2013 elections

Skewering the Pork Barrel

The system known as pork barrel was first introduced to Filipinos nearly a century ago by the American colonial “tutelage” in the ways of democratic representation. Needless to say, in all this time that pork has been on the table for our legislators, the pendulum has simply swung from one way of treating it to another: from it being proposed individually and inserted in line agency budgets to it being listed as a separate item with fixed allocated amounts per house and per member.

With the present move to abolish Priority Development Assistance Fund by President Aquino and his allies in Congress, pork has merely caused the pendulum to swing back to where it was originally. The institution of pork remains, it is just the institutional arrangements to skewer it that have changed. The same arguments favouring the preservation of the pork barrel that have been there since the 1920’s have also been put forward by the present regime. In light of this one could say, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

If I were to assess the chances of us abolishing pork permanently, I would place the odds of that happening at a million to one, perhaps a billion. Even after the #MillionPeopleMarch and the congressional hearings over the misuse of pork in both houses, it does not seem likely that we can do away with this institution for very long. A momentary cessation to placate the public’s revulsion and to allow patron-client networks to reconfigure is possible, but eventually the practice of pork barrelling will re-emerge in some shape or form.

When you scan democratic countries around the world, you will find that the system of allowing local concerns to trump national interests emerges everywhere. In Australia, you will find inordinate amounts of public money being spent in marginal seats in the lower house which could swing the outcome of an election one way or another. In the US, congressional earmarks will be incorporated in specific pieces of legislation to win support from legislators whose votes are needed to get it to pass.

Even in relatively corruption-free Norway, the disproportionate number of regional country seats allows them to get a larger proportion of public investment even though they account for a much smaller share of the population. But on the flip side, the existence of pork or patronage in these countries, does not lead to a total breakdown of accountability and honesty that we see in the Philippine setting.

It is in this context that many are now asking what is the proper way forward for the administration given the rubric of daang matuwid (righteous path) that it has constructed for itself. Many are wondering whether in its haste to prosecute Mrs Arroyo for corruption, it used pork to gain support in Congress and whether it allowed some of the worst forms of abuse to persist under its watch.

If this is the most honest administration that the Philippines can produce in a generation, imagine what will happen when it steps down from office in 2016?

Many see the abandonment of pork as a litmus test which this administration needs to pass. The question is for how long it can afford to do this. By 2016, the Liberal Party will be facing an uphill battle to prevent the seeming juggernaut of Vice President Jejomar Binay from claiming the presidency.

Given Mr Binay’s expansive control of the central business district of Makati including the Fort Global City that formerly was under Taguig, his ability to raise a rich war chest for his candidacy with which to rain down patronage on supporters from the masses is formidable.

For the LP to remain competitive in that race, it will have to match the campaign spend that Mr Binay is sure to unleash. The only way it can do that without reinstating pork or plundering the national coffers would be to enact some form of campaign finance reform that would allow state funding of political parties based on their share of votes cast at the last election.

Given the advantage of incumbency, the LP will be in a better position given the turncoats that have sided with it since the 2010 presidential elections which it won. The 2013 elections could well be the high water mark of its membership at the local level if it gets thrown out of the Palace in 2016.

Although I have couched this policy proposal in terms of the politics of 2016 and the interests of the incumbents, I believe that such a reform will provide a more permanent solution to the abuse of pork than existing proposals out there. Introducing bottom-up budgeting using central authority and central funds goes against the very principle of BUB.

Having a Freedom of Information law will help enhance accountability, but is very much reliant on a post-audit and ad hoc investigative process than a systemic one. The longevity of pork abolition can be called into question simply because it is based on the voluntary restraint exercised by politicians.

In the long-run, what will allow legislators to refrain from the abuse of pork is if they have the support of strong political parties that are able to deliver platforms and programs of government rather than promises, and are able to finance their local campaigns with money sourced in a transparent manner from taxpayers. If by abusing their privileges, they would risk losing such support, then a powerful incentive would be in place to keep them on the straight and narrow.

The threat of prosecution might not be enough to deter politicians from engaging in the worst forms of corruption. If caught, they would simply use their power, influence and money to avoid a jail sentence.

In the short run, it will pay for the administration and its allies in congress to propose the abolition of pork. In the medium to long run however, they will have to phase in reforms that address the root cause of the problem. Pork in and of itself is not it.

