Who’s planning it? Malacañang. Who is proposing it? Embattled Customs Commissioner Ruffy Biazon. That’s right, the head of the agency itself who has been under the pump for failing to curb the rampant smuggling activities that are allegedly continuing despite the president’s mantra of Daang Matuwid.
In a face-to-face conference with editors of the PDI, Biazon offered up the possibility of overhauling the agency from the top-down, by replacing it with a new professionally led one. He says resistance to his reform measures from the frontline staff at the bureau has led him to take this view. In public policy parlance, we call this phenomenon the tail wagging the dog or “street-level bureaucrats” distorting the policy decisions made at the top. Here is a quote from the report:
Biazon cited the example of Peru, which, to defeat corruption and smuggling, abolished its custom department, put up a new one, adopted strict qualifications for hiring, and paid higher salaries to the new officers and employees running the new agency. In the case of the Philippines, Biazon said, corruption is deeply entrenched in the customs bureau’s culture and system so firing a few people or catching some smugglers will not solve the problem. [emphasis mine]
Well, well, well, I am happy to see that something I had recommended back in July 2011 in a piece called, the National Development Project, is finally being given some serious consideration although my proposal included not just the Bureau of Customs, but the Bureau of Internal Revenue and all other revenue generating agencies. Despite their best intentions, it has taken the palace nearly two years to catch-up to the policy conclusion I had already made regarding its anti-corruption campaign in the bureau.
Pursuing good governance doesn’t come cheap. I recognised this fact. But the administration of PNoy felt that it needed to wage a moral crusade first to separate “light from darkness”. My proposals at least acknowledge that if we are to address the cost impact of Daang Matuwid, we have to raise additional revenues. And to do that we need to ensure that our revenue generating agencies are professionally run. With respect to the proposal itself, here is a brief quote from my previous post:
Corporatization is the way by which the government has been able to pay its agents salaries commensurate to, if not exceeding that of, their private counterparts. Singapore achieved this for its entire bureaucracy, but it is the sole Confucian state to do so. The others achieved it through a combination of salaries, allowances and benefits.
The newly minted GOCC (Government Owned or Controlled Corporations) law now provides greater safeguards against abuse done by non-performing companies. It will govern the corporatization of the BIR and BoC. In exchange for the higher compensation, transition into the new agencies must be based on merit and not guaranteed for old bureau officials.
The boards of the new revenue agencies should be allowed to appoint people from among the ‘best and brightest’. Tougher qualifying exams, educational attainments, and past performance should all be part of the selection process. Where posts cannot be filled with existing staff, recruiting externally should be the resort.
Biazon supports the idea of the new corporate entity to takeover the Bureau of Customs to retain 3 per cent of the total revenue it produces to allow it to pay its staff according to their performance. This again was something I had broached before with regard to prosecutors of corruption cases.
It was my view that these state prosecutors were not paid well enough to exert best efforts in retrieving ill gotten wealth, and as a result, certain cases have been left languishing for decades, or worse, settled for a pittance through plea bargain arrangements. Here is what I said on the matter:
The Ombudsman and the Office of the Solicitor General (essential generals in the fight) which are given the task of prosecuting graft cases before the Sandiganbayan and Supreme Court respectively need to have more than a kind of altruistic motivation for performing their duties. They need to have protection and financial security.
Paying them higher salaries alone might not be enough to motivate them to exert maximum effort even in very winnable cases. Some sort of sharing in the spoils which would go both to their office and to chief prosecutors and their staff needs to be put on the table.
I know that some will argue that this is the people’s money and that any recovered ill-gotten or plundered wealth needs to be returned 100% to the coffers to fund social programs. This assumes that we are working with incorruptible Confucian super bureaucrats. That is not the case here. We need to live in the real world, not in some ideal fantasy land.
Apart from these two suggestions, I also proposed outsourcing the main functions of the Commission on Audit to private accounting firms, which is the practice in Australia. If we are to truly tread the good governance path, the government has to start taking seriously these recommendations. At least with respect to customs collection, they may finally be doing so.
In an excellent piece for the Guardian newspaper, Slavoj Žižek makes reference to the work of philosopher Jean-Claude Milner who he says
proposed the notion of the “stabilising class”: not the old ruling class, but all who are committed to the stability and continuity of the existing social, economic and political order – the class of those who, even when they call for a change, do so to ensure that nothing really will change (emphasis mine).
Žižek asserts that the key to electoral success in 2012 was in a party’s ability to win over this class, which is what President Obama did by pitting his stable leadership against the radical changes proposed by the “Republican market and religious fundamentalists”. Even now, Mitt Romney proves just how disconnected he is when he characterised as providing “gifts” to minorities the policies that Obama took to the electorate. As for President Obama’s first term, Žižek goes on to say that
(m)any disappointed by his presidency held against him precisely the fact that the core of his much-publicised “hope” proved to be that the system can survive with modest changes (emphasis mine).
The same can be said of President Noynoy Aquino’s election in 2010. As the “hope and change” candidate of that electoral cycle, the people that elected him were merely seeking to restore the Philippines to the state his mother had left it in back in 1992. The purpose of his candidacy was to pull the country back from the brink of destruction and restore dignity and faith in the political system.
The very thesis of Corazon Aquino’s presidency was to prove that the pre-Martial Law, landed gentry could govern with self-restraint. For as long as the ruling class could manage to do so, the system of governance that she put in place would be able to accommodate the demands of the masses. For as long as there remained some modicum of decency (what Filipinos call delicadeza) from elites, any radical overhaul of the system could be avoided.
This is perhaps why President Aquino has so far shied away from pursuing any structural change in his campaign against corruption. This could be why he put off proposing any new revenue measures like the indexation of sin taxes until now. It could also be why despite promising to support reproductive health reforms he initially backed away from supporting it once in office. And it could also be why he signed into law the anti-cybercrime bill that many have derided for restricting freedom of expression, and why he is against tinkering with the constitution.
Instead of introducing change through these measures, Mr Aquino’s administration cranked up the programs and policies pursued by his predecessor, namely the conditional cash transfers program, universal kindergarten education, PhilHealth expansion, the anti-tax cheat program called RATE, business process outsourcing and tourism promotion and the euphemistic “fiscal consolidation” program. These were all begun by Mrs Arroyo whose popularity never seemed to benefit from them.
