April 2013

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 7

Panderometer

Featuring Jun Magsaysay, Edward Hagedorn, Antonio Trillanes, Samson Alcantara, Ramon Montaño and Ricardo Penson.

This is the seventh part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, JrBenigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda. In part 3, I covered Aquilino Pimentel III,Joseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr. In part 4, I covered Gregorio HonasanErnesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri. In part 5, I coveredTeodoro Casiño, the candidates of Ang Kapatiran Party (John Carlos delos Reyes, Lito David and Mars Llasos), and the candidates of the Democratic Party of the Philippines (Bal Falcone, Christian Señeres and Greco Belgica). In part 6, I covered Grace Poe LlamanzaresEd Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

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Ramon Magsaysay, Jr (Liberal-Team PNoy)

At 74, Ramon or “Jun” Magsaysay is one of the older candidates in this year’s election. Having served in the 13th Congress as senator, he would be no stranger to the upper chamber having chaired a number of committees and contributed to if not authored a number of important laws such as the Anti-money Laundering Act, the Electronic Commerce Act and the Magna Carta for Small and Medium Enterprises.

He is also one of the few running for a seat in the upper house with a solid business background who supports innovation and the information economy, although it is ironic that his campaign does not have a website to communicate his platforms, just a scant social media presence (his Facebook account was created on 23 April and his Twitter account has 1,364 followers as at this writing). Thus, I was only able to find his platform through third party websites (like UP sa Halalan 2013) and through news articles.

Jun is pushing for:

  • a roadmap for the coconut industry,
  • a higher internet penetration rate, and
  • the creation of a sovereign wealth fund (SWF) that would boost innovation and entrepreneurial ventures in the country.

General Comments:

This is quite a full legislative agenda already. I was heartened when I read about his support for the SWF concept since I have been pushing this idea for more than two years. He assesses the risks of doing so, but he believes such risks are worth it given the potential benefits. Jun is the only candidate who has even addressed this issue. Given the ballooning of our gross international reserves as a result of remittances from Filipinos working overseas, he agrees that we need to direct some of it towards industrial development and innovation to counter the strength of the peso which is weakening our international cost competitiveness.

Among the senatorial contenders, Jun is the only one with an idea as to how to fund his proposals.  The rest just talk about spending programs, without any indication as to how their priorities would be financed. Jun does both with his endorsement of the SWF concept. Perhaps, due to his background in business and his honesty as a politician, Jun recognises that to get the economy of the Philippines heading in the right direction, livelihood programs and public infrastructure spending won’t be enough.

But he does not simply restrict himself to the promise of the information economy, Jun’s support for a coco industry roadmap shows that his views on economic development embrace both new and old economies. Again, the SWF could be used to spur the development of agro-industrial exports from coconut farming. The vision that PNoy has for the sector whose workers are the poorest in the industry could be realised by investing some SWF money in the commercialisation of export generating business ideas.

Pander-o-meter: 1 out of 5

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Edward Hagedorn (Independent)

The long-serving mayor of Puerto Princesa, Palawan is making a bid for a national post for the first time with a platform based on his experience at fostering tourism in the island through peace and order and investing in natural capital. His Facebook page contains a short video clip that captures this approach in a slogan called Turismo, Trabaho, Mismo.

In his website, there is a more detailed description of his legislative priorities. There are numerous proposals involving the promotion of sustainable farming, eco-tourism and renewable energy. He also seeks to develop a national land use policy that would govern regional development and planning. He wants to promote regional investments through fiscal incentives, regional infrastructure and regional access to healthcare services right down to the barrio level.

On the health front, Mr Hagedorn’s proposal is to allow member contributions to increase in line with one’s salary to allow for greater coverage of services and for matching contributions to be made by government. He is also seeking greater devolution of health service delivery and for the allotment of local government units to be possibly increased in order to cover this.

On the social front, he advocates tougher laws on juvenile delinquency and beggars to be spearheaded by the DSWD and the PNP. He also seeks a regional employment program to replace the conditional cash transfer program of the national government and the funding of places in private educational institutions (i.e. a voucher system) in the public provision of education. He also supports the vigorous implementation of the reproductive health bill, progressive sin taxes and the freedom of information bill.

General comments:

Mr Hagedorn’s proposals for the country seem to be quite prescriptive, based as they are on his experience in the city of Puerto Princesa. Preserving the natural, cultural and human capital of a place is quite important for attracting tourism into the area. Having a land use policy would aid in preserving the character of tourist destinations.

My worry is that some regions in the country might not gain as much from an emphasis on tourism as others. For these regions, a different engine for growth is required. Perhaps the only option is farming, forestry or mining. To a certain extent, you could convert our forests into tourist destinations. If we could upgrade our government’s capacity to manage and enforce logging restrictions, we could have sustainable tree farms of already cleared forests alongside eco-tourist trails in preserved areas. The same goes for mining since many of our mineral reserves can only be accessed and extracted through forests. Again, a land use and environmental policy would be essential for regulating this.

Creating a voucher system for private education and flexible health coverage depending on one’s income will be a drastic departure from the current set up. More details are needed to determine the practicality and desirability of the plan. Despite that, putting them on the table could lead to very interesting debates and modifications in the senate.

Pander-o-meter: 2 out of 5

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Antonio Trillanes IV (Nacionalista-Team PNoy)

Senator Antonio “Sonny” Trillanes IV, the former Navy Lieutenant turned rebel spokesman, is seeking a fresh mandate to remain in his position under Team PNoy. It must be quite a change after waging his first senate bid from a prison cell and serving the first half of his term from there. During his first term, he authored a number of important bills such as the Data Privacy Act and the Archipelagic Baseline Law.

He was the principal author of the Magna Carta for the Poor which was vetoed by the president due to insufficient funds. In his second term, he wants to enact a freedom of information law, amend the cybercrime act and extend e-procurement to all government agencies.

General comments:

Mr Trillanes took a while but his Magna Carta for the Poor bill has demonstrated his populist leanings. The law was vetoed by President Aquino for being prohibitively costly. As I have mentioned before, creating rights is one thing, but enforcing them is another. Enacting legislation that provides social and economic entitlements beyond the capacity of government and society to provide for is simply irresponsible.

I do not know what is worse: being the author of such a blatantly populist measure or voting for it. The fact that such a law reached the desk of the president for signature shows just how populist both houses of congress are. The fact that they were willing to follow the mad piper in pandering to the masses by passing his proposal is testament to the seductive appeal of going down the populist path. Fortunately, the president made the pragmatic decision and vetoed the bill on the grounds that he could not enforce it.

On the other hand, when it came to a measure that provided reproductive health rights which the government could afford and which would provide fiscal dividends down the track due to lower population growth, Senator Trillanes decided to vote against it. He may have enacted a number of good laws and his legislative agenda contains a few more good ones, but on the whole the senator’s performance has been a bit of a mixed bag.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5.

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Samson Alcantara (Social Justice Party)

The sole candidate for his party and law professor is running to bring about a more equitable society, although it is not clear how he intends to do this. The same goes for his advocacy for quality education and the establishment of a code for teachers and students.

This is symptomatic of taking a rights based approach to social and economic legislation. As I have said previously, many of our legislators think that they can legislate their way into a utopian society without considering the cost. Although he takes a high brow approach and couches the need to build a more egalitarian society on the constitution, it is very hard to see how his proposal for a people’s initiative to strengthen democracy will bring about the necessary social and economic transformation.

Essentially, creating a freer, more open and contestable political and economic system won’t be achieved in one go. Alcantara’s concept of social justice needs to be teased out further. He hasn’t really enunciated a coherent strategy for addressing inequity in our society. For someone who claims that the major political parties are not providing us anything of substance, he falls into the same category by his policy omissions.  I am tempted here to rank him a 5 out of 5 in the pander-o-meter because his platform seems hollow, but I am willing to be a bit more lenient in awarding a mark.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Ramon Montaño (Independent)

This retired general is seeking to represent the veterans’ and retired soldiers’ interests in the senate and to decouple the police force from political interference. Other than that, it is not clear what he represents. The problem with single issue candidates is that they seem to represent a very limited view of the world. Electing someone to the senate should ideally be based on a more substantive set of policies and issues.

