The Impractical Elitism of an Incorrect Perspective on Reform

Like A Fish Needs A BicycleThis article is substantially based on an article I originally wrote in November, 2010 entitled “Applying the Right Fix: Charter Change and the Philippine Condition.” While the essential points made in the original article are still valid today, the Philippines is not exactly the same country it was two-and-a-half years ago, for better or worse; the fundamental problem of the country — an overall lack of prosperity, and an inequitable distribution of such prosperity as is actually present — has not changed (and will not change in the foreseeable future), but our understanding of it and the possible solutions to it has evolved. It has to; if any progress is to be made, the effort towards it must begin with a clearly-defined, practicable strategy appropriate to the present social and political context.

The inability of the “leadership” of the constitutional reform advocacy to recognize that concepts do not and cannot exist in a vacuum is its greatest failure. When an idea becomes fixed it loses its validity because it cannot grow and adapt to new knowledge and new arguments. The constitutional reform advocacy, such as it is, is a construct, not a movement. Movement implies engagement, debate, and synthesis; a construct, however, encourages an all-or-nothing perspective — it is either perfect and should be accepted, or wholly imperfect. In short, the argument in favor of it becomes not one of evidence, but of faith: canonical reliance on the original ideas and their sources, and dogmatic responses to dissent. Criticism is not viewed as it ought to be — as a challenge to objectively prove conventional ideas — but rather as blasphemy.

But lest this turn into the same style of top-heavy polemic the constitutional reform advocacy, such as it is, favors as a defensive tactic, let us revisit the flawed assumptions upon which the “grand formula for progress” is built:

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Assumption #1: Removing the protectionist provisions of the Constitution will remove the barriers to foreign investment.

Addressing the parts of the Constitution which restrict foreign investment in the Philippines can be done in two ways: the offending parts of the Constitution (specifically, Sections 2, 7, 10, 11, and 14 of Article XII, “National Economy and Patrimony”, Section 14 of Article XIV, and Section 11 of Article XVI) can either be removed, or they can be amended to loosen the current restrictions, which in general proscribe foreign ownership of property, more than 40% of any business, or practice of any profession except those permitted by law.

Simply removing the provisions actually does not remove the restrictions, because most of those are codified in the Foreign Investment Act of 1991 (RA 7042, amended by RA 8179 of 1996), and the two extensive “Exclusion Lists” appended to it. No longer having provisions in the Constitution addressing these issues leaves the matter in the hands of the Legislature, and potentially subject to the same various vested interests and ulterior motives that constitutionalized an autarky in the first place and have stubbornly maintained it ever since. By the same token, amending the provisions to define the limits of patrimony presents the same risks. Without being able to ensure that enough members of the Legislature or Convention are representatives with a foreign investment-friendly point of view and sufficiently resistant to protectionist lobbying pressure, the champions of economic liberalization risk defeat, or at least an incomplete victory.

That would be a disastrous setback for the country because the benefits of foreign investment are quite clear:

FDI effects

The Philippines has one of the most restrictive investment environments among 87 countries assessed by the World Bank, and partly as a consequence of that, a moribund economy in comparison to its regional neighbors, particular Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam. The real benefit to foreign investment is the capital it provides to allow for domestic economic development — the interplay of the three areas that comprise the sovereign environment in the right-hand side of the diagram above. Which leads us to…

Assumption #2: Foreign investment is the critical component necessary for developing the domestic economy.

Foreign investment is a critical component for developing the economy, but by no means the only one, and if the others are overlooked, by itself it will represent, at best, a cashflow stream lost to consumption; if it were otherwise, then the vast amount of OFW remittances flowing into the country at a rate that represents about one-seventh of the Philippines’ GDP would be reflected in a vibrant and growing economy. In a study published in the Southwestern Economic Review in 2009, Economists Dosse Toulaboe, Rory Terry, and Thomas Johansen of Fort Hays State University demonstrated that

“FDI is a strong contributor to economic growth, that this (direct) contribution is about equal in both lower-income and middle-income countries, that FDI does interact with human capital formation to provide enhanced economic growth, and that this interaction term is more pronounced in more advanced countries. Our results lead to the conclusion that absorptive capacity in the host country is important for FDI to fully impact economic growth.” [emphasis added]

It is in the absorptive capacity of the Philippines where the root causes of the country’s economic morass lay. Core cultural dimensions that present obstacles to standard and universally-recognized modes of conducting business, a lack of respect for and enforcement of property rights, an extensive informal economy, an absence of a uniform credit risk assessment paradigm (and along with that, a general shortage of available credit), preference for casual and contract labor (and along with that, pervasive, institutionalized nepotism and discrimination), a poor educational system, poor infrastructure, appalling environmental management, and an inefficient and inherently unstable government structure are all individual factors that reduce the Philippines’ capacity to absorb FDI benefits, and are all native problems for which the absence of FDI cannot be blamed. Removing protectionist ”˜safeguards’ only provides an opportunity to attract more foreign investment; without an investment environment that actually is attractive, there is no reason to assume foreign investors will not continue to go to the country’s formidable regional competitors.

All that, however, is a matter of management; improve the management structure, and the Philippines will be better able to absorb the benefits of foreign investment and develop its own economy.

All of that is just as valid now as it was when I wrote it; even President BS Aquino, in that ironic way he has of sometimes being inadvertently right about something, in some of his recent comments recognized the basic reality that unrestricted foreign investment is not a universal feature of successful economies. Other more recent studies (Klaus Meyer, et al., in the Strategic Management Journal in 2009; James Walsh and Jiangyan Yu for the International Monetary Fund in July, 2010; Bruce Blonigen and Jeremy Piger of the National Bureau of Economic Research in January, 2011) besides the one mentioned above also back the assertion that it is the country’s absorptive capacity — which in turn is a function of its domestic potential for capital creation — that is the most important determinant of FDI attractive power; notably, “investment restrictions” are considered only a minor factor, if they are considered at all.

