Paying for the Philippines' new normal

my Trade Tripper column in the 9-10 October 2015 issue of BusinessWorld:

The problem is disconnect. The disconnect between what our current government leaders say (and swear to) and what they actually do. Like that presidential candidate who dismisses taking an oath renouncing Philippine citizenship as a mere scrap of paper. And this resulted in the Republic lurching from one reactive policy to another, the government imposing measures that are far detached from the people’s will or the national interest.

One symptom of the disconnect is the present Administration trying to (or at least acts like it wants to) direct people to the good life. But experience shows how unhinged this is from reality. And under our constitutional system, that shouldn’t even be government’s primary focus. Thus, the principles of “common good” (the individual’s right to human flourishing) and “subsidiarity” (the people deciding for themselves how to attain that common good), embodied in our Constitution, but which the ruling political class keeps ignoring.

Instead, our Constitution declares that our government really has one job to do: “to serve and protect the people.”

Thus, essential are the maintenance of peace and order, and the protection of life, liberty, and property.

Our government is not mandated to directly run the country, its economy, educate the youth, and develop society. That is properly the people’s responsibility. As far as those are concerned, including attaining a just social order and social justice, the government merely “recognizes,” “promotes,” and “develops” -- serving as an assist to the work primarily carried out by the Filipino people.

In short, the government is actually supposed to keep its efforts to the minimum, limited to fostering an environment where the people are free to properly do their thing. After that, the government should just keep out of the people’s way.

If you think the foregoing is a mere academic concern better confined to the classroom, think again. This Administration has expanded the reach of government to areas that should primarily be left to the people.

By doing so, insisting in interfering with business and education through more regulations, weakening institutions like the family and the Church, and acting like the “padrone” through billions spent on the Conditional Cash Transfer, this Administration now feels entitled to increase taxes to expand its powers even more.

So now, we have a proposed 2016 budget of P3 trillion, representing a whopping 461% increase from 2000 and a nearly 300% from 2006.

The government’s “underspending” 2014 budget deficit (which meant that, despite all the underspending for necessary infrastructure, our government still spent more than it earned) is P73.1 billion.

The foregoing is within the context of the Filipino paying among the highest income tax in Asia but with the lowest wage rates in the world for work hours deemed among the longest globally.

And this is not counting the fact that Metro Manila workers suffer the longest commutes due to the now internationally recognized as the world’s worst traffic.

And with all that money being taken from ordinary taxpaying Filipino citizens (aside from an external debt of P2.042 trillion and domestic debt of P3.856 trillion, resulting in an outstanding debt of P5.898 trillion as of August 2015), what does this Administration have to show for it?

One of the world’s worst airports, the world’s worst traffic, slowest internet speed; 23.2% unemployment (80% of which belong to the 18-34 age group), around 7% student drop out rates, nearly 26% poverty incidence; water shortage (amidst floods), huge backlog in issuances of drivers licenses and car plates and passports; and a deteriorating educational system.

In the end, the “just-let-the-government-take-care-of-you” cash dole-outs, the considerable unemployment/underemployment rates, and legislation like the Kasambahay Law (that demands a professional’s pay but without the need to work professionally), all provide a clear disincentive to work and fosters an entitlement culture that could only lead to this country’s social and fiscal bankruptcy.

Yes, we seem to have improved competitiveness. But even that proves my point: an examination of this year’s and the last Global Competitiveness Index reveals the uptick attributable to private sector efforts and held back by bureaucratic red tape.

And there are still the areas of special concern remaining unaddressed: Yolanda rehabilitation and the inability to give justice to the Special Action Forces 44.

And yet, quite insanely, on the one job this government is supposed to do -- to protect our people and territory -- it bafflingly waffles between apathy, incompetence, or the downright treasonous.

Thus our country bears increased incidence of crime, increased smuggling, unchecked rise of illegal aliens (estimated at 1.3 million, posing a threat to national security, as well as stealing employment), the confused legal/diplomatic “defense” of our territory vis-a-vis China, and the almost giving away of Mindanao to a supposed “Bangsamoro”. All messes clearly intended to be left to the following administration to clean up.

Hopefully, our next set of government leaders has had a better read of our Constitution. And respect the fact that words (and oaths) do matter.