Will candidates govern as they campaign?

In American presidential campaigns, the voters are afforded the window from which they can peer through the configuration and the direction of an administration elected to serve in the next four to eight years. On our shores, however, we continue to struggle to make sense of the tone and character of governance by the next administration. Due to the absence of established and disciplined political parties accountable to voters and the public, what we are witnessing in the campaigns are evolving platforms delivered in piecemeal fashion.

Nevertheless, the bruising campaign in the last 60 days may have offered some insights into how each of the candidates will likely govern when elected to administer our state affairs.

Senator Poe’s campaign’s less-aggressive-more-positive tact is benefiting her and the recent opinion polls that place her on top spot affirm this approach. Although her campaign wobbles occasionally on some issues, it remains largely on-the-message. Her avoidance of personal attacks is reminiscent of the campaign similarly and consciously launched by then presidential candidate Gilberto Teodoro in the 2010 presidential election.

Despite the positive tone, though, the campaign of Grace Poe is fair game to criticism. Her platform and stance is neither here nor there. And while her camp has reasons for maintaining calculated ambiguity, the absence of a clear demarcation line that differentiates her from either Mr. Roxas or Vice President Binay is a fodder of her being a Malacanang stooge.

Notable in the race, too, is the tenacity of the Roxas campaign in explaining with difficulty why building on, improving, and expanding the gains of the second Aquino administration is the most realistic formula for the next six years. The difficulty is partly due to perceptions of incompetence among appointees in the administration who failed to deliver their mandates, putting the Roxas campaign on the defensive. As it stands today, no amount of reasoning by the administration can sway public perception against Daang Matuwid. Yet the Roxas campaign plods on as the opportunity of making people understand how the government can best respond to their needs is as important a goal of getting the LP standard bearer elected to serve them.

Senator Miriam Santiago’s campaign, on the other hand, is largely symbolic with no manifest intent of winning as her reliance on virtual campaign has not moved her rating beyond 3% in the more credible polls. From a logistical perspective, her army of Facebook volunteers is unlikely to deliver the winning votes despite her topping countless preference surveys in schools because our brand of politics, observes Prof. Henry E. Brady, pays premium to pounding flesh and demands a lot of energetic interactions between the representative and the represented, a reality that Vice President Binay is aware of and utilizes to his great advantage.

Gone also are the battalions of volunteers who pooled their resources to keep her campaign afloat. Then there is that perennial question of winnability, of which Sen. Santiago’s may have gone past its shelf life at this point in our politics as being knowledgeable in governance and law has become an option rather than an imperative for a good leader. Winnability aside, the rest of the elements are no longer there. Her tandem with Ferdinand Marcos Jr., in the eyes of many of her supporters, is Miriam’s own reductio ad absurdum.

Meanwhile, the Vice President’s campaign is trying to fill in the crevices and cracks left open by the failings of the administration. Like the proverbial “madiskarte” that he is known for, Binay’s masterful rework of the 4Ps, the administration’s flagship social protection program, yields him the 5Ps without breaking a sweat! But if there is one thing remarkable in the vice president’s campaign, it is that ability to poke at emotions of people who really deliver the votes. Like an old-timer in the jungle, Binay’s campaign knows where and how to source food without making the necessary trip to the lowland. After all, he’s a Boy Scout, whatever that means.

Finally, Mayor Duterte’s electrified campaign, fueled by a mixture of fanatical enthusiasm and protest against the status quo, has drawn thousands to his message of change premised not on a solid plan but solely on his vow to end criminality and the drug menace in six months and his prescription of federalism as a cure to the ills in government. But his parochial views on climate change and telecoms sector reform, among a host of national and global issues, are lamentably inoperable in a complex policy ecosystem that requires thinking beyond centralist planning that Duterte has become accustomed to following decades of ruling Davao City without opposition. There is also that gleaming contradiction drawn from his prescription of federalizing the Philippines in the face of untamed corporate greed that has the entire country in its fangs. The assumption goes that to break up a monopoly, it is necessary to divide its stronghold. Yet the American experience is an unfailing example of how a federal state can be drowned by deregulation and free enterprise. So if it’s not in the form of government, it must be in its strength.

With days into the homestretch, we may not have enough time to observe the campaigns of the five presidential candidates to get more from them. But there is an ample opportunity to reflect on the shared notion that the presidency is not just about brutish passion, charisma, and endless vulgarity. The presidency is a transforming leadership that works to restore trust in our institutions more than belief in our elected representatives to take care of us in their absence or death. It is rewarded only to someone who has the humility to exercise the tremendous powers of the office to facilitate and not dictate in the shaping of our national agenda and our collective aspirations. The presidential candidates owe it to the Filipino people to make the reassurance that this election and the presidency is all about us–the governed. It is never about them.

Published here: http://www.rappler.com/views/imho/128691-candidates-campaign-preview-governance

Advertisements

Philippine Bureaucracy and the Persistence of Political Dynasties: A Discussion Paper on Political and Institutional Reforms

INTRODUCTION

The interplay between bureaucracy and political dynasties is an interesting topic in the study of public administration and governance. For one, the parallel development of bureaucratic expansion and political dynasty entrenchment share an identical timeline in history, demanding fuller understanding and critical analysis of the implications that bureaucracy and political dynasties, or vice versa, have on each other and how their relationship influences policymaking and governance in the course of our history.

The discourse on political dynasties cannot but confront the very basic social unit or structure where all the extended discussions emanate—the Filipino family. (McCoy 1994). McCoy asserts that the family is a more effective political unit than an individual as its reputation, loyalties, and alliances are deemed transferable where one family member shares the traits of the others without necessarily innately having them. In the other sections of the book, McCoy calls the family a kinship network whose mutuality in terms of relationship extends to even non-family members.

This paper presents the issues and challenges in the evolution of Philippine bureaucracy parallel to the beginnings and entrenchment and perpetuation of political dynasties. Sections on the different modes of perpetuation as well as the issues surrounding political dynasties are also presented. One important issue that relates closely to the phenomenon of political dynasties—term limits—and which has a provision in the 1987 Constitution is also presented. Finally an anaysis on the dynamics of political dynasties as the bureaucracy is also attempted.

THE PHILIPPINE BUREAUCRACY

Evolution of Philippine Bureaucracy

The political structure in the precolonial Phiilippines provided the most rudimentary service to the people.  This local institution, known as the barangay, was headed by chief called a datu or rajah and was assisted by a council of elders who were responsible for the maintenanc of internal peace and defense, tribute collection, and administration of justice (De Guzman, 1998). Kinship defines authority and the datu is considered the chief of the barangay. He performs the role of a judge, lawmaker and implementer of laws (Rebullida and Serrano, 2006).

During the Spanish period, a highly centralized colonial administration was established on the widely dispersed and community-based system of government (De Guzman, 1998). The once independent barangays are now at the bottom of the hierarchy, subsumed under the pueblos that were under the provincias. There was no separation of church and state, allowing intervention of state affairs by the clergy. The traditional datus’ power was also subsumed. The Spanish colonial period also gave rise to the principalia, the local political and economic elite who have access to both civil and church authorities. Spain’s three centuries of colonization resulted into institutionalized values and traits that influence public administration, among these pakikisama, utang na loob, and hiya. It is argued that these values partly explain the rise of graft and corruption, nepotism and favoritism, and patronage. These values are in direct contrast to Weberian’s characteristic of a bureaucracy (Rebullida and Serrano, 2006). A civil service was established with people performing integral executive, legislative, and judicial functions. However, the bureaucracy under Spain was perceived to be corrupt. Civil servants are said to be seldom paid but allowed instead to retain a percentage of taxes they collected. Under Spain, there were only five main departments, namely the Army, Navy, Justice, Finance, and the Directorate General of Civil Administration.

The 1896 Revolution installed the Malolos Republic. Following the declaration of independence in Malolos, a representative and democratic form of government with executive, legislative and judicial branches was established. Accordingly, the most important document produced during the period was the Malolos Constitution of 1899, outlining the form of government that is said to be parliamentary in structure. A Council of Government was created under a president and composed of seven departments each headed by a secretary: Foreign Affairs, Interior, Finance, War, Army and Navy, Public Instruction, Public Communications and Works, and Agriculture, Industry and Commerce (De Guzman, 183).

When the Americans gained control of the Philippines, they retained the centralized form of government but added a few departments and, more importantly, introduced the principle that public office is a public trust, making civil servants accountable to the people they serve. While remnants of Spanish-style governance can still be observed, the Americans introduced modern bureaucracy characterized by accountability for public resources. The Philippine Commission was then established and among its first acts was the passage of Act No. 5, 9 September 1900, An Act for the Establishment of an Efficient and Honest Civil Service in the Philippines. The reform Act places all government positions below a bureau director under the civil service, and covers national and local positions. A system of merit and qualification was introduced underscoring competence, independence, and integrity in public service. There were six government departments during this period, namely: Finance, Justice, Public Instruction, Interior, Agriculture and Natural Resources, and Commerce and Communications.

