The conventional wisdom is that changing the tenant by the Pasig a couple of years from now will automatically produce a revolutionary if not reformist governance that can right all wrongs and shortcomings that now plague the nation. The idea that a maestro, by waving a magic wand, so to speak, can produce a miracle of good governance and development is at best quixotic.
If we believed the mantras proclaimed by previous occupants of the Palace hot seat, this nation should have already catapulted into the ranks of developed economies.
The problem is that development is teamwork. Like soccer and basketball teams, the captain ball or star players cannot win games by themselves. The Lakers could not win the NBA relying solely on Kobe and the Argentine team lost to the Germans even with Messi leading the attack.
Governance is like a tripod resting on three legs—the executive, legislative and judiciary. Any weakness in any of the legs will tilt the balance and cause the occupant to fall. But this are only structures of governance that requires a vision of development. In liberal democracies this vision or program is provided by political parties. Their visions vary depending on what side of the political spectrum they belong.
In a country bereft of competitive political parties, ruling administrations just react to conditions and improvise as best they can. If the administration is slow in spending, “disbursement acceleration program” funds are invented and an orgy of spending is embarked on with dubious results.
Most countries adopt full employment programs so that no one is economically left behind. In this country a full quarter of the population is unemployed or underemployed. The band aid remedy is “conditional cash transfers.” Giving them fish today instead of making them fishermen creates a culture of dependence.
The culture of dependence is perpetuated by an overly centralized administration creating an imperial Manila based in Malacaòang. This prevents the development of the rural areas where you have a concentration of the unemployed and its accompanying poverty. Filipinos cannot seem to get rid of the messianic mentality—still hoping for a political messiah to redeem them from underdevelopment. Accordingly they create and surround a popular figure that the politically entrenched economic elite can control and foist him on the masses, whom the current president calls his “boss.”
In our country with a strong presidency—a legacy of that consummate politician Manuel L. Quezon—the longest reigning president we have had, competitive political parties cannot thrive. What happens is the politics of opportunism creates political chameleons that suck whatever bounties can be dispensed by the “capo di cappi tutti” or the godfather in the Palace.
Today we are again dreaming of a benevolent dictator when we should be concentrating in the strengthening of a representative government that makes governance participatory. To think that a mere freedom of information law will automatically restore honesty and transparency is wishful thinking. The best check and balance is a competitive party system with strong and viable opposition parties that can oversee administrations.
In the meantime pork through political transubstantiation will morph into beef as astute members of Congress, in a desperate act of political survival, will again load the general appropriations act with lump sums—the better to cut up into choice cuts that will end up in their larder mostly even if they allow some crumbs to fall off their rich tables for the benefit of their constituents. Sadly a constituency fed on a pork diet will turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the protestations of the middle class for fiscal reforms. Masa approval of the dole-out system will surely override the pious protestations of the urbanites not dependent on “cash transfers.”
In the absence of an adequate social security system – the office of the legislators have become transformed into a quasi-SSS whose administrators receive even greater benefits than the beneficiaries!
To start with, the broadsheets should devote less space to Malacaòang reporters and focus on other institutions of government and report on the work of line agencies and rural agencies.
Lastly, let us now and finally implement the much awaited devolution and decentralization of the government apparatus. Who knows—with fiscal autonomy and a bottom-up approach to budgeting, the pork will finally melt and this nation’s bad cholesterol levels will drastically drop.