In his Inquirer piece “Behind the durability of institutions”, Randy David speaks of public institutions which withstand the revolving door of leaders who come and go every Presidential election cycle. These are the constitutional offices with a fixed term, regardless of whoever is in power or the highest career bureaucrat in any department or agency of government. Governments are similar to private corporations in this respect. When a new CEO takes over, he usually brings with him his own team. There is the accompanying politics and power plays within the organization. It’s part of how the game is played.
Other countries have stronger institutions simply because of control mechanisms designed to isolate the administrator from politics. The other side of the coin is when the administrator uses the institution to work against the the government. Examples would be the Commission on Human Rights and the Office of the Vice-President. These institutions do the public a disservice because they perform their mandate in a manner which is detrimental to government. Witness how they have worked against not only the Chief Executive but also the public they are supposed to serve. The civil service code was supposed to be the guide for bureaucrats.
In earlier times, only the best and brightest joined government. Low ranking positions were handed out as political largesse. The higher positions were reserved for those who were at least qualified. The same standards were held for those running for elective office. But the truth is, the dynamics would vary between the national and the local level. Patronage politics, influence-peddling and power brokers are all part of politics anywhere in the world. It is the level which varies.
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Nonetheless, David criticizes President Rodrigo Duterte again in this piece.
In the remaining one year of the Duterte presidency, we will be witnessing the quiet departure from public office of some of those who had joined this administration and shamelessly allowed themselves to be used to buttress the powers and burnish the image of an unworthy leader. Some of them may be appointed ambassadors or justices, or rewarded with sinecures in government corporations. Others may simply retire from public life.
The truth is, the bureaucracy is defective. Local chief executives get a pass when they don’t perform because critics would prefer to lay the blame at the feet of the President because it is convenient. The media play and mileage is better. Social media has made it possible to immediately measure public sentiment on issues raised. The Opposition tends to confuse viral posts with election victory. There is no causal relationship to begin with. It is not guaranteed. It thus raises the question, why does the system work better in other countries?
It’s really simple. Government offices at the national level can be manned by anyone who is qualified but regional and local offices should be manned by those who are actually from the constituencies. The pandemic has exposed the development imbalance between Luzon against Visayas and Mindanao. If there was balanced development then the economic recession wouldn’t have been as severe as it has been. This imbalance should be corrected moving forward if the mindset will finally be that the pandemic is endemic. It won’t happen with one fingers’ snap but steps should be taken to make it a reality.
It is actually painful to see that challengers to the administration continue to use old obsolete tactics applied to winning votes. The incumbent Vice-President Leni Robredo has been at it for five years even if her efforts have been largely unsuccessful. The other candidates are making the same mistake. What these politicians miss out on is the fact that public opinion is now very dynamic because of the easy access to information. In 2019, the Opposition candidates lost. They didn’t change their strategy. This didn’t improve their prospects for 2022. You don’t solve a problem by throwing money at it.
The structure is also important and the same goes for the institutions created by the structure. The Budget Reform for Village Empowerment (BRAVE) Bill authored by Sen. Panfilo Lacson allocates development funds for provinces, cities/municipalities and barangays. It basically bypasses the control of the Congressmen and the Executive Branch in the disbursement of funds to the local level. It has a noble purpose but the challenge lies in getting it passed into law. The oversight function is also very bureaucratic because it is at the national level. Regional development has a better chance of success if the review and decision-making process is at the same level.
This is why the reform of the political structure should be an election issue. The 16 million voters of President Duterte in 2016 pinned some of their hopes on the promise of federalism. Nene Pimentel had the same in mind when the Local Government Code was drafted. We have seen how the law is still largely ineffective. The BRAVE Bill of Sen. Lacson is also a step in the right direction but it still falls short of what is actually needed to achieve the goal.
Leave it to Opposition stalwarts like Randy David to see the problem but not propose any solution. This is because they don’t want to touch their precious 1987 Constitution even if it is obvious that it has been the root of our political and social problems since it was passed. It’s about time that this is acknowledged and addressed.
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