Some Christmas wishes for the nation

Moncada town’s grand prize-winning ‘belen,’ or Nativity scene, during the annual Belenismo sa Tarlac on Dec. 3, 2022. PHOTO BY RENE H. DILAN

NOW that the Christmas holiday is upon us, there is a feeling among most of us here, which we are sure is shared by many of our countrymen, of having reached a destination of sorts: After more than two years of uncertainty and stress brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic, we have finally made it to a place where the holiday feels normal again. The malls are bustling, the roads, ports and airports are jammed with travelers, and families and businesses are gathering in person for holiday parties.

Of course, there is much about the current circumstances for our country that is not “normal.” We face numerous challenges, and if the pandemic has taught us anything, it should be that things can change very quickly in profound and unexpected ways. For that alone, we should remind ourselves of the best meaning of the Christmas holiday: that, regardless of one's faith, this is a time to reflect and be thankful for what we have, and to appreciate the people — family, friends, colleagues — who enrich our lives.

Christmas is also a time for wishes, and so as we all prepare to observe the holiday, we would like to share our wishes for the nation in the coming year.

First and foremost, we wish for the country's continued health and well-being. The Philippines' response to the Covid-19, which was crafted under former president Rodrigo Duterte and has been continued under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., arguably has been far from perfect, and is still subjected to severe criticism by some. The big picture, however, is that the country has successfully endured the pandemic; while still a serious concern, the numbers of people affected are being kept to a manageable level, which is all the more remarkable given that the imposition and observance of protective health protocols has become quite casual.

It is important, however, that the government and the public alike do not lose awareness and let their guard down. Covid-19 is still a very real, constantly evolving threat, and furthermore, the risk of it spreading again in the Philippines is far from being eliminated. We are particularly concerned about news coming from China, where the relaxation of pandemic controls in response to widespread public protests has evidently resulted in another severe, large-scale outbreak. Let us remember lessons learned from our own experience, and protect ourselves so that we can prevent a repeat of it. Get vaccinated, observe safe health and hygiene practices, and use good judgment when traveling to crowded or unfamiliar places. On the government's part, it must continue to monitor potential public health threats, and provide the public clear and timely information.

Priorities and sound policies

Our second wish is reflected in the difficulty many of our people are experiencing in not only providing for a holiday celebration, but in making ends meet every day. Sound policies that have practical results and that can be implemented immediately — and not problematic novelties that the country is currently unprepared to manage, such as the proposed sovereign wealth fund — are needed to manage immediate economic pressures, namely high food and energy costs. It is our hope that government reflects on its priorities, and act in the best interest of the people.

Finally, we wish for greater opportunities for all Filipinos to enrich themselves economically, intellectually and socially, which can be encouraged by a greater focus on the country's future. Policies and programs to expand and promote research, smart reform of both the basic education and higher education systems, and the expansion of support for entrepreneurs and small businesses, both in financial and capacity-building terms, should all be key priorities for the government in the years to come.

One key tool that can greatly advance these priorities is the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which will give Filipino enterprises of all sizes access to the world's single largest trading bloc and market, and all the opportunities it offers. As we have stressed many times, the Philippines cannot afford to reject the RCEP, and the delay to its ratification by the Senate will become more costly for the country in terms of missed opportunities the longer it continues. This can be corrected easily, and it must be.

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