Healthcare system challenges, mounting debt, divided nation await next president: analysts

BIanca Dava, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 26 2022 09:36 PM

MANILA - One new president, numerous problems to solve.

The country’s next president will face various challenges that include vulnerabilities of the healthcare system, the country’s ballooning debt, an education crisis, redefining foreign policy, and rebuilding a divided nation.

ABS-CBN News spoke to a political analyst and an economist about their thoughts on the issues and tasks for the next president to help voters decide if they can trust him or her.

‘VULNERABILITIES OF THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM’

COVID-19 is here to stay, and the country needs a leader capable of safeguarding the health of people.

Dr. Aries Arugay, a professor at the UP Department of Political Science, said the pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of the healthcare system.

Although the COVID situation has improved, Arugay does not discount the possibility of new variants entering the country. If this happens, he said the next president must have better ways of responding.

“Ano ang magiging hulma ng pandemic response? Relatively maganda ang sitwasyon natin, pero nakita natin sa ibang bansa na maaari itong magbago. Kailangan may mga pagbabago sa ating sistemang pangkalusugan para hindi na tayo mahuli sa pagresponde sa pandemya,” Arugay said.

He said the elections may give an opportunity for a reboot in the healthcare system and pandemic response, depending on who wins the top national post.

“Pag may bagong pangulo, may mga bagong itatalagang mga tao sa mga ahensya. Maaaring mabago ang mga regulation, practices at pamumuno ng iba’t ibang departamento. Maaaring itong mga bagong tao ay iiwasan nila ang mga polisiya ng mga nakaraan na hindi naging epektibo. ‘Yung reboot is more na wala silang bagahe. May mga bagong taong pwedeng maitalaga, pero depende iyan sa mananalo. May mga kandidato na ang assessment nila mas okay na panatilihin na lamang. Dahil dun, baka walang reboot.”

Prof. Emmanuel Leyco, president of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila, said the next president must have a clear policy on the social protection of the poor and informal workers, especially if there will be another surge in COVID-19 cases.

“Right now, we are fortunate na nag-slow down ang COVID infections, pero huwag tayong pakasiguro…Kung ikaw ang pangulo, paano mo pamumunuan ang health system? Hindi lamang ito pagsugpo ng COVID-19; papaano mo tutugunan ang pangangailangan ng mamamayan sa kalusugan nila? Hindi lang COVID ang problema natin. Maraming namamatay sa sakit sa puso, cancer, laganap pa rin ang tuberculosis. Ano ang iyong magiging programa para sugpuin ang mga pangunahing sakit sa bansa… sa kabila ng patuloy na mga hamon sa ating kabuhayan?” Leyco said.

“Ang kalusugan kailangan isinasabay natin sa pagtaguyod ng kabuhayan,” he added.

MOUNTING DEBT

The next president will have to create more jobs and help businesses and industries recover from the effects of the pandemic. He or she will also need to attract more investors, Arugay said.

“Ekonomiya, kakabit nito ang pandemya, pag-recover ng economy. Kailangan manumbalik ang sigla ng ekonomiya, kasama ang GDP growth o paglago nito. Malaking isyu ang trabaho, both ang kawalan ng trabaho at ang underemployment. Importante dito ang ayuda sa mga negosyong pinadapa ng pandemya. Ginawa natin ngayon pero hindi ganoon kaigting ang assistance. Marami pa ring negosyo, lalo mga MSME, na nangangailangan,” the political analyst said. “Importante ring kasi na ang bagong administrasyon makaakit ng bagong investments, both foreign and domestic.”

Leyco, for his part, said: “The impact of the pandemic is still very much felt by the people. We have not fully recovered; we are just on our way to recovery. We have to restore jobs lost; businesses closed. If we lost 9.3% in our GDP growth rate, we must at least grow 10% in our GDP in a sustained manner.”

Arugay and Leyco agreed that the next president must choose the members of his or her economic team well.

“It’s very critical kung sino ang economic team. ‘Yung bagong administrasyon, dapat Day 1 pa lang ang tutok na ay sa ekonomiya. Dapat maglagay ng mga taong may kompetensya, hindi maiimpluwensyahan ng malalaking korporasyon at oligarchs,” Arugay said.

