2013 Trapo Alert Series

Winner’s curse: How the opposition intimidated Team PNoy to take the low road to win in 2013 while leaving daang matuwid with no clear agenda or heir-apparent


In the Japanese martial art of Jujitsu one gains victory not by superior strength, but by using the force of one’s opponent against him. This is what the leader of the “friendly” opposition Vice President Jojo Binay did to the administration in the 2013 senatorial elections.

Having defeated President Aquino’s heir apparent Secretary Mar Roxas in the 2010 vice presidential derby, Binay’s unrivalled popularity while in office and his links to two of the most revered names in Philippine politics (Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and ex-president Joseph Estrada) made “winnability” foremost in Team PNoy’s mind in considering candidates for its 2013 senate slate.

Having experienced the “tyranny of numbers” in the lead up to the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona and in the subsequent push to have a number of its reform measures passed, the administration was not going to risk losing a majority of senate seats this time around. This caused the administration to take a “win at all costs” approach.

Its first move was to mend fences with its former rivals in the 2010 election. The entry of the Nacionalista Party’s standard bearers into the tent of Team PNoy spelled an about face for both parties. Senator Alan Peter Cayetano had started the TOPAK meme which maligned the president’s mental capacities. Senator Loren Legarda had called on him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation during the campaign. All that was swept under the rug as far as the administration was concerned.

After framing the contest between Messrs Aquino and Villar back in 2010 as one of “light v darkness”, the Villar’s were all of a sudden admitted among the “chosen ones” who would travel down the “Righteous Path” alongside the president. Not to worry, the administration said, since such a coalition was based on platforms, not personalities. Except that they avoided at every turn to define what that platform was.

When asked to identify the top 5 legislative proposals Team PNoy would push for if elected, its spokesman, Rep Miro Quimbo could only identify 4. “Let me get back to you on that” was his candid response. Unfortunately even the priorities he outlined didn’t figure in any formal policy document or in most of the endorsed candidates’ platforms.

When asked why there was no shared policy platform across Team PNoy, the undersecretary for strategy and communications, Manolo Quezon replied that midterms weren’t about policies but a referendum on the president. You either believe in him and his “chosen ones” or you don’t. So there you have it. The election was framed as a clash of personalities and their proxies, not as a contest of ideas, policies and visions for the country. Here’s what he said…

Consequently, the voters simply did what they have always done when faced with no real alternatives but the same old dynasties and incumbents: they went with those that connected with them on a deep emotional level, those with whom they felt a sense of shared destiny.

Due to the economic make-up of our electorate, that meant electing Nancy Binay even if she had no prior experience working in an official capacity in government. It also meant catapulting Grace Poe to pole position based on the memory of her deceased father and the playful use of her surname as an expression of respect.

Both these candidates scored high on our “trapo scale” dubbed the “pander-o-meter” based on an analysis of their personal platforms. Of course their policies were never scrutinised by the media. Neither did the intelligentsia perform its role in critically assessing the promises of each candidate (the absence of party-wide platforms made this task a lot more difficult than it should have been).

Health care reform, a key plank in Ms Binay’s platform was not given the kind of treatment it needed. She was never challenged on the feasibility of her proposals to provide free nutrition and medicine particularly to nursing mothers. In the case of Grace Poe, nobody noticed that her campaign was anchored on a coulda shoulda woulda basis committing her to nothing specific and nothing firm.

The candidates were allowed to promise the sun, moon and stars all the while pandering to the emotional pleasure zones of the electorate without the voice of reason being given an honest hearing. Social media was co-opted to suit the candidates’ purposes. There was no one calling them out on the false hopes and expectations that they were building.

Finally, in assessing the aftermath of Election 2013, what we will find is that although Team PNoy garnered a clear majority of seats that were up for grabs, it comes out the weaker party.

Sure, it now can boast of having a majority in both chambers of congress, but the political calculus facing its adherents will be daunting. Will they really pursue the tough and unpopular reforms that are needed to bring the country forward, especially now that the electoral bankability of the BInay dynasty remains utterly unassailable?

Secondly, the president does not have a clear, viable heir-apparent to challenge the Jojo Binay-Jinggoy Estrada machinery and name recall in 2016. Secretary Mar Roxas has not accepted his party’s draft to run perhaps due to his failure to define a narrative for his candidacy.

Only one of the Liberal Party’s three senatorial candidates is likely to win in this election, in large part due to the fact that he shares the same name as the president. Bam Aquino will be too young to contest the presidential elections in 2016 being a year shy of the minimum age requirement, repeating the fate of his late-uncle.

So that leaves the administration with a mere three years to cement its legacy before handing over the reins to its successor who is likely to come from the opposition. For failing to define its agenda and properly vet its allies prior to the elections, the administration now suffers the problem of having no clear mandate to implement whatever reforms it outlines afterwards.

The same thing happened following the 1986 people power uprising. Rather than develop a new breed of politicos based on principles and a common reform agenda, the revolutionary government of Cory Aquino accommodated and resuscitated the clans who ruled the country in the pre-Martial Law era allowing the children of its revolution to die in the ditches defending their cause.

Joseph Estrada once said that her government’s biggest mistake was letting guys like him back in (clever guy he truly is!). Only those like Jejomar Binay who were willing to “play by the rules” of the jungle survived.

Instead of taking the hard, difficult path of building a constituency for reform through principled, policy-driven politics and developing a new breed of politicians from inside its base, the second Aquino administration opted to go down the quick and easy path to success, just like the first.