So does that mean that eliminating or easing investment restrictions is a bad idea? Certainly not. But what it does mean is that the goal is not nearly as critical for the country’s development as we might suppose, and this is where the issue of practicality (and where the advocacy’s stubborn insistence on full liberalization demonstrates a complete lack of it) comes into play. Like it or not, the hands which firmly hold the levers of power in this country now are clearly against the idea, and to make the challenge even more difficult, actually have some scholarly evidence on their side. The investment environment certainly must be improved, but only those who have the flexibility that not surrendering to a dogmatic position provides will be able to find the avenues available to accomplish that.

But, or so we could imagine the constitutional reform advocacy to argue, a large proportion of the dysfunction in the Philippines’ economic environment can be attributed to the poor performance of its systems of governance and administration; correcting these inefficient and too-easily compromised frameworks would provide a better institutional environment for equitable economic growth. That is an entirely valid point of view, but where it falls apart is in the prescription of specific replacements for those systems:

Assumption #3: A Federal system would be a more effective administrative framework for the Philippines than its present Unitary system.

This assumption — which, in the interest of full disclosure, is one which I would like to make myself — is dangerous because it is subjective. There is simply no way of knowing with any degree of certainty whether or not federalizing the Philippines would actually work better than keeping the unitary system. Comparisons with other countries are invidious, and of no guidance in any case; there are as many successful unitary systems as unsuccessful ones. The same can be said of federal systems; some work well (Australia, Brazil, Canada, the United States), and some do not (Mexico, Pakistan, Nepal, Russia).

Empirical research is likewise contradictory. One very sound study presented at a meeting of the American Political Science Association in 2004 by John Gerring, S.C. Thacker, and Carola Moreno of Boston University concluded

“Unitarism is associated (at the ninety-five percent level of confidence or better) with better telecommunications infrastructure, lower import duties, greater trade openness, higher regulatory quality, and higher levels of per capita GDP, across both full and reduced-form models. It is significant at the ninety percent confidence level in the reduced form model for investment rating.

“Results for our three measures of human development are also encouraging. Unitarism is significantly associated with lower infant mortality and illiteracy rates. Results for life expectancy are strongly significant in the reduced form but not in the full model.

“It appears that unitary systems hold distinct advantages over federal ones across a wide range of indicators of political, economic and human development. In only one case — the full-form model for political stability — do federal structures appear to offer an advantage in good governance. Results for Unitarism are especially strong for economic and human development.”

By contrast, a study done in the same year by Christos Kotsogiannis of the University of Exeter and Robert Schwager of the Georg-August-Universität Göttingen found that policy innovation is actually encouraged under a federal system — with the interesting caveat that this occurs when the state- or local-level leader has ambitions for Federal office, and must “signal his ability to the electorate”:

“The simple framework analyzed is rich in implications. It is shown that, strikingly, the possibility that a federal system is more conducive to policy experimentation than a unitary system, once the political process for federal office is accounted for, is a real one. This reverses the conclusion of Rose-Ackerman (1980) and Strumpf (2002) and validates the conventional wisdom that has been vividly expressed in the quotation by Justice Brandeis: ”˜It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.’”

That the Philippines is not getting the most of its present unitary system is a gross understatement, but whether or not a federal system is the best solution to that comprehensive problem is still a matter for legitimate debate. Anecdotally, at least, federalism seems suitable for the Philippines, a non-contiguous land comprising several distinct cultural groups. But if we dismiss the empirical evidence of Gerring, et al., and accept that of Kotsogiannis and Schwager that adds a question to our final assumption:

Assumption #4: A Parliamentary form of government is necessary for the formation of strong political parties, and issue-oriented politicians and voters.

It is quite obvious the current system does not work; what the drive to implement the “grand formula” has not demonstrated is that the current system cannot work, or that it absolutely requires sweeping changes in order for it to work. Under current conditions, almost all of the negative effects of “personality politics” on government at the national level can be attributed to the simple absence of some provision for ensuring a majority President (either through some form of electoral system or a provision for run-off elections), and the prohibition on the President’s serving more than one term.

While still requiring charter change, correcting those two flaws would be far less disruptive than a wholesale change in system — a system that, even at its most structured, does not oblige the political class of this country to move away from the election mechanisms of personality and transactionalism that have served them well in making their appeal to the vast D- and E-segments of the population whose choices determine the national leadership. Even that most parliamentary of concepts — bloc voting — offers no real solution to the problem, because it is a concept with which the Philippine electorate is already quite familiar: every barangay in the country, the lowest level of government, within just the past couple weeks featured an election contest between “Team Juan” and “Team Jose” — collections of personalities. If issues are a part of the contest at all, they are retroactive — “Vote for me because this is what I did,” not “Vote for me because this is what I plan to do.”

This pattern exists at every level of the government, right up to the top office in the land. If the average Philippine voter was actually interested in a candidate’s “signaling his ability” and capable of judging it, the two arguably least-qualified candidates in 2010’s crowded presidential election field would not have finished first and second. That is a flaw in the country’s social character, not in its political character; a parliamentary system, while not a bad stand-alone concept by any means, nevertheless addresses effects rather than causes — it is likely a valuable part of the solution, but by itself solves very little. When considered in the context of Kotsogiannis and Schwager’s demonstration that federalism alone can inspire policy innovation; the necessity of prioritizing parliamentarianism appears to wane significantly.

The perspective towards these two assumptions still basically holds true, but must also be considered in the revealing context of the recently-concluded elections. Most of the anger of the online chattering class continues to be directed towards the presumed illegitimacy of the election process, and the implication is, “If the elections were not fraudulent and/or hopelessly technically flawed, candidates who should not have won would not have been declared the winners.”

