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Father's Son - Miracles of Quiapo by Ingming Aberia

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Showing posts with label Politics and Government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Politics and Government. Show all posts

Don't sell what you sell

Don't sell what you sell was also published by The Manila Times on 2 August 2023.

President Bongbong Marcos 2023 State of the Nation Address. Photo by RTV Malacanang.


Advertising oneself is fine. In a motivational talk, Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Terminator” in movieland and former California, USA Governor in politics) said: "Work like hell and advertise." After having put in the work, it is fair to tell the world what we have to offer and put a price tag to it. Getting ahead in life for the work that one is good at doing, or even building a fortune from it, is a fair reward for his or her effort.

The keyword is work. The amount and level of standard of work that we put in—among other resources such as technology, method, capital, etc., which a production process may require—determine the quality of products or services we offer. How clients benefit from products is a function of quality; how they get to know we have an offer is a function of advertising or messaging.

The offer of quality needs constant backing, as any marketing expert will tell us. Whenever we offer substandard fake products, our reputation suffers. Soon we eventually lose our customers or clients (or publics, in the world of politics). 

To stay in the game and prosper, marketing experts further advise us that offers of quality are not enough. We need to earn customers' trust everyday by always delivering on a promise and building positive long-term relationships with them.

Speaking of offers, Jon Leger, a highly successful online marketer, has this to say:

"Here's an advertisement we saw recently, outside a hair salon: "We don't sell haircuts. We sell smiles and confidence.

"Their product is haircuts. But what they are selling is the result for the customer. Read that again, because it's an age-old secret to marketing!

"You might have heard it as "sell the sizzle, not the steak".

"If you're a meat eater, do you want an 8oz steak?

"Or would you prefer prime choice, succulent, juicy and mouth-wateringly tender steak from grass reared herds, marinated in the finest red wine reduction and served with a medley of garden-fresh vegetables?

"Which is likely to make you think about the taste sensation? Which is more likely to make you think about the experience you want to have?

"Which is likely to sell for more money!

"8oz steak, vegetables. Accurate, factual and BORING. It doesn't engage the emotions, or the imagination.

"DON'T sell what you're selling - sell what it does for your customer.

"Sell the smiles and confidence, not the haircut!"

In his last State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 24 July 2023, President Bongbong Marcos tried to sell "Bagong Pilipinas," supposedly the new name for his brand of leadership and governance.

If he were a barber, did he sell a new hairstyle or did he bring smile and confidence to his publics?

He cited glowing figures that are, however, hardly relatable to people on the street. His re-assuring numbers about inflation—going down from 8.7 percent in January to 5.4 percent in June—do little to provide a breathing room for household spending, especially among the poor. The snapshot on economic growth is deceptive. He said the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate of 7.6 percent in 2022 was the highest 1976. But he did not mention that GDP decelerated by 9.5 percent in 2020 largely because of the pandemic. This means that we need to grow faster than that to be able to say we are on our way to economic recovery.

I need time and more details to understand what he means when he said the “digital economy” has contributed about 10 percent to the GDP. But we can assume as well that automated machines do displace people in the workplace, and government needs to catch up on regulatory frameworks that govern a digital economy, including taxation of robots.

On revenue generation, the mention of economic benefits from gambling (PAGCOR and Philippine Charity Sweepstakes) is something that no one should be proud of. Instead, there needs to be a more elaborate tribute to diaspora surplus (OFW remittances), which also accounts for a tenth of GDP. Often discriminated against and sometimes physically and verbally abused—from the Middle East to New York subways—our overseas contract workers have been the anchor whenever external shocks and internal headwinds batter the economy. The country’s labor export is one single factor that gives government confidence to be able to repay its debt in the future, just as foreign powers like China and the US draw their confidence from exports of their war products.  

With accomplishments that he could attribute to his government and a bucketful of wish list, the SONA’s overall message is to rally support for his vision of rebuilding the nation from its social, political, and economic ruin. He said: “I know that the state of the nation is sound and is improving…. Dumating na po ang Bagong Pilipinas.”

It remains to be seen whether he succeeded or not in getting his message across, in ways that engage the people’s emotion and imagination.

Selling an administration well is important because it keeps the people inspired and excited. The taxpayers, especially, would be inspired to open their wallets and pay with no remorse whatsoever, willingly, without need for the police to drag them to court.

People are inspired to work like hell and do something more for themselves, their families, and their communities.

An inspired citizenry also keeps people in government motivated. Civil servants perform at a level that is expected of them. They show respect when dealing with their clients. As a culture of integrity takes root, they become models of professionalism; they take courage and blow the whistle when irregularities take place.

While a rebranded Philippines raises extra expectations, the old unmet ones should remain a priority. For the business sector, people expect a consistent application of government regulations, cutting of red tape, mitigation of corrupt practices and influence peddling, and a lasting solution to peace and order problems.

For most of the population who are poor, we expect equity. In many cases, except in times of emergency, the poor do not need dole outs. They need access to basic services and opportunities. Investments in education and health care that promote social levelling remain important. The level of their participation in the development process largely determines the viability and sustainability of those investments. The new governance brand will require the transformation of constituents from being beneficiaries to being decision makers.  

For everyone else, there is expectation that leaders will lead by example, with a work ethic that inspires less of gambling and more of honest means of livelihood.


To the brink

Former president Rodrigo Duterte.


"To the brink" was also published by The Manila Times on 7 February 2024.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte has a reputation of being a strong man and a strong mouth, although no one could tell which one preceded the other.

At a “prayer” rally in Davao held on 28 January 2024, he was at his usual blabbering self as he denounced attempts to change the constitution through people’s initiative.

He addressed the troublemakers and prepped a junta-like takeover by the military:

“Wala kayong prinsipyo, mukhang pera kayong lahat. 'Yan ang totoo. Kaya ang gusto ko pag nagka-letse-letse na, pumasok ang military…palitan ninyo lahat, arestuhin ninyo kasi nagsasayang ng pera at yung ginagastos nila is a fraud. Swindling ang ginawa nila. You must account for the wasted money or the money that you bought the signature of the Filipino…bribery."

Reminiscent of his calling Richard Gordon being “a fart away from disaster,” he asked: “Bakit pumasok sa utak ninyo 'yang people’s initiative? Anong nakain ninyo? There’s nothing wrong with the Constitution right now." He charged that the true agenda of people behind the people’s initiative was to perpetuate themselves in power.

In his diatribe against Gordon, who was a sitting senator at the time and had criticized him for the series of appointments of retired military officials to key civilian positions in government, Duterte was referencing brain cells that dripped towards the visceral parts, ready to bomb out as the dreaded smelly air. Gordon also chaired the Senate committee that probed anomalies in the procurement of COVID 19 supplies involving Pharmally Corporation, eventually drafting a report that recommended the filing of plunder charges against Duterte, among others, as soon as he stepped out of office.  

In keeping with the grain of the metaphor, the two separate public rallies two Sundays ago had the flair of two camps trying to out-fart each other. Another serving of that kind could well drive either of them to the brink of aborting a partisan union, if a divorce has not yet happened, flirting disaster for a political marriage that has been arranged for convenience in the first place.

One wonders why these show of forces—one organized by Malacañang in Manila and the other by a Malacañang-like overlord in Davao—needed to be mounted on the same day when both camps had at least 700 days left in the calendar to square off for the next mid-term elections. The inuendo is that neither event was a prayer rally nor a kick-off blast, but one to sieve which of the freeloading minions were friend or foe. The likes of Gloria Arroyo and other prominent politicians that joined Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr.  in the Manila rally have been known to aim for the best of both worlds, but the required logistics kept them from wielding the perfect art and the practice of traditional politics. 

The opposition to charter change is best left at the hands of anyone other than Duterte. While in power, he tried but failed to revise the constitution. In 2019 media interview, he called the 1987 Constitution provision on the country’s exclusive economic zone “senseless and thoughtless,” further defaming it as a piece of “toilet paper.”