For those that thought 2010 marked the beginning of an era of new politics, think again. The years 2010-16 might simply be an interlude, a case of trapo interrupted, where the country enjoyed a momentary respite from the worst forms of populist, predatory politics at the top, before old habits kicked in once again.

Image: courtesy of Rappler.com

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.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 8

Panderometer

 

Featuring Nancy Binay, Tingting Cojuangco, Jamby Madrigal, Mitos Magsaysay and Cynthia Villar.

This is the eighth 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 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 part 6, I covered Grace Poe LlamanzaresEddie Villanueva and Richard Gordon. In part 7, I covered Jun Magsaysay, Edward Hagedorn, Antonio Trillanes, Samson Alcantara, Ramon Montaño and Ricardo Penson.

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Nancy Binay (PDP-Laban-UNA)

The erstwhile assistant of the vice president is gaining the spotlight as she runs for public office for the first time. Having served on the board of her parent’s foundations, Ms Binay is planning to push for health and education services in the senate. Her television ads contain three pledges, which include:

  1. Providing better prenatal and post natal services
  2. Free medicine and nutritional supplements
  3. Education to employment services

It is not clear how her proposals would work. She has not released a detailed policy statement. Her web presence is fairly limited. Her Facebook page contains mostly photos of her and a guy I presume is her partner on the campaign trail. What knowledge we have of her policy prescriptions come from ads and news items.

Ms Binay is banking on the franchise of her family name to assure voters that her promises are backed up with years of assisting her parents in their charities and public service work. Much has been made of her unwillingness to debate Risa Hontiveros on health issues.

While Risa talks in the abstract of making healthcare “more universal” through a systemic reform of the health system, Nancy is using very specific and perhaps targeted health programs that “make it real” to voters. That and the very tangible example of what the Binays have done in Makati is why she seems to be appealing to voters despite the fact that this is her first time to claim the public spotlight.

Unfortunately, we do not know how her programs would be funded and how costly they might turn out to be. It is feasible to do these things in the City of Makati with its rich taxpayers footing the bill for their programs, but doing the same throughout the country will be a major challenge, something that the traditional media has not confronted her with. Indeed, the mainstream media have in a way given Ms Binay a free pass.

I am not saying that her programs cannot be done. All I am saying is that someone will have to foot the bill for them. And without sufficient information regarding how big these programs are intended to be and how they will be funded, we have to take her proposals with a grain of salt.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco (UNA)

This former governor, a history and national security buff, is running to create a peaceful end to the conflict in Mindanao and the settlement of the Sabah issue, her long-time passions. After listening to over forty minutes of her being interviewed on cable news regarding her plans, however, it is still not clear to me as to what her roadmap is for bringing this about.

It is such a shame, given her knowledge gained from scholastic and personal pursuits and involvement in the decades’ old peace process, that she is unable or unwilling to articulate a coherent roadmap for a long-term settlement of the conflict in the south. Pity as even her inclination as expressed in the interview tends to veer away from the current course taken by the administration in revamping the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. Does that mean the present set up is fine? If so, then why is it that there still is no real peace in the south? What is her alternative plan?

These are serious questions that remain unanswered. She sort of excuses herself for not enunciating a response by saying that ordinary Filipinos are simply not interested in hearing it. That is simply condescending. If one is going to treat voters like children, so that instead of sharing the harsh realities and stark choices, one offers ear candy or things which they presumably want to hear as self-interested individuals, then one shouldn’t be surprised if they return the favour with an equal amount of disdain.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Jamby Madrigal (Liberal-Team PNoy)

Up to now Ms Madrigal’s website has a non-functioning tab for her “Platform”. In other words, she has not even bothered to inform us what her legislative agenda would be if she were to be given another chance to serve in the august chamber of the senate. What are we to make of this?

The only bit of information that exists is her stand on a number of issues from reproductive health to the promotion of eco-tourism. But that really is not nearly enough for us to know what exactly her plan is. Like I have said countless times in this space—it is not acceptable to merely mouth slogans or buzzwords in this campaign. For members of the voting public to support you, you have to provide very concrete measures to address important public policy issues. We know from the bills she has previously authored that Jamby stands for protecting the rights of women and children as well as the environment, so she should lay down an agenda to further those causes over the next six years.

It is not proper to merely use celebrities or gimmicks through social media to gain traction in a bid for a senate seat. There has to be substance. Unfortunately, despite taking some principled stances on certain issues, Ms Madrigal has failed to provide direction to her campaign by laying down a platform. It does not help that her party, the LP and Team PNoy has not come out with a unified stand on issues and a coherent agenda to implement over the course of the next congress. That has left a vacuum for each candidate to fill, which unfortunately Ms Madrigal to this day has failed to attend to.

Pander-o-meter: 3.5 out of 5

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Mitos Magsaysay (PMP-UNA)

This feisty representative from Zambales prides herself with being a “fiscalising” critic of the administration in Congress and vows to do the same if she reaches the upper house. In her bid to attract attention to herself, she runs the risk of being identified as a demagogue with no policy substance whatsoever.

But in fact, if you look at her record in Congress, you will find she has authored a number of significant bills that were passed by the lower house. One of these is an act creating a national student loan board to benefit poor students. If you study this bill closely, you will find that it has some very interesting features. The planned student loan system would be funded by a wage-based levy similar to Philhealth and SSS of anywhere from ½% to 4% of salaries based on a progressive scale (the higher the income, the larger the contribution which sounds complicated to administer). Student loans would be charged 5% annually and have a loan term of 5 years to pay.

