Friday, July 07, 2006

Deconstructing our Nation's Crisis

One year later

When Congress opens on July 24, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo will be delivering her sixth State of the Nation Address (SONA). Exactly one year ago, many Filipinos felt that GMA would not finish her term, let alone 2005, as President of the Republic.

Dissent too reverberated within the inner circles of power. Also exactly a year ago that an unprecedented number of cabinet officials had resigned from their respective posts on the grounds of GMA’s adamant position not to resign despite her waning credibility and public trust as President as well as the economic impact of the lack of trust and confidence in her regime.

Exactly a year ago, there was consensus among Filipinos that GMA does not provide a template for true leadership and good governance.

Amid all the hoopla, there are two things certain in Philippine politics. GMA is still unseated as President. More specifically, GMA has gained sustained political strength.

Two kinds of analysis can be raised that explain our nation’s enduring political crisis. First, the Arroyo administration is displaying impeccable use of its political machinery. The 2004 elections and scandals that followed have harnessed this administration’s ability to deploy and employ combined strategies of patronage and mobilization. It pays to be the incumbent.

Despite elections, reforms and initiatives, we almost always end up having the same set of politicians: crooked, corrupt and immoral. No person, no rule, no group is spared from the touch of such political leaders, whether at the local or at the national level. This brings us to the second point.

The problem of the Philippines is not just Gloria. It’s far worse. Beyond such impressive, sinister display of machinery, there exists a fundamental reason that permits such actions, players and behavior.

Institutions pertain to socially-accepted structures, mechanisms, and arrangements that exert causal influence on behavior and outcomes, shaping and channeling the interests of every agent, from individuals to firms to states.

Piece-meal solutions and grand policy pronouncements will not solve the country’s institutional weaknesses. Amidst the political turmoil that has shoved this country into a debilitating gridlock, all is revealed to us: the dilemma of the Philippines is largely systemic and institutional. The folly of the current administration is but a subtle exposure of the country’s immense political debacle.

The increasing state of hopelessness in the Philippines, a phenomenon spurred by a permeating crisis of identity and a brimming crisis of legitimacy, contributes to the prevalence of divisiveness as the prevailing attribute in the wake of the country’s mounting political crisis.

The lack of trust and confidence in the leaders and institutions of government make it difficult for people to identify and accept the decisions, actions and initiatives made by government.

Filipinos no longer find a sense of relief and redress from their government. Many of us would rather leave the country than put up with the hardships experienced under the current administration.

We need to unlock the solution to our country’s problems. We need to reorganize our institutions, realign our basic priorities and reconfigure our political and economic systems to ensure the distribution of goods and services to the greater majority.

We need to turn the institutional crisis that has crippled this entire country into an opportunity to forge new beginnings for significant institutional reforms.

We need to address interspersed political, electoral and constitutional issues. These are inextricably intertwined issues. Addressing one will not solve the deficiencies of the others.

We need to put a stop to corruption and bad governance in our nation’s public sector; its wastefulness, its extravagance, its inefficiency, its slowness, and unresponsiveness.

We need a strengthened core administrative system in the Philippine public sector that is more responsive to the people; effective, timely, and cost effective in their service delivery; and capable of managing strategic policy directions. We need to promote and institutionalize a “people focus” in government.

We need to change our country’s political culture from a culture of patronage to a culture of public service and public trust as well as reduce the number of political opportunists, chameleons, and butterflies that have made our politics colorful yet embarrassing. We must engender a politics of vision, ideals and convictions.

We need to put an end to the culture of corruption prevailing in the Philippines and transform Philippine politics and governance from one dominated by money, elite interests, and particularistic demands to one that is committed to issues, ideas, and policy. The intention is to break the pervasive influence of corrupt money on the governance, political, and electoral process. The dominance of vested interests and personality-oriented political leadership must be condemned.

As we see it, there are two options presented to us at this point: we can take on the challenge and make brazen and bold measures toward genuine institutional reforms; or, we can succumb to the throes of the political debacle that has deepened the social divides in this country.

The problems of the Philippines are big and mounting. The road to recovery is not an easy path. There are no hard and fast rules to recovery and development. Leading the Filipino people into thinking that there is a quick-fix solution to our country’s most challenging problems is not part of our earnest and sincerest intentions. Rather, we appeal to all Filipinos to cast emotions aside and focus on the real trouble that lies ahead. Then as it is now, we have never placed a single ounce of doubt in the intrinsic and indomitable nature of Filipinos to survive.