So, to mimic Žižek who rhetorically asked whether Obama was just “Bush with a human face”, can we also pose the question, “Is PNoy simply a popular version of PGMA?”
In the case of Obama, Žižek gives us reason to disagree with the assertion that he is merely Bush with a human face in that
(a)lthough his healthcare reforms were mired in so many compromises they amounted to almost nothing, the debate triggered was of huge importance. A great art of politics is to insist on a particular demand that, while thoroughly realist, feasible and legitimate, disturbs the core of the hegemonic ideology. The healthcare reforms were a step in this direction – how else to explain the panic and fury they triggered in the Republican camp?
In a previous post on this topic, I likened the debate America was having on healthcare with the one the Philippines is currently engaged in with respect to the reproductive health reform measure in Congress. Both touch on a nerve that is fundamental to the psyche of each nation with respect to the choice being considered and challenge each country’s default position with regard to the role of the state in each case.
Unlike Obama however who chose the issue of healthcare as the transformative one that would define his first term in office, despite the fact that the budget and economy were looming large as potential roadblocks to his re-election, President Aquino hasn’t really staked his presidency on any signature issue, save for impeaching Mr Corona and jailing Mrs Arroyo.
In the case of Mr Aquino, the victories over the former chief justice and ex-president respectively start to ring hollow among his supporters who don’t necessarily see the anti-corruption campaign continuing in the future under Mr Aquino’s likely successors. For them, a set of insurance policies to mitigate against any potential backsliding is required but does not seem to be forthcoming from Mr Aquino’s current leadership (or lack thereof) when it comes to the Freedom of Information bill and other similar measures.
As they see the potential dominance of the Binays, Estradas and Pacquiaos in our national political landscape for years and years to come, many are also beginning to call for the fulfilment of the anti-dynasty provisions in the constitution. Again, it does not seem as though the president will be leading on this issue. For the “will of the people” to be fulfilled, no restriction ought to be placed on their choices, he would probably say.
That so called choice presupposes however that people are indeed free to decide on their own. The framers of our present constitution perhaps knew intuitively that for this to be so, people would need to have a certain level of economic freedom and independence. Until such was achieved, they must have felt certain restrictions needed to be in place. What Milner describes as the stabilising force is nothing but a healthy middle class.
Unlike President Obama who broke with economic orthodoxy by bailing out the auto-industry and giving subsidies to clean tech companies in the hope of saving and creating jobs with living wages, President Aquino and his team feel no need to intervene in the appreciation of the peso to support our manufacturing base which is needed to grow the middle class.
For Mr Aquino, the fact that he can demonstrate the ability of the ruling class to govern with a level of integrity ought to be enough to ensure that things never go back to the way they were under Mrs Arroyo. For his fellow dynasts who supported his candidacy and form part of his ruling coalition, however, the fact that Mr Aquino thinks this way guarantees that things will indeed go back to “business as usual” when they get their turn in the driver’s seat.
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
I am well aware that any discussion about Daang Matuwid (the righteous path aka The Path) the anti-corruption slogan of the administration ends up becoming a theological debate. That is why I am prepared to tread on this ground quite carefully. The term itself is a reference to the Sermon on the Mount performed by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew which is quoted above.
Those who approve of this analogy will say that it is a secular version of that moral principle. Those who disapprove will counter with another idiom, the one that states the road to hell is paved with good intentions. They will point to the underspending of the government (which persists to this day) which was motivated by a desire to rid public works of corruption that led to the rapid slowdown in the rate of economic growth (which will persist as well over the next two years).
Adherents to The Path will rebut this with another slogan, kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (if there is no corruption, there will be no poverty). For them, it is not just a moral imperative to fight corruption, it is an economic one. The Path sceptics will quote a genuine Filipino proverb, kung walang tiyaga, walang nilaga (if you don’t persevere, expect no reward). The attention they say of the government has been distracted by chasing its enemies that it has lost track of the people’s real priorities.
Latest polling has been quite illuminating. While the public still assigns a net positive approval rating to the president, a majority or a plurality of them do not think he has done a good job of creating jobs, improving wages and preventing the rising cost of living. The salience of these bread and butter issues exceeds that of his anti-corruption campaign. In explaining why his performance rating is still good, one polling executive surmised that this was probably because compared to his predecessor the president still manages to come off smelling sweeter.
This brings me to my central point, that while the current dispensation may be perceived as being qualitatively different from its precedents, its implementation of daang matuwid still fails the test of sustainability. This becomes apparent when we make use of external comparisons (looking at cases from other countries) instead of internal ones (looking at cases from within our country).
Forget about comparing us to the advanced countries in Scandinavia and the North Atlantic. These nations have built up systems of good governance over several centuries, during which time they grew economically and became wealthy (some would say at the expense of their former colonies).
Forget about comparing us to East Asia (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan) and other Confucian-states (Singapore, Hong Kong, Mainland China, Thailand, Vietnam). These nations have had centuries’ worth of tradition involving bureaucracies infused with a meritocratic ethos.
Instead, let us look to Indonesia, a country with whom we share common ethnic origins and similar colonial and contemporary history.
Emil Bolongaita is an authority on Indonesia’s experience having advised donors to the Yudhoyono government on providing assistance to its Corruption Eradication Commission or KPK. He also provided support to the Philippine Ombudsman under Simeon Marcelo during the early days of the Arroyo government. He literally wrote the book for the World Bank on anti-corruption policy in Asia.
(Just in the interests of full disclosure: I met Emil back in high school when we were both student leaders in Jesuit institutions, he at the collegiate level, and I at the secondary level. Our paths crossed again when he took up a teaching position at Carnegie Mellon University, where I had completed a Master’s degree. He then went on to take up a role at the ADB in Manila.)
Firstly, both countries experienced major economic upheaval and the collapse of long-standing dictatorial regimes that were characterized by widespread corruption and crony capitalism (in the rankings of the most corrupt rulers of all time, Presidents Soeharto and Marcos are placed first and second respectively). This was followed by the formation of pluralistic democracies. Transition to democracy however has not eliminated the system of patronage and clientelism in both countries.