I wonder which country Mrs Magsaysay had patterned her proposal after. If she had studied the Higher Education Contributions Scheme or HECS in Australia, she would have learned that five years is too short for student loans accumulated over four years of studies to be paid back. The cost of human capital should be amortised over the working life of an individual, which is at least 20 years.

Another thing is the interest rate. HECS does not charge any interest, or at least commercial rates of interest. It does however index the balance of the loan by about 2.5 per cent every year to keep up with inflation. In addition, a discount is offered for up-front payment of student fees.

The Australian model does not finance student loans with contributions from the working population, but from general appropriations and from repayments of students previously enrolled in the system. Repayments are conditioned on subsequent incomes being commensurate to what is expected of a university graduate. Payments are collected through the tax office in the form of mandatory deductions to one’s personal income. If the person earns less than the threshold, then no repayments are required.

(The recently concluded conference sponsored by the ASEAN and Australia was a forum where Philippine policy makers could have gained a better handle on these issues. Unfortunately, we did not participate in it.)

For this program to work, adequate funding has to be pumped into the coffers of the loan administration equal to the annual student fees collected by state universities and colleges for a number of years. This is until loan repayments from previous cohorts are sufficient to finance the loans of subsequent cohorts. Then the system could potentially be expanded to cover courses offered by private higher educational institutions. When years 11 and 12 are introduced in 2015 and 2016, and there are no incoming freshmen to SUCs, it would be an ideal time to bank some funds in preparation for the launch of the student loan board. I have detailed all this in a previous post.

Mrs Magsaysay has drawn much attention to herself as a firebrand, criticising the administration’s priorities at every turn. She criticises the president’s emphasis on Pantawid Pamilya which encourages primary school enrolment, while she says not enough money is spent boosting tertiary education. The two need not be in conflict, and she should realise this.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Cynthia Villar (Nacionalista-UNA)

Mrs Villar’s record in the lower house shows that she espouses the cause of the vulnerable in society, including seniors, children and women. She has also worked on updating the charters of UP and modernising the Philippine Normal University. When asked about the congressional investigation into nursing education in which she took the side of poorly performing providers rather than the needs of hapless graduates who could not meet the minimum requirements of the profession, she stumbled by denigrating the aspirations of those students, for which she later apologised.

Her platform consists of promoting livelihood programs for women and tree planting activities for environmental conservation purposes. She points to the work that she and her husband Senator Manuel Villar have started in their city in which she served as mayor as evidence that such programs work. It is not clear though exactly how these programs would work at the national level. Does she intend to mandate all local governments to imitate her own pet projects in Las Piñas? Or does she intend for a national agency like the DSWD to manage it? If so, where would the money to finance these programs come from?

This has been a recurring theme in this series. Candidates for the most part are not forthright about the intended size and scale of their proposals. My feeling is that we would need a fiscal sustainability law to force them to cost these and determine the source of funds for them. This would discipline candidates and parties when crafting their policies to provide full transparency and accountability. Without such information, the policies and programs that candidates present are simply pandering to the interests of targeted voters without any care given to their fiscal impact or sustainability.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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The final instalment of this series will come in the form of a summary. Stay tuned!

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.

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.

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.

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).

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 3

Panderometer

Featuring Koko Pimentel, JV Ejercito and Jack Enrile.

This is the third 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). I have identified nineteen so far that have articulated some kind of policy agenda in running for a seat in the upper house. 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, Jr, Benigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

In this instalment, I will be covering Aquilino Pimentel III,Joseph Victor Ejercito and Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr.

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Aquilino Pimentel III (PDP-Laban-Team PNoy) has served less than half his term as senator since he spent the first half proving that he was the rightful occupant of the 12th slot in the 2007 senate race.  His father was also a victim of cheating, which makes him a strong advocate of clean, honest elections. A good portion of the time he has served as senator though was occupied by the impeachment trial, which left little opportunity for lawmaking. But in that time, Koko as he is fondly called was able to propose one significant measure, which is discussed below.

“Hating Kapatid” of revenues between local and national governments: will increase the share allocated to local government units (LGUs) to 50% from the present 40% and will consider all national revenues in determining this share, not just taxes collected from the internal revenue agency (that means local governments would get 50% of customs, VAT, and other forms of income).

My critique:

It is important to know what problem this proposal seeks to solve. If it is to make local governments fiscally more autonomous, then what the bill will do is make them even more dependent on Internal Revenue Allotments (IRA) from the national treasury. There have been problems identified with the current method of distributing IRA (50% based on population, 25% on land area, and 25% on equal sharing) which does not necessarily match revenues with costs or responsibilities and capacities. This proposal seeks to address the current mismatch by simply throwing more money at the problem by increasing the take of LGUs.

An alternative approach would be to increase the capacity of local governments to raise revenue autonomously from the national government. A discussion paper by the Philippine Institute of Development Studies noted back in 2009 that there was an “emerging consensus” which was “to amend Book II (Local Taxation) of the Local Government Code, which has the common support of the DILG and the various leagues.” The proposed package of reforms could raise revenues of local governments by about a third without increasing their cut from the national government.

As Fitch Ratings agency recently remarked, our government’s tax collections are abnormally low, relative to other countries that receive the same BBB- rating. The challenge therefore is to achieve the policy goal of raising the revenues of LGUs relative to the national treasury not by increasing its IRA but by amending existing laws to enable them to raise revenues on their own. That would be true fiscal autonomy responsive to the needs of local communities.