It is just a manifestation of a much deeper problem–the costliness of elections and the absence of strong political parties, which reduces our politics into a semi-feudal state comprised of political dynasties which do not distinguish personal from public resources, and as such engage in plunder to dole out patronage during elections to perpetuate themselves in power.

Why Social Media didn’t deliver the Votes

The dust is settling on the 2013 race. We can now start looking at the postmortem of the race. One of the key questions going into the campaign was how social media would help spell victory or defeat for a candidate in an election. The quick answer of course to this question: it didn’t make a difference. This of course is misleading in so many different levels.

Let’s look back to 2010. One of the key lesson of the campaign was how Social entered as a new avenue that a candidate can communicate with his or her constituency. Social Media buzz was a battlefield, but not a key battle ground. Another key lesson of 2010 was startling. That no matter how loud the online voices were, it paled in comparison to television. Correlated with the network readiness of the Philippines, this tells us that society isn’t as digitally connected as we like to think it is.

Fast forward to 2013 we saw how the campaigns used social media to project their messages in a positive light, and how negative campaigns have found their way into social media, but failed to translate into negative effect for their candidates.

Poe versus Binay

You have the case study of Nancy Binay. The Binay campaign was old school. Heavily on the ground. Bouncing from province to province and carried over by the good name of Vice President Jejomar Binay. Nancy Binay didn’t participate in any of the debates. It tells us that the television debates had very little effect too on the electorate. They did not punish Binay for her zero appearance in any debate. They did not punish Binay for the lack of clear policy, and clear messaging.

Let’s compare Nancy Binay’s social network standing with the front-runner, Grace Poe. Poe according to ABS-CBN had 52,451 Facebook followers, and over 6,328 Twitter followers. Nancy Binay accounts for 4,818 Facebook followers, and 6,239. Based on a pure, follower ratio, for the candidates represent a drop in the bucket to the supposedly 25 million or so Facebook users in the Philippines. In fact, President Aquino had over a million followers for his 2010 campaign. I caution the reader: this is a shallow way of looking at these numbers. It is simply instructive to understand where the numbers stand.

What’s interesting is the share of the voice between the two candidates. It is startling. Binay has 78% versus Poe’s 21%. Translation: Binay was more talked about in Social Media than Poe. This obviously didn’t translate much to anything other than talk. Poe wins the top spot. Binay wins. The lack of negativity in the Binay numbers is more attributed to the nascent natural language processing software which social media listening tools use. The technology is still in its infancy so clarity is hard to scope.

Aquino versus Gordon

Let us look at the Aquino versus Gordon Campaigns. The former is a sure win into the Magic 12. The latter is hanging by a thread as of this writing. The former has 144,391 Facebook followers, and 16,179 twitter follows. Gordon has 186,060 Facebook followers, 7,101 twitter followers. Aquino has the higher share of the voice at 80% versus Gordon’s 20%. Again for all the vaunted rabidity of Gordon’s following, they weren’t that loud especially considering that Gordon won a lot in Regions 3, NCR, and 4A— largely urbanized areas were connectivity is a bit accessible than in most places.

What’s interesting to note here is how Aquino ran a well-rounded campaign. He worked on the ground, and he worked online and offline to deliver the message. In fact, in a versus campaign between Poe, Aquino had a higher share of the voice: 71% versus Poe’s 28%.

Aquino versus Casino

Let’s compare Aquino versus Casino. The latter’s campaign initially relied much on Social media. In fact, their following was supposedly large, and loud. In raw numbers: Bam had a larger following than Teddy. Bam had 144,392 FaceBook, 16,179 Twitter; while Teddy had 21,532 Facebookers and 15,836 twitters. The share of the voice had Bam’s 79% versus 21%.

The numbers prove that social was a mere blip on the radar. The audience wasn’t simply there. Was it deliberate that people didn’t want to go on social media to find out about their candidates? Was it because of the lack of connectivity? Lack of access? Is this also indicative of the lack of passion or interest people have with the various personalities?

The lack of influence a debate has on the election also seem to be a reflection on people’s interest. Nancy Binay who didn’t go on a debate and was subjected to a lot of negative campaigning online didn’t fizzle out. Neither of these intellectual escapades paid off for the campaigns. At least, not something to carry them over the top. They were, put in another way: battlegrounds, but not key enough to win the war.