Pander-o-meter: 3.5 out of 5

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Ricardo Penson (Independent)

This businessman is running to ban political dynasties since the case he filed with the Supreme Court has not prospered so far. As this has become a political hot button issue given the composition of the senate slates of major parties. It has forced some concerned citizens to run simply to put the issue on the table. He has also come out in support of progressive causes like reproductive health and divorce. What he lacks is an economic agenda.

Pander-o-meter: 2.75 out of 5

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We are nearing the end of this series. The penultimate instalment will cover Nancy Binay, Tingting Cojuangco, Jamby Madrigal, Mitos Magsaysay and Cynthia Villar. This will be followed with a conclusion which will sum up all the findings in the series.

Who are PNoy’s Reliable Candidates?

Manila Bulletin is not the first choice for a Philippine newspaper. It can be boring, and it suffers from its image of being associated with the pro-martial law brand of journalism. But being a humdrum paper also has an advantage: It reports without sensationalism, which the leading dailies are prone to. It thus pays to buy the Bulletin occasionally, particularly its Saturday edition, which includes a supplement of the erudite New York Times International Weekly.

The Bulletin’s 27 April 2013 edition has a well-written inside-page story written by Genalyn Kabiling titled “PNoy Seeks Reform Allies, Assistance.”

I like the writing style, which grabs the reader’s attention. Take the lead sentence: “He is not a superhero; he is human and needs all the help he can get.”

The non-superhero is PNoy. Indeed, PNoy cannot be compared to Iron Man although he and Tony Stark share the same traits of being drawn to attractive women and being moved to fight evil.

Good writing and a good story are anchored on the subject. The writer quotes PNoy lengthily:

“Hindi naman tayo superhero, at kahit kayod marino, wala [nang] tulog, wala pang kain at wala na rin bakasyon maski ano po ang gawin kung nag-iisa kukulangin ang lakas ko upang tugunan ang lahat ng minana nating problema, pati na ang dumarating pang mga pagsubok.”

And spicing his comment with humor, PNoy says: “Pakiusap ko lang ho huwag naman ninyo ipapasan sa akin mag-isa, at baka naman ho dumating ang panahon magkita tayo hindi na ninyo ako makilala dahil baka pareho na kami ni Bembol Roco. Idolo ko po iyon sa acting pero hindi sa hairstyle.”

Thus, PNoy asks the electorate to vote the Team PNoy candidates. PNoy needs more allies to advance and speed up the reforms fordaang matuwid. The observation is that the second half of the administration is a difficult period for the Executive to have Congress pass controversial but necessary legislative reforms. The politicians in Congress tend to dismiss the presidency as already lame duck (a consequence of a weak party system and the prohibition of a second-term presidency). An antidote is to have an expanded and solid group of allies in Congress.

The surveys indicate that Team PNoy will win decisively. That’s good news. But here’s the rub: We are not sure that some of the winners from Team PNoy will become reliable allies for reforms.

The case of the passage of the sin tax law illustrates the predicament that PNoy faces. The sin tax is a good example of a hard reform that has long-term impact on the economy and on institutions. It can thus be a proxy of how politicians will behave when faced with a similar reform in the next Congress.

The Senate was able to ratify the bicameral conference bill on the sin tax, but only by eking out a one-vote majority. The sin tax reform was nearly lost because several senators who are considered PNoy’s allies did not show up for the vote or worse, opposed the bill.

Senators Alan Peter Cayetano and Loren Legarda (Team PNoy candidates who will surely win), Manuel Villar (the husband of Team PNoy candidate Cynthia Villar, who will likewise win) and TG Guingona (a Liberal Party stalwart) were absent during the crucial vote. And Senator Francis Escudero (another popular Team PNoy candidate) voted against the bill.

At the same time, the anti-reformers (again, using the sin tax as a representation) like Gringo Honasan and the son of Juan Ponce Enrile are threatening to barge into the winning column.

In short, PNoy’s fear that his “hair style” will completely become a Bembol Roco is real. To prevent that from happening, the voters must reject the likes of Honasan, Enrile, and Zubiri, and vote the most reliable reformers in Team PNoy. Further, the candidates belonging to Team PNoy who have a spotty record must show a pre-commitment that should literally tie them to PNoy’s reform agenda.

In Greek mythology, Ulysses made a pre-commitment by asking his crew to fill their ears with wax to make them deaf and bind him to the ship’s mast once they reached the land of the beautiful sirens. If not for this pre-commitment, Ulysses and company would have succumbed to the sirens’ naked beauty and alluring voices, but leading them to their decay and death.

Among criminals, having a tattoo of Sige-Sige or Oxo is a pre-commitment that they will stay forever with the gang.

PNoy can make a reasonable request to his former “crush,” Loren Legarda, to allow her foot to be chained in the Senate session hall whenever a crucial vote occurs, thus preventing a disappearing act. PNoy can also ask his friend Chiz to have one of his cheeks tattooed, with the lettering: “I luv Heart and PNoy.”

What is worrisome is that the most reliable allies of PNoy are trailing. They are Jun Magsaysay, Risa Hontiveros, and Jamby Madrigal.

Not only is Jun Magsaysay the real Magsaysay (not Mitos who is merely married to a Magsaysay and not necessarily a good Magsaysay) but more importantly, he has a solid track record as a politician in championing economic and political reforms. He is a friend of the farmers, a champion of agriculture. He was the key in exposing and condemning the fertilizer scam during the Gloria Arroyo regime.

Risa Hontiveros is the most progressive among the candidates. Her presence in the Senate will threaten its trapo culture.

And even though some might ridicule Jamby Madrigal as another Miriam Santiago, the fact is PNoy needs another Miriam Santiago type of politician who will be resolute and outspoken in fighting for the hard bills. And let it be known that Jamby, despite being a Madrigal is as left wing as Risa. She takes pride in having the DNA of her lolo, Pedro Abad Santos, the founder of the Philippine Socialist Party.

And so, if we want to help PNoy save his hairline, let us get a pre-commitment from some of his not-so-reliable candidates, vote for the consistent ones who are trailing, and reject the incorrigibles like Honasan, Enrile, and Zubiri.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 6

Panderometer

Featuring Grace Poe, Eddie Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

This is the sixth part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading: Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, JrBenigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda. In part 3, I covered Aquilino Pimentel III,Joseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr. In part 4, I covered Gregorio HonasanErnesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri. In part 5, I covered Teodoro Casiño, the candidates of Ang Kapatiran Party (John Carlos delos Reyes, Lito David and Mars Llasos), and the candidates of the Democratic Party of the Philippines (Bal Falcone, Christian Señeres and Greco Belgica). In this edition, I will be covering Grace Poe Llamanzares, Ed Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

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Grace Poe Llamanzares (Ind-Team PNoy)

The former MTRCB chair has established a platform, which she says is a continuation of the social covenant espoused by her deceased father, actor and presidential aspirant Fernando Poe, Jr. This platform has three planks, which include: poverty alleviation, opportunities for all especially children and electoral reform. These three planks in turn are supported by 12 pillars. She promises that what her father started, she will finish. She then commits herself to this 12 point agenda.

There is not enough room to discuss the details of this plan. To give you a flavour however of its contents, it starts off by saying the following under Poverty Alleviation (the following sections are a direct quote from her website):

1. Sustainable Inclusive Growth. In 2003, 3.3 million Filipino families (or 19.8 million people) were considered poor. In 2009, the number rose to nearly 3.9 million families (or 23 million people).

1.1 During the period between these two years, the economy was growing at an average of 4.2 percent in real terms. Yet poverty remained. Economic growth is not enough to help the poor.

1.2 For economic expansion to make an impact on the poor especially the vulnerable sectors—indigenous people, detainees, people with disabilities, elderly, women, internally displaced people, and overseas Filipino workers. I believe that growth should be “inclusive,” i.e. sustained, substantial, broad-based, and participative. This growth will happen in an environment of macroeconomic stability, with investment-friendly policies, and supported by infrastructure development and timely capability-building interventions.

