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Jun 29

The Long View: When size doesn’t matter

The Long View
When size doesn’t matter
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:30:00 06/29/2009


One thing is sure: swept under the rug is the issue of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her administration being the least-respected and least-liked in modern times.

The political landscape is littered with the wrecks of formidable party machines that broke down and failed to accomplish their mission: to get a presidential candidate successfully elected. Going back to the presidential campaigns of 1986, 1992 and 1998, Ferdinand Marcos, Ramon Mitra Jr. and Jose de Venecia Jr. all presided over coalitions that firmly controlled the lower house. They all went down in defeat. The common complaint of all three candidates was: the local leaders, on which their pyramids of power rested, took the money and ran – for office – with the cash of their national candidate for president.

This is the dilemma faced by the President and the colossal administration coalition she has nurtured all these long years. But every official in that coalition faces the problem of politics being a continuum, in which the power held yesterday becomes less relevant than the power held tomorrow.

Much has been made of the ability of the ruling coalition to maintain its control of the House in 2004 and 2007. It was no achievement. In the first place, no administration has ever lost the House since 1935. (Even when the presidents running for reelection lost, their administrations still won majorities in the House of Representatives.) Second, for ruling coalitions, the tripartite political pillars of guns, goons and gold are most effectively deployed in local races, where the electorate can be held captive.

Within the lifetime of a specific administration, House control is useful in keeping that administration in place. But when the president, as party chief, must lead the coalition in a campaign to extend the administration’s control of government, the House must quickly realign itself: and so overnight, an administration coalition whose candidate loses the race for the presidency transforms itself, by force of necessity into the new, rival candidate’s, administration coalition.

This is the clear limit of the local versus the national. And there is a certain logic behind it: local representation might hold the electorate hostage to the provincial Mafiosi, but that is the price we pay for representative government, locally. On the other hand, national office might put those offices primarily within reach of those who are better communicators and even actors.

But as representatives of our national characteristics, so to speak – and this includes the idea that the Mafiosi are best held at bay, not by the common tao (people) but by champions anointed by the common tao to articulate his interests – then our national representatives can, and by political necessity do, articulate these commonly held values.

They are essentially a human quarantine on the Mafiosi. In this manner is the concept of checks-and-balances demonstrated in real life.

It is imperfect, inefficient and liable to abuse by officeholders. But if the public attitude is along the lines of limiting the harm officialdom can do to ordinary people, then it is the best yet devised by Filipinos, for Filipinos, to prevent the citizenry from being kept out of the power game altogether. It’s not for nothing that we have only two kinds of nationally elected officials: the chief executive and senators.

Armed with a House majority, a president can govern pretty much as he or she pleases; but without a senate majority, no president can fulfill the ambition inherent in the office, which is either to govern for life, or to build a permanent ruling coalition.

We saw this play out in 2007. Time and again, the ruling coalition – Team Unity – went into the campaign thinking its local strength was a national one; while the opposition – mainly the Genuine Opposition, but also the independents – would bring the house down each and every time by simply pointing to the President, and all her works, and all her accomplices. The only survivors of Team Unity were those with a long enough track record to justify the benefit of the doubt on the part of the electorate.

The result was also investigation after investigation, less in aid of legislation and more in aid of oversight, and simply to remind the ruling coalition that it was mistrusted and held in the lowest regard by the public. That was enough, because it served to prevent the President and her coalition from ruling with complete impunity and putting in place a system that would ensure that, as a group, they’d rule in perpetuity.

The public’s message then has been: it is not worth it to burn down the barn to smoke out a rat; but neither should the rat be accorded permanent living quarters in the national barn. This is the problem facing both the President and her allies come May 2010.

With no levers left to control, forces to command and a treasury to use and abuse, no one would follow Arroyo out of sheer loyalty; and for her servants, to remain identified with her is to guarantee perpetual servitude to all future presidents. This is because their own ambitions will be stalled and even thwarted by going down in national defeat due to her kiss of death. So at best, they can – and will – try to maintain their hold on their provincial constituents and, for some, this will be enough. Better to be a big frog in a small pond.

However, if the public can be made to forget the reasons the President and her people are – in the minds of the public – merely bandit chiefs, and unsuitable for national office, then they have a fighting chance. And so: bread and circuses, for everyone! It postpones the inevitable, at least. At best, it opens up avenues for subverting a true reckoning in the polls.

87 comments

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  1. d0d0ng

    “We’re treading on thin ice when it comes to empowering LGU’s. It all sounds very well in theory. But in practice, it can be a double-edged sword.”

