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Mar Roxas: Continuing the 'Straight Path'

He gave way in 2010 for an Aquino presidency. Is it his turn now to lead the country and continue the gains of the current administration?
By Toni Antiporda |

STRAIGHT PATH. If he wins the presidency, Mar Roxas promises to continue the great strides made under the Aquino administration's "Daang Matuwid" ("Straight Path"). Photo from Mar Roxas' official campaign website

 

As standard-bearer of the incumbent Liberal Party (LP) in the coming May national elections, it does not come as a surprise that presidential candidate and former Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II promises to continue the great strides made under the “Daang Matuwid” (Straight Path) should he win the presidency.

 

Roxas, the second presidential candidate to be featured in GoNegosyo Talk’s Meet the Presidentiables Series in November last year talked about upholding the democracy that the country gained back 30 years ago via EDSA People Power Revolution of 1986., From there, the late Corazon Aquino, mother of President Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, became president.

 

“From being the ‘Sick Man of Asia,’ we're now ‘Asia’s bright spot.’ And most of these improvements have happened over the last five years,” under the Aquino administration, said Roxas.

 

As the administration bet, it can be said that Roxas has the most to prove among all the presidential candidates. However, Aquino’s endorsement of Roxas did little to improve his performance in the polls. As of January 2016, Roxas clinched only 20% approval rating in the Pulse Asia survey, and 21% in the SWS (Social Weather Stations) survey. Also, in the opinion poll released by Laylo Research Strategies on February 9, Roxas only got a 22% approval rating.

 

On top of lackluster performance in the surveys, Roxas’ failed bid for the vice presidency during the 2010 national elections, alongside criticism for his leadership in the post-disaster operations in Eastern Visayas in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), continue to haunt his candidacy.

 

 

‘Straight Path’

Under his presidency, Roxas wants to continue the “Straight Path” by which the Aquino administration has pursued good governance and economic growth. “Investing in infrastructure and people is the one-two punch that got us to where we are today,” said Roxas. “And this is the question we are faced in 2016: do we go back, or do we move forward?”

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Roxas wants to continue the great strides made by the Aquino administration in three key areas: credit ratings upgrades; annual growth rate of the GDP (gross domestic product); and good governance and the fight against corruption.

 

Under Aquino, the Philippines has received multiple credit ratings upgrades, the latest of which is from the NICE Investors Service. NICE has upgraded the country’s credit rating from the minimum investment grade of BBB- to BBB, securing the Philippines’ spot within investment-grade territory. Since 2010, the Philippines has enjoyed an average GDP growth rate of 6.3%. “This 6% GDP growth is real, and it can be felt,” said Roxas through more optimistic consumer behavior, noting that 300,000 new vehicles were sold in 2015.

 

 

STANDARD-BEARER. President Aquino's endorsement did little so far to help Mar Roxas' performance in the polls. Photo from the Malacanang Photo Bureau

 

Increasing capital outlay

Roxas also wants to continue the “substantial progress” in terms of increasing capital outlay for infrastructure. “When we started in 2010, the total capital outlay for infrastructure was P175 billion ($3.68 billion), roughly 1.2% of the GDP.  In 2015, we’re spending P570 billion ($11.99 billion), roughly 4% of the GDP,” said Roxas.

 

The next budget for capital outlay, which is set to be approved by Congress, is earmarked around P800 billion ($16.84 billion), or 5% of the GDP. “For the first time in generations, we have hit the benchmark of 5% of GDP investment in capital outlay, without raising the tax, simply because it was collected right and spent right,” said Roxas.

 

 

No to Cha-Cha

However, Roxas is not keen on amending the Constitution to attract foreign investors in the country. He has said in multiple fora that “not once” during his tenure as Trade Secretary between 2000 and 2003 did any foreign investor express the need for constitutional change to ease restrictions in foreign ownership. The Philippine Constitution limits foreigners to 40% ownership in businesses and real estate. They are fully restricted though to own or exploit the country's natural resources and own any media outfit.

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Roxas added, amending the Constitution should only be considered once it is proven that restrictive provisions are the only hindrance to the entry of foreign investments. For him, what holds back greater investment are issues like red tape, unnecessary delays, high costs, and harassment by local government officials. However, Roxas calls for a review of business regulations that prove to be burdensome for investors.

