1. Moving Past Inherent Inanities: Engaging, Interrogating, and Responding to Government Reform Programs

    One of the disconcerting elements of the current discourse on reform in government is the seeming assumption that limited reforms (or at least none meaningful) are being undertaken. And, as such, the government has been inutile in combating the prevalence of corruption. It is an overly simplistic view of a highly complex undertaking; one that a macro review of the efforts of the Aquino administration proves to be somewhat false. If anything, discussion should be more centered on the relative effectiveness and comprehensiveness of those initiatives. Or, just as importantly, the relative ability of the administration to publicize and engage civil society in those processes.

    For example, one of the key initiatives in the Open Government Program undertaken by the government is the revamping of the Official Gazette website (www.gov.ph) into a ‘one-stop shop’ for policy and reporting announcements. Programs, such as the Disbursement Acceleration Plan, the Open Government Initiative, and on-going (ignored) efforts like COMELEC and making elections more transparent, have been announced or relayed via the site; yet civil society and even certain legislators seem completely oblivious to their existence. This raises two questions:

    1. Is the Aquino government doing enough to make citizens, outside of media members, aware of the existence of the Official Gazette as a source of information and giving stakeholders opportunities to engage with transparency and accountability initiatives;
    2. Is civil society doing enough to empower themselves in engaging government processes for reform and good governance. Are they keeping track of initiatives and staying informed? That takes continuing effort to stay abreast of developments and educated about their specifics.

    I posited a question yesterday on Twitter (modeled after a famous Zen riddle): If information is available and no one uses it, is it really available? The institutionalization of transparency and accountability tools only occurs through continued use. That is a challenge to civil society; most especially those who have chosen to take on the mantle of public intellectuals, advocates, and activists. When information is readily available (now and in the future), civil society should no longer expect to be spoon-fed. That is not the nature of citizenship empowerment, in fact it is the opposite.

    Approaching Discourse

    …the facile dichotomies between Light and Darkness, free world and obscurantism, sweet tolerance and blind violence, tell us more about the overweening pride of their authors than the complexity of the contemporary world.

    - Tzveta Todorov

    Unfortunately, the current level of discourse ignores policy-centric and program-focused in favor more emotionally charged sloganeering, founded predominantly on motherhood statements and Manichaeism. That is a natural outflow of our typically emotionally charged discursive climate with regards to corruption and governance. And it fatally inhibits much needed engagement from all sectors in the public sphere. Right now this is expressed through the current almost fatal polarization among civil society ‘activists,’ as well as the wholly combative stance taken towards the Executive Branch (somehow avoiding certain legislators) in discourse; one being promoted and leveraged by some survival and/or agenda driven legislators and politicians.

    A third response - ‘overthrow the system!’ - is discredited by its inherent inanity: which bits of which system and in favor of which systemic substitute? In any case, who will do the overthrowing?

    We no longer have political movements. While thousands of us may come together for a rally or march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest. Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns.

    -Tony Judt

    This is when Tony Judt’s dissection of modern protest movements and the hyper-charged emotionality of current levels of global discourse are most chilling. The sad by-product of this hyper-polarization and emotion driven ‘discourse’ is dismissal of dissent, or evidence and events that run counter to dearly held talking points. That is not to say that protests should not be undertaken or do not play a key role in society. They do. Informed dissent is the foundation of a functioning democracy and must be encouraged in all spheres.

    Moving beyond that, a nuanced analysis of government initiatives must be twofold:

    1. What is being undertaken by government, throughout the three branches, and how can those processes or initiatives be improved, engaged with, or supported;
    2. What are additional initiatives and policy proposals that civil society would like to see implemented.

    By basing our analysis of the public sphere on the willingness of government, media and civil society to engage in constructive, well-informed discourse, we will better be able to gauge our collective ability to move beyond Manichaeism and inherent inanities. So far, that analysis does not yield much positivity. That being said, there are elements of hope. Doy Santos has written about shifting public discourse towards policy, even initiating a hashtag (#PostPNoy) discussion thread to collate what we would like to see implemented over the next three years by the administration. While Cocoy Dayao offers recommendations on his experience in protesting the passing of the CyberCrime Law and the subsequent crowd-sourced bill to combat the CyberCrime Law called the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom.

    Just as compellingly, Marck Ronald Rimorin writes about our collective need to step back and move away from Manichaeism towards collaborative discourse. One key point that he makes is the need for us to truly leverage social media to develop crowd-sourced policies and ideas to combat corruption and reform governance. That is the missing element in the talk of ‘social media based protests’ and one that is disconcerting in its absence. Especially in light of the social media evangelical credentials on members of various protest organizations. Transparency, accountability, and consultative practices in reform movements is a missing ingredient in creating multi-sectoral solutions. As Cocoy Dayao has experienced with MCPIF, and Doy Santos hopes to encourage with #PostPNoy, substantive policy discussions and the crafting of reform agendas can take place in the public sphere and with the government.

    Stepping Back from the Emotional Precipice

    Sadly, contemporary intellectuals have shown remarkably little informed interest in the nitty gritty of public policy, preferring to intervene or protest on ethically-defined topics where the choices seem clearer…where unconventional opinion rarely finds a place…

    - Tony Judt

    Lost amid the emotionality of the moment is that some progress is being made towards transparency, investigation of corrupt practices, and the prosecution of illegal activities. Stepping back and taking a macro-perspective on developments demonstrates this. Thus, discourse must move past simplistic emotion driven dualities and consider the nature of endemic corruption in the government, as well as the culpability of legislators in promoting, leveraging, and protecting corrupt practices. It must touch on the worthiness or merit of stimulus programs under the administration. Failing to take these various issues on their own merit and lumping them together will result in flawed solutions; as Jego Ragragio points out. While branding anything financial in government we do not like as “pork” is excellent for talking points and slogans, it fails as a platform for comprehensive and cogent discussion.

    Considering Open Government

    In reviewing the reforms being proposed and undertaken by the Aquino administration, one multinational and sectoral initiative intrigued: the Open Government Partnership; of which the Philippines is one of the founding eight members. The Official Gazette has announced the ODP in the past, as well as published the 2012 Philippine Open Government Country Assessment Report in March 2013. It is disconcerting that this document went relatively unremarked. However, as an aside, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has been tapped to undertake an independent assessment of the Philippine government’s Open Government Action Plans and progress. A key part of the OGP is consultation with the private sector at every step.

    As a document the P-OGC Assessment Report offers a macro perspective of the administration’s reform agenda. As such, I would argue, it becomes a starting place for engagement between government and civil society on reform initiatives and their effectiveness. It offers a framework within which to evaluate and interrogate the structure of good governance programs and, subsequently, present suggestions, additions, or improvements as needed. Granted, this is separate from policy-centric discussions, but I would argue policies designed to address identified systemic flaws will naturally flow out of discussion and an increased understanding of system processes.

    The Open Government Partnership is centered around the following declarations:

    We acknowledge that people all around the world are demanding more openness in government. They are calling for greater civic participation in public affairs, and seeking ways to make their governments more transparent, responsive, accountable, and effective.

    We recognize that countries are at different stages in their efforts to promote openness in government, and that each of us pursues an approach consistent with our national priorities and circumstances and the aspirations of our citizens.

    We accept responsibility for seizing this moment to strengthen our commitments to promote transparency, fight corruption, empower citizens, and harness the power of new technologies to make government more effective and accountable.

    We uphold the value of openness in our engagement with citizens to improve services, manage public resources, promote innovation, and create safer communities. We embrace principles of transparency and open government with a view toward achieving greater prosperity, well-being, and human dignity in our own countries and in an increasingly interconnected world.

    - Preamble of the Open Government Declaration

    Essentially, the Open Government Partnership is an initiative designed to enhance and institutionalize transparency and accountability measures to promote good governance. A review of the action plan of the Philippine government, linked to and patterned on President Aquino’s Social Contract with the Filipino People, offers an understanding of how the administration has approached good governance reforms, as well as gives an opportunity to review those reforms. All members of the Open Government Partnership declare their commitment to adhere to four principles:

    1. Increase availability of information of governmental activities
    2. Support civic participation
    3. Implement of the highest standards of professional integrity throughout the country’s administration
    4. Increase access to new technologies for openness and accountability

    A full description of each of the four points can be found on the ODP website.

    My argument is not that the Open Government Program is the beginning and end of reform geared towards good governance and the elimination of corruption; nor does it appear that is how it was conceived. That being said it offers civil society insight into how the administration has chosen to approach improving transparency and accountability through the implementation of various initiatives. That gives civil society a method with which to critically interrogate the government’s adherence to their own self-imposed and created action plan, as well as weigh the effectivity of the various programs and policies.