    This is true. The big time corruption is in the national level where revenue is concentrated. Transferring some of the major national taxes to the local level will just open up corruptions at the bottom level. But there are major advantages:

    1. Major revenues will directly boost local development.
    2. Corruption watchdog like Ombudsman and government prosecutions will be effective this time as against LGU’s who have no immunity protection.

  2. SoP

    And does the Ombudsman fall under one of the branches of government? I believe the rule of impeachment only applies to one branch sabotaging another. The Ombudsman should be a supra-authority apart from these three. If not, we have to create one, like ICAC.

  3. SoP

    “# d0d0ng on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 4:28 am
    …2. Corruption watchdog like Ombudsman and government prosecutions will be effective this time as against LGU’s who have no immunity protection.”

    That’s assuming the Ombudsman has the resources to go after these. I think the Ombudsman should be staffed by 50,000 employees, having a budget of 30 billion, with the power to pry into bank accounts (with some variations to the figures).

    Does anyone know the budget and resources of the present Ombudsman?

  4. d0d0ng

    “We just have to set our priorities for the poor. Should they eat or should they study?”

    Both are priorities. At minimum, everybody will have access. But it does not mean that everybody will get it due to scarcity. Example, UP admission is limited to well-deserving students, NFA’s cheapest rice is available until the supply last.

  5. d0d0ng

    “That’s assuming the Ombudsman has the resources to go after these”

    In fact, there is no need. The Department of Justice which has presence in every locality can investigate and prosecute cases. Unlike before that it has no mandate against Palace officials and members of Congress, this time DOJ can investigate and prosecute cases against local authorities in the court system.

  6. SoP

    Ok I get it. DOJ for barangay captain, mayors, governors.

    But who will investigate against the DOJ?

    So what does the Ombudsman exactly do?

  7. SoP

    Is the Ombudsman just like a public relations department of the government? “We’ll hear your corruption gripes, write us a letter, and we’ll write back on a letterhead!”

  8. d0d0ng

    This is where the Ombudsman concentrate, the corrupt officials in the national government not covered by immunity protection like DOJ secretary for example.

  9. SoP

    But you just said the Ombudsman can’t impeach congressmen, presidents, and judges. Sounds to me like the Ombudsman is no good waste of resources.

  10. SoP

    I know that senate can impeach the president. But who can impeach the senators and congressmen? And the judges too?

  11. pilipino

    the locals will not tax the businessmen to death. it would be like killing the goose that lay the golden eggs. if the voters did their homework and elected the candidates with common sense, these elected officials will strive to promote more business establishments even to the extent of giving tax breaks.

    maybe at the beginning, pabonggahan ang mga towns, cities and provinces with fiestas, parades etc. for their newly earned tax money. but in the long run the provinces governed by officials with common sense will prosper, will prevail and would be the models for the others. then the competition is now geared towards payabangan sa yaman a t asenso ng bayan, magiging passe ang payabangnan sa festival, parada at kung anu-anong walang kwentang gawain. filipinos are good competitors, we just have to change our venue of competition.

  12. d0d0ng

    The Office of Ombudsman is created to fight corruption in all offices. This is made superior to any ordinary government offices as it was created as a separate constitutional body. Its head the Ombudsman can only be removed by impeachment.

    This is superior to DOJ since DOJ is directly under the President while Ombudsman is by itself.

    Under its own charter, it can investigate any officials including the highest officials removable by impeachment. The major problem is the natural defect due to constitutional limitation which is the provision that the highest officers of the 3 co-equal government can only be removed by impeachment.

    In practical application, it cannot investigate an impeachable official unless it has an order preferrably from congress or from the Supreme Court which has no precedence.

  13. pilipino

    is there anyone can do if the ombudsman is not doing his job? like what is happening now, it seems the ombudsman is sleeping and in coma like situation. anyone can push the ombudsman to do the expected job?

    how about the sandigan? it is almost a lifetime before it can finish a case. marcos loot is still there. most of the ones involved are already dead. are these offices or for that matter any gov’t office know about TAT (turn around time)?

  14. d0d0ng

    “But who can impeach the senators and congressmen? And the judges too?

    Only SC Justices are subject to impeachment while judges can be removed by court hearing or can be disciplined by the SC justices.

    The House can file and approve an impeachment of any impeacheable officials (senators, congressmen, president, SC Justices and head of select constitutional bodies). Once approved, the Senate can sit as a court along with the Chief of Justice to dispose and resolve the impeachment case.

  15. d0d0ng

    “is there anyone can do if the ombudsman is not doing his job?”

    Congress can file impeachment against the ombudsman. But since the House is dominated by Palace loyalists, there is no incentive to do that.

  16. d0d0ng

    Sandigan is the court where ombudsman will try its case.