2. Focus on Family. Poverty is a problem that can break the family and bring great harm to our children. I consider the family as the focal point of our poverty alleviation efforts. The importance of the family is also enshrined in the Philippine Constitution (Art. II Section 12 of the Philippine Constitution: the State “recognizes the sanctity of family life and shall protect and strengthen the family as a basic autonomous social institution.”)

2.1 We should provide incentives to institutions that promote family-oriented programs.

2.2 We should strengthen and affirm the Filipino family as a basic social institution of Philippine society.

General comments

The platform goes on to cover five more pillars under poverty alleviation, three under opportunities for all, and two under electoral reform. As you will note, her platform does not really commit her to any type of action, since each policy plank is stated using the modal verb “should”, as in “growth should be inclusive”, or “we should strengthen and affirm the Filipino family”, etc.

When policy statements are phrased in this manner, it commits politicians to nothing specific, thus making it easy for them to weasel their way out of any public scrutiny over unfulfilled obligations. The word expresses the advisability or desirability of an idea. If I feel stressed at work, I would say to myself, “I should take a vacation.” If I feel that I am overweight, I would say, “I should watch what I eat.” It is easy for me to say these things because they are statements of intent as opposed to action. There is nothing that obligates me to abide by them.

The same goes for Grace Poe’s platform. They consist of such wanna be statements. Woulda, coulda, shoulda. The ideas and sentiments are admirable, but in the end are simply vacuous without any real substance. When she does affirm a specific agenda, it is by way of endorsing what the government currently does, like the Pantawid Pamilya or the seal of good housekeeping for local government units. That to my mind puts her squarely in the camp of Team PNoy, but it does not really tell us why we should vote for her.

Perhaps as an afterthought, she released an infograph containing a five point “youth legislative agenda” on her Facebook page. Has she suddenly realised the power of the youth vote, after relying on the bonds of her father with older generations? There is a commitment in it to perform “oversight” of existing laws covering basic education, training and employment services. Where new proposals are offered, there is only a vague notion of what they would mean, like “skills matching”, “youth employment service” and “incentives for young achievers”.

This is a slovenly way of political campaigning. It is quite easy to cobble together a bunch of ideas like this with no policy detail attached. The combination of the populist image of her parents (Susan Roces and FPJ) and the lazy form of appealing to young voters through slick social media outlets has given birth to a new form of political panderers, which Ms Poe represents.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Eduardo “Bro Eddie” Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas)

This born again preacher turned politician is taking a stab at running for senator for the first time after twice running for and failing to win the office of the president. In contrast to Ms Poe above, his three point policy platform, consisting of promoting inclusive growth, education and entrepreneurship, is chock full of specific policy prescriptions.

Unlike the Kapatiran Party which I featured in part 5 of this series, he does not allow his faith to meddle with his politics. The only vague reference to a moral code is when he espouses good governance, and says that “moral leadership” is the basis for it. Rather than pushing for a social or cultural agenda, as what most religious leaders do, Bro Eddie is pushing mainly a political and economic development agenda. It is a bit rational rather than ideological—a combination of measures that would reorganise or re-orient a few government departments and some spending measures aimed at human development.

General comments:

There is a lot of policy detail to sift through in his platform, and space limits do not permit me to go into each one. One thing I will say though is this: it is very hard to see any of these measures being passed or enacted by Mr Villanueva acting alone in the senate. The only way for this to happen is if he held the balance of power, i.e. the deciding vote, on such matters.

It is unfortunate that Bro Eddie did not field a few more candidates under his party Bangon Pilipinas like the last time when he was running for president. Just like Makabayan which has Teddy Casiño as its sole nominee, it is difficult to see how alternative parties can gain a larger voice in our legislature unless they field more candidates. It would definitely be more cost-effective if they did. They would be more credible in my opinion, as well. If Kapatiran and DPP can field three candidates each, I do not see why these other parties cannot recruit more to join their senatorial slate. It would have made this contest more about ideas than about personalities.

Aside from strategy, and on the policy front, there is a recurring theme here. Funding for programs is an issue. Bro Eddie wants to increase educational and health spending. He further wants to regionalise or devolve much of this. The LGUs will bear the brunt of the task through counterpart funding for health. This is a major stumbling block of most candidates. They do not specify how their proposals will be funded. On the whole, there are definitely some measures that are worth considering, which would not cost too much, but the rest of it cannot really be taken seriously without either the identification of revenue or saving measures to ensure program sustainability.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Richard “Dick” Gordon (Bagumbayan-UNA)

The former mayor, SBMA chairman, senator and cabinet secretary is seeking a fresh mandate as senator. Having been responsible for the passage of a number of important bills in his previous stint, such as the New Automated Election Systems Law, National Tourism Policy Act and the Veterans Pensions and Benefits Act, Mr Gordon is eminently qualified to occupy the position.

His policy agenda for a new term follows three themes: jobs, education and safety. Each of these themes has three planks that support them. There is an infographic on Mr Gordon’s Facebook page that depicts them. Under the jobs theme, he includes promoting tourism, vocational education and training and livelihood programs. Under the education theme, he incorporates higher teacher pay and training, curriculum standards that emphasise comprehension and not just literacy, and tablets for public school students. Under the safety rubric, he espouses disaster preparedness in every school and barangay and the establishment of permanent evacuation centres in every town and city.

General comments:

There really isn’t much policy detail provided in Mr Gordon’s manifesto, if it can even be called that. The drift towards social media and inforgraphics as a way to convey political messages has sort of made party manifestos obsolete in today’s campaign environment. It is now more about branding. This is a theme I picked up when discussing Teddy Casiño’s platform in part 5. Fortunately, in the case of Teddy, I was able to read his detailed statement before he took it offline and replaced it with an infographic that had nice pictures and catchy lines.

In the case of Dick, there isn’t much to go on. Given the legislative record of the man, we know he is capable of providing substance to his platform. Why then doesn’t he? Does he feel that we as voters cannot handle a mature conversation about policy? What we also can consider at this point is whether even the vague proposals he has put on the table can be implemented. Tablets for every child? Permanent evacuation centres for every municipality? Jobs for everyone? I am so glad he limited his platform to just three themes. Imagine if he had a dozen, how long the laundry list of things for everybody he might have had? This is not the platform of a responsible leader. In sum, his platform does not seem all too “flash”.

Pander-o-meter: 5 out of 5

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There are only three more instalments left. In the seventh issue, I will feature Ramon Magsaysay, Jr, Ed Hagedorn and Antonio Trillanes IV. In the eighth issue, I will cover the rest of the field. And in the ninth and final instalment, I will provide a summary of all eight instalments plus some additional insights.

It’s More Fun (With More Jobs and Income) in the Philippines

“Tourism is not about the number of foreigners visiting our country, but rather the jobs and businesses we create for the Filipino people.” This was the guiding principle and vision shared by President Benigno S. Aquino III to Ramon R. Jimenez, Jr upon his appointment as Department of Tourism Secretary. Since then, the Secretary has taken to heart that the be-all and end-all of tourism is the welfare of the Filipino people.

This is also the inspiration behind the highly acclaimed It’s more fun in the Philippines slogan. “Filipinos have to believe they are more fun as a people. We might not be the most glamorous, or most modern country but everyone agrees it’s more fun to be around Filipinos,” the Secretary said, passionately.

Beyond the success of the slogan, the Tourism Secretary is aware of the importance of capitalizing on the spotlight now shining on the Philippines. “Tourism is a key driver of social and economic progress. Any tourist spending here signifies resources that were not here yesterday.” Sec. Jimenez cites the example of existing jobs referred to as boatman guide or butanding explainer. “Theoretically, we can invent 7,107 jobs and multiply that to the experiences possible in each island.”

The Department of Tourism boasts too of having surpassed their original target of 35 million tourists by 2016. In 2011 alone, 37 million foreign tourists traveled the country while last year’s figure reached 42 million. Sec. Jimenez estimates total tourism revenues have already exceeded P1 Trillion. That is how tourism is contributing to the greater agenda of Inclusive Growth. “How can Metro Manila share its wealth to the rest of the country? The answer is tourism,” remarked Sec. Jimenez.

