Making Good On The Thriller In Manila

The faithful celebrated another miracle in Manila with Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's ascension to President. "God has involved Himself in our nation," proclaimed Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal L. Sin at a special Mass Arroyo attended the day after she suddenly assumed office with the collapse of Joseph Estrada's presidency. "He has answered our prayers."

Divine intervention is a tough act to live up to. Faith surely energized hundreds of thousands of protestors who jammed the streets to force out the corrupt Estrada. But miracles aren't going to be enough to cure the Philippines' many woes. It's going to take a lot of hard work by Arroyo and her team.

The new President is off to a good start. She's repeatedly talked about the need for leadership by example, for good governance, and for morality in politics. A no-nonsense politician with a doctorate in economics, she knows what needs to be done to accelerate economic growth and start helping the one-third of the country that still lives on less than $1 a day.

But refreshing though Arroyo's new administration may be to Filipinos wearied by the scandals of the Estrada years, words are cheap if they aren't backed up with action. Filipinos and foreigners alike are quickly going to grow impatient if they don't see some bold moves to back up the brave talk.

First, the new President would do well to ensure that her family stays out of business. Manila's chattering classes are already whispering that her husband has engaged in questionable business dealings. Whether the gossip has any merit or not, Arroyo needs to ensure that as of Jan. 20, the day she moved into the Malacanang Palace, such behavior can't be tolerated.

The new President also needs to ensure that she and all senior officials of her government regularly disclose all assets and financial interests. Though the Philippines has disclosure laws on the books, they are regularly flouted. She and her team need to show the country that they're serious about ending the venality and corruption that's become an accepted part of Philippine politics. Arroyo also needs to reach down into the ranks of government to clean out corruption. A good place to start would be in the tax department, whose officials are widely reviled for being on the take. Getting some honest tax collectors in place would go a long way toward restoring a sense of justice and fairness to the system and enable the government to start closing its fiscal deficit by collecting the revenues due it.

For too long the Philippines has fumbled from one crisis to the next. Its people deserve a better government than what they now have. Perhaps it really was a miracle that brought Arroyo to office. Now comes the hard part: bringing the dream of a more just, and more prosperous, Philippines to life.