    Addressing systemic corruption and improving good governance is a multi-sectoral long term effort, that requires consultative and collaborative processes from all stakeholders involved. There is no single solution to what faces us. True sustainable change must be multi-pronged in approach and scope; encompassing all sectors of government and civil society. They must multi-faceted, culturally bound, and inclusive, both in depth and nature, to truly effect change through the country. The key is how do we, collectively, approach crafting those solutions. And how do we then ensure any transparency and accountability, and anti-corruption reforms are both effective and institutionalized.

     

  2. "

    Because - as the Greeks knew - participation in the way you are governed not only heightens a collective sense of responsibility for the things government does, it also keeps our rulers and holds authoritarian excess at bay. Political demobilization, beyond the healthy retreat from ideological polarization which characterized the growth of political stability in postwar western Europe, is a dangerous and slippery slope. It is also cumulative: if we feel excluded from the management of our collective affairs, we shall not bother to speak up about them. In that case, we should not be surprised to discover that no one is listening to us.


    The danger of democratic deficit is always present in terms of indirect representation. Direct democracy, in small political units, enhances participation - though with the attendant risk of conformity and majoritarian oppression: there is nothing as potentially repressive of dissent and difference as a town hall meeting or kibbutz. Choosing people to speak for us at some distant assembly is a reasonable mechanism for balancing the representation of interests in large and complex communities. But unless we mandate our representatives to say only what we have authorized - an approach favored by radical students and revolutionary crowds - we are constrained to allow them to follow their own judgement.

    "
    — Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land
     

  3. Barangay, Paternalism, and the Roots of Philippine Political Leadership

    The roots of the more prevalent concepts of leadership in the Philippine milieu can be found in the history of one word: barangay. Today, barangay (obviously) refers to the smallest form of government in our country. Its original use denotes much the same thing:

    Barangay, or balangay, was one of the first native words the Spaniards learned in the Philippines. When Antonio Pigafetta, Magellan’s expeditionary ethnographer, went ashore to parley with the ruler of Limasawa, they sat together in a boat drawn up on shore which Pigafetta called a balangai.” - William Henry Scott

    Scott references the memoirs of Friar Juan de Plasencia (1589) and his description of political structures in Tagalog society:

    "These [datus] were chiefs of but few people, as many as a hundred houses and even less than thirty; and this they call in Tagalog, barangay. And what was inferred from this name is that their being called this was because, since they are known from their language to be Malayos, when they came to this land, the head of the barangay was taken for a datu, and even today is still ascertained that one whole barangay was originally one family of parents and children, slaves and relatives."

    As Scott aptly points out, thus the roots of Philippine politics are found in highly localized structures ordered around family units and a single leader; in other words loyalty was to an individual. This is the root of any society, in fact. The curious nature of our political milieu is that while our political system has grown and expanded our primary interpersonal leadership ties have remained intact. In part, our colonial history (both foreign and domestic) has done nothing more than further embed this cultural peculiarity. Even more so, our sense of fatalism (exemplified by the phrase "Bahala Na") feeds into our cultural and social construct of headship forms of leadership.

    "A Tagalog barangay was a group of people ruled over by one data. It was to him they owed allegiance, not to a municipal, provincial, tribal, or national government, through datus often joined their barangays in common communities, reckoning precedence and making alliances among themselves. This was true even in the Muslim sultanates in the South: the sultan ruled his dates but they in turn ruled their own communities. After Manila became the seat of colonial government, the word spread with its Tagalog meaning to other pats of the archipelago where it meant a boat in the local languages…

    Recently the term has been revived by the Philippine government to replace the colonial term barrio, despite the irony of the native word’s original meaning - a political unit loyal to a local boss." - Scott, “Barangay”

    All of this should sound very familiar. By and large, with a few exceptions such as the attempts by the Philippine Propaganda and Revolution to develop new ideas of citizenship, localized strong man leadership (where power and responsibility is ceded outward) has been both solidified and leveraged by historical processes (loosely delineated):

    • The Spanish form of colonial government took advantage of this structure. While Manila was the colonial seat of power, provincial towns were organized around the Church. Thus, the Church, and by extension the priest, took on the role as final arbiter in a town.
    • There are elements in the external nature of pre-Hispanic indigenous religions that Catholic missionaries leveraged during early engagements. Chief among them was the concept of intervention through prayers; in other words, beseeching a higher power to cure some fault or ill.
    • Politically, the American regime further solidified this through their establishment of municipal and provincial governments that were controlled by influential families; a sort of attempt to break the hold of the Church in those areas.
    • The Japanese Occupation did much the same through councils and collaborators.
    • Ferdinand Marcos and Martial Law wholly leveraged the power and influence of local politicians to control the Philippines. Client-patron ties were utilized for corruption and the establishment of ‘modern’ political machinery. This gave rise to the provincial warlordism, a situation we still grapple with today. Additionally, his use of the bogus “Code of Kalantiaw” and his complete reworking of Philippine history (aided and abetted by some academics) was in part to substantiate his iron rule.

    Post-Martial Law there have been attempts to root out local corruption and revamp governance. However, by and large, dynasties remain firmly in place, buoyed by crushing poverty in throughout the archipelago. Poverty in and of itself breeds a system of rigid client-patron ties. At the heart of rooting paternalism is the all-encompassing need to develop multi-faceted coordinated solutions to the poverty problem we face. The economic and cultural shifts required to do so are another conversation. However, it is intrinsically tied to governance and development; two long-term continuing failures that point to a need to completely revamp our approach.

    Change has to begin at a local level. Local politics, culture, and development must be connected to a broader inclusive national consciousness, thus engendering a new perspective on what it means to be Filipino. This was part of what the Philippine Revolution was attempting to address. Jose Rizal, Emilio Jacinto, Andres Bonifacio, and other thinkers, attempted to utilized secret societies, such as La Liga and the Katipunan, to create new concepts of citizenship. These ideas were a reaction to our colonial history, as well as a reformulation of Enlightenment ideals. Arguably, the Philippines, as they conceptualized, would have been the first post-Enlightenment nation; with citizens intrinsically aware of both their moral, ethical, and political responsibilities as empowered citizens. When we consider the full-breadth of what they were trying to accomplish the daring of their vision becomes even more breath-taking.

    That hyper-local, almost secularly holy mission was adroitly summed up by Nick Joaquin: "Nationalism begins as a local piety."

    Describing Paternalism and the Father/Mother Figure

    While that gives us a quick and dirty historical background to our current leadership quandary, a review of the modern definition of paternalism is needed. Luckily, the Ateneo de Manila University School of Government has created a ‘checklist’ of this model of leadership:

    1. Need for order and compliance - Need for some form of established order that structures the relationship between the leader/head and others

    2. Need for harmony - Need to agree or to comply. A dominant and pervasive value, even when there is inequality in relationships

    If this is beginning to sound like the oft-mooted and longed form “strong man” form of leadership, that is correct. That is essentially the classic case of the headship model of leadership. In our case though, our desire for this form of leadership is so insidious that it is pervasive throughout our cultural and social milieu.

    In essence, at the heart of ‘headship’ leadership is the subsuming of individual responsibility within a political (or even familial) structure to the will of one person; in other words, paternalism. Rigid structures of patrimony are intrinsic, as is the need for obedience and piety. Responsibility is passed to that individual for taking care of the political or family unit. In return for pledging piety and loyalty, the ‘leader’ takes care of his followers. Hallmarks such as holding the leader in high-esteem (untouchable, infallible, and unknowable) and almost complete reliance on this for decision-making and problem solving are easily apparent. There is a needed distance between the paternalistic leader and his followers, allowing the leader to retain an aura of power and prestige. Patronage is a natural requirement for this style. As a result, loyalties are not to the system or the nation, but to the leader.

    Key to this form of leadership is the give and take between the leader and follower. In other words, part in parcel with shifting the locus of responsibility by the individual to the leader, is the understanding that the leader is looking out for and caring about the subordinate. In Tagalog terms, this is encompassed by ‘pakikipagkapwa-tao, pagkatao.’ Hallmarks such as centralization, secrecy, protection of dominance, reputation building (incapable of error), social distance (untouchable), non-specific intentions (motherhood statements), patronage and nepotism, and cliques who gain power through political manipulation are all keys to paternalistic forms of leadership. There is also a demand for the appearance of upright moral and ethical leadership.