Which begs the question, “Should not have won, according to whom?” How do we, the thin 10 or 12 percent of the Philippine population, know that the outcome did not perfectly represent the majority view of the 88 to 90 percent of the population in the D and E classes? Can we actually presume that the antics of the candidates — vote-buying, fiesta campaigning, and personal positioning — and for that matter, the dynastic nature of the entire political class (which, we should remind ourselves, includes even “respectable” candidates like Dick Gordon), are not exactly what the democratic majority expects, and is perfectly comfortable with using as a basis for its choices? Consider the alternative of a perfectly honest, technically flawless, efficient election — given the choices presented to the electorate would the result, in other words, the victory of every candidate who “should have” won, really have been substantially better, or even different?

That in a nutshell is an illustration of the same sort of unjustifiable elitism — unjustifiable, because this remains a democracy, for better or worse — that characterizes the prescription for specific alternative forms of government: The idea that the small minority “knows better.” The present state of the country is indeed strong evidence that, at the very least, the far greater majority is probably getting it all very wrong, but tyranny of the masses is an unavoidable aspect of democracy. And there are only two ways to deal with that: Either do away with democracy, or change the aspirations and beliefs of the tyrannical masses.

The reform advocacy would say that the latter is precisely what they are trying to achieve, and we can perhaps give them the benefit of the doubt as to their intentions. The results of any effort, however, are another matter. Two elections have resulted in archetypes of traditional Philippine politics, the latest worse than the first because the only possible outcome — election irregularities or not — was a further entrenchment of the “trapos”. Assuming (a big assumption with regard to the key people involved, but one we’ll make for the sake of a substantive assessment) the utmost effort to “gain the support of the masses” is being made, the reason for its failure is obvious. Much like the trapos the masses willingly send to office, the reform advocacy is asking the masses to take the outcomes of their choices on faith: “Do this, and things will be better.” Given the choice between the familiar — the singing, dancing politician who speaks to ethnic pride, and is always ready with a strategically-given bag of rice or financial help from the government till for a sick family member — and an unfamiliar concept that not only has no obvious tangible relevance to most peoples’ personal, short-term outlooks, but suggests to them they will be required to put forth intellectual effort in ways they have never done before, the familiar choice will always win.

In the past few months, the characterization of the Philippines by the rest of the world’s media has shifted from being a promising emerging economy to a country whose flashy new castle is built on a foundation of sand; for all the positive indications of a healthy stock market, growing GDP, and improving credit ratings, poverty, unemployment, and the income gap not only persist, but are increasing. Just this week, we learned that perhaps as many as four million families — 20 million people, according to the official definition of “average family” — regularly go hungry. These are immediate problems, for which there are more immediate solutions than the abstractions of casual political theory. The work that needs to be done now requires pragmatism, compromise, and a short-term focus. But if that work is done, and done correctly, the necessity — and more importantly, the national ambition — for remolding Philippine society in true first-world fashion will arise.

74 Replies to “The Impractical Elitism of an Incorrect Perspective on Reform”

  1. V well written and informative.

    Graphic reminds me of a childrens poem by jack prelutsky
    My fish can ride a bicycle,

    And an adapted saying
    The philippines needs pnoy as much as a fish needs a bicycle.

    guess the reality is charter change is as likely as fish riding a bike, or pigs flying, but maybe pnoy protesteth too much and with a puppet congress and senate could now change the constitution for political gain and extended/second term.

  2. Dude…you may change the Constitution, but, if the same people are there, with the same political dynasties. It will be the same Dogs, with different collars. Our problems are enormous. They have been filled like Landfills, over the years. All you dig, is Garbage.Trash politicians.

    1. Yes, U R correct SIR!!!
      2 C a change?
      They all MUST go!!!
      Question: What do u call 200 Filipino politicians at the bottom of the Sea of Mindanao?

        1. Yes, until then? there will be no change and no future for anyone who is not already established in the criminal hierarchy. and that is one dismally shitty future for an entire nation of people to face. IDK why the people are not completely outraged.
          I really do hope that you actually are not expecting anything to change after the recent elections…I mean, it is a total waste of time to even have these elections. WTF for? not a single thing will change, NOT ONE!
          It is the old, frog dipped in the slowly boiling water routine, I guess! Once the frog realizes what is going on, and that water is boilin its ass (“Dinner is served…”.), it is just too late!
          SUX! get out while you can, anyway you can.

  3. IT IS OBVIOUS that the country does not need foreigners nearly as much as many think. what the country needs is a better, non-corrupted administrator of the publics funds. That includes all of the profits being pilfered out of the GOCC’s which should be going into gov’t. projects to improve the countries infrastructure, reduce poverty, low cost public housing but it is instead diverted into corrupt officials pockets. it is speculated that 1/2 the GDP of the country is un-accounted for,and that is probably a low-ball figure as it was figured out by a senate panel in 2010. Imagine if the gov’t. had not stolen half the GDP of the country for the last 50 yrs. what the country would look like today? Real buses instead of ram-shackle jeepney’s, a real rail system, modern hi-way system nation-wide. the country should prosper, could have been a Singapore but for the thieves that have robbed the people.

    1. Or, there’s always the first option mentioned:

      “And there are only two ways to deal with that: Either do away with democracy, or change the aspirations and beliefs of the tyrannical masses.”

      The Philippines already is a fiefdom in everything but name, anyway; all it probably needs is someone to just publicly blurt it out and be honest about it.

  4. orion perez dumdum is such a scumbag for sticking to his own view most of the time and shoving it in our faces!

    1. so you flee here and post against Orion. you and your friends cannot do anything but bash on Orion even though he has done more for advancing the cause for reform than your sourgraping and self hating against your countrymen 😛

      1. I’ll agree that bashing anyone personally (rather than their ideas) is unseemly, although the personality in question has behaved so badly — to the extent that it has crossed the line into the legally-actionable in some cases — towards me and others that lashing out in kind is very tempting. That, however, does not accomplish anything.

