There is a saying that goes: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result”. Of course if we think about it, it’s not entirely true. Tom Chivers, assistant comment editor of The Telegraph in the United Kingdom, correctly points out the flaw of the cliché. He points out that it is incorrect because it implies that circumstances never change. But in the case of Philippine elections, it is quite tempting to say that the mindset of the majority of the Filipino electorate does not change (at least not very much). How many election cycles have “sympathy for the poor” and “anti-corruption crusades” been every politician’s battlecry? How many times have Filipinos elected these folks? Do we really think that politicians carrying that battlecry are any better? I submit that the fault really lies on the Filipino mindset and not the wrong people getting elected.
Elizabeth Angsioco, from her Manila Standard Today column, is appealing to the Filipino voters to vote for people with proven track record, competence, good vision and dedication to serve. In other words, she is calling on the voters to vote for the “right people”. While her intent is admirable and while it certainly is nice to have the “right people” running the government, I’m afraid that that’s not really how we can fix things. We have actually been doing that since the very first elections in the country were held. People have always thought that the people whom they voted for were the “right candidates”. Now we can argue that the trick is on how different people define what the “right candidates” are. But it really doesn’t matter because even if we can come up with one agreed upon definition of what the “right candidate” should be, we could still be fixated on the personality of the candidate and not the actual issues that really matter to us!
One of the demigods of free economics, Milton Friedman, gave a very interesting idea on how to fix the government. Instead of electing the “right” people, he suggests that people ought to instead make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things! Friedman says:
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“No, we don’t need to change Congress. Excuse me. You know, people have a great misunderstanding about this. People in Congress are in a business to buy votes. They’re in the business of competing with one another in order to get elected. The same Congressman will vote for a different thing if he thinks that’s politically profitable. You don’t have to change Congress. People have a great misconception in this way, that the way you solve things is by electing the right people. It’s nice to elect the right people, but that isn’t the way you solve it. The way you solve things is by making it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right things.”
Is Friedman correct even in the context of Philippine politics? Consider the following…
In 2007, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cancelled the controversial $329 Million contract between the Philippine government and the Chinese firm ZTE following a huge public outcry over alleged bribery and anomalies involved in the agreement.
Last year, the “Million People March” forced President Noynoy Aquino to abandon his defense of the pork barrel system. He initially defended the system and tried to persuade the people that his government has instituted reforms to avoid the misuse of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (or more commonly known as the pork barrel). Despite his promises and pleadings, he was forced to abolish it out of the huge public outcry.
When the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 was ratified, there was a huge uproar against the law particularly with regards to online libel. Because of public outcry, the legislators who voted for the law flip-flopped and began to file bills to repeal objectionable provisions in the law such as online libel. On May 24, 2013, the Department of Justice announced that the online libel provision of the law had been dropped.
There are many cases where we can see that the voters themselves can force to have the right things despite having the wrong people sitting in power. There is no reason why voters would have to wait to elect the “right people” to do the right things. The people actually have the power to get the right things done even from the wrong politicians! Instead of focusing on voting for the “right candidates”, the people should focus on voicing their concerns! Get the right proposals out there and make the politicians support and commit to them! These politicians are all the same! While it would be nice to have the “right people” running the government, politicians are all motivated by self-interest just like all of us mere mortals! At the end of the day they will always stand for the most politically profitable option for them.
Calling a spade, a spade…