By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY
I have often been asked what motivates me to continue public service work even after serving in various capacities in the executive branch for the last 33 years. My reply would be simple: while we have done much in restoring the dignity of the people of Makati through good governance and social investments, we have a long way to go on the national level.
Many would say that this is an impossible dream. And if one were to assess where we are today as against the promise and hope offered by the February, 1986, EDSA Revolution, one would tend to agree. It seems that the more we see the trappings of progress in gleaming skyscrapers and modern technology, the less advancement we have made made in ensuring equitable growth. Poverty and hunger persist, especially in the rural areas. The disparity between the haves and have-nots is as wide as ever.
But I have never tired of pointing to our experience in Makati.
Because of fiscal and governance reforms we initiated, Makati was transformed from a bankrupt municipality in 1986 to the richest local government in the country, according to the Commission on Audit (COA). From 1987 until now, Makati has never had a fiscal deficit, and the number of new companies continues to grow, bringing with them economic and employment opportunities for our citizens and those from neighboring localities.
Fiscal stability has allowed us to provide our citizens with health, education, social and other public services that have improved their quality of life.
Based on official national government statistics, we have one of the lowest, if not the lowest, poverty rates in Metro Manila which is at 0.5 percent, or 2,000 individuals out of a population of 650,000.
Our policies and programs spring from a basic belief that government should empower and enable citizens. Such policies and programs recognize the inherent dignity of every individual, regardless of social and economic standing. Makati does not consider its citizens, especially the poor, as passive recipients of dole-outs but as active contributors to the city’s economy.
For its part, the City Council has provided the legislation needed to realize our vision for the city and its citizens.It is important that the City Council is a constructive partner of the executive, with the welfare of the people as its priority, above political or personal interests and agenda.
The same goes for Congress.
The work of the executive is to implement laws passed by the legislature. Laws passed by Congress anchored on respect for dignity would result in programs and policies to be implemented by the executive that actualize respect for dignity.
The economy is a case in point. We need to grow the economy in order to create jobs and economic opportunities. A massive infrastructure program is indispensable in ensuring long-term economic growth, but it should provide jobs for Filipinos, not foreign nationals. By recognizing their worth as contributors to growth, we give value to our workers and redeem their dignity.
By making Filipino businesses more competitive, we reinvigorate moribund sectors like agriculture. We give value and dignity to our entrepreneurs. Local companies deserve government support to make them more productive and competitive. Without government help, we leave them – and their workers – unprepared to compete with big companies.
The process of lawmaking, therefore, is serious business. As I told a governance forum in Makati, it should not be left to the unprepared, unprincipled, and inarticulate. Elected representatives should be able to articulate the sentiments of the people they represent, to dissect the implications of proposed legislation, and ensure that the people’s dignity is protected and upheld in legislation.
We should also be discerning in choosing the party-list groups. According to the Commission on Elections, there are 181 party-list organizations vying for congressional seats in this year’s elections. This is a substantial increase from the number of party-lists in the two previous elections. For new party-lists, we should ask their positions and their plans to address poverty, unemployment, hunger, extra-judicial killings, and other issues that impact on the very dignity of individuals. For incumbent party-lists, we should scrutinize how they voted on these issues.
I am heartened that there is a party-list group whose advocacy is the promotion and protection of dignity through programs that address key concerns such as jobs, education, health, and housing. The name of this party-list is Sulong Dignidad. Party-list groups like Sulong Dignidad which are dedicated to advancing the cause of dignity deserve our support.
In the face of what our bishops describe as assaults on the independence of institutions, we need men and women in Congress who approach their work not from the narrow prism of personal or political interests, but the more noble aspiration of redeeming the people’s dignity.
We need legislators who abide by and promote the rule of law as a guarantee of equal protection in the face of selective justice and politically motivated prosecution. We need legislators who will promote the empowerment of citizens through health, education, housing, and jobs. We need legislators who uphold and respect human dignity.