Secondly, following democratic restoration, agencies were (re)created to deal with corruption—the KPK in Indonesia and the Ombudsman in the Philippines. These two institutions have the broadest mandate in both countries to receive complaints, investigate and prosecute suspects before special anti-corruption courts (the TIPOKOR in Indonesia and Sandiganbayan in the Philippines). They both are tasked with studying governance systems, identifying vulnerabilities and providing advice on corruption prevention and mitigation strategies. The KPK has the added task of monitoring the implementation of such strategies. In this sense, their scope of work is broader than the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) of Hong Kong and New South Wales (Australia) and that of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) of Singapore whose mandates are confined to investigation.
Thirdly, both nations have similar levels of economic development as measured by per capita income and consequently also suffer from similar levels of perceived corruption as measured by normalised qualitative scores on corruption performed by Transparency International and the World Bank.
That is as far as the similarities go. According to Emil, the two systems diverge in terms of their performance, both qualitatively and quantitatively. He states that
In just five years, the KPK has successfully prosecuted over one hundred senior officials that before would have been considered as ‘untouchable’ by their positions and prominence. To date, the KPK has yet to lose a single case, either at the anti-corruption court or at the Supreme Court where the guilty verdicts of the TIPIKOR are appealed. In a country long perceived to be endemically corrupt, with a history of ‘untraceable’ anti-corruption performance, this accomplishment of the KPK is nothing short of extraordinary.
Emil notes further that
By comparison, the Ombudsman’s record is strikingly poor. With the notable exception of former President Joseph Estrada who was convicted of corruption in extraordinary circumstances … the highest ranking official convicted of corruption is at the level of governor; only two governors have been convicted but neither ultimately served time in prison (CENPEG 2006). Examining the records of the Sandiganbayan from 2001 to 2006, the same survey found that the conviction rate (including guilty plea) in the court was only 0.7%.
What accounts for such disparate results? Emil highlights seven factors involving the following:
Powers and capacities (KPK has the investigative powers of law enforcement agencies and can conduct wiretaps, examine bank accounts and tax records, freeze assets, issue hold orders and make arrests. The “toothless” Ombudsman has none of these powers).
Operational differences (cooperation in the KPK between investigative and prosecutorial arms is not observed in the Ombudsman and the weight of evidence considered before filing a case is proof beyond reasonable doubt for the KPK, while it is only probable cause for the Ombudsman).
Human resources (recruitment, selection and composition is more stringent under the KPK than the Ombudsman; consequently, they are able to achieve more with less staff).
Performance measurement (objective measures for tracking and monitoring performance are more rigorous and widespread in the KPK).
Accountable management (governance of KPK is handled by five commissioners acting in a collegial manner, while the Ombudsman is headed by one person).
Anti-corruption courts (the adjudication process in the TIPOKOR takes about eight months on average, which includes the appeal process to the Supreme Court, while the process takes about 9.8 years in the Sandiganbayan including appeals to the Supreme Court; and, the effectivity of the sentence is immediate, even if under appeal in the case of the former, not in the case of the latter).
Beyond these specific design features, I would also suggest that what makes the Indonesian case of fighting corruption stronger than the Philippines is the underlying coherence of the state in the former, a point that I made in a previous post entitled Indonesia Rising, Philippines Waning. It should be noted however that despite its successes, recent events have cast doubt on whether the KPK will be able to perform its functions well into the future. Emil calls its history a “cautionary tale” in that within its successes lie the seeds of its own destruction.
Where to from here?
A number of obvious policy recommendations stand out from this comparative case analysis. For me the most salient ones have to do with expanding the investigative powers and prosecutorial capacities of the Ombudsman. Some of the ones Emil highlights which involve exempting select agencies within the bureaucracy from civil service compensation structures I have also discussed here.
The importance of winning cases based on the weight and integrity of the evidence has been highlighted by the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Corona and the “Hello Garci” incident involving former president Arroyo. In both cases, evidence involving bank accounts and wiretapped conversations cannot be admitted due to the illegal nature of obtaining them.
For Emil, the litmus test for whether such reforms can succeed is the political support from the executive and legislature. He casts “serious doubts” on whether such structural transformations can occur by saying
(M)any executive officials and legislators are unlikely to welcome the idea of strengthening an agency that could pursue them for corruption.
Any reform he says needs “to be crafted to reflect the constraints and opportunities within the institutions and incentive structures that drive the Philippine political economy”. Mind you what constitutes self interest in this case is really in the eye of the beholder and defined by leaders who are in a position to shape such interests.
The fact that the corruption perception index of the Indonesia or Philippines has improved recently is not an adequate benchmark for determining the success or failure of their respective reforms. Such qualitative measures merely reflect the overall perception of the panels peering into our world from the outside. While the government is to be congratulated for recent gains in tax and revenue collection, these are not the proper means for determining whether a structural shift has taken place or not.
To use a sports analogy, although the country has acquired a few star players in its team which has lifted its game somewhat, the way to ensure that such performance continues into the future when the star players have left is by playing the “long-game” by having a regimented player development program. Barcelona FC which is rated by many as the top football club in the world (recent events in La Primera Liga and UEFA Champions League notwithstanding) got to be where it is by instituting their way of playing “the beautiful game” decades ago.
The same thing has to occur in fighting graft and corruption in the Philippines. For this reason, the Righteous Path needs to turn a corner. Many of the structural and systemic proposals required have not even appeared on the policy agenda because good governance is not seen as a question of passing new laws, but of simply implementing existing ones.
Even assuming they did bubble up to the surface the enactment of such measures would be hindered for quite some time because the legislature is currently tied up ironically in the impeachment trial (or trails, if we are to believe recent pronouncements from the Palace). This makes the situation diabolically difficult for reformers to reach their destination for without the proper powers, tools and resources, how can they stick to The Righteous Path?