    If this reminds of the leadership styles of people like Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo it is no surprise; they utilized the paternalistic form of leadership to its fullest extent. In fact, Pinoy cultural and even political values are deeply rooted in elements paternalism; at times without our realizing it. Many family units in the country revolve around a similar social dynamic: No matter how large or diverse families are, there is usually a single figure around who the family dynamic revolves. That person bestows gifts, solves inter-family squabbles, and essentially guides the family during his or her lifetime. That family based dynamic is translated in varying degrees along our socio-political ladder.

    Daddy Issues: Questioning Concepts of Citizenship Engagement in the Philippines

    This is not about the dangers of this type of leadership, or even the use of prevalence of the model in the Philippines. Instead, it is about touching on how paternalistic forms of leadership are so embedded in our cultural consciousness (a by-product of centuries of historic processes geared towards leveraging it) that unwittingly, civil society engagement revolves around this model. In essence, modern expectations of Philippine leadership by Filipino citizens almost completely aligns with this model of leadership. Considering the relative immaturity, and underlying unstable footing, in the Philippine political sphere there are some disconcerting ramifications.

    I would argue that this is seen on a national scale with civil society’s expectations and engagement with the Office of the President; most clearly during times of crisis. During the habagat last year and Maring last month one of the most vocal calls was for the president to be more “visible” in terms of disaster relief. In terms of year-on-year performance there have been improvements in government processes, far from perfect, but improvements nonetheless. However, even with government (LGU to national) operating far more efficiently than in the past, there was still a demand for the President, the ‘leader,’ to be visible; to reassure the people that he is looking after their interests. Unsurprisingly, judging by the development of our Malacañang centered political focus, LGUs were saved from most of the demands for visibility; even as senators and other elected officials took advantage of the grassroots affinity for paters through identity branded handouts. As an aside, it should be noted that the demand for the President to visit disasters in other parts of the country is never quite as loud or persistent as when disasters strike Metro Manila.

    This was further seen with President Aquino’s decision to relocate to Zamboanga at the height of hostilities. For better or worse, he took on a micro-managerial role; one that both reassured the nation and should have raised serious questions about the role of the President in times of internecine warfare. Should the President be in a crisis zone? Should he be directly overseeing on the ground operations? Is that needed with a professional military? Eventually, we need to move past the need for the President to micro-manage and the attendant ‘false’ comfort and security it seems to provide. I would rather see line agencies and the military coping with these situations ably and professionally. And in fairness, the military was for more visible and responsive to the public than ever before. That, more than anything, should provide some hope and comfort for the future.

    The Manager vs the Paternalistic Leader

    Arguably, evaluations of the performance of managerial style leader are negatively colored by our bias towards strong-man leadership. The delegating, more modern, style is seen as ‘weak’ or ‘ineffectual.’ Which in turn filters into how we critically engage with different forms of leadership in the country, and their attendant performance. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo developed a following as a ‘serious’ leader by her frequent trips to disaster areas. Her administration played up her long hours of work as an example of a dedicated and caring leader; hence, slipping neatly in the pattern of paternalism. Richard Gordon has developed quite a following by frequently highlighting his “on the ground” coordination of Red Cross response and rescue operations. Gibo Teodoro thought he could ride his ‘performance’ as head of the National Disaster Coordinating Council to challenge for the presidency; that backfired when he pointed out he was so dedicated he went to the office, alone. That being said, many appreciated Teodoro for his professionalism and dedication to helping the ‘people.’

    If anything, the difficulties of ‘managers’ to be effective leaders in our political context directly speaks towards our weak and relatively un-empowered institutions. At times, this results in disaster, such as in the case of the Manila Hostage Crisis, when competent and professional individuals are not in place down the organizational ladder. However, from a macro perspective the need for an Executive branch that diffuses its power and relies on functioning line agencies is needed for long-term institutionalization of best practices. For better or worse, this dissonance arises when we continue to evaluate leaders using paternalism leadership as a base. Taking that into consideration, our collective consistent calls for stronger leadership should give us pause. Much the same as the curious claims by many that Ferdinand Marcos was our best president. Looking beyond the lack of historical awareness, the claim usually centers around his strength. Which in turn should make us ask: Is that truly what we yearn for? Someone to solve our problems for us?

    A disappointing artifact of our centuries long adherence to paternalistic modes of leadership, is civil society’s tendency to demand solutions from the top. With a few modern exceptions, such as EDSA I, the prevalence of protest culture in the Philippines is rooted in the demand for our ‘leader’ to fix our problems. While it may be slightly unfair to link the recent August 26 Luneta rally to this ‘propensity,’ there are elements of it at play. Initially the call was for the government and administration, in the form of President Aquino, to solve the problems of pork barrel in the Philippines. The idea of “let’s show them we’re angry” seemed to be the guiding principle, concurrent with a demand for action. The protest was loosely organized around these two calls. While they were relatively inchoate, there were elements of request for intervention from on high. And in many ways, that initial focus on spurring our leadership into action has merit. However, recently announced developments in protest movements, which now seem specifically designed to call on President Aquino to solve the problems for us or else, speak to a disconcerting lack of originality in elements of civil society. More importantly, it speaks to a troubling tendency for us to utilize protests ad nauseum. There is a twisted element of passivity to modern protest movements: They ignore the prior need for grassroots initiatives and mobilization (such as what the Katipunan undertook) and goes straight to sloganeering and grandstanding. A current form of protesting is not engagement, it is the exact opposite in fact. And it speaks to our continued adherence to paternalism; even as we supposed decry its entrenchment in Philippine society.

    Paternalism and Modern One-Off Protest Movements

    The recent calls for civil society to become more engaged in solution-making and governance are a step in the right direction. Transparency and accountability demand that parts of civil society become a part of governance. That being said, there are still elements of civil society (sadly not necessarily the fringes) that are agitating for sweeping reforms from on high; with the corollary that if they do not come there will be one change enacted from below. Ignored in the “need to change government” rhetoric is the middle portion: the Legislative branch. Of the three branches, the Legislative is rarely considered in need of massive reform and over-haul, yet it needs them just as much, if not more. The current scandal, and the inutile nature of the Senate and House’s reaction to it, aptly demonstrates this. Reforms are crouched either in anti-dynasty laws or further empowering the Legislative branch by shifting to a parliamentary system. However, closer inspection of previous regime changes shows a chilling trend: The name at the top changes, but the names in Congress do not. This has been clearly evident in our recent attempts at regime change. Yes, the presidency changed hands, but the Legislature remained the same. Outside of seizing the opportunity presented by the pork barrel scam, the worry is that this trend will continue for the forceable future.

    Which raises a much more appropriate question: If our focus was on our backyards, our barangays and districts, would we be mired in the same problems we are now? One of the most disturbing developments in the last month or so is the prevalence of legislators arguing that they are not responsible for theft within their own offices; or for that matter, even making sure that projects they have initiated were properly vetting and managed. That right there is a failure in command responsibility. Yet, by and large, the reaction of civil society is to ignore the very people who should be held accountable, in favor of focusing on the Executive branch. This is not to say that we should not be scrutinizing the Executive branch and its actions, but that the Legislative branch, and especially those who are jumping on the anti-corruption bandwagon, should be scrutinized even more.

    This reductive approach to government-citizen engagement is antithetical to the development of a functioning and active political space. The ideas of discursive and responsive engagement between government and citizens is founded on breaking the strictures of paternalistic leadership views. Let me put it this way, when our first and second response to a situation is to demand a solution from the highest office in the land, instead of considering how we can aid in solution-making on a grassroots and local level, we are falling into the trap of paternalism. The current form of protests falls precisely into this trap. I note current form since the protest movement is not an extension of a broad and deep movement throughout the country. Instead, the protests are the movement in and of themselves. Prior historical examples, such as the US Civil Rights Movement, the Katipunan, the US Revolution, and so on, aptly demonstrate the need to link overt protests to an underlying strategy. That is what separates a movement from a one-off protest.

    The counter-argument is that we elected leaders to solve our problems. And while that does have merit, we also need to realize that we elect officials to act as advocates on our behalf. This means that engagement with our elected leaders does not begin and end with voting. Nor does it mean that our focus needs to be on national leadership. Nationalism begins as a local piety, thus we need to continually engage with our districts and representatives; not continue to look towards Malacañang as the arbiter of our fate. This demands a reworking of our understanding of post-Enlightenment citizenship. It requires our engagement on affecting change at a grassroots level; something for which a few reformers have called. This means educating the ‘masa’; changing their perception of governance and leadership in the Philippines, as well as their role in public sphere. Too frequently we substitute protesting on a national stage, much like August 26 and its smaller progeny (such as EDSA Tayo) for reaching out on a local level to develop inclusive strategies for deep-rooted grassroots changed founded on radical shifts founded on culture change. That was the call of Philippine revolutionaries in the 19th century. One that remains relatively unheeded and unanswered.