Overall comments:

When we talk of local government, there are two people that usually spring to mind. They are the former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr, the father of the Local Government Code of 1991, and the late-DILG secretary Jesse Robredo. Kaya Natin, a good governance advocacy group recently endorsed Senator Koko Pimentel, the son of the former, as a champion of the latter’s approach to reform.

Koko Pimentel is clearly seeking to further the reforms begun by his father, which have been credited with improving the quality and development capacity of LGUs nationwide. In principle, the cause of furthering local autonomy is quite laudable because it allows the allocation of resources to be determined by officials who are closer to where the needs are. There are many good examples of local innovations resulting from this practice. There are however a lot more cases in which LGUs have wasted and mismanaged resources transferred to them by the national treasury.

The late Jesse Robredo sought to correct this problem by encouraging LGUs to adopt best practices through a system of block grants and reward payments. Increasing the IRAs of LGUs has in the past limited the funds available to engage in such efforts. What this means is that we clearly have a choice of two philosophies. Senator Koko Pimentel’s approach of “hating kapatid” sounds folksy and politically easier to convey, but the evidence from over two decades of implementing the Local Government Code tends to point towards a different direction. Clearly, it is the one that Jesse Robredo would have favoured.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Joseph Victor Ejercito (PMP-UNA): the former mayor and congressman of San Juan has a thirteen point agenda listed on his website. These thirteen points fall under four priority areas: education, jobs, worker protection and Mindanao. This clearly echoes the priorities of his half-brother, Senator Jinggoy Estrada who has served as chairman of the senate committee on labour and the brand of his father, former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada whose popularity in Mindanao is without question. These priorities are covered below:

  1. Education: creating regional hubs for higher education, while increasing the budget for state colleges and universities (SUCs), encouraging youth development and monitoring the K+12 implementation.
  2. Jobs: improving higher education curriculum to match industry requirements, encouraging tourism investment through “innovative incentive packages”, stimulating agriculture investment in new technologies, infrastructure and market access, redesigning the Pantawid Pamilya program by converting it into a disabilities and pension scheme and redirecting it towards LGUs, and supporting LGUs in their livelihood programs.
  3. Worker protection: providing accessible government support services to overseas Filipino workers, improving health and safety measures within the business process outsourcing industry and monitoring the implementation of the Kasambahay Law.
  4. Mindanao: promoting economic development and power generation on the island.

My critique:

The priorities read, unsurprisingly like a list of motherhood statements and vague policy pronouncements. There is nothing in them that tells us what the outcome would look and feel like on the ground or what they would cost. The proposal for creating regional hubs for higher education could for instance mean amalgamating or merging some SUCs or it could mean increasing the number of SUCs. As he notes, the government has already increased spending in this area, so how much would be enough? The answer seems to be more than whatever the budget is. How can you arrive at a realistic outcome, then?

Does he intend to encourage the gerrymandering of SUCs as I have termed it, or does he intend to arrest it? We can’t really tell from his statement. Increasing the SUC budget is one thing, but allowing it to remain inefficient is another. Serious reform is needed in the sector which would improve the quality of the spending first, before significant budget expansion is done in my opinion.

Secondly what does he mean by “innovative incentive packages” to encourage tourism? I am worried especially as he cites the upgrade of hotels and restaurants near tourist spots needing attention. To my mind, these businesses aren’t infrastructure, at least not since the time of Imelda Marcos as Metro Manila governor have they been regarded as such. The same goes for his statement about encouraging investments in productivity improving technology in the agriculture sector. Here he cites hand tractors. What happened to Erap’s Karabao Bill?

Thirdly, the proposal to break up the Pantawid Pamilya and transform it into a disabilities and old age pension scheme would mean the health and educational outcomes noted recently by the World Bank (lower incidence of malnutrition and stunting, which if unchecked become irreversible and cause long-term learning difficulties) would not be maintained. That to my mind is not productivity enhancing.

Finally, just a quick note on the Kasambahay Bill. JV claims to have been one of its “principal authors”, but a search on the website of the House of Representatives shows only one bill sponsored jointly by Diosdado and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It was actually Jinggoy Estrada who sponsored the bill in the Senate. I wonder then what JV’s contribution was to the measure.

Overall comments:

Joseph Victor Estrada is following in the footsteps of his father and half-brother by promoting policies that they have championed and the career path they have taken. The way his policy statements are crafted, it sounds like he has very specific measures in mind. Then again, he might only be posturing. Even with the vagueness of his policy statements though, there are deep reasons to be concerned.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr (NPC-UNA): the congressman of Cagayan is lifting a page from his father’s playbook by using consumer rights and protection issues to anchor his electoral base in his first senate run. His dad used the high cost of electricity as the defining issue of his candidacy in 2004, and Jack as he is fondly called plans to use food security as his platform. He makes use of the slogan, “Murang pagkain, maraming pagkain”(affordable and abundant food) as the catchphrase of his campaign, but what does it actually mean?

The Food for Filipinos First Bill he co-authored with Walden Bello of Akbayan in the lower house seeks to create a national food requirement plan through the Department of Agriculture, re-organise the National Food Authority into a corporation that would ensure sufficient food is secured for domestic consumption, protect agricultural and fishing zones, promote agricultural education, training and credit, and improve the competitiveness of local produce by eliminating subsidies and enforcing anti-dumping and anti-smuggling measures with respect to food products.