        So y’all mind your manners and talk about the topic, not the people, is what I’m saying.

      2. Well, well, look at you. You sound like a fanatic, haven’t you noticed? I’m starting to think most of your group are this low, acting like weird, EDGY, sneering kids and regarding yourselves as the sole, infallible bearers of light. That sure turns off people like me.

      3. If Mr Orion could just show sensibility just this guy did, I’m sure he’ll get somewhere. His posts here lacks etiquette, treading on legal land mines.

    2. Orion Perez Dumdum, a scumbag for doing in-depth research on a political system that has just been an abstraction to many reform-minded Filipinos until his tireless campaign to promote it online? Please do not use this word loosely on people who truly care and spend lots of time and effort out of their busy schedules to give life to an idea which has remained shrouded in political propaganda from the ignorant mass media practitioners in the country.

      If we were a normal country, this debate on constitutional reform would have been sustained and given depth by those in the media and would have been given a stronger push for implementation. While what the above writer has said in many words of the immediacy of finding solutions to heart-rending problems facing the country is true, it shouldn’t stop us from debating and propagating the idea of constitutional change which is I believe is a system that is better than the current one.

      Certainly, charter change has been bruited about in the media before and has been articulated by intelligent presidential candidates, but just like many issues in the country, no sustained public discourse has been done to give it legitimacy. It has been made hostage to the vested interests of politicians. But the younger generation and there are those in the CoRRECT movement who are slowly but surely making it topical in universities, could make it mainstream idea in the future.

      The push for constitutional reform is not a hindrance to the immediate solutions Ben Kirtz has proposed for our chronic problems or poverty and ignorance.

        1. Phil Garcia,

          I think the problem with the leading writers here and with Orion lies in personality differences. It is best not to resort to name-calling when posting something, although I can also be guilty of this.

        2. @Miriam Quiamco: You can start by desisting from any further effort to presume to know what went on between Orion and us. What you think happened may be based on information you get from various sources I don’t really care to speculate on. Thing is, none of it comes from any of us in GRP and, certainly, there will be none coming your way about this from us anytime in the future.

          Phil, nice to see you come out of your comfort zone in the FB GRP Community. But try to mind your manners. Note that I am saying this nicely now.

        3. Orion has no respect for other human beings who don’t share his views. You’ll end up being his number one enemy the minute he detects the slightest hint that you are questioning his ideas.

          He is an onion-skinned crybaby. He can’t handle criticism like a real gentleman. I can’t believe he is leading a group of people advocating for a parliamentary system of government. You guys should remove him if you want to succeed in your advocacy.

          He’s not a real intellectual. He’s nothing without the bigwigs he keeps quoting in his long-winded comments and articles.

        4. @Miriam

          You guys remind me of rabid Noynoy supporters. You are willing to turn a blind eye to Orion’s appalling behaviour towards other people just because you share his views on the parliamentary system of government. Shame on you.

  5. Ben, I’ve got to give you props. Very interesting read.

    It’ll just be a matter of time before the “star” of the advocacy comes barging in and tells you off for “moderating your position” on “constitutional reform”, so to speak.

    1. I’m surprised he hasn’t already; maybe I’m actually faster at writing kilometric articles than he is, but I am a professional after all.

      You’re right, “moderating one’s position” is always tossed out there like it’s a bad thing. Blasphemy. There is another institution we’re all familiar with in this country that behaves like that; I think we can pretty much agree that one hasn’t really helped, either.

      1. I prefer short and sweet. People will digest info more easily in shorter forms.

        And on “moderating one’s position…” isn’t changing one’s mind or opinion based on what they learn over time a basic right?

        1. There are still Filipinos, apparently, who consider “moderating one’s position”, in light of new knowledge or circumstances, treachery, “pantataksil”, or “pambabalimbing”

  6. Great article! In my own opinion; Constitutional “Reform”, Foreign Direct Investment and/or an alternate (or adjusted) form of Government (although I favor the Federal method) will not do anything to change the mindset and inaction of Philippine Government. On the other hand, insofar as Constitutional Reform/FDI is concerned, the Government can continue to carry on as they have been so long as they do not interfere (erroneous TROs, Contract Terminations, etc). Foreign companies would be able to operate here providing the points outlined in you graphic. In short, (foreign) business will do what it does best. Philippine Government and its Politicians, however, will continue to remain stunted until such time as the people of the Philippines stops electing complete fools to the highest levels of Office.

    1. And as I have said, and what others here have said in different ways, that’s not going to stop happening until the people of the Philippines have reasons to care enough not to elect complete fools. That’s something that takes a long time; just look at my country — there are no shortage of complete assclowns (ahem, Michelle Bachman) who repeated get elected to office, and even now, there is serious discussion about the possibility of the next mayor of New York being a guy who is best known for sending Twitter pictures of his boner to teenaged girls.

      And in Parliamentary Italy, it took them three tries to produce something resembling a majority coalition, and when they did, it was one formed by a scandal-plagued ex-PM and a comedian.

      This is the world in which ideas exist. We don’t have to like it, but if we want anything positive to happen, we have to be realistic about our environment so we have a better chance of dealing with it effectively.

      1. If there were ever proof needed of what America’s founding fathers referred to as “the tyranny of the majority,” elections in the Philippines are it. In their wisdom, they installed a decidedly UN-democratic institution to prevent the leadership of the US from becoming dependent on the whim of a naive, disinterested populace.

        Sadly, the 1986 Constitutional Commission did not see the wisdom in creating mechanisms to address the inherent anarchy of an “absolute” democracy. Or perhaps it was precisely because they were aware of this fact that they chose to avoid imposing controls?

