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Day 1 of the Pilipinas Conference: Commitments from our government

PHILIPPINE STAR/ MICHAEL VARCAS

Day 1 of the Pilipinas Conference turned out to be everything we had expected and more. Our esteemed guests from the public sector, private sector, civil society, as well as the diplomatic community, enthusiastically shared their time and their precious insights to deepen our discussions on how we can more effectively respond to the challenges of the times.

This is our seventh Pilipinas Conference, and I have reason to believe we will look forward to many more.

For this year, the continuing challenges posed by the pandemic are compounded by the issues posed by the Filipino people’s perception of their current state, their expectations of their leaders, as well as by the various geopolitical, traditional and non-traditional threats that we are facing.

We are grateful that representatives from the government gave us an assurance that they have a fairly accurate picture of what the country needs at present and, more importantly, what is supposed to be done to respond to these needs and to propel our nation forward.

For instance, Secretary Amenah Pangandaman of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) said that digital transformation is at the core of the reform agenda of her agency. It is her agency’s goal to achieve efficiency across the government and enhance the digital economy, and this is best done through investing in digitalization and innovation.

She also said that they are making a conscious effort at energizing citizen participation in governance, specifically through the Open Budget Survey. The DBM is in the process of crafting the sixth National Action Plan under the Philippine Open Government Partnership initiative, amplifying the collaboration between the non-government sector and government agencies in the design, implementation, and monitoring of government programs.

Environment Secretary Ma. Antonia Yulo-Loyzaga said that the main takeaway from the 27th Conference of Parties in Egypt, with regard to climate change, is that the world remains way off its commitment to cut emissions. She acknowledged the role of the private sector as a critical actor in bridging the cost of energy transition and the just transition toward net zero. She pointed out that it is incumbent for society to prevent and mitigate factors that contribute to people’s vulnerability — directly related to exposure, driven by development trajectory, and characterized by decades of unregulated urbanization, inequities in social services and social protection, and the disregard for ways by which our ecosystems actually support our communities.

“Lessons learned from past disasters need to be made part of our survival DNA,” she said. She added that we need to invest in education training and capacity building to create support systems for risk governance based on the best available science. For its part, the private sector should adopt climate and disaster resilience into their core business value cycles. Many companies, she said, have already chosen to be agents of environmental conversation and champions of community progress and empowerment.

Meanwhile, Transportation Secretary Jaime Bautista said that the maritime industry is a crucial component in the country’s socioeconomic rebound from the pandemic. Specifically, the Philippine Coast Guard is taking the lead at promoting maritime safety.

“The Philippines aims to be a major maritime nation that values the safety and protection of marine life and marine environment,” he said. “We look at opportunities to forge collaborations with maritime-related agencies of other countries to benchmark our efforts at raising our maritime industry to global standards.”

Closing the first day of the conference was Philippine Ambassador to the United States Jose Manuel “Babe” Romualdez.

“The evolving nature and emergence of security threats present a significant opportunity for both the Philippines and the United States to explore new areas of cooperation,” he said in a recorded statement, adding that diplomatic relations between the two countries have been further strengthened by the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement.

Ambassador Romualdez said that the defense and security aspects will continue to remain key pillars in the bilateral relations of the two countries, and that alliance between them is vital in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

After all, based on surveys, one of the most recent ones being commissioned by Stratbase this year, a large majority of Filipinos consider the United States as their most trusted country. Ambassador Romualdez said the alliance between the Philippines and the US will remain solid and stable, “underpinned by deep people-to-people ties forged by our shared experiences of the past decades.”

***

For many years now, the Stratbase Group has been doing just this: bringing people together, providing the platform for interaction, provoking thought, sparking conversations, and translating all these into actionable policy recommendations, which we hope helps make a difference in people’s lives.

There is no single sector that can and should drive the nation’s affairs. There are no formulaic solutions or quick fixes. We acknowledge the complexity of what we are up against, the diversity yet interwovenness of our interests, but also the singularity of our aspirations — a better, more secure life for Filipinos. A guarantee that people will not only survive, but flourish.

I am thankful for our friends — key thinkers, policy shapers, decision makers — who continue to share their valuable insights during these conferences. I look forward to the conversations that we will have, and which we will hopefully sustain.

Victor Andres “Dindo” C. Manhit is the president of the Stratbase ADR Institute.

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