Dear Mr. President, Members of Congress, Friends in Government, Civil Society, the Media, fellow Netizens, friends, and Filipinos everywhere:
Might I ask for a moment of your time?
I’m writing this addressed to each of you, because like many of you, I am angered, deeply saddened, and frustrated at the state of our nation. I am a Filipino, like all of you. I am troubled by where we are as a nation, fractured by our cynicism, and fear. We are seemingly trapped in a vicious cycle, and a cauldron of rage boiling in the under current of our People’s pulse. This fury is a steady beating tempo at those who have stolen, not just the monies from the treasury, but they have inevitably, by plundering our gold, have too stolen our people’s future. For some, this fury accelerated into a hate filled Schadenfreude orgy driven by their own preconceived notion, unable to move past the blinders of cognitive bias. Perhaps, for some, this abyss we gaze into only reflect the darkness of the soul. I can not but help, perhaps, like many of you, to contemplate the future of our nation, and where do we go from here.
A year ago, our nation was rocked by the Cybercrime Law (RA10175). Prior to it, I wrote on the bill like a handful of few, and prayed that the President veto it because it was, in a nutshell, a very bad idea, but my words fell on deaf ears.
Don’t get me wrong. It was not just the President, but too few did not get my objection. Without any illusion of success, I had to at least try to voice the wrongness of it all. Who am I to be listened to after all? I am a nobody. The proof is in the pudding. I am a fool on a foolish errand, and such was proof of the old axiom: if a tree fell, and nobody heard it, did it happen?
I pray that these words do not fall on deaf ears.
“Words offer the means to meaning,” V said. “And for those who will listen, the enunciation of truth.”
The problem of cybercrime law— or for the most part, a lot of Internet legislation in any part of the world, is this. “There is a disconnect between a government and people on the Internet. Neither has walked in each other’s shoes.”
My contemporaries have long preferred the anarchist revolutionary V, from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta graphic novel. The story, if you are not familiar with, is about the the protagonist V dressed in a Guy Fawkes mask who conducted an elaborate, violent and theatrical campaign to bring down the police state British government and convince the people to wake up and “rule themselves again.”
“Anonymous rewrote the hacktivist playbook,” writes Somini Sengupta in “the New Soul of the Hacktivist“. “It began to challenge a far broader political and economic order.” Sengupta quotes Richard Power, author of the book “Tangled Web”. “You’re looking at not just one particular cause,” Power wrote. “You’re attacking the whole power structure. It involves some core critique.”
In the comic book series, the All New X-Men, the original X-men were transported forward in time by present day Dr. Henry McCoy to show them the world they’ve created so they can change the present. In one scene the original X-Men go around present day New York. How do you think that would go? Teenagers from the 1960s suddenly trapped in a world that’s constantly…loud?
How do you bridge understanding between two worlds that barely understand each other? Politicians and Lawmakers who don’t live and breathe this stuff; of ordinary people who can never appreciate the philosophical underpinnings of the world we live in, and how important it is for future generations to have this foundation and a generation living and breathing this stuff? How do you bridge understanding between people— mostly clueless as to the beauty of the Internet, and how beautifully the Internet works and put together?
When President Benigno S. Aquino III signed the cybercrime bill into law. Slowly, people started to wake up to realized what just happened. People disagreed with the President. We disagreed so much that 15 petitions to the Supreme Court to stop the law from taking effect were filed. The people disagreed so much that the Supreme Court is still contemplating it, but has put the law on hold.
For me, it wasn’t enough to disagree with the government. I sympathized with the need for such a law, but I opposed it on the grounds that the government can do better at crafting such a law; that WE the people deserve better than that law. As a Cloud Services provider, I am, after all one of thousands of Filipinos who make their bread and cheese online, and I am one of millions of Filipinos who use the Internet to communicate with friends and family around the world.
