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Monday, January 02, 2006

Of Republic Building

a look at the Consultative Commission on Charter Change Report

Pre-Christmas 2005, Filipinos were given a report published by the Consultative Commission with regard to charter change (big mango, pcij, i-site.ph) so far, comments reveal a distaste for this work they've done even amongst those who are are for charter change.


We now look at the Consultative Commission's minority report. Does this minority have the answers we seek? (minority report pdf) In a letter addressed to President Macapagal-Arroyo dated, 13 December 2005, a minority composed of Acevedo, Azurin, Dee, Espina Sr., Leviste Jr., Lim, and Villanueva of the Consultative Commission expressed their vision of what the next constitution must contain.


Rightly, this minority report expresses their reservations on the proposed report by the Consultative Commission for Charter Change: “Further, we believe that any attempt at constitutional reform must be based on a full understanding of the real problems that such reform should – and can – solve, and that such understanding requires a genuine consultation with as many sectors of Filipino society as possible. We believe that, in such an attempt, an honest and serious effort to solicit and hear the opinions and sentiments of all interested Filipinos should be made. We do not believe that such an effort was made.A full understanding of the real problems and reform should be focused on those problems. Truly they hit right smack in the middle of our dilemma. But do they have the right ideas?


They summarized their major objections and we shall answer point after point as has become our custom with previous posts:



parliament

1. The fusion of the executive and legislative branches of government in a single body – Parliament – concentrates too much power in the hands of politicos. The power of the Prime Minister and his ruling coalition in a parliamentary government to decide on projects, appropriate the funds needed for these projects, and then implement these projects effectively gives them discretion over the entire national budget (except of course for debt servicing and other fixed expenditures), and there are few checks to control possible abuse. The so-called ‘internal checks’ that might originate from the opposition parties in Parliament are believed inadequate and probably work only in theory, particularly in the Philippine situation where party affiliations are rarely based on hard principle and politicians often belong to the same social circle. Even in countries with mature parliamentary systems, abuse of the enormous power vested in parliamentary governments is actually fairly common. Cronyism tends to flower in a parliamentary environment.


BM:

Indeed, the fusion of “too much” power in a single body is a frightening thing. But is it? Let us look at our current situation. Our Congress today has become a pseudo-Parliament where the Speaker of the House is the Prime Minister. How many opposition parties are there in the House? Is it not true that Political Parties have formed coalitions in order to gain a majority? And that there is such little opposition in the House and that rumor has it that in order to avail of those special pork one must be in league with the majority, otherwise one's district becomes relegated to the back burners?


Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with our current situation?


When one looks at the Senate--- with their idea of being independent minded. Even partners of the Administration are known to be independent so much so that they can not be relied upon to vote on a party line. What the Senate has become today is a collective bunch of ombudsmen and their collective power brings them on the same level as the President. When was the last time we have had a good discussion on legislative matters and not investigations in aid of legislation that has neither brought anyone to jail nor has fundamentally produced better laws?


Isn't there something fundamentally wrong with our current situation? If our legislative body is not power that is wasted, what is?


2. The inherent instability in the tenure of the Prime Minister and his utter dependence on the votes of the other members of Parliament for his stay in office from one day to the next enshrines ‘horse trading’ and ‘transactional’ decision-making as the parliamentary way of governance. The ability to change leaders frequently and at any time is not a virtue (as proponents of the parliamentary form claim), but a very serious shortcoming. Because a parliamentary government can fall any time a sufficient number of members of Parliament withdraw their support from the ruling coalition, the Prime Minister and his ruling gang are forever hostage to the demands of every member of Parliament. Thus, the decisions that can be expected to be made by a parliamentary government will usually cater to special interests and will often be short-term in orientation and probably inconsistent with other decisions. And, because members of Parliament are elected by local constituencies, the special interests they will promote will rarely be expected to be congruent with the larger national interest.


BM:

Doesn't this exist today? When Erap Estrada was impeached, his party had majority control of the House of Representatives. Wasn't it so easy for them to vote against party lines and impeach former president Estrada?


The House of Representatives is an Organization voted by local districts--- each vying for attention by the National government. Will a Parliament be no different from what we have in Congress right now?


