BOO  CHANCO:  ATE  GLUE'S  NEXT  THOUSAND  DAYS

MANILA, JUNE 1, 2007 (STAR) DEMAND AND SUPPLY By Boo Chanco - The election’s almost over but for the loose ends posed by the problems in many areas of Muslim Mindanao. There is no denying that Ate Glue lost a national vote of confidence. But that’s not such a bad thing because the loss didn’t affect her ability to govern. She still has pretty substantial powers to do good… if she finally decides that’s the way to go for legacy’s sake.

The senatorial election is the best our present system allows for a national referendum in the mid-term of a sitting president. Pro-administration congressmen and local officials were elected on the basis of local issues. Because Malacañang made no bones about Team Unity being its team, its loss in the hands of the combined opposition ticket serves as a “thumbs down” for the national leadership.

What happens next? It’s all up to Ate Glue. It could be political bickering as usual or she could get down to business to establish a more positive legacy in the remaining thousand days of her term. The only path for the President, if she wants relative political peace in her last thousand days in office, is to declare that she no longer has any more political ambitions. She should declare that she just wants to work on finishing the job she started and leave a legacy.

Declaring herself a disinterested observer of the politics of 2010 will give the nation a window of a thousand days to consolidate the positive investor sentiment we are seeing today. It so happens that focusing on the economy is also a strong message that came out of the election season. A survey of SWS found out that one third of the people think the economy is the most important problem, followed by infrastructure. Our people are worried about unemployment, rising cost of living and poverty… all economic issues.

Of course three remaining years can be too short a time to produce results on the major areas of national economic concerns. Still, a lot can be done in a thousand days to leave a lasting legacy, if the time the late President Kennedy spent at the White House is any indication.

Because she no longer has to worry about another election, at least theoretically, the President has all the time now to focus on delivering measurable results. It is reassuring for the business sector that the last election makes it clear the President still has full control of the executive side of government up to the local government level. It often happens that policies affecting business are made at the national level but find humps in implementation at the level of the local government units. She has the means to assure smooth coordination from policy to execution… if she wants to.

The big challenge for Ate Glue is getting the confidence of the people. In the next few weeks, the dismay over the general perception of biased officiating by the Comelec will continue to rub off on Ate Glue. But as the nation settles down to business as usual, Ate Glue can work to win this elusive confidence by producing visible results in the shortest possible time. She has a number of projects lined up already and her cabinet must merely start producing more results than press releases.

Ate Glue must also restrain Joe de V and her other supporters from reviving charter change. If Speaker de Venecia is unable to resist trying to convene Congress into a constituent assembly to amend the constitution, then she is in trouble. Vicious political bickering will be back. The national leadership will be distracted from focusing on the economy. On the other hand, if Rep. Pablo Garcia, a known anti cha-cha gets the Speakership, Ate Glue may be spared of this problem.

If there is a message that could be read in the victory of a majority of the opposition senatorial ticket, that message is, forget charter change. Forget trying to abolish the Senate. The people want to preserve the check and balance structure as provided in the Constitution.

This means there should be no more maneuvers to amend the Constitution to shift to a unicameral parliamentary system of government. Reviving charter change or cha-cha will be taken to mean that she wants to remain in power beyond 2010. Given her record unpopularity, as measured by the opinion polls, this means trouble. The political environment will be destabilized and this could threaten any good we are seeing now in the economy from becoming more permanent.

In fact, the ball game isn’t over for the elections. If the final election results reversed because the Comelec didn’t handle the Maguindanao election fraud charges well, there could be continuing political instability. If this happens, the market will react accordingly.

In typical Philippine fashion, political instability may take the form of massive street protests. Or the restive armed forces could rattle coup threats. The Arroyo administration and the military and police may end up with more repressive orders as they tried to do early last year. This could trigger capital flight and the weakening of the peso. We will be back to where we have always been as the region’s basket case.

But this scary scenario need not happen. President Arroyo and her allies have the option of doing the right things. I have talked to some of the opposition’s winning candidates for the Senate and they tell me that they are ready to cooperate with the administration to get the economy going. Impeaching the President is not automatic, unless she gives them a good reason to do so. They can allow her to use the remaining one thousand days to build up her legacy if she takes an apolitical stance.

I am hoping that what is now happening at the Agriculture department can be replicated in the other departments. Secretary Art Yap seems to know exactly what he wants to do and he wants to see measurable results within a time frame. His five-point program calls for higher spending on farm infrastructure, provision of more technology and extension services, setting up of more post-harvest and storage facilities, expanding access to rural credit, and opening up new markets here and abroad.

Secretary Yap hopes, through these programs, to increase annual farm growth by five to six percent in the next decade from its current average of three to four percent. Going beyond numbers, Secretary Yap has often told me that his more immediate goal is to produce better living standards for the rural folks now and not in some future date. That’s what he is starting to accomplish with his vegetable growing program in Quezon and Laguna provinces. I have visited some of the farms and have seen how the program is starting to have some impact. Art’s problem is sustaining what has been started.

I cited the example of the agriculture department to point out that it is possible to do great things in the thousand days left for the Arroyo administration. In fact, there is a lot to get excited about in the various projects that the President says she wants to accomplish before 2010.

If President Arroyo will choose the path of focusing on her legacy and work on deliverable projects that would power our economy’s take off, then I think there will be relative calm in our country’s political environment. But if she chooses to be very political, as in trying to revive charter change efforts, then economic take-off would be aborted. It is our tragic history. I am hoping it is not also our future.

Reputation

It’s tough being a politician. Half your reputation is ruined by lies; the other half is ruined by the truth!

Boo Chanco’s e-mail address is bchanco@gmail.com


Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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