    You cannot fault the court. It can only base its decision on the strength of the ombudsman evidences and other material facts available.

  17. pilipino

    yes, with the kind of representative we have, impeachment is useless. it is always a number game to them. conscience is gone. common sense is gone. rule of law is gone. it is always utang na loob at palakasan – the GOLDen rule prevails.

  18. d0d0ng

    “the locals will not tax the businessmen to death.”

    Even if the LGU will abuse its taxing power, the people can go to DOJ to investigate and prosecute the LGU officials in ordinary court or the businesses can file a case at the tax court.

    Another option which has never been done, the constituents can file removal of the LGU official as provided in the local government code.

  19. d0d0ng

    “yes, with the kind of representative we have, impeachment is useless.”

    So the better alternative without tinkering with the constitution is move a large chunk of revenue from the national government to the local government. All the checks and balances are the same but better since LGUs have no immunity protection.

  20. pilipino

    “So the better alternative without tinkering with the constitution is move a large chunk of revenue from the national government to the local government. All the checks and balances are the same but better since LGUs have no immunity protection.” -dodong

    concur!

    i have the impression that the trial judge on any court can set the pace of the trial so it won’t take forever to solve a case. he can apparove/ disapprove postponement of hearings, check on dilly dallying maneuvers of lawyers etc. or are the filipino judges toothlees?

  21. SoP

    “pilipino on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 5:21 am
    is there anyone can do if the ombudsman is not doing his job? like what is happening now, it seems the ombudsman is sleeping and in coma like situation.”

    “#d0d0ng on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 5:26 am
    “is there anyone can do if the ombudsman is not doing his job?”
    Congress can file impeachment against the ombudsman. But since the House is dominated by Palace loyalists, there is no incentive to do that.”

    I think the resources and budget is a big factor to blame. Corruption is endemic, and I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that all public officials in the Philippines are committing it at we speak. That’s got to be like, 20,000 officials committing 20,000 instances of corruption (at least). That’s not counting the police and military. To be effective, the office of the Ombudsman, as I mentioned, has to be staffed with equal or twice or half that amount of people doing nothing but investigating and gathering evidence.

    Does anyone know how much staff the office of the Ombudsman has? My guesstimate is 1000 staff-overworked, underpaid, under-equipped, and most importantly, legislatively cut at the knees with all our bank secrecy laws.

  22. SoP

    Damn I hate it when I guess right. Makes my head go big. It says here that:

    “Organization and staffing

    As of December 31, 2007, the total
    number of Ombudsman personnel is 964.
    The following charts present the staff distri-
    bution across Ombudsman offices and the
    organizational structure.”

    www (dot) ombudsman (dot) gov (dot) ph (/)docs (/) statistics (/) Annual2007 (dot) pdf

    964 freaking staff! No wonder our country is fucked.

    In the same PDF, total assets equal 952,845,682 pesos. That’s hardly the 30 billion I think it needs to be effective at their job. Cash balance is 72,816,639.

    I stick by my original assessment: eliminate funding for education and give it all to the Ombudsman.

  23. d0d0ng

    “eliminate funding for education and give it all to the Ombudsman.”

    There is a purpose why the ombudsman budget is so small and why the Education Department has the largest budget – Congress and the President (with veto power) will not allow that to happen.

    Instead DOJ has better coverage in terms of staffing because it enjoys the confidence of the office of the President.

  24. Carl

    Never underestimate the tendency for cupidity and self-importance that is inherent in most politicians. Give them an inch, and they think they’re rulers. Even to the point of absurdity and delusion.

    It would be naive to think that a thousand Frankensteins can be remedied by thousands of court cases or investigations. While those drag on, what happens?

  25. pilipino

    “eliminate funding for education”…sop

    this is definitely a rerun of the spaniard era, the era of pari damaso

    i believe the two most important legacies of america to rp are 1. democracy 2. public education

    why do we have to go back to the time of ignorance of most filipinos?

  26. SoP

    “pilipino on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 10:18 am
    this is definitely a rerun of the spaniard era, the era of pari damaso”

    Well, the Spanish era gave us the University of Sto. Tomas and Ateneo de Manila. And indios certainly didn’t know about western science before these two institutions. You must be confusing Damaso’s (who represent the Friars) opposition to teaching the Spanish language to the natives. This is not the same as eliminating public funding for education. Nor is it the same as eliminating education at all.

    Eliminating public funding for education would only remove the public schools and UP. The slack can be taken up by private schools and colleges. The government can simply test these schools, as they do now, via NSAT, board exams, bar exams, etc. They can come up with more exams for other college courses.