How do you fix the problem of cybercrime law? Really fix it so government get the powers it does need while people get their rights protected? How do you get Internet policy corrected, and we use this beautiful tool for economic development? How do you design the future cognizant of intricate nuances, and yet be open to address a tomorrow you can never predict? “Design,” Steve Jobs once said, “is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” And so too is design in society. So too does design fit in our nation building. So too can this idea of what design truly is be the philosophy that underpins what the law can be.
Repealing the cybercrime law was just one aspect. Not repealing RA10175 because it was an overreach and would have granted the government and worst— succeeding governments the ability to stifle freedom. Worst, it goes philosophically against everything the Internet stands for because by technological design: “rough consensus and running code.” And yet, the law’s reason for being was equally valid, in a sense. The government needed teeth. Child pornographers needed to go to jail. Cybercrimes do happen and there should be a mechanism for justice to happen. People needed to be protected from crimes that were happening. To put it simply, the means, does not justify the end.
If the cybercrime law was so evil, what exactly was the solution?
What was the lesson of electing Benigno S. Aquino III as president?
On the 30th of June 2010, Benigno S. Aquino III took his oath of office. In his inaugural address he spoke words that rung true for me. “This is what democracy means,” the President said. “It is the foundation of our unity. We campaigned for change. Because of this, the Filipino stands tall once more. We are all part of a nation that can begin to dream again.”
I wanted to dream again.
The story has been told many times already. From tweets to Facebook, likeminded people banded together, and so amidst the challenges in the background, the NetDems were hard at work at crafting a solution the problem.
In fact, seeds of the MCPIF can be traced to effort, and discussion on this blog, on twitter, and on Facebook. And the solution to the faux pas that is the Cybercrime Law is the Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom (MCPIF). Not only does the MCPIF repeal the cybercrime law, it is anchored on four core principles: rights, governance, development and security. It is a holistic approach to Internet Freedom because it looks at all sides, and strikes a balance that is fair, and equitable for multiple stakeholders: people, business, government, the military, and the economy. That’s how the MCPIF is designed.
The MCPIF was first filed in 15th Congress by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and was refiled in the 16th Congress. It has so far the support of two senators (veteran legislator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, and newcomer Bam Aquino), and Representative Kimi Cojuangco. Coincidently, the MCPIF is being hailed, not just locally, but also internationally.
A key element of the MCPIF is its crowdsourced nature. It is the first law in the Philippines that was crowdsourced by Netizens. The PHNetDems organized themselves via Facebook, Google Docs, Email, Twitter to craft over a hundred pages of a proposed legislation for Internet Freedom. This is the first of its class in the Philippines, and so much so that it has inspired a Crowdsourcing bill, also pending in Congress.
Now, what should this mean for new ways of committing change?
“People like us, who are not in public office,” Bill Clinton once remarked, “have more power to do good than at any time in history, because more than half the world’s people live under governments they voted in and can vote out. And even non-democratic governments are more sensitive to public opinion. Because primarily of the power of the Internet, people of modest means can band together and amass vast sums of money that can change the world for some public good if they all agree.”
@PHNetDems is about a group of people of modest means who saw a problem, and set out to solve it. The PHNetDems-style of leadership is the Fifth Estate taking active participation in society. This is what we’re passionate about. It is about a group of ordinary people who, so pissed at the situation, pissed off at the way the government, pissed off at the short-sightedness of civil society, and decided to tackle Internet legislation: “to hell with it, let’s show them a better way.” It is about taking action, beyond words, and beyond the normal, “Government is wrong. I’m pissed.” It is about engaging government in proper discourse— the Congress in this instance to help craft a law. It is about turning ideas into transformative action.
Again, it goes back to the narrative: if a tree fell and nobody listened, did it happen?
@PHNetDems didn’t know Senator Miriam Santiago. In fact, she wasn’t the first person to be approached. There were others the bill was being shopped to. Why Miriam Defensor-Santiago? She was the first to say yes, and from there things started to change.
