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Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Politics of Change in the Philippines

Reviewed by Sagun, Jude Rodvie M., IV-18 BSE History 

            One of the most vulnerable fragments of the wholeness of Philippines is its politics. According to Adb(Asian Development Bank), the country is impoverished for governance is weak and has “sorry political culture” that speaks of incompetency and over publicized leaders. I must say it is true after seeing Philippine politics for over 15 years now; there is still no change as if the voters never learned and the people who run or try to get in position never try to make a difference.
            I want to share the book entitled “The politics of change in the Philippines” a collaboration of various authors both foreign and local trying to unravel the questions “What’s wrong in the politics in the Philippines?” and “What went wrong in the politics of the Philippines that restrains us from having one step towards development?”

The politics of change in a ‘changeless land’
            Philippines is said to be a changeless land for its politics never improved since the end of Marcos regime that supposedly some other countries who had the same fate like us changed and become progressive. Philippine politics is all about elite democracy where oligarchic elite manipulates economic and political aspects of our society. Because of this reality there is constancy in terms of poverty, inequity and injustice in the Philippines. Philippine politics is a cycle of populism, clientilism and reformism.
            However, there are still advocates of change within and outside government it’s just that they continue to struggle with traditional politicians and bureaucrats in their efforts to reform or alter the country’s political institutions such as the electoral and political part systems, the presidency and the presidential system, the bureaucracy and the military. It is not yet clear how exactly the reformers can effectively combine their engagement in national and in local politics. And they are still grappling with how the mass media-both old and new-and modern information and communication technology can be harnessed as tools in the politics of change.

After populism: Winning the ‘war’ for bourgeois democracy in the Philippines
            It was pointed out that elite politics in the Philippines was a cycle of populism, clientilism and reformism. Populism dominated Philippine politics for the decade since Joseph Estrada became president in 1998. When he was jailed, populism declined because GMA done a dirty work of bourgeois through neo-traditionalism. She incorporates traditional method to newer elements in order to bring reform.
            In fairness to GMA, although corruption was apparent under her administration it did not harm the country economically and reformist had commented that there were somehow improvements under her command. Neo-traditionalism enabled Arroyo to “win” a presidential election against perhaps the most popular populist in Philippine history which is FPJ. She also managed to have a hold in House of Representatives without popularity that is a clear sign that indirect, dyadic relations have come to dominate politics over direct voter appeal by national leaders.
            Revived Clientilism suffer from the problem of corruption which is part and parcel of such system. President Noynoy Aquino, according to the book, is thus likely to be a hybrid of local clientelist network and moralizing reformist rhetoric. Such a winning combination is however, likely to be short lived. As past experiences shows it is unlikely to do much for the poor who, in Philippines bourgeois democracy, always represent the overwhelming majority of voters.

The presidency, political parties and predatory politics in the Philippines
            This essay has posed the conundrum of how it is possible for a predatory regime to emerge and remain in power in what appears to the world to be an electoral democracy. It is shown that the interactive collaboration between two corrupted institutions-the presidency and the political parties-has proved pivotal in the return of predatory rule. The Philippines has negative experiences that corrupt presidents, advocates of political reform have been vigorously campaigning for a switch from a presidential to a parliamentary system of government, a change that requires an amendment to the Philippine Constitution.
            In a system of government where the president is very powerful, a lot depends on the incumbent president and those around him, whether or not predatory regime will persist. Since the country’s political decay has lasted for such a long time, the best that can be expected is that clientelist regime is on the run. With the tremendous popular revulsion against corruption under Estrada and Arroyo, however, reform-oriented politicians may be able to gather the critical mass needed to galvanize the process of reform and resolutely take the country back to the road towards the democratic consolidation.

Partisanship and reform: The making of a presidential campaign
            Working with reform people in the business and the churches, is the only political force that has succeeded in bringing down presidents. Not the CPP and especially not the “opposition”. It is said that that there is reform constituency running through President Noynoy’s campaign as a political analyst. The essayist perceived that P-Noy will win, and yes he have won. He predicted cynics will shift to the president’s party. But the question that he left is still hanging; Will P-Noy have enough political strength to undertake the necessary reforms?  

