AN appreciation of actual issues is not considered a priority by most candidates for elected office in any Philippine election, but this coming election has been shaping up to be vacuous even by this country’s standards. That is why it was encouraging—at first—to read that vice-presidential candidate Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. had shared some of his perspective on economic matters.
In particular, Sen. Marcos suggested that “job creation” should be the central focus of efforts to grow the economy and spread its benefits, and that if given the chance to choose a Cabinet portfolio, he would like to take on the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) in order to pursue that objective.
Marcos also noted that support for the SME sector, expanding research and development, skills training and improving access to credit should all be key parts of the government’s plans as well.
All well and good, but that doesn’t really tell us a lot; all candidates, once they realize that people with opinions that matter are going to get bored with hearing about deceased family members and how much less evil one is than his or her opponent, are capable of assembling a few sentences from recent headlines to make what sounds like a policy statement. It only becomes a statement worth assessing if it is accompanied with at least a basic suggestion of how it might be carried out.
Up to that point, however, Sen. Marcos was doing fine. “Job creation” is also the first thing I say when someone asks what should be done with the economy, and his other suggestions show an awareness of areas that need to be improved. In a TV interview that only provides a moment or two to talk about any one topic, one would not expect to hear a lot of depth; a quick summary of the problems and a possible solution is sufficient to get the message across under those circumstances.
The ‘solution’ suggested, however, is where Marcos’ job creation ideas fall flat. His Senate Bill 1862, which is currently gathering dust before the Senate committee on Labor, Employment and Human Resources Development, would create an “inter-agency council” comprising 15 government agencies led by the DOLE, which would “serve as the overall advisory and coordinating mechanism” for job creation initiatives.
The only jobs it would create are jobs in the expanded bureaucracy resulting from adding yet another redundant and, in all other respects, completely pointless layer of government meddling in development processes.
For one thing, government already has a supra-agency in the National Economic Development Authority (NEDA). Under current head Arsenio Balisacan, NEDA has done a reasonably good job within the context its mandate creates; adding another level would be a completely unnecessary waste of time and resources. And no matter how much esteem NEDA may be entitled to, the objective fact is that over the past five years the needle on the unemployment gauge hasn’t moved that much.
Marcos’ solution also suggests he has yet to identify the biggest obstacle to business development five-plus years of the Aquino Administration have created: Excessive intervention in areas where processes should be streamlined and complete inaction in areas where intervention is needed. If he had, he would likely have not proposed something that would only make the problem worse.
What is most disappointing is the lack of grasp of the basic logic underlying the problem of job creation—if it’s any consolation to Sen. Marcos, none of his rivals has been able to figure it out, either. If you want to encourage job creation, you have to provide some incentive to job creators to do just that. Incentives can take many forms; implementing income tax reforms to lower tax rates and improve filing and collection processes would be a good place to start. Providing a working infrastructure to move customers, goods, and workers efficiently would be as well.
Again, presenting a solution which would add one or more steps to an already unnecessarily complicated and time-consuming process is counterproductive, a non-innovation that has already been tried, is already available as part of the government’s policy management structure, and is a demonstrably ineffective model for producing significant ‘job creation’ results. To Sen. Marcos’ credit, at least he had an idea, which puts him a step ahead of most of his rivals; but just having an idea does not make it a good one.