What seems to be the winning formula is the Grace Poe style. Grace Poe’s success is indicative of these things: she campaigned really hard on the ground; her messaging was perfect— exactly what people wanted to hear: “jobs,” “I will help you,” and “integrity” vis-a-vis her father’s well-respected standing.

Another winning formula seems to be the Aquino campaign of well-rounded messaging. Well-rounded in the sense that they played on all the markets: online, ground, debates, and fought really hard.

We can also gleam from this information the lack of connectivity played a key role while people don’t turn to social media for the election. If you follow ABS-CBN’s data, the search traffic alone hardly blipped.

What can we gleam from this?

The answer is obvious. It can finally put to rest that social media is a magic bullet that can cure all ills. The 2013 campaign was waged and won by running a good campaign. By good campaign, meaning sorties, and the right messaging. And social media is just a component in a campaign’s ever growing toolkit. Social media is part of the whole campaign, not distinct, not separate but organically part of it from day one. Depending on the candidate, and depending on the audience that you want to reach, it may or may not be a battle ground that you wish to engage in.

What’s sad really is that at the end of the day, what really carried these people to victory is the power of each of their distinct brands, and what they represent. As I wrote in a previous piece, where I mentioned that none of the key issues mattered in 2013: Reproductive Health Law, Freedom of Information Act, Cybercrime Law, the Sin Tax, none. How then do we make issues matter?

Other than brands, and the importance of “how can this candidate benefit me”, mentality, it also represents the changing of the old guard into the younger generation: Poe, Angara, Binay, Pimentel, Aquino, the Estrada brand, are strong and the electorate continues to bring them to victory. It also seems to put an end to aging politicians. Legarda, dipped. Honasan is on the ropes. Gordon, Magsaysay, Madrigal, Maceda— all former Senators didn’t make it. Magsaysay, with the added complication of having Mitos on the ballot probably lost a substantial number of voters because of her.

Poe’s victory is a reminder that people want integrity reminiscent of the Aquino brand, but with a more populist bent. It is in spite of the brand name mentality, a good sign moving forward to 2016. Integrity and Honesty may still play a key role in 2016.

That said, what are the important questions to ask each of these campaigns? For me it would be these: how did your campaign use the Internet to communicate with your team, and to coordinate volunteers? Did you try to get followers and likers to campaign for you on the ground? How successful do you think it was? Did you use data to scientifically determine which area you should be focusing on?

The holy grail of using the Internet to win a Philippine political campaign continues to be elusive. There’s a winning formula out there. What’s clear, so long as connectivity is in such a short supply, Social buzz will play a minor role. Social is a battle ground. It may not yet carry a candidate over the top, but the Internet is very good also in other terms other than buzz, if the campaigns haven’t realized it yet. What’s also clear is this: the field is ripe for disruption. We may see it in 2016.

Images: screenshot of ABS-CBN’s halalan 2013 social media listening

Post-election round-up

I am sad that Jun Magsaysay and Risa Hontiveros didn’t make it to the Magic 12 but I will be laughing through my tears when Migz Zubiri and Dick Gordon accuse Gringo Honasan of cheating them of their rightful place in the Senate.

I am sad JV Ejercito made it but at the same time I’m happy he is at the tail-end. His brother Jinggoy is sad. Period. On a happier note, I can’t wait for the two Ejercitos to take opposing sides on an issue. JV and Jinggoy trying to show up each other, whoopie! Will JV call Jinggoy Honarable Kuya or will he address him in the manner he deserves?

I think Risa Homtiveros made the fatal mistake of pegging her campaign on Nancy Binay. She should have focused on the other UNA candidates where her record on human rights, anti-corruption, and public service would have stood in stark contrast. But she didn’t. So the only imprint her attack on Nancy Binay left was that of a mestiza picking on a housemaid. I would suggest that she shoot her campaign strategist but hacking the idiot to pieces would be more satisfying.

Grace Poe bested three of the best disguised trapos in the business. I always thought Grace would be in the top six but becoming number one never crossed my mind. I love it. She was the most underestimated candidate, thought to lack brains and experience and knocked for riding on her father’s name and fame but she proved her mettle during debates and more than held up in penetrating one on one interviews. She showed that she is intelligent at the same time sensitive and her moral compass points true North. Give her a little time to settle in and she will become a gem in the Senate.

