Building Consensus

By MBC Chairman Ramon R. del Rosario, Jr.   8 October - Yesterday marked the 100th day of the Duterte administration.  It is a good time to pause and take stock. First, on the economy, we in business are quite pleased with the Duterte economic team and their early consultations and policy pronouncements. In particular, business favorably views the announced ten-point economic agenda, and we fully support its early and full implementation. Some significant areas of concern have arisen, though, as manifested mainly by the recent weakening of the peso, the large drop in the Philippine Stock Exchange index, and the significant outflow of foreign investments from our stock market, making the Philippine peso and stock exchange among the worst performing in the region since July 1st. These indicate concerns specific to the Philippines. While many of my colleagues prefer not to discuss these openly, I believe that in a democratic system, fundamental policies should reflect not just the concerns and aspirations of our leaders, but also of all Filipinos whom they represent.  Our president proudly reminds us of the strong mandate he received in May.  But he should remember that that democratic mandate carries with it the responsibility to look after the concerns of all, including the 62% who did not vote for him.  The mandate to lead also carries with it the need to consult and listen so that policies and programs address the aspirations of the greatest number. Let us focus on just two basic issues. First on our international relations, some basic questions: Where are we headed and why will the fundamental shift by this administration best serve the interests of Filipinos?  While we understand and support better relations with China and Russia, why must we simultaneously distance ourselves from our traditional strategic allies, particularly the United States and the European Union? Why does China seem to be our strategic partner of choice when they deny access of our fishermen to our traditional fishing waters, claim significant parts of Philippine territory, and appear to be the major supplier of prohibited drugs to our country?  And why are we vigorously alienating the U.S. when they are our major strategic security ally and the strongest supporter of our territorial integrity, one of our most reliable investment and trading partners, the largest source of remittances and BPO business for our economy, and the home to millions of Filipinos and Filipino -Americans who enjoy good lives and the hospitality of a friendly people? Where is this strategic shift bringing us?  What is our ultimate aim? The other major concern unsurprisingly has to do with the campaign against illegal drugs.We all strongly support legitimate efforts to eliminate illegal drugs as we see the impact of this menace on our society and on many of our families.  Again, basic questions remain: Unless root causes are addressed, how effective can current efforts be? Why do so many need to die without due process?  After all the killings and the commitment of hundreds of thousands to rehabilitation centers, what happens next?  Surely treated users cannot be detained permanently, but when released will they not return to their usual lives and their drug habits?  When drug dealers and pushers are eliminated, don’t others quickly take their place?  Where then does this cycle of violence end? As there is clearly no quick fix, does government have a realistic comprehensive plan? What indeed is the ultimate aim and at what cost to our society and values? Allow me to offer a simple idea that may help toward more transparent and effective policy formulation. I would respectfully suggest to President Duterte that he look to his mentor, President Fidel V. Ramos, as his role model.  President Ramos built his successful presidency around a deliberate effort at consensus building, and he, for instance, used the Legislative –Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) most effectively to push his legislative agenda as one of the linchpins of his administration.  But President Ramos also convened numerous summits and consultations, all designed to develop genuine consensus so that policies and programs gained the widest possible support. He succeeded because he listened.My hope is that similar consultations by the Duterte administration, with the direct participation of the President himself, will result in more enlightened policies for our country. ---------- Posted on 8 October 2016 under Business Matters section of The Philippine Daily Inquirer