We trust in the ability of all our leaders and citizens to realize bold measures that necessitate fundamental changes in our political system. We, Filipinos acting as a collective, must be able to find a lasting solution to our mounting and menacing political problems, if not for us then for our children.

More than anytime in our history now is the best time to act. # July 07, 2006

Friday, June 09, 2006

Dictatorship and our National Budget

June 6, 2006


As I assessed the situation of the national budget yesterday, reading about a news update about it is, at best, upsetting (Uy, Veronica and Maila Ager (2006, June 6). Retrieved on June 6, 2006, from—Nation:

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was reported to have threatened to veto the proposed 2006 national budget if budget cuts proposed by congress would push through. In the words of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel, “That's what an authoritarian says to impress upon the people that what she says goes.” The report further said:

The President issued the warning after a bicameral conference committee failed to reconcile late Monday the two versions of the proposed 2006 budget by the Senate and the House of Representatives, with the senators refusing to restore the alleged “pork barrel funds” of Malacañang they left out and the House lawmakers pushing for the approval of the appropriations as proposed.

If the President will in fact exercise the veto, the rest of the year will then be run under a re-enacted budget. In layman’s terms, we will merely “’recycle” the old budget plan. There are two implications. No new projects will be implemented, on one hand, while Malacañang will enjoy “flexibility” in using public funds. All of these dynamics are within the bounds of the law.

Sadly, all these mean is that the parties involved are being legalistic.

It does not lead to the ultimate goal of properly allocating resources for greater public good. The national government wanted more “pork barrel” funds while the Senate exercised its oversight role of stopping it.

All it meant was that this system for check-and-balance worked. Of course, beyond what I teach in class, we know that politics often overshadows governance.

In this scenario, we have no winner. Malacañang will operate on a budget that is not necessarily best for the general public. The Senate? We may see them as having lost in the sense that their role was undermined especially as the present administration is pressing for a shift to a unicameral parliamentary form of government that would effectively dissolve the Senate itself. Or it can be viewed as the Senate simply lived up to its role and maintained its place on a higher moral ground.

Beyond the politics, the public here is the biggest loser and sufferer. I maintain that a poorly prepared budget that was subjected to more power flexing than to sound policy analysis is an injustice to the people.

Executive Order 464, which prevented executive branch officials from appearing before Senate hearings, included those related to the budget, was legal but not beneficial for the people. Now, vetoing of a national budget that had been subjected to Congressional inquiry is likewise legal. Again, it is not for the greater good.

So I raise the same question: what could be in store for us in the upcoming deliberations on the 2007 budget? Will be start making a budget for the people next time? #

Saving our Schools

Putting Education First: an Educational Reform Agenda

The current issue of shortages in the Philippine Educational System is a reflection of a bigger problem within the system. The government failed again in providing our people with quality and relevant education for the past year with the perennial backlog in classrooms and school facilities especially in the countryside, added to these shortages are the increasing rates of drop outs and unemployed graduates who cannot find suitable jobs due to limited skills and competencies.

Majority of Filipinos believe that education is the most essential factor that can improve their lot. With more than 80% of our student population dependent on the public school system, putting focus on reforming and upgrading basic education will serve as the government’s most potent strategy to propel strategic growth and development with social quality. By saving our public schools we will not only improved the neglected educational system but also cut the vicious cycle that has condemned and uneducated parents to beget poor and uneducated children themselves.

It is very important that our people’s education should be reoriented and geared towards domestic employment-led growth through skill-intensive technologies for greater productivity. Educational priorities in the public sector should focus on promoting quality learning and skill upgrading among the poorer sector of Philippine society and greater access for the poor to quality and relevant education to ensure their empowerment as individual members of society.

Quality Public Education remains to be Our Best Weapon against Poverty
Spending on education and saving our public schools is the most productive public investment any government can make because to save our school is to save our society and its future. Our goal should be to develop fully the talents and full potential of every pupil and student in the public school system.

