Aquilino Pimentel

Trapo Alert! Detecting political pandering, part 3

Panderometer

Featuring Koko Pimentel, JV Ejercito and Jack Enrile.

This is the third part in a series on the candidates for the senate in 2013. Just a recap: I am attempting through this series to have a serious discussion of the aspirants and their political platforms (or lack thereof). I have identified nineteen so far that have articulated some kind of policy agenda in running for a seat in the upper house. These are put through what I call the pander-o-meter to determine whether the policy detail they have released so far places them in either the reformist or populist columns. The following table details the range of possible scores a candidate can get and the equivalent meaning of each reading:

Introducing: the ‘Pander-o-meter’ or Trapo Scale

A reading of… …is equivalent to…

1-2

Low levels of pandering detected, generally reformist in nature

3

A mixed bag of proposals aimed at both pandering and reforming

4

Trapo alert! Approaching dangerous levels of pandering

5

Could be likened to a vote buying trapo

In part 1, I covered Juan Edgardo Angara, Jr, Benigno Aquino IV and Alan Peter Cayetano. In part 2, I covered Francis Escudero, Risa Hontiveros and Loren Legarda.

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

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

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

My critique:

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

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

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

Overall comments:

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

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

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

Pander-o-meter: 3 out of 5

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

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

My critique:

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

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

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

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

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

Overall comments:

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

Pander-o-meter: 4 out of 5

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

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

My critique:

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

Overall comments:

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

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

Pander-o-meter: 1.5 out of 5

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

The LABAN-Liberal rivalry

Remnants of the progressive struggle are locked together in a dance of mutual political survival.

As the news dailies ran stories on the increased scrutiny being placed on the presiden’ts pals, some within the movement that elected him have begun to voice some reservations or outright indignation at the way he has handled the situation so far. Following the Luneta incident and the firing/resigning of Secretary Jose De Jesus, many cannot reconcile the behavior of their “white knight” towards those in his camp that have not acquited themselves all that honorably.

It will one day make for an interesting study to look at the rivalry between the Balay and Samar factions, or what I would like to call the LABAN-Liberal rivalry. Although as Manolo Quezon once put to me commitment to political parties has yet to take root in the Philippines, these parties come close to approximating such a tradition. They were borne out of the struggle against martial law and the two opposing poles of how to bring it to an end.

To understand how or why the Aquinos behave in relation to these rivaling camps, you have to first go back in time to the 1970s, to 1978 when the imprisoned Ninoy Aquino was “abandoned” by the LP and left without a party to run in the parliamentary elections scheduled that year. Having none of the stalwarts of the party like Jovito Salonga or Gerry Roxas to provide a stiff challenge to Marcos, Ninoy turned to more junior people. This is how LABAN was formed.

Explaining the Aquinos

The man who helped create the name, Lakas ng Bayan, the late Alfonso Policarpio, in his book Ninoy: The Willing Martyr coined a very poignant phrase to capture the mood of the Aquinos during this period of their struggle. A caption of a photo of Ninoy and Cory standing together during his military trial reads, a time when so few cared. This perhaps is one of the reasons why the Aquino children have gravitated more to the Samar group, the ones that had supported the “Noy-Bi” ticket. They had been there during their darkest days. To quote a once popular beer ad iba ang may pinagsamahan.

Secondly, one has to go to the early days of the first Aquino presidency to discover why PNoy took the unpopular decision to support his close friends. In The Aquino Management of the Presidency: In the Face of Crisis (1992) published by the presidential management staff, one finds a vivid recount of those early days from the point of view of palace insiders. According to the document, Cory convened her cabinet on July 9, 1986 to assess the aftermath of the “Manila Hotel incident” the first coup of her several months’ old presidency. After their deliberations, Presidential Spokesman Rene Saguisag was quoted saying

In hindsight (Minister of Local Governments), Nene Pimentel was correct about removing the incumbent local chief executives and replacing them with OICs. Had the duly elected Mayors of Metro Manila been retained, they would have been able to mobilize in support of the Marcos loyalists. There would have been a greater likelihood that the government would have fallen.

In response to a reporter’s query on why he had not accepted in full DOJ Sec De Lima’s recommendations in the aftermath of the “Luneta incident” regarding Mayor Alfredo Lim and Usec Ricardo Puno, PNoy gave a very cryptic remark about sticking with your allies because of counter revolutionary moves to unseat them. Using the preceding bit of history you can easily decode his message.