In 1935, the Philippine Commission was established and a constitution was approved in that same year (De Guzman, 183) that contained a separate provision on civil service. The 1935 Constitution contained a separate provision stipulating that all appointments to government positions should be made only based on merit and fitness to be determined in a competitive examination. There were three additional departments created during this period.

The advent of the Second World War put the Philippines under the Japanese occupation, during which time the bureaucracy was kept relatively small with only six ministries: Foreign Affairs, Finance, Justice, Agriculture and Commerce, Public Works and Communications, and Education. An all-Filipino civil service was in place led by the Philippine Executive Commission.

After the war, the Philippines began to restructure its bureaucracy and the regular departments during the Commonwealth were augmented by the creation of a Department of Foreign Affairs. Between this period until the middle of the 1950s, tales of graft and corruption and incompetence were common as more unqualified personnel were brought in by the appointing powers of the time. It was not until 1954 when administrative reforms were initialized by the creation of the Government Survey and Reorganization Committee, followed by the Reorganization Committee in 1956. However, the reorganization intent of the Committee was rendered ineffectual because laws were passed exempting agencies from coverage (De Guzman, 184).

With the growth and expansion of government came the large-scale spoils system that characterized succeeding administrations. In 1965, upon his assumption to the presidency and against the backdrop of an oversized and inefficient bureaucracy, Marcos asked Congress to effect a reorganization anchored on simplicity, economy, and efficiency in government (De Guzman, 184). Three years later, in 1968, Congress approved the Reorganization. But it was not until 1972 that Congress approved the Integrated Reorganizational Plan without modification. The plan, adopted entirely by virtue of Presidential Decree No. 1 during Martial Law, had intended to streamline the bureaucracy saddled with duplicative agencies. But the plan encountered difficulties in the implementation in the absence of an open consultation between decision-makers and the implementers (De Guzman, 185).

The Philippine bureaucracy has evolved over a period of time. From the Post-war era until the current administration of President Benigno Aquino III, a lot of reforms have been introduced all intended to make the bureaucracy respond to needs and the demands of the citizenry. The bureaucratic structures and models have undergone a series of changes and a lot of innovations and reforms, both substantively and superficially, yet some of the things remain the same. It is as if all those initiatives undertaken barely scratched the surface of the problem.

Issues and Challenges in Philippine Bureaucracy

De Guzman identified more than a dozen major trouble spots in Philippine bureaucracy that confront the civil servant, the public service end-user, and the policymakers. These troubles will persist until hard decisions are taken to bring about difficult but necessary changes in the form and substance of our bureaucracy (De Guzman, 197). We can start with the centralization versus decentralization. Until Marcos misappropriated it, centralization did not project a specter of a totalitarian regime. The Marcos regime started politicizing the bureaucracy, subverted public interest, gave rise to crony capitalism, incurred huge public debts, and consolidated economic and political power through Martial Law that is credited for numerous human rights violations and corporate takeovers by the state. As a result, the government of the first Aquino administration presided over the difficult period of transition and redemocratization, and shepherded the passage of the new Constitution and the Local Government Code to guide the massive rebuilding and reorganization. The 1987 Constitution underscores empowerment by devolution, ushering in reforms in governance in the delivery of social services by engaging civil society and the grassroots (Rebullida and Serrano, 2006). Yet, the ensuing decentralization suffered infirmity because much of the devolution pertains only to powers and functions and not resources, resulting in a myriad of unfunded mandates in our laws.

Duplication and overlapping of functions in personnel and agencies are noted, resulting in more inefficiency and waste of resources. Inadequate coordination between and among agencies in government cost both lives and resources. The latest example of this would be the event in Mamasapano, Maguindanao wherein 44 PNP Special Forces operatives were killed in an encounter with members of the rebel group MILF all because of the lack of coordination between and among leaders in the PNP and the AFP.

Graft and corruption seems to be a permanent fixture in Philippine bureaucracy. This problem is too huge it earns its own mystique. The scale is grand. Judging by the daily headlines and the number of congressional inquiries on corruption cases involving bureaucrats one can definitely say that corruption has already become an essential part of our culture, or our values system.

Red tape and inefficiency are inseparable and correlate even to graft and corruption. While we have already an anti-red tape law in place, a lot remains to be done in terms of enforcing the policy and incentivizing people to encourage efficiency, on the part of the public servants, and vigilance among the public as end-users. Cumbersome and complicated procedures when transacting with government agencies have stymied not only investors from doing business in the country. More importantly, it discourages citizens’ engagement and participation. Surveys after surveys churn out unfavorable results in terms of ease of doing business in the Philippines, at least generally. The Citizen’s Charter, however, is an important initiative to improve public service delivery but a lot of people are not aware of it.

Ineffective administration of public enterprises brings back headlines on abuses of discretion among officers and officials in government-owned and controlled corporations. The latest to banner the dailies is the so-called DBP “wash sale” or the illegal buying and selling of securities where no real change of ownership takes place. The Napoles scandal reminds us of the weaknesses and the many loopholes in our bureaucratic process despite its projected rigidity. Of course, corruption plays a major part in those allegedly multibillion-peso anomaly involving high officials of the government.

The inadequacy of the communication system in the bureaucracy maybe understood on two levels: on the level of human skills and on the level of hardware or technology, or the absence of either one or both. The practice of creating adhocracies, or the penchant for creating extrabureaucratic structures within the bureaucracy not only confuses functions and powers but also bears on the resources of an agency. Yet the creation of this adhocracies are couched in sophisticated technocrat’s jargon that decision-makers are inclined to favor without giving thought to the possibility that its creation is to mask the lack of planning, if not bad planning, that left a lot of unanticipated needs.

Problems in personnel administration are probably a lifetime concern of the bureaucracy. Even with the ongoing government-wide rationalization plan, reports of overstaffed yet undermanned agencies are all too common, especially in areas where political patronage is high. The areal versus sectoral planning and management dilemma will continue to linger until our planning philosophy is able to strengthen the coordinative mechanisms at various levels of government. Equally important, too, is the political leadership that can provide a sense of mission and direction so that all government planning are directed and dedicated towards its accomplishment.

Development commitment among civil servants is such highly volatile topic as it related to ethics, accountability, performance, professionalism and, of course, incentives. But it helps to bring up the principle that public office is public trust as an entry of a values formation program in the civil service, of which the Civil Service Commission is doing already. What is needed perhaps is a strong monitoring program and regular assessment to check whether values formation initiatives answer the organizational needs of agencies.

Finally, citizen’s participation in governance, while messy, is an effective counterpoint to the inefficiencies of bureaucracy. Citizen’s participation can be a double-edge sword, so it works either to one’s advantage or disadvantage. Citizen’s participation is enshrined in the Constitution as a reactive measure to the Marcos dictatorship. Participatory governance, in its various forms and expressions, has improved delivery of basic social services especially to areas where government has very limited presence. The Community-Driven Development approach, for example, used by the government in its KALAHI-CIDDS program has shown encouraging results (Mangahas and Arroyo, 2014).

POLITICAL DYNASTIES IN THE PHILIPPINES

History

Pre-Colonial Period

Scholars commonly trace the beginnings of political dynasties to as early as the pre-colonial times, in the days of the datu, of the maharlikas, our own version of royalty that predates the federal system of government, a system we copied poorly, if not wrongly, from the Americans. The small villages of yore were virtual kingdoms each ruled by a datu, whose reign and succession is guaranteed by his heirs—his family, his son.

Colonial Period

The Spanish colonial times gave rise to the principalia, an emerging class that embodied the new form of local elite. The Spaniards relied on the clergy for the administration of the islands and never established a strong centralized State. Instead power was dispersed amongst various elite families in the provinces. These families were granted the right to hold land, vote, and serve in positions of local political power (Querubin, 2010). The principalia rose from playing puppets to Spanish authorities to become rulers later on. They evolved from being clerks and trusted servants of the Spanish power holders to become power-wielders themselves over time. From attendants of vast landholdings of the Spanish Crown, they became landlords (hacienderos) themselves. And so after four centuries, the principalia finally established its own foothold in the economic and political affairs of the state. They would become the new ruling class. The principalia, along with a handful of Chinese traders were on to become the oligarchs of the time. They were the new maharlikas. The local principalia would further consolidate their power during the American colonial period.

American Period

The Americans needed a partner and loyal ally in the local elite who controlled the lands and even forces that once fought against the Spaniards for them to “govern” the islands. As a concession, the Americans introduced elections (Querubin, 2010), the qualifications of which were quite steep only the local elite could satisfy, such as literacy and property, and rightly so because they were only the ones who could send their children to school. It should be noted that under President Taft, voting and electoral participation were limited to the propertied class, which at that time constituted less than one percent (1%) of the population (Tuason, 2010). Many of the propertied class were descendants of the same local elite who gained concessions during the Spanish period.

Predictably, in the elections that were held in 1901 and 1907, majority of those who emerged winners were mostly coming from the ranks of the local elite. So while education and suffrage were introduced, access and full exercise—meaning to elect and be elected—was not only limited but also exclusive to a certain class. This clearly contributed to the rise of family power, of the local elite. These elite families whose influence cut across business and politics would continue to receive special favors and concessions from the Americans that allowed them to expand their businesses and advance their political ambitions (Tuazon, 2010).

