Lacson Details Future-Proof Plans for the Philippines

It is a pleasant day to meet you yet again this afternoon, after my guesting only last July of this year.

Far from complaining, I am honored and privileged to have you as an audience because let’s face it — in a crowd of industry leaders who have kept their fair share of “service to change lives”, a chance to speak about my vision for the Philippines and the Filipino people would take more than mere rhetoric. It takes an honest and compelling truth of why I am here after more than 50 years in public office.

Let me take you back to several decades ago when my presence in this event was unlikely, if not impossible. Let me tell you my story: Being born to poor parents and raised in a small, sleepy town of Imus, Cavite, how could a child like me even aspire for higher education when most of the children of my age back then were not even motivated to finish high school? Fortunately, my parents valued education like no other in our neighborhood. I still remember the words of my late mother: “Sukdulang hindi kami kumain ng tatlong beses sa isang araw, makatapos lamang kayo ng pag-aaral, masaya kaming papanaw.”

My late father was a jeepney driver who earned from honest toil day in, day out plying the streets. On bad days which unfortunately was almost every day — he fell prey to kotong cops who took the hard-earned money from hapless public utility drivers like him. I am not sure if subliminally, that influenced me to put the elimination of kotong cops as one of my top priorities when I became Chief PNP. Now that I am a senator of the republic, I thought those kotong cops are no different from legislators and executive officials who also extort money in exchange for favors that compromise public service.

Anyway, back home, my late mother helped to raise us, their brood of eight, by working as a market vendor six days a week. Like all good Catholics, every Sunday was reserved for hearing Mass in our century-old church located at the town plaza several kilometers away from our house, without fail.

In hindsight, we had nothing but a nipa-roof shack over our heads. But dignity, pride and goodness of hearts dominated our modest life. Sticklers for discipline, my parents taught me that everything I own must not be at the expense of others. Simply put, they lectured, “hindi bale nang malamangan ka ng iba, pero huwag kang manlalamang sa kapwa.” My parents instilled in us the values of integrity and honesty— the very foundations I held on in all my endeavors in life. One day, when my older brother, Ely went home from school and excitedly told my mother how he accidentally found then picked up a one-centavo coin, she admonished him and said – “bukas na bukas din, pag pasok mo sa iskwela, hanapin mong pilit ang may-ari ng perang iyan at isauli mo. Siguradong hindi makakatulog ngayong gabi kung sino man ang nakawala niyan”. While my parents are both long gone now, I am sure that they are looking down on me with contentment and pride.

My life story is but part of the larger Filipino narrative. Most of you are parents who have high hopes that your children will have a good and comfortable life ahead of them; that you can tuck in your kids at night knowing that they are safe from harm; that everyone can go to work and earn a decent living and a fair share of success in this country.

The recent challenges brought by the pandemic we face have shaken the country’s hope in its greatest potential – its citizens. Sadly, our people have lost their trust in their government.

The inconvenient truth is that almost half of the Filipino population now expect their lives to worsen in the next 12 months; Filipino learners fall at the bottom in terms of reading, Math and Science; businesses were forced to close down; our economy had the largest contraction ever recorded in our history in 2020 at negative 9.5%; our unemployment rate skyrocketed with more than 4 million jobless individuals.

It took me a long and painful look at the realities which beg a question, “is it at all possible to steer the boat on very rough waters knowing that people’s lives depend on it?” The short resounding answer is, “Yes it is. And yes, we can.”

First and most compelling of all – restoring people’s trust in their government is one big challenge that the next leader must confront and accomplish. Should I be given the chance to lead our nation, I will set the tone of good governance with a tough and determined “leadership by example” — one that breaks away from the politics of accommodation, double standards, double-speak, and lip service.

Hence, on my first day in office, I will lay the foundation of a clean government by signing a waiver of my rights under the Bank Secrecy Law and encourage all the members of the Cabinet, down to the rank and file, to do the same. Under my watch, no one in government, let alone any Cabinet official, will misuse or abuse their oath of office.

It has been months since I and my running mate, Senate President Tito Sotto, announced our intention to run for the two top positions in our country. Looking for solutions to the many problems we are faced with, we’ve had continuous round-the-clock consultations with policymakers, industry leaders, local executives, and experts even as we listen intently to the needs, demands, and aspirations of our people on the ground. We continue to learn, and with our combined long experience in government, we commit to making tough decisions — decisions that can withstand the test of time.