UPDATE: I forgot to disclose as well that it was my father, Noli who, as a delegate to the constitutional convention of 1971-73, sponsored a provision for the creation of an Ombudsman. The Tanodbayan was subsequently created by presidential decree by President Marcos. Its role was taken over by the Office of the Special Prosecutor under the 1987 Constitution, and the Office of the Ombudsman was given the lead role to investigate complaints of corruption as the new Tanodbayan. My father tells me that the way the present Ombudsman is set-up and operates is not the way he originally intended it to be.
UPDATE 2: Despite these reservations, the third complaint filed with the Ombudsman against the Chief Justice was made by him.
Many talk about the culture of corruption. It has been called a cancer that eats away at the fabric of society by the religious and the secular alike. I have likened it to the multi-headed hydra in Greek mythology, irrepressible. Read more
In his second state of the nation address, President Aquino traded his old nuanced style in favor of a crisper, cleaner form of delivery, but was it accurate?
It was a speech aimed at the public rather than the pundits. In the past, when seeking to convey his mastery of a subject, Pres Aquino or PNoy would often get lost in the detail of the topic at hand. Whether it was in dealing with the security issues after the January bomb blast or whether it had to do with the specifics of his budget.
Not this time. It was not that his speech was short on specifics. In his nearly hour-long address, the president covered everything from our recent credit upgrades to the US State Department’s downgrading of us in their watchlist of countries involved in human-trafficking, from light monorail to mosquito larvae and coconut coils.
What distinguishes this speech from previous ones is the unifying theme that threaded the whole piece, which was the narrative concerning his crusade against corruption. The appropriately coined term “wang-wang mentality” (so called for the unauthorized use of wang-wangs or sirens symbolic of the sense of entitlement by the powerful enclaves of society) was used as a rhetorical device to sharpen the focus of his theme.
The president spoke of progress in this effort yielding tangible benefits to our economy. He noted the rise of stock prices, the reduction of our rice imports, the decline of poverty and the growth of employment. He attributed these developments to the changes he has made in the running of state agencies from the highy impervious public works department to the grandiosely caffeinated Philippine gaming corporation where he claimed wasteful spending was brought to heel.
Some analysts have pointed out that the improvement of rice production that led to a lower demand for imports came more as a result of better weather conditions than anything else, and that the reduction of poverty in April came after a jump in January. To this I might add, that the growth in employment is simply unremarkable given the past ten years, and that even with a slight decline in unemployment, the twin problems of high underemployment and low productivity (a result of lesser jobs being created in manufacturing) still prevails.
These of course are the nuances that I said were left out of the equation. These facts were conveniently swept away because they did not fit into the overarching narrative arc of the president’s speech, nor did it fit in with the upbeat “vibe” that he was trying to project.
If we look at the substance and purpose of the speech, which is supposedly the setting of the president’s legislative priorities, we find that in a speech of 5,989 words, the president devoted 116 of them to his proposed measures. That is about 1.9% of the text. He went through his proposals so quickly, that he even failed to give a proper justification for them or a rationale for how these priorities fit within his broad agenda.
In a manner of speaking, this was a “no apologies” speech. The president did not report on the state of his much vaunted PPPs or public private partnerships which was the centerpiece of his first SONA, nor did he ask Congress to pursue legislation that would improve its implementation.
After pointing out that
(a)ccording to the BIR, we have around 1.7 million self-employed and professional taxpayers: lawyers, doctors, businessmen who paid a total of 9.8 billion pesos in 2010. This means that each of them paid only an average of 5,783 pesos in income tax—and if this is true, then they each must have earned only 8,500 pesos a month, which is below the minimum wage. I find this hard to believe
The president also made no apologies for the slowdown of the economy in the first quarter of the year. Instead, he stuck to his narrative contrasting his righteous way with that of his predecessor. Buoyed by the recent string of whistle-blowers and his new-found ally in the newly designated Ombudsman, he did not hesitate to talk down the opposition or to entreat everyone to praise the “good deeds” of his government.
The president adeptly avoided confrontation with two important but some would say wayward institutions. Having bruised the egos of church leaders in the RH debate as well as the PCSO “cars for clergy” scandal, he diplomatically offered an olive branch to the Catholic bishops who were in the audience. He also made sure to gain the support of the military and the police through his procurement of defense assets and provision of low-cost housing.
He clearly did not want to get side-tracked from his simple narrative that his anti-corruption drive would bring about national development. He even found a way to weave the protection of our sovereignty to his good government agenda.
The need for nuance
The sharpening of the edges around this vision of a nation free of the wang-wang mentality and the personalization of this vision as pronounced by PNoy himself was crafted to appeal to the broader sections of his audience. The president was railing against the very government he led. He spoke as an outsider, as an insurgent much like the late former US president Ronald Reagan who saw it as his task to fight the menace of “big government” or more contemporaneously of British PM David Cameron who seeks to displace it with a “big society”.
If you agree with his thesis that corruption prevents growth, then there will be much in the SONA to cheer about. If on the other hand, you consider the empirical as well as historic evidence that corruption per se is not the culprit, but rather the lack of a coherent bureaucracy around a national development project, then you will recognize the effectiveness of myth-making in public speeches.
Indeed if you believe the former, then everything is fine and dandy. But if you believe the latter, then the lack of substance or clarity on how the government intends to reverse the dangerous trend in our employment mix through some kind of industry or tax policy with the stalling of the government’s major investment strategy means that when the favorable conditions turn sour, as they most certainly will, we are in for a rude awakening somewhere down the track.
One of the best public speakers in his day was George W Bush. He was able to rally his people behind a clean, crisp message against the “evil doers”. He left the incovenient truths and nuances of intelligence out of public debate. Ten years later, we find the repercussions both strategically and economically of this form of “messaging” that have mired his country in a highly polarized debate over the national debt.
The need to speak clearly is one thing, but the need to speak more factually is another. Hopefully in the future, the president’s communications and strategy team will be able to craft a message that marries the two.
In the last of a three-part series entitled PNoy’s Poverty Challenge, Malou Mangahas and Che de los Reyes writing for the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism or PCIJ speak of PNoy’s Bold Blows vs Corruption, Cautious Steps vs Poverty. They are referring to his campaign slogan, kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (which essentially presumes that corruption leads to, if not exacerbates, poverty, and that reducing corruption will help alleviate it).