Post-war Era and Post-Edsa

In the post-war House of Representatives (1946 Congress), of the 98 congressmen elected, 61 or 62% came from families with elective position from 1907 to 1941. This proportion of dynastic share of congressional seats continues to this day, even higher according to the AIM study (Mendoza et al, 2013). Yet the expansion of political dynasties may be traced back to the American colonial period when the principalia was able to consolidate their power and control over the political and economic affairs of the state.

A cursory look at the names of Philippine political leaders and administrators during and after the American period reveals that the same families that control business and politics are very much around, although some of their kin opted out of politics in favor of concentrating in business. The most enduring example of a family or clan that is able to withstand several political transitions yet maintain its formidable position in both politics and business is none other than the family of the incumbent president. The president’s clan has produced two presidents, five senators, a handful of congresspersons, and several governors. On the business side, the president’s relatives are still perched on top of their respective industries. In terms of consolidated interests in business and politics, the Lopezes, who are major beneficiaries of rent seeking (McCoy, p. 20) and who control media conglomerate ABS-CBN and power utility monopoly Meralco may have been a perfect example had the family decided to keep politics within and beyond their traditional turf in Western Visayas. The clan has produced a vice president in Fernando and a few congresspersons who have since retired.

During the Marcos years, political dynasties were dormant, deferring to the soon-to-be-consolidated and now-returning Marcos-Romualdez dynasty. The reason was simple: Marcos had most of the political dynasties under his clutches. The way to describe it today is a centralized dynasty, with President Marcos at the top.

After Marcos’ ouster, and upon Corazon Aquino’s assumption into power, the once dormant political dynasties slowly wormed back themselves into power. And by the time the first Congress post-Edsa opened, the once sidelined political dynasties found themselves reunited in the halls of Congress and in provincial capitols nationwide. It was even estimated that in 1987, 80% of the members of the House of Representatives belong to political dynasties.

The succeeding congresses saw a dismal reduction in the number of political dynasties occupying seats in the Lower House, which in the 15th Congress had a 67% share. This is according to a study by the AIM Policy Center. The 15th Congress has 234 regular members and 55 party-list representatives, or a total membership of 289. This means that 157 representatives in the 16th Congress belong to political dynasties. The AIM Policy Center is currently working on the results of the May 2013 elections. But some preliminary reports indicate almost similar shares of seats at around 70% in the 16th Congress, which translates into 164 dynastic members of the Lower House. While some political dynasties suffered setbacks in the May 2013 elections, notably the Jalosjoses (Philippine Star, May 14, 2013) in the Zamboanga region, the Singsons of Ilocos Sur were able to wrestle more power than in the previous election of 2010.

Glaringly in the Senate, the Cayetano sibling act is now complimented by the entry of Jose Victor “JV” Ejercito, who shares the same father with Senator Jose “Jinggoy” Estrada, Manila mayor and former president Joseph Estrada, whose wife Loi is a former senator herself and who shared three years of her term in the Senate with her son, Jinggoy. The Senate in the 16th Congress nearly had a father-and-son tandem had Jack Enrile made it, who would have shared three years of the remaining term of his father, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

While Senator Nancy Binay does not have a relative in the Senate, she’s in the limelight for the simple reason that her father is Vice President Jejomar Binay, whose two other children themselves wield power in the country’s premier business capital, Makati City, where daughter Abigail is the first district representative and son Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay is the city mayor.

The examples tell us one thing: that after 1986, there was “massive democratization” of political dynasties. Overall, political dynasties prevailed (Philippine Star, May 18, 2013).

THE PROBLEM WITH DEFINITION

Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Constitution says “”The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” The key phrases here are prohibit political dynasties and as may be defined by law. In plain language, the provision is tentative and non-self-executory. This only means one thing: the need for a legislated definition, an enabling law, to breathe life to the provision. The definition bears the mark of a masterful trademark of politically expedient work on the part of the crafters of the 1987 Constitution who left the burden of defining what constitutes political dynasties to those who will be affected by the provision: the dynastic members of Congress. Hence, from 1987 until 2015, the constitutional prohibition of political dynasties remains unenforceable. In a first test case ever filed against members of political dynasties from the different parts of the country seeking various elective positions in the 2013 midterm elections, the anti-dynasty advocates used Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio’s own definition of political dynasty in Navarro versus Ermita as a “phenomenon that concentrates political power and public resources within the control of a few families whose members alternately hold elective offices, deftly skirting term limits.” The respondents belong to what is considered “an obvious case of political dynasty.” The case was dismissed by the Comelec and eventually by the Supreme Court, again, in the absence of an enabling law.

The struggle against political dynasties is actually a struggle for a legislated definition for no amount of public shaming will disqualify the so-called dynastic candidates from seeking elective position. The same provision in the Constitution that “prohibits” political dynasties “guarantees” the political rights of everyone to vote and be voted upon, including members of political dynasties. The struggle for the passage of an enabling in Congress is now 28 years old and has gone though several congresses already, starting with the first post-Edsa Congress. And for the first time in 27 years, an anti-dynasty bill reached the House plenary in 2014. Understanding the difficulty in passing an anti-dynasty provision is no rocket science as people are cautioned not to expect dynastic members of Congress to legislate their own extinction. In a house dominated by political dynasties, it is unthinkable that an anti-dynasty measure could even hurdle past the committee. Yet, it is now in the Plenary. But while the measure has gone that far, the question is now on the content. Advocates can only hope that the debate should now center on the definitions as to who is covered and whether they should pass an anti-dynasty measure at all.

But to understand and appreciate better the issue of political dynasty and why is there a need for a law to define it, it is good to revisit previous attempts as well as some definitions proposed for legislation. Senate Bill No. 2649, authored by Senator Miriam Santiago, defines political dynasty as existing when:

“(a) a person who is a spouse of an incumbent elective official holds or runs for an elective office simultaneously with the incumbent elective official within the same province or occupies immediately after the term of office of the incumbent elective official.  It shall also be deemed to exist where two (2) or more persons are spouses or related within the second civil degree of consanguinity or affinity run simultaneously for elective office within the same province, even if neither is so related to an incumbent public official.

Meanwhile, in the House of Representatives, the Makabayan coalition also came up with their own version. And very much like the Santiago bill, it shares the same prescribed limitations and never saw the light of day in the 15th Congress.

Outside of Congress, several advocacy groups and political parties have come up with their own proposals, notably the Kapatiran Party and the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM). In contrast to similar bills pending in Congress before (and also now), the version of Kapatiran Party that gained support from numerous civil society groups covered national positions. Additionally, Senate Bill No. 412 filed by Senator Sergio Osmeña III during the first regular session of the Thirteenth Congress in 2004 also covered national positions. Note that both the Santiago and Makabayan bills conveniently left out the national positions. The decision to include national elective positions is on the realization that consolidation of power takes place not only at the local, provincial level but also at the national level. In fact, national elective officials had a hand in the perpetuation of political dynasties by dispensing undue favors to relatives occupying top local positions and more significantly, by their refusal to enact an enabling law to prohibit political dynasties.

To illustrate the effect of the legislated Kapatiran Party bill, for example, Senator Alan Cayetano would have been prevented from seeking reelection while his sister is incumbent. If the law were in effect, it would have prevented the senator’s brother’s candidacy for congressman and his sister’s candidacy as mayor of Taguig City. Unfortunately, all the Cayetanos who ran in 2013 got elected, except for the eldest sister, Pia who is serving her remaining three years in the Senate. One version that is now in the Committee of Sen. Pimentel allows only one family member to run and covers the post of a barangay councilor. Most versions so far are for legislative action. For all those bills to move an inch outside their committees, the President has to certify them as urgent bills requiring priority legislative action.

MODES OF PERPETUATION

Vertical and Horizontal Expansion

According to The New Oxford American dictionary, perpetuation is to “make something, typically an undesirable situation or unfounded belief, continue indefinitely.” The persistence of political dynasties is something that only the members desire its perpetuity. According to Mendoza, the most common form of perpetuation is my succession, also called horizontal perpetuation, or expansion. This is the case of generational transfer of political power within the family that in some cases spans a generation. The transfer of power form one family member to the next is mainly due to term limits, for which our Constitution provides. For positions other than the President down to senators, a three-year term is allowed which means a total of nine years if a candidate is elected consecutively. Mendoza calls this mode of perpetuation a thin type of dynasty.

Another mode of perpetuation is the horizontal perpetuation or expansion. This happens when two or more members of the family simultaneously occupy positions. Dynasties in this category are referred to as fat dynasty. By this type of definition, the family of Vice President Binay could easily qualify, him being a vice president, who was succeeded in office as mayor by his son, whose two sisters are members of Congress, one a senator the other a representative of her district. It would have been fatter if the vice president’s wife occupies another elective post whether locally or nationally.