Ongoing Projects

Secretary Jimenez assured the Filipino people that the country can absorb the increasing influx of tourists. 12,000 hotel rooms are set for construction next year. Airport expansions are ongoing, including plans of making 12 airports capable of handling international flights. Sec. Jimenez shared that the National Tourism Development Plan envisions the construction of infrastructure systems such as airports and highways in areas where there are at least seven tourist destinations relatively adjacent to each other. “In Palawan,” Jimenez explained, “tourists don’t just go to the Underwater Caves, they also try zip lines, deer watching expedition, scuba diving and other travel experiences.”

“But the most important point here is that there are jobs waiting to be generated in each local tourist destination.” The DOT had just received $7M for training of local guides and other tourism related jobs. The agency is also finalizing details for the awarding and recognition of local citizens in promoting tourist destinations. Sec. Jimenez stressed that tourism starts and originates in the local level.

Moving Force Behind Tourism Campaign

When Sec. Jimenez was asked to compare his career in advertising and his job as DOT secretary, he replied, “There is no difference between promoting a brand and the country, except that for my current job, I cannot fail. I must succeed.” Secretary Mon Jimenez shared his insight behind his most successful project yet, the “More Fun in the Philippines” slogan. “It was all about the participation of Filipinos, especially the youth.” For him, the campaign proved Filipinos need not wait for DOT or other government agencies in promoting the beauty of the country. For this purpose, social media has been a most useful and effective medium. “Social Media is about people checking with each other whether something is for real. Now, the success of the Philippines has been checked, double checked and triple checked. And it’s true: it is more fun in the Philippines. Now that propagates the story even more.”

“Tourism is love of country expressed as a warm welcome. So please, do two things,” the secretary encouraged all Filipinos, “talk about the Philippines and the second is, talk about it some more.”

Indentured athletes

Bad day for athletes who transfer from one UAAP member school to another. They will have to sit through the two year residency requirement that the UAAP board of trustees imposed on them. Note that it is the UAAP board and not the receiving school that imposes residency on a transferee. That makes all the difference, as you will see.

One school representative to the UAAP board said, “This is to protect the school that made efforts in recruitment… to protect the time spent on the athlete and to keep them in their alma mater.” Another reasoned similarly, “The new residency rule is to protect the league because we can’t allow other schools to pirate the best available homegrown players…We took everything into consideration and we’re not depriving anyone of their rights.”

Say what?

There are no guaranteed investments on this planet. An investment is always a gamble. There is no certainty that the recruited athlete will become a star even with all the coaching, training, financial and moral support from the school’s sports department, there is no assurance that the athlete will not suffer a career-ending injury in the course of playing for the school, there is no telling whether or not the athlete will lose interest in sports. Recruiting, training, and coaching an athlete is a gamble. No one pointed a gun at the school to force it to recruit a particular athlete. And so it must live with the risk of losing an athlete for one reason or another, specially to a more attractive team or school.

A UAAP imposed residency requirement is a penalty on the athlete who chooses to transfer to another school. A school-imposed residency requirement is not a penalty, it provides a necessary period of adjustment to the transferee. I can still recall basketball games were some transferees were subjected to merciless booing and cries of traidor from their old alma mater every time they held the ball.

If a school wants to keep an athlete then it better make itself so attractive that its best athletes will never want to play for another school. Debt bondage is not the way to do it. Indenture is a practice that is totally unacceptable in a free and competitive society.

Why do I call the residency rule imposed by the UAAP a form of debt bondage?

The Princeton University website defines debt bondage as “an arrangement whereby a person is forced to pay off a loan with direct labor in place of currency, over an agreed or obscure period of time. When a debtor is tricked or trapped into working for very little or no pay, or when the value of their work is significantly greater than the original sum of money borrowed, some consider the arrangement to be a form of unfree labor or debt slavery.”

The “investment” the school made is the “loan” the athlete must pay off through direct labor i.e. playing for the school team. The period of time for working off the “debt” is open-ended because it is the school alone, through the UAAP, that decides when the debt is fully paid. The athlete may not have been tricked into signing on but with the new UAAP ruling he is now trapped by the school that originally recruited him. And look at what a Keifer Ravena may have “borrowed” from his school compared to the payback that the school got from him.

Let’s say the athlete was recruited to play for the high school team. Why does the athlete’s obligation extend to playing for the school’s varsity team? Why does the debt extend even beyond the school year that the athlete played, was the year’s debt not paid with direct labor? Do schools have the right to tell their athletes you will keep playing for us until we decide that our investment in you is fully paid? Read again the arguments of the UAAP board, tell me that their residency rule is not just another form of indenture, and I’ll lend you some money in exchange for your labor.

The UAAP’s new rule is meant to protect the investment of its member schools. Period. It has no interest in the welfare of the student athlete, in fact it punishes the exercise of the right to choose where to pursue higher education.

The UAAP would be wise to withdraw its residency rule before government steps in and does it for them. As Sen Pia Cayetano told the UAAP, “Sorry, but when rights are affected, [government] can step in to protect its citizens.” As it should.

The UAAP also claims the new rule is meant to maintain competitiveness. How can the practice of having indentured athletes maintain competitiveness? More importantly, why is the UAAP placing the burden of keeping the league competitive only on the players? Is it the athlete’s fault if one school is more attractive than another? The burden of keeping the league competitive is on the UAAP board of trustees, they shouldn’t earn their keep on the backs of student athletes.

The UAAP may have forgotten that the U in UAAP stands for universities. Likewise some universities may have forgotten that they are educational institutions to begin with and excellence in sports only a part of their mission. Yes, trophies bring money that can be used for the improvement of the school in terms of teachers and facilities but sports departments are not ends in themselves. Education is the end that trophies serve and not the other way around. The sports department of schools, through the UAAP, cannot be allowed to dictate where student athletes go for their education.

Boston

I woke up like I always do: pick up my phone to check messages. It was a surprise that greeted me. Like many on my timeline who opened twitter for the first time that day, we were all greeted by the horrible tragedy that unfolded in Boston. Boston would always have a special place in my heart. The city, and its people had left a positive impression on me.

I have no family in Boston, and I have no friends living there. I would always regret not asking my dad how Boston was like. He had spent a few months there, many years ago. And I just wanted to compare my own experiences with his. I met life long friends in Boston.

Just a few months ago, I had spent a few days walking along Boylston Street where the first explosion. I bought a pair of gloves at that sports store, right where the bomb blew off, and where the Philippines’ flag flew to greet our runners, but fell as the explosion and early responders went in. I saw how Americans voted, right in front of the Boston Public Library. It was the same spot where I saw Elizabeth Warren’s supporters chanting a few meters away, and the Senator-candidate then, and now Senator, walked by to greet them. This was right across where the first explosion took off. I had walked the flight of stairs at the Lennox hotel that stands right across the Boston Public Library. I listened to what “Binders Full of Women” meant. I bought a cup of coffee from the Dunkin’ Donuts just across Lennox. There I saw a bum, open the Dunkin’ Donuts door for a disabled person. He was, in every appearance, happy, not bitter as one would expect of bums.

And did I mention the people? They were all nice. Welcoming.

I remember, Lexington. Those guys walked us through the field where the American war for independence began. Also, who could say no to cookies and milk by the Grandmothers for Obama?

I would always think of Boston like a bright beacon. It is sad to think that such tragedy would unfold in a city, and state that gave such a positive and welcoming atmosphere. Not to mention, on a day, and marathon that celebrated all the best things humanity is about. It was a marathon that symbolized “the coming of spring,” CNN wrote. And they’ve been doing it since 1897.

It makes it hard to think that tragedy could strike at the heart of Boston. Almost as if the universe wanted to screw something up. This is how bad it was, Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe writes, “I went out Monday night and bumped into some firefighters I know. They said one of the dead was an 8-year-old boy from Dorchester who had gone out to hug his dad after he crossed the finish line. The dad walked on; the boy went back to the sidewalk to join his mom and his little sister. And then the bomb went off. The boy was killed. His sister’s leg was blown off. His mother was badly injured. That’s just one ­family, one story.”

