The Politics of Reform

Like mother like son?

The Asia Sentinel at the end of last week posted a piece entitled The Philippines’ Tentative President. It makes the point that as he enters his ninth month in office P-Noy has yet to demonstrate that “he has the will to use his popularity and the size of his mandate to make tough decisions.”

Such a piece is timely as we approach the 25th anniversary of the first people power revolution of 1986, as comparisons are now being drawn between the president and his mother. She was generally regarded as a weak leader although the generals who served under her embattled presidency and helped her stare down numerous coup attempts would challenge such a view.

Be that as it may, the Sentinel piece highlights the fact that with his penchant for posing as the “nice guy” P-Noy risks being perceived as a do-nothing president unwilling to roll-up his sleaves and tackle reforms that would pit him against very powerful interests.

His stance towards the issue of family planning is illustrative of this point. After promising support for the passage of the Reproductive Health or RH Bill that has languished in Congress for the last 13 years, his spokesman announced early this month that it would not be listed among the priority measures he would endorse to Congress on the 28th of February.

His intention as explained by Palace spokesman Lacierda is to introduce a new draft bill maybe later in the year following extensive consultations with the Catholic hierarchy. This of course assumes that the current RH Bill making its way through the plenary sessions of Congress will not pass. His refusal to meet with adherents of the bill further cements the view that he has closed off all access for those seeking reform to himself.

Indeed the vascillation of Aquino-II in the RH Bill can be likened to that of Aquino-I in the enactment of the CARL (or Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law). Just as Aquino-I allowed for the watering down of the bill that sought to address the issue of asset inequality (CARL), Aquino-II seems to have acceeded to the more conservative and powerful interests in the country to water down a bill seeking to address the issue of human capital inequality (RH Bill).

The saying, “what are we in power for” which symbolizes the politics of corruption and collusion in this country went to the root of P-Noy’s popularity. The country in the last election was craving for more honest leadership. When it comes to honesty in government, none can come close to the Aquino brand.

Just as Aquino-I allowed for the watering down of the bill that sought to address the issue of asset inequality (CARL), Aquino-II seems to have acceeded to the more conservative and powerful interests in the country to water down a bill seeking to address the issue of human capital inequality (RH Bill).

But to run an honest government is not the sole purpose of the reform-minded leader. The point of power is to wield it to do “some good”, namely to restructure incentives that currently align themselves to bring about perverse outcomes. Currently, in the debate over reproductive health, the Catholic Church as a corporate entity wants to preserve its monopoly of ideas when it comes to the issue of family planning.

The current structure of incentives makes it impractical or improbable for poor couples to make the best informed decision with regard to the size of their family and to stick to that decision. Studies have shown that particularly in poor families the gap between the size that they want (small) and the size that they actually end up with (large) is significant given the present levels of support available to them in this regard.

The bishops with their vast resources have issued veiled threats against the president on the eve of the EDSA-1 commemorations against changing the status quo. Having blocked the enactment of the RH Bill for so long, they want to see a version that agrees with their views. In the president they seem to have found a willing accomplice.

In engaging in the politics of reform, there were so many possibilities open to a president with exceedingly high popularity ratings. He could have set the agenda by opening a debate over reproductive health. He could have led the debate by using his office as a bully pulpit from which to educate the public with respect to the issues. He could have leveraged the sizable majority that supports the bill and could have built alliances to act as a counter-weight to the vested interests (the Artists for the RH Bill being one of the potential members of such an alliance).

Instead the president has chosen to remain within the fold of the dominant bloc. The thing about dominant groups is that they are often in the minority. Their ability to concentrate power to themselves comes from their ability to mobilize resources to help their cause compared to the majority that are often inchoate and disorganized.

The only way to move from a closed society to an open one is to democratize access to information and power. A bill which seeks to improve access to information and empower individual households among the poorest especially with respect to family planning and parenthood deserves to be prioritized. The advocates of it deserve a seat at the table.

