As the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte comes to an end, one of its unfulfilled campaign promises coming to light is the improvement in the delivery of government services to the citizenry. At the onset, the support base of Duterte rallied behind him because of this promise translated into action during the first months of his term. The primary beneficiaries were the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who had to troop back and forth between the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA) to process their documents; this is true for both first-time applicants and those renewing their credentials for employment abroad.
The President made mention of this problem in his first three State of the Nation Addresses (SONAs) as he cursed at the bureaucrats who made life difficult for the average Filipino. This is true both at the national and local level. Eventually the Ease of Doing Business Act was passed into law. The Anti-Red Tape Authority (ARTA) was created but since its establishment, there has been none or not much improvement at all. ARTA is also mired in its own red tape. The Presidential Complaints and Action Center does a better job of addressing the gripes of citizens against abusive and corrupt bureaucrats.
The pandemic has brought to focus the need to attract more foreign direct investment (FDI) as it has exposed the weak underbelly of the country’s economy. The Luzon-wide lockdown triggered a negative growth rate lower than what was recorded during the Marcos administration’s worst economic crisis from 1981-1986. The economy is officially in a recession. Given the availability of vaccines being limited by supply constraints, the realistic view is the economy will only begin to recover in 2022.
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Unfortunately, the public cannot afford to wait this long. The administration is caught between a rock and a hard place with the delicate balancing act it is doing with reference to the economy and the public health issue of the pandemic. The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) has been remiss in the basic protocol of a unified contact-tracing system and adherence to the three T’s of containment – testing, tracing and treatment. More than a year since the pandemic began, these basic issues have not been addressed properly and adds to the economic misery of Filipinos reeling from the disruption caused by the pandemic in terms of unemployment and high inflation due to supply constraints.
You would think that the government would take the opportunity to finally put a digitization plan in place both at the national and local level but this is being too optimistic on the part of the publice. The Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) has no such plan and it doesn’t look like it will act anytime soon given the silence from Secretary Gregorio Honasan. The President himself has expressed frustration at his inability to reform the bureaucracy. Corruption continues because of the archaic system that is in place. Even the Mayors at the LGU level have done nothing concrete in terms of making transactions easier than normal under conditions made worse by the pandemic.
My personal experience in processing the documents for a sale of real property beginning in February only ended last May 24. It took the Antipolo City Registrar of Deeds and the Land Registration Authority (LRA) three months to encode a simple Transfer Certificate of Title as part of the LRA’s digitization effort which has been ongoing for more than five years. What has made the processes at each government agency worse is the fact that the clerks are casuals who know nothing about serving the public much more what their job description is. It is anarchy and chaos on the ground. The desire to just get the transaction done and over with is what makes ordinary citizens willing to part with their hard-earned money in order to expedite the process. This doesn’t bode well for the country moving forward. Foreign investors have long complained about the bureaucratic nightmare at the national and local levels. There has been no progress with regard to this lingering issue even if the solution is within reach. Technological advancements have lowered the cost of digitization with the advent of cloud computing and powerful mobile and non-mobile hardware to get the job done. The country has an abundant supply of talented custom software developers who can design and implement systems for each agency and department and eventually get to putting up a system of inter-connectivity in the bureaucracy.
This is a herculean task but not impossible to achieve if only the political will is there and there is a leader who will not tolerate any delays in the design and implementation of such a system. It will not be easy to dismiss career and contractual government employees but the government cannot be held hostage at the expense of the bigger picture which is a progressive economy supported by a streamlined bureaucracy.
With the 2022 election less than a year away, the public should put this issue forward with not only their local officials but the national as well. We cannot afford to be left behind in this environment where disruption has accelerated advances in technology. Otherwise, we just might end up with the ignominious distinction of being the sick man of Asia again.
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