    I would like to see the role of the government to be more as a licensee to private educational institutions. If a certain threshold of students from schools and colleges don’t pass the government exams, the government can revoke the license to universities and private schools. This will incetivise schools to keep their students bright or to expel poor students.

    It’s also much cheaper and more cost effective than the government constructing the buildings, buying chairs, blackboards, chalk, paying teachers, etc. Doing these will mean the government can get out of the education business and save billions, without ignoring education for the masses.

  27. SoP

    “Carl on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 8:15 am
    It would be naive to think that a thousand Frankensteins can be remedied by thousands of court cases or investigations. While those drag on, what happens?”

    The people below them can take the position. If a mayor is charged, the vice-mayor can take over. If the vice-mayor is charged, the head councilman will take over.

    I didn’t say a thousand Frankensteins, for there are already a thousand of them. My vision is 30 to 50 thousand Frankensteins doing nothing but investigating and collecting evidence and prosecuting. If these Frankensteins had the whole budget of the Department of Education (and we can eliminate other departments as well), which would be in the tens, if not hundreds, of billions, court cases will be faster, prosecutions will be dealt swiftly. There will be more corrupt officials in jails. 30 to 50 thousand Frankensteins would also deter corruption.

  28. SoP

    “d0d0ng on Thu, 2nd Jul 2009 6:40 am
    Instead DOJ has better coverage in terms of staffing because it enjoys the confidence of the office of the President.”

    Dodong, I did a bit of googling and it seems that the DOJ is just slight more staffed than the office of the Ombudsman.

    From http: (//) www (dot) doj (dot)gov (dot) ph (/) image (/) doj%202006%20annual%20report (dot) pdf

    “By the end of CY 2007, besides the Office of the Chief State Prosecutor (OCSP) in the Department Proper, there are 135 city prosecution offices, 81 provincial offices, and 115
    provincial sub-offices. At that time as well, the NPS was manned by 1,750 prosecutors and prosecution attorneys out of 2,415 plantilla positions (665 or 27.5% vacancies) and
    1,819 support staff out of 2,015 plantilla positions (196 or 10% vacancies). The said national government personnel are augmented by more than 600 support staff provided
    by local government units (LGUs)”

    It looks like the DOJ has about 4000 staff manning the helm compared to the Ombudsman’s 964.

    This is more telling. From the same pdf file:

    “With 1,750 prosecutors by the end of 2007, the prosecutor–case ratio pertaining to preliminary investigation can be deduced to an average of one (1) prosecutor handling 230 cases for the entire year. This was on top of the around 800,000 cases prosecuted in the first and second level trial courts, or an average of one (1) prosecutor handling 460 court cases for the entire year.”

    I couldn’t emphasize enough the part that says 1 PROSECUTOR HANDLING 230-460 CASES PER YEAR. That’s just stupid. The DOJ and Ombudsman needs to be staffed with more people and given more money. I believe it would be better for our society if money is pulled out from somewhere and diverted to eliminating corruption. A war on corruption will solve a lot of society’s problems that cannot be solved simply by throwing money on politicians and their little pork barrels and coffers.

  29. d0d0ng

    “I couldn’t emphasize enough the part that says 1 PROSECUTOR HANDLING 230-460 CASES PER YEAR.”

    The Secretary of Justice in his report did not emphasize any major structural problem compromising its handling of its mission. The 665 vacancies or 27.5% as mentioned in the report is primarily due to high rate of transfer to judiciary coupled with lack of takers as replacement and hiring delays. The DOJ like any competitive offices has internal problem of retaining existing prosecutors who prefer to move up to the high paying court bench after enough service period. Usually a prosecutor is jump start position in the justice career.

  30. pilipino

    “Eliminating public funding for education would only remove the public schools and UP. The slack can be taken up by private schools and colleges. The government can simply test these schools, as they do now, via NSAT, board exams, bar exams, etc. They can come up with more exams for other college courses.” sop

    millions of poor filipinos graduate from public schools every year.eliminating public schools will be a tremendous set back for us. where will these poor kababayans get the money to pay the private schools? will the gov’t pay the private schools for all these poor fils? how much do we spend for a year of private education per student compared to public expense per student at the present set up? this would be a mind boggling dilemma for parents and students – the future leaders of our country. if the democrats are complaining the expenses in DC bec of partial voucher allocatins for DC poor students, how much more here in RP? it is a logistical night mare for the entire nation!

    solution…streamline the expenses and eliminate waste in the department of edu and all executive departments for that matter. several articles in rp and elsewhere say that 20% of rp budget goes to waste.it is generally accepted that 20% is the going rate for kickabcks —Lozada confirmed that.

