ELECTIONS 2004: KNOW YOUR CANDIDATE

MANILA, April 5, 2004
 
(STAR) CAMPAIGN TRAIL: ON BUDGET, EMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY

Budget

Question 1: What will be the budget priorities of your administration? How do you propose to tackle the huge budget deficit?

Arroyo: I want the national budget to be an instrument for reforms, economic opportunities, and changing the social landscape to favor the poor. My desired budget would allocate the bulk to education. Then we have to give priority to programs in the areas of agricultural and fisheries modernization, comprehensive agrarian reform, school building construction, access to health insurance and housing, among others.

We have put in place measures to improve revenue generation and maximize expenditures for priority programs to bring down the fiscal deficit.

Our anti-graft and corruption measures include the implementation of the E-Procurement Program to promote transparency in government purchases. We also made the BIR and the BoC showcases of governmentís fight against corruption through lifestyle checks and the prosecution of corrupt employees and officials.

These fiscal measures shall continue but we will not stop there. I shall push strongly for the passage of important bills like the indexation of sin taxes and the National Authority for Revenue Administration Act.

Lacson: The administration of Panfilo Lacson will devote the lion’s share of the president’s social fund to support a focused campaign against the widespread drug problem to make the country drug-free and strengthen the drug-users’ rehabilitation program.

In the first 100 days of his governance, Lacson, in close coordination with the judiciary, will create special courts dedicated to handle drug-related cases in all urban and selected growth centers.

Dedicated to making quality health care accessible to and affordable for the average Filipino family, within the first 90 days, Lacson shall earmark P6 billion from the Health Insurance Reserve Fund as revolving fund for three pro-poor health programs.

The country’s budget deficit in 2003 reached P202 billion. This is because the right taxes are not being collected and much of what is being collected goes to the pockets of corrupt officials. Lacson’s government would creatively match revenues and expenditures.

Lacson believed substantial progress towards balancing the budget must be made, not in six years, but within two years of the new administration.

Poe: Our goal is to ensure that government will operate within its means. We will look into the possibility of the imposition of a balanced budget rule or a budget deficit ceiling to ensure that government does not overspend. We plan to realign the budget expenditures to prioritize the delivery of basic social services, particularly education, health care, food and housing.

To address the huge budget deficit, revenues must be increased and belt-tightening measures on spending must be taken. To avert a possible fiscal crisis, we will implement drastic cost-cutting measures on non-essential government expenditures such as travel, contingent, miscellaneous, and intelligence funds. We will strengthen the institutional capacity of the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) and the Bureau of Customs (BOC), among others, to increase their collection efficiency. On top this, we will weed out corruption and all corrupt official from these agencies.

Roco: Under a Roco administration, education will be given top priority. In this era of technology, it is important for Filipinos to be competitive and this could be done through education. Our hope is high in an educated population.

Budget will be brought into balance by 2007. This could be achieved by increasing the tax effort by at least one percent point every year (or P51 billion) to reach 16 percent by 2007 and by maintaining the increases in expenditures by only P40 billion a year.

There must be transparency in government operations to ensure that revenues go to the country’s coffer.

Villanueva: We in Bangon Pilipinas believe that the people should feel that their money, through the taxes they pay to the government, is being spent wisely and judiciously. Many Filipinos do not pay their taxes because they don’t trust the government in terms of capital outlay. If they feel that the government is spending their money in useful and practical projects, then we may be able to increase collection of taxes. We will bring back fiscal sanity in the national budget.

Under a Villanueva presidency, education and agriculture would be our top priorities.

Education already has the highest appropriation in the current administration with P106 billion in budget but it is still not enough. We will work on upgrading the quality of our education.

Our government would also focus on improving our agricultural sector. We believe that by strengthening productivity of our farmers and fishermen, costs of food be lower. We will promote self-sufficiency among our people.

Fiscal deficit is one of our most important concerns. We can control this by increase in revenue collection and wise spending of national budget.

Employment

Question 2: Should government encourage more Filipinos to work abroad or concentrate on improving the local economy to provide enough jobs for the people?

Arroyo: We regard the stream of Filipinos going into overseas employment as a temporary phenomenon that needs to be effectively managed, with government upholding every migrant worker’s basic right to gain a living and maximize earnings through his or her chosen work.

We would definitely rather see our OFWs find suitable jobs and earn rightful incomes within our shores and within the effective protection of the government and in the company of their loved ones. But Filipinos find good work opportunities abroad because of their skills, language facility, cultural adaptability and good work attitude.

Simultaneously, we have been working on a vibrant and expanding economy where forces that create job opportunities, such as capital market flows and advances in information technology are set in place. We shall continue to promote fast growing industries where high value jobs are most plentiful.

Lacson: As a fact, our economy right now highly depends on the dollar remittances being made by our kababayans working abroad. It is but Lacson’s dream for the Philippine economy to produce sufficient jobs for every Filipino. To him, it all boils down to eradicating the four malaise of our country — poverty, crime, graft and corruption — for a strong economy will only materialize without these. It is creating a general atmosphere of stability and progress that government should focus on to convince Filipinos to stay instead of seeking greener pastures abroad.