Our world has become more competitive each year. In the next few years there will be no room for the uneducated. If we want to survive the knowledge-based world, the government needs to step up their efforts now before it’s too late.
To put education first and save our schools and save our nation’s future, it is imperative for the government to introduce the following reforms:

A. Education Budget Reforms to Ensure Maximum Provision for Basic Education

The Department of Education continues to receive the highest budget among all the departments as mandated by the Constitution. However the, the distribution of this budget is unable to address the problems of the public education system. The biggest percentage of its annual budget goes to its personnel services. Taking for example last year’s budget for education of which the majority is allotted for personnel salaries resulting to insufficient budget that was needed for construction for more school buildings and purchase of facilities. With these divisions of the annual budget leaves little room for the implementation of developmental projects and operational expenses related to the improvement of the learning process in class rooms.

B. Democratizing School Governance: Education Management Innovation through School-Community and School-Industry Linkages

We must institutionalize school empowerment and accountability mechanisms by empowering our local school heads, teachers, and other education stakeholders at the community level to improve their schools and embrace innovative ideas through the mandated creation of School Advisory/Governance Councils in every elementary and secondary school and the promotion of provisions of R.A. 9115 or the Governance of Basic Education. There is a need to reduce the bureaucratic and regulatory burden on public schools that limits the capacity of school heads to govern effectively and encourage every school to develop a mission ethos for higher standards.

C. Partnering with the Private Sector

The government can provide more educational resources for our public schools if they can develop cooperative ventures between the Education Department and other education stakeholders. It is essential that they build their credibility, enhance their competence, and expand their network of partners to mobilize additional resources for public education.

In line with this direction, it is essential to promote various public-private sector partnerships for enhanced education service delivery through a revitalized Adopt-a-School Program.

The concept of multiple partnerships has something to do with the strengthening of linkages between the public and private sector. Private sector initiatives and civil society facilitation backed by national and local government support and legitimacy ensure a greater rate of impact and effectiveness when it comes to the implementation of an educational project or program.

D. Enhancing Teacher Training and Welfare for Quality Education

It is a requisite for quality education to enhance the quality of teaching instruction through an extensive pre-service and in-service training program and education for teachers. We need to recognize that the teachers form the backbone of the educational system. To ensure quality education, the government should correct the years of neglect of teachers under different administrations. Investing in quality classroom teachers by raising the salaries of teachers by 10% in order to motivate them to work more effectively and improve their quality of instruction should be considered as well as provisions for their welfare in terms of health insurance, support services, study leaves, and continuing education scholarships.

For a longtime, our teachers have not been given the importance and attention in spite of their utmost dedication and commitment to shape the minds of our youth. They are the “real heroes” of our society which deserve recognition and respect.

E. Bridging the Digital Divide in Education: Modernization through Education Technology

There is a need to radically and meaningfully modernize the public schools through a Comprehensive School Modernization Program focused on Information and Communication Technology provisions and interventions that will ensure higher standards in English, Math, Science and Educational Technology as well as better progression from basic education to the post secondary and tertiary levels. It should be the objective of this program to provide teachers and students with adequate information technology skills to strengthen learning and produce graduates who can competitively pursue any field of endeavor.

Expand access of Education Technology or students in the most remote areas of our country and in underserved communities through a Digital Satellite Highway or the implementation of a Distance Learning via satellite technology. The local PTCA, community civic groups, and Local School Boards should be encouraged to play an active role in the implementation of this comprehensive program that is critical in addressing the digital divide.

Final Word

We have stressed that education is a major instrument for economic and social development. For the past decade, so many efforts have been exerted to achieve the elusive economic growth. Hopefully as we start a new school year the government through the education department can be more aggressive and persistent in pursuing educational reforms. Education is the true essence of human development. Without education, development cannot be sustained. # June 05, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

Representation and Chaos in 2006

What Happened To The National Budget?

Monday, June 05, 2006

“What went wrong? What’s going on? Where are we going, anyway? What now?”

These are questions that will always linger in the mind of every public administration person, whether scholar, practitioner, or teacher whenever the budget of the Philippine national government enters his consciousness.

Working (or Not Working) on the Budget

We have reached the middle of 2006. Dreadfully as it is, our country is being run without the guidance of a budget. As a responsible parent would design a budget to guide the family expenses and thus ensure the needs of every child, so should our leadership secure the national budget to have a guide that would ensure a clear set of priorities and thereby provide the basic services that every member of the Filipino nation rightfully deserves.