Rather than closing off access to his office, the president should guarantee it. Only in this manner will policy development be allowed to proceed in a rational and considered manner. Only in this manner will the politics of reform be given new life.

Doy Santos aka The Cusp

Doy Santos is an international development consultant who shuttles between Australia and the Philippines. He maintains a blog called The Cusp: A discussion of new thinking, new schools of thought and fresh ideas on public policy ( and tweets as @thecusponline. He holds a Master in Development Economics from the University of the Philippines and an MS in Public Policy from Carnegie Mellon University.

  • J_ag ,

    We are discussing fertility rates……

    Once again you fail to make the distinction as to availability under a national health care system in China (pro choice) from a law mandating a one child policy (that means in English- No choice)

    That was because in 1979 national health care was abolished. Please note the messy shifts during the years when Deng transitioned from Mao.

    Part of the reason why China was also successful was the increase in female literacy prior to the one child policy.

    The States role in development should/must be restricted to increasing the capabilities of its people to make their own choices in family planning.

    Increasing health literacy for females and access to maternal health have caused fertility rates to drop based on the choices of couples.

    The result of the failure of the State to provide for providing capabilities for securing entitlements in the economic and social realm have led to what Amartya Sen called distress migration.

    Any honest to goodness developmental economics would know that market economy’s do not provide for development.

    Market institutions need other institutions that can be provided only by the State. And other agents.

    The story of the contrast in India and China would prove to be relevant on the population and development story.

    Fertility rates in India remain at 2.8%. Population growth rates are way below 2%

    Maternal and infant mortality rates are extremely high in India. In spite of massive population control policies of the Indian State.

    From different pieces done by Amartya Sen

    ……… “that the miracle of Chinese growth after they adopted market economy could only be explained by the fact that they had implemented land reforms in the 1980s.”

    “If India could implement land reforms, spread education and extend healthcare to all, it will help positively on reducing distress migration,” said Prof. Sen. He added that the good thing about Indian growth has been that it has tried to fulfill certain other commitments along with fast growth.”

    “….. that the miracle of Chinese growth after they adopted market economy could only be explained by the fact that they had implemented land reforms in the 1980s.

    “If India could implement land reforms, spread education and extend healthcare to all, it will help positively on reducing distress migration,” said Prof. Sen. He added that the good thing about Indian growth has been that it has tried to fulfil certain other commitments along with fast growth.”

    “the ability of people to participate in the market economy is enormously influenced by social arrangements for education, health care, microcredit, land reform, and other public policies. Furthermore, the sharing of the benefits of the market economy also depends on social institutions. This applies even to very prosperous countries.”

    “there is now overwhelming evidence that women’s empowerment through schooling, employment opportunities, etc, have the most far-reaching effects on the lives of all – men, women and children. It reduces child mortality; it cuts down health hazards of adults arising from low birth weight; it increases the range and effectiveness of public debates; and it is more influential than economic growth in moderating fertility rates.”

    “We can see its influence in the halving of the fertility rate of Bangladesh in less than two decades, and in the fact that while some districts of India have quite high fertility rates, others with more gender equity already have fertility rates lower than the United States and Britain. The reach of social institutions that work for gender equity is astonishingly large.”

    • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

      Fertility rates are measured by births per woman not percentage. So India’s fertility rate is 2.8 births per woman (not 2.8%). Ours is 3.03 bpw at present.

      As a result, India’s (1.2B) population is growing at a slower rate than ours (they also have a shorter life expectancy which is a contributing factor). India’s population grows at 1.34% against 1.79% for the Philippines. That’s an additional 15.5M Indians per year and 1.6M Filipinos. These are still staggering growth figures.

      It is true that India’s child mortality rate (of 50 deaths/1000 live births)is above the world average (of 43), but it has been declining over time (from 70 just a decade ago), no doubt in response to their family and reproductive health policies.

      The RH Bill will not coerce those who want larger families to have less children. So it won’t be draconian like the one child policy. It just so happens that majority of the poor (who have more births per household) have indicated in surveys that they would prefer to have less children. And the RH Bill will simply strengthen and expand existing family planning services in the country today.