        1. There you go again, THE FOUNDING FATHERS? You do not know jack-shit about the “Founding Fathers” of the U.S.A…or what they said… OR even WHO THEY WERE (WAIT,…I suppose you have a list , HUH?AHAHAHAHAHAHAH) and now YOU QUOTE THEM…AS IF they ever said it!!!

          STFU!!!! you clue-less idiot. STFU!

          you obviously have no clue as to what an idiot you sound like when you say “Founding Fathers of the U.S.A.”,you really are an I-D-I-O-T!(“Hey look, now he is going to go get his list of the “Founding Fathers of the U.S.A.” HAHAHAHAHAH….BWAHAHAHAHAHAH.”) What a fuckin idiot! the funniest part is you pretending to quote them, BWAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!! Holy Shit, I could never even make this up!!!!! AHAHAHAHAHAH!LMAO ROTFLMAO!!!!(“TELL US JONNY”,HAHAHAHAHAHAHAH!!!!)

        2. Appears I’ve got Gerry on my boot. Always annoying scraping it off.

          (“So y’all mind your manners and talk about the topic, not the people, is what I’m saying.” Something the pile Gerry arrogantly continues to ignore.)

          In the midst of Gerry’s phony laughter to cover its supine incompetence, it failed to address the issue of the post. In contrast to America’s elections, the Philippines has no system to curb the anarchy arising from a direct popular election. If we did have a structure for choosing and limiting the number of candidates, the election would be more organized and have more focus. This would force the creation and streamlining of organized political parties that actually stand for some thing. Unlike today’s chaotic political environment that can have any number of political parties, advocacy and party list groups.

      2. @BenK, they are not ‘complete fools’, they are well organized criminals, taking turns in a political ‘theatre’. intelligent, cunning, lying and thieving scumbags that rob the people blind and smile and call themselves by catchy nicknames as if they are the people’s friends! Meanwhile they have every business in the country monopolized in their favor in their li’l fiefdoms and the ‘lucky’ serfs who kiss their asses get political appointments to jobs and government contracts. Which are never completed.
        Sorry Ben, I do not want to rain on your parade, I really do not,BUT…..
        Anyone who thinks otherwise is the fool.

        1. Well okay, I’ll grant they do accomplish something. But if you’ve ever met some of them, you’d be more amazed that they ever accomplish anything, given the lack of intellectual depth that seems to be common.

        2. @BenK, they show up regularly at fight night in Vegas….and I am never impressed. The fact that they never get anything accomplished is part of the cunning they use to rule the people.
          They say shit like,”It got bottled up in committee” and things like that but what that means is they have no intention of changing the way things are because they want things to stay the way they are.
          Rich people NEED lots of poor ones!that is why they seemingly never get anything accomplished, and that, in itself, is accomplishing exactly what they set out to do!
          they are not as slick as they wish they were though. When it is understood that they are full of shit, well-organized criminals ,they and their actions become extremely predictable.

    2. it is not the people’s fault. look at who they have to choose from, and when someone who will do something that is anyway contrary to the established corruption minded order(here it comes…wait…wait…) they end up drowned in an airplane that has crashed into the ocean while trying to make an emergency landing!
      OR, if a person somehow manages to get on the ballot, the election is rigged and the person has NO HOPE of winning even if they have the # of votes necessary to win (see CDO 2010 mayoral election for a quick reference!).
      There is only one way to correct what has happened in the country, and it will be VERY ugly when someone FINALLY has the BALLS to stand up to the tyranny of the current political scheme. REMEMBER: they are all the same, each and every one of them! and that is why no one goes to jail, no money is ever returned and the same political families keep popping up, generation after SLEAZY generation.

  7. Excellent piece Mr Ben.

    “There is simply no way of knowing with any degree of certainty whether or not federalizing the Philippines would actually work better than keeping the unitary system.”

    I think you answered that when you pointed out there is “a flaw in the country’s social character.” Even if the case for federalism looks good on paper, “a culture heavily resistant to development” trumps any benefits we might gain from this switch. For the same reasons that a parliamentary system will solve little in Filipino society today.

    Worse, decentralization under a federal system may well be the mechanism that causes the balkanization of the country. The Philippines under federal rule cedes power to warlords and political dynasties within their respective localities. It sends the signal that the national government has given up on any attempt to forge a truly national — Filipino — character. Instead, the provinces will be left to the tender mercies of the local strongman and their individual (local) political interests.

  8. Nice post sir and interesting read!

    Anyway, prepare yourselves from the inquisitors of the reform agenda movement, and some certain Troll and thread hijacker named Mr. Jose Jeremy S..

    1. They are welcome to respond (keeping in mind, of course, that I have access to the kill switch and a much narrower concept of “free speech” than most people), but since I would expect that to be the usual typically long-winded version of “But…but…but…”, I will be turning my attention to a consultation from which a specific plan for amending the Foreign Investment Negative List will result.

      1. That work on the Foreign Investment Negative List seems like a start. Personally, I would prefer its elimination. But let’s see how this plan goes, it might be good.

  9. Nothing here seems to tell me that Ben is against constitutional reform and all that. He’s open to it (as am I). He’s just pointing out problems with how to promote it.

      1. Even in a dysfunctional democracy that is present in the country, pluralism of opinion has its value. The issue of a shift to parliamentary form government is not elitist and certainly not incorrect as a reform piece of agenda. I therefore take issue on the title of this article.

      2. I respectfully disagree with your take on why FDIs will not benefit the Philippines at all. True, we have issues regarding property rights and other structural imperatives you mentioned, but I don’t think the Philippines as a country is uniquely lacking in those areas you mentioned. Countries like Vietnam, China, Thailand, and even Cambodia and soon Myanmar have demonstrated some “absorptive capacity” in regards to FDIs despite being similarly weak states like the Philippines. FDIs could actually jump start reforms towards strengthening the country’s limitations in “absorptive capacity”. You rightly pointed out that the Philippines does not have the “absorptive capacity” of FDI benefits that first world countries have, and that is why we need the push for the building up of this “absorptive capacity.”