    Our tendency towards paternalistic leadership has a habit of showing up during discussions on government reform. Whether conscious or not, solutions such as ‘strengthening’ divisions between government branches, entrusting development processes to the Executive, and removing the power of the purse of Congress, infuses, and expands, the power and influence of the Executive. The solution is not to fix grassroots government engagement, but further empower the ‘leader.’ Other solutions, such as a shift to a parliamentary system, also have elements of influence from paternalism. A parliamentary system basically combines the Executive and Legislative branches of the government, imbuing those in parliament with vast powers over the future of the country. This cedes the locus of responsibility from the individual to the ‘leader.’ And that is precisely the trap we need to move away from. Solution-making and true change cannot be handed down from on high; it does not trickle down. It must begin at the bottom. The only way this can occur is by radically changing our understanding of the relationship between citizens and our representatives.

    Finally addressing that shift in culture on a grassroots level is, and has been for centuries, one of our most pressing needs. As a result, it remains one of the untouched paths towards sustained national change for the better.

     

  4. On Pork Barrel and Its Reformation: Part III

    Creating a Blended Approach to Solving the Development Conundrum

    Quick Hits: Development requires the implementation of a new system for targeted investment. The Aquino administration has resurrected an existing ‘volunteer’ council comprised of the DOJ, Ombudsman, and COA to investigate and prosecute pork-barrel related corruption. The new system is based on seven reforms, however more are needed to blend pork barrel with development and anti-poverty initiatives. True reform begins at the grassroots level. Bottom-up budgeting may be the solution to project identification and implementation. The poor and marginalized need a voice in budgetary considerations. Blended approaches to solution-making are what we need today.

    Concurrent with President Aquino’s move to abolish the PDAF system, was the presentation of a proposal to implement a new system in its place; one that (they believe) is responsive to the needs of the people, while being cognizant of the flaws under PDAF. What should be noted is that it has become apparent that the Aquino administration has been considering this move since it took office. The COA Special Audit began in 2010 and a comprehensive solution like this cannot be created overnight. In each of President Aquino’s State of the Nation Addresses he has highlighted a new scandal, discovered during their investigations. We can argue over the utility of the administration’s solutions, but we have to be cognizant of the efforts that have been undertaken. The next step, the needed step, by the Aquino administration is to begin filing cases and bringing the corrupt to task. While that is not an easy task, it is something we all need to happen.

    Below is an info graphic describing the new process in simple terms from the Official Gazette:

    image

    Key to the move is the re-establishment of the Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council, comprised of the heads of the primary watchdog and  investigative organizations in government. In essence, this ‘loose cooperative council’ is the primary mechanism for investigating and prosecuting abuses of the pork barrel system; past, present, and future. A brief on the IAAGCC can be found here. Additionally, links to its mandates can be found here and here. Interesting to note is that the IAAGCC is not a new structure, but the resurrection of an old idea that that dates to 1997. In the pursuit of good governance and anti-corruption initiatives, devising a method to institutionalize its operations (as in it must continue operations post-Aquino administration) must be considered. The potential is there for it to do some good in rooting out corrupt practices over the next three years, but what comes next? Additionally, I hope the Aquino administration sets up a separate web portal for the public to keep track of outcomes from the operation of the IAAGCC.

    Moving Forward with Reform

    For the Aquino administration, their new system of directed local investment derives from seven ‘new’ restrictions:

    1. Continued use of a limited menu of projects that can be selected from

    2. No ‘soft’ projects: fertilizer, seed, medicine, medical kits, dentures, sports tests, training materials, and similar items. 

    3. No temporary infrastructure: Dredging, regraveling, asphalting.

    4. Eliminate distribution of funds to NGOs and certain GOCCs. Elimination of GOCCS (like ZREC and NABCOR) that are riddled with anomalies.

    5. Funds must be limited to the district/sector of legislator who sponsors it.

    6. All items will be open to competitive and public bidding. Notices will be posted on the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System

    7. DBM and other related agencies will disclose each item via the National Data Portal (forthcoming).

    A quick review of the proposed reforms indicates that the Aquino administration has studied spending patterns of PDAF and is moving to eliminate those opportunities in the new system. Soft and temporary spending, even more so than hard infrastructure projects, are sources for quick and dirty abuse and corruption - as well as direct client-patron transactions. Thus, their nature demands their elimination from the menu of project options. Some social services can easily be appropriated by line agencies, and funds that would typically go to soft projects, realigned to their budgets. As we have argued, the role of pork barrel is to direct development initiatives and projects throughout the Philippines. Soft projects initiated by legislators does not fit that paradigm.

    Most important is the elimination of lump sum allocations. Earlier today, the administration said that all lump sum allocations in line agency budgets will need to be itemized by October 15. This is an important step in transparency and accountability. With regards to PDAF, its place within government process is a system founded on project proposals and evaluation. The projects, if approved, will then be included as specific line-items in the budget. That being said, this process still requires evaluation. For example, will each representative be given a ‘cap’ on the total value of their proposed projects? Will the projects proposals require attendant feasibility studies? Shifting the approved projects to the line-item budgets of relevant national government agencies will mitigate client-patron ties on the ground. This is an important consideration for changing the culture surrounding elected representatives and their constituency. It aids in the shift from representatives bestowing projects to them acting as advocates on behalf of their constituents.

    There continues to be a role for civil society to play in all of this. At the core of our engagement with the government is the need for accountability and transparency. I do not see how we can demand government fix itself, if we are not integral parts of the solution. It bears repeating yet again, but tools for transparency only become institutionalized through use. This is the challenge to civil society, both as individuals and organizations: To be vigilant, to be engaged with the processes of project generation, funding, and implementation. The challenge then becomes for government to provide us with the mechanisms to do so. Pending their implementation the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System, as well as the forthcoming National Data Portal (whose precursor www.dbm.gov.ph should be bookmarked by all Filipinos) conceptually may provide civil society with those much-needed tools. As it is right now, all we can do is utilize the PDAF page of DBM to scrutinize the line items and continually question our elected representatives about their activities. Beyond online tools, simple innovations like publicly displaying project timetables and completion rates must be done on all government projects. And most importantly, sans the face or name of any politician. Rooting out patronage, when it comes to government funded programs is simple: The only name that can be displayed on any project (whether initiated by a representative or not) is the line agency that is responsible for it. That is a simple, quick, and easy change that can be implemented now.

    Considering Innovative Solutions

    Municipal Bonds and Tapping the Capital Markets for Development

    I am a firm believer in innovation beginning on a grassroots level. As a result, one of my long-term advocacies revolves around the development of municipality or LGU-based referendums governing local development projects. This mechanism is utilized in other countries, such as the United States. The essential elements are forced dialogue between local government units and their constituents to arrive at communally accepted projects. The project proposal would either be initiated by the local government or civil society; a key requirement are feasibility studies and other supporting documents. Through dialogue, either in open forums or town hall meetings, the project is made available for review and discussion by all stakeholders involved.  Then, during an election period, the project is put on the ballot for voting. If approved, it is submitted to the relevant government agency for funding and execution. 

    As an addendum, I believe that we should begin the process of moving LGUs towards being more fiscally independent; eventually even imbuing them with the ability to tap capital markets via the issuance of municipal bonds. As a way of linking capital markets to development, the issuance of municipal bonds would be connected to the outcome of the project referendums. For example, large-scale projects would be funded by the issuance of municipal bonds. The proceeds from the sale of municipal bonds can only go to funding the construction and completion of that project. This also means that things like accounting for the proceeds of the sale of bonds, as well as the expenditures on the project, are easy to keep track of. From a purely investment standpoint, this has the benefit of deepening our capital markets and diversifying outlets for investible funds. Locals can be given the opportunity to invest in the bonds; which would be backed by the taxing power of the LGU and the national government thus putting at ease investors. Management of the issuance of the bonds and payment of interest could rest with the Banco Sentral ng Pilipinas. Additionally, the structure of the bonds does not necessarily require annual, biannual, semiannual interest payments. In deference to the LGUs, they can be devised with bullet payment options in mind.

    One of the key issues the Philippines is grappling with is how to promote inclusive growth; an offshoot of that is how do we link capital growth market to poverty reduction and alleviation. A process where-by we link municipal bonds to local development initiatives could be one possible solution.

    Granted, this type of a solution is a number of years away, but these types of outcomes iare something that we should be working towards. As has been repeatedly discussed, the only way to strengthen the Philippines from a development standpoint, is empowering the rest of the country to develop. This entails capacity building within government institutions and among the people. It is a process that must be undertaken.