This siege mentality on the part of PNoy can also be understood by recalling that Noynoy was ambushed and nearly perished in 1987 during the “God Save the Queen” rebellion staged by renegade RAM soldiers that nearly toppled his mother from office. His appreciation for allies and the need for self-protection led him to the firing range where he no doubt established strong bonds with his shooting buddies.

Thirdly, to understand the accommodation of Binay’s faction within cabinet, one has to go back to the local government elections of 1988. In the book From Marcos to Aquino: Local Perspectives in the Transition in the Philippines (1991) by Ben Kerkvliet and Resil B Mojares, one gains a “street-level” view of the rough and tumble world of politics immediately following EDSA I.

The OIC’s appointed by Interior Minister Nene Pimentel were made to defend their positions a mere 18 months after their appointment. Many of them were novices (like PNoy’s inner circle) but had replaced long-standing provincial and municipal warlords. The strategies for bringing the fruits of people power to the grassroots as observed by Kerkvliet and Mojares in the book either took the form of a hard-line approach or a soft, conciliatory one.

To illustrate their point, they turned to the experience of one OIC governor in Central Luzon, a PDP-LABAN member (in the interest of full disclosure, that man was my father Noli), who had employed the soft approach in the face of repeated assassination attempts. After the election, he along with many of Pimentel’s party had been decimated through the ballot either legitimately or illegitimately . In contrast, Mayor Binay whose house was strafed with bullets in the run up to the elections survived by employing tough ward politics in Makati.

The social experiment involving the soft and hard approaches and the lessons learned from that period help to define the philosophy of the PDP-Laban to this day. The Pimentels themselves have suffered at the hands of “dagdag-bawas”. Like some battle-weary revolutionaries that later get accused of employing the same tactics that they had once raged against, the idealism of these players has been tempered by real world events. PNoy knows this, and he knows he can count on them when the going gets tough.

Where to from here?

Finally we ought to consider where this rivalry is likely to lead. Having formed a coalition ticket back in 1992 (Salonga-Pimentel), will its current incarnation be counter-productive or supportive of the president’s agenda?

Vice president Binay with his vast experience in providing effective government service at the local level and who has had one year to settle into his new role might have a head start. DOTC Sec Mar Roxas might struggle at first. He has never been in this type of role before, nor does he have a technical background.

The handing over of the DOTC to a politician may not necessarily have been an astute move from the policy angle given the pricing and subsidy schemes that it involves. Being more sensitive to public opinion with regard to fare rate hikes might cost the government more than it can afford.

On the other hand, both the housing and the transportation and communications portfolios rely on private financing; and both involve projects that are labor intensive and employment generating. Their managerial abilities in moving investments through the project pipeline and securing local content for projects will determine their success at generating employment. Here perhaps Mar Roxas will have an advantage having worked with big investors at the DTI.

The developmental state’s dual role

If we are to use the developmental state as a model for what the Philippines should be striving towards, then apart from delivering services to the socially disadvantaged, the other, and often neglected role of the state, which is to channel resources to the more productive ones, has to be attended to. The growth sectors of the economy are after all the main sources of additional taxes used for expanding redistributive programs.

If one looks at the Philippine Development Plan, the main objective of which is to generate faster, deeper and broader growth, one finds a succinct diagnosis of the current situation:

Low growth is due to low investment and slow technological progress because of inadequate infrastructure, as well as glaring gaps in governance. Narrow growth, meanwhile, is largely attributed to lack of human capital formation among the poor and the failure to transform output growth to job creation.

To address this, the Plan aims to unlock investments in infrastructure through PPPs and better governance frameworks and re-distribute the growing revenues from a more productive economy through social development. If one looks at the 2011 budget, this intent is backed up to some extent by an increase in allocation to the secretaries of transport and communication (of about P14 billion), education (about P20 billion) and social welfare and development (about P20 billion).

To manage these resources and implement the Plan well will require dedication and perseverance from all the president’s men. Let us hope that this rivalry within his cabinet produces the kind of healthy competition or constructive engagement required to produce positive outcomes. If it doesn’t, it could spell the end of the people’s faith in their brand of governance.

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