The election of Cayetano, Binay, Angara, Pimentel, Ejercito indicates that dynasty is a non-issue as far as voters are concerned. I hope the anti-dynasty crowd accepts the will of the voters instead of doubling their efforts to frustrate the will of the voters by lobbying for a law prohibiting people who happen to share the same bloodline from becoming public servants. Besides Leni Robredo won against a Villafuerte and Aga Muhlach looks like he will beat a Fuentebella. So anti-dynasts please show a little more faith in the wisdom of the common man.

The good showing of Team Patay proves that Team Buhay is dead. There is no Catholic vote if by Catholic vote you mean robots operated by bishops. There is no Iglesia ni Kristo vote either. But that proposition will be difficult to prove because the INC leadership does not announce its endorsement until the last poll of Pulse Asia and Social Weather Station is published. At any rate, the divergent approaches show the difference between the Catholic bishops and the INC bishops. The former do not pay attention to surveys. And that’s ironic because surveys tune in on the voice of the people which is supposedly the voice of God. Then again if those bishops listened to the voice of God to begin with, they will not meddle in secular politics.

The biggest losers are Enrile, Estrada, and Binay. UNA came in last. That shows they have no endorsement power if the candidate does not carry their surname and in the case of Enrile, he couldn’t even carry his own son. The good news is we are all winners. If I have to explain to you why we are all winners, then you are among the losers who believed that there was more to UNA than Enrile, Estrada, and Binay. ‘Yun lang.

Who are PNoy’s Reliable Candidates?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 6

Panderometer

Featuring Grace Poe, Eddie Villanueva and Richard Gordon.

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

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

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

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Grace Poe Llamanzares (Ind-Team PNoy)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

General comments

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

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

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

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

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

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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Eduardo “Bro Eddie” Villanueva (Bangon Pilipinas)

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

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

General comments:

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

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

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

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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Richard “Dick” Gordon (Bagumbayan-UNA)

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

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

General comments:

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

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

Pander-o-meter: 5 out of 5

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

Save the Date — 8 AM, March 23, 2013: “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013”

Everything you always wanted to know about the automated election system (AES). And you get to ask your questions too. Join Democracy.Net.PH for “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013.”

On Saturday, 23 March 2013, 8:00 o’clock in the morning, at the  Justitia Room, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law, we put the AES through the wringer via a forum patterned after an engineering process design review (PDR). The Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) Commissioner Christian Robert Lim and Director James Jimenez, acting as project proponents, will walk us through the AES: the technology, the source code, the whole process from the casting of votes to the counting of ballots. Engineers, journalists, tech and political bloggers, lawyers, and concerned citizens of the Republic, acting as a proposal review committee, then get to ask questions for a more detailed and accurate understanding of the AES. Separate gossip from fact and see for yourself whether the AES is good for the country or is the harbinger of doom.

This event is open to the public. If you want to join us at the venue, please register via this link or via Facebook. Registration is on a “first-come, first-served” basis. If you’re halfway across the world unable to join us on that day, there will be a livestream care of BlogWatch and Smart Communications, and you can follow tweets via the hashtag “#AES2013PDR” and @PHNetDems.

What: “Social Media Forum on National ICT Issues: The Automated Election System 2013”
When: Saturday, 23 March 2013, 8:00 AM
Where: Justitia Room, Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee Center for the Rule of Law, 4th Floor, Ateneo Professional Schools, Rockwell Center, Makati City
How to join: Register here or join through Facebook

 

See you on Saturday!

Taking Short-cuts on the Righteous Path

Has jailing the former president Gloria Arroyo led to better governance?

As the 2013 congressional and local election approaches, the opposing camps led by incumbent president Benigno “Noynoy”Aquino and his vice president Jejomar “Jojo” Binay will be vying to gain control of as many seats as they can. Both opposed the policies and legitimacy of Mrs Gloria Arroyo when she was president. Both have sought to have her arrested and prosecuted for her “misdeeds” in the highest office.

Both claim to be fighting for better transparency and accountability in government. Now that the ailing Mrs Arroyo has been placed under hospital arrest for the second time, her party scattered to the winds, and her defenders in the Supreme Court neutralised, both can claim victory in the ground war against the vestiges of her regime.

However, it is worth posing the question, exactly what has changed, particularly over the past three years, apart from winning the anti-Arroyo battle?