Geopolitics

In the guise of better public service, political families ventured into gerrymandering as a form of consolidating political power in the provinces. There were several cases that can be discussed but among the famous ones is that of the Villafuertes in Camarines Sur. The proposal to carve a new province out of Camarines Sur came from four lawmakers representing the province at that time at the House of Representatives, Reps. Arnulfo Fuentebella, Luis Villafuerte Sr., Diosdado Ignacio “Dato” Arroyo and Rolando Andaya. They authored House Bill 4820, which was approved by 229 House members in August 2011. But according to insiders in Camarines Sur, the context of dividing the huge province is that Luis Sr. was looking for a district where he could continue to represent in case he lost the battle for governorship to no other than his grandson, Miguel. Comelec records will show that in fact Luis Sr. lost to his grandson who succeeded his father L-Ray as governor of Camarines Sur in the 2013 mid-term elections. And Luis Sr., having no district to run, is now out of office.

Another strategy for perpetuation is by expanding the family political power outside of its traditional bailiwick that is akin to a franchise. This is what happened to the Jalosjos political dynasty that is traditionally based in Zamboange del Norte but expanded to the rest of the Zamboanga Peninsula, including Zamboanga de Sibugay as well as Misamis Occidental. But as the 2013 Comelec records will bear, the Jalosjos dynasty suffered a major setback with only two family members elected: Romeo’s son Seth Frederick as representative of the first district of Zamboanga del Norte and elder sister Rosalina Jalosjos-Johnson as city councilor of Dapitan.

PROBLEM WITH POLITICAL DYNASTIES

Distortion of Political Institutions

Acemoglu and Robinson (2012) offered some explanations on why nations fail in terms of attaining economic development. Nations fail because they don’t have the right political and economic institutions that facilitate and sustain growth and development. They maintain the view that democratic political and inclusive economic institutions are indispensible for sustained long-term development. Acemoglu and Robinson defined and made clear distinction of institutions as either inclusive or extractive. Inclusive institutions are those that allow and encourage participation of a broad segment of the population in both the process and outcomes of development. On the other hand, extractive institutions concentrate and perpetuate political and economic power and confine the benefits of production in the hands of the few, of the elite at the expense of the many, or the masses. North Korea, some sub-Saharan African states, and Russia before and shortly after the fall of the Soviet empire have such institutions. It may be contentious to some but China exemplifies an extractive institution as the Central Communist Party remains the largest beneficiary of the country’s massive economic expansion, the benefits of which did not trickle down to the ordinary village people in the world’s second largest economy. The Chinese economic expansion only serves to widen the gap between the rising number of millionaires and the hundreds of millions of poor in rural villages.

Political dynasties, generally understood as the concentration of political power in the hands of a family or clan, are an example of an extractive political institution. By concentrating and perpetuating power in families or clans, political dynasties prevent the emergence of broad-based political and economic institutions. In fact, political dynasties in the Philippines have become part of life, an ideology in itself even. Political dynasties take the place of political parties—the very political institutions entrusted with the task of setting the development agenda in legislature. Political dynasties may not be invincible, but they are unavoidable and anyone who entertains the temptation of getting into elective politics has to deal with them. There is no escaping them; they are everywhere—in the Senate, the House of Representatives, in the provincial, city, or municipal governments. Even in the barangays! But equally important to note is the presence of some of its members in key executive positions in the national government. But that would be another point.

Self-Perpetuation, Self-Persistence, Undue Advantage and the Rise of Low-Quality Politician

The logic of persistence of political dynasties lies in the very structure of our political system that is still very much rested on a client-patron arrangement against which cosmetic reforms failed to even scratch its surface, so to speak. The symbiotic elite-mass, landlord-tenant, patron-client, and candidate-voter relationship will probably linger much longer than political reform initiatives are designed to address them. One theory that explains persistence is the theory of exchange that postulates that consensus and peaceful exchange under the law is what characterize politics within the territory of a state (McCoy, p. 46). This theory, in effect, makes elections a free-for-all exercise with only those who have the means to win, including vote buying, likely to emerge as victors. The succeeding paragraphs shall examine how theories of perpetuation and persistence are validated by case studies at least in the Philippine context.

Dal Bo et al. (2009) investigate whether political power is self-perpetuating, that power begets power. Self-perpetuation is defined as a power-treatment effect, whereby holding political power increases the probability that one’s heirs attain political power in the future regardless of family characteristics. Focusing on the transmission of political power, they conclude that power, indeed, is self-perpetuating and that power augments the political capital that is transmitted within a family, creating an advantage of a cumulative, rather than fixed, nature (Dal Bo 2009). The longer one’s tenure, the more likely one is to establish a political dynasty and that this relationship is causal (emphasis mine).

On the other hand, Querubin (2011) has done an exhaustive analysis on political dynasties in the Philippines. His analysis on dynastic persistence yields the following findings:

  • there is an evidence of self-perpetuation in power by political dynasties in the Philippines (in affirming Dal Bo)
  • the results of his research demonstrates that those who serve as congressmen or provincial governors are four times more likely to have a future relative in office than a candidate who run and lose
  • this effect is not driven by unobserved characteristics of candidates and their families; rather, there is a causal effect from holding political power on the electoral success of future relatives. This is called incumbency advantage (also in Dal Bo).
  • in the Philippines, dynastic candidates are 22% more likely to win an election than individuals without any previous relatives in office. (Twenty-two percent may be minuscule, but compared to zero probability is significant).
  • the political system may create new powerful families because non-dynastic individuals who access office are more likely to create political dynasty of their own.
  • the political system itself creates persistence.
  • societies that draw its leaders from a small set of families could end up with politicians of lower quality. I believe there is no need for me to elaborate this point.

Anomaly in Modernizing Democratic Society

The prevalence and expansion of political dynasties is a continuing anomaly in our modern, democratic politics. And rightly so because of our pretension that the emergence of organized parties with strong ideological orientation as well as the growing population of young people can take care of our so-called democratic deficits. But a report of the Bertelsmann Foundation, part of which was carried by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, was not the least damning as it was brutally frank. Oligarchy, we realize, is what we are and we continue to be unless we do something fundamentally difficult but necessary steps. And that calls for the dismantling of oligarchy and political dynasties “to make politics and economics more transparent and competitive (in PDI, April 17, 2014).”

What makes the situation more anomalous is the reluctance, if not blatant refusal, of the Aquino administration to make the passage of deep political reform measures a priority of this government. There could be no other reason for the unwillingness of the president to upset the imbalance except that he wants to perpetuate the system for pragmatic considerations.

Ethics and Accountability Issue

When the fate of a barangay, municipality, city, or province is discussed and decided over family lunch or dinner, accountability is in danger. Accountability and the system of checks and balances are imperatives for good governance. News of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada realigning his pork barrel, which was just ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, to the City of Manila where his father is the Mayor had the public confused. The public could not help but ask if the pork barrel was ruled illegal, why not just return it, just like what majority of senators did. What added controversy to the realignment is the idea that the P100M fund could have been spent in more needy areas in Mindanao. Why Manila, which is far from a needy LGU, is everyone’s question at that time.

While there is no study that established causality between dynasties and corruption, the daily headlines have something to tell. Besides resources, the other and more potent form of corruption is that of political corruption where accountability is difficult to extract from the perpetrators.

Problem with Term Limits

Meanwhile, Querubin’s study on term limits yields the following conclusions:

  • term limits do not effectively increase the turnover of incumbent families in Congress and provincial governorships in the Philippines
  • term limits may change “stance” in Congress in terms of social policies legislation, but unlikely to change the fundamental interests represented in the democratic system
  • father anti-RH, successor son pro-RH
    • term limits do not affect in any sense the fundamental sources of political power of dynasties which include control over land, employment, and violence in their respective provinces (3Gs of election; clientilism, patronalistic)

Querubin (2011) concludes that “reforms that do not alter the underlying distribution of political power will not succeed in substantively changing the political equilibrium because incumbents will adapt and remain powerful under the new set of institutions.” He added that “while term limits may allow quality politicians to remain in office for a longer period of time, it may also exacerbate the dynastic nature of Philippine politics by providing incentives for incumbents to bring additional members of their family to power and thus control several offices simultaneously.” This is the case with the Cayetanos and the Estradas, and at some point, the Zubiris of Bukidnon.

Weak Bureaucracy and Strong Political Families: The Lethal Mix

 

McCoy (1994) traces two key elements that contribute to the rise of political dynasties that in turn weakens the bureaucracy: the rise of rents, or popularly referred to as rent seeking and the diminished central government control over provinces. Rent seeking is a form of monopoly where markets are restricted through numerous regulations with the intent of awarding access to favored constituents (McCoy, p. 11). Rent seeking characterized Philippine politics as the country emerged from the clutches of its last colonial masters. The emergence of the Philippine Republic is what provided the impetus for heightened rent seeking such that politicians at that time won their posts in elections largely funded by local elite. As a form of payment, concessions were made to favor the elite political supporters from one administration to the next, and these favors would encroach into the realms of appointments in the civil service. The unabated concessions of the government to local political and business elite left impacted the state’s resources thereby weakening the bureaucracy and in effect strengthening political families, reinforcing the view that Philippine bureaucracy has long been penetrated by particularistic oligarchic interests, which have a firm independent economic base yet rely heavily upon their access to the political machinery in order to promote private accumulation. Because the state apparatus is unable to provide the calculability necessary for advanced capitalism, one finds instead a kind of rent capitalism based, ultimately, on the plunder of the state apparatus by powerful oligarchic interests (McCoy, 1994, p. 13). The weakening of the state bureaucracy can be traced back then to as early as the American period when the American administrators, in trying to correct the perceived excesses of the Spanish colonization, introduced local autonomy and elections that opened access to political power to the local elite.

