As two political dynasties, each with a pervasive air of privilege, act out a tragic-comic zarzuela, the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI) averts its eye and points a moral compass towards pivotal issues concerning the nation’s future.   Last week, the PCCI invited the presidentiables to ask each one what he/she intends to do in the first 100 days in office.  Five accepted the invitation, namely, VP Leni Robredo, Senators Panfilo Lacson, Bong Go, Manny Pacquiao and Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno. The others sent regrets.

That the PCCI wants to know about issues directly affecting the economy should not be a surprise, so there were questions about pandemic response, SMEs, agriculture and fishery, infrastructure, digitization and education, not necessarily in that order. I’m afraid that in this humble corner, I have space for only one candidate at a time, and my vote goes to   VP Leni Robredo.

VP Leni emphasized the need for a new round of educational reforms and investment in education, “…to repair the damage wrought by the pandemic and to address the deficit that existed even before COVID…” She said we have to invest in data for effective decision-making, to roll out a national learning assessment program that will diagnose “missed learning” at the student and school levels. That will guide us to formulate a remediation program to address learning losses.

Furthermore, the Philippines has to continue participating in international large scale learning assessments as well as invest in educators for communities at the provincial level. Teachers, school heads and school boards should be encouraged and guided to come up with localized ways to deal with the pandemic and its effects. Best practices should be documented and shared among communities and regions. We have to aim for continuous high-quality learning, said VP Robredo.

With regard to infrastructure programs, she affirmed: “We will prioritize a nation- wide active transport infrastructure, starting with the most traffic-congested areas. Our goal is to make roads for people, not cars.  Duterte has a car-centric public budgeting.” The VP   will prioritize feasible and strategic projects with high impact for Filipinos like   the proposed rapid transit system on EDSA and in Cebu.  She also highlighted the need for protected bike lanes and racks because bike-riding has become an increasingly popular form of transport ever since the pandemic.

As you know, VP Leni has always been a commuter; she takes the bus whenever she returns to Naga city, so she knows what she is talking about. Her infra program boosts rural development and will have a direct impact on uplifting lives of farmers and fisherfolk. She criticizes misplaced priorities found in the proposed Php. 5.024 trillion budget for 2022. There are more funds for big-ticket infrastructure than for financing the health sector during the pandemic.

The PCCI asked about digital transformation to help ease business processes and boost industrial productivity.   Boldly, VP Robredo said she will scrap the need for telecom companies to seek congressional franchises and at the same time   provide more WIFI access to people. If elected president, she will delist telcos as a public utility which will pave the way for more foreign investors. Quoting a survey made among Japanese corporations, she said they hesitate to invest because of high power rates, slow communications and poor facilities.

To digitize business regulatory processes, permit applications, filing of legal forms and sending notices are all in her first 100 days agenda. As for the National ID system, she is all for it but in digital form, not a physical ID but a personal number which is  more efficient.

Small- holder agriculture should be connected to large domestic institutional buyers and foreign markets. In fact, this is already being done by her kabuhayan projects. Her administration will extend credit to the SMEs specially those affected by the pandemic so they can reconfigure their businesses and cope with current and future threats.

Unfortunately, many of our politicians do not believe that honesty is a premium.   Remember that local official  who once argued that honesty should not be an issue because anyway everyone lies?    VP Leni resolutely declared that she will map the points where corruption enters the procurement process and plug the holes. “What projects are used by politicians as cash cows?“ That was not a rhetorical question, coming from the VP.  Cost estimates of projects must be evidence- based and there should be regular audit checks of procurement.

She expressed hope that encounters with groups like the PCCI will usher in a future “where fairness reigns, and where every individual is empowered, where plans are concretized because there is a sensible, efficient government with honest and accountable officials who put the interests of the Filipino people first.” That is a road we have not yet taken.