I am not asking what has been achieved in terms of the usual things governments do, like building roads and bridges, hiring teachers and nurses, and maintaining the peace. When it comes to these measures, any government regardless of its occupants can claim some achievement. In fact Mrs Arroyo often touted her flagship infrastructure projects as signposts of her government’s diligence in serving the people.

In fact Mr Aquino’s priorities have often been similar to that of his predecessor, including the expansion of the conditional cash transfers program, running after tax cheats, strengthening the industries of business process outsourcing, tourism and agribusiness by expanding the country’s infrastructure. Where he has differed has been in promoting greater transparency and accountability in the way government did these things.

Atmospherics vs reality

Most analysts put the different “atmospherics” created by having Mr Aquino at the helm behind the growing optimism in outlook of the Philippine’s economic prospects. This is a good thing. But the problem with simply relying on a “mood change” is that if it is not backed by substance, such moods can often swing the other way. That’s why as the country faces an election in May next year, it is worth considering the best way forward.

Take for instance business confidence in the Philippines. As Roel Landingin wrote for the Financial Times blog Beyond BRICs, although the country leaped 10 places in the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness rankings, it dropped two notches in the World Bank’s Doing Business Report.

While the WEF reflects the sentiment of big business regarding the clean-up drive of President Aquino, the WB focuses its study on the nuts and bolts, the procedures and red tape that affect mostly small and medium sized enterprises throughout their life cycle. Landingin notes

The Philippines’ dismal record on the business climate for local, mostly small enterprises underscores the limitations of Aquino’s anti-corruption drive in promoting government efficiency. While going after suspected wrongdoers of the past administration has begun to change investors’ perceptions, it does little to cut red tape or inertia in regulatory offices and courts across the country.

As the UN Council on Trade and Development report for the first half of the year showed, in a region that attracted $52 billion worth of foreign direct investments, the Philippines attracted only $900 million or about two per cent. Singapore drew $27.4 billion, Indonesia $8.2 billion, Thailand $5.6 billion, and Malaysia $4.4 billion. Despite bucking the regional trend by growing 12.5 per cent from a year earlier, the Philippines remains miles behind its ASEAN rivals.

It seems that incremental not transformative change is happening. If President Aquino leaves these structural rigidities behind after leaving office, you can imagine that confidence of investors who are buoyant at the moment because of his honest leadership could just as easily take a dim view if things go back to the way they were under a different president.

Legislative report card

If we take stock of legislative accomplishments, what significant policies have changed under Mr Aquino’s first three years? Let us examine the status of a few high profile pieces of legislation below:

Reproductive health – not passed, needs to be put to a vote

Freedom of information – not passed, still being debated

K-12 – not passed

Fiscal incentives rationalisation – not passed, still being debated

Fiscal responsibility – not passed, still being debated

Sin taxes – not passed, nearing a vote but greatly diluted

Mining investment and tax policy – still being drafted

Cyber-crime – passed and signed but under Judicial Review

Witness and Whistle-blower protection – under consideration

The list goes on. In fact, judging the administration solely on its legislative record, it would hardly deserve a pass.

Managing international obligations and treaties? The Senate President and an ally of the president so readily aired our dirty linen in front of the gallery right in the aftermath of an international territorial dispute that could have escalated into a military or economic conflict.

The country narrowly escaped being blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force, but only just, and the measure that was hurriedly passed to avoid this still wasn’t deemed adequate to get us off the hook completely.

Lasting peace in Mindanao? Perhaps, but the blanks still need to be filled in.
Good economic management? The reason for this year’s better than expected performance is that last year’s was worse than expected.

So the question remains, what major piece of reform can the two wings of the anti-Gloria coalition claim to have put in place while she and her forces are immobilised? What lasting institutional, transformational change have they enacted? Why do they think they deserve to be re-elected or endorsed at the coming May elections?

If not completely wrecking and discrediting our system of government is the watered down criteria, then yes, the Senate and the House narrowly escaped sending the country to hell in a hand basket by their clumsy actions during the impeachment trial, but they seem to have been wanting everywhere else.

The long hard slog

One reason we could say progress on reform measures is dragging in congress is due to the fact that our legislators represent a class of people who benefit from the way things are.