      The RH Bill is not a silver bullet that will cure all of the country’s problems. It is only one plank in its development. A lot of what you have quoted above are programs that are either complementary to reproductive health or support the case for it. So thanks for that!

    • KG ,

      Ok Cusp.

      I have mentioned on another blog thread that the bill needs further review.My stand is for reproductive health and with the risk of being called ignorant,(sanay na ako)population control has to happen one way or the other.

      As to your concern about the abortion of the bill according to the news up for debates na.

      But the arguments you pointed out about certifying the bill as urgent is valid imo.

      We still don ‘t know if what happened the last time will happen again.(the debates lead to nowhere)

      I hope they won’t concentrate on religion otherwise stalemate na naman.

      • KG ,

        “Enacting a law that provides for RH in the country will provide the legal basis for including it in the national and local government budgets instead of the current situation where funding can be cut off at any time.”

        Unfortunately some laws were passed but can have their intendent beneficiaries’ funding cut off in a snap. Some other laws have been signed years ago but funding was still delayed.

        To avoid off topic exchanges, I won’t cite examples.baka kung saan nanaman mapunta.

        • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

          Thanks for that KG. Of course, we are not denying that that happens. What I meant was that a law would legitimize the existing appropriations as well as justify increased funding for the programs concerned.

          You also must remember that sex-ed in schools which had the UNDP as a proponent and donor was called into question and did not push through.

          This is what will be avoided with a law in place.

        • UP nn grad ,

          GMA had begun it, and Noynoy is full-speed-ahead pedal-to-the-metal with a 21st-century agricultural policy — –Selling— Leasing Pinas agricultural land. Thirty-years or longer long-term leasing of Pilipinas agricultural land – Pinas land to sustain food-security for China. Surprising that there has not been any whimper of protest from Walden Bello, Mong Palatino, Chiz Escudero, AKBAYAN, La Salle-Taft nor PUP students, no burning of cedulas, no surges against Malacanang, China or India embassies to protest.

          • J_ag ,

            Once again making a statement by deducing a fact from a slogan.

            Mao had nothing to do with the one child policy which was introduced in 1979. He was no longer in charge.

            Prior to that fertility rates in China were already halved from 5%+ to a 2%+.

            It was not applied to the entire country. Now to make a conclusion that this one child policy is directly proportional the developmental process of China is at best misleading and fraudulent.

            Now China is below the replacement level and is giving exemptions to couples in the urban areas to have more than one child. What is worse that it created an imbalance of too many men and fewer women in China. Couples naturally preferred male offspring.

            Many observers surmise that the one child policy would probably have not been necessary as the pace of economic reform started by Deng in 1978 would have slowed the fertility rate without the necessity of the imposition of the state.

            Deng’s program of allowing the farmer families to keep the fruits of their own production was key. While at the same time allowing for export processing zones in the S.E. portion bordering HK that allowed China to reverse engineer the development process. Plus China had very strict domestic immigration policies.

            Leaving the choice to families would have probably resulted in the same result or better.

            Now China will have to adjust to the effects of that policy.

            Overall projections for fertility rates of the planet with rise of economic development is dropping to close to the borderline of replacement rates and lower.

            For you to make a direct correlation of high levels of poverty to high fertility rates is without basis.

            That high fertility rate is caused by keeping the same old production relations in agriculture in place. That has kept most of the country barefoot and pregnant.

            And while we have made power here in the Philippines based on electoral processes it pays to keep them poor and dependent as it has transformed public office into a valuable economic asset from which money making activities can be gained.

            Hence the economic system gives rise to a perverted system of incentives that is difficult to change. As Angelo Reyes said it so clearly, he walked into corruption and said and did nothing.

            It is the system that we want and we get the leaders suited for the system.

            Hence the business of governance becomes the biggest market in town.

