Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Do the BBC!

BBC Online published some of my comments as part of a montage interview about the Philippine political situation. Fellow BUKAS advocate Fatima Lasay also has her comments in the same article.

My comments came out in edited form. I'm generally happy with the result, the only minor beef being omitted text in my comments about Mindanao. Anyway, here are the reporter's questions and my answers I submitted them. (I have highlighted the omitted text on Mindanao.)

Are you going to vote in the elections?
Unfortunately, no. I'm currently in another part of the country, away from the Davao precinct where I am registered. That said, there's little incentive to vote for the local positions as the incumbent mayor Rodrigo Duterte (and his vice-mayoral candidate, daughter Inday Sara Duterte) are virtually running uncontested.

What, in your opinion, are the main problems that need to be addressed in the Philippines?
Corruption, in my opinion, is the key issue as many problems are tied to it. It happens at many different levels: on the national level, we have scams like the Fertilizer Fund fiasco that continue to go uninvestigated; on the local level, the perception is that projects tend to be padded by 20% in order to line the pockets of politicians.

The end result is that services do not go where they ought, e.g., poverty alleviation, education, and health care. Accountability is practically non-existent And you have situations where local pols use any means necessary to cling to power, including violence and subversion of existing structures.

What needs to be done for the problems to be fixed?
Oh, if only we had the answers! Each Filipino seems to have his own recipe. The best I can do is give mine:

We need a government with the political will and the strong moral compass to pursue a program of ruthless accountability. But as it is, it's very hard to effect. Too many compromises have been made, too many debts have been incurred so that it's all a tangled mass of relationships.

We are looking for alternative solutions: federalism is an idea that's been around for a while and gets resurrected from time to time. The intention is to reduce dependence on a central government. Formal federalism by itself will be very hard to achieve, given the inertia of the leaders and the inescapable opposition that arises from any idea. But at least some semblance of it begins to emerge as a few local governments attempt self-reliance.

Ultimately, what may change these structures is the Overseas Foreign Worker, migrant Filipinos who work abroad and send money home. With this new affluence comes some degree of independence of thinking. The people at home no longer rely so much on their leaders to chart the direction of the community, but begin asserting their own opinions. What the long-term effect of this will be, only time will tell.

Do you have faith in politicians? Who has the answers?
Actually very little, but that answer does need to be qualified. There are a number of good people out there who are trying to change the system. One good example would be the Kapatiran ("Brotherhood") party, quite possibly the only party to offer a concretely articulated platform of government. It's quite unlikely that they'll win because they have neither the machinery nor the name-recall that is essential in winning Philippine elections, but I do appreciate the honesty that they're bringing to the table.

For the most part, though, politicians fall into the category which we call "trapo" (dishrag) -- an abbreviation of "traditional politician." They come from established political families, usually dominate a particular area.

Will these elections change anything?
In terms of a drastic improvement in the situation, no. The Philippines is still very much an evolving democracy, but changes tend to be gradual.

What will be interesting to see will be whether the Opposition does win a majority in the Senate and in the Lower House. Impeachment has been a constant spectre on the Arroyo government, in large part due to the election scandal of 2004 and other unanswered questions. In the past, these attempts have been quashed by sheer force of numbers. If there is a shift in the balance, the results could be very interesting indeed.

There is one change that I am hoping for. If the COMELEC can muster a clean and honest election, with quick results and speedy and definitive resolutions to protest, that would be a major achievement. As it is, the COMELEC has a tarnished reputation because of the 2004 scandal, and they haven't done themselves any favors by their lack of transparency in the run-up to May 14. But one can hope.

And last questions, since you live in Mindanao - what are your experiences of the recent violence? How can the problem of Islamic insurgency be tackled?
Violence is actually localized to specific areas, and does not engulf the whole of Mindanao. But I suppose news reports have a way of compressing a large area into bite-sized conceptual chunks. Davao, where I live, is actually quite peaceful. In all honesty, I feel safer in Davao than I do in Manila.

I think the idea of the "Islamic insurgency" bears some re-thinking, too. To be sure, there are hard core groups driven by dreams of separate Islamic state, but I would think these are actually few in number, with little chance of achieving that goal.

Within the troubled areas, the difficulties do not stem so much from religion as from other factors such as poverty, disenfranchisement, even local politics. The fact that they are Muslim just happens to be incidental. It just also happens that many Filipinos are looking for that sense of identity and the religious divide provides an easy categorization.


  1. Funny how they leave out a positive

  2. Federalism would not work either if the Federal officials are as corrupt as the local ones.No clear answer.

  3. Rts, I agree that the success of federalism still depends on the quality of officials running the show. But then, the premise that the "behaviour of our officials" is an independent variable is inadequate. The field of Organisational Behaviour has found time and again that the behaviour of members in an organisation is partially governed by its structure. That is, changing the organisational structure can affect the behaviour of individuals.

    In the case of federalism, it can change the behaviour of our officials by moving much of the power away from the central government and towards the local government. By moving certain powers to LGUs, we can keep a closer watch over the actions of government and the voice of the people can be better heard.

    That is not to say that federalism is the silver bullet. Like all human endeavours, federalism also has its holes. However, from my present view of things, I think it can be better than our present system of centralised government.

  4. Hi, Robert and Mark: thanks for the comments. Agreed that federalism is no silver bullet, but I would like to think that reducing the dependence on Big Money also reduces the possibilities for corruption. As it is, right now, local corruption is subsidized by a central government that decides the flow of money.

    That said, some innovative local governments are looking at ways to reduce that dependence without resorting to federalism. Case in point would be NPM which I keep reading in Willy Prilles' blog.

  5. "the perception is that projects tend to be padded by 20% in order to line the pockets of politicians."

    --just 20 percent?! I know you're being conservative, Dom. :)

  6. Hi, Francis: that seems to be the standard figure nowadays. Election period, it does to get a bit higher. Cebu street lamps and Bicol computers come to mind.