Both houses of Congress, ideally, should have finalized the 2006 budget, last November 2005. It should have been signed into law two weeks later in time for the adjournment of session. Logically, such date would be the latest since it is but logical to have a 2006 national budget before 2006 even began!

Unfortunately, the House of Representatives was still conducting budget hearings as of November 2005. In fact, in an unprecedented move, the Senate began to conduct their own set of hearings around the same time instead of working only after the House of Representatives had finished their share of the lawmaking work, as tradition dictates in a bicameral system of legislation. When 2006 started, the House transmitted to the Senate their work on the national budget just before the second to the last session ended.

But the Senate still had to review the House version, made cuts, and imposed revisions. The last session of Congress will end on June 9. The Third Regular Session begins on July 24 (as amended) where we will hear another State of the Nation Address (SONA) from the President. This means that the 2007 budget will be presented by then. And a new round of analyses, hearing, and deliberations must follow.

Clearly, the anti-Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo moves were the center of Philippine politics beginning July 2005 when the Gloria-Garci Scandal broke out. The President admitted and apologized on national television that she talked to COMELEC Commissioner Garcillano during the 2004 elections and referred to her decision as a “lapse in judgment.” So was the unpopular line that populated talks at all levels of Philippine politics then.

In the end, the Philippines still does not have a national budget for 2006 and there was no excuse.

The Need to Respect for Institutional Processes

The budget is one key concern of Philippine Congress. It has to be. And it must be so if we are to allow our institutions to function as they were designed. To protect our institutions, the design of and deliberations on our budget must be approached with dedication, even reverence. It is the venue where the priorities of the nation are set collectively.

Given that we are a representative democracy in which we put in power and empower elected officials – our legislators – to represent the interests of the common Filipino, designing the national budget in itself must be treated as a valuable process. The budget is the venue and process where the most crucial needs of the common Filipino is addressed.

These are the things that I tell every student of mine in Governance and Public Administration. It is where politics and political management should stop and where Good Governance must begin. The budget process, moreover, is where political activities must shift focus from power building, power relations, and inter-party conflicts to the use of power simply for public good.

We professionals, who work in and around Philippine politics, whether as researchers, analysts, or participants, are completely aware that politics and governance are intimately intertwined as a complex system. We know that it cannot be oversimplified. To do so would be outright naïve. But to keep it overly complex is likewise detrimental.

All of us would just the same agree that efforts to simplify and speed up the budget process despite the political climate are important and basic. We all agree that when it comes to the national budget, there must be conscious efforts not to allow the process be entangled in the complexities of our bureaucracies.

The case for this argument is simple. We must never dillydally in clarifying our priorities, which is reflected and reiterated in the national budget. Likewise, we must never delay our declaration of our short-term management objectives as reflected in the national budget. Neither must we dare take for granted our action plans that are in line with the Medium-Term Philippine Development Plan, which again is reflected in the national budget.

Having a working budget provides room for transparency. It is when any citizen may look at the law that governs the current budget for him to see where his taxes go, as any responsible citizen should. It in effect acts as a mechanism for accountability of public officials.

The unfortunate fact, on the other hand, is that our Congress delayed, dillydallied, and failed to clarify our direction and priorities so far this year.

As a result, we now do not have a concrete basis for what the Government’s deliverables are for the year. The absence of a working budget leaves the national budget designed for 2005 the basis for accomplishments for 2006. The law likewise provides that the national government is afforded more flexibility in handling the government’s finances since Congress has yet to provide them with a budget to implement.

For 2006, Congress has wasted its power of the purse. It failed as an institution designed to represent the concerns and interests of the ordinary citizens that they represent. Pragmatically speaking, so many resources were wasted in undergoing the tedious budget process only to still not have the final output available right in the middle of its scheduled implementation.

It must be remembered by all that whenever we dillydally on the national budget, a process in our system of governance is distorted. Moreover, it contributes to the weakening of our institutions.

In 2005, Congress merely re-enacted the 2004 budget. Any political analyst would attribute such to the 2004 elections when most politicians were campaigning more than deliberating. Although it would have been unthinkable to have re-enacted again the same for 2006, it would have been much better than not having re-enacted any national budget at all.

