Press Release
July 26, 2006

Speech of Sen. Recto at the anniversary
of Phil. Life Insurance Association Inc.

Thank you. I shall keep my speech tonight brief.

For one who talks for a living, and who belongs to a profession which approaches every question with an open mouth, that could be a tall order.

One reason why Id like to observe brevity this evening is the fear that, like those who streamed out of the Batasan last night, you may go home with your fingerprints deleted from excessive clapping.

Fortunately for you, bone fractures from repetitive applauding are not work-related injuries, otherwise those who applauded with the glee and tempo of an Eveready bunny yesterday would be filling out claim forms now.

Speaking of the SONA, this years version, in my view, was a geography lesson, public works bill, travelogue and political stump speech all rolled into one.

What the President rendered was a verbal Tour ng Pilipinas, hopping from region to region and explaining what she will do in each.

Some say that the Presidents plan was ambitious, probably her vision of the enchanted kingdom she had earlier bruited about.

The other criticism deals with the opposite, that the President didnt promise enough.

Between this glass is half-empty or half-full debate. My take on things is that she promised just enough.

If a leader is basically a dealer of hope, then she dealt just enough to keep our spirits up and keep us, for the moment, from downloading forms from the Canadian immigration website.

One more promise and her SONA would have sank from incredulity. After all, a SONA is not a Noahs Ark of plans that should be filled to the brim with promises.

If, on the other hand, she had peppered her SONA with motherhood statements, people will be crying for specifics, for the brass tacks, and accuse her of resorting to rhetoric to evade confronting reality.

The problem with the traditional SONA, of the fire and brimstone variety, is that while future generations of schoolchildren will be memorizing it for its soaring oratory, it may not be relevant to the people to whom it is addressed at a particular time.

After all, the SONA is for the present and not for posterity.

So Id rather have a drab SONA that is a big catalog of plans and which may not land in the top 100 speeches of all time than one set in crisp prose, heavy in verbiage but light in intentions.

If it were food, I want my SONA to be heavy in calories, no frills, which I will have anytime over some fancy French-sounding meat course in a serving portion that is just as big as a cellphone SIM.

After hearing the President spell out her plans yesterday, many people took out calculators to compute the cost of her dreams.

Foremost among the concerns is : where will she get the money? The question : Can it be funded? was in everybodys mind. No sooner had the President stepped down from the rostrum that one pundit was already calling for the cancellation of the big-ticket projects she had proposed for fear that it would engender big-ticket corruption.

I think these reservations stemmed from our unfamiliarity with longer planning horizons. Ten-year, twenty-year, fifty-year plans are alien to us. Our planning cycles follow the election calendar : Every three years. Anything beyond that is considered deep into the future, when three years is just half the showroom life of a car model.

We have a political culture that promotes development myopia. We want our infrastructure projects to be popcorns that can be popped into the microwave: the sooner they can be enjoyed, the better.

Incumbents do not want to conceive projects that their successors could later claim credit for. All projects have an embedded deadline on them : Each must be finished within the term of office.

This tight schedule favors small-ticket items and this can be traced to the employment status of their proponents. All elective officials are casuals; they are temps in the bureaucracy.

With a job review every three years, it is thus understandable for them to show a report card to you, their employers, that would only reflect accomplishments and no works in progress.

Parang sa college, walang incomplete.

That is why even if I have reservations on her speech, I welcome President Arroyos recitation of the things to be done.

Her call for investments is a departure from Philippine-style of governance which is to look at the rearview mirror when one must focus on the road ahead and scan a wider field of vision.

It is time for us, government and private individuals alike, to be guided and animated by a longer and wider line of sight.

Having a longer perspective is what separates a politician from a statesman, as the former thinks of the next election while the latter thinks of the new generation.

The challenges that confront us in the near future is staggering.

At the rate we are mass producing babies, our population is expected to nearly double in 25 years. That would be 150 million Filipinos cramped in 30 million hectares of land in less than a generation.

It thus behooves us to plan ahead. The challenge is to double our food production in 25 years, expand our infrastructure by at least two times, and multiply by two the number of houses we have today.

If we are producing 14 million metric tons of palay this year then plans must be afoot on how to increase it to 28 million metric tons in the span of 1,250 weekends.

We have to double the number of classrooms and hire twice as many teachers we have at present. The solution lies in building more education infrastructure and not packing more students per room. By 2030, we must have twice as many irrigation systems as we have today.

As to traffic, imagine this : The number of cars crawling on EDSA will double in volume. If we dont expand the expressways out of Manila by that time, they would be the worlds biggest parking lots.