What we present is a “Future-proof Strategy” in the new normal. We intend to address the pressing question of every single one of us: Paanong makakabangong muli ang bansa mula sa pagkalugmok?

Our steps moving forward build on concepts of responsiveness and adaptability to where we are most vulnerable, as well as science based and data-driven knowledge of what lies ahead to ensure that our strategy remains practical and applicable to withstand future threats in the new normal.

Today, let me share with you my future-proof plans for the Philippines in some of our key issues: health and economy, judicious spending of public monies, digitalization of government processes, and reinvention of 4Ps.

* Health and economy — this is the battlecry of our platform of government. These will serve as the lifeline of our nation in the years to come.

Sa sektor ng kalusugan, titiyakin natin na handa at responsive ang ating healthcare system sa intermittent outbreaks and surges of COVID-19 infection na mananatili pa ring banta sa mga susunod na taon — ito ang realidad ayon na rin sa World Health Organization. Kung hindi mawawakasan ang krisis dulot ng coronavirus, dapat na pagtibayin at palakasin ang ating health sector – based on concrete, scientific and realistic solutions: full funding and implementation of the Universal Health Care Act.

In the last three years since its passage, the Universal Healthcare Act only looks good on paper with its budgetary support stagnant at low-cost or status quo — without the needed boost to improve our health system.

Hence, we will fully fund the requirement of the “high-cost” level of at least 257 billion pesos for the Universal Healthcare Act to cover all barangays, subsidize Philhealth premiums for all especially for indirect contributory populations, improve our health infrastructure and services, provide free vaccines, testing and treatment to all Filipinos backed by data-driven contact tracing. Our proactive response will enable us to stop all “lockdowns” and inefficient policies largely driven by “pandemic politics” — one that perpetuates unconscionable opportunism and corruption at the most damaging time of our lives.

The national government will rally and mobilize LGU- and private-sector led vaccination campaigns and procurement of COVID-19 pills and anti-viral drugs such as Merck’s and Pfizer’s newest breakthroughs. Our goal is clear: we will guarantee free vaccines, including Covid-19 testing and treatment especially in hard-to-reach and high-risk populations.

* Economical and judicious utilization of the national Budget. To keep the wheels of the economy rolling, our government has to continue pumping money on the economic engine.

Spend as the government must – but the key here is judicious spending to benefit those who need it most, not a well-connected few aliens who rake in large profits through overpricing and ghost or under delivery.

This comes with giving an equal and meaningful chance for all our communities— from barangay level to provinces — to be equal partners of the national government in our progress and development. This is the essence of my advocacy program called the Budget Reform Advocacy for Village Empowerment (BRAVE).

Isusulong natin ang patas at tamang pamamahagi ng badyet sa mga Local Government Units, kasabay ng capacity development programs upang maitaas ang kanilang kapasidad at kakayahan para matugunan ang pangangailangan ng kanilang mga komunidad, lalo na ang mga sa mga 5th at 6th class municipalities.

Moreover, it is time to shift from the age-old practice of imposing a budget ceiling for the different national agencies to work on – to a zero-based budget planning as a take-off from the best practices of big private corporations in implementing a bottom-up approach in budgeting to address the actual needs and priorities of our local government units.

Ito ang ating reporma sa badyet upang mapabuti ang paghahatid ng mga pangunahing serbisyo, paglikha ng mga oportunidad sa trabaho, at pagsasaayos ng buhay ng mga Pilipino, lalo na sa mga mahihirap at malalayong komunidad. Inaasahan natin na kasabay ng pag-asenso ng mga bayan at probinsya sa buong Pilipinas, congestion in highly-urbanized metropolitan cities like Metro Manila at Metro Cebu will eventually be abated.

If only the government commits to providing greater equity in resource allocation, trusting the LGUs as the National Government’s partners for development but with concomitant accountability in fiscal management, in due time, the culture of mendicancy and patronage politics will be a thing of the past.

Hindi rin natin iiwan sa pagkakasadlak dahil sa lockdowns ang ating mga micro, small and medium enterprises or MSMEs na bumubuo ng 99.5% ng ating mga enterprises at 63.2% ng ating labor force.

To pull them out of despair, we must boost our recovery start-ups through effective stop-gap measures like the comprehensive and targeted fiscal stimulus packages, “lower-interest-bigger loans” programs from state-run financial institutions, and/or employee-retention incentives to motivate businesses to reopen.