This is our idea of positive engagement with government. A problem exists, and citizens who have day jobs and lives banded together to fix a problem. Granted, that problem’s solution is a long way to go. But the PHNetDems have taken a few tentative steps that no other group have thus far achieved.
Now, what can people so angered about Pork Barrel learn from the PHNetDems?
We didn’t just scream bloody murder at government for signing a very bad idea into law. We’re sure pissed as hell. We’re trying to show government what the better way is. We’re trying to show our contemporaries, peers and fellow citizens that there is a better way. Not by screaming. Not by insisting our way, or the highway, but through active debate; through crafting our ideas, turning it into words, and taking action by engaging our representatives— our elected officials in a dialogue not of master and slave, but as fellow citizens. You know, citizen empowerment beyond the blog, the tweet or the FB.
The thing here is not just about a better way to legislation; not just a better way to approach Internet Freedom that’s balanced, fair and equitable for all. There is a better way to participate in a democracy. We can not simply stop to say, “Government you are wrong. Period. No ifs no buts. You are wrong.” We need to start to say, “Government, you are wrong. Here’s why you are wrong.” You know, like civilized people. So the other layer to the story is how We citizens can do better.
For most of us, being citizens begin, and end with an election. We go to the polling booth, and vote. That’s not how it is suppose to be.
Our leaders while they are our representatives, while we give them power to govern also need guidance from time to time. President Aquino, for example isn’t the smartest or wisest person in the room. Cybercrime law is proof that the man is human who can make human mistakes but for him to do the best job possible, is also about us engaging the government in a conversation of peers, what to do when we disagree vehemently with.
A conversation of course requires someone talking, and listening. A conversation is about presetting ideas in a space, and its end result is some transformative action.
Telling the President what we want to do isn’t about taking to the streets and crying foul. Certainly, it isn’t calling him “King of Pork,” when the man hasn’t done that crime. It is about engaging him in dialogue. It is about engaging Congress in a dialogue. And not going out to the streets filled with rage and fury, not that it isn’t justified, rather, rage and fury have no place in finding solutions to what the problem is.
The whole, and the entirety and the example of MCPIF is that dialogue. We want to show the world that there is a better way to be citizens.
Is the MCPIF the most perfect goddamn bill, ever? Certainly it is our vision of the ideal, but how perfectly crafted? Does it represent what’s possible? What tomorrow could bring because we’ve established this framework condition?
Let’s debate about it. Let’s talk about it.
At its heart, the MCPIF is about fighting ideas with better ideas. Now what does this have to do with the Million People March? What does this have to do with PDAF scam?
Unlike RA10175 the government is doing something. It took custody of Janet Lim Napoles. It has filed charges against three kings of pork. it has filed charges against several people. It has also suspended both the PDAF and the DAP. It has created a new mechanism for legislators to nominate projects for their district. This for the most part, already answer two of the three points being raised by the #ScrapPork movement.
One of the arguments of the #ScrapPork movement is that all pork should be removed. No more discretionary fund. No more discretionary fund at all for anyone. This, ladies and gentlemen is shortsighted, and driven by anger. Companies all over the world rely on discretionary funds.
At the core of this belief is what the #ScrapPork movement also want is for no lawmaker or politician to ever touch monies. No monies. No temptation. No corruption. It is a rather tantalizing approach. I believe at its heart is also fundamentally, wrong.
It is fundamentally wrong first in that you will simply transfer the entry doorway of corruption to the line agencies. Without cleaning up the end, which coincidentally, is also part of the web of lies, and conspiracy.
While the politicians involved may have nominated their contractors and suppliers, it is also a problem with the line agencies. They get to choose the framework conditions. They get to implement the problem. So we also need to clean up the line agencies. Furthermore, the breakdown is on the Commission on Audit side— how did it slip their watchful eyes? Commissioner Grace Polido-Tan said she is cleaning up her department.
So to simply say that it is just the politicians who are complicit, is to have an erroneous view of the design of the conspiracy.