    Bottom-Up Budgeting for Inclusive Growth and Poverty Reduction

    The Aquino administration started undertaking the process of capacity building and anti-poverty planning through budgetary dialogue. The process is called Bottom Up Budgeting and Local Anti-Poverty Planning Processes. They have been experimenting with bottom-up-budgeting on a grassroots sectoral level; in the 2014 national budget twenty billion pesos of budgetary items were arrived at in this way. Simply, this involves dialogue with sectoral representatives concerning their needs within the national budget. Budgets become responsive when they are crafted with direct input by the people. Bottom-up-budgeting attempts to do this. The pilot program was launched in Bukidnon:

    The 2 cities and 20 Municipalities of Bukidnonwere included in this process. The CSOs present in each locality were invited to join in the CSO Municipal Assemblies for the purpose of building consensus on their local poverty situation and to design proposals that will address to the urgent needs of their community. They also elected their representatives to the Local Poverty Reduction Action Team (LPRAT). During these assemblies they also chose among themselves three signatories who shall sign the list of proposed projects before it can be submitted to Regional Poverty Reduction Action Team (RPRAT) for consolidation and submission to the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

    For 2013, the total projects that are now implemented in Bukidnon for poverty reduction is PhP 317.5 million.  The poor citizens in these cities and municipalities now have direct access to these funds for the implementation of the programs they have proposed such as the Mascuvado Plant, capital that will start-up their small enterprise, irrigation facilities that will boost their rice production, more classrooms, health centers, education and health facilities that will cater to the needs especially of our Pantawid Pamilya beneficiaries. For 2014, the total budget for projects submitted is PhP 388.3 million. - Francisco Jun Mabaso, PPVR Bukidnon Convenor.

    For all the talk of inclusive processes and growth, very rarely are the poor actually included in project identification and attendant budgetary considerations. Even the process of dialogue with them is innovative. A bottom-up budgeting process, in combination with the Aquino administration’s new system of project identification could yield results in combating unequal local development and addressing poverty reduction; an on-going issue no one seems to have solved. Grassroots dialogue and subsequent project generation is a way to solve the growth vs poverty reduction conundrum. Making sure that projects meet the needs of the poor is the only way we can move forward as a nation; listening to them and including them in the conversation is a necessity.

    The approach to achieving these goals must be top-down and bottom-up. For example, if representative project proposals are linked to bottom-up budgeting processes and dialogue prior to submission for review and inclusion as a line item this could result in making the administration’s system more inclusive. Additionally, it will ensure that projects presented for approval are actually designed with constituency needs first and foremost. Congresswoman Leni Robredo’s idea of fusing bottom-up budgeting with local development councils (a structure used to great result by the late Jessie Robredo in Naga City) is similar in concept. Her goal is to eliminate the discretionary nature of pork barrel allocations through developmental councils. These councils will dialogue and consult with their representative to craft projects for their district or sector. While the composition of the councils will probably draw debate, the idea has merit. 

    A blended solution, founded on dialogue and innovative thinking, to the problem of pork barrel and discretionary funds in the government will ultimately result in killing four birds with one stone:

    1. Enhancing transparency and accountability through cooperation with civil society;

    2. Bridging the divide between government and grassroots;

    3. Targeted development projects and initiatives designed to equalize the playing field;

    4. Poverty alleviation and inclusive growth.

    The most critical component, for me, is making sure that the voices of the marginalized are heard. A process mandating sectoral and district representative dialogue with their constituencies is a must. Linking project generation to specific outcomes based on multi-sectoral dialogue must be a key component of future discussions. This must be the thrust of any initiative, and should be the litmus test when evaluating any solution put forth. The question before us is: How can we use this unique opportunity to reform government, change the budgetary processes, bring inclusiveness back into governance, and solve the developmental conundrum. The task of doing so falls on all of us. 

    But more than that, it is also a challenge to elected representatives in both Houses of Congress. Listen to your constituents. Communicate with us. Dialogue with us. And be what you are supposed to be: Advocates looking out for our benefit. Maybe even for the first time.

     

  5. On Pork Barrel and Its Reformation: Part II

    Avoiding an Imbalance

    Quick Hits: PDAF has been abused and as a system must be abolished. However, the need for targeted local investment funded from a national level still remains. Eliminating pork barrel without a system designed to address development initiated by Congress creates a dangerous imbalance in tripartite government. Complete abolishment of pork barrel means that the Executive would be solely responsible for local development initiatives; this means client-patron ties will still exist. Ultimately, we also have to address how we elect representatives and how elected officials view their job: Without that culture shift, any system will end up failing.

    The move to abolish the PDAF is driven by its perceived insidious nature: Its abuse by unscrupulous legislators, its use to reinforce client-patron ties with constituencies, and its appeal for the unethical as a source of corruption. The abolition of the current system is necessary and must happen. However, the guiding principle behind its creation must be honored and incorporated into new mechanisms for directed investment. Pork barrel is essentially directed funds to fill in the gaps of national and local budgets. It derives from the role of representatives as advocates for their constituents: The term ‘bring home the bacon’ means just that in this context. Their job is to bring home projects and funds to drive hyper-local development. When framed in terms of development and job creation, this is an important function of a legislator’s job.  As well, it reflects an inherent check and balance between the Executive and Legislative branch. Eliminating the PDAF without a commensurate system designed to carry out the functions of pork barrel in place will create an imbalance in the government; one that has the potential to be even more damaging than our current system.

    Pure abolition of pork barrel without the creation of a replacement system shifts the burden of identifying, funding, and managing development in the Philippines wholly to the Executive Branch; carefully considered this should be a scary proposition. Essentially, the ‘voice of the people’ is formally eliminated in the decision-making process for targeted investment throughout the country. At best, the Executive has total control over decisions regarding which localities are graced by national funds for development. At worst, this becomes a method whereby the Executive branch can informally manipulate Congress by dangling plum projects and targeted investment to any and all takers. Eliminating pork barrel and imbuing the Executive Branch with that type of control does nothing to eliminate client-patron ties, as a matter of fact it solidifies them. It is not hard to imagine a parade of congressmen trooping to Malacañang in the dead of night to offer their votes on key issues in exchange for funding favoritism. In many ways, this creates an even worse situation than what we are grappling with now. The process of selecting local development becomes even more opaque, more prone to abuse and patronage, and even more difficult for civil society to observe. Transparency and accountability, two things that we collectively must work towards, will disappear if pork barrel is eliminated and completely enfolded into the Executive.

    The solution to pork barrel abuses must be multi-pronged in approach. Solving the development problems in the Philippines cannot rely on a silver bullet, it requires a blended approach to governance innovation. The output must be multiple systems that are responsive to the needs of Filipinos throughout the country, but addresses the fatal flaws of the previous system. It must be transparent and accountable, it must be codified and institutionalized, and it must be wholly cognizant of the needs of the people.

    However, as Doy Santos points out, the solution must also reflect a long-term desire to prevent subversion or reversion of the system. This means that whatever solution we collectively come to must be enshrined in law. That requires Congressional support, which in turn means the people have to support whatever multi-sectoral bill is crafted. Else, Congress can dig in its heels and fight for the retention of the existing system, or one with only minor tweaks that can easily be rolled back with the next administration.

    As I touched on in my last post, the ultimate shift in national and local governance is a change in how we select our representatives. The concept behind a representative democracy remains sound; as an extension, the structure of our government as defined in the Philippine constitution remains sound. Thus, the idea of sweeping reform by working with government is possible. In general terms, we remain a markedly young democracy: One where the basic essential processes of government remain fluid. With the proper focus, this means that remarkable changes that are impossible in a more staid democratic setting can occur rapidly here. While the components of a tripartite government remain in tact and even staying within the framework of our Constitution, we can quickly work to fill in and redefine government’s processes. The opportunity when it comes to redefining pork barrel is one such. Other countries, like the United States, have grappled with and failed reforming their system; one that is far more prone to abuse than ours. We have an opportunity, through discourse, to lead the way in developing processes and mechanisms for public transparency and accountability in budget processes. This requires the ability to step back and offer nuanced solutions for complex problems. There are a number of worthwhile options being discussed in the public domain, from Senator Bam Aquino’s People’s Fund, to Congresswoman Leni Robredo’s Full Disclosure Bill, to President Aquino’s own new system, and suggestions from the private sector like in this article by Dean Tony La Viña. 

    The ultimate solution will likely end up being a blend of the various options at our disposal. Yet, our collective inability to move past binary modes of thinking, away from chanting slogans as solutions, prevents us from doing so. Right now grandstanding is overwhelming the discourse, intransigent positions and an adherence to sloganeering seem to be the rule. The question post-Luneta was: What comes next? The answer for some was more protests. If that’s the path we have chosen, it is going to be a long walk to modernity.