The use of what his spokesperson described as yet another metaphor came out in the context of a 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) ruling that “China’s claim—including its nine-dash line, recent land reclamation activities, and other activities in Philippine waters—were unlawful.” China trashed the ruling and, consistent with its snub of the proceedings that led to the decision, did not recognize PCA’s jurisdiction on the issue, a position that China has since defended by taking bullying and aggressive actions to the detriment of the Philippine government’s exercise of sovereignty.

The treacherous bent of the man showed throughout the whole time he represented the country. But no one in Congress dared to impeach him, probably out of fear from losing either physical or financial wellbeing, or both.

Two days after his expletive-littered rant, he called for the secession of Mindanao from a sovereign country whose constitution provides that its territorial integrity is inviolable.

When he was president, he bombed Marawi City to its ground to kill rebels who espoused the same cause. What makes Duterte and the Maute group different is that the latter employed arms to achieve their ends, although he reportedly got licenses for more than 300 firearms two weeks before he stepped down from office.

Duterte warned that President Marcos, Jr. risked being ousted from power unless the latter stopped the charter change drive, perhaps suggesting that public opposition to it constitutes the magnitude of the 1986 people power revolution that toppled the government of his father, the late Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. Despite the obscene manner by which the people’s initiative has been undertaken, I would think that the warning seems presumptuous at this point. The Joseph Estrada parallel is closer to this case—he who fell from power on account of greed and betrayal among friends.    

I would also attribute to friendship as the force that allowed the burial of the late president Marcos, Sr. at the Libingan ng Bayani, as well as the dodging from jail time for convicts like his wife Imelda Marcos and those charged for plunder like Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, Gloria Arroyo, among others. 

The charge that Bongbong Marcos Jr. is a drug addict, debunked promptly by the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), was probably meant to mount a compelling call to action.

Duterte knows if he has been lying all his life, otherwise he discriminates if his drug war killed thousands of drug suspects while the one he believes is a user beyond doubt lives another day to in fact rose to succeed him. In the end, whether he or PDEA is a liar is of lesser consequence than the troubled mind his blabbering strong mouth has exposed.   

President Marcos rebrands his administration


The harder the government presses to sell “Bagong Pilipinas” (New Philippines), the easier it is to recall old, broken promises. 

A few months after President Bongbong Marcos assumed office, he issued an Executive Order and a Memorandum Circular launching the “Bagong Pilipinas Campaign as the Administration's Brand of Governance and Leadership.” Dated 3 July 2023, the Circular defines Bagong Pilipinas as “the overarching theme of the administration’s brand of governance and leadership, which calls for deep and fundamental transformations in all sectors of society and government and fosters the State’s commitment towards the attainment of comprehensive policy reforms and full economic recovery.” The directive also calls for all national government agencies to use communication tools with the “Bagong Pilipinas” logo.

The punch line of a well-received State of the Nation Address he delivered before Congress on the same month proclaimed that the “Bagong Pilipinas has arrived”. 

Amusing how the organizers of the event at the Luneta on 28 January 2023 could call it “kick-off rally” when Malacañang has already kicked around much of the pre-selling. It was a show meant to entertain a crowd. However, instead of charging fees for those who wished to be entertained by it, some were paid just to make themselves available to become part of the audience. They even lured the destitute which, in another place, should be a win for humanity. Prior to the event, the Presidential Communications Office (PCO) announced that the Department of Social Welfare and Development would distribute cash to beneficiaries of its Assistance to Individuals in Crisis Situations program.

Reports said that by the time President Bongbong Marcos stood up to deliver his speech (serving as the highlight of the event, everything else were mounted to lead eyes and ears to it), crowd estimates ranged from 200,000 to 450,000. Among other things, he told the crowd that ‘sa Bagong Pilipinas, bawal ang waldas’ (in English, wasteful spending is not allowed in New Philippines, or something to that effect) in a show that cost the taxpayers at least Php29 million, according to PCO records. Of these expenses, Php5.3 went for “Entertainment Services”. It will probably take an eternity for the Commission on Audit months to count the total cost spent for per diems given to government employees who were required join the rally as these kinds of expenses are normally not reported as such.

What marketing for the new brand does is present an improvement offer, which forces people to admit past failures. The future of Bagong Pilipinas struggles to glimmer against the backdrop not only of a predecessor’s rule who envisioned a “Bagong Lipunan” (New Society), but also by the profile of a profligate, lying, and allegedly thieving younger version of the successor.

Reconciling the fresh rebrand with the mascot’s record is a challenging task. Marcos Jr. has been known for his profligate spending while attending college abroad, also at the taxpayers’ expense of course, which included support for a party-going lifestyle, watching Formula 1 races and rock band concerts, an addiction that he indulges in up to this day. Just recently, he watched an out-of-town concert using a publicly funded chopper for transport.

He claimed to have earned a bachelor’s degree at Oxford University in London, only to balk when the school debunked the accuracy of the claim.

Citing a Supreme Court decision, a former commissioner of the now-moribund Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) said during the 2022 electoral campaign period that then presidential candidate Bongbong Marcos was responsible for “hiding the wealth his family unlawfully acquired during the administration of his late father.” A 2003 Supreme Court ruling established the "undeniable circumstances" and an "avalanche" of documentary evidence against the Marcoses who, the same ruling said, “failed to prove they lawfully acquired $658 million plus interest deposited in Swiss bank accounts.”

An article featured in the University of the Philippines’ Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies published photocopies of Swiss Credit Bank documents that showed his parents (Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and Imelda Marcos) had signed with fictitious names as William Saunders and Jane Ryan, respectively. An account with Citibank in New York in the name of Fernanda Vazquez has also been suspected of being owned by Imelda.

The PCGG estimated that the Marcos family's ill-gotten wealth amounted to billions of US dollars, from a low of 5 billion to a high of 10 billion. The government has reportedly recovered a total of Php170 billion (or around 3 billion dollars in today’s exchange rate) of the stained money since 1986.

When the late Ferdinand Marcos Sr. became president in 1965, the Philippines and South Korea have almost identical Gross Domestic Product per capita incomes. Since then and up to the point of his outer in 1986, World Bank data in current US dollar shows that South Korea’s per capita annual income had risen to $ 2,800, while that of the Philippines wallowed at $600. The average in the rural areas was even worse, hovering at about $100. (For context though: the widening gap between the two countries accelerated even after the Marcos Sr. years, suggesting that Marcos was not entirely the problem.) Equally noteworthy were his outputs in putting up infrastructures, although mostly funded by scandal-marred foreign borrowings) which continue to provide public benefits up to this day.     

Governments at all levels, regardless of who the president is, have never been corrupt free, yet even dirty money may find its way back into the hands of honest labor, helping stimulate economic activity in poor communities. What distinguished corruption during the Marcos Sr. era was that his cronies brought their loot out of the country at the first sign of incoming turbulent weather, perhaps typified by the Dewey Dee caper in 1981. Reportedly fronting Marcos Sr., Dee left the country with millions of unpaid debts, igniting a bank run that further stomped the economy already wobbly under the weight of kleptocracy and overall public distrust in his administration. Inflation rate in 1984 leveled at 50 percent, and as what pollster Mahar Mangahas described as a rare mood meter reading, the pessimists (30 percent) outnumbered the optimists (26 percent).

And yet recovering the stolen money was not the biggest issue then, contrary to what many cash-strapped Filipinos would want history to be written; it may not still be even now. While much of the hidden wealth issue remains unresolved and the stealing of public funds remains rampant up to this day, it is the murder of people that hurts the soul of the nation. The wounds inflicted by state-sanctioned summary killings are beyond healing; the psyche that drives the killings today are likely to be farts (to use a Rodrigo Duterte metaphor) of a residual anger generated by armed conflicts that happened during the dark days of martial law. We have seen enough to know that summary killings and other quick fixes of law enforcement that oversteps due process create more problems than what they intend to address.