 

Related: Foreign investors cite what they want for next PH president

 

Solving traffic woes

The worsening traffic situation and the sorry state of the public transportation system in the country, especially in Metro Manila, are also issues that plague the presidential bid of Roxas, who had a short-lived stint as Transportation (DOTC) Secretary between 2011 and 2012.

 

For Roxas, the solution to Metro Manila’s traffic and transportation problem is simple: to “decongest the Philippine capital,” and to “terminate all the various [bus] franchises [operating] along the major thoroughfares in the NCR [National Capital Region].” However, his critics are quick to question why Roxas was not able to implement these solutions when he was still the DOTC chief.

 

 

POST-DISASTER. Criticism for his leadership as DILG Secretary in the wake of Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) continue to haunt Mar Roxas' presidential bid. Photo from GoNegosyo

 

Will “review” tax reform

Roxas has also received flak for not supporting the call to lower the tax bracket, saying that tax reform under his administration will be up for “review.” He is quick to remind supporters of the tax reform that some government programs and services might be “severely affected” by lowering income tax rates.

 

“How many children will not have classrooms? How many of our countrymen will no longer benefit from PhilHealth? How many will no longer benefit from the CCT [Conditional Cash Transfer] program?" Roxas asked.

 

The Aquino administration rejected a house bill proposing tax reforms, saying the government might lose about P30 billion ($631.99 million) during the first year of its implementation. But if he wins the presidency, Roxas said he will push for better tax regulation and collection.

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Agri security

"Agriculture is one of the areas that will experience a boom in [my] administration," Roxas said. At present, more than one-third of the Philippine population relies on agriculture as a livelihood, yet the sector makes up only 11% of the GDP.

 

Roxas sees agriculture as both “an immense challenge and a lucrative opportunity that holds the key to our country’s development plan.” In the Roxas-(Leni) Robredo platform of government, agriculture is linked to nutrition and food security, thus they will formulate necessary steps to develop the sector to address hunger and under-nutrition.

 

Part of Roxas’ agricultural development plan is to complete land distribution and improve the way land is administered and managed. On average, a local farmer owns about 3 hectares of land, with profit subject to the volume of yields his land produces.

 

Roxas proposed consolidating the production of agricultural products and providing farmers with a monthly salary, both seen to revitalize the agricultural sector. Aside from investing in irrigation infrastructure, a Roxas administration will also invest in post-harvesting facilities that can potentially minimize the losses incurred in the processing, storage, and transportation of local produce.

 

“By increasing the [agriculture] sector’s contribution to the national economy, we're increasing both the supply of rice and the opportunities for farmers to alleviate themselves and their families out of poverty,” Roxas said.

 

Related: Agribusiness: Key to inclusive growth in the Philippines

 

 

SUNRISE INDUSTRY. The IT-BPO industry, which is seen to generate 1.3 million jobs in 2016, was brought to the Philippines in 2000 by then trade secretary Mar Roxas. Photo from Mar Roxas' official campaign website

 

Jobs creation, PPP projects

Roxas boasts of his track record in terms of job creation. During his tenure as trade secretary in 2000, he is credited for bringing the IT-BPO (Information Technology-Business Process Outsourcing) industry to the Philippines.

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In 2016, the industry is seen to account for 9% of the country’s GDP and generate 1.3 million jobs.

 

Related: PH BPO industry on target to reach $25-B by end-2016

 

In his administration, Roxas intends to start a “resurgence in the manufacturing industry,” which is seen to lower power costs and attract investments in the industry. “Jobs generated in the manufacturing [industry] can provide a stable source of income for Filipinos,” Roxas said.

 

Roxas also intends to spur growth in local economies by making capital more accessible to aspiring entrepreneurs, thus “unleashing the energies of our micro, small, and medium enterprises.”

 

In his platform of government, Roxas also has stated that his administration will continue collaborations with the private sector through public-private partnerships. “Sustainable economic growth must be complemented by the private sector creating jobs and opportunities for Filipinos,” Roxas said.

 

 

Good governance, transparency

Roxas promised to pass the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill once elected. The FOI bill was a crucial part of Aquino’s Good Governance and Anti-Corruption Plan of 2012-2016, as it laid out reforms and initiatives to promote transparency, accountability, and citizen participation in governance. However, the FOI bill was not passed during Aquino’s term.

 

“We have to be vigilant and aggressive in our efforts to stop sophisticated forms of corruption. Any problem in our society today can trace its roots to corruption,” Roxas said.

 

 

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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.

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