My critique:

The package is perhaps one of the most comprehensive set of reforms in the agricultural sector to ever be proposed in the house. Walden Bello who has been a strident anti-globalisation activist and proponent of agro-industrial development has forged an unlikely alliance with Jack Enrile to sponsor this bill (who would have thought we would be mentioning both their names in the same sentence?). If Jack makes it to the senate, he has promised to advance it there.

Overall comments:

The Aquino government is already working towards making the country self-sufficient in rice production and its aim is for us to be a net exporter of rice before its term ends. The proposal of Bello and Enrile would apply the same principle across all agricultural sectors and institutionalise its application. This is a positive step and a long overdue one in my view.

Despite his motto sounding rather pie-in-the-sky-ish (sorry for the pun), Jack has actually done his homework here in determining a legislative priority with strong reform credentials. Much of this, it might be argued, could have been influenced by his co-author, the esteemed scholar, Walden Bello, but that is beside the point. The fact of the matter is, he has made a commitment towards enacting it, and that is what counts.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5

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Up next: Gregorio Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 2

Featuring Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

This is the second 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). I have identified nineteen so far that have articulated some kind of policy agenda in running for a seat in the upper house. 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 analysed the platforms of Juan Edgardo Angara, Jr, Benigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano.

In this instalment, I will be covering Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

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Francis “Chiz” Escudero (Ind.-Team PNoy) has spent his time in the senate over the last Congress submitting bills that delve mostly on justice and human rights having been the chair of the said committee. As such he has been responsible for shepherding a number of notable bills like the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Law of 2012 through the Senate. This should be counted as one of his greatest achievements to date.

The Senator has also filed a number of bills that aim to strengthen social justice and democratic accountability such as the bill seeking to strengthen the investigative and prosecutorial powers of the human rights commission and the freedom of information bill.

His platform for this senate race attempts to cover a broader agenda such as shelter, the environment, health, food security, education, entrepreneurship and employment, peace and order, protection of women and children. While the platform consists of very broad principles-some would call them motherhood statements-the following two senate bills he has filed are examples of concrete proposals he has put forth when it comes to social and economic policy.

1. Educational Trust Fund (ETF)

  • Description: a voluntary scheme in which GSIS and SSS members could contribute regular payments into a plan that would cover educational costs for their grantees. This would make the GSIS and SSS similar to the Central or Employees Provident Fund of Singapore and Malaysia, respectively, which are pension funds, but allow employees to withdraw part of their accumulated contributions for educational purposes.
  • Cost: to be determined
  • Source of funding: member’s voluntary payments

My critique:

If done correctly, this could solve the problems of insolvency that have been observed in a number of privately managed educational plans. The coverage of the ETF plans has to be defined by the actuaries of the two government institutions to avoid the problems related to tuition inflation. The fact that the scheme is voluntary means that individuals can still exercise their right to opt out of it. The creation of a public provider to compete with existing private pension plans will be an interesting new dynamic in the industry.

2. Magna Carta for Informal Sector Workers

  • Description: this bill seeks to create a number of entitlements for informal sector workers such as those working in the construction, farming, fisheries, retail and transport sectors. It seeks to grant formal rights to micro-enterprises through a business registration system administered at the local level in which business permits would be issued to street hawkers, sidewalk vendors, transport operators and the like. The annual dues start at Php100 and scale up to Php1.500 depending on the net worth of the individual. This net worth is to be verified using financial statements as proof. The money collected goes into an Informal Sector Development Fund, which uses the money to provide all the sorts of benefits: everything from housing, education, health (including reproductive health), and support for their industry.
  • Cost: to be determined
  • Source of funds: Ninety per cent of all revenues from business registration of informal sector workers and entrepreneurs and ninety per cent of fees and dues collected from PAGCOR and PCSO.

My critique:

This, in my view, demonstrates the limits to taking a “rights-based approach” to social and economic issues. By creating a whole set of rights for informal workers and business operators, there is no question that the intentions of the bill are noble. How realistic it is though is another matter. One can legislate these rights into being, but enforcing them is a bit hard for a government that is chronically underfunded. For one, not many informal sector workers would have financial statements of their net worth as the bill assumes they do. Second, many unintended consequences could occur such as continued harassment of those who do not come up with the fees to register themselves (and continued corruption from street level “enforcers”). The whole purpose of the bill could be subverted at the local level.

Overall Comments:

Senator Escudero has authored a number of sensible pieces of legislation that deal with justice and political rights. It is when he tries to legislate social and economic rights that things become a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps in preparation for another stab at higher office in 2016, he seems to be pitching himself as a candidate with a broader agenda, more appropriate for a chief executive. The problem is, it is a bit of a hit and miss situation when it comes to that, so far.

Pander-o-meter: 2.5 out of 5

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Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan-Team PNoy) who was a proponent of the cheaper medicines law and reproductive health bill at the lower house when she was a party-list representative is staking her second run for a senate seat on health issues. To wit, she has issued a policy statement covering the health sector, which has five key planks towards “making health care more universal”. The five planks of her program include:

  1. Increased spending on healthcare through the budget
  2. Tighter regulation of private health facilities to address affordability of health-care
  3. Upholding patient’s rights and standards of healthcare treatment
  4. Disease prevention and promotion of healthier lifestyles
  5. Improving the quality of training and education of healthcare workers

My critique:

There are no costings to her proposals. She hasn’t really specified what this five-pronged strategy would mean to ordinary people on the ground in terms of what they should expect. She hasn’t really talked about how much the health spending ought to increase as a share of GDP. She hasn’t really said if there ought to be a patient’s bill of rights and the method for enforcing those rights.

