Bernardo M. Villegas
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Honest, Orderly and Peaceful Elections

            By the time, OFWs will be coming home for the Christmas season of 2010, I can assure them of a more prosperous Philippine economy. Thanks to their own contribution of remittances to their relatives, the Philippines was one of the few in Asia that did not suffer a recession.

          It is a foregone conclusion that consumption will drive the Philippine economy during the first semester of 2010, thanks to election-related spending, the momentum of the pump priming initiated by the Government in 2010, and the continuing flow of OFW remittances. Some forecasters are already projecting at least a 5 percent GDP growth for the first semester. From recent data on the relationship between GDP and GNP (Gross National Product), that could mean a growth of 6 per cent or more in GNP. In the Philippine setting, GNP is a more accurate predictor of consumption spending. It includes income earned by Filipinos abroad and remitted to their relatives in the Philippines. GNP is, therefore, a more complete measure of what is available for spending by Filipinos in the Philippines.

          A good first semester may encourage Philippine firms to invest more in the second semester in expanding their production by purchasing more equipment and machinery and by building up their inventories. Will that mean that we can expect an investment-led recovery in the second semester? The answer will depend on whether or not we can successfully hold elections on May 10, 2010. There are enough political analysts who are considering the probability that there could be a failure of elections because of the breakdown of the automated system or because of wholesale cheating. I am glad that these possibilities are thoroughly analyzed in public because they are increasing the vigilance of numerous groups committed to the common good who will do everything possible to thwart the evil intentions of those wanting to perpetuate themselves in power through manipulative practices. I am absolutely convinced that the Filipinos will rise to the occasion of protecting the sanctity of the ballot and will reduce the probability of a failure in elections to practically nil.

          Among the initiatives that convince me that we will have a successful election is the series of electronic town hall meetings entitled "Electoral Risks," spearheaded by the Coalition for Voter Empowerment, composed of members of the Management Association of the Philippines, Kilosbayan, the Movement for Good Governance and Youth Vote Philippines; in cooperation with ANC, DZMM, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Yellow Brick Road and Snapworx. Their aim is to empower the electorate with substantive and quality information on gut issues critical to the welfare of the voters and to the state of the nation to enable them to cast informed votes in May. There are also parallel initiatives of the Makati Business Club, the Bishop-Businessmen Conference, NAMFREL and other NGOs that will mobilize the citizenry to safeguard the vote against malevolent forces of society. Having interacted closely with the top officers of the Philippine National Police, I am completely convinced of the patriotism of the current leaders who will root out among their ranks any collaborators with corrupt officials who have the intention to perpetrate cheating in the next elections.

          As regards an unintentional breakdown of the automated machines, I am convinced that there are enough principled members of COMELEC (I can cite a personal friend, Rene Sarmiento) who will have in place a contingency plan of shifting to manual in the last minute. As long as we can control the activities of the cheaters through voters' vigilance, manual voting can still come out with credible results. While in Spain in April 2007, I witnessed the last national elections. I went from precinct to precinct in Barcelona and saw that the voting was manual. They also had a long list of names in the printed ballot that included national, regional, provincial and local candidates. I was totally impressed because, despite the manual procedure they used, the results were out in less than twenty four hours. There is nothing inherently problematic with manual voting as long as we can minimize the influence of the evil doers who want to prostitute democracy. I repeat: Filipinos are sufficiently mature in democratic processes so that we can defeat the evil minority who will try to make a mockery of our next elections.

          As long as there will be honest, orderly and peaceful elections, we can see an upsurge in investment in the second semester of 2010. Among the most winnable Presidential candidates, I see very little difference in their approach to the economy. They all talk of reducing the budget deficit, building countryside infrastructures, improving the quality of basic education, improving governance and addressing the problem of mass poverty.    As long as the elections are credible, investors will give whoever is elected President the benefit of the doubt, at least during the first twelve months, that he will follow the example of the Indonesian President in fighting corruption in government.

          I am also convinced that the incumbent President, even if she is elected into Congress, will wield very little influence on the next Government. Having seen at very close range the utter failure of the present Government's desperate attempt to introduce Charter Change, I see no reason why charter change can prosper at least in the first three years of the next Administration. Once things stabilize for the next President, I will be one of the first to recommend a Constitutional Convention to coincide with the elections in 2013 so that we can start the process of removing the many restrictions in our Constitution that discourage Foreign Direct Investments. In the meantime, though, the Philippines has enough inherent attractions so that starting in the second semester of 2010, we shall see an increase of both local and foreign direct investments in mining, tourism, business process outsourcing, transport and logistics, infrastructures, energy, education and high-value agribusiness. We just have to cross the bridge of holding an honest, orderly, and peaceful election (HOPE). Since May--when elections will be held-- is the month of Our Lady, let us pray especially to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage for HOPE. For comments, my email address is bvillegas@uap.edu.ph.