  31. pilipino

    i think most of our problems are due to lax enforcement of laws. we have enough rules for almost everything. the citizens are not following the rules, the enforcers are not doing their jobs and the judiciary is very weak. take for example the traffic rules —no one follows most of the rules, the policemen get lagay most of the time and how long will the courts take to finish a simple traffic violation hearing if a case eventually reach the bench? do the judges have TAT?

    the drug pushers—how many have been convicted? how many are in jail? why the chinese like to make shabu in rp and not in taiwan , hongkong or red china? they will be executed in those territories. in rp? who knows what happen to the drug pushers! never heard of firng squad excution – oooops, death sentence is not allowed in rp. hehehe.never heard of a life term sentence either.

    last but not least ..how many impeachment attempts we heard for GMA? what did the reps do in all those years? nada! the GOLDen rule prevails.still no one wants to eliminate these reps in the legislature whenever concon is the topic.

  32. taxj

    Maybe… Just maybe, we rely too much on institutions for law enforcement and justice. How about peer pressure? Or that of political parties’ and NGO’s. Surely, they can play a part. Citizen involvement would play a bigger role when LGU’s are strengthened. And much load would be taken off the formal institutions.

  33. pilipino

    another solution is to educate the electorate properly -from elementary to college. this is a long term goal but maybe it will solve some of the ills of our gov’t and politics.

    in states, every national election or even state election, a few days prior to election day, all students from elementary to high school do a mock debate about candidates, issues, pros and cons of propositions and then do actual mock elections and ballot counting. this is done in every class( section). final results are announced during assemblies and by the time they go home, the children know the governor, the president etc who won in their school election. simple, takes only 2-3 hours every election but i think is very effective. this surely educates the citizens early on and the proper voter behavior during adulthood is honed even at early age.

    in rp, way back during my days, we only had student council campaigns every year during high school. elections for homeroom org, batch (freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior ) and last the supreme student council. nothing about local nor national issues. we just had philippine government as a subject in second year. not very sure about the present set up in public education.

  34. SoP

    “pilipino on Fri, 3rd Jul 2009 2:23 am
    millions of poor filipinos graduate from public schools every year.eliminating public schools will be a tremendous set back for us.”

    I realize the error of my ways and do concede that universal primary and secondary education should be financed by government. By I’m still for the elimination of funding/privatization of University of the Philippines and all other state colleges funded by the national government.

    “d0d0ng on Fri, 3rd Jul 2009 12:27 am
    The Secretary of Justice in his report did not emphasize any major structural problem compromising its handling of its mission.”

    Perhaps they’ve set the bar too low to dampen expectations. But you do have to admit there’s a disconnect between public perception and government metrics. And rightfully so. An ideal government would encourage the citizens to report more incidents of graft and corruption. A publicity campaign not unlike Magsaysay era “telegraph-in” incidents of malfeasance would be nice (suited of course to the internet age). But they don’t do this because they know they’ll be overwhelmed and will only clog up their backlog of cases.

    More funding, higher salaries (to encourage staff retention) is the ideal way to go. This will result in more persecutions and higher deterrence.

  35. SoP

    “taxj on Fri, 3rd Jul 2009 3:31 am
    Maybe… Just maybe, we rely too much on institutions for law enforcement and justice. How about peer pressure? Or that of political parties’ and NGO’s. Surely, they can play a part. Citizen involvement would play a bigger role when LGU’s are strengthened. And much load would be taken off the formal institutions.”

    My idea is to simply change the law. I would like bank secrecy laws to be amended. This would make it easier for DOJ and Ombudsman to expedite cases.

    I would also like for congress or senate to sponsor a law that will permanently disbar guilty grafters and corrupters from serving in public office. As it is, they just get shuffled around from one department to another. Better for them to find employment in the private market and see how higher the standards are compared to their cushy government job. This will also deter government employees from committing acts of crime.

  36. d0d0ng

    “would also like for congress or senate to sponsor a law that will permanently disbar guilty grafters and corrupters from serving in public office.”

    It is already in place. The problem, few are convicted. And worst of all, the most serious conviction on the plunder charges was pardoned. So that the plunderer can hold public office again.

    Seriously the law has no teeth if used as chess pieces like what the current administration did.

    In essence, politicians have repeatedly screwed up our laws.

    You cannot blame the armed insurgents in the south saying, you have your laws but we have our bullets.

  37. taxj

    “…politicians have repeatedly screwed up our laws.” Lawmaking and the Constitution as well. We screw a lot and too often. And when we get all screwed up, we blame the Constitution because we don’t have our heads screwed the right way. It’s as though we all have a screw loose.

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