“The president will have to choose his economic team, pero responsibilidad iyan ng pangulo kung paano niya bibigyan ng direksyon ang kanyang economic team. Mamimili siya. Maraming economists, very good business and finance managers na pwedeng isama sa economic team. Kaya lang, mamimili rin siya ng direksyon na tatahakin ng kanyang pamahalaan,” Leyco added.

The national government’s debt has reached P12.03 trillion as of the end of January this year, the Bureau of Treasury said in March.

Total national government debt rose by P301.12 billion due to the net availment of both domestic and external debt, the bureau said in a statement. The Philippines borrowed heavily in the last two years to fund its COVID-19 war chest.

So what should the next president do to pay off the country’s outstanding debt? 

Leyco said he or she may have to "take off money from other areas of the national budget" or resort to raising tax rates.

“Our national debt has grown to over 60% of our GDP. The threshold for national debt is about to be breached. How do we manage growing debt? To be able to pay our national debt, we’ll have to take money from other areas of our national budget; social services will be a major casualty when we start paying off our debts,” the economist explained.

He added, “Kung wala tayong pambayad, kailangan nating maghanap kung saan tayo kukuha ng pambayad. The government can either print money, pero magiging inflationary lang yan, so the government will be hard-pressed to increase taxes. Once taxes increase, mahihirapan ang mamamayan, mabigat magbayad ng buwis… Mabigat, so paano babalansehin ng pamahalaan, ng bagong pangulo ang ating pagtawid sa mga hamon na ito ng ating ekonomiya? Mabigat iyan.”

‘FOREIGN POLICY CHALLENGES’

Given the power that the president has to shape the country’s foreign policy, whoever wins in May will largely decide the Philippines’ approach to dealing not just with the United States and China, but also with other nations, Arugay said.

He added that the foreign policy can also help the country in pandemic response and economic recovery.

“Hindi ito gaanong kaigting sa kampanya, ang ating polisiyang panlabas o foreign policy. Importante sa pangulo maisaayos ang relasyon ng Pilipinas, di lamang sa malalaking bansa gaya ng US at China. Ang foreign policy, importante ‘yun dahil maaaring makatulong iyon sa unang dalawang isyu. Kailangan ng suporta ng Pilipinas sa pandemic response at economic recovery. Kung maisasaayos ang ating relasyon sa ibang bansa, makakatulong ito sa post-pandemic situation ng Pilipinas.”

Former President Benigno Aquino III preferred a confrontational approach in dealing with China, and doubled down on the alliance with the US. It was under the Aquino presidency when the Philippines and US signed the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in 2014.

It was also under the late president’s administration when the Philippines filed a landmark arbitration case challenging the legality of China’s nine-dash line over the South China Sea dispute. The international tribunal in The Hague unanimously ruled in favor of the Philippines in 2016.

In contrast to Aquino, President Rodrigo Duterte promoted an "independent foreign policy" and realigned with China. 

Duterte downplayed the arbitral ruling, arguing that taking action in the West Philippine Sea to assert sovereignty would lead to war. This, despite the massive presence of Chinese vessels in the area.

He also put in limbo the decades-old Visiting Forces Agreement, a military pact he had earlier ordered terminated. The VFA provides the legal framework under which US troops can operate on a rotational basis in the Philippines.

 In 2020, Duterte cancelled the VFA as a retaliation for the cancellation of the US visa of former national police chief and senator Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa. The abrogation had been suspended several times until Duterte reversed his order.

For Arugay, the next president should examine the country’s foreign policy “pre-Duterte”.

“Hindi tayo salat sa expertise o kaalaman tungkol sa foreign policy. I think dumausdos talaga ang foreign policy ng Pilipinas kahit ano pa ang nagawa ng outgoing administration. Maraming competent na bureaucrats sa ating foreign affairs department,” Arugay said. 

“‘Yung foreign policy natin before the Duterte administration, set na siya. Hindi iniiba. Nito lamang nangyari ito sa Duterte administration. ‘Yung next administration, hindi na niya kailangan isipin. Kanya lamang itong balikan ang pre-Duterte foreign policy at aralin ito kasi, so far, it has worked. Marami lang hugot itong outgoing administration na nakaimpluwensya sa kanyang foreign policy rather than ang totoong national interest.”