3. It is not true that it is their form of government that makes other countries perform better economically than the Philippines. There is no established connection between form of government and economic performance, or between the parliamentary form and the rate of economic growth. In fact, for every country with a parliamentary government that is racing ahead of us economically, one can cite a country with a presidential system that is doing as well or better. Here in Asia, for example, Malaysia and Thailand, which have parliamentary governments, are growing faster than we are, but so are South Korea and Taiwan, and they have presidential governments. (China and Vietnam, both economic racehorses, are not even democracies.) The economic performance of a country is a function of its economic policies, resource endowments, and certain environmental conditions, not its form of government. In fact, in a parliamentary system, it is much more difficult for government to adhere to economic policies that are right for the country as a whole because such are often in conflict with the special interests typically represented by members of parliament. Of course, all politicians represent special interests. This problem, however, is compounded in a parliamentary system because the fusion of executive and legislative power in the parliamentary form simply puts too much power in the hands of politicos.


BM:

While it is true there really isn't any measure on economic performance and form of government--- Hong Kong is a Parliament, Japan is a Parliament, Malaysia is a Parliament, Singapore is a Parliament, Australia is a Parliament, The United Kingdom is a Parliament, the United States is a bicameral and presidential and Pakistan and India are both Parliaments and as mentioned, China and Vietnam are not even democracies--- these cases prove a point that the minority and most people fail to realize. What has made countries successful is largely through the personalities of the leaders in charge. One simply needs to look at history.


Let us not look farther than Singapore. It is a model state--- based largely on one man's vision of what his country should be. It is a city-state, through perceived to be largely totalitarian, its leaders knew that proper succession was the key to continue its economic performance. Malaysia is also such a prime example of an improved economy largely because of their political visionary. China--- the politburo perhaps leaned a lesson from the Russians. Economic performance makes a difference in keeping power. They have successfully engineered a capitalist economy while keeping a Communist regime. The United States throughout its more than 200 hundred years of history owes its success through its generation of leaders who has chosen to put the interest of individual rights above all to achieve economic performance. It is because of their respective leaders who help make the difference in determining a vision of their future and this translates to political performance, just as it does in the business world.



4. Given that even those who advocate the parliamentary form concede that political and economic power in this country is too concentrated (in less than 1% of the population), the obvious appropriate response should be to adopt ways that disperse power, not ways that concentrate it further. Thus, a shift to a parliamentary system is a totally inappropriate reaction to the country's present political and economic realities because it concentrates power even more, instead of spreading and diminishing it. Moreover, it allows such concentrated power to be wielded more easily and more effectively than is possible in a presidential system where the executive and legislative branches remain separate.


5. A statistic often cited by pro-parliamentary advocates is that there are more parliamentary governments than there are presidential ones. If that is intended to be an argument, it is an irrelevant one unless one first establishes the premises that, one, parliamentary governments are more successful than presidential ones, and, two, that such successes are the result of the parliamentary form. Neither of these statements can be supported. That there are more parliamentary governments than presidential ones is simply the result of Great Britain having had more colonies than anyone else.


BM (for 4 and 5):

Our people can not seem to construe the uses of power--- other than perhaps to abuse it. Popular Culture gives us a manta and wisdom our people has not learned: “With great power comes great responsibility”. Does it matter that only 1% of our people control everything? It only matters that the 1% knows how to dispense that power, how to make the lives of the 99% better. Is it not their responsibility by virtue of the fact that they can help make the lives of the 99% better? After all, to those who are given more, more is expected. When more of the 99% are ready to take up the mantle of leadership our system of government--- presidential or federal or parliamentary will make a way to make it happen because thats how it is designed to be. Thats how democracy is designed.


The founding fathers of the United States were mere farmers--- and wasn't it only lately that mass media has made information discrimination such a valuable tool for the people of the United States to determine their leadership?


What are the current problems of our system? Too much talk because our legislature is bloated, immobile and inflexible and because they have their own personal interests to protect. Our goal must be to make it more mobile and flexible--- make government 'appear' less and less government means more.


Thats the root of the matter isn't it?


6. The huge expenditure required of a presidential candidate in a national election is said to be a major reason why there is so much graft and corruption in government. It is then argued by proponents of the parliamentary form that, because elections in a parliamentary system are local ones and the expenditures required of candidates are much less, the subsequent need to ‘recover’ campaign expenditures through graft and corruption is also less. The whole argument is simplistic. Graft and corruption happens because of a mix of many factors including poverty, greed, a cultural predilection for ‘arreglo’, the availability of opportunity, and weak monitoring systems and law enforcement. The more important point, however, is that solutions to this problem do not require a change in the form of government. Electoral reform that includes campaign expense subsidies and judicial reform that makes catching grafters and administering justice more effective are means that are not dependent on the form of government. Besides, elections in a parliamentary system for someone who desires to be Prime Minister may not turn out to cost much less (and might even cost more) than running nationally in a presidential election. It should be borne in mind that candidates for Prime Minister may reasonably be expected to substantially finance the campaigns of the district candidates who he expects will vote for him and form part of his coalition in Parliament. In addition, the need for a Prime Minister to retain his support means continuing expenses in terms of projects and business favors.