One thing she has spoken about with regard to healthier lifestyles is that she supports banning the sale of sugary drinks in school cafeterias. As to how to improve the quality of healthcare professionals, again there is not enough detail regarding this. Should non-performing schools be closed, for instance, or should better disclosure and consumer information be relied upon to improve student choice as I have suggested here.

Since we do not know how much health spending needs to be, we don’t have a clue as to how much to raise to fund it. What about a “fat tax”, as I have advocated in this space? I have estimated it would raise a significant amount that could in fact fund health reform programs and interventions.

Overall comments:

There are so many blanks to be filled in Risa Hontiveros’s policy platform. I hope she gets around to filling some of them before the election season ends. Overall, I feel that if these policy prescriptions (sorry for the pun) were to be fleshed out, they would provide greater clarity to citizens about what she is fighting for and her distinctive appeal. She can literally dominate and “own” this policy space if she really wanted to. It’s a pity that she has been forced to deal with “Team Patay” distractions and hasn’t been able to scope out her place as a senate contender, yet.

Despite this lack of detail, however, the intent of her health policy statement is clearly headed in the right direction, for the most part. I still am not clear about how tighter regulation will lead to lower cost of delivering health service, since the jury is still out on whether the cheap medicines act has in fact done the same in the pharmacy industry. It is important for her to state what the intended outcome of these policy directions will be and the principles she would adhere to in designing either an expansion of existing health services and entitlements or the creation of new ones.

Pander-o-meter: 2 out of 5

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Loren Legarda (NP-Team PNoy) launched LOREN, an acronym that stands for Livelihood Opportunities to Raise Employment Nationwide, as her campaign platform for 2013. According to the senator, “LOREN sa Bawat Barangay will be a consultation with various sectors of society and concerned local government agencies on how to raise employment and entrepreneurship opportunities. This is a program I did during my first term in the Senate and we will have it in every region in the country.” The policy intent of LOREN is to implement four employment and business laws that she has been responsible for (see below), conduct job fairs and disaster risk and reduction programs. The four laws referred to are listed below:

Public Employment Service Office (PESO) Act RA 8759 of 1999. The law that set up PESO, which according to the Bureau of Local Employment website is “a non-fee charging multi-employment service facility or entity established or accredited”. These are meant to provide job fairs, livelihood and self-employment bazaars, workers hiring for infrastructure projects, credit and the like. The law requires these to be provided in “all capital towns of provinces, key cities, and other strategic areas”.

Magna Carta for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) RA 9501 of 2008. This act amended earlier laws RA 6977 of 1991 covering MSMEs which now range from firms with capitalisation of under Php3 million for micro enterprises up  to Php100 million for medium-sized enterprises (the earlier law defined the range from less than Php50,000 to Php20 million. In its current form, this law seeks to intensify and expand existing programs that encourage entrepreneurship and skills acquisition, facilitate access to funds and government procurement contracts, reduce red-tape and stringent requirements, and to foster linkages with large companies and industry associations.

Barangay Kabuhayan Act RA 9509 of 2008 which establishes livelihood and skills training centres 4th, 5th and 6th class municipalities with satellite and mobile training centres. The purpose of this law is to extend the services of government with respect to livelihood and skills down to the grassroots level.

Agri-Agra Reform Credit Act RA 10000 of 2010. This law seeks to provide an agriculture and agrarian reform system of credit and financing through banking institutions. The law mandates banks to allocate a minimum of 25% of their loan portfolio to agricultural loans and a minimum of 10% for agrarian reform beneficiary loans.  They can do this by either lending directly to loan applicants or to other banks and institutions that specialise in offering credit to the primary sector.

My critique:

It is a bit strange that the senator is seeking re-election so that she can implement these laws which have been in place for up to fourteen years. Surely, what she ought to be doing is seek an evaluation of the policies and programs through an externally commissioned study. That is the very essence of evidence based policy analysis and advice. She should push for the inclusion of that in the assigned line agencies’ budgets.

Furthermore, it seems a bit strange that the senator is campaigning by offering job fairs and disaster risk and reduction programs. Regardless of how noble the purpose of these projects may be, they should really be done outside the election campaign period.  If a rich billionaire were to distribute relief goods to flood victims during the campaign season, wouldn’t that be regarded as a form of vote buying? Furthermore, this “consultation” as she terms it might be skewed due to the context in which it is being performed—during an election.

Overall comments:

The senator is clearly pivoting to hip pocket issues. Her means of doing this is by demonstrating her track record through the laws she has co-authored in the area. She has toned down her environmental and women’s rights advocacies for the moment. She probably recognises that for her to aspire for a higher office in the future, she needs to solidify her economic credentials with the masses.

That can only be established through the effectiveness of the programs she has sponsored as a legislator. That as I said should already have been done. It is rather disappointing that so many years since the enactment of these laws, no serious effort has been made to try and measure their impact, which is perhaps why she has nothing new to offer the electorate this time around in terms of new or updated legislation.

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Next, I will cover Aquilono “Koko” Pimentel, III, Joseph Victor “JV” Ejercito and Juan “Jack” Ponce Enrile, Jr.

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering on the pander-o-meter

Panderometer

Featuring Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Alan Peter Cayetano.

The populist is in the details (or lack thereof).

As part of a series covering the senate race of 2013, I am casting a spotlight on the platforms and policy pronouncements of the candidates as the campaign season unfolds.