The present administration has so much work to do to address the failures of the past, particularly in the protection and promotion of human rights. Facing up to the same broadside of mass murder that blighted the Duterte administration will determine if Bagong Pilipinas is true to its meaning or, like the kick-off rally, it is all for show.


Bums

President Bongbong Marcos and former president Rodrigo Duterte. Photo by abs-cbn.


"Bums" by Ingming Aberia was also published by The Manila Times on 28 February 2024.

He who unfollows the rules is either a maverick or a bum. Mavericks are of two kinds. When people believe them, they are, at one extreme, called prophets; when people don't believe them, they are, at the other extreme, swatted away like a nuisance or discarded as mental cases. In a hostile political environment, those who populate both ends of the spectrum and everyone else in between can attract the ruler's ire, as in the case of many of our heroes who ended up being trolled, ostracized, persecuted, and even condemned to death.

There are two kinds of bums, too. There are the bullying kind who pick fights against those who are not their size but quit the battle when they find their match; and then there are the misfits who think they are saviors but are in fact deserters.

The latest disappointment comes from the mouth of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr.  

Asked (for the nth time) in an impromptu interview if he would allow the International Criminal Court (ICC) to conduct a probe into the country’s war on drugs, the president said “no”.

Although supported by a broad segment of the population, the war on drugs mounted by the government of former president Rodrigo Duterte, Marcos' predecessor, was responsible for thousands of deaths of suspected drug users, many of them in drug raids conducted by government forces in urban poor neighborhoods.

Death toll estimates vary, from a low of 3,891 to a high of 30,000. The government's Drug Enforcement Agency puts the total at 6,201, while the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has it at 8,663. In a 2019 interview, then Philippine National Police spokesman Col. Bernard Banac said that at least 29,000 cases of killings categorized as deaths under inquiry (DUI) have been recorded nationwide.

In 2020, the World Organisation against Torture and the Children's Legal Rights and Development Centre reported that "at least 129 children have been killed in the Philippines' four-year war on drugs, most by police or allied assailants, but they may only represent a fraction of the toll...the tip of the iceberg, because it is only those cases that we were able to document and verify, there may be many more in the country..."

Within a year of the drug war, Amnesty International charged in a report that the police were being paid between Php8,000 to Php15,000 per kill. Police interchangeably used the terms “encounter” and “nanlaban” (fought back) to justify the killings as part of a legitimate operation.

“We’re paid in cash, secretly, by headquarters…There’s no incentive for arresting,” the report added, anonymously quoting a policeman. As a result of the cash incentive, said the cop, “it never happens that there’s a shootout and no one is killed.” Duterte even repeatedly encouraged private citizens to join him in his murderous rampage, making it easy for anyone to settle scores with a handy alibi. In one such occasion, he told a returning group of overseas Filipino workers that “if you lose your job, I’ll give you one. Kill all the drug addicts.”

The Duterte drug war enjoyed broad public approval, especially in its early years of implementation. A 2017 Pulse Asia survey showed that 88 percent of respondents expressed support for it. In 2019, a Social Weather Station survey showed that 82 percent of the respondents expressed satisfaction with how the drug war was being waged, although an almost equal number (76 percent) of respondents thought human rights abuses were committed by law enforcers. Duterte himself benefited from high satisfactory ratings throughout his term, from a “low” of 45 percent in 2018 to a high of 79 percent in 2020.

The DUI cases and the persisting climate of impunity—of the investigations that reached the courts, only three murder cases involving teens Kian delos Santos, Carlo Arnaiz and Reynaldo de Guzman have prospered, resulting in conviction—indict the country’s judicial processes. The willingness and the effort to hear thousands of drug war cases are patently scarce. Only the intervention of someone not beholden to wielders of political power like the ICC can plug the go-to gaps.

Duterte, Marcos and the International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court in The Hague.

When he was a senator, Bongbong Marcos signed the 2011 Senate resolution for the ratification of the Rome Statute of the ICC. The late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago who sponsored the ICC resolution, said:

"If the state is already investigating or prosecuting its own head of state or similar official, the Court will not intervene. But if the state is unwilling or unable to prosecute, then the Court will try the case in The Hague. By concurring in the ratification of the Rome Statute, the Philippines will help the Court to end the culture of impunity and affirm our position as a leading human rights advocate in Asia."

Threatened by an ICC suit, Duterte unilaterally pulled the Philippines out of the Rome treaty in 2018. The withdrawal took effect a year later. But last year, the ICC dismissed the Philippine government’s appeal to defer its investigations on the drug war killings, claiming to have assumed its jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed from 2011 until 2019.

Duterte’s drug campaign unfollowed the rules, but he quickly quit the battle and untied his responsibility for it when he found his match. Now Marcos takes a no-harm, no-foul, do-nothing approach to the issue of the inviolability of human rights. It is like playing iwas pusoy—a safe refuge for bums. In that same interview, he rationalizes that he has yet to see answers to the question of jurisdiction and sovereignty.

Will he change his mind based on evidence? Marcos said no. “It’s not about the evidence. It’s about the jurisdiction of the ICC in the Philippines. They could produce as much evidence as they want. But they could not act upon it in the Philippines, that is the point.”

Did he, based on evidence, work with Philippine judicial processes so there would be no need for ICC to intervene? No. After more than two years in office, he has not done anything rim-rattling to show he cares for the truth, for justice, for social conscience.

Both Marcos and Duterte recognize the hand of God in their rise to the presidency. In the 2022 presidential campaign, he said that God had other plans for him after he lost his vice-presidential bid to Leni Robredo. As the deadline for substituting candidates approached in 2015, Duterte mumbled something like: "Well, let us see. I don’t know. I leave it to God. If he wants me there, he will place me there. Ganoon iyan. It’s God’s play. It’s not ours.”

They think they are sent by God to save his people but are nowhere to be found when the higher call of truth and justice beckons. They are unfit to think or do something sensible when it matters. On the promotion of human rights, they are bums.


When exploitation goes too far

 


When exploitation goes too far was also published by The Manila Times on 31 January 2024. Photo credits: Manila Times cartoon and PCIJ.org

The ballyhoo over the ongoing drive to either revise or amend the constitution through people’s initiative (PI) echoes the continuing exploitation of the governed by those who govern.

To use the people as tool to legitimize the exercise of power has for a long time been a fixture of Philippine political landscape.

To cite John Carroll, SJ, my late and former boss at the Institute on Church and Social Issues (now John Carroll Institute on Church and Social Issues), a research non-government organization based at the Ateneo de Manila University, in an article titled “The Philippines: Forgiving or Forgetting?”:  

In the year 1900, following the Spanish-American War and the American occupation of the Philippines, William Howard Taft arrived in Manila as the head of the US Government's Philippine Commission which was to decide the future of these islands. The story is told that he was met by a delegation of prominent Filipinos, ilustrados, who pressed for immediate independence. Their argument was that for a people to be self-governing all that was required was a minority capable of ruling and a majority willing to be ruled, both of which the Philippines had. Whether or not the story is historically accurate, it does reflect the elitist mentality of the cosmopolitan and educated Filipino upper class of the time, and perhaps today as well.

Today, 124 years later, our decision-making processes as a nation remains largely reliant on structures being controlled by the minority that also remains exclusively composed of modern-day ilustrados. At the foot of these structures is a flawed system of representation and a metastasized version of democracy. Our democratic system regurgitates rubbish: we continue to elect to public office members of the elite and traditional politicians, even those who had been publicly shown to have compromised their integrity. In a book published in 1997, Frank Golay commented on the kind of exclusive unity among traditional politicians (compromised or not) since the post-independence period: “The coherence of the elite was not surprising, for their mandate to rule had been repeatedly renewed by the Filipino people.”  