        1. Doesn’t your conclusion that “we need the push for the building up of this ‘absorptive capacity'” contradict your premise? In the first place, Mr Ben’s statement was that while FDIs are critical for development, they are NOT THE ONLY impetus for development. You yourself said agreed that the Philippines remains unattractive because of poor infrastructure and weak (government) policy. Where is the disagreement?

        2. Sorry, I got it all wrong, didn’t read the entire article. . . Still, when the prohibitive provisions have been removed, it will be much easier to improve the country’s “absorptive capacity”. And when we have a shift to parliamentary form of government, these issues are precisely what the debates in the legislature will be about.

        3. But we CAN debate the value and relevance of the Foreign Investment Negative List NOW. Even if the constitution were NOT amended to convert the Philippines to a parliamentary democracy. It isn’t a prerequisite.

          The real problem isn’t the FORM of government. It’s the fact that the so-called FILIPINO ELITE resist change in collusion with the Aquino administration and members of congress. What bothers potential investors about our current debate is the intransigent opposition to reforming legal restrictions coming from the rich Chinoys in the Forbes top billionaires list, the indigenous elite and the landed Spanish mestizos.

          And even before that issue comes up for discussion, there are the those items on the government’s plate that have yet to be addressed — the power requirements throughout the archipelago, our transportation and communications infrastructure, the labor environment, bureaucratic red tape, and environmental management and waste disposal.

          There are quite a few things that need to be prioritized before we should worry about whether we’ll be calling the local strongman a Member of Parliament or a Congressman.

        4. The shift to parliamentary form of government will make it easier to focus on national goals which should improve our “absorptive capacity”. I don’t think there is a “right order” of initiatives for reform. We are all voicing out our ideas towards reform and we at CoRRECT are for the three-point-agenda specified on the Website. This is not to say that we are discouraging others from pushing their ideas on how to go about achieving the results that we all want.

        5. No, there is no “RIGHT” order. But there are PRIORITIES. The country has needs, problems that are immediate. They can — SHOULD — be addressed NOW, regardless of the form of government. Solving them isn’t mutually exclusive with a parliamentary democracy; it should not matter whether the person at the head of the government is a Prime Minister or a President. It merely requires leadership and a commitment to serving the people. Sadly, those characteristics are missing from today’s crop of leaders.

        6. Another day, another campaign for miriam! And knows as much about this topic as about ofw’s and human trafficking!

          Middle class academia strikes again, as does the verbal diarrhea.
          I wish she would read and engage brain before spouting for the sake of it.
          Am obviously going to be called a liar, but i will say this only once.
          Strategy comes before structure, and culture needs to be changed before you ‘play’ with systems especially when people do not understand the complexities, interdependencies or impact, and more importantly the system is actually not the central issue – the people/politicians/values are, and a move to a parliamentary system would be catastrophic for the philippines, because it is the philippines and could not cope/implement.

          The system itself is not the sole or even main reason for lack of progress and prosperity.
          Peoole need to focus on real problems prioritise and achieve. Difficult for miriam to do, i know.
          Her view is ‘ try it, and lets see’. Wow. Politics obviously also not miriam’s forte. Lets hope we find out if she has one.

          A move to another system is not valhalla or a magic pill and the advocates display a zealous naivete which is largely why they achieve nothing – if anything their extremism alientates people who see that they follow a course which they don’t even understand rather than being more pragmatic and piecemeal.
          Its rather like adopt any change for the sake of it, follow any campaign, and is approached with the mindset of students in search of something but they dont know what or even why, just follow something.

        7. “…(J)ust follow something” is how they got morons to occupy Wall Street. And how Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri brainwashed their suicide bombers.

      3. It’s when we think of a post-charter change scenario that we see the actual nitty gritty of what I call the “middle game” and that’s when fanatics start sputtering, saying that we’re against charter change.

        When, in reality, we are raising issues that WILL come into play after charter change.

        Best to think of those issue and that’s really how strategies emerge.

        1. Apparently Ms Miriam, Mr Dumdum, et al are content to tell 20 million starving Filipinos that their food will have to wait. The more important agenda is to make preparations for charter change. Much more noble for others to suffer on behalf of the higher purpose of parliamentary democracy.

        2. I worked on strategy at a multi-national and we implemented 20 – 10 – 5 which was 20 years vision then 10 year plan then 5 year objectives for the global operation, under the banner ‘roll back the future’.

          Seems too many amateurs want to put the cart before the horse and screw up anything and everything simply for academic ego.

        3. Good to read Paul that you are not against Charter Change per se. With Charter Change, the first thing to conquer is the mass media’s systematic muddling of the issue. The nitty gritty stuff should be the focus, not personalities involved in pushing for this reform agenda. From the very start, the mass media’s focus was on the personalities, because that is easier than doing in-depth research and sustaining the argument on the nitty gritty stuff. I like the comment of someone below for example, offering a solution to the complexity of implementing federalism at once for the whole country: Selecting a few strong small local governmental units to experiment on federalism.

        4. What good is a “reform movement” that has not reformed its own character and gotten rid of a tragic cultural character flaw: the inability to take suggestions and criticism from those who see things differently from them.

          Technically speaking, the suggestions and criticism currently being brought up against them will be nothing compared to the more pronounced skepticism and possibly violent objections they will inevitably face when they present their proposal to other levels of Filipino society.

        5. Beyond repetitive textbook statements these people ( they cannot be classified as reformists ) have no ability to defend their position, argue coherently or substantiate anything with facts and research, which is pretty basic even for student essays.
          They are on a self delusional road to nowhere.
          They would be better off de-camping and joining an anti-dynasty movement if they need something to spout about.