     

  6. On Pork Barrel and Its Reformation: Part I

    Pork, Party Lists, and Developing the Nation.

    Quick Hits: Development has been urban centered, to the detriment of the countryside. Pork barrel and party lists, conceptually, help bridge the gap between urban and rural development. Discretionary fund use must be strictly monitored and restricted to only one sector, depending on the focus of the fund. Eliminating discretionary funds undermines social service initiatives. We have to consider the cultural element in any initiative.

    It is not shocking to say that development in our country is inequitable. Sectors, districts, even provinces and regions, have each developed at a different pace: That is the nature of a multi-cultural archipelagic nation. Unfortunately, it is also a by-product of our political history; where rise of national interests have had the unfortunate consequence of overshadowing the needs of the countryside and its citizens. One of the unfortunate guiding tenets of national government directed development in the past was ‘trickle down’ investment. Highly urbanized eras, such as Metro Manila, were given the lions share of development pesos and projects, with the erroneous understanding that developing modern cities will positively impact the rest of the countryside. 

    Curiously it was a hold-over from the colonial era; where major urban centers took the role as entrepôts and the seat of government. Development in the Philippines during the 19th century took place when the hold of Manila on trade in the archipelago was broken. New urban centers, such as Iloilo City, rapidly developed with the coming of trade liberalization and the loosening of monetary controls. Investment steeped into the countryside, and a by-product was the rise of an enlightened and educated middle class; the backbone of the Philippine Revolution. The return to urban-centered investment has resulted in inequitable development, as well as a sense of simmering anger towards places like Metro Manila.

    Pork barrel and its twin innovation party lists, were designed to act as safety nets within the government; helping identify underserved areas and funnel much needed funds and programs to them. In other words, to cut across the national focus of government and blend it with local perspective. While pork barrel is derived from the structure of a representative democracy, party lists are an insertion in the House of Representatives designed to ensure marginalized sectors have a voice on a national level. Much like pork barrel, the utility of the current party list system can be questioned. But just like party lists, pork barrel, or at least the structure of directed government intervention, is necessary in addressing the inequitable distribution of development in the Philippines. Let’s be clear, while these systems have been shockingly abused, we need them in some form or another in this country. While this statement might either shock or disgust, it is not in support of corrupt practices, but a reasoned argument, born of reflecting on the nature of representative democracy and the demand to meet the needs of various constituencies. The question we all seem to be avoiding is: How do we level the playing field for the desperately poor? For the marginalized sectors of society? For the woefully under-developed parts of our country?

    In many ways, one of the key flaws of the current discourse is its binary nature: For or against abolition of pork. The backlash from some sectors if you happen to be against is detrimental to reasoned discussion and problem solving. The discussion has to be framed with a clear understanding of the roots of pork barrel and discretionary funds; as well as the intended outcomes through their use. By keeping that in mind, nuanced and reasoned solutions can be developed. The anger governing the simple answer of “Abolish!” means publicly we fail to have that discussion. When discussion fails and knee-jerk decisions driven by anger rule, the country takes a collective step back in its social and political development.

    Considering Pork and Free Funds

    Pork, as a broad term, refers to any use of taxpayer funds in a localized or sectoral manner. Spoken plainly, it almost seems like a mechanism for wealth distribution (another pejorative in the developed world). However, almost all government services in and of themselves have elements of pork to them; especially those designed to meet the needs of the impoverished, marginalized, or underserved. Inherent in any modern nation’s social contract is the understanding that those who have less require a greater portion of government services. The mechanisms for reaching them have been hijacked by special interests and selfish agendas; this holds true for pork barrel and party lists alike. Again, the concept governing their creation is laudable and necessary, the implementation and use are at fault.

    Discretionary funds, on the other hand, have as much potential for abuse by those in power as pork barrel and party lists; maybe more so. Tens of billions of pesos in the national budget and attached corporations can be classified as discretionary funds; on the surface this is another instance of corruption and thievery in the government. Sadly, this is more true than any of us can imagine. But stepping back, discretionary funds are also an intrinsic part of a functioning government and democracy. The fact of the matter is, not all contingencies can be planned for in line items and in the budget. Discretionary funds exist precisely to fill in the gaps that arise during day-to-day operations of the government; especially post moments of crisis and disaster; personal, local, and national in nature. Discretionary funds are needed and, as with pork and party lists, they are not inherently a source of evil or corruption. As a matter of fact, they can be a source of good within society. 

    Discussion on the structure that governs the use of discretionary funds is what should be on the table; not whether its needed. Eliminating discretionary funds means abolishing the Calamity Fund and other social service oriented funds, such as the PCSO. This means cutting people off from aid post-crisis or when they are most in need or when their family member is in the hospital. The fact  is, much of the use of discretionary funds by the Philippine government is based on social outreach to those most in need. We can codify those functions in relevant line agencies, but we have to retain some discretionary funds for the agencies to disperse as they see fit for maximum impact; within a limited scope of course. Those allocations must but itemized and clearly accounted for as well.

    In other words eliminating discretionary funds completely is anti-poor and anti-development. The goal is to reform how the funds can be used and accessed by the Executive branch. One suggestion would be to put clear restrictions on how and when the funds can be accessed by the Executive branch. One of the forgotten scandals post-2010 was the discovery that the Calamity Fund was zeroed out; the funds dispersed to questionable sources.  One solution would be to create multiple funds, each with a singular focus that an only be accessed for that purpose: Calamity Fund, Scholarship Fund, Healthcare Fund, Special Projects. By linking their use to outcomes, post-use accounting becomes far simpler to keep track of. In the case of national funds, such as the Calamity Fund, their use can be linked to some sort of Congressional oversight after the fact. The key here is not eliminating a necessary mechanism for government operations, but devising structures that will mitigate their abuse.

    The same holds true for pork. The approach to solving the pork barrel conundrum cannot be separated from its originally intended purpose. We have to devise multiple systems that can deliver much-needed development initiatives to the Filipino people. Party lists were one innovation. Pork barrel can become another. Even more exciting, there are additional innovative structures that are being experimented with today that can merge pork barrel and district and sectoral representatives with hyper-local discourse.

    At the same time, we have to begin the process of shifting the culture within government, as well as our approach to governance and electing officials. The cultural component in any sweeping reform initiative is frequently forgotten. But, change cannot be limited just to structures of government, it has to include shifts in governance perspectives and our collective relationship with the political sphere. 

    As I pointed out recently, any system can be gamed if there are two willing parties. The goal is not to abolish the system, that results in wholly unintended and potentially damaging consequences. The goal has to be mitigating the opportunities for the system to be gamed. Now that requires culture change, not only in the government, but among the people. Focusing on developing stronger political parties, demanding clear platforms and policies from prospective candidates, and developing mechanisms for grassroots dialogue in budget and project formation. The critical element missing in discourse on pork barrel today is one question: How do we make government and its processes more responsive and accountable?

    A well-founded solution to the use of pork barrel and discretionary funds must answer that.

     

  7. The thing I find most funny about a lot of these Philippine faux-militants is all they really want is to be taken care of and to be held by their government. They want more government interventions, more state subsidies, more coddling.

    It’s not that they want a different form of government, or different economic policies vis-a-vis foreign ownership, direct/captured investments, inclusive growth, or a different fundamental basis from which government policies are formed and enacted.

    Nuh uh.

    They just want Noynoy (or whoever is in office) to be their patriarch and take care of them. Hell in practically the same breath they’ll go from insulting PNoy and the government for not increasing subsidies, or removing VAT, or intervening with regards to oil prices, to bitching about the vast powers politicians have, and how politicos use their positions and influence to leverage votes.

    Come on, be coherent. Subsidized programs need funding, else we get into massive deficit spending, which will in turn require increased borrowing on the side of the Philippine government, and in turn require a greater portion of the government’s budget shifting towards debt servicing, which will result in less funding available for social services.

    And of course there is the ever present issue of corruption, which only further cuts into the already shrinking pie of government revenues available for social services and infrastructure development. Yet, PNoy is doing nothing for the country by going after corruption in the government. Although, somehow the administration is able to reduce government borrowing and debt servicing, increasing revenues, and expanding government social services and infrastructure development (seriously, has anyone actually seen the infrastructure projects programmed for this year?). All the while, the government (via the BSP) is maintaining steady low inflation and an increasingly positive investor sentiment.

