Agri, education reforms top Sulong recommendations

Proposals to rev up Philippine agriculture and education along with fast-tracking financial inclusion topped the list of do-ables that business leaders have drawn up in the latest Sulong Pilipinas workshop for the country to achieve a quick and strong recovery from the global economic slump unleashed by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).

These recommendations were on the Top 10 list of reforms that close to 500 online participants from various business groups nationwide came up with at the end of Monday’s “Sulong Pilipinas: Partners for Progress” e-conference. The workshop was hosted by the Department of Finance (DOF) in partnership with the National Economic and Development Authority (NEDA) and the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry (PCCI).

Held via the Zoom large meeting service, this forum was this year’s second Sulong Pilipinas, the government’s largest annual policy consultation workshop.

The event was also livestreamed on Facebook, and garnered about 30,000 views during the workshop itself and thousands more after the event.

After the breakout discussions, the participants’ top recommendations were presented to the government by PCCI president Ambassador Benedicto Yujuico.

“We believe that these represent the most important measures that the government must take to ensure that our country and our people, especially the most vulnerable, recover from COVID1-19 in a quick and sustainable manner possible,” Yujuico said as he presented the recommendations.

Below are the top recommendations from the workshop:

1. To improve access to farm produce, The Department of Agriculture (DA) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), together with Local Government Units (LGUs), should set up a system where small farmers can efficiently deliver their produce to food hubs located in various cities and provinces where prices are regulated by LGUs by 2020.

2. To ensure continued learning for all students, especially those from lower income families, the Department of Education (DepEd) and Commission on Higher Education (CHED) should partner with LGUs and private institutions to provide flexible learning materials, free wifi connection, and access to computers for both students and teachers before the start of the next school year.

3. To promote financial inclusion and digitalization, the government should implement the National ID system and ensure digital connectivity of all government agencies and LGUs as soon as possible.

4. To strengthen the government’s response mechanism to pandemics, the Legislature should pass a bill that will provide guidelines and mechanisms on how the different government agencies, non-government organizations (NGOs), and private organizations can efficiently and effectively provide aid to affected areas and communities as soon as possible.

5. To improve internet connectivity and accessibility in the country, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) should implement policies that will allow an increased number of service providers, and at the same time, the executive and legislative branches of government should certify the Open Access in Data Transmission Bill as urgent and ensure its passage into law by July 2020.

6. To improve availability of public transportation as the country manages the impact of and recovery from COVID-19, the Department of Transportation (DOTr), together with the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA), should allow the operation of mass public transportation including buses and jeepneys, while ensuring that these adhere to the highest healthy and safety standards with guidance from DOTr; and at the same time look into more sustainable transportation modes and open more and wider pedestrian and bike lanes within the year.

7. To strengthen the manufacturing sector, value chains and linkages between agriculture and manufacturing should be strengthened for improved collaboration, prioritization of homegrown resources and raw materials in supply chains, and enhanced product specialization.

8. To align peace and order initiatives with good governance, the Department of National Defense (DND), Philippine National Police (PNP), and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) should reaffirm their commitment to the rule of law and to defend and uphold the constitution, as well as engage multi-sectoral dialogues to promote cooperation rather than animosity across sectors of the society within the next two months.

9. To improve the competitiveness of Philippine tourism and support the development and growth of the sector, local government units (LGUs) and the Department of Tourism should improve coordination, align efforts, and work together to craft a more detailed recovery plan by 2021.

10. To increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and ensure job creation and preservation, Congress should pass the Public Service Act, Foreign Investment Act, the Retail Trade Liberalization Act, and the Liberalization of the Agriculture sector by August 2020.