            • GabbyD ,

              point of fact: one child policy was Deng’s policy. in the late 70s, early 80s. the majority of the pop had to comply.

              • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

                Family planning was available in China as a contribution to maternal and child health since 1953. Who was in charge then?

                The one child policy was a knee jerk reaction in 1979 when the population growth rate went back up to 2.8%. By the way at 2% a population will still double in 35 years.

                And wasn’t land reform and property rights promoted in the Philippines by the Americans under Taft before it was successfully implemented in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan after WWII?

                The fact that it failed under the US and Martial Law means that under a democracy it will be harder to achieve. But the bottom-line for me is that Aggie Reform and RH policies are complementary in the development story of China and East Asia. You will be hard pressed to prove otherwise.

              • J_ag ,

                Intellectual context, contextual sense and contextual perspective.

                All this talk about the need for population control in the face of the problems of overpopulation in the Philippines is based on Malthus theory which was used as basis for the counter revolution during the Cold War.

                Once again the historical facts must be taken into context; in the face of the rise of the emerging Tigers in Asia led by Japan, S. Korea, Taiwan and now China all following a state led model of redistributing factor endowments first in the agricultural sector with a complete set of asset reforms to go with it led to their fast paced developmental process.

                Using markets as the basis for social interaction which at the base established an entitlement culture based on property rights crated by thew farmer creating his own wealth enabled by the State.

                Meanwhile in India and the Philippines no genuine asset reform took place and the rise of slumdogs owe much to the neo-colonial vestiges of the multilateral institutions.

                There is no country on the planet that suffered famines based on overpopulation. In fact the hunger being felt today is more a result of the free market dogma imposed on developing economies that introduced the corporation as the vehicle for improving production while destroying incomes all in the name of efficiencies.



                • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

                  “All this talk about the need for population control in the face of the problems of overpopulation in the Philippines is based on Malthus theory which was used as basis for the counter revolution during the Cold War.”

                  Yes and I suppose Chairman Mao bought into that theory big time when he launched the one child policy in China. Not to mention the imams of Bangladesh and the monks of Thailand when they pushed for family planning and approved contraceptive use. They became the agents of this “counter revolution”.

                  In fact the Philippines is the only remaining country in ASEAN and East Asia that has not fallen for this “American imperialist” ploy, still resisting, unlike the other puppet regimes in the region, right?

                • GabbyD ,

                  we should talk about the details of the bill. to raise the debate on policy.

                  • GabbyD ,

                    benk has a good article on some misgivings on the RHbill.

                    i agree with some of it. the stipulation on hospitals is particularly strange. i dont think there’s money behind it.

                    also interesting is the labor code’s section on employers’ provision of reproductive health care. i wonder if these are being followed. for big firms, i have no doubt, but for smaller enterprises around 200 employees? i dunno.

                    • mario taporco ,

                      To put in short perspective, the way i vision this whole scenario is, so while governments are banding together to enforce their bad idea[s] of keeping good ideas from mingling and blending, CBCP steps in with their intrusive connotation to the administrations, and sounding more like collusion being presented without engaging with the proper hierarchy.

                      I am almost in the state of dysphoria here, i would like to know what’s really going on with P-Noy cerebrum. Sure RH Bill needs to be pass, but to hold a bit longer would just aggravates this whole situation.

                      • Doy Santos aka The Cusp ,

                        Enacting a law that provides for RH in the country will provide the legal basis for including it in the national and local government budgets instead of the current situation where funding can be cut off at any time.

                        Ours is the only predominantly Catholic nation that has not adopted this kind of policy. Ours is the only country in the region with such a high fertility and population growth rate.

                        Those who say we have other priorities to fund don’t see the cost of not funding RH: how that the demand for public goods and services will compound if we ignore it and allow for a continuing exponential growth in our population which could double by 2050 without some intervention.

                        These days asset ownership is only one source of income–its importance is declining as well given how wealth is created these days. It is quite valid to give equal importance to addressing human capital inequity given how it sets the scene for future income prospects of those concerned.

