miriam santiago

PDAF, BUB, August 26 and 2016

President Benigno S. Aquino III calls for the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund at the President’s Hall of Malacanang Palace on Friday, (August 23). The announcement was made in the aftermath of the alleged Php10B pork barrel scam. (Photo by Gil Nartea/ Lauro Montellano Jr./ Malacanang Photo Bureau)

Just as he did with the RH Bill, the president came late to the party and led from behind in the scandal  involving the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) of Congress by belatedly bowing to public calls for its abolition.  Although as Winnie Monsod noted he did not indicate this meant the abolition of all forms of pork barrel. With nationwide protests slated for August 26, his administration could not afford to be seen on the wrong side of history, not after mouthing anti-corruption slogans like Daang Matuwid and Kung Walang Kurap, Walang Mahirap in the 2010 and 2013 elections.

This is perhaps his only out, after a former treasury chief showed how large his own discretionary funds are, dwarfing that of Congress. His initial tone deaf and dismissive response to public calls for PDAF abolition threatened to turn it into his “Flor Contemplacion moment”. This is a reference to the hanging of a domestic helper in Singapore by that name accused and convicted of killing her ward. The Ramos government’s lethargic response at the time to seek a commutation of her death sentence and vigorously raise a diplomatic protest with the Singaporean government was judged inadequate and subsequently led to virulent protests.

What the angry twittering masses behind the August 26 rally fail to grasp, however, and this I believe should be credited to the president, is that the scale of congressional pork barrel would not have even been known if he had not taken the decision to make it more transparent in the budget. Secondly, the Commission on Audit special report conducted under the tearful eye of Ms Grace Pullido-Tan, its chair, would not have even been possible without President Aquino’s leadership.

The problem was the Palace’s foot-dragging made it seem part of the problem rather than the solution. At first it responded to the concerns of the masses over the alleged Php 10 billion scam involving Janet Napoles’s syndicate of NGOs by window dressing, making the DSWD the accrediting agency for NGOs receiving PDAF allocations. This was wrong since as the COA report revealed, releasing public funds to NGOs without an appropriations law or ordinance violates the government’s own procurement policy.

The COA report, incomplete as it was gave an indication as to the scale and scope of corruption and abuse. About 75 per cent of audited PDAF went to NGOs. Thus, the 192 members of the 14th Congress that were found to have engaged in the practice are in fact liable. The DOJ does not even have to prove that the funds were diverted back to them.

The senators and congressmen who want to wash their hands clean by either saying the money was liquidated appropriately or that monitoring of funds is the sole function of the executive branch don’t have a leg to stand on. The only defence they can mount is that their signatures in authorising the allocation of PDAF to those NGOs were forged as 22 of them have done.

Even assuming their signatures were forged, why would it have taken them so long to protest against it? It stands to reason that anyone who had P70 to P200M allocated to them would be adamant in getting it released for their use. Why has it taken them 3-5 years to denounce the siphoning off of their PDAF? If anything, they would be negligible for allowing it to go on for so long.

So any which way you look at it, the legislators in question have something to answer for. True, the DBM’s record-keeping has been found wanting. In fact the COA report only covered a mere 39 per cent of the total P115 billion worth of PDAF released from 2007 to 2009 because DBM could not even identify correctly the legislators who approved the majority of funds amounting to some P70.4 billion.

Even so, the legislators that have been rightly identified need to apologise to the public for allocating their PDAF to NGOs and take leave from their party if they are currently in public office or loose whatever committee chairmanships and privileges they have enjoyed as such.

British and Canadian examples

In the UK parliamentary allowance scandal of 2009, both PM Gordon Brown and Opposition Leader David Cameron issued apologies to the British public for the excesses committed by members of their parties who used housing allowances to invest in the property market. Subsequently, an independent body was set up to determine the compensation and allowances for MPs, and the disbursement of the same was made more available to the public.

In the current scandal in the Canadian senate, PM Harper’s chief of staff resigned after being implicated, a number of senators were suspended from their party and issued public apologies for their abuse of privileges. In both the UK and Canadian cases, a Freedom of Information request led to uncovering the facts and those that had been found to have abused their privileges were ordered to repay every last penny they had unlawfully charged to the public purse.