Their basic complaint seems to be that PNoy is muddling through: failing to craft a narrative that builds on his presidential campaign–failing to communicate with the public his strategy for improving their plight, having been the first candidate since Erap to bring the poor under his tent.
By taking small, incremental steps, the administration avoids many of the costly mistakes associated with big social experiments that are often attended to and defended with dogmatic or ideological zeal derived as they usually are from some cult of personality. Read more
Officers and members of the Makati Business Club, Your Excellencies of the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen, my friends and countrymen.
Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to address you. I trust your asking me first is not based on alphabetical order, or based on age, but perhaps, based on who you think will most likely win the coming election.
As managers, you recognize that one of the necessary skills of an effective manager is time management. Is it possible that you have invited me to determine if there is still a necessity to spend time with the others?
Baka naman inuna niyo ako upang malaman kung sapat na ako at hindi na kailangang pansinin yung iba?
I think we are all aware of the problems facing our country. We share the same statistics. We probably even share the same conclusions about the need for better governance. To rehash all of these problems at this forum would be a waste of your time. But what we have now is an opportunity for you to get to know me, to find out the advocacies that I champion, the perspective and philosophies I bring to the equation and some of my proposed solutions to give an insight into my inner persona.
Levity aside, the political exercise that we will engage in this May is a crucial one. It will be, as it is for every fledgling democracy, a test of the strength of our political institutions. The peaceful transition of power has become a symbol of political maturity across the world, with many still failing to achieve the credibility that is the cornerstone of a genuine political mandate. With the electoral scandals that have stalled our democratic progress as of late, it is not a test that we can afford to fail.
We have an administration whose mandate is clouded in doubt and overshadowed by allegations of fraud because it refused every opportunity to clear the air and be held to account. Its choices have limited its decision-making to seeking ways to ensure day-to-day political survival and self-interest. We must now become a government committed to accountability. A government that works with the people in achieving long-term change.
We must make the shift from bare economic survival to robust economic growth. We must make the change from treading water to keep afloat, to reaching that promised shore where we can all stand tall as healthy, happy, educated and responsible fellow citizens.
But why does transformation seem like such an impossible dream?
Isa sa mga tema ng ating kalaban, yung “ang pagbabago, madaling sabihin yan pero mahirap gawin,” is probably echoed by a lot of Filipinos. The oft-repeated question is, why can’t we advance? Why can’t we progress? What is it in us that limits or prohibits our growth as a people and as a country?
All of you are aware that most of the contenders have had years, possibly even decades, of preparation for this electoral exercise. I had no such ambitions to run in the 2010 elections but I responded to the people’s clamor. I am but the face of what we believe is the overwhelming demand of our people to repudiate everything wrong in the current administration.
Given that I only announced my decision to seek the presidency on September 9, and I only came to that decision the day before, I have not had material time comparable to our opponents. What is perplexing is that viewing the same problems, and having access to the same data for the most part, we believe the solutions have been there all along, and necessitate only clear political will to execute. But most of our opponents seem to indicate the contrary opinion that there is very little that we can do to change the situation. One has to wonder: did they overstudy the problem, or are they committed to preserving the status quo?
If the leader is not convinced that change is not only necessary, but extremely possible, how does he lead us to the promised land?
What is it that we want to change?
We want to repair the damage that has been wrought on our democratic institutions by those who have sought to manipulate them for their own selfish ends.
We want to improve the situation of our people, who have suffered years of neglect because of a self-absorbed leadership obsessed with political survival.
They are poor. Many of them are homeless. Each year, we add some 2.5 million mouths to feed to our already hungry population. Of these new additions, one third were the result of unplanned pregnancies. We have a growing underclass that statistics tell us have given up looking for work. A permanent underclass that includes the five million of our countrymen that are illiterate, which means their opportunities in life will always be limited to living hand-to-mouth.
We want to give our young the opportunity and means to improve their lot in life.
It can only begin if our children and their parents are assured that money spent on education is money well spent. Unfortunately, students are at the mercy of our decrepit education system that allows double shifting, erroneous textbooks and substandard nursing schools to exist. No less than DepEd officials admitted that students in Grade 1 take three subjects in one class period. We have a procurement program so heedless of the need for excellence that it doesn’t care if it produces a textbook series riddled with 500 factual errors. For every hundred kids that start grade school with the hope of achieving their dreams, only fourteen will graduate from college and possess a tangible means to materially improve their lives.
To my mind, the crucial, lacking element in all these is a government committed to a transformation: from a society overwhelmingly poor to one overwhelmingly middle class. In every developed, progressive, prosperous democracy, it is the middle class that is the biggest class. Government, for one, has failed to make the conceptual leap from patronage to development. Efforts at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, providing basic care to the sick, and offering a quality education aren’t only the people’s rights; they are the essential tools for individual self-improvement.
In 1998, when I first campaigned for office, one lady bluntly told me that regardless of who is elected, things would remain the same for her.
What did she mean?
That she was poor to begin with; that she would remain poor, and in fact, she would be lucky if she didn’t end up poorer, after the candidates leave office.
This brings up the question at the forefront of the minds of our countrymen still undecided on whom to vote for, and pursued by my critics. If this is a time that calls for national transformation, am I qualified to be that transformative leader? Having answered the call of duty, can I ask you or anyone to entrust me with your vote, on faith alone? Never having sought the presidency, I preferred to do my duty and not seek the limelight. Now that I have been thrust in the limelight, it is only fair to answer the question: before you tell us what we can do, what have you done?
I have always believed that the job of an effective legislator goes beyond merely proposing laws, for what are laws but written agreements entered into by members of society on how to harmonize their mutual relations? In fact, I do not believe that we suffer from the problem of too few laws. One of my proposed measures was the recodification of laws, in response to an appeal from the legal community to put some order into our laws, their amendments and those that have been repealed, because even our lawyers are at times confused.
Consider the recent controversy over who gets to appoint the next Chief Justice. We maintain that there are no ifs and buts in Article 7 Section 15 of the Constitution where it states that the current President cannot appoint anybody within two months prior to a presidential election up to the end of her term. An exemption exists, but it applies only for positions in the Executive Department. Yet you have two retired justices arguing exactly the opposite. How can former justices of the Supreme Court be so seemingly confused, when the fact is that the provision regarding presidential appointments is stated clearly in the law?