DYNASTIES AS THE BUREAUCRACY

The concepts of dynasty and bureaucracy, presumably, are far apart in literatures either in political science or public administration yet their origins and convergence seem inevitable probably because these concepts are intertwined, if not interlocked, especially when discussed in the Philippine context. For a starter, bureaucracy is understood as a specific form of social organization for administrative purpose and for dealing with the activities of a large number of people in a way similar to the family (De Guzman, p.181). The framework by which we can understand the interlocking relationship and their implication on each is the client-patron arrangement. Rocamora (2008) uses as example the case of then Makati City mayor and now Vice President Jejomar Binay to illustrate how a budding dynasty at that time could parallel or alternate, if not totally replace the functions of a bureaucracy and how it is done ‘efficiently’ such that it benefits the patron, in this case the former mayor, and the clients themselves, the underprivileged Makati constituents. In my own province, Bukidnon, before the advent of socialized health insurance and other aid programs the name Zubiri is synonymous to a hospital, a market or grocery, a funeral parlor, and an ATM machine (although ATMs were not yet popular at the time, especially in Mindanao, much less Bukidnon). The Zubiri patriarch, incumbent Governor Jose Maria Jr., is the chief political patron and kingmaker of the province even to this day, whose political career is built on patronage but not violence. Even before he became an assemblyman, his first foray into politics, Joe as the governor is fondly called, is a magnet for ‘charity,’ which he shrewdly converted into political capital by distributing goods and cash whenever opportunity presented itself. Like Binay, Joe Zubiri saw the lack of government response, if not ineptitude, to the needs of his constituents and the absence of readily accessible services. In a sense, the distribution of patronage is efficient, but it was hardly inclusive because not all needy residents have availed of the manna from sugar cane, as Joe Zubiri’s funds were mostly personal and drawn from his income in his sugar business, at least according to the patriarch himself.

The tales above may not illustrate the more graphic examples of how dynasties not only alternate or replace government or its essential functions but turned their constituents captive in an unequal client-patron relationship. Anecdotally, some political dynasties in Mindanao behave like monarchs in a democratic, republican country.

THE WAY FORWARD

Insulating Bureaucracy

The classic Weberian bureaucracy is sought in the face of politicization of our administrative system. While a politics-free bureaucracy is utopic, its professionalization may approximate what many desire to be an independent civil service with well-informed and economically self-reliant members who are immune to political pressure within and outside of their workplaces. It is a widely held belief that the economically independent class are free from the dictates of politicians. In some cases, the reverse is true. The current efforts, or rather the cumulative undertakings of the government, in professionalizing the civil service may have fallen short in strengthening our bureaucracy. However, no efforts can and should be taken as stand alone tools or solutions in insulating bureaucracy. The passage of supporting measures is highly desirable such as further rationalization of performance incentives and bonuses to inspire higher performance in the public sector.

CONCLUSIONS

Article II, Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution provides that “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” It sounds neat, but not really. This provision is non-self-executory in the first place and therefore requires an enabling law to take effect.

Unfortunately, the task of defining political dynasties as provided for in the Constitution is essentially left to Congress, which is a lair of political dynasties. The Congress is therefore a wrong place and a wrong choice for legislating a defining of political dynasties. It is wishful thinking to expect Congress to legislate its own members’ eventual extinction! This explains why after 27 years, Congress has failed to enact an anti-dynasty law, and the simple and obvious reason is that such a law would go against the interest of a majority of its members.

The discourse on political dynasties in relation to the development or degeneration of our bureaucracy hopefully will never lose academic and research value as we continue to analyze and scrutinize the logic that undergirds such relationship as well as prod on to search for ways to improve governance and administration against the specter of this continuing anomaly.

From an advocate’s perspective, there is no easy way to succeed in what the Bertelsmann Foundation prescribes as the dismantling of the oligarchy and political dynasties to make politics and economics competitive. That statement was made from a position of comfort because the realities on the ground so far remain to be perfect haven for dynastic expansion and mini oligarchy. Until we began addressing the underlying problems that underpin the issues at hand, we are only trying to scratch the itch and not kill the virus.

Finally, the parallel development of bureaucratic expansion and political dynasty entrenchment share an identical timeline in history, demanding fuller understanding and critical analysis of the implications that bureaucracy and political dynasties, or vice versa, have on each other and how their relationship influences policymaking and governance in the course of our history.

RECOMMENDATIONS

There are two levels of recommendations I wish to make in this paper: the academic and research level, and the programmatic level.

For academic and research interest purposes, it is worthy to pursue studies looking into the history of policy prescriptions of those perceived to belong to a political dynasty in terms of policy impact on public interest as well as their own. This should target those elected and appointed officials for the last 15 years. The length of time is three times more than the usual cycle for policy reviews. This is to allow policy corrections in cases of policies running in conflict with existing laws and provisions in the Constitution or in cases where such policies have become untenable therefore needed reform. The study should also look at the cost and quality of those policies.

Another point of investigation is the economics of political dynasties, as SALNs of members have proved to be unreliable indicator of one’s wealth. The interest here is on ethics, accountability, and integrity of publicly elected (and appointed) officials although some may contend that this function properly belongs to the Commission on Audit.

On the pragmatic side, but still within the domain of the academe, a continuing conversation on the issues in terms of the latest in legislative efforts and constraints are strongly encouraged. The engagement and full participation of civil society organizations and the youth sector are strongly encouraged to hear their inputs to be considered for any future course of action.

Bringing around the issue to the grassroots is a worthy yet expensive undertaking. It is therefore encouraged that the Internet and social media be utilized to disseminate informational and educational materials for the public, and specific target audience, to gain a deeper understanding on the issue.  Again, the academe should lead in terms of formulating a common point for convergence for all sectors to come together and agree and propose a unified action such as pressuring Congress to pass not only an anti-dynasty bill but also the FOI, the competition, political party development, party list reform, budget reform, and electoral reform bills.

It is paramount that advocates of anti-dynasty find common ground with those in the different reform advocacies and complement each other because all these measures coming from different groups will all lead towards improving the same locus or ecosystem where we operate.

Finally, the combination of the preceding recommendations are thought to bring together the public, having familiarized with the issue at heart, into action which can be a form of pressure on Congress to legislate a definition of what constitutes political dynasty.

 

 

References

Journals

Mangahas, Joel V., and Arroyo, Dennis (2014). Improving Local Service Delivery through the Community-Driven Development Approach. Asian Review of Public Administration 25(1), pp. 56-73.

Dal Bo, Ernestro, Dal Bo Pedro, and Snyder, Jason. Political Dynasties in Review of Economic Studies (2009) 76, 115–142.

Books

Acemoglu, D. and J.Robinson. 2012. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. New York: Random House.

Acemoglu, D. and J.Robinson. 2006. Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Book Chapters

De Guzman, Raul P., Brillantes, Alex B., and Pacho, Arturo G (1988). The Bureaucracy. In Raul P. De Guzman and Mila A. Reforma (Eds), Government and Politics of the Philippines (pp. 180-206). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rebullida, Ma. Lourdes G. Genato, Serrano, Cecilia (2006). Bureaucracy and Public Management in Democracy, Development, and Governance in the Philippines. In Noel M. Morada and Teresa Encarnacion Tadem (Eds), Philippine Politics and Governance (pp. 217-248). Quezon City: UP Department of Political Science

McCoy, Alfred W. (1994). Anarchy of Families: The Histiriography of State and Family in the Philippines. In Alfred W. McCoy,  (Ed), Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines (1-27). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Fegan, Brian (1994). Entrepreneurs in Votes and Violence. In Alfred W. McCoy,  (Ed), Anarchy of Families: State and Family in the Philippines (41-52). Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Rocamora, Joel (1995). Classes, Bosses, Goons, and Guns: Re-imagining Philippine Political Culture.In Jose F. Lacaba (Ed), Boss: Five Case Studies of Local Politics in the Philippines, Pasig: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

Published Articles

CENPEG Issue Analysis, Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy. No. 08 S. 2012

Mendoza et al, “Political Dynasties and Poverty: Chicken or the Egg” (2013). Makati City: Asian Institute of Management.

Querubin, Pablo (2011). Political Reform and Elite Persistence: Term Limits and Political Dynasties in the Philippines, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies, October, 2011.

Querubin, Pablo (2010) “Family and Politics: Dynastic Persistence in the Philippines”, mimeo, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Tuazon, Bobby M (2010). Six Centuries of Political Dynasties: Why the Philippines Will Forever be Ruled by Political Clans? Quezon City: Center for People Empowerment in Governance.

