Bernardo M. Villegas
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Martin Romualdez as Front Runner

          I have great expectations from the incoming Congress of the Republic of the Philippines, especially the House of Representatives where very important pieces of legislation are first thoroughly studied, especially the national budget as well as possible amendments to the Philippine Constitution.  Considering that there is a large number of “newbies” or first timers who have been elected as Congress people, it is very important that the right leader is elected as Speaker of the House.  Professional competence, integrity, and compassion for the underprivileged are among the required qualities of a good Speaker.  In addition, he must have the soft skills of being able to work with people of the most diverse backgrounds, talents, and ideologies. Having dealt with him at close range in business, educational institutions, philanthropic foundations and other civic organizations, I would like to see Mr. Martin Romualdez as the next Speaker of the House.

         Having been one of those who participated in the writing of the 1987 Constitution, I am particularly interested in how the next Congress will manage the very delicate process of amending the Philippine Constitution which is overdue.  Very few people can match the knowledge of Mr. Romualdez about constitutional issues, being the current President of the most prestigious association of defenders of the Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines (PHILCONSA).  We can count on him to defend those principles based on absolute truths about the nature of man and society contained in the Declaration of Principles, such as the dignity of every human being and his right to life from conception to natural death, the principle of subsidiarity, the principle of solidarity and the common good.  At the same time, his vast experience in banking and finance, mining, and commerce will help him to have an open mind in efforts of the present Government to improve the ease of doing business (in which we still rank quite low in global competitiveness measures) by removing from our Constitution the overly restrictive provisions that discourage Foreign Direct Investments in the Philippines.  I also am of the opinion that he would be sensitive enough to give sufficient weight to the opposition of close to 80 percent of Filipinos to federalization. 

         Mr. Romualdez belongs to the new breed of politicians who have the necessary intellectual preparation to understand the very complex issues facing countries still struggling to emerge from economic backwardness.  He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from one of the prestigious Ivy League colleges in the U.S., Cornell University which is famous for development studies.  He then studied law at the University of the Philippines and subsequently passed the bar.  He honed his skills in management (very important for the work of a Speaker) by taking special studies in administration and management at the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, U.S.A.  He is no newcomer to the House of Representatives.  He served for three consecutive terms as the representative of the District of Leyte where he supported the massive investments in infrastructure that spurred progress and development.  That is why the Build Build Build program of the present Administration is not new to him.  Coming from a region where the poverty incidence is one of the highest, especially among the coconut farmers, he helped promote poverty alleviation measures such as small business development and numerous programs promoting the welfare of the disadvantaged and vulnerable sectors, PWDs, senior citizens, the sickly and the impoverished. 

         One of his benchmark legislations during the 16th Congress was the passage of House Bill 1039, a law exempting persons with disabilities (PWDs) from paying value-added tax on certain goods and services.  Known as Republic Act 10754, the bill was signed into law on March 23, 2016 expanding the benefits and privileges of people with disabilities.  He was also the principal author of House Bill 1036 which seeks to promote the establishment of microbusiness enterprises (MBEs) by providing incentives and benefits to barangay initiatives.  As Speaker of the House, he will have very close rapport with the private business sector because of his having served in several boards in the banking and industrial sectors.  Thanks to his close connection with the private businesses, he was able to mobilize much invaluable help, support and assistance that came in very handy during the calamities inflicted on the people of Central and Eastern Visayas by the super typhoon Yolanda.  It was his intimate knowledge of the conditions of the victims of the typhoon and his leadership qualities that enabled him to implement relief programs that were more effective than those coming from national agencies. 

         As a public official, he considers the Yolanda natural disaster as his most challenging and trying experience leading him to take a special interest in working to introduce reforms and legislative measures to ensure that no one else has to ever experience and live through the tragedy that befell the people of Eastern Visayas, some of whom up to this day have not yet recovered from the harm inflicted on them by the super typhoon.  This close encounter with the sufferings of his constituents in the Eastern Visayas region has prepared him to lead the new Congress along paths of compassion (malasakit) towards the poorest of the poor.  In fact, one can expect him to inspire members of the House of Representatives to work for inclusive and sustainable development.  No wonder Martin Romualdez is a front runner in the competition to become the Speaker of the House in the next Congress.  There will be many of us in the economics profession who will be only too willing to work with him on legislative measures that will ensure that the economic growth we are fortunately attaining will actually trickle down to the masses, especially those in the rural areas.  For comments, my email address is