Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The way forward

(Keynote speech of Senator MAR Roxas during the 61st Anniversary of the Liberal Party, Club Filipino, San Juan last January 29, 2007. Ituloy AngSulong MAR Roxas!!!)

Friends, fellow Liberals, Mga kababayan:

Then and Now
Sixty-one years ago today, the Liberal Party was founded as an instrument for renewal, leadership, and hope. Back then, as the Second World War ended, our people rolled up their sleeves for the hard work of establishing our freedom and rebuilding our nation.

Today, so much has changed in the world. We define peace in terms of progress, war in terms of terror, and wealth in terms of knowledge.

Thankfully, some things remain the same: Ka Jovy’s moral courage, sharp memory and witty ripostes, Bobby Tanada’s nationalist fervor, Raul Daza’s attention to detail in both governance and sartorial matters; Frank Drilon’s strong sense of righteousness and justice and Butch Abad’s principles and his putting himself on the line for them .

Sixty-one years ago, the country emerged from the horrors of a second world war, physically broken – broken roads, railroads, and ports; buildings and cities little more than rubble; Filipinos malnourished, infirm, beaten, and tortured.

Yet although physically broken, our countrymen were strong in spirit, powerful in terms of dedication, brave in the face of adversity. They believed they could make a difference and they did.

The way forward for them was to conquer their fear, grit their teeth, put shoulder to the grindstone and do the necessary hard work of rebuilding our nation. Together, they went on to build our country to become the strongest economy of Asia.

That was then.

Today our country is broken; our people feel helpless and are in despair.

Two months ago, the SWS reported a new record high of 19% or an estimated 3.3 million households experiencing involuntary hunger at least once in the past three months; while more than half (52%) of the Filipino families rated themselves as poor in general, and another 2 out of every 5 (40%) rated themselves as poor in terms of food.

Today, the Philippines is divided into the haves, the have-nots, and the will never-haves: a nation in conflict politically, but also gutted from within – literally, as our kababayans, by the thousands, everyday, pick another country in which to work and live and earn.

Today, we hear hosannas to improvements in the financial markets but these remain only in the financial sector and are still awaited by the poor. Though the peso continues to strengthen, income levels have not gone up and cost of living has not come down.

Sixty-one years ago, hope resided in the people and within our borders.

Today, hope lies in making their way across the seas, beyond our borders, including a few destinations more risky and chaotic than ours.

Broken Politics
Sadly, the expected source of redemption for all democracies, the political system, our governance, is also broken.

According to the most recent surveys, 3 out 5 of our people believe their political leaders to be "dishonest". The same survey says that they give their trust most to a boxer, Manny Pacquiao, to a billiard player, Efren "Bata" Reyes, and to someone who spends his time looking out after the palengke.

At no time in our recent history has the Supreme Court been asked not once, but several times to intervene and protect the people from their government. The method by which every liberal democracy renews itself is likewise broken. Increasingly, the people no longer see elections as their instrument, their tool for reform, renewal, and deliverance. For so many it has become a
cynical exercise, an instrument to protect the status quo and further entrench it.

In contrast, sixty years ago, even the poorest of the poor saw elections and political and civic participation as part of the solution to the practical problems of daily life.

Today, most people see elections and political participation as a way of perpetuating instead of solving their problems.

Our countrymen stopped seeing politics and politicians in a flattering light some time ago; they believe that whoever wins, they, the people, still end up losing.

Increasingly, Filipinos see politicians as:

Unreliable, Unrepentant, Irresponsible, Expensive, Irrelevant, and thus – Unnecessary, for them to attain their goals in life.

At bakit naman hindi sasama ang loob ng ating mga kababayan sa mga politico?

Noong nakaraang mga buwan ay mariing tinulak ng administrasyon at ang mga kaalyado nito ang isang panukala na nagsasabi ng:

Masama ang lagay ng buhay, nais naming kayong tulungan (mukhang ok naman ito)

Heto ang mga pagbabago na sa palagay namin ay magdudulot ng mas magandang buhay para sa lahat:

Ipagpaliban na ang halalan sa Mayo
Tanggalin na ang term limits namin
Alisin ang kapangyarihan ng Korte Suprema sa pagreview ng pagdeklara ng Martial Law at sa paglalabis ng pamahalaan, at
Hindi na kayo ang pipili ng lider ng bansa dahil kami na lang ang mamimili mula sa aming mga kasama
Pag pumayag kayo, tiyak na gaganda ang buhay at kinabukasan ninyo.

[Indeed, how can we expect our people to feel differently about politicians when just a few months ago, the government and its political allies put the following proposition before the people:

They said, your life is lousy, we want to help you.
Let’s make some changes to improve your life (so far so good).

