Daniel and Kathryn are waiting for something to happen, maybe in May, maybe sooner, maybe later, maybe never.
In one of the 20th century’s most celebrated plays, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon wait for someone or something called Godot. They do not know when or if he or she or it will arrive and why they are waiting but every evening for 50 years they wait anyway. Says Vladimir, “Tomorrow when I wake or think I do, what shall I say of today? That … at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot?”
Just as Pepe and Pilar waited for a government run like hell by Filipinos, their grandchildren Daniel and Kathryn are waiting for something to happen, maybe in May, maybe sooner, maybe later, maybe never. Four months to go and it’s still unclear if there is a Godot among the 15 presidential, nine vice presidential, and 70 senatorial hopefuls.
Godot’s challenges are many. World rankings place the Philippines among the topnotchers in corruption, food importation, vulnerability to climate change, and among the worst in education law enforcement, ease in doing business, gap between rich and poor, and I don’t know what else.
True, promises are plenty: eliminate corruption, universal employment, improve the lot of the poor, world-class education, lower taxes, etc., etc. Little is said, however, about how exactly candidates will make these happen.
The speed with which a candidate delivers relief goods is good to know, but an elected leader is expected to be more than a crisis manager. A leader is supposed to be able to visualize a strategy that maximizes objectives given the international and internal environment and the strengths and weaknesses of the organization, the civil service in this case.
He or she is supposed to plan, organize, and control, not an easy task given our 110 million population, an unwieldy legislative, executive, and judicial bureaucracy, foreign claims on Philippine territory, international trends, climate change.
I suspect ideas and initiatives are the Godot that Daniel and Kathryn are hoping for:
- Needs of a growing population. There are now 110 million of us and at a 1.63 percent per annum growth rate, Filipinos will number about 144 million in 20 years’ time. What do we expect of Godot to make sure that Daniel’s and Kathryn’s children and grandchildren have enough food, clothing, shelter, and with hope, a higher standard of living?
- Education. A recent international survey revealed the dismal state of Philippine education. Our young people were found to be poor in understanding, reasoning, self-expression verbally and in writing. The authorities denounced the findings as exaggerated, but with hope, Godot has something in mind to ensure the international competitiveness of our work and managerial force.
- Agriculture. The Philippines has a 12-month growing season and much of the population depends on agriculture for a living. At the same time we import rice, sugar, flour, fish, corn. A crop failure in Thailand or Vietnam or poor foreign exchange earnings could lead to shortages, food riots, and general unrest. Even now, the price of wheat has risen and with resistance to price increases of pan de sal, the flour milling industry is in crisis. Godot may have some ideas on possible policy changes, possibly touching on agrarian reform, rent control laws, limits to the conversion of prime agricultural land to sprawling subdivisions, and encouraging urban redevelopment.
- Natural resource conservation. We experience flooding and landslides during typhoon season and drought at other times of year. We therefore spend money on rescue equipment, dredging, concrete canals, but not on long-term solutions like forest protection, reforestation, and tree farming. Our fisheries resources need similar action, like mangrove reforestation and coral reef protection.
- Territorial protection. UNCLOS has decided in our favor with respect to the West Philippine Sea and Benham Rise that contain immense fishery, energy, and other resources. We may not need these now but Daniel’s and Kathryn’s descendants surely will.
- Import and debt financing. We now depend on OFW remittances to pay among others for food imports and interest and principal on the mountain of foreign debt that the Philippines has incurred. With artificial intelligence, robotics, changing lifestyles, and other world conditions, there will be reduced need for low level skills (there goes our domestic workers). What other foreign exchange sources can we activate?
- Climate change. The rising sea level is already felt by places like Navotas and Malabon. This will continue, causing trouble to our most populated cities like Manila and Cebu, parts of which are already at or below sea level. What will be the impact on agriculture, transport, infrastructure, and what does Godot suggest?
- Efficient national and local government. The last review of the government machinery was done 50 years ago in 1970 by a Philippine Reorganization Commission headed by the late Armand Fabella. Government organization was simplified, duplicating functions removed, red tape reduced. Since then departments and bureaus have multiplied, each with tons of regulations requiring prior approvals, permits, clearances, approvals, fees. It’s time for another review to save tax money and improve efficiency.
Pepe and Pilar never saw Godot. With hope, Daniel and Kathryn do.
Notes: (a) Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) was an Irish novelist, playwright, short story writer, theatre director, and poet. His best-known work is his 1953 play originally written in French, Waiting for Godot. Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature; and (b) In aiming for independence, Manuel L. Quezon famously said, “I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” It proves once again that one should be careful what one wishes for.
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