Democratic consolidation in the Philippines: Who supports extra-constitutional government change?
            After more than 20 years of democratization, there are still many signs suggesting that Philippine democracy is not yet fully consolidated. The findings of the study was that up to the current time Filipinos do not appear to have fully internalized the legitimacy of constitutionally-mandated decision making process as indicated by numerous incidents of street demonstrations calling for the resignation of in position presidents. According to his research, the subjective competence and a higher fear of loss from democratically-elected government have a greater tendency to support extra constitutional government change, and those who are more engaged with civic organizations are less prone to support it. One implication of this result is that fostering civil society is a means to nurture attitudes that respect democratic procedures and contribute to democratic consolidation.
            Some might think including me that the Philippines already have so many civic groups and volunteers, and thus this implication may not be relevant. Indeed, there is a common perception among Philippine specialists that civil society is thick and vibrant in the country. By international comparison, however, the robustness of the Philippines civil society is only average among developing countries (The writer proved that by presenting a cross-national study in 2004).
            There is still room for uplifting this sector. At the same time, it would be theoretically important to analyze how people’s participation in civil society is related to the nurturing the attitude valuing democratic process amid to the weakness of political institutions.  

Capacity and compromise: COMELEC, NAMFREL and election fraud
            Looking at the trends given by the author on various elections that have taken place, the COMELEC is plagued by two major problems. One is clientelistic nature of COMELEC commissioner appointments. Questions about partisanship and independence from the executive branch persist. Presidential appointees to the COMELEC are under a great burden to prove that they are independent and autonomous. Second, is wholesale fraud can only happen with COMELEC complicity. In Top COMELEC leadership engaged in manipulating election results coordinate their efforts with entrepreneurial COMELEC bureaucrats and the local, provincial, regional and national level. Lastly, organizational inefficiency has exposed election administration to fraud and election manipulation.  
            Though that is the case, automation and some initiatives helped big time to resolve these problems. The automation project and new leadership of the commission provide an opportunity for the COMELEC to show increased capacity and impartiality. For NAMFREL, it is but important to regain its relevance. NAMFREL must focus on detecting new methods of election fraud. Reform efforts from within the COMELEC are necessary but NAMFREL must update its election watch strategies in order to remain relevant in election reform.

ICT and reform in electoral administration: An assessment of Philippine electoral modernization
            The Philippine electoral automation system design has evolved into greater sophistication, with occasional stagnation. For this to be successful according to the writer, the technological development must be accompanied by adjustments in other aspect. Examples that was given by the author was to train the COMELEC Board personnel and other engaged in managing elections, such as members of the Board of Elections Inspectors, on the use of new technologies well in advance of elections, is indispensible. The education of voters on the new election environment is also necessary to familiarize them with new voting technologies.
            Amendments to election laws to meet and exploit the new conditions brought about by new technologies should be explored. It must also be noted that electoral automation involves a large amount of money for both hardware and software. It is important therefore to balance various needs of the nation which require funding. Furthermore, as the bitter experience in 2004 taught us that relationship with the venders must be transparent and clearly defined, and the bidding process must be open, fair and above all accountable.

The middle class and political reform: Examining the Philippine Technocracy
            The technocracy came about with the rise of the new middle class. Its members possess middle class traits in terms of academic qualifications and expertise in the science of management. For the Philippine technocracy, the economic ideology is capitalism. It is also associated with middle-class conservatism which tends to favor authoritarian rule given their deep-seated distaste for politics. Thus they welcome a political environment which anathema to the middle class liberal democratic ideology. What is funny and complete paradox of middle class ideology is they adhered to the development led by an authoritarian capitalist state so that the state, rather than private, accumulation, ensued. This was also supposed to help put an end to corruption and ensure the smooth implementation of their economic policies. All these contributed to bad governance.
            Nevertheless, during the post-martial law period, there have also emerged “reformist” and “activist” technocrats who do not fully adhere to the failed neo-liberal paradigm and who believe in involving civil society players, particularly stakeholders in the formulation of policies that will leave impact on them. There are also those who cater to the interests of the citizenry for electoral purposes. This illustrates the two faces of the technocracy as a bulwark for electoral of conservatism and as reform-oriented, consultative and people-oriented members of the middle-class.   