Other Sources

The 1987 Philippine Constitution

HB 3413, Fifteenth Congress of the Philippines, First Regular Session.

Senate Bill No. 2649

The Philippine Star, May 14, 2013.

Websites

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/308899/news/nation/phl-political-dynasties-winners-losers-in-may-13-elections).

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/293487/news/nation/anti-political-dynasty-group-seeks-to-disqualify-six-candidates

http://business.inquirer.net/192967/wash-sales-said-to-be-common-practice

http://www.rappler.com/nation/57370-anti-political-dynasty-bill-house-plenary

http://www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/276411/news/specialreports/the-great-divide-the-politics-and-economics-of-splitting-camsur.

http://www.rappler.com/nation/57370-anti-political-dynasty-bill-house-plenary and committee records

www.gmanetwork.com/news/story/293487/news/nation/anti-political-dynasty-group-seeks-to-disqualify-six-candidates

National Artists of (Dis)Honor No More

Barely four years when Gloria Arroyo stunned the artistic community with her insertion of the Four Stooges into the roll of National Artists, the Supreme Court on July 15, 2013 declared as invalid the awards bestowed on Cecille Alvarez (theater), Magno Jose Carlo Caparas (visual arts and film), Francisco Manosa (architecture), and Jose Moreno (fashion design) due to grave abuse of discretion by no less than the chief law enforcer of the land, who, coincidentally, is doing time in detention at the VMMC for a couple of more serious charges.

In commemoration of that sad day, the day Decency died, I am reposting this piece I blogged about what to many in both the artistic community and the nation at large was Arroyo’s final hara kiri (mis)calculated to bring the artistic community and cultural workers to her side as her popularity was spiraling downward rather steadily. Looking back, her attempt was a huge success!

Here’s my take of the events, with some updating:

—————————————

I was trying to make sense out of the latest tragedy that has befallen the artistic community after it suffered, yet again, another blow when Malacanang, in its darkest bowel form, named its four stooges, er, proteges to the honor of National Artist, now officially named Order of National Artists.

The announcement of the latest batch of National Artists is normally less controversial because, normally, the rules and the unwritten tradition that underscores excellence of the artist’s body of work are strictly adhered to. But in abnormal situations, like the one surrounding the insertion of “Malacanang 4,” the mere mention of any of these awardees’ name provokes fire, especially if one awardee has been nominated but rejected twice for two different categories. But thanks to that awardee’s persistence, and his persistent patron saint in Pasig, now he can finally bring him home his beautiful trophy, his medical and life insurance, and the rare honor of a state funeral.

As Bien Lumbera–National Artist for Literature and chair of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines–confirmed in media reports, only four names have been submitted to Malacanang for approval, and certainly not for insertion: Manuel Urbano a.k.a. Manuel Conde (posthumous, film and broadcast arts); Federico Aguilar Alcuaz (visual arts, paintings, sculpture and mixed media); Lazaro Francisco (posthumous, literature); and Dr. Ramon Santos (music).

But Malacanang did what it famously does best: it did a Garci, inspired by the forthcoming elections, arriving at a magical -1, +4 formula: it omitted Santos, and added Cecille Alvarez (theater), Magno Jose Carlo Caparas (visual arts and film), Francisco Manosa (architecture), and Jose Moreno (fashion design). This brings a total of not one but four insertions, very much like the fund appropriation for the road that traverses the property of a senator who wants to become the next president. On this note, Malacanang just bested Villar’s best record of two insertions. So who did the Garci? I have a suspect but as it is . . . a suspect. (Update: My suspect passed away a few months ago).

The public ire Caparas and Alvarez incurred is not due to their closeness with Arroyo, although and, in fact, they are; it has to do with their temerity to leave decency aside for the sake of honor they don’t rightfully deserve.

Caparas has been nominated and rejected twice—first for literature and, second for visual arts—both instances of which were failed attempts by the same cabal of servile flatterers whose inartistic reputation is beyond redemption. But Caparas’ dogged determination trounces whatever basic decency and delicadeza left in his veins.

On the other hand, Alvarez could have done better by choosing to be honorable enough to decline the nomination by virtue of a rule that bars members, officers, employees and staff of CCP and NCCA from being nominated. For heaven’s sake, she is the sitting executive director of the NCCA at the time of her “nomination” and whose duty among other functions includes receiving the names of the shortlisted candidates. Delicadeza? It’s lost and never to be found.

Alvarez defended her nomination by rattling off her previous awards, awards that her patron convinced were worth enough for her insertion. Surely, she had her fair share of artistic endeavors that brought her, her family and her country some good and these might have enriched her ‘body of work.’ Yet, wisdom would tell her to wait, as it is not the right time. But it happened; she was named. There must be a higher wisdom that guided Malacanang’s insertion of Alvarez, Caparas and Moreno into the list with a sense of an urgency beyond reproach. This higher wisdom must have eluded the highly respected peers of Alvarez, Caparas and Moreno in counting them off from the final list of four. This is the new moral high ground!

While there is really nothing new about presidential insertions in the honorable roster of National Artists, the latest act by Arroyo’s minions—with her divine imprimatur, of course—effectively rewrites the rule and history of the Order of National Artists, a welcome change for those who could not make the cut. During the administrations of Ramos and Estrada, they made one insertions each on the list of candidates chosen and endorsed by their peers in the artistic community. Arroyo, ever the ebullient, feisty politico she has become in her almost two terms of office, is certainly in for breaking records: she inserted three!

The choice and endorsement by peers is not something to be taken against the person who usually makes the final choice—the president. Not that presidents know nothing about art, or that art such as poetry is far less exciting than pork, a presidential favorite and the official congressional diet especially these days when senators and congressmen are preparing themselves for 2010. Rather, this choice of and by peers ensures that those who are inducted into the so-called ‘academy’ are only those who have way, way satisfied the standards they themselves set. For this purpose, we don’t have any need for a sitting NCCA chairman or executive director who not only misunderstands tradition but one who is even ready and willing to destroy it. And it becomes more unbearable for self-annointed national artists whose body of work easily betrays their own sense of accomplishment, self-righteousness, and self-importance.

We may ask if there’s a way to restore honor in the nomination, to right the wrongs and vindicate the wronged. Yes, there is, but it is a difficult one. If the Malacanang Four will cling on to their tainted honor, then the three original nominees should refuse to accept theirs. The challenge is now on the side of the right and reasonable. It is difficult, yes, but it is not impossible. Rightness should not yield to popularity, not even convenience!

Why Tax the Church(es)?

The continuing mindless discussion on the demerits of the RH Bill once again put the spotlight on the most vocal sector and the primary source of moral scare tactics against its passage–the Roman Catholic establishment bannered by the CBCP. The bill is now officially a law after 14 long years of back and forth in the Philippine Congress and after thousands of maternal deaths resulting from deliberate medical non-attention due to ethical unreasons.

Photo credit: filipinofreethinkers.org
Photo credit: filipinofreethinkers.org

The CBCP, unsurprisingly comprised of future-proof ultraconservative super majority somewhere in the north of 95% and morally coward liberal and moderate minority that makes up the balance of five per cent, has been for the last 14 years very successful in failing the large segment of the population that would mostly benefit from the measure—women and mothers, especially the poor among them who have either less or no access at all to a readily-available and comprehensive information on planned, responsible parenthood and the accompanying contraceptives that best work for them. For this, the CBCP owed much of its ‘success’ to its rabid lapdogs in both houses of Congress. For the 15th Congress, the CBCP finds its ally in Roilo Golez, Lucy Torres, Lani Mercado and, unsurprisingly, Gloria Arroyo though she was not as vocal and as visible unlike her factotums during her reign in that stinking kingdom by the Pasig.

Thanks to the CBCP’s powerful lobby and ‘divine intervention,’ previous attempts in Congress, notably during the Ramos administration, to move the RH bill discussions forward proved futile. Not that both houses of Congress had lost their most reasonable men to divine entreaties; nor these rare and gifted species surrendered their independence to the House of Sin. Rather, the status quo was too good to come to an end. As an old saying goes, ‘don’t fix it if it ain’t broken.’ And fix they didn’t for they were not broken; it took two to tango. Look at where these survivors are these days!

The succeeding administrations, especially Arroyo’s, were no different. In fact, the powers that be found comfort consorting and cavorting with and pandering to the heavenly whims and caprices of the princes of the Catholic Church. Arroyo is especially disappointing as she gloriously proclaimed the inclusion of the RH program in her 6-point agenda that she presented at her first SONA. But like her ‘bangkang papel’ project, the population management program as it was billed got lost in the sea of murky wheeling and dealing that hastened the decline and the eventual demise of her credibility, or whatever is left of it. It was easily pulled out as it was easily written on Powerpoint. We were taken for a ride!

As history now reminds us, the CBCP gave its most powerful parishioner no more than a slap in the wrist after a series of her now (in)famous, world-class indiscretions, to be kind to one who is apparently ill. In all humility, she had to return the favor to maintain a harmonious coexistence between the government that she heads and the church and the bishops that she obey. Indeed, with Gloria and God, duly represented in the Philippines by the CBCP, ‘impossible is nothing’ to borrow a sporting brand’s famous slogan.