It is easy to turn our eyes to the average voter for this social malady. However, the problem must be understood correctly. Unlike the learned few, the average voter has limited access to information that empowers analytical thinking and liberates from inaction and ignorance. Instead, the average voter is exposed through mainstream and social media to the constant pounding of manipulative information.

Yet the problem is not solely about most voters not having access to quality information. (Otherwise an effective system of representation where elected politicians work for the interests of the majority would suffice to address it.) Rather the problem is about people who manipulate the truth to control other people. At the hands of politicians, powered by wealth and patronage, manipulation is a tool to exploit the basic weakness of the people—which is their collective inability to make sense of open paths to reforms due to lack of liberating information.

The 1987 constitution promised a way to break the stranglehold of political power by the elite which, in a twist of wonder and irony, now risks being re-written by way of a PI.

That promise is far from being realized, however, as decades of trying to implement its liberating and people-centered reform provisions are at best enacted into laws in their most feeble of forms, or, at worst, remain untouched, doomed to be trashed and sadly oblivion-bound. These reform paths include agrarian reform, anti-dynasty provisions, and participatory governance.

While Congress has passed an agrarian reform law, it did not provide for adequate measures to ensure its positive impact. Worse, the executive arm of government has nothing much to show for success in implementing that law in terms of, for example, the number of farming families that have been lifted from poverty. It is easy to see that the system of representation is conflicted, as many members of Congress and political appointees in government are landowners who would be adversely affected by a genuine land reform program.    

The anti-dynasty provisions promise to democratize the opportunities for public service through the electoral process by levelling the arena for contending political candidates. The prospect of inviting competition hurts the interests of established players of the game, who are thus justified to never seriously consider this constitutional lobby.

Probably emboldened by how “people power” had ended a dictatorship, the framers of the 1987 constitution must have deemed it uplifting to promote people participation in running the government. Novel approaches to promote participatory governance include local autonomy, a party-list mechanism, and legislation through PI. 

A local government code was enacted in 1991 (one of a few redeeming achievements of Congress in the post-Marcos1 era), but its powerful tools that aimed to promote inclusive and participatory governance through institutionalization of broad-based local councils and community-driven processes remain largely unharnessed.

The party-list system is a mess. Initially intended to bring the basic sectors from the margins of society to the elite-dominated center, the party-list representatives in congress are now mostly dominated not by the marginalized sectors but by the same crop of traditional business and partisan interests.

The enactment of laws through PI has been a practical impossibility—perhaps until now. Behind an organized ploy by yet unknown but suspected powerful politicians, the hyped-up charter change drive through PI appears to be gaining traction, despite protestations from certain sectors, notably a number of sitting senators. The Commission on Elections, which is tasked with verifying the signatures in a PI process, has reportedly received several copies of those signatures already.

Like the party-list system, the PI route is being highjacked by powerful vested interests. Previous attempts to fiddle with the constitution failed largely because of distrust in the ulterior motives of politicians. It seems there is now a shift in strategy. Some politicians hide behind the PI to make it look like there is public ownership of constitutional issues. Politicians in general win the vote by exploiting our messed-up political culture; and now they seem poised to win even more. Exploitation has gone overdrive, from winning the vote to possibly perpetuating themselves in power.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. tried to perpetuate himself in power. The government that supplanted “Bagong Lipunan” facilitated the writing of a new constitution that would have made it harder for succeeding administrations to perpetuate themselves in power. But another Marcos with his “Bagong Pilipinas” battle cry is now up in arms, rallying his troops of no less than 31 million voters to fight for his cause. Filial duty suggests that Bongbong Marcos should undo the remnants of what undid his father. Would the ends of the PI suit him? Is he the one behind it?     

         

If the constitution must be re-written or amended, the aim must be to correct its failed promises. We need to make authentic participatory governance work and ensure that the task of policy making is not left exclusively to the control of traditionally elected representatives of the people in government.

Public debt: politician’s gain, taxpayer’s pain?

 

Photo credit: The Manila Times cartoon.

Public debt: politician’s gain, taxpayer’s pain? was also published by The Manila Times on 24 January 2024.

Yesterday, 23 January 2024, national government debt increased by Php15 billion through a Treasury bills (T-bills) auction. The auction will be repeated every seven days until God knows when. Then today, 24 January 2024, Treasury bonds (T-bonds) worth Php 30 billion await the winning bidders. This weekly awarding of billions of pesos to bidders (investors, from the perspective of financial institutions, or lenders from the perspective of taxpayers) has been regularly conducted electronically since 1996. We borrow billions today to pay billions we borrowed as recently as three months ago. While this makes the investors richer, this leaves the taxpayers with hardly a time to catch their breath. 

Both T-bills and T-bonds are securities (or debt-investment instruments) issued by the national government to investors who lend money to the government for the latter’s use. They guarantee repayment of principal (face value of the bond) plus interest to investors at maturity date. The Bureau of the Treasury (BTr) principally manages national government debt—organizing the auctions; managing reputational and operational risks; keeping the records, and validating as well as analyzing debt data; marketing the debt instruments (creating their demand and making them sound more like investment opportunities rather than a necessary burden to be lifted by taxpayers); coordinating with other government agencies on debt strategies and setting the debt calendar; engaging the private financial sector to help develop the local capital market, etc.  

The BTr started posting online the schedule and results of T-bills and T-bonds offering in 2012. For January 11, 2012, the combined (all tenors) offering for T-bills was Php 9 billion, for January 5, 2012, the combined offering for T-bonds was Php 18 billion. From 2012 to the first quarter of 2024, the absolute volume of offering has increased by an annual average of 3 percent for T-bills, and 7 percent for T-bonds. The combined T-bills that are being offered on the table for each of the 13 auction days in the first quarter of 2024 are Php 15 billion; for T-bonds, Php 120 billion.

Maturity dates (or tenor) vary. The tenor of T-bills (91 days, 182 days, and 364 days) is shorter than that of T-bonds (5 years, 7 years, or 10 years). The calendar sets the auction for T-bills every Monday and for T-bonds every Tuesday. There are exceptions, such as this week or when either of those days fall on a holiday, or during times of calamities such as when there is typhoon or massive flooding. Occasionally, the government also issues special bonds, such as Retail Treasury Bond (RTB), Premyo Bond and, recently, Sukuk (Islamic) bond.   

Investors generally prefer the shorter-term T-bills over T-bonds (1 peso in one’s pocket today is of greater value than 2 pesos that is yet to be collected tomorrow?). On the other hand, the government prefers T-bonds over T-bills (allowing the incumbent administration to pass the task of collecting taxes by which to repay the borrowing to the next administration?) and offers bigger returns to sell them.

At yesterday’s auction, annual interest averaged at 5.306 percent for the 91-day (3 months) debt paper, 5.766 percent for the 182-day (6 months) debt instrument, and 6.037 percent for the 364-day (1 year) issuance. The longer the maturity, the costlier the borrowing would be to the taxpayer. In any case, the average interest rate at 5.64 for 2024 borrowings (assuming the full offering in the amount of Php 780 billion for the year is fully awarded) would be Php 35.2 billion (net of 20 percent tax). For past, present, and future generations, it has become a fact of life that taxpayers are paying interest today for T-bills issued three months ago, six months ago, or a year ago.   

Interest rates (the taxpayers’ burden) increased across the board in seven days. In last week’s T-bills auction, on 17 January 2024, the 91-day instrument cost the taxpayers an annual average interest rate of 5.226; 5.685 percent for the 182-day instrument; and 5.999 percent for the 364-day instrument.   

One wonders why there is a need for T-bills, among other short-term securities (these issuances are patterned after the credit instruments of advanced countries). What are their proceeds imputed for? (Money is fungible, they say, so in the end it does not matter which fund source supports what.) It is unlikely they are meant to augment unfunded emergency expenses of government, given that the Marawi rehabilitation, for example, has taken years to even get started, or the emergency shelter assistance for super typhoon Yolanda victims that has taken up to three years to be distributed. It seems the easier way to explain it is that they are meant to stabilize cash flow positions in a regime where debt servicing and guaranteed contingencies have become a constant strain.   

