you are going around the country with a former president who was a womanizer, a gambler, and a plunderer. Why should we trust you?

For Mar Roxas (“Padyak”): If you weren’t seeking higher office in 2010, would you be proposing to Korina Sanchez at all?

Pardon the Saturday-morning operation of this brain, but I think these questions will be more than enough to keep some people busy for the next couple of months.

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What are YOUR questions?

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