The Pajero bishops easily came to mind. But there, too, were the aborted NBN-ZTE deal, the fraudulent election in Maguindanao, the PCSO fund mess, and the overlfowing grace and abundance in favoritism enjoyed by the men in uniform during Arroyo’s tenure, to recall a few. It should be noted, however, that the aforementioned anomalies were not designed as an exclusive feature of the immediate past dispensation; to a certain uncomfortable, disturbing and disgusting degree, the present administration cannot forever be unperturbed by its guilt knowing that in fact it enjoys indulging in the very same vice that it promised to eliminate, thus failing delivery of the very promise that catapulted it to power.

In those uncertain times, everything went up, including of course the US dollar, commodities, and most significantly, every single living Filipino’s blood pressure, which transformed into a collective outrage against the Arroyo administration. The outrage was sustained by anomalies after anomalies and in the last five years of her tenure, Arroyo had to stare daily the unmistakable, univocal writings on the wall and even in her dreams (assuming she got some sleep): except perhaps for the CBCP, her people are fed up with her shortcomings and she should just step down and call it a day.

Amidst public outrage and the overwhelmingly common sentiment calling for her resignation, Arroyo found refuge in the protective care of the CBCP, supposedly the missing link in a smooth power transition, whatever that means today. For that, the CBCP not only looked the other way; it shut its eyes and ears to the pleadings by its very flock, by the mostly Catholic faithful that seemed to have a better appreciation of what is a morally untenable position (of power) than their leaders. For this, Arroyo and the rest of the Catholic faithful may not be held morally liable all to themselves. The CBCP rightfully must partake its just share of shame and blame.

The CBCP’s official silence, at a time when the public, nay, the faithful, demanded no less than an uproar, an outrage of the highest and strongest degree, speak volumes of both its consistency in propagating and safeguarding the Catholic faith and its shrewdness and political trickery. And rightly so for apart from religion the only other entity that survives millenniums of changing civilizations are the governments of men that employ all forms of corruption and deception, theirs and ours included.

The size of the Roman Catholic economy, both globally and locally, is difficult if not entirely impossible to measure for one reason: there is no formal, official public disclosure. In the Philippines, except for a handful of accountants and bookkeepers who enjoy the rare privilege of tweaking the sacred numbers, not one among the 97 million Filipinos know exactly how many billions church-owned enterprises guised as social apostolates make every year, among these the country’s elite universities and premiere medical institutions. And not one of these mortals know where and how much religious enterprises spend their money on what and where, and rightly so, as it is none of their business.

While the Catholic enterprises take the lion’s share of the divinely-inspired economic pie, it must be pointed out that the Presbyterians and other smaller denominations are also raking in profits from their numerous so-called social apostolates in education, health, and mass media while their ‘poorer’ evangelical peers mostly rely on the generosity of their members, sans audit and accountability as their contribution is an act of love and made in the name of the Lord. Is it the same thing when one donates to Red Cross or Bantay Bata?

Religion is such a huge business, with a very tiny rate of return, if any, for its investors, except for the promise of a slot in the limited capacity of Heaven. Unfortunately, except for some psychic benefits and inner peace, there is no guarantee of a divine one-on-one when one gets up ‘there.’ Wherever that is, no one knows for now.

Catholic capitalism aside, successful religious CEOs have built palatial estates in the country’s most expensive neighborhoods, bought private planes, put up their own media empires, finance their electoral adventures every election like their coffers never run dry, and more importantly, peddle their membership as a leverage in the voting. And the list goes on. And while the rest of the corporate world is enmeshed in financial turmoil and face the ever-increasing income taxes, the religious enterprises are doing brisk business, Catholics and otherwise. That’s the beauty of a religious enterprise: it is immune to recession and the changing and shifting mood of the market. In theory, many suspect that religious revenues spike during recessions and in times of calamities, both natural and artificial, as people tend to turn to the altar to seek refuge, guidance, meaning and inspiration to get by. And it feels good to slip in a few hundred bills after each church visit. Isn’t it?

Obtaining complete financial information and demanding transparency and accountability from church-owned enterprises is difficult if not entirely impossible. Even Julian Assange and his erswhile friends in the Hacker Anonymous could only manage to obtain classified CIA documents but not files from the Vatican! But of course, he could have enlisted the help of the Pope’s butler. The secrecy that blankets the church’s financial documents speak volumes already. For its part, while the state honors its separation from the church, any church, as guaranteed by the Constitution, it willingly provides information to the clergy and to anyone else, especially now with the FOI Law in the horizon. Yet the CBCP feels no shame in its compulsion, nay, make that convulsion, in its brazen disregard of the same guaranteed separation as it meddles unabashedly in the secular affairs of the state. The ecclesiastical meddling and political muscle flexing come in consistent regularity, akin to the daily devout Catholics’ supplication of the divine mercy and mystery of faith when they pray the Rosary.

The idea of taxing the churches, including all church-owned enterprises that make money, is nothing new and therefore has to be understood within the context of accountability, to which the Catholic Church through the CBCP demands highly from the state and its elected and appointed leaders. But how does the CBCP understand accountability? Obviously, to them it is static, one-directional/dimensional and exclusive, meaning that the CBCP can demand it from the state while the state cannot demand it from the CBCP, making the relationship between the two imbalanced, untenable, unsustainable and therefore needs overhauling via reforms in the very Constitution that guarantees this anomalous power relations.

By taxing the churches, the churchmen will for the first time find how gloriously satisfying it is to pay for their real, concrete, tangible, and auditable share in nation building where they can fully participate and even further enrich the democratic political processes without moral inhibition and hangover. By paying their due share, these freeloading species for the longest time would now better appreciate the value of each centavo and what it means to make a living off the pulpit and partaking a portion of it not to some unseen divine spirits that promise heavenly uncertainties but to the national treasury of the republic. Yet these are all premised on a state whose institutions work, a state whose leaders are truly responsible and accountable to its citizens. And when things don’t go as planned, the would-be erstwhile churchmen can always revolt at the gates, or better yet, past the gates, of Arlegui and into the doors of that house by the Pasig, which is one thing they couldn’t do at St. Peter’s, much less in purgatory?

Surely, the religious sector will decry secularization. But there is no cause for alarm as the global mood has started shifting to secularization as nations came to a painful realization that centuries of religious meddling in their state affairs have done little or nothing at all to improve their lot. Worthy of note is the move ironically by Italy—where the popes of antiquity carved out their sanctum and turned it into a state within a state—to start taxing all churches within its jurisdiction starting next year, 2013. But already, western states have maintained a policy of non-automatic tax exemptions to churches, where these are regarded as regular, non-special institutions with the peculiar business of human salvation.

If Italy’s move is any indication of a growing sentiment that favors taxing of churches, then we can look forward to a long period of accountability wherein the resources pooled, nay taken, and recklessly and exclusively distributed flows backs to its source communities and not to the central account stored in some vaults in the Vatican or somewhere in the Caribbean to enhance the lives of the faithful.

In times like these, and in times even before these, and as bankers would advise every depositor, every centavo counts.

In closing, it would not be too much to ask for the rational in us to be enraged by these continuing ecclesiastical extramurals, by the arrogant flexing of the hierarchs withering and wilting muscle (thankfully) in an apparent rehearsal for some medieval regression (thankfully, again, it’s not aggression, but who knows?).

Remember we have been taken for a ride.

Remember the hierarchs have been freeloading for five centuries, and counting.

Remember it’s long overdue that they return what is not due them.

Remember to tax the churches now!

The Comic Side of the National Artist Award Tragedy

In defiance to the gloomy skies and faces of thousands of Filipinos who are still mourning over the passing of Decency in the artistic community, here I am in my corner of the office in an unreasonably gleeful state despite missing an important protest march, the threat of a cancelled movie date and the prospect of going home very late due to heavy traffic. This joyful exuberance has nothing to do with some future good luck such as hitting the lotto jackpot; this has to do with the National Artist Award, yes, or how its honor was scandalized, disrespected, corrupted, and bastardized by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles whose passion and sole purpose of existence seemingly is to make our political and artistic life miserable.

We all know by now how those Fantastic Four–Alvarez, Caparas, Manosa, and Moreno–were inserted into the horror list courtesy of presidential prerogative, an exclusive power solely exorcised by the highest official of the land with the lowest moral wisdom and judgment, so far in history.

We all know by now also that two of the F4s, Alvarez and Caparas, have since broken their silence, them being the favorite ridicules apparently because they are the most deserving of the undeserving list.

Alvarez lawyered for herself, and rattled off her accomplishments in trying (in vain) to convince us she deserved the honor for being such a theater luminary.

Caparas, on the other hand, painfully lectured about the millions that flocked to watch his obra, the retake of the Maggie dela Riva rape saga, proudly his only one film with lesser relevance and contribution to the development of the local film industry because the rest of them have no relevance and contributes nothing at all. The four million he claimed to have watched his film watched not because it was a Carlo Caparas film; they watched because it was a Maggie dela Riva retelling, which was both fashionable as a story and as a genre during that period in the 90s when beautiful coeds in Metro Manila and in some parts of the country turned up in some canals badly beaten, raped, and shot to their death.