BM:

While it is true that graft and corruption happens because of a mix of many factors including poverty, greed, a culture of predilection, the availability of opportunity, and weak monitoring systems and law enforcement, it happens because there is no strong will to reform. It is largely economic--- amass more power and with it wealth because one has to sustain a lifestyle. Our personal spending out-paces our capability to generate income whether one is in the private or public life but that is an entirely different matter and we digress. While electoral, judicial reform are essential--- our people fail to grasp that the key is not through over night solutions but gradual movement towards a goal. We lack long term planning.


While the cost of election is continuously high the only way out is to strengthen political parties and the common citizen's interaction with them as a source of campaign finance. We level the playing field. And with the strengthening of political parties, people from diverse background maybe injected into the system because having money will not be an issue, rather the ability to raise money for a campaign will be. With it, we train our people out of our feudalistic nature--- choose the riches and most powerful because they can help us personally.


7. It is not true – as proponents of the parliamentary form like to claim – that the ‘legislative gridlock’ built into the presidential system is the reason why this country has not been able to keep economic pace with its high-performing neighbors. This argument simply cannot be supported by historical fact. There was no legislative gridlock at all during the Marcos years and yet it was during this period that the Philippines fell behind its neighbors in economic performance. There was hardly any legislative gridlock during the Aquino years and the Philippines fell even farther behind. The Philippines’ failure to keep pace with its neighbors has been a consequence of protectionist economic policies, peace and order problems, and too much government regulation and bureaucracy. ‘Legislative gridlock’ is actually a special and recent problem.


BM:

Once more, Reform happens over years and over a common vision. And it has been a persistent failing of the Filipino to appreciate such subtlety. Economic performance may be achieved to careful planning executed over years and while 'legislative gridlock' is caused by political infighting--- a vying for position and power and with it wealth to think of it as a recent and special problem is to miss a point. It should not be. Everything this country must do must be for the prosperity and security of its progeny.


8. Governance is an acquired skill and doing it well requires climbing up a learning curve. All nations making the transition from tribal or autocratic systems of government to representative democracy must navigate this learning curve, whether they are led by their respective histories down the presidential path or down the parliamentary path. Filipinos have been negotiating the learning curve of a presidential system for the past one hundred years or so and, as a result, have acquired considerable familiarity and experience with its nuances, its strengths, and its weaknesses. In fact, because of this experience, most Filipinos already have strong opinions on what features of this system of government need modification or correction. This will not be the case with a parliamentary system. In shifting to it, Filipinos must begin again at the bottom of the learning curve. That is, of course, justifiable if there are compelling reasons and clear benefits for making the shift. In this case, however, no clear benefits to the nation as a whole can be demonstrated by those who propose our adoption of a parliamentary government. And the reasons are apparently compelling only to a few.


BM:

What is there to learn? Governance is knowing how to lead your people, how to provide for them. As Bill Clinton so aptly put: “Its the economy, stupid”.


Parents do so for their family and Government is Parenthood writ large. The details sure require a lot of learning, as do all things but the fundamental core--- the goal to provide for the prosperity and security of progeny and their future is paramount.


Federalism:

1. The devolution of power to local governments can be accomplished without resorting to 'federalization’. What local government officials repeatedly say they want are the power to deal with local issues and local projects at the local level (without having to get approval from ‘Imperial Manila’) and the automatic release to them of their shares of national tax revenue. But local autonomy is already provided within the framework of the existing Constitution and this includes the power to impose local taxes that accrue exclusively to the local government units, the entitlement to a fair share in the utilization of natural resources within their areas, and the automatic release to local units of a rich states will be forced to bear a proportionately larger share of the burden and they may eventually feel that this is unfair and begin to insist on a more even distribution. Again, this can be a source of dangerous conflict.


BM:


While switching to a parliament is not so much a necessity--- federalism should be. Our people have for over 300 years looked towards the fundamental power in Manila for the direction and benefit of their respective local districts. Yet our needs have become diverse--- that each town and province is an individual instrument with a distinct sound themselves and all of us are acting as one in concert. Manila must therefore become a conductor of this symphony.