While the cleaning up of the Department of Budget and Management, for example, is an executive function, and thus a prerogative of the sitting secretary and the incumbent President it doesn’t stop administrative action, if criminal charges could not be filed. It doesn’t stop the Department of Budget and Management and the Department of Agriculture secretary from firing people or ease the bad into retirement. There are many creative ways to “clean up” something, and to hold others accountable.
In the month or so the nation has been embroiled in Pork and its controversy, the government to its credit has put Janet Napoles in custody, and charge several people in the conspiracy.
The government has been doing what the government ought to be doing: investigate and file appropriate charges. Senators Enrile, Estrada, and Revilla as well as scores of others have been charged.
It has also scrapped PDAF in favor or new method called line item budgeting. These two solutions from the government is a step in the right direction.
Discretionary fund, per se is not evil. It is a simplistic solution to a complex problem. Because the narrative the militant left wants to paint, and to a certain extent the #ScrapPork and Million People March insists all pork is evil so all discretionary funds must be scrapped. Like the President’s discretionary fund. It is like saying the idea of discretionary fund is evil, and has no place in society. Discretionary fund of course is used in any corporation as part of its day to day activity. It comes from the unbridled rage and misconception that discretionary fund and pork does the plundering.
We forget one fact. People plunder, not pork.
How does one go about solving fund misuse?
first thing, as Doy Santos suggests, there should be an amendment to the Malapaya Law to include a board of trustees to oversee it. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to make having boards of trustees the norm too for large funds.
Second thing, Congress needs to pass a law institutionalizing generally accepted accounting principles for government. Call it the Government Auditing and Accountability and Responsibility Act.
third thingDigitizing and putting such information online wouldn’t be a bad idea too. Might even help auditors you know, check.
Freedom of Information Act
A lot of people have suggested that Freedom of Information Act would be a good thing to have. Well, the sad part though is that while we’re waiting for FOI to come online, President Aquino’s government has employed Open Government.
It isn’t perfect. Call it a proto-version. Data is being published by the Department of Budget and Management on PDAF releases for example. GovPH has published information on DAP— since 2011, for example, and the budget is also on the DBM website. The Commission on Audit also has a website releasing information to the public.
So all this is great to have. This is great for the media looking for information. Granted things like a member of Congress’ statement of assets and liabilities is still very much hard to come by, there is already some information out there to crunch.
The major news outfits have used this information to good effect. Both ABS-CBN news and GMA 7 for example have had news items on farmer groups who didn’t receive monies. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism for example recently started to tell the story of SAROs in chaos, DAP deals sans plans, ‘systems errors’ at DBM.
So the information being published by the government is a good start and media is taking all this to good effect.
That said, what is the Fifth Estate doing with the information? There doesn’t seem to be a credible analysis of all this data? Too few have blogged about it. And fewer still are parsing the data. Is it beyond the Fifth Estate?
We live in a representative democracy. We don’t call the lower house, the “House of Representatives” for nothing. While they do write laws, part of their job is to bring issues from their district front and center on the national stage. For people in the United States, it is about bringing home the bacon. Bacon being jobs, and more jobs. In the Philippines it is about getting funding for that road that the national government overlooked. It is about funding that Barangay patrol car (village patrol car). It is about giving funding to sick people to buy medicine or pay for hospitalization because being poor, they are not covered by PhilHealth, or maybe they are but monies not enough. It is about funding scholarship programs because for some reason or another can not be funded.
For the most part, PDAF monies were used for this. Well, that was the supposed intent. So the intent not that bad. The problem of course is that this monies is being used somewhere else. Like pocketed for change. As noted above part of the solution is to enforce better accounting and auditing practice. Part of the solution is driving a clean up of DBM, COA and other agencies because they serve as a check. Lawmakers and line agencies supposedly have to check and balance each other out and the failure led to a collusion.
Looking deeply at our problem is also a lack of strategic planning. How can we push the right funding for a particular district if there is no understanding of the needs of the people from the ground?