Arousing mere curiosity, as well as capitalizing on the penchant for flesh on the big screen especially among the male species, in all honesty does not and will never qualify for sensible, significant, much less critical contribution to the growth of the local film industry. Maybe Caparas is only referring to box office returns when he asserts his right to being chosen for the honor. While Viva could vouch his box office claim, it could not measure the real benchmark of a remarkable film simply because it had none, except perhaps for reminding that once upon a time, a beautiful actress was gang-raped by men who belonged to the elite members of the society. And then what? As we call it then, Caparas films belonged to a unique genre of ‘pito-pito’ films that had seen better days in the 90s. But it was gone too soon, much to the delight of the more discriminating taste of the moviegoing public that certainly deserved more than just the endless flesh-gun-and-knife formula of those ‘pito pito’ obras.

Alvarez may have some claim to fame, or honor for that matter. Maybe. Yet, credentials is not the be-all, end-all of the Order of National Artist. Credentials what? Will you please explain clearly, Ms. Vilma Labrador, if you can? Admittedly, I’m no fan of either Lumbera or Almario as artists, but I have no agenda in joining the furor except to question the logic, if any, in choosing these Singit National Artists, in the process abrogating the established tradition of collegiality in the selection process. Surely, nobody could explain the mess here, except for Labrador who, unlike her counterpart in the CCP, the eminent Emily Abrera, could never lose a sleep over her and her big, little boss’ latest indiscretion. Her insistence smacks both poor and bad taste, not to mention it lacks an aura of delicadeza because there was none, there is none, and there never will be until she has summoned all the courage to decline the honor and save not only herself but the Order of National Artist itself as an institution. She had already declared it would be her joy to accept it and share it with her family. How could she, or you, or we, undo that? She can’t, you can’t, we can’t.

NCCA commissioner Elmar Beltran Ingles seems to be the lone sensible voice today, more sensible than that Malacanang twitter who is not as lovely as her namesake pet looks, he who acknowledged the critical nature of selection as it involves people’s money and trust more than anything else.

These are unbiblical times yet we must lose no hope for a change of heart, as hoping for a miracle seems to be an exclusive affair of the umblemished souls, of angels, that are not on our side these days. Change of heart we make this a mantra with the following supplication that the Fantastic Four, most especially the beloved two of them, decline the honor. When everything else fails, then the other three awardees should do it for them, i.e decline the honor. I believe with this final act, the Fantastic Four, especially the beloved two of them, will live forever haunted by the ghost of a scandalous, disrespectful, corrupt, and bastardized award offered by ignorant, inutile, and reckless imbeciles with whom they are so beholden.

(This was originally posted on August 7, 2009 at the height of the National Artist Awards controversy.)

Picture Perfect

Every time we mention art, balance, harmony, and contrast come to mind. Art points to something beautiful, and artistic for that matter. This is the easy part of ‘explaining’ art, for oftentimes it is futile to fathom the ironies and subtleties of a Picasso’s or a Dali’s. The feeling of lost, of helplessness in giving meaning to art is not uncommon to us mere mortals who many times over stand clueless before a gallery. This helplessnes, of being lost, makes us reluctant to praise or criticize art in a gallery especially in the attendance of the ‘mighty’ in the society, lest we ridicule ourselves and cause them undue discomfort. Our partial ignorance of art seems to project the unevenness of wisdom that weeds out Aling Mameng from the doyennes of Forbes Park! Art in all its glory is very much tied to our past–a past that holds hostage the liberty that we purchased with blood but which remains unexorcised of its failures and deceptions. This is enough of a nightmare!

That ‘art imitates life’ is by all means arguable. Yet in life as in art, we place a premium on self-expression. Countless of times, our desire for freedom finds fulfillment not only outside prison bars but on the stage of darkened theaters, in the most passionate pages of prose and poetry, and on the streets soaked in farmers blood and sweat. This is often the case of a society that places low regard, if not total disregard, for liberty and full self-expression–the core of artistry and humanity. Beyond escapism, art is as comforting as it is instructive of liberty.

Photo courtesy: www-cord-edu2

Any attempt, therefore, to alienate art from the daily grind is an absurd undertaking especially for a nation like ours that has developed an affection with theatrocracy where actors and comic characters run and ruin the affairs of the state. We are familiar and extremely tolerant of this phenomenon and proof to this is our overwhelming choice a few years back of an actor-politician for the highest office of the land—a choice that nearly caused us national hemorrhage as our young and fragile democracy teetered in the control of one of the most incompetent presidents in history. Thankfully, the millions who filled the streets in protest sidelined the corrupt and abusive regime, at least momentarily, while the nation slowly rebuilt the collapsed institutions it left.

Yet the entire process that swept to power the new administration is a trademark craftsmanship of truly theatrocratic forces led by and comprised of recycled actors young and old who never failed a single location shoot.

Ours is a culture wherein art interweaves seamlessly with the civil, political, economic and religious facets to the extent that it becomes an essential tool for survival. Our resilience and an uncanny ability to laugh at our own tragedy are indicative of our uncommon trait as a people. Either we deliberately forget the lessons of history or we have grown accustomed and dumb to the antics of our politicians who have become a dangerous species in this republic.

For all its purported grandeur, art has its dark side deeply rooted in its own unique traditions of conflict and contradiction. Truly, art is an expression of freedom and individuality, a celebration of humanity, of sexuality, of the beautiful, the blissful and the harmonious. But art also celebrates the tragic, the disastrous, the ugly, the hopelessly unfortunate, the despaired, the rejected, the schizophrenic and the insane. Art, as in life, runs through a gamut of spectrum that polarizes artists and their craft, making the class cleavage in art more pronounced. Yet the cleavage serves a purpose: it offers a point for discussion, an avenue for conversation, of compromise between the socialist and the capitalist notions of art. Art, as in life, cannot but confront universal truths of conflict, of disagreement, of the many ills that beset societies from the First to the Last Worlds and make itself useful as a tool for resolution for in all honesty, whose empty stomach would care to appreciate the hues and contrasts of an Amorsolo, much less a Van Gogh. There is no way realism can be more real than a nation so reluctant and resistant to wake up to its senses after a brief delusion with reform, equality, progress and peace based on justice.

For decades, we have been unfairly and wrongly nursing a guilt over the failure of our forebears to print the whole picture of our storied and bloodied past. We were shortchanged by the piecemeal account as the whole story is only half-told and the whole truth withheld for the sake of presenting a well-mannered nation of people where only the acceptable, the beautiful and the pleasant exist. But thanks to the diligence of our scholars, we were able to get a glimpse of the other side of the story, the dark side of our history, and in the course recognizing the failure of our historians who wrote ‘the history’ for the few who had the pleasure of nostalgia and a bloated sense of insecurity.

Until this day, however, the wounds have not fully healed despite incessant attempts at rewriting history. It is to this that Edsa Dos amounts to nothing but a poor repeat of the previous revolution whose ghost now haunts us. Not much has changed, really. The stage actors may have been replaced, but the new ones read the same torn, old script.

Erap almost returned to Pasig. Photo courtesy: 2-bp-blogspot-com

The euphoria derived out of the two revolutions neatly packaged as the gathering of the broadest cross section of Philippine society has fizzled out. The momentous massing of gleeful people hysterical over hopes of inclusive democracy and captured vividly in the canvass of history has become a symbol of a despaired and disjointed people the moment each new administration took control of the levers of power.

Yet we glorify the images of those revolutions as a living testimony of our undying quest for sensible order, of justice that must be equally dispensed. But we concede: the images speak of our heightened restlessness as we have not completely unloaded our guilt.

While Edsa Dos might have reclaimed ‘morality’ in governance, it failed to broaden and widen the inclusive democratic space that we once yielded to authoritarian regime and oligarchy. It even shrunk it! It narrowed down further the alleys of poverty and hopelessness to a point of suffocation that only a paintbrush and a masterful stroke can breadth life, and thereby lend minimum dignity to its death. But while art desensitizes, it also cleanses—it cleanses us of our collective guilt by retelling our history as it happened, by telling our story as it unfolds. This is the primordial function of any art: to capture life as it was and as it is lived. This is how art does justice to life, by truthfully imitating life. Inaccuracies in life are a given, but never an artful and deliberately skillful curtailment of our freedoms.

The vivid images of the revolution captured and muted in canvass are a constant reminder to us free, artistic citizens to continue making history by continuing the revolutionary struggle, however bloody it may become, until we shall have unloaded all our guilt, and until we shall have displaced the regime of lies, control and deception.

It is only then that we can appreciate the hues and contrasts of an Amorsolo. It is only then that theaters can reclaim their lost audience to the battlefield. It is only then that galleries may be filled down to its last square foot. And we all look forward to that day. For now, we can only dream about peace for free.

(I wrote this eons ago and glad I found a hardcopy of this among stacks of paper)