The amounts in question ran only in the hundreds of thousands of pounds or dollars per representative or senator. In the Philippine case, the amounts run into the billions of pesos (which amounts to millions of dollars!). And yet the legislators in question do not seem to be ashamed in the least. Some of them in fact have the gall to now champion the scrapping of pork, when they in fact have been identified by the COA for certain anomalies in their use of pork, such as Majority Senate Leader Peter Cayetano whose release of P2.7 million to baranggays in Taguig were found to be deficient, and whose wife exceeded her PDAF by P8.5 million.

BUB, another acronym for pork masquerading as reform

The protesters heading for the Rizal Park on August 26 would probably say that there needs to be an investigation and prosecution of those involved in the PDAF scam. The DOJ has said that it will be issuing indictments soon. The case could easily drag on beyond 2016, after the president steps down. The senate and the house seem poised to investigate their use and abuse of PDAF. Senator Cayetano has endorsed former Senator Panfilo Lacson to head an independent body to investigate it, which found support from the President. This was ridiculed by many including Senator Miriam Santiago who questions Lacson’s ability to impartially run the investigation.

The politicisation of the investigations and reform process is becoming a problem. This is precisely what shouldn’t be happening as abuses cut across party-lines. Take the unveiling of a fund associated with the Department of Budget and Management’s Bottom Up Budgeting approach or BUB. This is a fund amounting to P20 billion to be allocated by Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to local governments. It is no secret that Mr Roxas is the Liberal Party’s presidential nominee to succeed Pres Aquino in 2016. Budget Secretary Abad is the party’s chief ideologue.

The fund’s existence was apparently leaked by congressmen from within the LP. It was reported that many of them were dissatisfied with the manner in which this fund has been set up: to give Mr Roxas the role of a padrino in handing it out. This charge was denied of course by Messrs Roxas and Abad who do not deny the existence of BUB funds but instead say that legislators were supportive of it.

If we needed a reminder for why PDAF and its predecessor CDF (countrywide development funds) came into being, this is it. Pork barrel has evolved through the years from a means for the executive to control congress and get it on its side, to a means by which the legislators can wrest control of patronage from Malacañang by limiting its ability to withhold pork to congress. BUB seems like an attempt by the Palace to retake control, at a time when congressional pork has been abolished.

Just as an aside, what the reaction of local LP stalwarts shows is that party discipline is weak. These legislators probably do not plan to endorse Mr Roxas in 2016. They are probably planning to jump ship again just like they did in 2010 when President Aquino’s lead in the polls was evident. Given the lead Vice President Binay now has in public polls, it would seem they might be hedging their bets both ways, or in the very least, they want to hand out the BUB funds themselves to local officials, to be the sole padrinos in their districts.

On the other hand, it can be argued that Mr Binay has been receiving pork with the president’s blessing, worth P200 million a year, so that this is simply a way of evening up the playing field for Mr Roxas and the Liberal Party. Given that the president has abolished pork (which presumably includes the vice president’s), shouldn’t his heir apparent refuse to use it too? By politicising the bottom-up budgeting approach, a key reform of President Aquino’s administration, Abad and Roxas could be tarnishing their reformist credentials and weakening the very institutions they seek to build.

To 2016 and beyond

A number of prospective presidential and vice presidential contenders could be ruined by this scandal. Senators Bong Bong Marcos, Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada all have plans to run for higher office. All were tagged as part of the original PDAF scam. Senator Peter Cayetano may also have plans to run for higher office in 2016 and was also given special mention in the COA report for irregular PDAF releases. Mar Roxas could sully himself if BUB is perceived to be used for political motives.

You might think this is the end of the road for pork, but don’t count pork out, just yet. As Manolo Quezon points out, pork has a funny way of resurfacing under a different guise. Winnie Monsod believes it will revert back to the old way of being hidden, inserted in line agency budgets, as was the practice before President Aquino made it more transparent. This could be an unintended consequence of abolishing PDAF.

What the inchoate masses gathering on August 26 fail to understand is that unless PDAF is replaced with something more suited to a modern democracy, it will be reincarnated in some other shape or form even if the current set of PDAF abusers are put behind bars. The real answer in my view is for the state to provide campaign finance to accredited political parties.