      4. I think what needs to be done is to take a few medium size provinces and use them as a laboratory for changes instead using a hammer to fix a tin cup. Institute reforms at the lower level and see what happens. You can also take a whole province and let them have autonomy similar to something like the states have in the USA or even more freedom than that just to see what happens. Learn from that and try again and eventually you will see good thing happen. You can also turn provinces into free enterprise zones instead of one or two small locations. Trying to change to whole system at one time will never work in any country. The main thing to avoid is turning the country into a kingdom of feudalism with little kings and queens running amok.

        1. Jim,

          Technically, what you suggest has already been done — in the form of the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), created in 2001. The region is headed by a governor with an Executive Council serving as advisors. It has a unicameral Regional Legislative Assembly (similar to a parliament) that passes legislation in the ARMM except on matters that have nationwide consequences such as foreign affairs, national defense and security, postal service, coinage and fiscal and monetary policies, administration of justice, national elections, etc.

          The Regional Government has the power to create its own sources of revenues and to levy taxes, fees, and charges, subject to Constitutional provisions. The President still exercises general supervision over the Regional Governor.

          Despite the autonomy, ARMM receives approximately 98% of its operating revenue from the National Government of the Philippines. It remains one of the most impoverished areas in the Philippines and has yet to create significant, viable sources of additional revenue.

          If this social experiment has taught us anything, it is that political autonomy can never be achieved without economic freedom. The unicameral system certainly didn’t automatically improve the lives of people in Mindanao the way CoRRECT claims it would.

    1. @ Johnny,

      That is exactly what I am talking about it didn’t work or set up to fail either way. But you need to start it from one of the more stable provinces Like Bacalod or Iloilo, Cebu something like that. Not from the very bottom. I think the Visays is good starting point since they are smaller and more able to adapt.

      1. Jim,

        I agree that implementing an autonomous government in a more prosperous region is more likely to succeed where the ARMM failed.

        The question now is given the realities in the Philippines — the majority of the electorate’s lack of political sophistication and our leaders’ “lack of intellectual depth,” as well as our burgeoning economic concerns, regional security crises, the lack of countrywide infrastructure, etc. — is it appropriate to begin a new social experiment for the benefit of the reformist movement’s personal edification? When should we propose a bill for the plebiscite that solicits the opinion of Visayans whether or not to participate in the experiment? (I assume we’ll ask their opinion. It is still a democracy.) Should it be in the 15th Congress? If it gets passed, should we hold the plebiscite immediately or wait until 2016 and add it to the ballot? If the majority of Visayans agree, should we immediately file a bill defining and/or creating the Visayan Autonomous Region? And what will happen at the end of the experiment? Does everything revert back if it is unsuccessful? What happens if it IS successful? Do we pass laws for other autonomous regions? How does this now segue into a parliamentary system?

        1. Johnny,

          Implementing such a plan is the main thing . The feudalistic tendencies of each region is the big stumbling block. Keeping the fingers out of the pie or even eating it all in the name of the clan. If it could be accomplished it would take years just to get a framework reached before any vote would take place. I would keep the Feds out of it except for security and treasury (currency control). If it works then it is permanent and then use the frame work to implement in other regions going at a slow but precise rate. Every region would have its own flavor. As for parliamentary system I prefer a constitutional republic, I think, especially in the Philippines, that a parliamentary system would turn into a “mob rules”. A constitutional republic would work well with the autonomous government since each region sends a certain number of representatives base on a senate and house. Now each region itself could create the vote scheme and choose how to vote for the president that is some what based the the electoral college in the US. This give the smaller regions more power and not left out of the process.

        2. “As for parliamentary system I prefer a constitutional republic, I think, especially in the Philippines, that a parliamentary system would turn into a ‘mob rules’.”

          I agree wholeheartedly. The Philippines has had ample opportunity to experience a parliamentary system (13 years) and that was precisely the outcome.

          I am not opposed to a charter change that would bring order to the chaos in the country. But there are problems that need our attention now. Not several years down the line. And that is why I question the wisdom of devoting the time and effort to pushing the parliamentary reform agenda now. The cynical part of me says that the only reason the movement insists on tackling the issue NOW is that it will become irrelevant if the Philippines’ chronic problems are solved WITHOUT THE INSTALLATION OF A PARLIAMENTARY FORM OF GOVERNMENT. Their argument stresses that the conversion to a parliamentary system will automatically improve the quality of life in the Philippines. Imagine if Filipino society evolves within the next decade and starts to become prosperous. If that happens, they will lose all reason for pushing their agenda in the first place. By then, the people would not care for charter change because their bellies would be full.

    2. @Johnny

      What is needed is to completely reform the tax system so that taxes are collected at the wholesale and manufacturing point. The farms would have the taxes paid when ever they sell their goods at the whole sale level. Then I would include a income tax on all wage earners over a certain level like middle class and above at a nominal rate with no deductions. Also have a national sales tax on goods (not food)and lower the tariffs on electronics, appliances and other items. The Philippine is not going to become a massive manufacturing center simply because there setup of too many islands that prevents a cohesive infrastructure. The number one thing is to allow foreigners to own the businesses out right this will bring in massive investments. The need to invest in power and roads is key to moving items around, they need to activate the Nuke plant and build one or two more. All of this can be done in a very short time.

      1. We’re both on the same page in that the Philippines needs to do away with, or at least modify, legal restrictions with respect to foreign investment. I’ve also stated that like Mr Ben, I’m hoping this government gets its priorities sorted out regarding public infrastructure as well as developing an economic strategy for the next three years and after the Aquino administration. Whether this can be accomplished within the second half of Aquino’s presidency is looking less likely. He is more likely to devote at best one year to actual work as 2015-2016 will most probably be devoted to an extended campaign effort to install his successor. Sad but that is the nature of the adversarial politics we have in this country.