I was glued to CNN. And their eyewitnesses recounted heroism. People helping the fallen. Reports of others willing to donate blood, if need be, from runners who had just finished the race. “Strangers helping strangers,” David Abel of the Boston Globe writes. “Many were fleeing, but many were running to the wounded. They ripped down the metal barriers separating the runners from spectators. Unsure of whether there would be another explosion, these strangers risked their lives to help other strangers, performing CPR, comforting those in shock, and carrying the wounded to the nearby medical tent.”

It is tragedies like this we see the human spirit fall amidst the crushing weight of the universe, and it would seem to rise up. Yes, the world is a little darker today. The challenge that now falls on the survivors to live on, and one can only hope they have the strength to rise above this tragedy, and prove evil does not triumph over the human spirit. When blood is scrubbed out of the pavement, and the survivors live through the pain to suffer through the long night of lives forever changed; with tragedy paid for by blood, we see the heroes in humanity.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 5

Panderometer

Featuring Teddy Casiño, Democratic Party of the Philippines and Ang Kapitiran candidates.

This is the fifth part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, JrBenigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda. In part 3, I covered Aquilino Pimentel III,Joseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr. In part 4, I covered Gregorio Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

In this edition, I will be covering Teodoro Casiño, the candidates of the Democratic Party of the Philippines and the Ang Kapatiran Party.

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Teodoro “Teddy” Casiño (Makabayan) is the lone candidate of his party which has adopted a “ten point agenda”. This agenda reads more like a vision statement, similar to the Liberal Party’s social contract formulated for the 2010 elections.

The party-list representative is seeking to offer an alternative to the two main coalitions whom he portrays as being cut from the same cloth, but his stand on issues tends to reflect what he is opposed to rather than what he would affirm as a senator. Perhaps this is the luxury of being in the minority—you don’t need to present a detailed policy position, just simply oppose things.  I will highlight a few of these positions below:

  • His opposition for instance to the Pantawid Pamilya or 4P’s program, deriding it as a “dole out” is surprising, given that it was patterned after reforms developed in Mexico and Brazil and supported by left-leaning governments. He asserts that providing employment or teaching people to fish rather than giving them fish should be the priority. The problem is that people who are locked in a poverty trap aren’t able to earn enough to sustain their families due to low educational attainment. This leads their children to have low levels of health and education which perpetuates the cycle. The 4P’s helps break people out of that trap.
  • His opposition to the sin taxes bill, which he characterises as simply revenue generating, not a real solution to the health problems associated with vices, is also quite puzzling given that part of the revenues raised will be used to support disease prevention and treatment. I suppose he would also oppose my proposal of imposing a “fat tax” on unhealthy food and drinks on the same grounds, despite the evidence which shows that it influences eating behaviour.
  • He opposes the kindergarten to Year 12 or K+12 reforms, saying it is an added burden to families. He wants the government to focus on addressing the classroom deficit instead (which by the way, the government is saying will be addressed by the time K+12 is fully implemented). Unfortunately, he fails to realise that part of the reason employers demand at least two years of college these days for entry level positions is because a Year 10 secondary qualification simply is not enough.
  • It actually costs less to deliver two extra years of secondary education than two years of university. What in fact we ought to do is extend the 4P’s program so that youths stay in school and finish high school as was the findings of a recent review of the program. Our unemployment problem is largely due to the fact that youths are forced to work at age 15 or even younger. Very little in terms of future career opportunities arise for them if they do.
  • He wants to put a cap on fees charged by higher education institutions to prevent “excessive profiteering” and seeks to uphold student’s rights to free education (translation: no tuition fees should be charged by state universities and colleges or SUCs). The country’s high participation rate in tertiary education relative to other lower middle income countries reveals we are already punching above our weight.
  • We don’t need to incentivise this further by offering tuition free studies. What we need to do is help families finance the cost of it (through 4P’s and student loans), improve quality and ensure that people are equipped with the right skills that are in demand by industry, and that could mean encouraging vocational education and training, which is what the K+12 reform seeks to do. If the country is to rapidly industrialise as per Makabayan’s platform, greater focus needs to be placed on technical training and vocational education.
  • Makabayan supports the growth of small and medium sized enterprise, and yet it would raise minimum wages to levels which would put many of them out of business. These are contradictory statements. The way Mr Casiño would solve this problem is to have government subsidise electricity and other costs of business. He hasn’t specified at what cost to the government and taxpayer, though. This reflects policy thinking that is disjointed and not well-thought through.

Overall comments:

Some of the positions that Mr Casiño holds are quite surprising. Motherhood statements and muddled policy prescriptions that seek to please different sectors while at the same time undermining them.

In addition, Makabayan fails to provide us with an alternative program of government. They say they want to promote the growth of industry through a kind of state sponsored capitalism. Their platform however fails to specify how that will come about. What will be the framework for promoting industry in the country? Which industries will they target? How will they steer investments that way? What kind of economic bureaucracy will they foster? These are questions that remain unanswered.

This demonstrates that Makabayan is perhaps not quite ready to rule the country yet. Sometimes I wish they would be given a chance to do so, so that they could then realise just how untenable their positions are.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out 5

Note: while drafting this piece, Makabayan’s webpages that contained their 10 point agenda and stand on issues was replaced with two infographics presentations. The simplification of their message has softened the tone. The commentary provided above reflects the detailed policy statements present in the previous versions of the web pages.

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DPPCandidates

The Democratic Party of the Philippines (DPP) has fielded three candidates (from L-R as seen above): Bal Falcone, Christian Señeres and Greco Belgica. On its website, the party has published a 12 point platform. Space does not allow me to cover all of them, but there are a few interesting bits that include.

  • Funding of political parties during elections
  • Moving to a federalist, parliamentary form of government
  • Adopting the jury system

Unfortunately, their website does not provide any policy detail beyond perfunctory statements. In addition, Mr Belgica has a four point plan which is listed on his personal Facebook page, which includes:

  • Imposing a flat tax of “not more than 10% for individuals or corporations.” The current tax system which collects less than 20% of GDP he calls “excessive”.

These proposals from the DPP focus much on the political system. They probably see the design of constitution as problematic. They do have economic policy statements too, but they tend to be quite general in nature. The most specific economic policy they have is to promote the export of halal food.

Overall comments:

The DPP wants to overhaul our political system and one of their candidates wants to overhaul our tax system. These policy positions reflect a kind of high-brow intellectual approach to our country’s development needs. Although they have been supported by academics and policy elites  there really isn’t a strong push either from the business community or civil society for them. They run the risk of becoming locked up in their ivory towers.

There also needs to be more detail. We cannot read their minds or interpret much from the statements they have released so far. Although the major parties are themselves not clear on their agenda, it is incumbent on minor parties to be more forthright and transparent about their policies and programs.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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AKPCandidates

Ang Kapatiran Party has fielded three candidates (from L-R as seen above):  John Carlos “JC” delos Reyes, Lito David, and Mars Llasos. It has published a 50-point platform that begins with the “spiritual dimension” which involves “seeking the kingdom of god” as its first point. This party represents the social conservative movement in the Philippines, with its Pro-Life and opposition to violence portrayed in video games and the media. Unlike conservatives in the US however it also supports gun control.

Among its political advocacies are enacting a freedom of information law, the banning of political dynasties and the abolition of pork barrel.

Overall comments: 

The Kapatiran Party raises questions about the role of faith in politics. They should however exercise some caution that in promoting their religious convictions to society through public policy not to infringe on the rights of their fellow citizens in exercising personal choice. According to most religious beliefs, we are endowed with free will. What this party has sought to do is pander to the wishes of those who want to impose religious and moral codes of conduct on others who may not subscribe to them. That is the essence of “brotherhood” or solidarity among men (and women)  in a free and open society.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Up next: Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Eddie Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

Long overdue: Bureau of Customs abolition

So, this morning’s banner story in the Philippine Daily Inquirer reads: Bureau of Customs abolition planned.

Who’s planning it? Malacañang. Who is proposing it? Embattled Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon. That’s right, the head of the agency itself who has been under the pump for failing to curb the rampant smuggling activities that are allegedly continuing despite the president’s mantra of Daang Matuwid.

