• Are politicians at the root of our deep poverty?



    THE journalists who seriously covered the first law-writing exercise in 1987, post martial rule and right after the ratification of the Constitution, were forced to drop their blind adherence to an orthodoxy—that politicians were corrupt and incompetent. And that their first impulse was to dip their dirty fingers into the national till. The change of mind had something to do with how the 8th Congress devoted itself to the task of nation-building via writing good laws.

    In bursts of inspired law writing, the 8th Congress passed the Free High School and the Senior Citizens Act, created the PhilHealth and the Tesda and passed other landmark laws that forged a compact between the government and the sectors that needed state support more.

    In short, laws that upheld the social contract and pushed to the maximum the fulfilment of the old English doctrine parens patriae, that the state is the father to its citizens. After a relatively long debate, a less-than-radical agrarian reform law was passed, the centerpiece agenda then. Even it was full of loopholes and flaws, the passage of a land reform law was deemed as an act of making the impossible, possible. That the law sailed through a Congress dominated by landlords, descendants of landlords and lawyers to corporate landholdings was testament to the consensus to pass good laws.

    A total logging ban bill failed to pass. But in two chambers of loggers and captives of logging interests, the mere elevation of a total logging ban into matters of high national urgency was a small victory.

    That debt condonation, debt write-off and more concessional terms on debt repayment was the economic issue that dominated the advocacy and was another high point in the 8th Congress. This meant that Congress was serious about how making the most out of the international goodwill that the then government had, which in effect would lighten the debt burden and get more money into the rebuilding efforts.

    Who can forget the vote that doomed the fate of the RP-US Military Bases Agreement and the quivering voice of the late Jovy Salonga as he banged the gavel to announce the results of the historic anti-bases vote?

    From that glorious time on until today, what has been the thrust and gist of law writing in the country? Upholding the social contract. Passing the Free College Act, creating state colleges and universities and nurturing the grand concept of parens patriae.

    Even while congressmen and senators conspired with Janet Napoles and dipped their dirty fingers into the national till, the efforts to prop up the government’s social contract with the citizens remains the end-all and be-all of law writing.

    Do our politicians, corrupt as they are, ever pass laws to cut taxes for the rich and the rich alone at the expense of the poor and the middle clas ? No.

    Do our politicians, greedy as they are, pass laws to scrap established privileges for the poor and the marginal sectors like what the current Republican Party of Mr. Trump is doing right now in the US? No.

    Do our politicians, dynastic and power-hungry as they are, condemn the public university system as a waste of time and effort? Do they ever attempt to cut subsidies and support to state colleges and universities? No.

    What we have is essentially a Keynesian and redistributionist Congress and no amount of personal corruption on the part of its members can deny this fact.

    So what then is the basis of these supposed studies by school of governments of elite universities that say that politicians and political dynasties, bad as they are, are the root cause of the deep poverty in the country, in particular the Club 20 provinces?

    Nothing. Zero. A Congress that writes redistributionist laws is not a Congress that creates the environment for mass and deep poverty. In fact, it is the body of laws that these corrupt lawmakers have been writing and continue to write that provides relief and support to the marginal sectors.

    It was also the dogged effort of these corrupt lawmakers that was behind the creation of those public hospitals that cater mostly to the poor. And the so-called “point of care” programs that provide free surgeries. Their recommendations, threats etc. have been forcing the aid agencies of the executive branch to intensify their efforts to help the sick and the needy.

    Politicians rig those public works contracts to force the DPWH to award the public works contracts to their favored contractors and suppliers. Politicians were the architect of Napoles-type corruption and anomalies. Politicians would always find ways to violate the Government Procurement Act. All true.

    And every time an opportunity to make money comes along, politicians giddily take advantage of that.

    Yet, there is no empirical evidence that they are to be blamed for the country’s deep and intractable poverty. The evidence, through the redistributionist and Keynesian laws they love to write, prove otherwise.

    So, why are the elite universities blaming the politicians? Two reasons. First, adherence to an orthodoxy. Second, they have to cover up for the Top 1 percent that sucks up most of the national wealth and are the real reasons behind the deep inequality and poverty.


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