Our problem is the lack of political will to faithfully implement the many world-class laws that our legislature has passed. A preference for ambiguity even when times call for clarity, leads to artificial controversies. Insecure or overly ambitious leaders need to create a climate of doubt, because it’s in the grey areas that its ambitions thrive.
It is in addressing this problem that I focused on the fiscalizing aspect of a legislator’s job – on Congress’ oversight and investigative functions.
Consider intelligence funds. In the proposed 2010 budget, a total of 1.4 billion was allocated to confidential and intelligence funds.
Woodrow Wilson once wrote that oversight is always preferable to investigation, which is like putting out a fire instead of preventing one. We proposed that if the Executive wants orderly transactions, at least a few members of Congress should be privy to all of the details to determine if they were spent properly. However, this proposal was dismissed out of hand without even a single hearing for the reason that they undermined the Executive’s privileges.
And yes, the investigations were a vital part of my functions, too. I don’t think anyone will begrudge me my efforts in this regard. From Hello Garci and the impeachments, to NBN-ZTE and the fertilizer scam, I did my duty at the forefront of these issues.
The original design of the NBN-ZTE project required a BOT agreement between government and the supplier, not a government loan. But during the NBN-ZTE hearings, we learned that the project was entered into through a government loan despite instructions to the contrary from no less than the President herself. The cost of the intended government loan was P40 billion, (in which P16 billion was for the backbone and P24 billion was for the CyberEd project.) Jun Lozada belied this when he cited P5 billion as the actual cost of the entire project. Ito yung sinasabi niyang kalakaran ng gobyerno, kung saan sa sobrang laki ng patong, bubukol na.
SCTEx took around 8 years to construct before it finally opened. Projects of this scale normally require two years to complete. Furthermore, when SCTEx finally became operational, it was found that the central hub, which was Clark, did not have an exit, excluding Clark from the Subic Clark Tarlac expressway itself. How can one justify these kinds of delays where opportunities are lost, costs have escalated and the people’s burdens, instead of being reduced, end up being compounded?
My active role in these congressional hearings has put me at odds with the administration. In 2005, it cost me my post as Deputy Speaker. It continues to put me at odds with the coalition of self-interest that currently holds power. It puts me at odds with other candidates for the presidency.
To lead transformation, you cannot be part of the problem. As I said when I accepted the people’s draft, the job of chief executive is about the efficient allocation of resources. If you have hogged those resources for yourself, if you have lied, cheated, and stolen to gain power, how can you be trusted to lead the transformation our country needs?
Going back on the issue of appointing a Chief Justice prior to the forthcoming elections. If we are to transform the country, it begins with doing what we can, now, to limit the damage and give our people a fighting chance to rebuild our damaged institutions. The Constitution imposes a blanket prohibition with few exceptions concerning midnight appointments. A candidate cannot ask for the people’s mandate, pledging to improve the situation tomorrow, if he becomes complicit in worsening the situation today.
Hindi naman mahirap gawin ang tama. Alam naman ng lahat yan eh. Wala namang magic, wala namang sikreto. Pero bakit pilit pa ring ginagawa ang mali?
There is a widespread perception that success in the business milieu can almost be directly correlated to your closeness to the powers-that-be. Because of this, some players in the industry are forced to focus their activities on maintaining relationships in order to retain the favors that they receive in exchange for cultivating that relationship. This has fostered the wrong kind of competitiveness. While it may work, locally, for now, it has not enabled these players to become competitive in the world market, where the rules of the game do not take special relationships into consideration.
We will encourage free and fair competition in a level playing field. One not need be a crony in order to succeed in the field of business. More importantly, government will not compete with business. Nor will government use its regulatory powers to extort, intimidate and harass.
We will transform our systems to foster service to the public instead of making citizens jump through hoops. We will streamline the approval process, not only for setting up new businesses but also in the regular day-to-day transactions with government, such as the payment of taxes. We will do this on a national as well as the local level.
In 2010, our next President will inherit a continually bloating deficit. As of November 2009, the deficit of the national government already reached P272.5 billion, or 4.1% of GDP.
In addressing the looming fiscal crisis, good governance and the drive against corruption are critical components in our strategy. We will refrain from imposing new taxes or increasing tax rates.
I strongly believe that we can collect more taxes at the BIR and higher duties at Customs if we become more serious in curbing and punishing tax evasion and smuggling. The BIR’s collection dropped by 5.5%, while that of Customs declined by 16.6%. This is the first time in recent history that absolute revenues have actually declined.
Our initial focus then will be to capture a good part of the revenue leaks caused by smuggling and evasion. In this effort, we will not be starting from zero. Be assured that those smugglers and evaders are not faceless and unknown entities. The ideas to improve tax administration and to control smuggling have been there for some time and some programs have been initiated in the past. One of these successful programs was the RATE or Run After Tax Evaders. In fact, some of the people at the Department of Finance and the BIR who have tried to implement reforms before are with us now, and together with reform-minded career executives, we intend to put their commitment and talents to good use under my administration.
My vision is to transform our country into one where we have lower tax rates enjoyed by all, rather than have some enjoy absolute tax exemptions while we burden the rest of the economy with very high tax rates. I believe that markets are better than government in spotting where the growth opportunities are, and, with universal low tax rates, we will encourage entrepreneurs and enterprises to invest and create jobs in any industry. We will, therefore, pursue the rationalization of fiscal incentives early in my administration.
There is a lot of room for our revenue base to grow. Our tax effort has gone down from 17% at its peak to a worrisome 13% today. If we can only bring this back even to just the 15% level, that will translate to P150 billion in additional revenues, which would make a significant dent in cutting our deficit.
My budget team estimates that for 2009 alone, around P280 billion of our national budget was lost to corruption. If we take the years 2002 to 2009 the total estimates exceed one trillion. Estimates vary, but everyone agrees that the numbers are huge.