In a face-to-face conference with editors of the PDI, Biazon offered up the possibility of overhauling the agency from the top-down, by replacing it with a new professionally led one. He says resistance to his reform measures from the frontline staff at the bureau has led him to take this view. In public policy parlance, we call this phenomenon the tail wagging the dog or “street-level bureaucrats” distorting the policy decisions made at the top. Here is a quote from the report:

Biazon cited the example of Peru, which, to defeat corruption and smuggling, abolished its custom department, put up a new one, adopted strict qualifications for hiring, and paid higher salaries to the new officers and employees running the new agency. In the case of the Philippines, Biazon said, corruption is deeply entrenched in the customs bureau’s culture and system so firing a few people or catching some smugglers will not solve the problem. [emphasis mine]

Well, well, well, I am happy to see that something I had recommended back in July 2011 in a piece called, the National Development Project, is finally being given some serious consideration although my proposal included not just the Bureau of Customs, but the Bureau of Internal Revenue and all other revenue generating agencies. Despite their best intentions, it has taken the palace nearly two years to catch-up to the policy conclusion I had already made regarding its anti-corruption campaign in the bureau.

Pursuing good governance doesn’t come cheap. I recognised this fact. But the administration of PNoy felt that it needed to wage a moral crusade first to separate “light from darkness”. My proposals at least acknowledge that if we are to address the cost impact of Daang Matuwid, we have to raise additional revenues. And to do that we need to ensure that our revenue generating agencies are professionally run. With respect to the proposal itself, here is a brief quote from my previous post:

Corporatization is the way by which the government has been able to pay its agents salaries commensurate to, if not exceeding that of, their private counterparts. Singapore achieved this for its entire bureaucracy, but it is the sole Confucian state to do so. The others achieved it through a combination of salaries, allowances and benefits.

The newly minted GOCC (Government Owned or Controlled Corporations) law now provides greater safeguards against abuse done by non-performing companies. It will govern the corporatization of the BIR and BoC. In exchange for the higher compensation, transition into the new agencies must be based on merit and not guaranteed for old bureau officials.

The boards of the new revenue agencies should be allowed to appoint people from among the ‘best and brightest’. Tougher qualifying exams, educational attainments, and past performance should all be part of the selection process. Where posts cannot be filled with existing staff, recruiting externally should be the resort.

Biazon supports the idea of the new corporate entity to takeover the Bureau of Customs to retain 3 per cent of the total revenue it produces to allow it to pay its staff according to their performance. This again was something I had broached before with regard to prosecutors of corruption cases.

It was my view that these state prosecutors were not paid well enough to exert best efforts in retrieving ill gotten wealth, and as a result, certain cases have been left languishing for decades, or worse, settled for a pittance through plea bargain arrangements. Here is what I said on the matter:

The Ombudsman and the Office of the Solicitor General (essential generals in the fight) which are given the task of prosecuting graft cases before the Sandiganbayan and Supreme Court respectively need to have more than a kind of altruistic motivation for performing their duties. They need to have protection and financial security.

Paying them higher salaries alone might not be enough to motivate them to exert maximum effort even in very winnable cases. Some sort of sharing in the spoils which would go both to their office and to chief prosecutors and their staff needs to be put on the table.

I know that some will argue that this is the people’s money and that any recovered ill-gotten or plundered wealth needs to be returned 100% to the coffers to fund social programs. This assumes that we are working with incorruptible Confucian super bureaucrats. That is not the case here. We need to live in the real world, not in some ideal fantasy land.

Apart from these two suggestions, I also proposed outsourcing the main functions of the Commission on Audit to private accounting firms, which is the practice in Australia. If we are to truly tread the good governance path, the government has to start taking seriously these recommendations. At least with respect to customs collection, they may finally be doing so.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 4

Panderometer

Featuring Gringo Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri.

This is the fourth part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, JrBenigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda. In part 3, I covered Aquilino Pimentel IIIJoseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr.

In this instalment, I will be covering Gregorio Honasan II, Ernesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

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Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan (Ind-UNA): has been principally involved in crafting a number of landmark pieces of legislation on the environment (Clean Air, Clean Water and Solid Waste Management Acts), national security and public safety (National Security policy and Disaster and Risk Reduction Management Act) and social reform (Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program Extension with Reforms Law).

His manifesto says that he is currently shepherding the passage of a number of bills through the Senate. These are listed as:

  1. Freedom of Information (what he calls POGI or the People’s Ownership of Government Information) act
  2. National Mapping and Resource Authority Law and Land Use Act
  3. Mini-Marshal Plan for Mindanao.

My critique:

It is clear from the senator’s platform and track record that he takes a strategic view with regards to public policy issues. The pieces of legislation that he tends to get involved with are often framework documents in areas that are often neglected and require the state to set the scene. They don’t make for catchy political jingles or slogans but they are essential nonetheless.

The Clean Air Act has been criticised due to implementation failures owing to corruption, but at its core are the fundamental principles of using a market-based mechanism for pollution abatement and of making polluters pay for their emissions. These create incentives for motorists and businesses to change their behaviour in the long-run.

Similarly with a National Land Use Act, the development of a 30-year plan would come into play which would guide the setting of city and municipal zoning ordinances and ensure the proper use and development of natural resources based on a mapping of regions done at the national level. One of the important benefits of this would be to prevent settlements in ecologically sensitive or disaster prone places. Again, behaviour would be changed because a national framework would be in place.

Overall comments:

Senator Honasan demonstrates through his legislative work a kind of far-sighted, long-range vision and planning that is needed in solving many vexed public policy problems. The kind of structural reforms he pursues are the sort that don’t make the headlines or score him brownie points with the public, but they will be noted historically as landmark pieces of legislation for their long-lasting impact.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5

(Update: I have had to revise Gringo’s score from 1 to 1.5 due to his stand on the reproductive health bill.)

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Ernesto Maceda (NPC-UNA): the former senate president has a thirteen point agenda which are organised under five major themes:

  1. Senior citizens: the creation of a conditional cash transfer type allowance for seniors and the increase of senior citizen’s discounts from 20% to 30%.
  2. Job creation: creating 3 million new jobs over the next 4 years through infrastructure works, agricultural programs and by offering credit to 1 million small businesses.
  3. Education: tripling the budget for state universities and colleges (SUC), increasing scholarships offered to poor students at SUCs from 10% to 50% and reviving the study now, pay later scheme.
  4. Local government unit (LGU) fund allocation: increasing the internal revenue allotments of LGUs to 50% from the current 40%.
  5. Clean and safe drinking water: providing safe and potable drinking water to every household.

My critique:

Including seniors in the Pantawid Pamilya or 4P’s program would essentially turn it into a pension scheme (see also my comments under JV Ejercito who has made a similar proposal). Perhaps what the senator intends to do is provide a wider safety net to seniors than what currently exists. To do that he would have to address their healthcare costs which rise as they get older.

There are about 1.51 million Filipinos aged 65 and older according to the Department of Labor and Employment, out of which about 1.49 million are employed and 22,000 are unemployed. This sounds strange as you would expect most seniors to be retired (perhaps most of them are engaged in part-time work). Assuming they are provided with a Php 500 per month allowance or Php 6,000 a year, that would cost the taxpayers an additional Php 9 billion annually*. The question here is how should the government shoulder this expense?

The target of creating 3 million jobs in 4 years has already been achieved in recent years (on average) even without any new policies or programs being enacted. Perhaps the target needs to be a bit more ambitious (which is the 1 million jobs per year which the government has but doesn’t meet consistently). What is needed is not a new goal but a new way of achieving it. The usual tired old idea of using infrastructure projects and livelihood programs which Mr Maceda espouses is already at play.

Tripling the current SUC budget would require an extra Php 60 billion given last year’s budget. Again, the question here is how the government should support such an expansion and whether it is appropriate to do so given the quality issues prevailing in the system. Those who follow this space know that I have offered a comprehensive reform package here, which would address questions of affordability, effectiveness and quality at minimum cost to taxpayers.

As for expanding the IRA to 50%, again the problem lies in the fact that many LGUs are simply not adopting best practice because they are so accustomed to deriving a large portion of their budgets from the national treasury automatically. Improving their revenue raising capacity through other measures would allow them to gain true fiscal autonomy (see also my comments under Koko Pimentel who is pushing for the same measure as Mr Maceda).