T-bonds, on the other hand, appear to address the budget deficit of the national government. For 2024, total proceeds from these bonds are projected to hit Php 1.8 trillion. The national government budget for this year is Php 5.768 trillion pesos, which is heavier (from the taxpayer’s perspective) by 9.5 percent than the 2023 budget. The projected deficit is Php 1.4 trillion.

Credit must be given to the bureaucrats in government, and to the BTr in particular, for having helped develop a robust local capital market over the years. This strategic, yet tsimis-sensitive, fund source has helped keep everybody happy: the financial institutions who make relatively modest money from risk-free investments in government securities, the politicians who get their pet projects funded, and the voters who keep the same crop of crafty politicians elected to office in every election.

Domestic borrowing, apart from foreign borrowing, has become handy for the national government to fund the budget deficit, and for the politicians (starting with the president) and the political appointees who continue to dream big with their innovative schemes to best serve the country. These evolving schemes include, among the notable ones: winning the peace by increasing their confidential funds at a dizzying rate every year; intensifying the seduction of foreign investments by doubling the budget for foreign travels, also every year; by arousing countryside development through staggering amounts of congressional allocations to favored partisan allies; and promoting inclusive yet discretionary governance by institutionalizing unprogrammed, pork barrel, funds.

Each year’s budget is unprecedented for the weight of the burden it imposes on the taxpayer and for the rate at which it grows its pork belly fat. 


Manila and the elderly me


I went to the barangay hall (a residential unit that serves as an office) last December to claim cash subsidy for senior citizens. I've been one of Manila's senior citizens since January 2023.

The mood was light and enticing, as can be expected in such an occasion where oldies become kids again, showing more animation as the time to open their Christmas presents approaches. I got old dismissing myself as a social animal, but I was there: trying to exchange feel-good banter among fellow elderlies. I could also sense the good-mannered mien of barangay officials and staff members. While waiting for my turn, one of them offered to print three photocopies of my senior citizen ID.

And then my name was called. My anticipation grew to excitement as I took a seat in front of the barangay chairwoman. Shortly after she gave me two glossy one-thousand-peso bills, she asked me to raise them, along with a print copy of my ID, to level with my wrinkled face. She herself was taking my photo like she did with all beneficiaries before me. 

I joked about the elaborate rituals. I also thought about the environment owing to what seemed to me as inordinate use of paper for the documentation, but I kept this thought to myself. 

"For audit purposes," she explained.

There was more. The chairwoman also gave away boxes with a Manila City Hall label and branding. She also took photos of these gifts with the happy recipients. I would later learn that this box contained a coffee mug.

After the profuse thank-you repartees, it was time for me to sign the acknowledgement sheet. Another staffer scanned the roster for me. After going over all the lists, she announced to my horror that I was not in any of them. She however clarified that I was in the "not qualified" list.

I heard staccato of words coming from the barangay chairwoman, her staff, and fellow elderlies. They probably meant to console me, but I could not exactly remember what they said. All I remembered was Manny Pacquiao landing a sneaky punch on my flat nose. For a few seconds I tried to recover from a knockout blow. In my embarrassment and with reluctance, I returned the money and the box to the barangay chairwoman.    

The barangay staffer who earlier produced photocopies of my ID offered to message somebody—assumably one who had authority—for clarification. I waited for her word, who later advised me to proceed to the Manila Office for Senior Citizens Affairs at San Andres in Malate. And so to the OSCA in Malate I went the next day.

I have been to this place when I applied for my ID a year ago and had to remind myself that three copies of each document that need to be processed would be required. So I decided to have three copies of my ID photocopied prior to proceeding to the OSCA. Unlike the people at the barangay hall, the people at OSCA did not appear pleased to see me, correctly judging that I was worth nothing more than rubbish and probably dump-bound. 

Feeling prepared and accomplished, I showed an OSCA staffer the three copies of my ID while explaining to him that the barangay had sent me to them. I decided against pounding on the tale of my aborted cash gifts after noting no one among my fellow OSCA callers was there to claim anything. The staffer was about to launch a homily on how people like me are better off by following instructions when another staffer, a lady, intervened to say I was probably in the dump list. The guy attending to me must have felt relief to find a way by which to get rid of me. "Go to City Hall," he said.

At the OSCA in City Hall, crews of mostly young female staffers made sure their visitors felt attended to. I wondered if it was policy to hire more women when old men were always outnumbered by old women anywhere. The thought was out of order, of course, and I had to settle with the observation that OSCA staffers were trained to keep old men charmed; and also maybe to keep them from feeling grumpy? It definitely did not take long for me to feel grumpy.

One of the staffers offered me a chair as soon as she saw me trying to make my way to the entrance door, assuring me of her support as if I was inside the office myself. I liked this set up. It meant I did not need to argue my case with anyone. But it also prompted me to think that the office did not have enough space for its visitors. Like many of its neighboring cities, Manila just doesn't have enough space for its constituents: the homeless on the streets and those who call the sidewalks their workplaces—vendors (both mobile and extensions of existing structures) and yes, even barangay fixtures, facilities, and police precincts. 

But space limitations don't prevent OSCA in Manila City Hall from getting its job done. As I waited for feedback from the staffer to whom I gave photocopies of my ID after telling her the purpose of my visit, I could see fellow senior citizens leaving the place with the look of satisfied customers. 

After about fifteen minutes, the staffer came back to me with a heartbreaking news. She said I was in the inactive list because I supposedly failed to claim the cash subsidy in two previous occasions that this dole out was given by the city government. I tried to explain that the first time I went to the barangay in April 2023, the barangay officials did not found my name in the list, assuring me instead that I should be included in the next payout; the second time in August 2023, the same barangay officials told me there was nothing left for me because I was late, again assuring me that I should be included in the next payout.

I raised my voice in protest, arguing with the polite and calm lady staffer to whom I should have apologized later, that I did try to claim my cash subsidy on every occasion that I got wind of it, except that each time I did so I left the barangay empty handed. My agitated pleading changed nothing. She advised me to get a certificate of re-activation from my barangay.

On reflection, I can understand why OSCA unqualifies those who are unable to claim their goodies for the two previous payout dates. But I think the basis of such a policy is a false, cold-blooded assumption: that either the beneficiary has died or has transferred to another local government unit (LGU), so there is no point in appropriating funds for something that is not there.  

Despite the paper-and-ink-heavy documentation that both OSCA and the barangay require for their transactions, they are unable to support their operating protocol with data. Otherwise, they would have known that I have yet to die and have not transferred to another OSCA. LGUs in fact have a strategic resource that they can leverage to access data from Comelec, Philhealth, Department of Social Welfare and Development, Bureau of Internal Revenue, among other agencies of government. Pooling of government data through application programming interface (API) for whole-of-government use can boost LGUs' digital transformation, especially in areas of disaster risk management and property tax management reform. This resource is civil registry data on births and deaths. Use of this data can put an end to fraud that exploits thousands of members Philhealth, Comelec, GSIS, SSS and other pension systems, etc. who appear on their records as alive but are in reality already living in another world.

I can also understand why LGUs would prefer to spend money to hire people than invest in digitalization. People can vote in an election, while machines cannot. While efficient administration and good governance is good politics—in many cities in Japan, South Korea and China, for example, people pay their property taxes online in a process that (i) gets done in less than five minutes, (ii) minimizes cheating and evasion, and (iii) resolves disputes in a highly transparent manner—but it may not necessarily mean the reformers get rewarded at the polls.  