Without such state support, congressmen and senators will find a way to access state funds anyway through some form of pork barrel or worse, they could go underground and raise money through illegal means. Of course they may harass legitimate businesses and rich individuals for donations with adverse consequences for policy making if they win. The piso-piso campaign to raise money has very limited impact in a country with very large disparities in income.

Perhaps the president who until now has been so focused on proving he can make government work, as in he wanted to prove that PDAF could be used properly for good, can now lift his gaze towards undertaking real reform that would not only restore systems to the way they were under some imagined golden age, but transform them above and beyond what they are currently capable of becoming.

To use an automotive analogy, which I am sure the motoring enthusiast in him would appreciate, imagine that you have an old 1950s engine which you have worked so hard to restore, but is still leaking fuel and is inefficient. You can choose to keep fiddling with the old system by adding dashboards with indicators that tell you if fuel is leaking (i.e. making expenditure more transparent) or you might decide to overhaul the engine completely with a new up to date model that injects fuel well and does not leak with indicators that tell you what is happening under the hood.

Having a modern democracy entails campaign finance and political party reform combined with beefed up integrity measures as well as an adequate level of compensation for elective officials to remove the incentive that lead to the plunder of public funds. That is the reality that neither the president, nor the people massing at Rizal park on Monday, have yet realised needs to be confronted if we are to have a sound democracy in the lead up to 2016 and beyond.

A new Philippine political architecture

Fed up with political dynasties and pork barrel scams? There is a better way for the Philippines, and it does not require a constitutional overhaul.

The political-electoral system in our country today has followed the same dynamic since the founding of our republic. At the heart of this dynamic lies the family institution or political dynasties comprised of wealthy local elites, the landed class, or caciques as Benedict Anderson put it, some of whom trace their lineage back to the late-Spanish and early American colonial periods.

In order to win at elections, they have needed to dispense patronage to their local constituents. Winning gives the elected official access to the resources of government to recoup the initial investment in political capital and continue providing patronage with abandon. In a symbiotic, co-dependent relationship, the president who needs to win cooperation from congress for his or her legislative agenda, and to gain approval for annual budgets, uses pork as the means to secure it.

The patron in this arrangement is the president; the rent-seeking clients are members of congress and local government. The clients direct pork to their pet projects through line agencies or NGOs. Despite previous attempts at tightening the system to prevent the funds from being diverted back to the project sponsor by way of commissions and kickbacks, allegations of corruption still abound.

The money siphoned off keeps the elected official in power perpetuating his or her clan in politics. Political parties are paper entities, controlled as they are by an alliance of political families, headed by the dominant patron. Term limits have not solved the problem as Pablo Querubin found, only made it necessary for dynasties to be more entrenched (they have expanded their reach and become “fatter” as Ronald Mendoza has put it in order to guarantee succession when term limits expire).

Underdevelopment can be traced back to this cycle of “patrimonial plunder” as Paul Hutchcroft put it. Jurisdictions in the country that are dominated by political clans have been found by Mendoza to suffer greater poverty and lack of development compared to those that are not. Although the caveat, as Solon, et al point out, is that some development oriented spending can occur, especially following local government devolution, when there are rival clans vying for positions, which may lead to some form of oligopolistic competition as each clan seeks to outbid the other.

This dynamic is no longer confined to local politics or the house of representatives. National elections for the upper house are dominated by dynasties as well. There will be the occasional interloper: a celebrity or media personality who might get in the game, and once in office, will begin to exhibit the same habits as the “insiders”. There will be the occasional grandstanding politician who will denounce the system, but by and large, everyone lends their tacit approval to what goes on.

Filipinos who put so much faith in personalities due to their preference for ” relational contracts” or dealing through close associates, kith and kin, often fail to see that having a few reform-minded politicians whom they trust enter a den of dynasties simply won’t cure the situation. There needs to be a more drastic overhaul.

The big “game changer” has been the revelations courtesy of a whistle blower of corruption at a grand scale allegedly involving an ever growing list of senators and congressmen complicit in fraudulent use of their congressional pork barrel. Fraudulent NGOs are supposed to have been used as fronts to certify the completion of ghost projects. This has sparked a debate over the very legitimacy of pork and calls for its abolition have been raised.

