Amid the citizenship issues and disqualification cases, there is no stopping Senator Grace Poe in charming her way to Philippine presidency.
In December last year, a day after the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruled her disqualified from the presidential race, Poe spoke before an audience of business leaders and owners of micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs), and gamely answered questions on economy, entrepreneurship, agriculture, among others.
The leading contender in the election campaign based on the recent polls of Laylo Research Strategies and the latest Pulse Asia Survey, Poe aspires for an “administration with compassion,” and said, “There’s no monopoly with the Aquino administration’s campaign of Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path)."
Poe has already laid down her platforms, particularly toward achieving “real” inclusive growth for the country.
With 25% of the population living below the poverty line, Poe believes that the Aquino administration’s Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) or the Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) program must be continued, although improved in a way that beneficiaries are not just provided for but are also empowered.
“We should help them by including livelihood training programs for those in the CCT,” Poe said. “By doing this, we’re not just helping them rise above the CCT, but also giving back their dignity.”
The Aquino administration has been praised by international organizations, including the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, due to the improvements made in the 4Ps in recent years. Since 2015, households supported by the program reached about 4.4 million, a significant increase from 6,000 households in 2007.
In one of her political rallies last year, Poe mentioned that the current administration’s budget of P64 million ($1.35 million) for 4Ps must be increased to P100 million ($2.11 million), to be able to provide more livelihood programs.
Poe also added that the Negosyo Centers nationwide must also be upgraded by adding more government agency representatives in each location, including one from banks to provide financial assistance to entrepreneurs.
“A representative from Pag-Ibig and PhilHealth should also be present so that the Negosyo representatives are not made to be compliance officers. This way, setting up a business would be easier, thus more encouraging for the majority,” Poe added.
For lower taxes
Poe believes that taxes should be lowered. “We have one of the highest tax rates in Asia, both personal and corporate, and it discourages investors and laborers,” Poe said. “People just work to comply with regulation, which is counterproductive. It’s onerous.”
The Palace rejected a house bill seeking tax reforms in September 2015, after the government is seen to lose about P30 billion ($632.31 million) during the first year of its implementation. The administration, in turn, promised better tax regulation, which Aquino said was successfully accomplished.
But Poe believes lowering taxes does not only benefit ordinary laborers, but the economy as well. “If we really want to become competitive in the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian) region, we have to entice investors here, and we can’t do that with high value taxes and less than ideal infrastructure.”
For efficient transport system
The infrastructure problem affects not only big business, but also ordinary commuters. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has become a daily problem; it was even rated as the worst traffic in the world based on a user-generated survey by mobile navigation app Waze.
Poe believes that there are two ways to solve the problem. “The easy solution would be to take out the colorum (unregistered) buses, have strong traffic enforcement, and, truly, that’s a solution,” Poe said. “But the real solution is having an efficient mass transport system. Let’s decongest the cities and take developments outside (Metro) Manila.”
Poe serves as the chairman of the Senate public services committee and leads the hearings of the case filed against Metro Rail Transit (MRT) Holdings Inc. and the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) following the MRT accident in August 2014, which injured 38 passengers.
Poe said building an efficient transport system would most benefit the youth, and could augment the traffic problem in the cities.
“I believe in PPP (Public-Private Partnership) projects. We need to be able to amend the Build (Operate) Transfer law. It takes such a long time to roll out projects. The North Luzon and the South Luzon (Expressways) extensions, until now, the North part has not been started,” Poe added.
During CNN Philippines’ town hall forum with students in January 2016, Poe said boldly that she could guarantee to "help ease the traffic within a year.”
The senator recommended adding more trains and proper provincial bus drop-offs, and to start a study on a subway system, which could be implemented in the country.
In January 2016, the Philippines and Japan sealed a P97-billion ($2.04 billion) project to build the Philippine National Railways’ North-South Commuter Railway (NSCR) in Luzon, which could hopefully help decongest roads in Metro Manila. The Manila-Bulacan segment of the project is eyed to be finished by 2020, Transportation Secretary Joseph Abaya said.
Focus on agriculture
One of the most neglected sectors of the country is agriculture, despite the vast lands available in the country. Poe said that there are still 500,000 hectares of land without proper irrigation, and that 28,000 kilometers of farm-to-market roads still need to be paved.
“There are debates on whether we should pursue food security or self-sufficiency, and I say we should pursue what will benefit our farmers and consumers the most,” Poe added.
Poe suggested conducting a study on the top 10 crops farmers should focus on, and to ride on agriculture and farming trends worldwide so that the country can export more local goods.
“Through the Negosyo Centers nationwide and the Shared Service Facilities (SSF) of the DTI (Department of Trade and Industry), we can help transition farmers to agri-business,” Poe added.
Mining vs tourism
The Mining Act has remained untouched in the Aquino administration, much to the dismay of foreign investors who wish to tap the rich minerals of country. The Philippines holds the second largest deposits of gold in the world.
“With the richness of our lands, I believe this is a gift from our ancestors, and like any inheritance we should take care of it,” Poe said in Filipino. “We can’t unilaterally say yes or no. We need to study what would be best for a particular site, is it mining or tourism?”
Poe added there are two sides to every story, and wants to uphold having safeguards to the rehabilitation programs for communities affected by mining. This would ensure not just their safety, but their livelihood as well.
With an economy that’s highly reliant on foreign investment, it is hard to miss the question: “Does she believe in foreign ownership of lands?” The answer is a resounding no.
“There are many Filipinos who can’t afford to buy lands. But, then, I also acknowledge the economic provisions these foreign investors provide to communities,” Poe added. Thus, she believes in amending the economic provisions of the constitution to “help fragile industries that need support from the government.”
“The Constitution is a living and breathing document. It cannot be static. Let us identify what needs to be done so that, before we tackle constitutional change, we already know what our framework is,” Poe said.
Entrepreneur Philippines profiles the leading presidential, vice presidential, and senatorial candidates in the upcoming May 9, 2016 elections. We aim to help voters know these candidates through their platforms focusing on the economy, entrepreneurship, tax reform.