I maintain. There is no excuse. Despite the so-called 2005 political crisis in the Philippines, working on the basics of governance must move on. To contribute to transparency and accountability, governance and the delivery of public services must be based on a budget. More importantly, we must together ensure that our budget process is followed and implemented to protect as institutions Congress and the leadership that implements its laws, the Presidency.

For now, I wonder how we will get to prepare our national budget for 2007, which is merely 6 months away. # June 05, 2006

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Do we really need a Charter Change?

Who needs a Charter Change?

Malacañang officials claim that there is an overwhelming support for the Charter Change. However, recent public opinion polls show that almost 50% of the Filipinos think that it is not right to amend to Constitution at this time. Meanwhile, about 54% of the Filipinos are not in favor of changing the country’s form of government from presidential to parliamentary. Ordinary Filipinos do not see Charter Change as the solution to the country’s current problems. Apparently, the clamor to change the Constitution does not directly come from the people.

Constitutional reform is a very serious matter. If and when it happens, it should be done through a fair, open, transparent and participatory means. If done in a haphazard manner, changing the Constitution may bring about more uncertainty and confusion in the end. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) and the Makati Business Club have both expressed their deep concern about the lack of adequate information and intellectual discussion about the issue on amending our Constitution and changing the form of our government.

It is disturbing to know that the amendment is now being rushed with only political provisions being given top priority. It is clear to everybody that the proponents of Charter Change want to perpetuate themselves in power so they are exhausting all possible means to change the Constitution.

Who benefits in the shift to Parliamentary system of government?

The Arroyo administration claims that the country needs a parliamentary system because it can make the legislative process more efficient and address the gridlock problem between the legislative and executive branches of government. Administration officials argue that a shift from the presidential and parliamentary form of government would induce stability and continuity in reforms.

Yet the ill-effects of a parliamentary government outweigh the so-called benefits presented by its proponents.

First, politicians do not have political term limits in most parliamentary governments. Because there are no limits in the number of years in office, parliamentary governments are more susceptible to the abuse of power from crooked officials. Such a situation becomes ripe for power mongers and traditional politicians to perpetuate themselves in power.

In addition, the system will promote the interests of political dynasties and collusion of powers among traditional politicians. Given the political culture and the predominance of traditional politicians, the shift towards a parliamentary system of government will heighten corruption and legitimize electoral fraud in the country.

Second, the executive and legislative branches of government are fused in a parliamentary government. In effect, the parliament becomes the most powerful institution in government. Serving without term limits, members of parliament are also able to gain executive powers since the cabinet is also composed of members of the ruling party within parliament.

The separation of powers in presidential governments is not intended to purport political gridlocks. Instead, built-in institutional mechanisms are established to prevent the abuse of power from each of the branches of government. In a presidential system, a system of checks and balances preserves the delicate configuration of powers and maintains the independence of each institution.

The Arroyo administration insists that legislative process is being derailed because of the constant gridlock between the executive and the legislative. We are made to believe that the political stalemates are the root cause of political crisis. Institutional mechanisms do not create political stalemates. Weak political leadership causes gridlocks leading to political crises.

Third, parliamentary systems require strong political party systems, replete with genuine political parties anchored on loyalty and driven by principles. However, political parties remain as weak institutions in the country. While they have been in existence for more than half a century, political parties have failed to break the vicious cycles of patronage. Oftentimes, political parties are exploited to become tools of patronage and corruption. Furthermore, political parties barely exist outside of elections. A weak and wanting political party system jeopardizes the stability of parliaments, causing political instability which in the long run further weakens the economy.

The presidential system should not be the culprit of the deteriorating political and economic stability of the country. There are many reform measures which have been formulated but have not been implemented not because of the political gridlock problem but because of the lack of political will of the present leadership.

Shifting towards a new form of government is not a panacea for the enduring problems of the country. Our political leaders must demonstrate the highest credibility and accountability to the people for them to succeed in facilitating genuine reforms. Good leadership is the key to ensure political and economic stability.

Filipinos today are more intelligent, empowered and vigilant. We must not allow ourselves to be used by traditional politicians who want to perpetuate themselves in power. Any change must assure shifts towards principled politics, transparency, accountability and effective delivery of basic services to the people. # May 2006