The Palace has responded by simply window dressing the situation, declaring that NGOs must seek certification with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. Benjamin Diokno has serious doubts that this solution will work. He claims the cure is worse than the disease. It is also important to note that some of the allegedly fraudulent deals involve proceeds of the Palace’s “shadowy funds” as Diokno describes them from gambling and oil revenues. So it would be unseemly for a member of the executive to be charged with essentially policing its head.

Aside from calls to abolish pork, the elections of 2013 sparked a separate debate over whether to abolish political dynasties. These seem unlikely to happen. The reason is simple: congressmen and senators for the most part won’t commit an act of political suicide, which is what the abolition of pork and dynasties will mean for them given the dynamic I have summarised above.

Others have called for constitutional change that would convert our system to a parliamentary, Westminster style democracy. This will bring about stronger political parties which they claim will spring into life simply because of the change despite the absence of a strong tradition and set of incentives supporting it. This will definitely not happen. Not under the watch of the current president, anyway, who ironically, is the only one since Cory Aquino to have the numbers in both houses of congress to do so. Such a super majority is hard to come by.

Reforming the political system will require a different set of tools that are less absolute or fundamental on the one hand, but more structural on the other than what the Palace has produced so far. In simple terms, it will involve moves that do not require constitutional amendments or absolute bans, but are more systemic than just tightening the paper trail of pork barrel audits.

What changes am I talking about?

We often think that since poverty is an economic problem it requires an economic solution. So we think that the solution in this case is to fund local projects. Pork barrel or Priority Development Assistance Funds as they are officially named is seen as essential to spread these projects equitably.

But the slow rate of poverty reduction can be empirically connected to the lack of political contestability at the local level.

It is a political problem that requires a political solution. The solution would be to strengthen political parties and decouple them from political dynasties. The policy tools required for this involve a combination of measures.The first pillar involves state funding of political parties, the second pillar involves increasing the salaries of elected officials, the third pillar involves providing equal opportunity for non-dynastic candidates to run for public office under accredited political parties. Pork barrel funds would play a significant role in providing the money to finance these reforms in a budget neutral manner.

The first pillar: funding political parties

The House passed in the 15th Congress a bill called the Political Party Reform Bill. It was a consolidated bill whose sponsors spanned the political spectrum. Had it been acted on by the Senate it would have delivered a significant reform to our political system. Given that one of its principal sponsors is now in the Senate, we should see some progress on this front.

One problem with the current bill, which the senate can refine, is that it is patterned too much after the American system in which state subsidies only become available when the party has raised counterpart funds through contributions from party members and donations from individuals and organisations. This simply is not appropriate for the Philippines at this stage of its political development.

The final bill should simply provide parties access to the pork barrel funds and direct 90-95 per cent of the Php 27 billion in the 2014 or any succeeding budget on a pro-rata basis based on the seats held in both houses. This would mean directing 95 per cent of each senator’s Php 200 million and 90 per cent of each congressperson’s Php 70 million pork barrel allotment to the political party he or she is a member of.

The parties can still engage in development assistance, outreach and projects as prescribed in the draft bill, but it will have to follow a clear set of guidelines and reporting procedures in acquitting these expenses. Centralising pork to the parties would provide an incentive to tow the party line and prevent turncoats by giving the party financial leverage over the local member.

If parties abuse their allocated funds, they can lose their accreditation and the allotments to them will cease. This makes it much easier to discipline offenders and would create a powerful incentive to maintain above board transactions.

The second pillar: increasing salaries of elected officials

The first pillar would aid political parties, but what is in it for the elected official? Why should he or she go along with it if it goes against his or her interests?

As compensation for giving up 90-95 per cent of their pork, the legislator should be given the remaining 5-10 per cent in the form of salaries and other perks. That would mean Php 10 million a year for each senator and Php 7 million for each congressman. The president should receive in my view Php15 million a year for managing a Php2.7 trillion budget.

To lend some perspective to this whole thing, let me benchmark with Australia where each MP receives AU$127,000 (Php 5.3M) a year before allowances. The Prime Minister who is the highest elected official gets AU$330,000 (Php 13.85 million) a year. Each representative also gets an additional AU$100,000 (Php 4.2 million) a year for printing costs as well as $32,000 (Php 1.3 million) in electorate allowance to handle costs incurred in relation to their constituency work.