    Yes, but by all means, let’s focus on the short term issues, ignore the medium to long term concerns, and bitch and moan about that. Funnily enough other countries are even studying our oil subsidy programs that target those in need. And don’t give me this shit about targeted oil subsidies are anti-equality. The well-heeled can buck up. I thought we lived in a society that favored massive wealth distribution (CCT, agrarian reform, PhilHealth, free healthcare, RH, free primary/secondary education, with overly subsidized tertiary education etc). Don’t back off wealth distribution now.

    Most of the arguments I’ve seen against PNoy are basically because he isn’t doing exactly what certain elements of society demand of him. No RH yet? Lazy president. VAT on oil? Lazy president. 

    Laziest dictator ever, don’t you know.

    They ignore most of the other missteps he’s making in favor of cutesy little soundbites. Guess that stuff sells.

     

  8. "In which branch of government would corruption have the most harmful effects on the country? The answer of most would be the judiciary, and with good reason: a corrupt judiciary would necessarily mean that the legal and institutional mechanism designed to curb corruption in other branches would be seriously compromised. It follows that the judiciary should come under even more intense scrutiny than the other two."
    — Philippine Human Development Report (2008/2009) via Shadow of Doubt.
     

  9. Shadow of Doubt Excerpt - On Corona’s Appointment

    It later became apparent, as Malacanang officials pushed for the early appointment of a Chief Justice, what the rush was all about. Defensor’s move was aimed at making President Arroyo appoint the next Chief Justice before the ban on appointments began - which was sixty days before the May elections and until the end of her term. The Constitution prohibits midnight appointments because, as the Philippine Bar Association (PBA) said in its letter to the JBC, the outgoing President ‘becomes a mere caretaker administrator tasked only with preparing the peaceful and orderly transfer of power after the elections.’

    Various groups, like the Supreme Court Appointments Watch and the PBA, objected to Defensor’s initiative and pointed out flaws in his arguments. First, the history of the Court showed that it had functioned with a Chief Justice in many instances. In 1966, Cesar Bengzon was appointed CJ three months after the post was vacated; Querube Makalintal (1975), six months; Enrique Fernando (1985), two months; and Claudio Teehankee (1986), twenty six days.

    Second, the Court could go on with its normal work under an acting Chief Justice who presides over deliberations and certifies decisions. ‘Whenever the Chief Justice is abroad or on leave, the most senior Associate Justice becomes acting Chief Justice and certifies all decisions. This has been the practice under the 1935, 1973, and the present 1987 Constitution.’ SCAW said in its letter to the JBC.

    Third, both groups assailed what was at the heart of Defensor’s move, 'Judicial independence, the very purpose of the JBC, is now under threat by the eleventh hour proposal (of Defensor),' the lawyer’s group, PBA, said in its well-argued letter, calling the proposal ‘brazen’ and ‘unconstitutional’ and citing a Supreme Court decision in 1998 that annulled appointments to the judiciary made during the ban. Puno voted with Chief Justice Andres Narvasa and the majority in this case.

    The SCAW was equally forceful, calling it a ‘naked attempt to allow the appointing power to circumvent the presidential appointment ban.’

    - Marties Vitug, Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court, pg. 244.

    The Defensor referred to was Representative Matias Defensor, a known ally of then President Arroyo.

    We know how this little saga ended: Corona was appointed the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court right in the middle of the ban on midnight appointments to the executive and judiciary.

    At the heart of the impeachment of Corona is the prior subversion of our institutions. Yes the timing may be suspect, yes I would also like to see Aquino using his political capital to push through certain legislative measures. But we should not forget that there is merit behind Corona’s impeachment (even if it’s buried amidst political whining and bullshit). Even the irregularities surrounding Corona’s wife are grounds for questioning.

    I have my own qualms about this move and some of the suspect motives behind it. But, why should we wholesale defend Corona? The new public construct of Corona and the SC as unimpeachable (heh) and untouchable is antithetical to the concept of accountability. If we can call into question the integrity of our elected officials, why should our appointed officials (who without a doubt suffer similar ethical shortfalls) be exempt? The question that should be facing us now is if there actual merit in the impeachment?

    What is disturbing is how quickly we have forgetting the circumstances surrounding his appointment; more to the point, how quickly people who assailed Arroyo for appointing Corona are now turning on Aquino for doing what many have called for: Bringing accountability to the judiciary.

    Are we gun-shy? Or are we so wrapped up in oppositional politics that we forget eventually you have to stand for something?

     

  10. Rage of the Idiocracy

    An old-timer journalist once told me that the reason he went into journalism and education: They are the two occupations that can immediately positively influence and enlighten a people. Education is one of the most disruptive methods for breaking the cycle of poverty. It provides opportunity, it provides enlightenment, and it helps create a future for so many. Journalism, while may not be as capable of molding young minds and providing opportunities, is disruptive as well. It not only helps shape public discourse, it actually regulates and initiates discourse by laying the initial foundation for discussion. Media provides the space in which iniquities are uncovered and needs of a people are safeguarded. Thus, journalism, in any form, is a public trust. It provides a private counterpoint, a check and balance, to publicly elected officials. I would argue that Philippine media in general, in many instances, has failed to live up to those responsibilities. Instead of educating and informing, they have reduced public discourse to the lowest common denominator; playing on the edge of propaganda and even outright misrepresenting stories for the sole purpose of manipulating public sentiment. Media ethics have gone out the window in favor of rabble-rousing and the pursuit of the almighty sensational story. While we constantly decry the pervading sense impunity in government, what of the impunity of the media? There was once an old joke in the 60s that if we wanted to clean out the country, we should stick the enema hose in the National Press Club. That was in the 1960s, before Martial Law and the shuttering of independent media by a repressive government. Thankfully, with the end of Martial Law, media was rightfully given its freedom back; a freedom they should maintain. Apolinario Mabini once argued that "Freedom is the right to do good, not evil." I wonder.

    Journalists shape and inform public opinion, that much we can all agree upon. Occasionally, though they are the tail (tale?) that wags the dog. Public opinion is basically represented by the reactions of members in the media. This encompasses all forms of media; New and Old. Essentially they are basically the same, just different ways of sharing information and opinion. There is now this on-going debate concerning the difference between a citizen blogger and a journalist, and to what extent bloggers should adhere to journalist code of ethics and responsibilities. I would argue that in another milieu there is a substantial difference between the two vocations; much like how there is a significant difference between a historian and someone who writes about history. There is a rigorous methodology that separates the two; just like there should be a distinction between a ‘professional journalist’ and a ‘citizen journalist’ based on an expected fundamental quality of research and storytelling that is involved. However, in our situation we have had a blurring between the two precisely because our public media has been so remiss in following their own internal code of conduct and ethics. And in some ways our ‘informal’ journalists are even more respectable.

    The last year has provided many examples of the fallibility and impunity of media when manufacturing public discourse. Jaime Salazar, over at Pro-Pinoy, provided a cogent critique of media’s role in turning the CCP issue into an almost stupefyingly simplistic shouting match:

    "It is highly likely that this ruckus would not have swelled to its current proportions—might never have happened in the first place—had Pinky Webb, host of the ABS-CBN current affairs show “XXX”, refrained from framing Poleteismo, diminished to its details, as a commentary on the contentious RH Bill. (The sense of the verb “frame” as pertaining to false incrimination is useful here.)”

    Media created, then fanned, the angst and anger through polemic, almost yellow journalism, framing techniques. What was an opportunity to actively engage and discuss the important role of government in supporting art became a bitch and moan session between extremist positions; positions that media actively promoted and lapped up. Going back to the idea of journalists as educators and illuminators, nothing came other than an opportunity to enrage Filipinos and increase viewership. There was a real chance to bring art and its importance front and center in public consciousness; that was lost amid a wave of pervasive superficiality. In this instance, linking it to the RH Bill (another example of media manipulation and a lost opportunity to engage, enlighten, and educate) heightened tensions and gave birth to a volatile situation. 

    If nothing else, the RH Bill is another example of sensationalizing a story by reducing it to its most titillating components. We have seen the media at large almost completely fixate on condoms and sex (all issues that will wind up the Church), to the almost laughable exclusion of any of the other physical and cognitive developmental considerations. The upshot is a complete lobotomizing of public discourse. The anti-RH crew shouts decaying moral values and other gibberish, the pro-RH shouts anti-Church polemics. In the end, there’s just a bunch of shouting with little engagement and additional understanding.