The power vested by the National Government to our local government is a sham! The Internal Revenue allotment--- funds for the operation of local districts requires local government officials to kiss up to the National Government. Be in the opposition and your town becomes relegated to the last. Be the home town of the sitting power and naturally, you get easier access to power and resources. The minority of the Consultative Commission and perhaps the entire commission and most people are out of touch with this fundamental issue.


How can local government officials be held liable by their constituents for crime, fire, health care, education when none of these functions are their responsibility but the national government's? Local governments have no say on who gets appointed as local cops. They have no responsibility to arm them, to have them trained, to protect their cops, fire marshals and health care workers. How can people work for an executive who holds no responsibility for them? Yet naturally, our local government officials are held liable. Shouldn't we arm them properly?


Even roads have distinctions--- national roads are the department of public works and highways' whereas the local government is held responsible for their own. But where does one draw the line? Isn't this too complicated a matter? Development within a particular region or territory should be given to the people living there.


The People of Manila does not care whether the roads in Bulacan are all well paved, and vice versa. They care about their own and should we give them the means to make their lives better? Teach them to fish and not just to be fed and all that?


EDSA, that historical stretch that is the main artery of Metropolitan Manila is not even paved well. How can we run a country when even here in the capital such things are a mess? Why is it a mess because a system doesn't allow for continued, constant development. Who then takes responsibility for such a road? DPWH? MMDA? The various local governments under Metro Manila? Isn't that a bit complicated?


Federalism can simply matters by drawing a clear line in the sand. We give responsibility. At the same time, we rid our government of double functions! We make government simpler to operate and manage! That is our battle cry!


2. Most of the proposed new political instrumentalities will not be financially viable, at least for many many years. In a federal setup where each state is presumably on its own, conflicts may therefore arise because the few affluent states could balk at transferring significant amounts of their resources to the many marginal ones. If this is not managed properly, the country’s problem of uneven area development could very well intensify.


BM:

Form too many states and that will indeed be a problem. However, that said, numerous cities are already generating such income that they can not spend on their own. The key is grouping properly--- based on shared common and distinctive historical, cultural, political, economic, social structures and other relevant characteristics and of course having a local chief executive that is capable.


Even a chief executive who isn't ready of course will be kicked out of a job during the next election. Local people will then see who is fit to govern them. Thats the price. How can we hold out for something that people will have to decide, that people will have to chart on their own.


We can place limits on what states may do--- they can not enact laws that go against the Constitution, they can not cede from the Republic unless there is a plebiscite held for that purpose and only when three-fourths (¾) determine it to be so likewise for the creation of a new state from two states without a similar referendum.


We in Manila can no longer hold the hand of every single person in this country. We must let go! Let our people make mistakes and learn from their bitter pill. Thats the only to strengthen the weak. We need to bring them to a crucible--- our people know hardship but their focus is misplaced. This will focus their attention and at the same time become their reward for that effort is easily realized: they see it around them!



All it really takes is some thinking and thinking out of the box.



3. Another area of potential conflict is how the servicing of our large foreign debt will be allocated among the various individual states. Clearly, the few revenue-rich ones will be forced to bear a far larger burden than the many revenue-deficient ones and this could be a continuously contentious issue. Should these revenue-rich states start refusing what they may perceive as an unfair burden, it could very well jeopardize the country’s ability to meet its international debt obligations and this could have catastrophic consequences. This sharing of the foreign debt burden is actually a dangerous problem which might even trigger talk of secession.


BM:

Clearly, the only responsible and fair answer is a proportionate share from gross revenues of individual states and excellent fiscal planning. Does this mean financially rich states will be paying more? No more than what we require richer individuals to shell out bigger taxes. We share what we work. Work hard, share more. Also of course, nothing beats good fiscal management. And with federalism, we can focus the proper resources at the appropriate degree because the people on the ground will determine their priority.



4. The above issue will also arise with respect to the sharing of the expenses of the central government including the maintenance of the armed forces, the national police, Congress, etc. Invariably, revenue-

rich states will be forced to bear a proportionately larger share of the burden and they may eventually feel that this is unfair and begin to insist on a more even distribution. Again, this can be a source of dangerous conflict.


BM:

What does one need a national police and other services when local government takes care of those including fire, jail management, health care, education, infrastructures like roads and communication, social services? The national government must retain only the necessities--- National Security (i.e. Armed Forces, a very small National Investigative/Federal Police, Port Authority), and Federal Fiscal and Monetary Policy, and of course the mechanism to coordinate the symphony and nothing else.