Some incumbents want to hand over to their relatives their posts in the senate or be joined by them. Sharing the same surname, having been groomed since childhood to succeed them, the choice seems so natural. We ought to elect them because they are honest, or well-meaning or qualified or worse: winnable.

Sure, but the question remains, how has the nation been served by their lot so far? We keep hearing the same old excuses like, It’s just too hard to pass these reform bills. There’s always tomorrow. Mañana, manana. Que sera sera. Bahala na si batman and all that jazz.

This week, in his trip to New Zealand, the president took a dig at his predecessor’s honour, insinuating that she feigned illness to escape the full force of the law. Three years nearly into his presidency and it is still all about her. There is apparently no second act.

While it is easy convincing overseas Filipinos that things are improving back home, it is not that easy convincing those that live in the country that things have in fact changed, unless of course real, tangible, and meaningful changes do get hammered out and carried out. This is the long hard road to real recovery and deliverance that we must trod, not the soft, easy route that we are currently being offered.

Budget 2013: The Bottomline

If the State of the Nation Address of the president is meant to rally the country behind him, the budget statement is meant to inspire confidence in markets both financial and political.

As far as this year’s budget statement goes, does it draw confidence from its intended audience? Who are the winners and losers? This being an election year (the midterm elections are scheduled for May 2013), are there any red flags or curious things to watch out for?

Let us first examine the figures.

Beginning with the bit aimed at financial markets, the government with its fiscal program for 2013 seeks to spend just over two trillion pesos, a jump of about 160 billion or 9.9% from 1.84 trillion in 2012. This level of expenditure will be financed by revenues that are expected to rise from 1.6 trillion in 2012 to 1.8 trillion in 2013, a growth of 14%, and borrowing or deficit spending that is set to go down from 280 billion to 240 billion in the same period, a decline of about 14%.

Expressed as a share of GDP (the value of all goods produced within the country), expenditures will rise from 16% of GDP in 2011 to 16.9% in 2013. Revenues are also set to rise from 14% of GDP to 14.9%. The deficit is set to go down from 2.6% of GDP in 2011 to 2% in 2013.

Relative to the budget position of rich countries, the fiscal program in the Philippines is sure to inspire confidence in bond markets as the deficit-to-GDP ratio will be less than half that in the OECD whose deficit-to-GDP ratios averaged 6.3% in 2011 and are projected to be 4.2% in 2013.

Given that the government’s total debt-to-GDP ratio went down to just under 51% in the first quarter of 2012, it is likely that it might go down further to below 50%, which would be crucial in gaining the coveted investment grade rating from credit agencies. Compared to the rich countries of the OECD whose debt-to-GDP ratios averaged 97% in 2010, the Philippine public sector looks a lot more solvent indeed.

So now let us turn to political markets and see how next year’s budget seems to fare. It is worth comparing budgeted levels in 2013 to that of previous election cycles. Back in 2010, expenditure levels were exactly at the same level compared to what they are proposed to be in 2013—that is, they were 16.9% of GDP. The same goes for 2007, the last time mid-term elections were held.

Incidentally in that year, the budget was practically balanced. Had the global financial crisis not followed, the government might have been achieving surpluses afterwards. It was the stimulus spending of subsequent years combined with weaker revenues that caused the government to incur deficits which have carried over until today. In 2004, a presidential election year, the expenditure to GDP level was at its highest over the past decade at 17.5%.

So is next year’s budget an election budget? Is it geared to win or buy votes for the administration? On the face of it, it would seem that the spending rate is at par with other election years. The 2004, 2007 and 2010 election spending by the Arroyo government earned the ire of the then opposition for what they said were blatant attempts to divert money into the ruling party’s campaign kitty. So could the same thing happening again?

First let us have a look at where the money is meant to go. The profiles of the 2012 and 2013 budgets are shown below. We can clearly see from this that from year to year, the structure hardly changes although next year’s budget goes up by 240 billion pesos. The shares of spending for defence (14%), debt (17%), and general expenses (17%) are down by one percentage point each from their 2012 ratios. Meanwhile the share received by social services goes up by 1% point to 35% and that of economic services (transport and public works) by 2% points to 26%.

