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[OPINION] Second message to the President

FILIPINO WORLDVIEW – Roberto R. Romulo (The Philippine Star) – June 10, 2020 – 12:00am

Dear Mr. President:

After SONA, you will begin the remaining two years of your term – enough time to cement your legacy. As I said in my first letter, I consider it my duty as a patriotic citizen fortunate to have  this public platform to commend you and express my support for all your endeavors which are responsive to the welfare of the nation, but similarly to critique you for actions which I perceive as detrimental to the country.

Response to COVID-19

The coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 pandemic was an unforeseen challenge of existential proportions, but which now provides you with a great opportunity to show your leadership mettle.

You deserve praise for creating the National Task Force (NTF). I have been working with co-chair Sec. Delfin Lorenzana and Sec. Charlie Galvez (chief implementer) and retired Major General Resty Padilla (official spokesman) and I have been impressed by their tireless effort despite the overwhelming tide of events. One example was the massive influx of land and sea-based OFWs that overwhelmed our system, which resulted in their remaining in quarantine even after completing the WHO-recommended 14 days. This was further complicated by LGUs imposing their own health protocols over and above the national norm. But the empathy and dogged determination of your NTF has helped eased the bottleneck. I hasten to add that the DFA has been very supportive of the OFWs with the inimitable leadership style and support of Sec. Ted Locsin (cum twitter).

I hope you continue to appoint capable individuals to your government and support them in their efforts to better the country. There are two recent appointments, BSP Governor Ben Diokno and Acting NEDA Secretary Karl Chua, that are particularly meaningful to me, a 25-year veteran of technology. Both understand the urgent need to be part of the DIGITAL ECONOMY. The Technical Working Group of IATF has recommended a host of recommendations, including new legislation that would support the country’s transition to the new normal of a “contactless economy”. That is to say when the bulk of work, commercial and financial transactions, education, interaction with government and even medical services are conducted online.

Both officials complement the indefatigable efforts of Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez, who chairs the Cabinet level economic team. Aware of the significance of investment roadshows abroad, the three, together with DTI Sec. Ramon Lopez would comprise the best sales team that we could dispatch to convince investors about our country’s bright potential.

This is doubly significant as companies hedge the sustainability of their global supply, co-locating their facilities in several locations rather than in one country. I submit that both digital technology and foreign investments will be key to our economic recovery post COVID-19. In this connection, your toning down your tirades against the two water concessionaires has uplifted the morale of the business community. They also reassured foreign investors who were beginning to doubt our respecting the sanctity of contracts. Similarly, the business community likewise looks forward to the final resolution of the ABS-CBN franchise.

While you have many capable officials in the administration in addition to those I have mentioned, people I have talked to share my concern about the mediocre performance of several other government officials. Some are thought to be indecisive and respond too late on urgent issues. Others are abusive of their positions and perform acts contrary to law or regulation. Many observers consider PNP General Sinas hosting a birthday party a wanton disregard of social distancing guidelines he was supposed to enforce. The appointment (or potential appointment) of individuals without expertise or experience have also been well noted by the press and public. Others have been accused of corruption. Yet you have chosen to terminate or transfer them in another government post without having to answer allegations in court. It is my sincere hope you address these glaring omissions before your term ends.

I applaud your decision to suspend the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement which would ease a lot of concern about the situation in the South China Sea/West Philippine Sea, where tensions have intensified over China’s aggressive actions to pursue its territorial claims. I share the view of regional neighbors that we should be neutral in the superpower confrontation in which nobody really wins and all of us lose. But that said, I am concerned about the rumors that the Chinese will take over the defaulted Hanjin shipyards in Subic. That is tantamount to giving the fox the keys to the hen house, noting how systematically they are claiming territory – such as the Spratly’s – from where Subic is a short sailing distance away. It makes more sense to attract a purely private entity who is convinced that it is a viable commercial venture and do not represent a foreign government with conflicting territorial claims with us. I would suggest that the relevant Cabinet officials be instructed to pursue this option.

Finally, in my estimation the Anti-Terrorism bill will define your legacy more than anything else. Many share my sentiment about its consequence to the basic rights and due process provided for in our Constitution. It leaves too much room for abuse by enforcement agencies and infringes on the freedom of expression. While the world understands the need to deal with terrorism, if this bill is signed as is, you would have forever altered the democracy as we know it and cherished for the past seven decades.

I question the urgency to pass this law when there are much more pressing issues at hand. I also question the independence of the legislature by authoring such an egregious piece of legislation which seems to have been drafted hand in glove with the Palace. I certainly draw no comfort from the distinguished senator who said that this bill is a better alternative to martial law. I fervently pray Mr. President that you veto this bill.