Changing of the Guard and Continued Push of the Popular Reform Train

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TODAY we will once again witness what we only see every six years, the transition and change of administrations in our Republic. The old is about to be replaced by the new and with it the hope that things will change, or continue to change, for the better.

Six years ago, the Filipino people were seduced by the radical, maverick leadership style of a southern mayor who held enormous potential to do things for the people that no other president could or would do. . His brand of leadership gets things done regardless of the obstacle and made us believe that “change is coming”. Indeed, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is a once-in-a-lifetime leader who will be hard to follow. Under his administration, we have seen many firsts that are normally characterized by the intensity and dynamism that go with it. From his anti-drug, anti-corruption and counter-insurgency campaigns to the emergence of the Philippines as a key driver of international relations, President-Mayor Duterte has become more than we expected of him.

I will always be grateful to have had the chance to work under such transformative leadership as the first Chief Executive Officer of the Anti-Red Band Authority (ARTA). His words and sincerity in addressing the plight of the smallest guys in society and his desire to make things better and comfortable for people have always been my inspiration as I pursued my ARTA work. His reminder to all of us to “Trabaho lang tayo, gawin lang ang tama, at huwag matakot” (Work simply, just do what is right and do not be afraid) was our guiding motto during my almost three years of service at ARTA . This has resulted in our many initiatives to rationalize state services, automate business permits in local authorities, encourage greater use of the citizens’ charter, create anti-bureaucracy commissions ( CART) at various agencies, from implementing the self-approval provisions of Republic Act 11032, surprise inspections at various agencies and entrapment operations against repairers and the filing of more than 550 cases before the Civil Service Commission (CSC), Office of the Ombudsman and other tribunals. We have to thank the president for all the transformational work that has been initiated and accomplished against bureaucracy and for the efficiency of government.

The president’s drive for streamlining and efficiency has been even more pronounced through ARTA’s flagship Nehemia program, or the National Effort for Harmonization of Effective Measures of Interdependent Agencies. Thanks to this program, the telecommunications sector has seen a drastic reduction in the number of steps, processes and requirements to obtain the appropriate permits for the construction of telecommunications towers. What used to take eight to 12 months has been reduced to around 16 days. This has led to a faster release of permits for the construction of telecommunications towers, rising from an average of 6,000 permits per year to 67,000 in 2021 alone. For this reason, internet speed in the country continues to increase steadily almost every month according to global internet speed testing group Ookla.

Needless to say, his instruction to government employees to work diligently, seek to do what is right, and be courageous is more than just a motto. Instead, he has always sought to exhibit and demonstrate these traits in all aspects of his presidency. These traits are rare gems that we all wish and hope to see more of in our next generation of leaders. No wonder he still enjoys the highest trust rating ever given to a president about to step down.

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However, we live under a constitutional configuration which obliges a president to resign after six years with prohibition to be made re-elect. We now face a new administration through our future President Ferdinand R. Marcos Jr. He carries with him an astonishing mandate from the majority of the Filipino people under a message and a call for national unity. It is a perfect message and a call to all Filipinos who want to move the country forward. Let us continue to pray and support the good initiatives and aspirations of the new administration of President Marcos Jr.

With regard to the transformational legacy of President Duterte, continued national momentum is needed for the reforms undertaken: from government to the private and special sectors; religious and non-religious sectors; old and young; old, current and future. Reform is not with the system, but within us. Until we really decide for ourselves that we really want this reformation to happen, whatever the cost, and unless we are willing to make everyone responsible and subservient to the welfare of the people, we will not be able to achieve this reform.

When it comes to fighting bureaucracy, the Duterte administration has gifted us with this transformational law, RA 11032, or the “Ease of Doing Business and Efficient Delivery of Government Services Act of 2018”, and therefore, a young, dynamic and powerful agency in ARTA that can continue to use to bring us to the destination of doing business and transactions with the government with ease. The stark reality is that it is not the law or the agency that will truly determine the fate of the reforms launched by the Duterte administration. But it is the people who will refuse to give up or will be discouraged in the face of opposition and will resolve to finish the reforms and make their institutions accountable even if it is uncomfortable. We need to push forward despite the lure of the past to go back to the old ways, and we have a chance to really come together and do it together.

Only then can we move the people’s reform train forward into the future we all hope for: a smarter initiative and a better Philippines.


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