He went on, “Importante maglagay ng mga taong walang bagahe, ‘di gagamitin ang emotion sa paggawa ng polisiya. Ang gagamitin ay common sense, katwiran, rationality at hindi magpapadala sa buhos ng emosyon at pansariling hugot o bagahe.”

EDUCATION CRISIS

Leyco, an educator, said the country’s quality of education suffered during the pandemic, which forced schools to shift to a remote learning setup since early 2020.

Leyco is worried that the distance learning for two years would weigh down students, even after they have joined the workforce.

“Kasabay ng ating pagbabalik sa ating mga tanggapan at pabrika, at ibinabangon natin ang ating mga kabuhayan, siguro kailangan natin tignan ano ang nangyari sa edukasyon, sa mga estudyanteng gumraduate in the last two years na pawang online lamang ang kanilang natikman,” he said. “Papaano natin masisiguro na ang galing ng ating mga estudyante ay mapupunuan sa pamamagitan ng training sa kanila pagpasok nila sa workforce. Tulungan natin ang mga mag-aaral na grumaduate sa loob ng pandemyang ito.”

He hopes the next administration will speed up its reopening of schools for in-person classes, stressing the importance of classroom sessions for students.

“Kailangan nang bumalik pero kailangan sa ligtas na pamamaraan. Ano ang iyong magiging plano sa muling pagbabalik ng mga mag-aaral sa mga pamantasan at paaralan?” Leyco said.

‘REBUILDING A DIVIDED NATION’

The next president will inherit a divided nation.

No doubt, political polarization is observed in the 2022 national elections, the experts said.

“Kahit maraming kandidato, polarisado ang bansa. Nahahati sa dalawang kampo at ang dalawang kampo na iyon hindi nagkakakitaan mata sa mata… Tinuturing nila ang isa’t isa bilang kaaway. Wala silang nakikitang maganda o mabuti sa kabilang kampo,” Arugay said, adding that the country’s political divide is the “main political challenge” the next president has to face.

“Ang ganitong sitwasyon ng polarisasyon, ito ay isang malaking challenge. In fact, ito ang main political challenge ng bagong administrasyon, dahil kahit sinong manalo, meron na kaagad isang kampo, at ang kampong iyon hindi maliit, marami itong taga-suporta, maingay sa social media, mobilized ito. Paano mo ngayon ito iimbitahin na samahan ka, samahan ang bayan at kumbaga, pagkatapos ng eleksyon, isang koponan na lang tayo.”

“Kung sa simula pa lang, ang bagong administrasyon ay nakatutok na sa tatlong isyung nabanggit ko (healthcare, economy, foreign policy)—magkaroon ng mabilis na outcome at resulta—isa ito sa mga solusyon para mawala ang polarisasyon. Hindi lang performance ang solusyon sa polarisasyon. Importanteng ma-engage din ang nag-iiringang mga kampo. Ang bagong presidente, imbes na ang pagkakaiba ang iemphasize… Dapat kung ano ang mas nagba-bind sa atin, ano ang mga basehan ng hindi natin pagkakaiba, basis natin ng pagkakaisa. ‘Yun ang dapat paigtingin ng bagong administrasyon, hindi ‘yung kung ano ang naghahati sa atin,” Arugay noted.

For Leyco, the 2022 polls have seen the “most divisive yet most unifying” population in the country’s history.

He particularly mentioned the supporters of the two main rivals in the presidential race: Vice President Leni Robredo and former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.

For the opposition, Robredo is the best hope to block a Marcos return to Malacanang and end Duterte’s dark legacy.

Supporters of Marcos Jr., meanwhile, see Robredo’s defeat as their final revenge on the Aquinos, and his win—a continuation of the “legacy” of his father, the late dictator who ruled the Philippines for two decades.

“This election has seen the most politically divided population. Dalawang bagay: Makikita na ang isang kandidato, si Bongbong Marcos, ay nangunguna sa mga survey. On the other hand, si VP Leni Robredo, ngayon lang ako nakakita ng ganito karaming mobilizations, daan-daang libo. Hindi lang sa isang siyudad, kundi nationwide. Ngayon lang din ako nakarinig na, for the first time, may labor organization na nag-endorse ng president," he said.