Until we hear the changes they had in mind:
I won’t have to run for office as scheduled this May;
I won’t have limits as to how long I can stay in my job;
The Supreme Court will no longer get to review actions on declaring martial
law and abuse of executive authority, and;
You no longer get to choose the leader of the country because we will pick
the leader from among ourselves…
If you approve these changes, your life and future will be better.]

It is too sad to cry over, too bizarre to laugh over and too pathetic to take seriously.

But, that’s the way it was and, as they recently declared, they will try again.

Our Party Unspared
Unfortunately, even our party has not escaped the collateral effects of this brokenness.

Today, our party is distracted and divided. Such distractions and divisions are a product of outside interference. They say join us or we’ll break you. Our members had to choose between supporting the president, right or wrong, or our freedom to decide based on the issues at hand.

This cannot be. Ours is a proud tradition and a deep belief that we are a party answerable to our collective conscience. That we make decisions based on values and vision, not on personalities and power plays. The LP has always supported that which is right and opposed that which is wrong.

Ninoy Aquino, Evelio Javier, Gerry Roxas and so many others did not meekly say, "Yes, Mr. President", during the dark days of martial law. Jovy Salonga, Bobby Tanada, Vic Ziga did not meekly say, "Yes, Madame President", when they voted against the bases treaty. Frank Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Pong Biazon, Noynoy Aquino, Butch and Dina Abad, Erin Tanada, Neric Acosta and so many of our congressional party mates did not simply say, "Yes, Ma’am", when policies such as Calibrated Pre-emptive Response, EO 464, Proclamation 1017, and a self serving Cha-cha were foisted upon us.

But, we are not a party that simply says NO, that opposes for the sake of opposing, that questions simply to obstruct.

In the same manner, when the program or initiative, regardless of the source, favors the people’s interests then the Liberal Party is there to champion it.

It was the LP congressmen that led the way to restoring fiscal strength with their advocacy for changes in the vat law, for reform in the customs and revenue agencies thru attrition and for improvement in the sin taxes.

We contributed to the debates on the budget bill, the bio-fuels law, the juvenile justice law, and other important measures that have benefited our people.

LP local officials like Magsaysay Awardee Mayors Jesse Robredo and Tony del Rosario as well as Governors Niel Tupas, Raul Daza and Vic Bermejo continue to give the country best practices in local governance.

Our party has always been issue-based and proud of it. It is what differentiates us from those who believe that only might is right, or that only he who has the gold rules.

It is our badge of honor to be independent and responsible. It is what makes us proud to be Liberals.

The Way Forward
And so we ask: where do we go from here?

In a little over 3 months we will be facing our people to once again ask them to vote for us, to give us their mandate.

So far, and sadly so, the news and commentary on the upcoming elections has been all about politicians joining and/or leaving one camp or another. It’s similar to the reportage found in the entertainment press or in the basketball leagues – reports and speculations about personages leaving kapuso to go to kapamilya or vice versa or of star athletes leaving one ball club to join the other.

No one has spoken to the people about their needs. No party has taken the step of presenting their ideas.

Until now.

What do we present to the people as our Program?
How do we get our people to set aside their cynicism, re-engage in civic life and come on-board our platform?

I believe our way forward is not to make the political debate be about us, the politicians. The only debate that truly matters is on how to improve the quality of life of our people.

I believe our way forward is to make ourselves relevant to our people and show them that we are their instrument for attaining their goals for themselves, their families and our country.

I believe our way forward is to lead this debate, and make this campaign a battle of ideas, and not just personalities.

I believe our way forward is to present, run on, and make our mark based on the 2 pillars that prop up our country today: our people themselves and the sacrifice they made on the EVAT.

The first pillar of our program is anchored on the value we hold dearest (and which is actually as well the reality in our country) that our people are our greatest strength; that our way forward is to enable our people to express their highest and best potentials here in our land; that our economic deliverance rests on our ability to unleash our peoples energies; and so therefore that the most responsible Program of government is the one that nurtures, develops, promotes and protects our people.

The second pillar of our Program is founded on the one government action that has exacted the most sacrifice from our people but whose benefit remains elusive to the very people it has burdened. In 2005, we asked our people to pay more taxes thru the EVAT. By various estimates this amounts to some P80 B pesos annually (the equivalent of some P1000 from every person, man, woman and child here in our country.)

This great sacrifice from our people has led to the buoyancy recently seen in the financial markets. The stock market is up, the peso is stronger, and headline interest rates have come down. Those with financial assets certainly have benefited from this strength in the financial markets.

Nevertheless, to date, the benefits for Juan de la Cruz remain vague and hazy. The president says, well it has benefited the people, they just don’t know it yet; her economic managers say, well it will take time, eventually it will get to them, a trickle down; the politicians say, well the people will benefit from increased government spending.

Maybe, maybe not.

