I think per square foot, the Philippines may very well have more tools than Ace Hardware. How else can you explain why so many people seem to have been so impressed with presidential aspirant, Sen. Grace Poe-Llamanzares’s (GPL) performance on that very non-substantive presidential debate a few days ago? Sure, she probably was the candidate who gave the most recitation of statistics and facts but what good would merely parroting information be if her plans, platforms, and visions are pretty much loaded with motherhood statements and broken record promises? Aside from a failure in logic in some of her statements, she also offered no specifics on how she’ll deliver on her lofty goals whatsoever! And we’re supposed to be impressed with that?
During round 1 she was asked to address her having the thinnest resume amongst the lot of contenders. She acknowledges the fact that she is the most inexperienced candidate as she does not have enough government experience. However, in her effort to spin the issue to her advantage, she said: “There is no proof that you will do better because you have been in office longer”. So going with that logic, I suppose that fire-breathing dragons do exist simply because no one has ever conclusively disproven them! But here’s a question, since when does absence of evidence necessarily equate to evidence of absence? The issue is not about treating experience to be the sole criteria for qualification and competence as dogmatic truth. The issue is about justification for caution or even skepticism. In all probability, a more experienced person will perform better than an inexperienced one. Questioning GPL’s qualification and competence for the position she is applying for is about taking a caution on selecting her for the highest post of the land. Isn’t that what the voters are supposed to do? I mean why would VP Binay bashers have no issues warning voters not to elect Binay because of alleged corruption issues if Binay has not been proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law on those corruption allegations yet? We simply cannot assume that the assertion of GPL being the best choice for the job is true simply because it hasn’t been proven false. This smacks of the logical fallacy called Argumentum ad Ignorantiam.
In round 2 the candidates were asked on their plan to reduce poverty. GPL offered a tall order of suggestions such as free irrigation, free lunch at public schools, and more subsidies in the agricultural sector. Feisty Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago (MDS) gave GPL a smack down when she retorted:
“Promises are easy to make. Which president has ever reduced poverty? Where are we going to get the money for these programs?”
Yes, MDS was correct to ask the question. Where are we going to get the money for the programs GPL is suggesting? GPL did not offer any revenue increasing plans to support her lofty goals or ways to plug the holes causing government waste. Even if revenue is increased, how can she ensure that those goals would be totally met given that one of the biggest problems affecting the country’s social welfare (as well as public spending) is government waste through corruption? It is not that the current government or previous governments have not made such lofty goals and promises to the country as what GPL is making. The question is – how is GPL going to achieve realization of those goals and promises? Vito Tanzi laid out a good description on how corruption can affect public expenditure in different ways. This may explain why despite a trend of growing government revenue and expenditure, the Philippine government still failed miserably in providing needed infrastructure and social welfare improvements. The main revenue generator of government is taxes. But if the cause of waste is still not addressed, the lofty goals would still not be realized and the people’s money will continue to be wasted. Plus, a government can only tax individuals and businesses so much before it hits the point of diminishing returns.
In the final round, the candidates were asked about Mindanao issues. GPL was asked if she will push for the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) or whether she will pursue a new agreement. As many Filipinos know, proponents of the BBL assert that the BBL is a “holistic approach to end poverty and conflict in Mindanao”. So given this “end poverty” twist, GPL didn’t really say a direct answer to the question but instead offered a litany of motherhood statements. She said:
“We need a transparent, inclusive, sustainable talks and agreement and consult everyone, including Christians in Mindanao…we also need to invest more in the growth of Mindanao.”
So will she or will she not support BBL? Will she pursue a new agreement or not? While the root of conflict and a lot of problems in Mindanao may be attributed to poverty and while (economic) growth may benefit Mindanao and its people, again she offered no specifics on how she will achieve her vision. The closest thing she mentioned to something specific is her plan to allocate 30% of the government budget to be spent on Mindanao. Here’s a question – since when has the government had the reputation of spending tax payer money wisely? Pumping in more and more money into an economy won’t result in a radical turn-around if the causes of government waste and inefficiencies are left unaddressed and not fixed. Nowhere in her litany of facts, statistics, and motherhood statements did she ever touch on how she will address and fix the causes of government waste and inefficiencies. I don’t even believe she mentioned any specific causes of problems. Take for instance, the energy crisis plaguing Mindanao. An article by the Asia Foundation accounted the problem to inefficiencies such as red tape. We didn’t hear anything from GPL about such causes. All we heard from her were feel good statements.
The problem with candidates like GPL is the simplistic belief that increased government spending will automatically bring economic prosperity and stability. Without addressing the causes of problems such as budget waste, inefficiencies and red tape, merely pumping in more money would not result in a healthy economy (or even a healthy citizenry). A government can only tax the people and businesses so much before it reaches the point of diminishing returns. A government can only borrow money so much before it falls towards the cliff of insolvency. Perhaps GPL and her fans should stay at the Holiday Inn next time so that there can be some sort of basis for believing that GPL is really smart.
(Image taken from LinkedIn)
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