Previously, I found that only 11 candidates had bothered to present their legislative agenda for the senate. These were Bam Aquino, Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros, Loren Legarda and Koko Pimentel of Team PNoy, JV Ejercito, Gringo Honasan, Ernesto Maceda and Migz Zubiri of UNA, Teddy Casiño of Makabayan, and Greco Belgica of the DPP. This list has recently been updated to include Sonny Angara, Jack Enrile and Peter Cayetano. There are also five more candidates that belong to parties that have released a party-wide platform. This includes the partymates of Greco Belgica in the DPP, namely Bal Falcone and Christrian Seneres, and Kapatiran’s candidates JC delos Reyes, Rizalito David and Marwil Llasos. So in total, there are 19 candidates with platforms.

I will in this series tackle their proposals and evaluate their content in terms of their reformist versus populist credentials. I will offer an overall rating for each candidate based on what I call a Pander-o-meter or Trapo (traditional politician) scale which will indicate the level of pandering that goes on. The various readings of this panderometer are based on the following scale:

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

Note that for those candidates who do not even present an agenda, their reading automatically goes to 5 by default. I will now proceed with the first three candidates on my list who all belong to Team PNoy: Sonny Angara, Bam Aquino and Peter Cayetano.

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Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara (LDP-Team PNoy) looks set to follow in his father’s footsteps in cornering the youth vote by branding himself the ‘education senator’ through proposals specifically targeted to this sector. The following three priority bills are illustrative of the type filed by him in the lower house. Do they reveal a reformist or populist bent? Read on and find out.

  1. National student loan program a.k.a. “study now, pay later”:
    • Description: creation of an education loan fund authority to oversee student loans to tertiary students (both vocational and higher education)
    • Cost: Php5 billion, Php10 million to set-up operations
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The sufficiency of the fund depends on the take-up rate of students. Currently with Php32.8 billion being spent by government to cover ~90% of the cost of a college place, the remaining ~10% or about Php3 billion in fees have to be shouldered by students. With a 100% take-up rate, the entire fund would be exhausted in less than two years, and that doesn’t take into account students of private colleges and universities availing of the program. Even if we were to assume only a 50% take-up rate, the fund would still be exhausted in three to four years assuming inflation in student fees and administrative cost of the fund. This needs further work to become realistic and self-sustaining. I provide a more comprehensive reform agenda here .

  1. School modernisation and innovation program:
    • Description: upgrade of computer/science labs, libraries and the promotion of distance-learning at public elementary and secondary schools
    • Cost: unspecified
    • Source of funding: earmarked from existing expenditures equivalent to 10 per cent of Department of Education budget

My critique:

DepEd already spends 56% of its budget on maintenance and other operating expenses, with a further 3% on capital outlays, which cover everything mentioned in the proposal including Alternative Learning Systems plus Sports, Health and Nutrition, National Education Test development and others. Without additional funding, this bill would simply bind the department to re-direct existing spending to the areas specified in the bill. This might be counter-productive and lead to unintended consequences due to the inflexibility built-in to budget by such a measure. It also fails to mention anything about promoting web connectivity of classes which would be the most innovative thing we could do. An NBN as proposed by my colleagues in this site should be re-investigated.

  1. Bill of rights for fresh graduates
    • Description: a package of incentives for fresh graduates incorporating: workplace rights (secure tenure, fair treatment, further training), exemption from contribution into workplace entitlement programs (social security, PhilHealth, Pag-ibig) for one year, fee waivers for job search costs (NBI clearance, birth certificate, passport application), access to small business loans of up to Php100,000, additional Php10,000 personal exemption on income tax on top of existing income tax threshold,  discounts to transportation fees for one year.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: National Treasury

My critique:

This is potentially a very costly program for government. Last April alone there were just over 9 million Filipinos aged 15-24 who were in the labour force. Assuming that roughly a tenth of them were fresh vocational or university graduates, there would be 900,000 eligible beneficiaries annually. Multiply that by a conservative estimate of Php10,000 worth of benefits per person, that amounts to Php9 billion a year that needs to be funded. Even if we assume half that amount become eligible, you are still talking about serious sums being spent. If the aim of the plan is to encourage college completion, then there might be better, more cost-effective ways of doing that. As it is, this bill is really a stop-gap measure addressing low wages and lack of appropriate job opportunities for graduates in the domestic economy. Creating paid apprenticeships and training subsidies would be a better way to go as I have discussed here.

Overall comments:

The three proposals are specifically targeted to a large chunk of voters sensitive to education issues: the youth and parents of school and college students. The problem with the measures is that they are all potentially expensive and unfunded. They pander to the electorate by promising a whole slue of benefits, but without proper costing and funding, they may simply become ‘paper entitlements’.

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Benigno “Bam” Aquino (LP-Team PNoy) has a three-point agenda which are aimed at the youth, job hunters, and micro-to-medium sized business owners.

  1. GoTrabaho Act
    • Description: Addressing education-employment mismatch through a national internship program supported by a database with incentives for business and educational institutions to properly match training with demand
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

Although the funding issue is not tackled, this is a much more practical and manageable response to the problem of youth unemployment and skills mismatch than what Sonny Angara proposes above. I have previously tried to cost this program based on the level of demand from employers as per government released statistics. The cost of Php1.5 billion is not prohibitive and really well-targeted and cost-effective, as I discuss here. This makes this proposal realistic and actionable.