If we want our elected leaders to walk the narrow path, we should pay them well. The scandal involving paying senators bonuses at the end of the year exposed a serious problem that can be dealt with if we simply paid our elected officials more. Public office is a public trust, but it should not involve living in penury, which then forces public officials to engage in corrupt practices simply to meet the limitless demands of their rent-seeking clients in the community and to recoup their campaign expenditures.

Third pillar: opening access to elective office

The third pillar involves opening access to elective office which means giving equal opportunity for political party members who are not members of political dynasties to be elected into office. If we simply relied on the first two pillars, we would have a weak structure because political dynasties could simply register their own party and get the pork that they would be giving up back by dominating the party with their family members.

The funding of political parties with state funds will only work if political parties are inclusive. In our banking laws and regulations, banks are limited in giving out DOSRI loans, or loans to directors, officers, staff, and related interests of the bank. DOSRI loans are capped at 20 per cent of the bank’s loan portfolio. A bank caught in violation of this rule risks losing its franchise.

We need a similar cap to prohibit spouses and relatives within the 2nd civil degree of consanguinity or affinity from occupying more than a certain ratio of a party’s officially endorsed ticket for a jurisdiction. This would still be in keeping with the Section 26, Article II of the Constitution that says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service political dynasties as may be defined by law.” A dynasty under this arrangement exists when a certain cap is breached. This is different from the way it is defined under Senator Miriam Santiago’s bill which bans spouses and relatives from running alongside an incumbent.

The reason I am suggesting we impose a cap rather than an outright ban is to address the argument that we would be denying dynastic members their rights to pursue higher office and limiting choice among voters. Providing a quota or a cap allows them that right but regulates it so that political races become more contestable. In the same way that governments can regulate competition among firms and force break-ups of companies to prevent undue market power from being concentrated, this new rule on political dynasties would operate.

A new architecture for the future

With these three pillars in place, our political architecture would be better matched to a more modern, progressive society. It will lead to greater professionalism and integrity in our public institutions and elected officials, limiting nepotism, favouritism and corruption.

Through the three pillars outlined above, we can renovate our political system without resorting to drastic Constitutional reform.These reforms will work within the funding envelope that the state already sets for itself. It will reverse the dynamic that has led us to a downward spiral in our political life as dynasties have consolidated their hold on every level of elective office.

The challenge of governing our nation is not simply about the mechanics of government. By that I mean it is not simply about procuring textbooks for students, guns for policemen, equipment for weathermen, flood control systems for our cities, and the like. It is not simply about administering well and honestly, but setting the long-range plan for our nation. And that involves having a vision as well as a political and economic blueprint to build a modern Philippines. The current structure we inhabit is no longer suited to our needs. We need a new architecture for the future.

UPDATE:

The following table should make it clear why we need electoral campaign finance reform. It is a conservative estimate of the cost of fielding a national and local ticket for a general election from president down to councillor. The amount involved in running a full slate is Php 76 billion, Php 5 billion shy of the PDAF for three years of Php 81 billion. The remainder can be used for wage adjustments of national officials and for strengthening Comelec’s and COA’s monitoring systems.

elections

The next table comes courtesy of IDEA a think tank dedicated to electoral reforms. It shows the year in which various countries in Latin America have adopted some form of public funding of political parties. This should be an indication of just how behind the times we are.

Table 1

Just give it to the Ombudsman

My unsolicited advice to a couple of friends – one who works in the Palace and another who writes a popular column – was for them to recommend to the President to turn over the whole Puno event to the Ombudsman. That way the President will not be accused of a whitewash if an internal investigation finds groundless the allegations against former DILG undersecretary Rico Puno. Anyway, they think I’m nuts to begin with so they dismissed my suggestion outright. Hopefully, you won’t.

In the US, a Special Prosecutor is named whenever there is an issue that requires independent investigation. That was done in Nixon’s Watergate and several other gates. Neat, right? Except that in the US, the appointment of a special prosecutor is a highly politicized weapon used by both political parties against each other. Normally, it is the party out of the White House that calls for special prosecutors to investigate allegations against members of the Executive. It is rare when there is a bi-partisan call for one.