Clean and safe drinking water is of course an ongoing program of the government. The UN MDG report has shown us being on track towards achieving the relevant targets of providing safe drinking water and sanitation by 2015. Of course meeting the MDG targets wouldn’t get us to universal access, but in the case of drinking water, we would be coming really close.

Overall comments:

Mr Maceda seems to be operating on the basis of limitless resources as far as the budget is concerned. Perhaps if the Philippine government had revenues equivalent to 33% of GDP like other nations with a BBB- credit rating instead of the measly 18% that it currently collects (as Fitch Ratings recently noted), we could afford to undertake the costly measures he proposes. Unfortunately, we don’t. So that means, we need to prioritise and rationalise our level of spending, or we need to raise additional taxes. That choice hasn’t been posed by Mr Maceda’s program of government.

As for the targets he sets for job creation and safe drinking water, the government is currently on track to achieve them.

Pander-o-meter: 5 out of 5

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Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (PMP-UNA): the Bukidnon based first term senator who resigned due to allegations of cheating at the 2007 elections is campaigning on a platform comprised of five key planks. I would like to focus on just the two primary ones covering health and education due to space limitations.

1. Health:

  • Description: making healthcare “totally free including hospitalisation in government hospitals and health facilities” and providing free medicine at public hospitals among others
  • Cost: upwards of Php150 billion (see explanation below)
  • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The latest Philippine National Health Accounts show total health expenditures in the Philippines was Php379 billion back in 2010 up from Php269 billion in 2007. Of this about Php100 billion came from public sources (national and local governments), another Php34 billion from social insurance (medicare and employer contributions), Php 6.4 billion from donors and grants, and finally about Php240 billion from private sources. Of the private sources, about Php200 billion were out-of-pocket expenses, which has been growing at an annual rate of 10.6 per cent.

Assuming out-of-pocket expenses continue to rise at the same rate, it would total Php299 billion by 2014. Now suppose that about half of these out-of-pocket expenses were to be shouldered under Mr Zubiri’s policy proposal. That would require additional funding to the tune of about Php150 billion by 2014.

Either we raise additional revenues (including insurance premiums) to cover this or the budget deficit would have to blow out to 3-4% of GDP per year from the current 2-3%. That level of spending would be unsustainable. We would definitely lose our coveted investment grade status immediately. The alternative would be to cut spending elsewhere to the tune of Php150 billion to fund his policy. Which programs would he cut? Mr Zubiri has to offer a way to square this circle.

Providing free medical services and medicine at government hospitals and health facilities would cause a shift in behaviour, as people who formerly sought treatment at private facilities substitute private for public healthcare providers. This would put a greater strain on public hospitals to deal with this influx of patients. Mr Zubiri has to specify how the government would handle not only the full subsidy to health patients, but also the growing number of people who seek treatment from it.

2. Education:

  • Description: providing free breakfast and lunch at public schools, increasing entry level salaries for public school teachers and offering special education centres in the public system among others,
  • Cost: not specified
  • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The food for school program (FSP) was introduced by the Arroyo government during a period of rising rice imports and food price inflation. Program evaluations have indicated certain inefficiencies associated with managing the logistics of it. The 4P’s was seen as a more effective way to achieve the same results without the administrative cost and wastage. That is why the Aquino government ramped it up, while addressing some of the weaknesses of the FSP. Expanding the 4P’s rather than FSP is the better, more cost-effective option based on the evidence.

Increasing salaries for entry level teachers is clearly a vote getter, and it is a continuation of past measures to improve salaries of frontline service providers. Rather than imposing such an across the board adjustment, which would create budget pressure on the already strained DepEd budget, a more realistic option would be to provide extra salary loading to teachers who are assigned to remote regions, thereby encouraging the movement of qualified staff to those locations.

Providing additional salary loading to teachers with training to handle children with special needs would also help address the problem of learning difficulties in school. Special diagnostic tests would be the first step. We need to first measure the magnitude of the problem existing among our school children before embarking on a policy solution.

Overall comments:

Mr Zubiri is indeed trying to revive his political fortunes using vote-getting politics. He has flagged health policy as his number one priority. The problem is that funding his proposals would cause the government to go broke. Without offering a way to fund this additional level of spending, we are entitled to consider these promises as mere pie-in-the-sky. The more likely outcome if his proposals are adopted is for government hospitals to be overwhelmed with the influx of patients who then get turned away or for their service to suffer even further.

Ignoring the evidence by espousing an expansion of a program that has serious flaws is a bit reckless, as well. Calling for across the board wage adjustments would not necessarily solve the problem of hiring qualified teachers which is more acutely felt in remote parts of the country. Proposing policies without estimating the magnitude of the problem and diagnosing it properly is the fault of many aspiring senators. Mr Zubiri has demonstrated his capacity for it in spades.

Pander-o-meter: 6 out of 5 (off the charts!)

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Next up: Teodoro Casiño and the small parties: DPP, Kapatiran and SJP.

*Update: Ernesto Reyes in this recently released ADB report arrives at a similar estimation by assuming that 20% of the 6.2 million elderly Filipinos aged 60 and above or 1.2 million are poor. It makes sense, because individuals who cannot afford to retire have to keep working beyond the retirement age (either that or they love their jobs extremely).

Can you mount a social media political campaign with just one million pesos?

TJ Manotoc was kind enough to invite me to an interview to talk about social media political campaigns. One of the best reactions I got were from digital media experts like Carlo Ople and Noemi Dado. The biggest gripe was the number of one million pesos to run a social media campaign. Carlo correctly raised the point of how much Facebook ads costs, or how much social customer relationship management software costs. On top of that, other expenses, and that’s not even accounting for the content. Noemi reminded me the cost she heard during the last election. All valid points of view when thinking of the campaign.

Perhaps, I wasn’t too clear— no fault of TJ when he asked me the question. As I pointed out on twitter, was thinking of entry-levels. When Apple says they are selling a new iPad, they always say, it starts “from PHP15,990” or the new iMac starts from “62,990.00”. It is a conversation starter, and the dynamics evolve as you develop the pitch and the strategy. It could be less, it could be more. And expectations change as you drill down the conversation with the client, and he or she knows what the hell is he buying into.

Now, there is a common misconception that social media is by far a separate beast from the rest of the campaign. You don’t have a separate messaging. You get a tweaked messaging targeting the specific online audience, but it doesn’t deviate as much from the messaging you relay on the ground. The candidate’s “packaging” is the same online or offline.

For all the complaint about Bam Aquino’s last name, few have mentioned his pro-Small and Medium Enterprise push for example. From his campaign’s perspective, it doesn’t disappear when you talk about him online (or offline, and vice-versa). You mention his accomplishments. You publish his platform (and they have), and it would be interesting to find out later, post-election how much traction did this get during the campaign.

Nancy Binay is doing the right thing for her campaign. Say as little as possible online. The online world isn’t her territory. It isn’t going to win her additional votes from cyberspace.

So my point is, running a social media political campaign is no different from your campaign messaging. The place where you “broadcast” changes, with the content, isn’t wildly different. A video of your candidate can be found on Youtube. Campaign posters can be published online, instead of being printed, or tweaked to be published as a Facebook ad. It is like giving a speech in Laguna, and giving the same speech in Davao, but altering it to account for local color. In that respect, “budget” varies. A social media political campaign is one holistic strategy that doesn’t diverge from the campaign. It isn’t an after thought. It isn’t Public Relations, or Messaging’s dirty little distant cousin. It is part of the family. It is part of the equation on who you target— will 18 to 24 year olds be important to your campaign? Are you targeting overseas workers? How can you reach those people? Social Media is an additional limb, and now, with increasing importance in the grand scale of sending out the message.

There are two primary sides to a social media campaign. This is the talking and the listening and these two halves form the conversation. “Conversation,” is often lost. It is one of the key things we are missing. There doesn’t seem to be much conversation happening around the candidates and the voters.