Revolutionizing Governance: The Vision of a People's Congress

Photo credit: Inquirer.net

Pioneering a New Paradigm: The People's Congress

Looking ahead to the next two or three generations, the discourse on envisioning a transformative People's Congress to supplant the current Senate and House of Representatives—or any evolved forms following a potential shift to federalism—should initiate. The impetus for overhauling the representation system in government arises from years of grappling with a malfunctioning political landscape. As previously stated, Congress, once an extension of presidential influence, now resembles a superfluous appendix, prompting contemplation on its abolishment to rejuvenate the democratic ideal.

A People's Congress embodies direct citizen participation. This encompasses Filipino citizens, registered voters scattered across the globe, collectively exercising the powers and functions vested in the present Congress members. Advancements in communication technology furnish the means for the viability of this concept, a luxury absent during the inception of the United States. When the Founding Fathers convened in what is now Washington DC, they laid the groundwork for American independence and the two houses of Congress. Albeit mirrored in our own system, this conventional model is now antiquated, outshined by the digital age.

A Glimpse of the Future: Technological Foundation

Modern social networking platforms—Facebook and YouTube being prime examples—where up to 500 million users concurrently engage, fostering dialogue and even hosting live broadcasts, offer a window into the future People's Congress.

Imagine a secure web portal, fortified by alternating servers, accommodating up to 100 concurrent committee meetings. To partake in these sessions, a voter must first register, subsequently accessing the portal with their COMELEC credentials. The user-friendly interface would grant effortless access to committee "rooms," fostering an environment conducive to advocating for or opposing legislative proposals. Feedback would be ranked by the number of "likes" or supporters.

Innovation in Action: Streamlined Decision-making

The existing concept of people's initiative, stipulated in the current constitution, would naturally evolve into the default process for presenting, deliberating, and sanctioning legislative proposals, obviating the need for collecting signatures.

A dedicated People's Secretariat, in collaboration with the Department of Information and Communications Technology, would emulate the functions of the current Congressional Secretariat, managing the operation of the People's Congress website.

Fundamental congressional protocols, such as committee meetings and plenary sessions, would be preserved to the extent feasible. For certain cases—bill approval, impeachment rulings, and international treaty ratifications—a simple majority of registered users constitutes a quorum. Legislative proposals must secure a majority within a year; failure prompts resubmission as a fresh bill, commencing another cycle of review, debate, and revision.

Empowerment Through Unity: One User, One Vote

The principle of one user, one vote stands—users cannot possess multiple accounts, reinforcing fairness and equality. The inaugural People's Congress session might focus on the national budget's approval. Subsequent gatherings prioritize budget discussions over other pending matters. As a transitional measure, pending bills from the existing congress would be automatically reintroduced.

Certain prerequisites must be met before the People's Congress can function effectively. Assuming the free WIFI bill transitions into law—potentially initiated by local government units—the executive branches of government, encompassing LGUs, and the civil service system would remain unchanged. Nonetheless, an analogous People's Congress model for LGUs, mirroring the national version, would eventually emerge within a phased timeline.

A Beacon of True Democracy: For the People, By the People

The People's Congress breathes life into the adage "government by the people, of the people, and for the people." The logical progression entails constitutional amendment to institute the People's Congress via people's initiative.

For visionaries like myself, it's prudent to acknowledge that, albeit inadvertently, this proposal could displace certain individuals—especially those tied to political dynasties—from their positions of power. Patience becomes paramount, as we embrace this cause, much like a caterpillar metamorphosing into a butterfly, shedding its former self to embrace a new, transformative identity.

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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 13 July 2019 with the title "Visualizing a People's Congress".

Redefining Government Efficiency: A Call for Prudent Reforms

Photo credit: eRepublic

Rethinking Governance: A Bold Proposition

Amid the labyrinth of governance intricacies, a radical notion emerges: could abolishing, rather than proliferating, government agencies be the antidote to a myriad of challenges? Furthermore, envisioning a future where citizens directly shape collective decisions, circumventing elected representatives, casts a new light on the role of institutions such as Congress. This shift relegates them to redundancy and bolsters the case for their dissolution.

Presently, the imperative to streamline governmental operations beckons. Instances abound:

Congress: A Mere Extension of Presidential Influence

Amid reports that House members gauge the President's body language to elect a Speaker, a disconcerting pattern emerges. This behavior implies a lack of independent thought and reveals Congress as a costly appendage—a relic of bygone democratic aspirations, rendering itself superfluous.

Judicial Languor and Political Careerism

The lengthy trials of Jinggoy Estrada and Junjun Binay epitomize judicial stagnation. Pronouncements arrived only after voter decisions quashed their political hopes. The languid pace of justice delivery epitomizes public servants as freeloaders, thriving in a culture reliant on private enterprise and community effort.

The Myth of Government Assistance

A closer look at poverty exposes a paradox. Rural toilers labor tirelessly for crops on lands often owned by landlords. Urban workers struggle with meager wages, while informal settlers subsist near dumps or beneath bridges. Fishermen brave tempests to sustain families. What the poor truly yearn for is equitable enforcement of laws. Government's role is simple: safeguard farmers from price manipulation, shield urban dwellers from unjust evictions, and defend fishermen's rights against foreign aggressors. In the absence of fairness, government becomes irrelevant to the impoverished.

Government's Waste and Stagnation

Resource wastage by the government often hampers its responsiveness and efficiency. Institutional amnesia and a lack of knowledge management exacerbate corruption, hampering effective problem-solving. Initiatives such as establishing a Department of Water Services signal the belated recognition of squandered opportunities. The National Water Crisis Act of 1995 sought to avert the current water predicament. Watershed significance is underscored: dams hinge on their supportive ecosystems. Yet, commercial interests ravage these ecosystems, necessitating costly rehabilitation financed by taxpayers.

Missteps in Governance Through History

A retrospective examination unearths unsettling truths. Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile marred the forests of Samar while transforming the military into a personal army. The resulting intimidation curtailed resistance against the pillaging of San Jose Timber Corporation, owned by Enrile himself. In another instance, the Werfast gun licensing imbroglio, involving ex-PNP Chief Alan Purisima, exposes corruption hindering police modernization. This echoes in the military's growth—stymied by monetary pursuits, even arms trading with rebel factions.

Yearning for True Transformation

The tapestry of government is riddled with missed opportunities, whether by negligence or intent. This cumulative frustration begs the question: how long can citizens endure the wait for tangible, enduring change? The thirst for genuine progress intensifies as aspirations remain unmet, casting doubt on the trajectory of governance.

Redefining the Future: A Quest for Reform

In the intricate mosaic of governance, a call for reformation reverberates. An efficient, responsive government remains a utopian ideal. The proposition to abolish redundant entities and empower citizens in collective decisions echoes the spirit of true democracy. The quest for a streamlined, accountable government becomes paramount. To advance the welfare of the nation and its constituents, a reimagining of governance—one anchored in transparency, fairness, and progress—beckons.

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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 13 July 2019 with the title "Useless".

Deciphering Voter Trends: An Analysis of Senatorial Candidate Preferences

Winston Churchill on the average voter. Photo credit: Screengrab from Twitter.com


Unveiling the Pulse Asia Survey Results

In April 2019, the Philippines witnessed a pivotal moment as the latest Pulse Asia survey unveiled the leading senatorial candidates a month before the May 13 elections. The top 12 candidates emerged in the following sequence: 1. Cynthia Villar, 2. Grace Poe, 3. Lito Lapid, 4. Pia Cayetano, 5. Bong Go, 6. Sonny Angara, 7. Bong Revilla, 8. Bato dela Rosa, 9. Nancy Binay, 10. Koko Pimentel, 11. Imee Marcos, and 12. Jinggoy Estrada.

While survey results might falter, they could also reflect a significant shift in the political landscape. If accurate, these findings underscore the likelihood of elevating five candidates with questionable backgrounds to senatorial positions. Revilla, acquitted of one charge but ordered to return P124.5 million, grapples with 16 graft charges. Estrada faces trial for plunder and graft, albeit on bail. Marcos contends with an Ombudsman probe on alleged tobacco fund misuse. Lapid encountered graft charges in 2015, eventually dismissed due to Ombudsman investigation delays. Dela Rosa, meanwhile, faces a complaint tied to alleged Davao Death Squad activities.