We don’t have that problem in this country. The framers of our constitution were wise enough to create an independent constitutional office, the Office of the Ombudsman, with the following powers, functions, and duties:

Article XI Sec. 13 of the Constitution:

The Office of the Ombudsman shall have the following powers, functions, and duties:

1. Investigate on its own, or on complaint by any person, any act or omission of any public official, employee, office or agency, when such act or omission appears to be illegal, unjust, improper, or inefficient.
2. Direct, upon complaint or at its own instance, any public official or employee of the Government, or any subdivision, agency or instrumentality thereof, as well as of any government-owned or controlled corporation with original charter, to perform and expedite any act or duty required by law, or to stop, prevent, and correct any abuse or impropriety in the performance of duties.
3. Direct the officer concerned to take appropriate action against a public official or employee at fault, and recommend his removal, suspension, demotion, fine, censure, or prosecution, and ensure compliance therewith.
4. Direct the officer concerned, in any appropriate case, and subject to such limitations as may be provided by law, to furnish it with copies of documents relating to contracts or transactions entered into by his office involving the disbursement or use of public funds or properties, and report any irregularity to the Commission on Audit for appropriate action.
5. Request any government agency for assistance and information necessary in the discharge of its responsibilities, and to examine, if necessary, pertinent records and documents.
6. Publicize matters covered by its investigation when circumstances so warrant and with due prudence.
7. Determine the causes of inefficiency, red tape, mismanagement, fraud, and corruption in the Government and make recommendations for their elimination and the observance of high standards of ethics and efficiency.
8. Promulgate its rules of procedure and exercise such other powers or perform such functions or duties as may be provided by law.
If we have a credible Ombudsman, like the one we have now, then the sort of congressional probe that Sen. Miriam Santiago held last Friday will be seen for what it is: nothing more than epal, the slang for self-promotion by politicians at taxpayer’s expense.

Here’s Miriam doing some self-promotion in a Tweet several days before her hearing:

“There will be a lot of sound and fury. There will be a lot of sound from Mr. Puno and maybe a lot of fury from me.” (http://t.co/HDgSSQFe) Was she promoting the Bourne Legacy? Dispensing viagra to our sensationalist media?

Here is more of her teasing in a press interview: “Maybe the president is not defending Mr. Puno, but is just trying to assuage or protect the backers of Usec. Puno.” Asked to name the backers, she replied, “Now, I can’t because I may be accused of unfair allegations without any evidence.” More viagra for reporters and politicians who are always looking for someone to screw.

Previous presidents, Fidel Ramos and Gloria Arroyo, appointed controversial ombudsmen. Their appointees were seen as their personal bodyguards against prosecution. Consequently, the public did not give any credibility to their work.

But that’s not the case with Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales. She proved her independence as an associate justice of the Supreme Court. Her legal acumen plus her independence are beyond reproach. She is nobody’s protector. She ain’t nobody’s fool. That’s why on July 11, 2011 the Daan Matuwid president appointed her to serve as Ombudsman. She will serve until 2018, two years after he steps down from office, enough time for her to go after him if he commits any crime during his incumbency. That proves the president had no self-interest in mind when he appointed her.

Consequently, Ombudsman Carpio-Morales is the right person to look into the allegations against Puno, any member of the Cabinet, and anyone else perceived to have close personal ties to the president, not only because that’s her constitutional mandate but more importantly because she has the credibility to do it.

The President could have saved himself a lot of flak from politicians and media if he had simply announced, “I’ve turned the papers over to the Ombudsman. I await her findings and will respect whatever action she may decide to take. If you have any questions, go see her. Now let me get back to work.”

Trust me on this one, Mr. President.

Doing Family Planning in a Pluralist World

Sometimes, the discourse surrounding the reproductive health debate in the Philippines sounds more like it was lifted out of the Middle Ages.