A conversation isn’t just a campaign publishing why you should vote for their guy. It isn’t just about the comments and likes, but when something pops up, when a constituent, asks a question, the candidate or the campaign gives an appropriate response.

It is disappointing to read comments on a candidate’s Facebook page that ask the question, “Ilan po na magkakapatid sila ?” (How many siblings does he have?) I am not saying the question isn’t a valid one, it is just that, really, we waste all this time preaching the power of social media, and how we can reach the candidate or how the candidate can reach us, and at the end of the day, voters don’t seem to want to ask deeper questions?

Beverly Thakur of IFES asked me a question during the e-democracy conference. “How can we get politicians to participate in the social media conversation?”

Social media isn’t of course limited to Facebook ads. It isn’t limited to listening to social media using Radian 6. Social media is also participating on Blogwatch and Rappler interviews. It is responding to criticism; or responding to a good idea by a constituent. It is a chance for candidates to show who they are, and what they can do. It is the closest thing to a town hall as we can possibly get. It is nice if citizens take advantage of this vector. It goes back to the whole idea of conversation. A conversation happens when one side talks, the other listens and when the first side is done talking, the second guy talks and the other guy listens. So ask questions. Ask questions that make sense not for the purpose of embarrassing the candidate, but to have a real deal conversation.

Going back to the question of why politicians don’t seem to like to participate in social media, or that the conversation is either simply broadcasting one side, and not an actual conversation– is because from their side, they are afraid of being bashed, and cyber-bullied. How do they not get shutdown? So it is entirely courageous of the President’s comm group like Manolo Quezon, and Abi Valte to be on twitter to answer questions, and to sometimes talk like real people.

Another social media expert– Chris Talbot remarked that maybe it is a cultural thing. That maybe from the American perspective, they are thicker skinned. People in power there are used to people being rude to them. I think he’s right. Politicians in the Philippines expect some reverence, maybe? I think being civilized, and talking with people in an actual, real conversation is the first step in getting both sides to a conversation. A jar of honey, in my humble opinion, will get you a way longer than a jar of bitterness. Put it a other way, don’t be a troll (or starstruck) when talking to politicians! Talk to them like you would a real person. Treat them as a real person. They are people too!

Social media in campaigns don’t have to be expensive. Tools, and concepts don’t always have to be there. The ads will always be there. If you’re in a pinch, when is the best time to maximize that ad run? Where else can you scrimp and run a barebones campaign? Where do the analytics begin or end? Where do you start and stop measuring impact— or should you even dare to? As a local candidate how can you benefit from social media? Do you need an entire team?

One of my friends, Edizer Aceron, is running for Vice Mayor in his little town in Bulalacao, Mindoro. I was pleasantly surprised, for example, to wake up to an album he published on his Facebook page. It was simply titled, “The Journey”.

Bulalacao is on the edge of nowhere. If you have ever been there, Bulalacao is a 45 minute trip by boat from Boracay, or a 6 hour trip from Batangas pier. Their beaches are pristine. Now, one can imagine that if this far of place has this going on for them, why shouldn’t the other politicians follow? You can imagine that in their place, WiFi and 3G aren’t as proliferate as in the city. There is little point to publishing pictures from the campaign trail. And you know what? It is entirely personal, and entirely naturally brilliant. It is a way for his friends– like myself– or his constituent to know how it is going down there. Just like a normal person does, publishing things going on in their lives. How much does this cost? I haven’t asked him why he did that. Was it instinct? Was it deliberate? An Internet connection, and a camera and instantly, you have this invaluable connection. It is brilliant social media. Am fairly certain he doesn’t care about reach or analytics, or likes, but it is a social media campaign, isn’t it? If he wanted to use his Facebook for example to solicit money to run his campaign, could he? Is that even legal? And assuming he did, and could— wouldn’t that even further the idea of a social media campaign?

It made me wonder, how powerful do you think it is to tell constituents, “I will post our picture on my Facebook page.” (I-post ko po yung picture ninyo sa Facebook ko.) How powerful do you think _that_ is?

Remember that famous Obama hugs Michelle photo during the last U.S. presidential election? Why was it so powerful? Because it conveyed victory, and images from the campaign perfectly with the simple caption, “four more years”.

How much does it cost to have someone on hand to take photos in a world where smartphones with 8 megapixel cameras and DSLRs are everywhere?

If I could give an award for best use of twitter by a politician it would be to Representative Kimi Cojuangco, and Senator Pia Cayetano. Both women are natural on twitter. See what makes them fantastic on twitter is that they are real people online. Sure they talk about policy. Sure they talk about the issues of the day. Every so often they talk about things that matter to them, or joke about things, like real people do. Senator Pia talks about for example her biking. Representative Kimi can joked about how her husband, Mark, had moved out, and is now living full time on twitter. Mark Cojuangco is also a prolific twitter user. Like I said, real people or at least as real as you can be online.

Another good example of social media use was Senator T.G. Guingona’s web series on how the Senate works. It was a nice touch. The senator’s YouTube channel is really a good example of a Senator engaging the public.

Going back to a campaign, as any professional veteran social media expert would tell you like Ros Juan and Niña Terol-Zialcita, social media isn’t just posting things on Facebook or selling ads. It is a writing job. It is a content job. It is about telling a story: a real powerful story. The audience is on Email; on Youtube; on Facebook; on Twitter. As I pointed out, it also isn’t distinct, and separate, or an after thought for a campaign. It is part of your overall campaign strategy from the beginning. The tools, the ads, the people who will run your listening post, and writing and publishing content do cost money, but in a pinch, if you know how to do it right, and you know your campaign objectives beyond, “I want to win,” then you can manage your expectations and accomplish your objectives. And often, the best practices are the ones that come naturally.

Harper Reed, The Chief Technology Officer of the Obama 2012 campaign said during his e-Democrasya presentation that they spared no expense. They hired real engineers, and developers from Google, Microsoft, Apple and others. Real pros to build their infrastructure that needed to work without downtime on Election Day. Red Tani of the Filipino Free Thinkers asked him, how do you do it for advocacies, and (presumably applicable to political campaigns) on a budget, and Harper replied, “use open source.” Money is nice to have, being scrappy and passionate is another.

More politicians and political campaigns ought to use Social Media to engage voters, correct?

When we close the chapter on the 2013 elections, we will find a lot of campaigns experimenting with social media, hoping it was the magic bullet that would make them win. We will find candidates like Nancy Binay not needing it at all because of its liability on her? Though of course, it could have been used to change the narrative back.

Yes, you can mount a social media campaign cheap. Though it is always nice to have a BMW, with all the bells and whistles. The caveat being whether or not you have money or constrained by money, you know what you are buying into; knowing the limits of that buy in.

The power of social media is our ability to get our friends to try a new restaurant because we posted a review on looloo; to tweet them to get them to watch Homeland, and Doctor Who— shows we love. We trust people we know to give advice on such things. In social and digital marketing parlance, we call it, “Influence.” In election language, we call it, “command votes”. They are the same.

Can a grandmother playing mahjong during off election season convince you to vote for former senator Ramon ‘Jun’ Magsaysay, Jr., because she believes in his platform of WiFi for every barangay; of ‘pay it forward’ education; of justice and his belief in business and economics? Can you convince your sister to vote for the pro-Small and Medium Enterprise Bam Aquino or the Pro-Reproductive Health advocate Risa Hontiveros? To convince them to look beyond Aquino’s last name, or Binay’s and instead focus on their credentials and passion?

See what I did there?

That said, is this an election entirely about a referendum on President Aquino? It seems that too is an important vector to consider during a post-mortem of the 2013 election, and how social media may or may not have made a difference in this election.

Essentially, in its purity beyond the ads, and the listening tools, social media during elections is getting you to vote for a candidate your friend says is good. That is what social media campaigns are about in its purest form. Are we doing it all wrong?

If a candidate came to you and said, I can only afford to spend 1 million pesos on social media, can you do it? Are you ready to be scrappy?

All the wizardry, the amount spent on Facebook ads and posts, the tools to listen, and CRMs, the content, and the tweets sent to and from candidates and all the bandwidth spent on livestreams goes down to one real question: can online— social media— deliver command votes, or are we not there yet?