Churchill's Caution and the Complexity of Voting

Winston Churchill's famous remark about democracy and the average voter's intellect resounds through the years. He cautioned that a brief conversation with an average voter reveals the pitfalls of democracy. This insight remains relevant as we analyze voter trends and their potential impact on the nation's trajectory.

The Challenge of Informed Voting

Churchill's point raises concerns about uninformed and irrational voting. Beyond ignorance, some voters are consciously disinterested or driven by falsehoods. These dynamics pose a challenge to the democratic process. A key question emerges: Who is the average voter, and what influences their decisions?

Appearance vs. Record: A Tug of War

A glimpse into the choices of voters reveals an intriguing tussle between appearance and record. The popularity of Revilla and Estrada — propelled by charisma — underlines a propensity to prioritize personality over accomplishments. This preference extends to Lapid and other frontrunners, where media exposure significantly influences outcomes.

The critical factor appears to be awareness levels. The top seven candidates, ranked by votes, boast awareness rates exceeding 98 percent. This underscores the power of recall built over years of messaging, emphasizing the need for sustained media outreach preceding elections. Notably, newcomers like Chel Diokno, Romy Macalintal, and Samira Gutoc, who gained media prominence during the campaign, exhibit lower awareness rates (31 to 50 percent).

The Significance of Media Presence

The resonance of the average voter with media messages necessitates an extended media presence to impact their choices. The identities of Poe and Villar, intrinsically linked to public figures like Fernando Poe Jr. and Manny Villar, showcase the transcendence of awareness. This phenomenon highlights the voter's reliance on familiar associations.

Intellectual Prowess vs. Relatability

Intriguingly, voters may not be drawn to intellectual superiority in candidates. The average voter might lean towards candidates they perceive as relatable. Consequently, candidates like Pimentel and Pilo Hilbay, distinguished bar topnotchers, might not elicit the same enthusiasm as candidates who connect on a more approachable level. MATHGRAD's rivalry with Larry Gadon, despite Gadon's absence of intellectual acclaim, echoes this sentiment.

The Power of Influences

External forces play a pivotal role in shaping voter decisions. Whether influenced by promises of career progression or indebtedness to sources of support, voters are swayed by factors beyond mere merit. Circumstances involving Robin Hood figures, drug lords, warlords, or political dynasts can alter the voter's path.

Love for Victory and Collective Influence

A deep-seated human trait is the affinity for winners. Backing survey leaders transforms the average voter into a vicarious winner. The psychological satisfaction of being associated with the winning group further steers voter choices.

Democracy's Unceasing Struggle

As the Philippines navigates its democratic journey, the average voter's characteristics continue to mold the nation's course. Churchill's observation, while incisive, should not deter the ongoing quest for informed and responsible voting. The average voter's identity comprises a diverse spectrum, encompassing individuals from various walks of life, experiences, and motivations. Recognizing this complexity is essential for refining the democratic process and ensuring that voter preferences align with the nation's progress.

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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 10 May 2019 with the title "The Average Voter". 

Balancing Priorities: Security and Poverty Alleviation


Photo credit: Business World Online

Intriguing Perspectives on Priorities

Foreign Affairs and the Challenge of Priorities

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin recently stirred the conversation on Twitter with a thought-provoking statement: "... Every country can speak whatever is on its mind. What [China] says should not determine foreign policy but it should inform the national budgetary process that we gotta stop throwing money at poverty and throw it at weaponry...." This intriguing perspective raises questions about the delicate balance between national security and poverty alleviation.

Reacting to Perspectives

Locsin's words were in response to a tweet by Senator Panfilo Lacson, who shared an interview transcript with China's then Maj. Gen. Zhang Zhaozhong discussing Beijing's 'cabbage strategy' during the 2012 standoff with the Philippines over Scarborough Shoal. The conversation underscores China's territorial actions and mindset.

Locsin's assertions have sparked discussions, including criticism from individuals like celebrity entertainer Regine Velazquez, who voiced concerns about territorial invasions. Velazquez's response highlights the emotional dimension of foreign policy decisions.

Unraveling the Arguments

Locsin's viewpoint merits scrutiny. While his emphasis on bolstering national security is valid, his stance on diverting resources from poverty alleviation warrants a closer examination.

Clams and Territorial Transgressions

Addressing China's actions requires more than dismissing them as mere clams. The incursion involves territorial transgressions that go beyond theft, raising concerns about sovereignty and environmental impact. These actions are part of a larger pattern of territorial violations that demand robust responses.

Constitutional Responsibilities

Critically, the Constitution charges government with addressing poverty and promoting security. The presence of party-list members in the House of Representatives underscores the commitment to addressing marginalized sectors. Security and poverty alleviation are not opposing pursuits, but rather intertwined imperatives that shape a nation's progress.

Challenging Dichotomies

Contrary to Locsin's assertion, the pursuit of security need not come at the expense of poverty alleviation. Navigating these priorities requires a balanced approach that acknowledges both imperatives.

The Role of Diplomacy

The notion that focusing on security negates poverty alleviation oversimplifies complex global dynamics. Framing the scenario as Jerry the mouse versus Tom the cat overlooks the nuanced role of diplomacy in shaping outcomes. Diplomacy offers a means to influence rules and perceptions on a larger stage.

Strengthening Anti-Poverty Initiatives

Dissatisfaction with anti-poverty efforts is understandable, but the solution lies in enhancing these initiatives, not abandoning them. Addressing poverty is not just a social imperative; it's a strategic move that empowers a nation to manage internal and external challenges effectively.

Converging Goals: Security and Prosperity

For nations with histories of colonization and exploitation, security and poverty eradication converge as fundamental goals. Viewing them as competing aims fails to recognize their interconnectedness. A nation that succeeds in one and falters in the other does not achieve half-success; it faces a comprehensive failure.

Shifting Perspectives

The belief that weapons alone can ensure safety reflects a limited perspective. A broader outlook recognizes the power of skillful diplomacy in shaping a balanced playing field. Embracing a strategic approach that accounts for both security and poverty alleviation is essential.

The Way Forward

Balancing security and poverty alleviation demands strategic foresight. Rather than pitting priorities against each other, the challenge lies in harmonizing them for comprehensive progress.

In Conclusion

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin's insights spark contemplation on the interplay between national security and poverty alleviation. The discourse underscores the complexity of addressing these priorities and the need for a nuanced approach that acknowledges their symbiotic relationship. As nations navigate global dynamics, the quest for security and prosperity emerges as an integrated pursuit that shapes the trajectory of nations on the global stage.

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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 10 May 2019 with the title "Weaponry or Poverty?".

Enhancing Transparency and Efficiency with Open Government Contracting

Photo credit: Open Contracting


In the realm of procurement and contracting, a groundbreaking approach is revolutionizing how governments and organizations manage public funds. This cutting-edge practice, known as Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS), introduces an innovative framework to foster transparency, effectiveness, and integrity in public contracting processes. Developed in 2014 by the World Bank in collaboration with the Omidyar Network, OCDS holds the potential to reshape the landscape of government expenditure.

Unlocking Insights through Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS)

Open Contracting Data Standard (OCDS) emerges as a dynamic open data standard that pioneers the online dissemination of structured information at every phase of the contracting journey. This process spans from initial planning to seamless implementation. OCDS, as defined by open-contracting.org, encompasses both procurement and contract administration aspects, including the crucial stage of compensating contractors and providers for their delivered goods and services.

Transparency at Every Level

OCDS operates on a three-tier disclosure model, each catering to different levels of information granularity. The fundamental level encompasses tender and award notifications. The intermediate stage advances beyond basic data by incorporating unique identifiers and JSON-based classifications. Notably, this tier also encompasses downloadable, structured excel files in CSV format, providing comprehensive accessibility.