Case in point was the exchange recently held in the Senate between Sen Juan Ponce Enrile and both Pia Cayetano and Miriam Santiago, joint authors of the reproductive health bill in the Senate. Enrile, the former defense secretary who served as the chief architect of Martial Law under Pres Marcos which gave rise to the country’s first population management policy in the 1970s and 80s is now casting the proposed bill on responsible parenthood as a sinister plot on the part of the state to dictate to particularly poor households the number of children they are to have. He said,

What reason can we morally advance to justify the idea embedded in the recesses of Senate Bill No. 2865 to accomplish the sustained and deliberate reduction of the size of Filipino families, especially the poor and marginalized, through birth control in the guise of adopting a reproductive health policy for this country?

The Senate President evidently believes that when the law becomes operationalized, the government will engage in interventions over and beyond what is explicitly stated in the bill, which is to provide couples with informed choice and access to different forms of family planning and reproductive health. He likens the intrusiveness of the State under this imagined scenario to the very heavy handed attempts at social engineering by Fascist dictators, when he argued,

If we condemn the idea of euthanasia that renders mercy killing in the guise of (being merciful) to a needy human being, if we condemn eugenics that advocates selective breeding in the guise of improving hereditary qualities, if we condemn the idea behind the act of Adolf Hitler in exterminating Jews in Europe in the guise of preserving the superiority of the Aryan race, if we condemn the idea behind the killing fields of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the guise of reforming the social ills of his country, and if we condemn the mass graves of Saddam Hussein in Iraq where he buried his political enemies in the guise of maintaining law and order in his country—what reason can we morally advance to justify (the bill)?

The claim of a clandestine agenda behind the bill sounds as though it was made by some crackpot, not by one of the highest officials of the land and one of its legal luminaries. One wonders however whether Enrile truly believes in the competency of the State to: (a) hatch such an elaborate plan, and (b) competently carry it out.

I mean, if even under an authoritarian regime, the government with a more restrictive population management and control policy was not able to effectively implement its policy then, why would it be able to hatch such a devious and deliberate plan today and be able to get away with it?

The simple fact of the matter is, the global consensus that formed around population policy since the 1970s has tended to focus on choice and the ability of couples to decide in a well-informed manner how many children they want to have and stick to such a decision. It is no longer about achieving some pre-determined “optimal size” of the household. And this basic tenet is what the current RH bill embodies.

Under such a framework, the State becomes less intrusive and in fact merely acts as a guarantor and facilitator of last resort to a household of its capacity to make such an all-important decision. Under the current situation, the default “choice” of most couples is the natural family planning method, for the simple reason that they do not have the means to choose otherwise.

This in a way creates a bias in favor of the Catholic Church’s position. In a pluralistic world where even Catholics should be allowed to make a conscious decision about such personal and intimate affairs, such a bias is really untenable. What the RH bill would in effect do is shift the default setting to a more neutral position: one where all the safe and reliable methods are made available and where choice is not restricted.

Given the cultural preference already exhibited by Filipinos for larger families (when compared to other countries, while controlling for income and other variables), such a light-handed approach would only influence those who might have exceeded what they deem their (higher) limit for child rearing. This is demonstrated by a number of cases reported by the media where other family planning options are only considered by poor households primarily the womenfolk when they have given birth to upwards of eight children when six was their desired number.

In other words, through early interventions, what the RH bill is most likely to do is help these families achieve their desired family size which is usually in the order of four, five or six members, rather than force them to limit their household to three or four members.

Now in a pluralist world, such an outcome is perfectly acceptable.

President Aquino signs Rome Stature

President Benigno S. Aquino III signed the Rome Stature of the International Criminal Court (ICC), and sent it to the Philippine Senate for ratification. The Rome Stature of the International Criminal Court is a treaty that established the International Criminal Court. The International Criminal Court can exercise jurisdiction when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute crimes. Read more

The Jueteng Formula

Money bag

If one follows Senator Miriam Santiago, “DILG+PNP = Jueteng” is an important formula. Here is a snippet of her privilege speech, which she gave before the Philippine Senate on 22 September 2010.

The equation DILG + PNP = Jueteng means that illegal jueteng consists of a conspiracy between the interior secretary and the police chief. They are the prime beneficiaries and ultimate protectors of jueteng. If we as a people do not rouse ourselves from our stupor, someday the Philippine president will be elected on the basis of who gets the biggest jueteng contribution.
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