THE year 2017 will be a tough one because the world is busy defending itself on several fronts. Its borders are closing, the European Union is falling apart, terrorism refuses to die, and climate change continues to surprise us. Recently, two superpowers argued over a US-owned drone, submerged in our waters, and taken away by the Chinese government, as we watched like a sunburnt Mom observing a tennis match.
Here at home, the Constitution will soon be on everyone’s radar screen, while the Maute group asserts its bloody self, and massive social development and infrastructure funds are poured out by an administration keen to prove its capacity in becoming the poor’s best friend. The death penalty will be restored despite intense lobbying by the Church, tax reforms will be enacted, and millions of overseas Filipino workers will have their own department. The popularity of President Rodrigo Duterte will be sustained and may even get a rocket boost, as his departments go full steam ahead with pro-poor programs.
This is the year when we all go back to school as citizens, and try to get a grip on our cultural and political identity. Is there enough justification for the country to go federal? How open should our economy be? How truly independent is our foreign policy? As in all things, the media and their audience will rely heavily on the government’s communications efforts. For example, the congressional announcement about the inclusion of P8 billion in the 2017 General Appropriations Act for free tuition in state universities and colleges received enormous support. How will this be implemented? The gap between this radical policy announcement and the mechanics behind its actual implementation will make a huge difference in terms of the administration’s credibility.
I expect more good news from the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). Secretary Mark Villar has been proving his earlier detractors wrong, showing high energy, competence and integrity. The Department of Health is doing a terrific job under Secretary Paulyn Jean Rosell-Ubial who has been in public service for 27 years and has been under 13 health secretaries. Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III has been relentless in seeking out a compromise in carrying out the President’s instructions to end “endo.” The new department order on labor-only contracting is more complex and will be the subject of another column. He continues to shine on the labor migration front, with his initiatives to increase the number of labor and welfare attaches, and to bring home our stranded OFWs in Saudi Arabia.
The Bases Conversion Development Authority (BCDA) will have its hands full with the construction of the 9,450-hectare Clark Green City, described as the country’s first smart, green and disaster-resilient city. Meanwhile, the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport is all set for an upgrade, sealing its role as Central Luzon’s premier international airport.
The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) will have to level up and accelerate its programs and services. A glance at its mobile website does not inspire. We need more sparks of creativity from the DICT, which has one of the weirdest Christmas messages ever (it’s on their website: www.dict.gov.ph). One would think that the DICT Secretary would have the most memorable, succinct, and “shareable” Christmas message among the bureaucrats.
This is going to be a tough year but a rewarding one if we are able to achieve both economic development and political stability. Communication Secretary Martin Andanar needs to reinforce his communications team, particularly on the substantive side. Incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano deserves a rebranding of sorts, from hardcore politician to Asia’s topnotch diplomat, which would also require more moments of introspection and, yes, prayerful restraint from his end. We expect more policy coherence and political maturity from the President’s own allies in Congress, especially when matters as hefty as constitutional reforms become the primary agenda.
I am excited about the New Year. From this corner to yours, may 2017 be a kinder year, with more reasons to be engaged (hopefully, not enraged) as citizens of this beloved Republic. Let there be abundance in love and understanding and complete demolition of the forces of spite and hatred in our individual and national lives. A new beginning is upon us, bursting with infinite possibilities. I wish you well. Always.