Remember the idea is a lean mean, fighting machine. Its a symphony of states, playing our song and the conductor is the National/Federal Government.


Can you see it now? Our mantra: make Government “appear” less, and less means more.


5. Almost all existing federal republics in the world are made up of previously independent states that decided to band together in order to share the expenses of government and of national defense and security, to supplement each other’s resources, and to build larger, more viable markets. Even today, the move toward the consolidation of small units into larger groupings (e.g., the European Union) continues for the purpose of sharing resources, enlarging markets, and increasing global competitiveness. In contrast, the proposed ‘federalization’ of the Philippine Republic is aimed at artificially forcing the break-up of an already small unitary unit into even smaller units. This hardly makes economic sense.


BM:

The banding together of countries to form unions is to help them deal with issues or achieve goals when one nation alone can not accomplish the task individually. The Philippine answer is different and the same: our road to federalism may be akin to chopping a huge task into much smaller pieces, deliver proper services where it is most needed through local governments that can best identify those issues as much as a reorganizing our government to be more efficient and empowering people to be more self sufficient. We give the right tools for the right job.


6. The ‘federalization’ of the country could reverse any progress already made toward inculcating in every Filipino the idea of being part of one Filipino nation and one Filipino community. Instead of promoting the idea that we are one people, dividing up the country into groupings most likely based on common or similar dialects could very well return us to tribal modes of thinking. This could be fatal to any attempt to engage the whole nation in concerted efforts to achieve ‘national’ purposes. ‘Federalization’ could very easily lead to the eventual breakup of the Filipino nation.


BM:

Our country is already divided culturally into groupings. We have Tagalogs of Batangas, Cebuanos of Cebu, do I need to name more? Our dialects have nuisances that are foreign to some. That said, our diversity makes us strong. It makes our culture rich. It makes competition between ourselves great and like nations all over the world--- no one state however rich can face the challenges of the world alone and therein our trust must be placed that our people will remain together. Our one goal: prosperity, does it matter if our way diverge but we meet each other there none-the-less?


The future of ASEAN for example is to form a similar union like that of the Europeans. One coin and banding together to protect each other will be an a great issue one day and steps are moving today (charter) that clearly lead to that moment. Though it will take years--- thats where its all heading but its going to take a very long time for it to happen and remains a dream. Our people will recognize this one day and that it will make sense to remain one nation!


More Thoughts

We find the report of the minority to be lacking in vision and substance, much like we found the majority report to be devoid of actual answers to the pressing need of our people. this is their draft material. While this is just the beginning, such mediocre material and clearly a lack of understanding of what our people need--- coming from our leaders is poignant.


You know, there really isn't any need to break up the country... because there are already 17 regions (2 autonomous regions and metro manila)... the existing political subdivisions already exist! you can have just one chamber... the senate and you have 3 senators from each of the regions. And each region already has a mechanism for a legislature so you don't need to change much, except that each of those regions through their sanguniang panlalawigan (i hope i spelled that correctly) can form their Organic Act, thereby making them a State, through a local referendum that they can hold for that purpose. so that solves the problem of having too bloated a national legislature and allows each region to become a state, plus local legislature. i mean, 3 senators for those 17 regions... thats 51 senators... not too big... not to small, manageable yung situation, right? as for the prime minister and his cabinet, you can get them from the 51 senators. makes life simple. each region therefore can best determine how to organize their local government. As for Metro Manila, there certainly needs to be a formation of a Regional Government to merge services like the MMDA and the existing cities and all that. We can have a President who shall be head of state and all that.

A new constitution should be very simple to understand. there is no need to put "economic provisions" or other national policy like education, etc... after all isn't that a function of legislature and the executive to determine, year-on-year and based on a grand national strategy, what national policy should be? In that way we make our framework to be concise, and understandable, and visionary so that it can be taught to and be understood by school children. it should also have the rights of our citizenship but more importantly what our duty and responsibility is for our country. isn't that more important?

i don't claim to be an expert on the matter, just thoughts on the matter as a citizen, you understand.

That said, from my point of view, our manta must be make government 'appear' less and less government means more. A constitution is a framework for a dream. It must be drafted with the only partisan intent being a bright future for our people. Our Constitution must be a document that is a pillar of aspirations and ideals drawn up to evolve as our progeny permit. Thus, our Constitution must be a document, so concise as the ordinary citizen must know by heart, must construe so clearly his rights as much as his duty and responsibilities to the state. Our Constitution must be penned as a guide for our affairs, though an imperfect document our daily affairs must make it come alive!

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