The ‘doughnut’ chart shows how the additional spending is split across portfolios. Social services receive the biggest increase with an additional 85 billion pesos allocated on top of its budget this year of 613 billion pesos. Economic services receive the next biggest share of about 72 billion on top of the 439 billion from 2012. General services get 26 billion more on top of its current 320 billion, while defence gets an additional 3 billion above its current 87 billion. Net lending (currently at 23 billion) and debt repayments (at 333 billion) each go up by 4 billion and 1 billion respectively.

In terms of which departments get the largest growth in their budgets, the Department of Education sees the biggest growth of 54 billion pesos. Public Works follows with 27 billion. Third comes the Department of Interior and Local Government with 21 billion followed by National Defence with 14 billion. The Department of Agriculture comes in fifth with an additional 13 billion followed by the Health with 11 billion. Rounding out the final four are Finance with 9.6 billion, Social Welfare with 7.4 billion, Environment with 6.2 billion and Transport with 2.4 billion.

The president announced in his SONA that his administration would seek to clear the backlog of classrooms to provide sufficient facilities to public school pupils. This was in line with the K-12 reform which increased the years of secondary school by two while providing universal kindergarten classes at the primary level. It appears that his budget delivers on that.

He also announced the completion of repairs for all paved roads nationally. The procurement of guns for police and of modern equipment for the armed forces also featured in the SONA. The same goes for the improvement of irrigation for agriculture and health coverage of the government insurance system. The Pantawid Pamilya continues to be ramped up which is evident in the figures, and the same can be said of community based forest protection. Finally, the task of getting NAIA-1 refitted and NAIA-3 operational was raised.

So in terms of this budget being meant to win votes at the next election, if the president intends to show that his administration’s ticket deserves the support of the electorate on the basis of his government’s delivery of promises, this budget might be seen as a way to address that.

Other notable things about this coming year’s proposed budget include: an increase of the capital outlays for the compensation of land owners under the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program with Reforms by 100% from 2.5 billion pesos in 2012 to 5 billion in 2013; a similar increase of subsidies to government owned and controlled corporations by about 114% from 20 to 42 billion pesos; and a ten billion peso fund to provide performance based bonuses to civil servants.

The increased CARPeR funding is in line with the government’s target of completing land distribution by 2014 when the program ends. The increased subsidies to GOCCs and bonuses to government executives is a curious thing given how the president earlier decried the massive waste incurred by these firms which led to a ballooning of subsidy paid to them and the bonuses executives paid themselves as their firms suffered losses. I could be proven wrong, but it appears that the same could be occurring here.

It would be interesting to see just where these subsidies are going and how successful the bonus scheme is in its first year. Allowing government agencies to take a hit financially could be a way of avoiding the political fallout if fees and other charges were otherwise increased to cover the cost of service delivery adequately. In this sense, one might characterize this increased support to GOCCs as pandering to the electorate.

The question then becomes what the government intends to do after the elections. Will it seek to claw back some of these losses by increasing fees and charges to what they ought to be? In that sense, shouldn’t the administration be up front with the public instead rather than try to deceive them? The budget statement is silent on these matters despite the glaring deterioration that seems apparent among GOCCs.

At the end of the day however budgets do very little to give incumbent governments a boost, at least a lasting one. Previous budgets under the Arroyo presidency prove this point. Despite the massive infrastructure program and social insurance expansion undertaken from 2007 to 2010, very little improvement in its standing with the public occurred.

The fact of the matter is expanding the budget is fine for as long as the economy keeps growing briskly. Both financial and political markets will accept that the government has to do its part in maintaining the country’s growth trajectory. For as long as revenues are able to keep up with the expanded services, that is.

And this will be the biggest challenge moving forward. In the past, government revenues have not kept pace with growth in the economy. This was due to a range of factors, from technical smuggling of petroleum products, to the non-indexation of sin taxes, to the erosion of the revenue base by granting tax exemptions to targeted voter and interest groups.

This is where the administration could break with tradition: if it makes signing up to new tax measures a condition for its support to allied parties in Congress. That way it becomes less a marriage of convenience and one of principled politics. Candidates under the ruling coalition or alliance should be asked to commit, to sign an agreement to that effect.

Although the budget for 2013 won’t depend on new revenue measures like the mining tax, sin tax indexation and rationalization of fiscal incentives, future budgets and the fulfilment of the president’s agenda towards the latter half of his term will. It is incumbent upon the president to now forge a fiscal compact that guarantees his social contract with the Filipino people. How successful he is in doing this in an election year will prove just how skillful a leader he is.