Poe: While we do not encourage more Filipinos to work abroad to plug the brain drain, we will take concrete steps to protect the rights and promote the welfare of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) by entering into bilateral or multilateral agreements with the host countries. The foregoing shall be done while the government works on improving the local economy with a view of providing job opportunities to our people.

In addition, we plan to institutionalize a Hometown Investment Program under the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) and the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) where OFWs can channel part of their hard earned income from abroad to their places of origin by investing in local development programs.

Roco: The Alyansa ng Pag-asa ticket intends to provide more job opportunities right here in our own country by institutionalizing entrepreneurship and through micro-financing programs. The Philippines will not be able to compete with China, for instance, when it comes to manufacturing. If the Philippines must catch up and have its niche in the market, it must go upscale.

But we will support those who prefer to work abroad. We will organize a Presidential Commission for the management of global migration both outwards and inwards. The vision is to ensure sustainable benefits, growth and development from the outward and inward movement of Filipinos.

Pro-active, bilateral negotiations with countries that need Filipino talent must be undertaken to ensure replacement or recompense for the lost human resource. Every Filipino community of a significant size shall have an honorary consul with the consent of the host country.

Villanueva: We have never encouraged people to go abroad because we wanted to maintain our talents here. But we can’t blame them if that is what they want.

We want to provide equal opportunity to the people in an environment where they could provide for their families without the need to work abroad.

We in Bangon Pilipinas believe in the preservation of the family. My administration would create more than six million jobs so people could earn and at the same time stay with their families. We would also encourage entrepreneurship.

Poverty

Question 3: How do you propose to solve widespread poverty, high unemployment rate, and underdevelopment in Mindanao?

Arroyo: The administration’s anti-poverty campaign is anchored on the following components: Economic philosophy of free enterprise with a social conscience to spur job-creating investment; A modernized agricultural sector founded on social equity to boost incomes in rural areas, where most of the poor are; A social bias toward the disadvantaged to balance economic development, to give the poor the assets and capabilities to benefit from economic expansion; and, High moral standards in government and society, to ensure that resources are channeled to anti-poverty programs.

This shall be achieved by broadening access to economic opportunities and enhancing the capabilities of the poor to participate in decision-making. To attract investors, the source of job-creating capital, we continue to unleash the full force of the law against lawless elements, who erode business confidence.

Lacson: To fight the widespread poverty of the people, the government should promote entrepreneurship and provide other employment opportunities but first and foremost the people should be educated.

Lacson will also implement a "Rebuild the Philippines" program, the cornerstone of public sector spending in the next six years to pump-prime the country’s stagnant economy and provide incentives for greater investments that will generate jobs in the private sector.

Among the priorities of the Lacson government was increasing the national wealth through improved productivity and generation of jobs. Wealth creation starts with small and medium enterprises and individuals like our lawyers, doctors and engineers. We will give incentives to entrepreneurs and support SMEs. Small businesses create most of the new jobs in the country.

Poe: The government will take a holistic approach in addressing poverty in order decrease the incidence thereof. Foremost among the measures to be taken is the elimination of the culture of corruption that plagues the government, from Malacanang to the lowest level of the bureaucracy. Consequently, if the country’s fiscal position improve, more money may be used to fund the needed infrastructures, among others, in order to pump-prime the economy and create job or livelihood opportunities to all.

We will review and restructure labor-industrial relations to address the issues of worker’s job security, prevent company closures, enhance productivity and cushion the effects of globalization on local industries.

We will give priority to poor agricultural regions, foremost of which is Mindanao, in the provision of budgetary support for infrastructure, irrigation and post-harvest facilities. We will also develop trading and fishing ports in Mindanao to facilitate food transportation to wider markets.

Roco: The party believes that the standard of living of the Filipinos will significantly improve if government funds are properly spent. The more there is corruption, the less capability to produce infrastructure like housing, hospitals and water system that the people need.

How do we stop corruption? One year and a half I was in the Department of Education and I will tell you what we did and maybe we can replicate. They used to buy books at P60 to P120. We bought the same books at P21 and P48.

Corruption can be removed by transparency and leadership by example.

High unemployment rate can be addressed by encouraging the Filipinos to be self-reliant. Entrepreneurship and micro-financing must be strengthened.

The Roco administration will pursue peace in Mindanao, first by appointing a Mindanaoan to lead the negotiation. No one else than a Mindanaoan knows the problems in Mindanao.

Villanueva: Our answer to poverty entails a package of solutions, which include massive entrepreneurial programs, dismantling of graft and corruption, and creation of millions of jobs.

We would also help develop Small and Medium Scale Entreprenuers (SMEs) to lower down the gap between the rich and the poor.

With enough money, we would be able to deal with the needs of our brothers and sisters in Mindanao, who have long been ignored beause of government’s concentration in Luzon.

We have so many untapped resources there. Mindanao could offer many opportunities, especially in agriculture, if only we could produce another pineapple farm of Bukidnon and banana plantation of Davao.

Aside from working on the peace and order situation in this war-torn part of our country, we would revive the EAGA (East Asia Growth A) project of former President Fidel Ramos.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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