We have to understand, what was PDAF’s reason for being? It was suppose to bring development to the grassroots level. It is a means for legislators to fund development for their district and if this is not met, what steps can we take to make it happen?
We need to push for Regional Development Councils to be more active. We need this to be made up of Local Government pushing ideas and agendas to the National Economic Development Authority, for example. So we have a big picture view of where the problems are and how to solve them. It is another way of saying, we need grassroots engagement. We need people to be pushing for their needs upstream. Granted this is easier said than done. Granted there is a lot of local officials simply muddling along. That ladies, and gentlemen is an essential piece of the puzzle.
We need targeted and precise method of attack. Again, it goes back to the holistic principle we advocate for the MCPIF. It goes back to what we are designing a nation for? What are the pieces of the puzzle? What is what there for? What is its reason for being.
Disappointment with the Fifth Estate
And so this is my disappointment with Netizens and Civil Society. A month in, and we still don’t have clear solutions to engage government in a discourse not of haters, but as fellow citizens.
To put it simply, where is your MCPIF for PDAF? It is like people interested in solving the problem don’t exist.
As government does its investigation and file charges, as media tries to explain to we the people the whole thing, where is our netizen response? Where are the concrete action that we want? Where is the debate? Where is the discourse?
One wonders if the PHNetDems of crowdsourcing solutions can be copied and cross-pollinated with other effort.
Another thing the Fifth Estate can do is to be actively involved in Budget deliberations. Question and raise issues of where the monies go to.
Perhaps this is a fool’s errand. What is obvious to me is that we need a clear, precise and holistic approach to solving the Philippine conundrum.
What’s clear to me is that this conspiracy of PDAF happened because of institutional failure. The thieves in government and others have plundered the nation’s coffers because of weaknesses in the system, gamed and manipulated because of their greed. The media unable, unwilling or simply lazy failed to uncover the lies or that the wall of silence was simply too impenetrable. In any case it failed to inform the citizenry and such we have an unhealthy democracy. And the Fifth Estate likewise filled with incapacity that continues to this day because we lack the imagination and optimism to find solutions beyond the sound of our voices.
The problem of PDAF scam is just a symptom of the disease. And we forget that as our pulsating fury surges. We forget that as it gets drummed out by false rhetoric from the left, from the sleigh of hand from those accused in the scam.
The President is doing something. He has already changed the mechanism and scrapped both PDAF and DAP. The truth is the government is doing something. They are filing charges and investigating.
The media is doing something. They are analyzing data and reporting on it.
Both these effort suggest a democracy that has started to work.
What’s muddled is the future. What’s muddled is the lack of ideas from here on out. Perhaps we ought to remember the words of John F. Kennedy. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.”
How do we destroy our pulsating cynicism? How do we transform the conversation from a society waiting to screw each other out, and instead, Filipinos with a pulse wanting a better country?
“When I think about the world I would like to leave to my daughter and the grandchildren I hope to have,” Bill Clinton remarked, “it is a world that moves away from unequal, unstable, unsustainable interdependence to integrated communities — locally, nationally and globally — that share the characteristics of all successful communities: a broadly shared, accessible set of opportunities, a shared sense of responsibility for the success of the common enterprise and a genuine sense of belonging.” Clinton stopped, took a deep breath, and said, “All easier said than done.”
This is my fool’s errand: to convey the lessons learned from the still nascent MCPIF, and where it can be applicable to the PDAF scam; to give you a sense that all this is easier said than done. That the problems while they run deep, can be understood. That for our people to move forward, we must endeavor to design and build communities, as Clinton put it, “with a broadly shared, accessible set of opportunities, and a shared sense of responsibility for the success of our common enterprise. There is a better way. That the future is solvable through a holistic approach. That future is best built when we design it fully aware of its shape, and function.
“You have eaten well,” taken from Batman: Year One, DC Comics
“Fighting the idea of crime with the idea of the Batman”, Batman: The Return, DC Comics
Page from the All-New X-Men Special #1 by Marvel Comics