"Ngayon ko lang din narinig na ang MILF ay nag-endorse ng presidente. Very significant na ang MILF nag-endorse. Pero sa Mindanao, while the MILF endorsed VP Leni Robredo, many of the governors in BARMM endorsed BBM,” Leyco added.

He went on, “While it has become very divisive—linyado na ikaw ay pink o pula—hindi ito laban ng pangkaraniwan. Kumbinsido ang mamamayan. Kaya sila sumusuporta kay Robredo, sa aking mga naririnig, dahil hindi nila papayagang makabalik ang Marcoses sa Malacanang. Malalim ang isyu sa kanila ng Marcos dictatorship, ng nakaw na yaman… Also, napakalalim din sa kanila na si Robredo, bilang pinuno, may see her as caring, leading, qualified, abogado, VP."

"On the other hand, si BBM, ang sa kanya, sinasabi ng supporters niya na tinanggal ang tatay niya in 1986 dahil daw sa katiwalian, pero sabi nila, higit 30 years mula nang siya’y napatalsik, bakit kami mahirap pa rin? So baka raw mali ang pagkakatanggal sa kanya… Ang dating ni BBM parang celebrity, may artista effect. May ganoong appeal," he added.

To address this divide and unify the country, Arugay said the next president must veer away from the so-called DDS and “Dilawan” who are always bickering about any and all issues.

“Dapat gawin ng pangulo ay umalis na sa hulma ng DDS at Dilawan. Tapos na iyon eh. Dapat ang bagong pangulo, fresh start, walang bagahe tungkol doon. Pagyakap sa lahat ng Pilipino… Mahalagang makaget-over na siya sa iringan ng mga kampo at kulay, at mamuno ng isang bayan, hindi lamang ng isang kampo,” he said.

Leyco admitted that while the road to rebuilding a divided and distrustful nation will be a difficult one to travel, the next president can make this happen, and leading all Filipinos, not just loyal supporters, can be his or her first step.

“Pagkatapos ng election sa May 9, once the new president is declared, the question is: Will you be the president of only the people who voted for you? Or will you be the president of the people who did not vote for you as well? Kung si BBM ang maging presidente, he will have to convince the other sector na he is the rightful president by his actions, programs and activities that will benefit the people. Kung si VP Robredo ang mananalong presidente, she will also have to convince those who supported her and did not support her,” Leyco said.

Arugay and Leyco reminded voters to be careful in selecting the next president. Popularity alone is not enough, so is pure intention. What people need to look at are the candidates’ accomplishments, track record, plans and programs.

“Ang essence ng halalan ay kompetisyon. Ang prinsipyo dito, dahil sa kompetisyon, lalabas at aangat ang pinakamabuting politiko o choice para sa ating mga botante. Ngunit ang kompetisyon, iyon ay matatapos na kapag may nanalo. Sana pag may bago nang adminsitrasyon, alisin natin ang isipin na ‘hindi ko susundin yan kasi di ko naman binoto.’ Ang ganoong pag-iisip ay hiwalay sa ating identity bilang miyembro ng isang republika, nasyon, bayan. Alisin dapat ang ganoong pag-iisip dahil pagkatapos ng eleksyon, wala tayong ibang pupuntahang bansa kundi ito lang. Mas importante na tayo ay mag move forward at irebuild ang ating mga relasyong panlipunan on the basis of principles and values. Importante, ano ang nagbibigkis sa atin, mga prinsipyong political gaya ng demokrasya, karapatang pantao, rule of law, katotohanan. Kung walang basehan ang pagkakaisa, ito lamang ay isang salita. Kailangan meron itong pundasyon,” Arugay said.

Leyco added: “Ang magandang gawin ng mamamayan ay isiping mabuti ano ba ang nagawa, ang track record at ang plano na sinasabi sa atin, kapani-paniwala ba? Pagdating ng May 10, kalimutan kung ano ang naghiwalay sa kanila, pero ito ang magiging pagkakataon para patunayan ng sinuman na kandidato na ang kanilang ipinapangako sa sambayanan ay magiging totoo.”

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