                        • UP nn grad ,

                          Good point… RH as a law means that there is a minimum funding is mandated by law (with additional moneys to come from the generosity of pro-poor (but not evangelical or ritual-bound) Christians, very rich agnostics and atheists, United Nations and various poren-diyers).

                          • J_ag ,

                            I am stunned at your reply. I get the feeling that somehow you remain contextually functionally illiterate in the English language. Your grasp of syllogisms, allegories, rhetorical and metaphorical styles are lacking.

                            Alvin Toffler the former Marxist made it quite simple for people to grasp in his literature. He called it Future Shock. First Wave, Second Wave and Third Wave of Technological Change. The post industrial societies are going through the wrenching transition into third wave technologies. This is a chain linked integrated evolutionary process.

                            Their political institutions are rushing to catch up.

                            Similarly in the past the shift from agricultural communities to industrial communities precipitated the greatest migration the planet had ever seen. In modern industrial societies people migrated from the rural to urban areas.

                            Technological change caused this.

                            However to say that in a country that is still trying to shift from first to second wave you say that asset reform is not as important since wealth is created in other ways?

                            You forget that software is considered a capital asset even it is in an abstract from. But it can not operate without the physical asset which is still run by an electro-mechanical device.

                            It is sad that ignorance prevails mainly because most Pinoy’s speak in a language not in their mother tongue. Language is history.

                            It is obvious you do not have a grasp of what you write about.

                            In Vietnam today where millions of farmers are tilling lands that they possess and control the government has made it possible that the the tillers are guaranteed a fair return of their produce. That gives them more of the disposable income they will require to climb up the social ladder.

                            That sets up the impetus for market formation and industrialization.

                            According to you that is not important in today world.

                            Today the ownership of the means of production for countries in the third wave is human creativity.

                            But that does not mean that you can do away with the physical assets in which artificial intelligence has been introduced.

                            Man where did you learn your economics ?

                            On an intellectually contextual level you are ignorant.

                            Remember the clouds are part of the physical earth.

                            It is humanly impossible to try to grasp all the complexities in history. With our deductive reasoning we attempt to understand it. That is what makes it fun.

                            Before you address the issue of human capital inequity you have to look at how to produce the wealth to pay for the process of increasing human capital. That is the States responsibility but it has to depend on resources to build public goods – hard and soft.

                            Your take is to prevent human life to build human capital. Why not also abolish all sate efforts for health care and leave it entirely for those who can pay. That would shorten life spans and medical care be exclusively limited for people with the means to pay.

                            As it stand today private HMO’s have the power to decide on medical treatment. They implicitly act as death panels.

                        • J_ag ,

                          Wow, now you want to address the failure of this government and other governments to address the issue of asset reform and you will put it on par with the RH Bill?

                          What a cop out! The present government and all other past governments of this country since colonial days have always made war on labor.

                          The entrenched elite in this country have constantly beaten back attempts for asset reform. The Catholic Church in spite of the numerous encyclicals on social justice have been complicit in their silence on systemic changes to the country.

                          It isn’t about birth control. No matter what high brow words you want to use it is a matter of class struggle.

                          It is sad that a vast majority of the young people of this country do not have a historical perspective of the country. Without a past the present is empty and there will be no future.

                          No wonder they can be so easily swayed.

                          No wonder ignorance abounds. To believe that in this day and age the vast majority of Pinoys most especially women have not heard of condoms and other devices for family planning is ludicrous.

                          The problem is basic economics. Affordability.

                          Now you want the state to give it out for free. Apart from condoms all other devices require dispensation and monitoring by doctors. The state cannot afford that kind of sustained service. it cannot even afford other kinds of health services.

                          Even without the RH bill the DOH already have programs but do not have the proper funding.

                          Mr Flores have you ever visited health centers in the country?

                          TB, Cholera, Dengue and diseases caused by lack of clean water are still scourges in the country.

                          And you want to put the RH Bill on par with asset reform in the country.

                          Ang labo mo naman.