Road Infrastructure in the Philippines and Some Challenges to Reform
The author provided the specific keys of Agenda for reform
§  * Leadership is the key to policy reform. The technical, professional and even the logistical wherewithal of the department rests largely on the kind of leadership and the signal it sends to the rests of agency. The political message is conveyed by a leader who protects and defends the agency against the interventions from within and especially outside. The paramount exemplar of reform is the leadership at the highest post which is the executive and the agency itself. With good leadership comes the harnessing of technical and professional capabilities, which the department possesses.
§   *Related to reform by leadership is popular support for credible leaders who can go for a change in policies, including a policy on transparency and accountability. The national election should be an opportunity for change in leadership towards genuine reform. Although, change is a long-term process, as most non-government advocates know, the bureaucracy would consider a change in leadership an immense opportunity for reform because the rank and file, including middle level managers, take the cue from the head of agency and the political leaders.  
§  * Third party review and monitoring helps improve transparency and accountability. Monitoring of infrastructure funds particularly in the case of Road Board should do by a third party that enjoys autonomy from executive and partisan interventionist. Such mandate could be defined by the law and by international donors through set conditionalities. While its accounts are audited by the Commission on Audit, an independent review body should periodically examine the status of fund. The suppliers of road services should be carefully monitored to ensure that they do not monopolize projects. The Road Board must be required to inform the public and supervisory authorities of the activities and projects that are funded under the road users’ fees.
§  * Congress, the logical agential player on oversight, should use its review powers on the current statues, executive orders, and similar directives that define the mandates, functions on road works. The review is necessary to harmonize the functions among the many players in the road sector. The reform oriented party-list groups in Congress should take this on in an amalgamated gesture oversight and, like the other advocates, be the regulators of executive excesses in the road sector in congress.
§  * The technical is political. In a sector that is highly technical such as road works, advocates of change and reform should embark on a literacy campaign focusing on the systems, procedures, language of road work. At the very least, advocates must work closely and consult with technical experts to be able to appreciate the workings of the system whose intricacies rest in the technical and procedural considerations that insulate the system from change agents.      

Keeping the Philippine military out of politics
            The politicization of the Philippine military is shaped by an environment conducive to politicization. At the national level, a political environment that involves military in governance affairs has opened the floodgates for its being politicized. The military’s involvement in two extra-constitutional leadership changes has further widened that gate. At the local level but across the entire country, the inability of local officials to govern effectively and lingering insurgency are two interacting factors that induce the military and its personnel to be actually involved in local governance. And with the military forefront on the anti-insurgency campaign, it follows that it remains influential in political decision-making, both at the national and local levels.
            Addressing the challenge of a politicized military requires structural change in country’s fundamental law, within the government and inside the military institution. But it is just important to change the mindset among various stakeholders from the political leadership to the ordinary Filipino, on the way they perceive the Philippines military should be utilized as an instrumentality of government. This is actually more difficult challenge which confronts every member of Filipino society.       

The new media and politics? Or the politics of the new media?
            The new media is necessary tool in a global world. This need for connectivity can be expected to grow not only as the world gets more complex but also as people become even more mobile in search of employment, security or leisure. In an increasingly mobile and transforming world, contact with significant other remains one of life’s constants. Just as important are the changes in identity in a postmodern world. New identities are emerging outside the traditional categories of gender, generation, ethnicity or class. New hybrids according to the writer will emerge even greater communicative potentials.
            Like all the revolution, the final consequences are unpredictable and often counterintuitive. But we may expect technology enter even deeper everyday life, including our sense of self and our relationship to the world. The Philippines id not immune to these technological futures even their precise shape is difficult to predict. The mobile and the Internet have made Filipinos more individualistic and cosmopolitan.
            The apparent popularity of President Noynoy Aquino probably was combined with familial, politics, ritual efficacy and structures of mobilization made possible by new media.
After reading this book, I felt very disappointed with our politics for we can't unfetter our politics from the obvious cycle that controls our way in the direction of development. However, just like any other book, if one raises a problem you should amalgamate it with a probable solution. And yes, there is still hope for our country. We need intensive reforms and effective leader who has clear and attainable solutions that address not only political problems but other sectors as well. These things couldn’t be operationalized unless the citizens won’t do their own responsibilities for our country starting with choosing our leaders wisely.

These children deserve a better future!

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