Tama na sa sobrang regulasyon ng mga negosyo at korporasyon—lalo na kung hindi na ito sakop ng ating competition policy. Walang lugar ang overregulation lalo na ngayon na kailangan nating hikayatin ang mga mamumuhunan para makaakit ng mas maraming kapital sa Pilipinas at magbukas ng mga oportunidad para sa trabaho.

* Digitalization of government processes will bring about automation and interoperability in government agencies and local government units. I know with much certainty that with the economy up and running, the government can then recoup its spending through the resulting boost in tax revenues. Kaya naman bahagi rin ng ating plataporma ang pagpapabuti ng pangangasiwa sa buwis ng ating bansa upang palakihin ang ating koleksyon ng kita. Isusulong natin ang sistema ng cross-referencing of data among our major revenue collection agencies like the Bureau of Internal Revenue and Bureau of Customs and the Land Registration Authority, Land Transportation Office, Securities and Exchange Commission and the Board of Investments in order to plug the leakages and corruption in our revenue collections.

It is critical to connect, unify and automate all our government processes for efficient business transactions, increased revenue collections, and eradication of corruption in all levels of our bureaucracy.

We have existing systems to do this but we lack political will and commitment to pursue our digital reforms. Hence, under my leadership, we will complete the investment and implementation of our National Broadband Program — a secure and reliable ICT infrastructure system that provides a backbone for digital connectivity across the country. I will fast track the roll-out and full implementation of the National ID System, as a means to transform governance and enhance public service delivery. By the way, I authored and sponsored the Philippine Identification System Act after persistently pushing for its passage into law as far back as 1999 when I was still Chief of the PNP and yet to become a Senator of the Republic.

I will also institute a national geo-tagging system, one which will provide a unified, open data visualization platform containing all programs and projects of the government within the country for monitoring and evaluation purposes. Lahat ng proyekto — kahit ghost projects pa — makikita ng publiko. We will impose zero tolerance to erring contractors and suppliers conniving and corrupt government officials.

Needless to say, Filipinos will see a historic increase of budget infusion for our research and development efforts which now stands at a ridiculously pitiful share of 0.4% of the national budget.

* Most importantly, we must invest in our human capital. It is high time that we reinvent the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) with the overarching principle that every Filipino should bridge the poverty line with a sustainable livelihood or employment opportunities.

Hence, we will streamline and rationalize our social welfare programs to avoid redundancy and worse, wastage in the use of funds. All of our programs will have an overarching objective to drive our people back to work, not subsist on dole-outs all their lives. Isusulong natin ang malawakang kampanya para sa balik-trabaho. For the great fraction of our population who were laid off, willing to work but had no job opportunities, the government must roll-out uninterrupted Cash-for-Work programs by encouraging public-private partnerships. This we can do by tapping the corporate social responsibility arms of corporations, in pursuing initiatives to provide cash payments under ‘decent work’ conditions.

Employment deals will be the cornerstone of our social welfare agenda. Hahasain natin ang kakayahan at kaalaman ng ating mga mamamayan para maging kapakipakinabang na bahagi ng lipunan. Whether it is through skills development trainings and higher honorariums for those who will work as barangay tanods or as hardworking barangay health workers and contact tracers — all of these will create a dignified sense of living and kickstart our economic activities.

For our able and talented youth sector who have the potential to drive our economy, I will push for a paid internship program where poor and deserving college undergraduates, even junior and senior high school students can undergo paid internships in government offices, as well as in private corporations and businesses, in order to maximize their skills development and productivity.

Our concept of progress— from making employment and business opportunities to creating a competitive market to be an economic powerhouse — is anchored on one goal: to empower and uplift the lives of our people.

Truth is, much, much more has to be done and quite frankly, I share the disillusionment of most of you in the state of our nation’s political campaigning. Whatever the cost, hindi ko maatim makipagsabayan sa TikTok entertainment, palliative feeding programs at dole-outs, lalo na ang mga pangakong abot langit na alam namin na walang basehan at hindi pinag-aralan.

My long years in public service has taught me that there is no lost cause in honest-to-goodness leadership. I’m quite certain that we can regain the pride of our people if we restore our people’s trust in a government that has courage and tested integrity and honesty.

In the same way that my parents held on to their high hopes, in the same way you work hard for your aspirations as individuals and as Rotarians, I dream of the day we can regain back our pride and dignity as a people— panahon kung saan taas-noong haharap ang mga Pilipino sa buong mundo.

With that, thank you again for the opportunity you have given me. Mabuhay ang Rotary Club of Manila.