Good Governance
Next President Should Ensure Democratic Space

Realtalk: Limang Taon Na, SONA ba tayo?
Realtalk: Limang Taon Na, SONA ba tayo? © FNF Philippines

“Magbigay ng espasyo sa halaga ng papel ng mga sektor para sa isang mahusay at maayos na pamamahala.” (Give space, and recognize the contribution of the different sectors to governance.) This is the challenge for the next leader posed by Jessica Amon, community organizer for the urban poor, in a webinar on 11 August 2021.

Assessing Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s last State of the Nation Address (SONA), the webinar became a platform for the representatives of different sectors: women, youth, health, labor, education, farmers, to voice out their concerns on the administration’s policies, specifically during this time of the pandemic. Duterte, who is in his final year in office, was given a grade of 1/5 for his failed leadership. The online event also became an occasion to define what the next president should be.  

Liberal Youth’s Jobelle Domingo underscored the need to provide platforms for engagement for young people. She talked about the dispassionate treatment of the current government towards the youth. “They are neither seen as threat nor ally, and their influence is not recognized. But this can change if the youth register, and vote in 2022,” encouraged Domingo.

Inclusive and holistic approach

Bro. Exie Nidea of Uni Global Union, speaking on behalf of the labor sector, pointed out the tightening of democratic space during the Duterte Administration. He cited that the Philippines has been consistently in the list of 10 worst countries for workers since 2017. Under the Duterte government, many trade unionists have been murdered across the country. Nidea expressed alarm that the Anti-Terror Law would further heighten the number of abuses against workers.

Nidea also underlined that one of Duterte’s campaign promises was ending contractualization, or “endo.” “Ang mga pangako n’ya ay puro hangin lang pala,” said Nidea, and quipped that the labor sector’s appeal has been transformed to “enDuterte.” (His promises are all hot air.) “But there is still ample time to change this situation. Kailangan ng pagbabagong lahat ay kasama, hindi iilan-ilan lang,” he stressed. (We need inclusive change.) 

Bans Alqaseer of EveryWoman similarly highlighted the need for an “intersectional, gender-responsive, and holistic approach” to address the further marginalization of women. “During the pandemic, women issues continue to be sidelined… The response has been gender-blind,” assessed Alqaseer. She put forward the need for more women in leadership positions.

Empowering communities

Public health expert Dr. RJ Naguit noted the absence of leadership in this time of public health crisis. He mentioned that overworked and underpaid health workers were exposed to the notion that “health is always political.”

“Nakikita natin ngayon kung paano disempowered ang communities. Ang narrative ngayon ay ‘sumunod nalang tayo kung anung sabihin ng DOH at ng Presidente.’ Pero hindi ito lapat sa konteksto kung nasaan na tayo,” remarked Naguit. “Sa SONA, sinabi n’ya na: He will promote a human approach to development and governance. Pero ano’ng nakita natin ngayong pandemic? Napaka militarized ng response,” he continued.

(It is palpable how disempowered communities are. The narrative today is about total submission to the instructions from the Department of Health and the President, but these directives are not exactly suitable the needs of the community… In the SONA, the President said that he would promote a human approach to development and governance. But what do we see now? A militarized response.)

For Naguit, the leader who listens to science, capacitates the community, responds to diverse health needs, and manages resources efficiently deserves the presidency.

Former Education Sectary Edilberto de Jesus echoed the sentiment when he analyzed the systemic education problem in the Philippines. “Kailangan ng tulong ng buong komunidad… (The community needs to be involved.) A one-size-fits-all solution is not appropriate,” emphasized de Jesus. 

He shared the proposal to establish an Education Commission to disentangle the learning crisis in the country. Currently, the Philippines is ranked lowest in reading, and second to the lowest in math and science. The pandemic could exacerbate the problem given the issues related to the shift to online learning.

But De Jesus also acknowledged a positive development: “Dahil sa pandemya, nagkaroon ng maliit na puwang ang mga eskwelahan na magbigay ng sariling solusyon sa kanilang mga problema. Dapat nating bigyan ng pansin ang stratehiya na ito,” he recognized.

(Because of the pandemic, the schools were given space to design their own solutions to their respective problems. This strategy warrants attention.)

RealTalk Webinar Panelists
RealTalk Webinar Panelists © FNF Philippines

Speak truth to power

Speaking on behalf of farmers, Rene Cerilla wanted a leader with integrity. He wished for someone who would lift those in the fringes of society out of poverty. He articulated his dreams not just for his sector but for the country: that farmers till their own land, and that there is a next generation of farmers to ensure food sufficiency for everybody.

The webinar was facilitated by Jules Guiang of Rappler. It was organized by the Center for Liberalism and Democracy (CLD) with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF).

“FNF and CLD provide these platforms for honest discussions because the truth is elusive nowadays,” said Minnie Salao of FNF in her closing remarks. She then offered an optimistic view: “The silver lining after five years is that our community leaders are more steadfast than ever; our citizens are more discerning of the truth. We have a chance to do the right thing every day, and especially in May 2022. People who continue to stand up for the truth merit a grade of 5.”

Watch the webinar here.

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