  10. It was an excellent analysis of the current politico-social environment in the Philippines. In my opinion, doing away with democracy is not an option but it is imperative that the aspirations and belief systems of the tyrannical masses would have to be changed. The media and the education sector of our society have to make the uninformed sectors of our society be informed members….the uneducated to be educated….and to make ourselves socially involved on issues affecting our politico-social life-world in the public sphere. We have to be socially engaged to infuse the necessary political rationality in order to truly democratize the public sphere.

    1. A public sphere, we should all remind ourselves once in a while, that in this country largely exists outside the online social media world we spend so much time in, and are consequently tempted to assume has more reach and influence than it really does.

  11. LESS IS MORE. – framework

    A critical analysis of current constraints – a constructive charter for future change.

    Think globally
    Act nationally
    Build regionally
    Invest locally
    Contribute personally

    M.O.S.T.3 – Methodology for Optimising Strategic Transformation in 3rd world nations.

    An all encompassing, and integrated, platform for progress and prosperity ensuring synergy, economies of scale and co-ordination through joint-awareness/marketing/development/communication and research.

    —-Key Components:
    – Q.U.E.S.T 360 ( quest for economic & social transformation)
    – S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M ( social, political, economic, cultural,technological, regional, urban, manufacturing)
    – E.P.I.C ( economic provisions in constitution)
    – Q.U.B.E ( quality & business excellence)
    – T.A.R.G.E.T ( turnaround areas, regional goals, executive targets)
    – G.O.A.L ( global opportunities, alliances, & leverage)
    – T.E.S.T ( transformation through education, science & technology)
    – B.E.S.T ( business & education skills transfer)

    c – libertas

    – CSF’s ( critical success factors)
    – KPI’s ( key performance indicators)
    – MBO ( mgmt by objectives)
    – PBB ( Priority based budgetting)
    – 8 S ( strategy, structure, skills, suppliers, stakeholders, systems, shared values, service levels )
    – BP (Best practice)
    – SLA ( Service level agreements)
    – Identity and core values
    – Research project – comparative & competitive advantage – dashboard analysis
    – vision 2020 – marketing the mission

  12. Constitutional Reform is actually needed in our country.

    Lifting of Economic Restrictive Provisions and the 60/40 ANTI-FDIs: Where can you see a country who keeps inviting Foreign Direct Investments but once out there knocking at her doorsteps, it is like she’s so arrogant and prideful? Yes! The Philippines is one of those poor hypocrite country that do not allowed 100% BUSINESS Ownership to Foreign Direct Investors BUT do enjoys the privilege of having 100% bUsiness Ownership in OTHER Country when they Invest their company in that said foreign country. Isn’t it, Hypocrasy?

    Does anyone here knows the identities of these few privileged people who will own the 60%? nobody! does this mean the system itself encourage corruption? yes!
    let me explain. do you know that any multinational companies e.g. manufacturing company of Ford, Intel, ASUS, Electronics, gadgetse, science and technoloy, own by FOreign Direct Investor when Invest in the Philippines, they can only own 40% of their company? Yes! while the 60% by their local partners who are Filipino Citizens. but do you know who are they?No! So what are the results of these restrictions? LESS Foreign Investments, No Job Creations, More Jobless and Increasing numbers of OFWs in Millions.

    That’s the reason why we need to BRING MORE JOBS in the country to meet the demand and give jobs for the millions of Jobless and OFWs, and that is through Liberalizing our Economic Policy by removing those Restrictive Provisions enshrined in our 1987 Constitution that at current it only protects the interest of the few elites. okay?

    IF we can bring in more JOBS in the country, then there is NO need for our fellow people to go out and become OFW while leaving their family which later on cause the Broken FAmily Phenomenom in the country..

    Now if we mnage to liberalized our Economic Policy and we manage to invite more Foreign Invetments, more than enough to meet the demand of jobs for the Jobless and OFWs, of course WE DON’T just want that all these Economic and Job Opportunities and INfrastructure Development to be centered only around IMperial Manila. because the entire regions has to benefit from it as well. So, here comes why we need Federalism “Gradual Region-Based Decentralization” in order to spreadout Economic and Job Opportunities across and throughout the country and NOT just around Imperial Manila. Federalism will also Decongest Imperial Manila whch will give a great solution to the traffic in Imperial Manila.

    How? at current situation, people from all regions has to go to Imperial Manila to look for a better decent-paying Jobs because all these Economic and Job Opportunities are only catered around Imperial Manila, and this is thanks to the flawed and failed “UNITARY FORM OF GOVERNMENT” we have, a centralized government that dictates everything to the regions even it is NOT at the best of each region. But once we shifted TO Federal Form of Government FROM Unitary Form of Government; people from regions doesn’t need to go to IMperial Manila for a decent-paying Jobs because it is already these Economic and Job Opportunities that are coming for them. simple! you just have to understand and make your own research and investigation rather than relying from what others said and told you. also, don’t be shallow and anti-intellectualism.

    lastly, To support Economic LIberalization and Federalism, we need to have a stable, superior and better governance and government that encourage competent leaders to become more competent, a system that produce competent leaders, a system of competen leaders, of achievement and platform and NOT a system of leaders of name recall, or of their parent’s achievements or of they are famous actors or actress who don’t even the wualifications.well i am talking about the shifting TO Parliamentary Syste of Government FROM Presidential System of Govrnement.

    Lastly, Federalism is totally compatible in our country “Filipinas” since we are a country of more than “175 Ethno-linguistic Nations”. at current Unitary Form of Government, only ONE ETHNICITY that is of privleged but the rest are not. Federalism will give all other NON-Tagalog Ethnic Filipino Citizens that equal human rights Ehtnic’s Self-Determination wherein in their own state, they can legislate their language as their state’s official language or co-official languages, they can further develop and enrich their own Ethnic’s Culture, Identity, Tradition, own Language, music, arts, dances, foods, literature, beliefs, costumes and history.

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