    It is quite alright, and expected, for dyed-in-the-wool true believers to argue rhetorical points and hurl polemics. But to watch the broadsheets and television media to get into the act is damaging and, in a way, saddening. Instead of helping discover and explore the underlying issues, they get in on the act. And yes, I actually do support journalists, in their capacity as commenters and columnists, to argue a point and take a stand with integrity; meaning still maintaining a rigorous ethical grounding. But, let us not forget, there is a difference between column writing and reporting. Hence, the Editorial/Opinion page in a newspaper is separate from the rest of the newspaper. Bias will always be inherent in reportage; politics and political leanings will always infiltrate. The key is how rigorous the journalist is in trying to present a balanced (as in all sides) perspective on the stories of the day. Can we honestly say that is the case?

    One of the most obvious examples is the Philippine Dragon Boat Federation ‘scandal’ that recently erupted. That is clearly a situation of ‘wag the dog’ reporting. It was a story created by one or two journalists; a journalist with a known bias, who presently a highly biased view of the story. Key contextual elements were excised in favor of a pre-determined narrative. The PDBF story was framed as the traditional plucky underdog fighting the corrupt and unfair system who prevail against all odds. Ignored was the actual story behind their success; the fact that they had received almost Php60M over the last nine years; the fact that many of them had been active for almost eighteen years; or the fact that their performance came in ‘small boat’ competitions comprised of beginners. Forgotten in the story was the fact that the PDBF members purposefully chose to severe their ties with the PCS/PCO because their monthly training stipends were going to be reduced. Even in the case of Jeff Tamayo, his impolitic ‘ampao’ statement was referring to the muscles of old athletes. Any athlete with a modicum of honestly will admit that as they age their physical capabilities diminish. The word ‘ampao’ was taken out of context and purposefully used to discredit and denigrate. All of those details were eschewed in favor of more rabble-rousing and intellectual bankrupt reporting. Now the Senate is throwing in their two-cents to score political brownie points with their constituencies, with shrill bias along for the ride. Discourse continues to backslide. 

    What I remain curious about is where were the Senate Hearings and media outrage when Efren Penaflorida was named CNN Hero of the Year. Obviously, his advocacy would not exist, or at least would not be as needed as much, if education was functioning properly in this country. Indeed, that is far more damaging to the national interests than kayak and canoeing. Yet, this difference is the very point. Education, while outrageous on an intellectual level, does not pander to the mob mentality that is so prevalent in the Philippines. It is easy to reframe the PDBF story and accuse the system of being corrupt; it is even quite easy when there are readily available soundbites to be manipulated. But taking on the education system at large? It is much easier to praise and honor Penaflorida (as he should be, by the way), pat our collective selves on the back for producing such a brilliant and accomplished man, and go on our merry way ignoring the underlying situation.

    The case of the PDBF also becomes an instance of a worrying trend in Philippine media: A lack of investigative journalism on the part of various media outlets. The PDBF story was broken by ABS-CBN, almost immediately other journalists and media members jumped on the existing story. The did not do any new research, they did not try and dig into the story to reframe it or offer alternative views. Instead they just ran with the pre-existing narrative and tried their damnedest to raise the stakes. Passions became inflamed and the media not only fed on it, they fed it. The qualities of investigative reportage seem to be almost non-existent; except within a few small bastions of journalism (PCIJ for example). Other than that, too often major stories across the board very rarely deviate from one another. A reader can check GMA News, ABS-CBN, Inquirer, and the Philippine Star and invariably major stories, except with subtle differences in details and style, the framing and storytelling narratives are similar. Though, there are certain exceptions, such as rags like The Daily Tribune, but too often those operate more as a propaganda mouthpieces than anything else. And should be treated as such. Too often a ‘middle ground,’ an attempt to balance extremes and views is absent. There is an almost worrisome homogeneous, monolithic thinking that at times seems to pervade media in the Philippines.

    I fear that media may reflect society. That we are a nation that is most comfortable with superficiality and base polemics; in capable, unwilling, or possibly even unable to dig deeper into stories. Maybe we do need stories spoon fed to us in their simplest and easily digestible forms. That may well be true (though I do not think so); but that also acts as a cop-out for journalists and media members who are in a position to do something about it. That is akin to giving a pass to corrupt politicians because there is corruption extant in civil society. This is a case of responsibility weighs heavily on the shoulders of those who seek it. Much like men and women who seek public officer or government service, becoming a journalist carries its own public responsibilities that must be met. Failure to meet those responsibilities should not reflect on society at large; it should reflect on the journalist and his organization.

    Another old journalist once told me that media has to clean itself, before it can begin exhorting society and government to do the same. There is always the understanding that when journalists play in the muddy waters of politics, they will get a little dirty along the way as well. But there is a big difference between incidental politicking and active ‘envelopmental’ journalism. Though we would be remiss in pointing out that government and some politicians, for all their protestations to the contrary, do actively try and influence the media. Most visibly in our last regime through payoffs and plum positions in certain agencies and GOCCs for certain journalists and their families. Media can also be influenced through innuendos and not so subtly veiled threats; as we know the Philippines is the most deadly nation in the world for journalists; even ignoring the Maguindanao Massacre. There is a difference between censorship through threats of bodily harm and self-censorship as in the case of taking bribes and actively manipulating stories.

    Recently, ABS-CBN was nominated for an International Emmy for their coverage of the Manila hostage crisis. They took this as a vindication of their coverage last August. While no one should blame media for that tragedy, the media should also stop maintaining that they could not have conducted themselves more appropriately. At the time, we cited the BBC’s rigorous ethical guidelines for handling hijacking, kidnapping, hostage-taking and siege situations; actions on the ground and over the air of many media practitioners clearly violated those guidelines. Yet, at the time and still today, the Philippine media will maintain that they did nothing wrong. That sort of intractable position-taking actually damages the ability of media to properly cover these types of situations in the future. And media should be actively trying to see how they can better their own reporting for the benefit of the country. They are ‘trusted news sources’ after all.

    Trust and responsibility are integral parts of the vocation of a journalist. They are, in some ways, the public intellectuals of the twenty-first century and, as a result, are burdened with great public responsibilities. Where writers like Jose Rizal in the 19th century had to resort to essays and novels to shine a light on the frailties of their society, we have a free and empowered press to perform the same role. Even then, men like Rizal, Plaridel, Lopez Jaena et al, actively opened and supported newspapers to get their stories out. Granted they were propaganda organs, but it speaks to the enduring power of the press and its ability in any century, with only changes in modes of communication, to shape public discourse and debate.

    The press is a key line of defense in protecting public interests; they are empowered and trusted to do so. Journalism can bring down regimes and build them up as well. They can destroy men and build up heroes. Maybe in a sense, media does reflect society; maybe they do pander to the masses and play to the lowest common denominator. But, again, should that be what we expect of media practitioners? And more to the point, should that be what media practitioners expect of themselves. In the process of playing the ratings games and the drive for clicks and hits, media in the Philippines has lost some of its integrity. Physician heal thyself almost seems cliche at this point;  but it seems to still hold true. That requires a sense of self-reflection, something as well I wonder if media is will to do. We saw, as in the case of Alfred Yuson and his plagiarism, media and culture almost instinctively circle the wagons to protect their own; public interest and responsibility quickly forgotten. And while GMA News did decline to renew Yuson’s contract, a quick comparison between that reaction and those of the press during the Manny Pangilinan and Justice Mariano del Castrillo plagiarism scandals show a marked difference in coverage and concern.

    There are still great and amazing media practitioners out there; excellent analysts and journalists who stay true to their core beliefs, yet are not afraid to open up the discourse and objectively try and present all sides of the story. And even when bias seeps in, they should not be pilloried because of it. There should be an expectation that another media source is offering a slightly different view point. I will always have greater expectations for media practitioners; they have the tools and capacity to do so much good. It is why I admire ‘bloggers’ out there who hold themselves to high degrees of journalistic standards; even in excess of certain ‘journalists.’ They see that they are given an opportunity, and as a result have a responsibility, to uphold public trust and, in their own way, defend the Philippines.

    What we should worry ourselves with is when the story becomes the journalist; when their thoughts and feelings and personal beliefs become the primary drivers behind a story; when the journalist creates the story, just because they want to. Maybe some journalists in the country do have too much in common with the political brethren. When journalists see their position, not as a public trust, but as a bully pulpit from which they can twist stories, exacerbate situations, tear down men and build up heroes all for personal reasons, they have begun to act with similar impunity. Politicians sometimes see their positions as theirs by ‘divine’ right to do with as they please, I wonder if some journalists feel the same way about their space. I wonder if they have forgotten the part about upholding standards and protecting the public trust.

    Journalism is storytelling, it is a balancing act of various views and perspectives, and it always remains a public trust and an opportunity. That is both the difficulty and the beauty inherent in journalism; the way that tension is managed and a story is told ultimately illuminates the quality of the journalist; whether ‘citizen’ or ‘professional’ alike.