Trapo alert! 2013 Election summary

I have attempted through this series to have a serious discussion of the 2013 senatorial aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). These were put through what I called the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they had released placed them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate was able to get and their equivalent meanings:

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

Follow the links below if you want to review the detailed notes regarding each candidate’s score (found in parenthesis):

Part 1: Juan Edgardo Angara (3), JrBenigno Aquino IV (1.5) and Alan Peter Cayetano (6).

Part 2: Francis Escudero (2.5), Risa Hontiveros (2) and Loren Legarda (4).

Part 3: Aquilino Pimentel III (3)Joseph Victor Ejercito (4) and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr (1.5).

Part 4: Gregorio Honasan (1.5)Ernesto Maceda (5) and Juan Miguel Zubiri (6).

Part 5: Teodoro Casiño (4), the Democratic Party of the Philippines’ Bal FalconeChristian Señeres and Greco Belgica (3), and the Ang Kapatiran Party’s JC delos Reyes, Lito David and Mars Llasos (4).

Part 6: Grace Poe Llamanzares (4)Eddie Villanueva (3) and Richard Gordon (5).

Part 7: Jun Magsaysay (1)Edward Hagedorn (2)Antonio Trillanes (3)Samson Alcantara (4)Ramon Montaño (3.5) and Ricardo Penson (2.75).

Part 8: Nancy Binay (4), Ting Cojuangco (4), Jamby Madrigal (3.5), Mitos Magsaysay (3), and Cynthia Villar (4).

In studying the platforms of various candidates, more weight was given to the legislative program they articulated through campaign documents and news releases. Platitudes and expensive programs with no costings or identified sources of funding were reasons for marking down the candidate. Those that offered buzzwords with no policy detail were likewise downgraded. I then took account of their stand on certain critical issues. Some revision was done to account for this.

It should be noted that assessing candidates can be a highly qualitative exercise. We are all subject to our individual biases. I tried to ground my analysis on the policy prescriptions of each candidate rather than on issues concerning their private lives or rumours of misconduct. The following interactive charts show the Trapo scale reading for each candidate and the average for each ticket, beginning with Team PNoy, followed by the UNA Coalition and the independents.

Golden opportunity gone to waste?

The average score for Team PNoy is 3.13. It is a mixed bag of reformers and populists. The administration missed a golden opportunity in this election to define a legislative agenda for the remaining three years of its life and require those on its ticket to commit themselves to this program of government.

Having the wind in its back with investment grade status being granted Philippine sovereign debt by credit rating agencies, Team PNoy could have crafted a set of reform programs that would have consolidated these gains and teased out the president’s social and economic agenda through legislative proposals. Instead it was left up to each member of the team to set priorities in an uncoordinated and often self-contradicting fashion. Rather than follow the president down the righteous path, their policy prescriptions seemed to be scattered to the four winds.

Team PNoy would have us squander the gains of his administration. In direct violation of its stated policy of shrinking the fiscal deficit down to 1 per cent of GDP per annum in a year or two before it leaves office, some of the “chosen ones” want to go the other way. One intends to exempt petrol from VAT and another wants to lift the tax free threshold to the minimum wage level with no offsetting savings or revenues. At the same time they want to expand social entitlements massively. That would lead us back down the same road to ruin we were on early in the last decade.

No viable alternative

The average score for the UNA Coalition is 3.8. It is reaching dangerous levels of traditional politicking, akin to vote buying almost. While the administration has not assembled a team with a coherent and cohesive agenda, the opposition is not offering anything better. They are in fact trying to outdo Team PNoy in promising populist measures. It is the role of a responsible opposition party to present a viable alternative program of government. Unfortunately, the UNA coalition is not performing that role very well (or at all) with the way most of its candidates pander to the electorate.

The average score for the Independents is 3.35. They are a mixed bag, which is what you would expect. There is one or two reform minded players in the mix. If I was thinking of cherry picking candidates from various parties instead of voting for a straight ticket, then I would select from one of these options.

Of tramps and trapos

The pander-o-meter was crafted so that we as voters could have a way of cutting through the sweet nothings politicians often whisper in our ears. These often consist of what the late Nobel prize winning economist Milton Friedman called “free lunches”. The thing with free lunches as Friedman famously pointed out is that they simply do not exist. Someone will eventually have to foot the bill. Lavish entitlement programs are hard enough for rich countries to maintain, let alone impoverished ones.

When a government can muster no more than 20 per cent of its economy from taxes and other forms of revenue to pay for its expenses, then whatever spending it does has to be efficient, well-targeted and productivity enhancing. What we have seen from most of the candidates of Team PNoy and UNA is a spraying of social entitlement programs every which way without regard at all for our budget bottom-line. Nothing and no one seem to rein in their capacity to promise the sun, moon and stars. They seem to be operating on an assumption of limitless resources, instead of the shallow pockets that we have.

You might of course assess the candidates differently with your own scoring system. In the end, all I hoped to achieve was to concentrate the discussion on what really counts: policies and programs, costings and budgets, rather than on celebrity and platitudes. If we compare the pander-o-meter reading with the polls for instance, it is clear that several candidates on the verge of being elected to the senate do not deserve to be there. I hope that this series has been helpful in elevating our political discourse to some extent by bringing to light certain substantive issues that normally do not gain much attention in the course of our electoral cycle.

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 (www.thecusponline.org) 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.