If we agree that change is necessary, how can a Presidential aspirant, whose own financial and political ethics are questionable, be effective in leading transformation as the head of the bureaucracy? How can a leader, who is benefiting from the status quo, be able to restore a civic sense and pride in our citizenry? The leader, who has used public office for private gain, will always be the most committed enemy of change.
Rich or poor alike, we have a tangible experience of the sorry state of public infrastructure at present: traffic, which eats up time, which as the saying goes, is money. Railways are built at bloated cost; urban transport is constructed, but not enough trains are on track. Our people are the first to experience the effect of something that works and conversely, something that is badly done because bad intentions handicapped the project from the start.
It is time that our infrastructure agencies and LGUs transform into cooperative ventures with the private sector by bringing forth an agreed public infrastructure program, based on a cohesive plan that optimizes the value of the entire network. In our conversations with members of the private sector, there has been a lot of positive feedback about possibly working with government on this endeavor.
To transform infrastructure projects from sources of waste and scandal into examples of cooperation and efficiency, we will set objective criteria for different types of projects and develop a scorecard that will assess various projects against benchmarks transparent to the public.
Initially we want our infrastructure program to transform from being the means to enrich a few, to being labor-intensive and biased for employment as a means to pump-prime the economy.
When I read about countries that have invested in their agriculture sectors and succeeded, it always pains me to find that these countries – Vietnam and Thailand, to name just a couple – had started by sending their experts to be educated in the Philippines. It seems that we cannot implement among ourselves the lessons we successfully imparted to experts from elsewhere. This will have to change. We must be able to harness our homegrown talent in order to further our local industries.
When we change administrations, there must be a complete review of all the programs in the Department of Agriculture. We can do a lot for our farmers given the present budget of the Department if we eliminate the leaks and focus on the efficient use of resources. For example, we must stop eating up millions in mere administrative costs as in the case of NABCOR, which charged our government P60 million because it served as a useless conduit to regional offices. We will also support efforts such as supply chain management that minimizes losses, creates jobs, consults with stakeholders, and capitalizes on our competitive advantage.
Our core belief is that the current approach to governance and power must change. That is why our terms of reference always begin with the present government, what it has done, and how different our institutions and our nation must be six years from June 30, 2010.
In a small-scale operation it is easy for everyone involved to visualize that entity as the combination of their collective efforts. As opposed to, say, when you are a bigger firm, and there is the management side and there is the labor side. In Tagalog, it’s even more dramatic. Kayo at kami, sa halip na tayo.
We must find a unity that transcends the divisions of today, based on a shared commitment to transforming our country into one that works: One where traffic flows well, garbage is collected efficiently, crimes are solved, justice is served, and our kids are educated properly. It works in the sense that you do not have to flee the country to move up in the world, improve your lot in life, and rise to the highest level your personal merits can achieve.
We are a nation of sacrifice, of diligence, dedication and, idealism, because we are a people imbued with compassion even when we have officials who lie, cheat, and steal. Our faith teaches us that we are our brother’s keeper. Our logic should tell us that in taking care of others, their growth equals our own.
In the movie “Invictus,” Nelson Mandela says, “In order to rebuild our nation, we must exceed our own expectations.” It requires us to insist, always, that we are not a nation of crooks, of thieves, of murderers who get off scot-free and where justice is won by the highest bidder.
In May, you will be asked to make a choice. Will you choose transformation and change or will you choose to uphold the status quo?
We have already made our choice. Ours is a journey towards transformation. I ask you today to join us in this journey now.
Aquino hard-put to fill 5,000 top gov’t posts
By Robert Gonzaga, Inquirer Research, Inquirer Central Luzon
Philippine Daily Inquirer
APPOINTMENTS TO GOVERNMENT POSITIONS are not being made fast enough because President Aquino is hard put to find “good people” to take on public service.
Speaking with reporters at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, the President said he was giving priority to certain government-owned and -controlled corporations (GOCCs) as well as government financial institutions because of “a sense of urgency as we discover that there are transactions that are still being attempted to be pushed through.”
He said an obstacle that his administration was facing in filling up critical positions was “the difficulty of finding good people.”
As many as 4,301 executive and management appointees, as well as over 50,000 rank-and-file employees, were coterminous with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
Mr. Aquino has been swamped with applications from persons wishing to join his administration since a month before he was sworn into office.
“We have to find people who will work on our platform and not continue the age-old and wrong platforms,” said Mr. Aquino, whose campaign battle cry was “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (No corruption, no poverty).”
“The problem is, it’s no joke to enter government service. Your salary will go down, while criticisms will multiply. It’s difficult to convince good people to fill up these positions,” he said.
A Commission on Audit report puts the number of GOCCs at 601.
So far, Mr. Aquino has appointed Daniel “Bitay” Lacson and Cristino “Bong” Naguiat as chairs of the Government Service Insurance System and Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corp., respectively, and Jose Honrado as chief of the Manila International Airport Authority.
Among the other GOCCs are the Bases Conversion Development Authority, Clark Development Corp., Cultural Center of the Philippines, Home Development Mutual Fund, John Jay Management Corp., Laguna Lake Development Authority, Land Bank of the Philippines, Light Railway Transit Authority, Lung Center of the Philippines, Manila Waterworks and Sewerage System, National Electrification Administration, Philippine Ports Authority and Social Security System.
The President was in Subic, Zambales, on Friday to inaugurate the Philippine National Police’s School for Values and Leadership.
He said there would yet be no changes in the top positions of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA), including its board of directors.
“We have not reached the SBMA yet. In truth, I’d like to repeat, there are something close to 5,000 positions [to fill up]. And I have to appoint people up to director level,” he said.
However, Mr. Aquino said he had found someone to take the helm of the Metro Manila Development Authority. But he refused to divulge the appointee’s identity.
Asked to comment on Mr. Aquino’s remarks, SBMA Administrator Armand Arreza said: “Well, we hope that the President allows us to finish our term. But of course we serve at his pleasure. If the President [wants a change in the SBMA leadership], of course we will accede to his request.”
Arreza’s term as administrator, like that of SBMA Chair Feliciano Salonga, began on Sept. 23, 2005, and ends on the same date in 2011.
Asked Saturday by text message if he was considering appointing to the SBMA ex-Sen. Richard “Dick” Gordon, one of his defeated rivals to the presidency, Mr. Aquino replied: “Haven’t gotten to it yet.”