A Leap into Advanced Detail

The apex of OCDS introduces the advanced level, encompassing intricate aspects such as contract amendments and updates. The dataset extends to include comprehensive contract particulars and the real-time status of both physical and financial progress. This enriched level of detail facilitates a deeper understanding of the contracting landscape.

Harnessing the Power of Unique Identifiers

Comparable to an ISBN for published books, the unique identifier serves as the backbone of OCDS. This identifier is affixed to contractors, ensuring their traceability and accountability. This transformative feature empowers anyone with internet access to delve into the contracting history of an entity like Company X. This capability extends to scrutinizing completed and ongoing contracts, fostering a higher level of transparency.

Unleashing the Potential

The strategic interlinking of data sets utilizing JSON and APIs paves the way for OCDS's unparalleled functionality. These interconnections facilitate dynamic analyses and empower stakeholders to unearth insights that were previously concealed.

A Roadmap to Better Governance

The implications of OCDS transcend the realm of data standardization. By embracing and deploying structured, standardized data about public contracting, stakeholders can unlock a myriad of advantages. These include:

  • Enhanced Value for Money: Governments can optimize their resource allocation, yielding better returns on public spending.
  • Elevated Fairness: OCDS fosters an equitable competition arena, leveling the playing field for businesses of all sizes, particularly smaller enterprises.
  • Elevated Quality of Goods and Services: Through comprehensive insights, stakeholders can drive the delivery of high-caliber goods, works, and services to citizens.
  • Fraud Prevention: OCDS serves as a shield against corruption and fraudulent activities, ensuring that public funds are channeled toward their intended purposes.
  • Empowering Smart Analysis: The abundance of data paves the way for astute analyses, nurturing innovative solutions to complex public challenges.

Trust and Transformation

OCDS champions the notion that public access to open contracting data is the bedrock of trust-building. This approach guarantees that the substantial investments made by governments yield improved services, superior goods, and transformative infrastructure projects. Currently, OCDS is gaining traction in numerous countries, encompassing Canada, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Romania, Moldova, Ukraine, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Paraguay.

PhilGEPS: A Collaborative Path Forward

The Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System (PhilGEPS) already facilitates access to procurement-related data via its website. While the platform presently offers downloadable CSV files of tender and award notices, its evolution in the direction of open data initiatives such as OCDS is foreseeable. This evolution stands to unlock a treasure trove of additional insights accessible through open-domain websites.

Illuminating the Shadows of Corruption

In a landscape riddled with gaps in government procurement and contract administration, substantial portions of public funds remain susceptible to wastage. Recently, Deputy Ombudsman Cyril Ramos disclosed that the Philippines suffers a staggering loss of around P700 billion annually, equivalent to approximately 20 percent of the nation's total budget allocation, due to corruption.

The vision of a corruption-free government procurement system resembles a prized treasure at the end of the rainbow. Although the aspiration to attain this treasure remains unwavering, the journey proves challenging. However, the government is not powerless; it holds the capacity to channel funds towards the betterment of its constituents' lives. The critical obstacle lies in redirecting these funds away from private gain and towards public welfare. Notably, Mr. Ramos underscored that the financial loss due to corruption could have been directed towards initiatives such as providing housing for 1.4 million impoverished individuals, extending medical assistance to 7 million Filipinos, or sustaining a year-long stockpile of rice.

The OCDS Promise: Sealing Procurement Leaks

The OCDS methodology offers a beacon of hope for sealing the fissures that contribute to procurement-related losses. To transform this promise into tangible progress, the onus rests on policymakers to integrate OCDS into government procurement and contracting procedures. This proactive step has the potential to catalyze profound change and usher in an era of enhanced transparency, efficiency, and equitable resource allocation.

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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 8 October 2019 with the title "Open Government Contracting".

Embracing Infrastructure: The Dual Facets of Development

Photo credit: Philstar.com

In the tapestry of governance and development, infrastructure emerges as a cornerstone that garners favor from various quarters. From politicians seeking tangible accomplishments to citizens relishing improved connectivity, the allure of infrastructure projects resonates deeply. However, beneath this admiration lies a complex web of economic, social, and ethical considerations that shape the impact of these endeavors.

Infrastructure as a Political Triumph

History underscores the political prowess of infrastructure projects. In the 1990s, President Fidel Ramos orchestrated the Club of 20, an alliance focused on transforming the nation. Spearheaded by Bitay Lacson, this initiative spotlighted the pivotal role of physical infrastructure in shaping the future. Subsequent presidents, both lawyers like Ferdinand Marcos and Rodrigo Duterte, aligned with this ideology by prioritizing capital-intensive infrastructures to symbolize progress and prosperity.

The public, captivated by tangible edifices that signify growth, readily gravitates towards these developments. Infrastructure projects, ranging from roads to airports, establish an undeniable visual testament to a government's achievements. The allure of these projects extends beyond mere aesthetics, creating a narrative that resonates with the masses.

The Economic Engine: Infrastructure's Catalytic Power

Beyond their visual appeal, infrastructure projects wield significant economic influence. Investments in infrastructure, amounting to trillions of pesos, serve as catalysts for economic growth. These projects not only stimulate economic activity but also generate employment opportunities, fostering a cyclical chain reaction that benefits society at large.

Infrastructure projects mirror the magnitude of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFW) remittances, contributing to a robust Gross Domestic Product (GDP). As they bolster the nation's economic landscape, infrastructure investments validate the efficacy of government's economic management, garnering confidence from both local and international stakeholders.

The Duality of Progress: Benefits and Drawbacks

While infrastructure projects offer transformative potential, they bear the responsibility of addressing societal needs comprehensively. Unfortunately, their allure often obscures the nuanced balance between benefits and drawbacks. As the allure of progress takes center stage, overlooking the ramifications of project execution becomes a sobering reality.

Corruption, an adversary entrenched in various facets of governance, can tarnish even the noblest of infrastructure endeavors. The infamous Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and the Makati Science High School Building exemplify instances where graft marred the implementation process. Overpriced projects and illicit practices cast a shadow on these initiatives, detracting from their intended impact.

The Complex Ethos: Prioritizing Infrastructure Amidst Scarce Resources

The choice to prioritize infrastructure projects is neither unequivocal nor devoid of ethical considerations. In the midst of competing government priorities and limited resources, striking a balance between immediate needs and future growth emerges as a conundrum. While infrastructure projects benefit the affluent, their impact on marginalized communities remains indirect, primarily through employment opportunities.

Even seemingly altruistic initiatives, like Farm to Market Roads, hold the potential to perpetuate income disparity. Such projects, while essential for farmers, inadvertently favor those with vehicular access over those who rely on foot travel. The long-term outcome can inadvertently exacerbate societal inequalities.

Navigating the Infrastructure Landscape: A Holistic Approach

Addressing the multifaceted implications of infrastructure projects necessitates a holistic approach that transcends superficial progress. Comprehensive evaluation, encompassing factors like Social Internal Rate of Return ratios, can enable better decision-making. Infrastructure projects should be aligned with a broader vision, complementing health, education, and direct interventions for vulnerable sectors.

Rather than viewing infrastructure projects in isolation, they should be integrated into a mosaic of development initiatives. This interconnected approach can mitigate the economic disparities that often emerge from the concentrated benefits of infrastructure projects. While the allure of infrastructure remains undeniably captivating, its realization should adhere to an ethical compass that safeguards the well-being of all citizens.

Embracing Balance: Paving the Path Forward

Embracing infrastructure projects as vehicles of progress requires a delicate balancing act. The allure they exude, coupled with their economic potential, must coexist with a comprehensive understanding of their social and ethical ramifications. As governments seek to shape the future through tangible structures, the simultaneous elevation of marginalized communities should remain a steadfast priority.
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This is a rewrite of an article first published on 13 July 2019 with the title "Everybody Loves Infra".

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