  1. GoNegosyo Act
    • Description: Supporting the creation of sustainable micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) through regulatory red-tape reduction, microfinance, market mapping, training and cluster road map development, as well as incentives to social enterprises
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

This proposal need not necessarily require additional funding. The package of reforms brings together several programs already operating, including the National Competitiveness Council’s efforts to address the cost of doing business, the DTI’s and BMBE program that provides credit to MSME’s and TESDA’s and DepEd’s entrepreneurial programs. What is new is the boost to social enterprise signalled by the policy statement and the creation of a cluster within government to develop a roadmap for MSMEs.

It is important to include MSMEs, research councils and scientists and civic society in cluster development and to have multiple industry clusters to develop roadmaps so that government can get behind these naturally forming clusters and help them expand and agglomerate. At some future stage, when priorities are identified, there may be a need to fund industry- or cluster- specific infrastructure, but only after stakeholder consultation and engagement has indicated that there is a need for it.

  1. PPP4E
    • Description: supporting public-private partnerships for education
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

PPP’s to close the classroom deficit have already been scheduled according to the responsible agency, DepEd. This proposal seeks “to arrive at the best form of partnership/s that will be beneficial and fair to all parties, while leapfrogging government’s resource constraints.” Perhaps what the proposal should do is seek to close other gaps such as those involving equipment and science labs. Connecting schools, colleges and universities with high speed broadband needs to be addressed either through PPPs or through a sovereign wealth fund model as per my suggestion here.

Overall comments:

Bam Aquino has not yet learned the bad habits of veteran legislators to enact broad sweeping entitlements with no costings or sources of funding. His more modest, measured proposals would require minimal or no cost as they involve better coordination and improvements to existing programs and policies. One cannot discount the impact that these will have on the broader economy, if done correctly.

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5

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Alan Peter Cayetano (NP-Team PNoy) has recently launched his PiTiK program (P-presyo, T-trabaho, K-kita) an acronym he has obviously borrowed from former socio-economic planning secretary Cielito Habito, but failed to acknowledge (could this be a case of plagiarism?). The following is a list of proposals the senator seeking re-election has made in conjunction with this framework. These he claims were the product of his listening tour of the country.

  1. Reconsidering VAT on gas
    • Description: reconsidering the application of VAT on petroleum products.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The senator needs to propose revenue neutral ways for the government to recover the revenues lost from lowering or eliminating VAT on petroleum products. As it stands, this proposal could impact the gains which the government has already made in raising its revenues to close the budget gap. A more realistic proposal was offered by former budget secretary Ben Diokno wherein the VAT rate automatically adjusts to oil prices (the VAT rate goes down when prices are up, conversely the tax rate goes up when prices are down, although there is a ceiling which would limit the rate rise to the current 12%).

That proposal is meant to be revenue neutral, but what Cayetano does here is a classic case of pandering to the masses, because they would avoid the VAT but have to pay in the future through higher inflation if the government has to borrow more because it is unable to maintain its revenue base. Interestingly enough, Diokno’s recent pronouncements that VAT needs to be raised to 15% to deal with the infrastructure gap and chronic budget deficits might become necessary if Cayetano’s proposal is enacted into law.

  1. College scholarships to the top 10% of every graduating class from public schools
    • Description: exempting this cohort from student fees at state universities and colleges
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

My critique:

The proposal is representative of a number of pending bills in the senate. I have canvassed them here. Mandating SUCs to provide tuition free places to a cohort of students is in my view a band aid measure. One of the unintended consequences of this is that SUCs will have to fund these scholarships by raising the fees charged to the rest of their students. They either do that or lower the amount they spend upgrading their facilities and lecturers. At the rate at which legislators call for the creation of newer SUCs, government simply cannot keep up with the funding costs as there is much duplication of programs and administrative departments. It is in fact necessary to encourage SUCs to merge rather than to multiply to gain economies of scale.

Addressing the issues of equity, efficiency, appropriateness and effectiveness of higher education is the more important reform agenda that needs to be tackled.

One important question to consider in all this is: Why should Juan dela Cruz, the grade school drop out who works in the informal sector, for instance be paying with his taxes the studies of Isko the scholar who will become a skilled professional after graduation and earn a high salary? The returns to training of both private individuals and society at large must be studied and assistance offered to scholars to deal with the incidence of costs to training on that basis. Rather than create a universal right to free higher education, government should help private individuals by shifting the timing not the value of the costs associated with their studies. I have offered a comprehensive program on how to do that here.

  1. Providing cheaper loans through cooperatives
    • Description: building more and expanding existing cooperatives that can lend to their members using cheap interest rates.
    • Cost: not specified
    • Source of funding: not specified

 My critique:

The proposal is half-baked. What is the role of government in building and expanding voluntary organisations such as cooperatives? That is not defined. Studies have shown that it is the unavailability of credit rather than the cost of it that is the biggest roadblock the poor face in undertaking entrepreneurial endeavours. This proposal was framed in the context of public transport operators making less money as a result of high input costs but regulated prices in their industry. So if that is the case, offering them credit will not necessarily help them address that fundamental issue.

Overall comments:

The senator has used his so-called listening tour to launch his PiTiK campaign, which is really more of a loose organising principle for his policy pronouncements than a robust policy framework. As a result, his proposals seem to be shot from the hip and not well-thought out. The senator (currently sitting at no. 3 in the SWS and Pulse Asia polls) seems to be more focused on grabbing the headline than on governing responsibly. His proposals are laden with costly unintended consequences from a fiscal, economic and social standpoint and don’t really address the fundamental problems. They in fact misconstrue the very nature of these problems and as a result lead to false solutions. For violating the rule in public policy, which is “to do no harm,” Peter’s proposals are even worse than if he had done nothing.

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

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The next batch will include Chiz Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.