If you get sick in your old age - for taking the blue pill too much and too often - will there still be an MD at the end of the stethoscope ? Can we double the present number of hospital beds in 1,250 weekends?

The to-dos are endless : We need more airports , seaports to move people and commerce. In the Mega Manila of 2030, the pressures of urbanization would be a planners nightmare: How to make a megapolis that extends from Angeles in the North to Lucena in the South livable?

Take for example water : Many parts of the Metro Manila are today as arid as the Sahara . Now I ask you : Does our government have a plan on how quench the thirst of a Manila double its size in two and a half decades ?

How about garbage? Saan natin itatapon ? Will we allow that mound in Payatas to grow into the Mount Everest of trash?

So when the President spun her field of dreams yesterday, our collective reaction should not be : Kaya ba ? But Kulang pa !

That is why I am surprised why the Presidents SONA package is causing nosebleeds on some of her critics. Let us say that the price tag for her SONA commitments is P500 billion, a staggering amount by local standards but loose change when viewed regionally.

Our $10 billion infra kitty pales in comparison with the $1 trillion China plans to invest in ten years, and the $100 billion Malaysia would invest to bolster its competitiveness.

Even Vietnam is overtaking us in capital outlays-to-GDP ratio.

We should start dreaming big. Dreams must not come in economy sizes. If Lee Kuan Yew was parsimonious in his ambitions, Singapore would still be a mosquito-infested swampland today.

My point today is this : Government must have the foresight of the insurance industry. Unfortunately, what government has today is perfect 20/20 hindsight. Again, rearview mirror politics.

It must adopt the planning protocols of life insurance companies. Think strategic, not tactical. Kailangan long-range planning

We shouldnt be contented with short growth spurts. The problem is that we trumpet growth spasms people below feebly feel as tectonic movements of our economy for the better.

At least kayo, alam kung ano ang lagay ng company nyo 10, 15, 20 years from now. There is no such blueprint for the single most important organization in the land today government.

The President takes pride in saying that a large segment of the bureaucracy is cruising on autopilot but what she doesnt tell us is that this government is largely flying blind.

Where are the charts? What is the direction? What is the vision for the country 25 years hence? Ask a bureaucrat to draw his scenario for his sector ten years from now chances are you will get a blank stare.

Is there a point A to point B roadmap? Or is this a case of to each his own? My friends : Temporal, tactical concerns such as impeachment, Charter change and the petty wars in the political arena are trivial compared to the challenges that confront us and our children in the medium-term. Chacha is just hiccup if we view it from a larger perspective.

What kind of a Philippines will they inherit from us?

Will they inherit a country with a damaged culture, destructive politics, drained Treasury, and disappointing economy?

Or should it truly be, as Jose Diokno once dreamed of, a nation for our children.

They will inherit a better one if we will invest in the future, not tomorrow, but today.

Investing in the future would invariably involve diminishing our childrens obligations.

We borrowed recklessly knowing full well that those who will come after us will foot the bill. We refuse to live within our means. So we borrow and what stares before us now is the greatest debt pile up in history.

We have not only mortgaged our childrens future, we have taken a second mortgage on their children our grandchildren as well.

Our children will remember us, not with a debt of gratitude, but simply for the debts we have left them.

Avoiding this is the reason why we are improving tax collection because we do not want to pass a torch to the next generation that is wrapped in IOUs.

If the same debt load will exist twenty years from now, in the sunset of our years, pension funds of the state, which we religious contributed to in our prime, will come under pressure from debt service, if we will not pay down our debts today.

Investing in the future involves nurturing companies whose business is to provide a better future for us all life insurance companies for example.

Going back to the SONA promises, you and I know that for them to be realized, government will have to tap the savings pool which life insurance companies are one of the most generous contributors.

I have been told of your taxing woes.

The art of taxation so consists of plucking the goose of its feathers with the least amount of hissing.

The insurance sector has been hissing a lot, for a reason. There is conflict in the interpretation of a RA 9243. You know, even the BIR suffers from occasional dyslexia.

I have been told that Philippines has the highest tax burden in the ASEAN. Reducing it is the executive departments call. In our country, when it comes to taxation, the reality is this : Congress proposes, the Executive disposes, even if our civics books tell otherwise.

We can only temper, but not top executive proposals.

I am willing to champion some of your concerns. The idea is to be relentless in your advocacy, and I am willing to help you on that, because my future is intertwined with yours.

I will not dazzle you, in SONA-fashion, with what I will do for the insurance sector and the public large. Just watch me.

I am saying this because I believe in the important role you play in the economy and not because I am your archetypical politician who would serve his own family for dinner if his electorate were cannibals.

Thank you - and heres to a bright future, for you, for your company, for our country and for our children.

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