I say, this was an extraordinary sacrifice we asked for and so the people who sacrificed deserve to know that these billions in additional revenues taken from their shrinking pockets shall be treated in an extraordinary way; it must not disappear into the black hole that is the General Fund, it must not be part of the usual "a little bit here and a little bit there" apportionment equation. It certainly must not be part of political horse-trading (or pork) and most definitely, it must not be part of the usual consumption type campaign spending for the coming elections.

Contributing EVAT is our people’s sariling sikap version of the Marshall Plan (which was instrumental in rehabilitating Europe at the end of WW2).

Similarly, we should view and use the EVAT fund as our people’s own Official Development Assistance to the nation.

Our Plan
Based on these 2 pillars, therefore, I say, let all EVAT revenues be set aside and conferred a status reflecting what it really is – an internal rehabilitation fund, a self generated reconstruction fund from which we build up from where we are today. It should be used for investment type activities and not for consumption type undertakings.

Ordinary course of collections revenues can go to the ordinary course of government expenses.
But the monies collected from the expanded VAT must go over and above what would regularly have been spent in priority areas. This is in order to jump start, to pole vault, to electroshock important sectors of our country like education, health and infrastructure towards modernity and world-class standards.

We must bestow upon these monies a special status and separate it from regular sources of government revenues. We can then put forward complete, comprehensive plans to fully solve specific problems that hold our people and our country back.

These include:
  1. a Competitive Educational System – The way forward is for us to build the classrooms, make the chairs and tables, buy the books, acquire the computers, train the teachers and do all necessary so we can provide the best education that we can. Lets not do this tingi style as in the present. Let’s completely fund and fix all grade one and 1st year HS
    problems this year and go onto grade 2 and 2nd year HS next year, and thereafter progressively go on until we’ve completely solved our problems in education.
  2. a Fast and Fair Judicial System – the way forward is to build and equip the salas and hire the needed number of public attorneys, fiscals and judges to ensure that justice is accessible to all and that poverty will not stand in the way of fair justice.
  3. Available and affordable Healthcare – the way forward is to fully finance the restructuring of our health delivery system so that primary health care is readily available for our people. Let us revisit and reinvigorate the Generics and IP laws in order to make medicines affordable. Let us align all government procurement of medicines to the intents of the generics law and the Doha declaration on healthcare so we get more for our money.

The proper and programmed application of funds in these 3 areas alone will consume the money over the next 3 years. The point is that by focusing our energies and resources on these specific areas, we would have actually accomplished something rather than the present incrementalist practice where, after having spent the money on anything and everything, we actually
have very little to show for it.

As we go along, and attain our objectives in each of these areas, monies will be freed up for other equally important areas of infrastructure development, environmental protection, and food security.

Jobs, shelter, livelihood, peace and order – the potentials are there to introduce social and economic reforms, meaningful reforms, through these revenues. Unfortunately, the toxic environment of today has made these relief funds subject to partisan politics, thus demeaning further the sacrifices our people have already made and continue to make.

In the process of focusing on these 2 pillars we shall, be providing the third pillar that further fortifies all our efforts – and this is the pillar of Good Governance. Good governance is the principle that enables us to transform this fund into a special people’s relief fund for extraordinary purposes in direct response to our people’s most urgent needs.

Our good governance advocacy ensures that our people’s direct aid to the nation is not wasted on frivolous things, but invested wisely, transparently, and with full accountability for their benefit.

Let this be our advocacy as a party – to recognize that upon our people rests our future, to recognize the sacrifice they made and to apply good governance thereupon, making each peso of sacrifice count by treating it as a special account of the people, for the people, and by the people.

Our Future
Our redemption as a party, as politicians, as leaders lies in regaining the people’s trust. To accomplish this, we must understand and honor the depth of their pain and sacrifice, and the indomitable will that keeps them hoping that the best is yet to come.

Once in a while – not often – a single defining national event provides insight into where we are, who we are, what we believe in, and what we esteem.

In this election, our rivals will try to portray us in terms of political fights, power grabs, and personal rivalries. You and I know that our party is much more than that.

We are in the Liberal Party because we believe that our people are our greatest strength. It is our privilege to serve them, and not their privilege to be served by us.

We believe that the rights of men and women and children are not to be diminished by those in power, but for those in power to strengthen and defend these rights.

We believe that deep within a Filipino are family values that lead to excellence, that given equity of opportunities, the Filipino will rise to the apex of success as they have in so many other parts of the world and so sadly have not been able to do here in our country.

And we believe that, a political life only has meaning when associated by our people with the ability to deliver selfless and honest service.

These are our fountainheads, our keystones; these values are at the bedrock of our reason for being: To lead the country, the LP way – based on issues, not personalities, inspired by hope, and not greed, committed to serve with humility and compassion, integrity and fairness.

Sixty-one years ago, the LP gave the people something to hope for.

Today, it is up to us to show the way forward; to fix what is broken; to be our
people’s best hope.

Let us welcome this challenge as our defining moment.

Mabuhay ang Partido Liberal!

Maraming, maraming salamat po!

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