Gordon said at a press briefing early in June that he was not selling himself to Mr. Aquino in the hope of getting an appointment.
“I love my country,” he said. “If I can be of assistance, why not? But I will not lobby aggressively. I did not lobby for any position with [then President Arroyo].”
Gordon, who served as tourism secretary in the early years of the Arroyo administration, is covered by the yearlong ban on appointments of defeated candidates in the elections.
When pressed to name a post he would like, Gordon, a native of Zambales, said: “If I am given a chance, I would prefer the SBMA. If Noynoy (Aquino’s nickname) feels I can be of service, fine, I’d think about it. I’d be honored to be given the chance, but I will not lobby for it.”
Gordon is credited with transforming the former US naval base in Subic into a free port and investment hub. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.
Corruption is the main cause of poverty in the country and the reason why Filipinos have lost trust in government. Noynoy Aquino believes that corruption is not part of our culture and that Filipinos are honest, decent, fair and hardworking. Honest and competent public officers and a professional and accountable civil service supported by active people’s participation will remove corruption and restore trust in government.
As President, Noynoy Aquino will lead the fight against corruption and restore trust in government.
Noynoy Aquino will appoint public officials based on their integrity, qualifications and performance record and will hold them accountable to the highest ethical standards of public office.
As required by law, all Department Secretaries, Heads of Agencies, and senior officials from Director to Undersecretaries will be required to have their Statement of Assets, Liabilities and Net Worth (SALN) available and accessible to the public.
An Aquino Administration will ensure transparency and citizen’s participation in crafting and implementing laws, rules and regulations and in monitoring the programs, projects and transactions of government.
Uphold the people’s right to information on matters of public concern and support the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill in Congress.
To enable citizens to help stop corruption, information about the government’s budget shall be organized, packaged and distributed to the media regularly and posted in the internet so the public may know, understand and monitor how their money is spent.
Strengthen people’s participation with simple and clear procedures for citizens to monitor all government projects and report their feedback through accessible means.
Strengthening the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Ombudsman will be a top priority in the campaign against corruption. We will fully implement the recently passed Prosecution Service Act in order to strengthen the national prosecution service, attract qualified lawyers, and institutionalize a more effective witness protection program while improving training and equipment.
Ensure the independence of the Office of the Ombudsman by appointing a competent and credible Ombudsman who will be true to the mandate of the office and will pursue unresolved cases of corruption and human rights abuses committed by public officers.
An Aquino Administration will put into place a “zero-based” budgeting system to enhance transparency and improve efficiency.
Budget allocations for the different agencies of government will be shaped by their performance and their compliance with the reports of the Commission on Audit (COA).
Noynoy Aquino respects the professional bureaucracy and will establish ways to motivate and energize the professional bureaucracy.
Qualification standards, especially on eligibility, will be strictly followed, and at least half of the positions of Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be filled by honest and competent career civil servants to ensure continuity and sustainability of effective policies and programs.
Government offices will be streamlined and rationalized so that agencies have clear cut and distinct mandates in order to spur greater efficiency and accountability.
Performances of government agencies and civil servants will be evaluated rationally and systematically through an effective and measurable performance management system to be approved by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
The Civil Service Commission (CSC) Performance Management System-Office Performance Evaluation System (PMS-OPES) will be linked with the DBM Organizational Performance Indicator Framework (OPIF) to ensure accountability of government agencies and officials.
Review the mandates and performance of government agencies and Government Owned or Controlled Corporations (GOCCs).
Underlying all the problems and weaknesses of the country and the economy is corruption and the weakening of our democratic institutions. We will restore trust in government by emphasizing good governance and anti-corruption to increase investment, regain people’s trust to pay proper taxes and ensure that the people’s money is well spent.
We will uphold the people’s right to information on matters of public concern and vigorously support the enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill in Congress
We will ensure transparency and citizen’s participation in crafting and implementing laws, rules and regulations and in monitoring the programs, projects and transactions of government
We will put into place a “zero-based” budgeting system to enhance transparency and improve efficiency.
Budget allocations for the different agencies of government will be shaped by their performance and their compliance with the reports of the Commission on Audit (COA)
Qualification standards, especially on eligibility, will be strictly followed, and at least half of the positions of Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries will be filled by honest and competent career civil servants to ensure continuity and sustainability of effective policies and programs
Performances of government agencies and civil servants will be evaluated rationally and systematically through an effective and measurable performance management system to be approved by the Civil Service Commission (CSC).
We will have broad based and inclusive economic growth through increased incomes by generating quality jobs and attracting more investments.
We will have a government that is not corrupt and is business-friendly, thus lowering the cost of doing business and production in the country.
We will reduce red tape, reducing the number of processes required to do business in the country.
We will improve infrastructure in transportation and housing, which will generate jobs and also support investments.
We will directly target industries with the greatest potential for growth and where the Philippines has a competitive advantage, industries that have already been identified by domestic and foreign business groups and include agribusiness, business process outsourcing, creative industries, infrastructure, manufacturing and logistics, socially responsible mining and tourism and retirement.
In the immediate short term, we will take care of the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors of society through programs such as conditional cash transfers dedicated, among others, to keeping healthy young children in school.
We will promote entrepreneurship that provides employment, helping small and medium firms with access to credit and diffusion of technologies and skills.
We will focus investment expenditure in the very urgent need to invest in education (especially in early childhood education) and in health.
We will promote technical/vocational schools to strengthen the labor supply and better match the needs of enterprises.
A clean government will facilitate macroeconomic stability, reigning in the record level deficits of the current administration, and bringing down the debt-to-GDP ratio.
We will plug revenue leakages by having competent and trustworthy tax collectors, broadening the tax base.
We will instruct DBM to lead an internal government review of all its costs and present a plan to reduce government overhead within six months.
We will review policies and programs to enhance productivity and modernize the agricultural sector.
The ProPinoy Project is a Global Community Center for all things Pinoy, to connect Filipinos at home and abroad by creating a space for ideas, trends and analyses about the Philippines and the global Pinoy community to inspire informed discussion and transformative action.