Monday, March 10, 2008

Disinformation from a Journalist

It's shocking why this blog was mentioned in Belinda Cunanan's column in Philippine Daily Inquirer. This was supposedly one of the blogs "set up by parents" to air dissatisfaction about students joining rallies.

This was set up two years ago, to post some of my musings, then ignored since.

Can a "journalist" just concoct some random stories and mention random blogs?
Maybe they should fire Cunanan. Journalists like her we don't need.

(I'm a Lasallian and anti-GMA, btw)

It's actually more amusing that annoying. :-)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Democratization through Social Welfare

Argument: Before a country becomes truly democratic, it has embrace policies that are non-too-democratic. By this I mean that democracy, especially in developing countries, would remain the paradox that it is if no steps to lessen political, social, and economic inequality is taken by the government. The State must therefore intervene to provide social welfare to its people.

Paradigm Shift: Creating a True Democracy
Democratization continues to be the global trend during the past few decades. after the two waves of democratization, a considerable percentage of the world states are a democracy or in the process of being a democracy. Democratic and neoliberal ideals are what many deems as the future, the inevitable path that countries must tread.
However, the achievement of a genuine rule of and by the people would remain as a quixotic venture if the people are deprived of that equal opportunity for political articulation and participation. Democracy, as it would pertain to the people as the heart of the polity, would see the achievement of its ideals if its peoples are consensual to how the society operates. If these people would remain secluded from the state structures and no solutions are made to alleviate social problems, then no true democracy would be achieved.

The Strong State
The state, in its interaction with the society, has assumed different roles through the past decades. The bureaucratization and the liberalization of the state made its separation from the society an eventuality. The state became that labyrinthine arrangement of structures and institutions – coldly professional, unemotionally rational. But as Migdal and postmodernist would aptly contend, institutions, as essential as they are in the shaping of socio-political outcomes, still remain and operate at the behest of the people within it. Fortification of the state would ultimately be determined by the manner by which its components operate.
What scholars would prescribe is the marriage of the two formerly separate entities - the state and the society, thus recognizing the inevitable dependency in their relationship. I would subscribe to such perception as to the extent of the role of the state and the essential indispensability of the society. Hence this forms the rationale in the innate (though arguable) propensity to move towards a polity that is non-exclusive to those who hold governmental power. Democracy would thus find its essence in the incorporation of social actors in the once institution-monopolized state.

Democratization: State, Social Welfare, and Developing Countries
A consequence of shrinking the role of the state would be the swelling of the income gap, as the all too ideal equality of opportunity in the liberal democracies provides the exact opposite of what it promises. Abolishing the barriers of protection is argued to boost external trades and augment of GNP, as it follows the dictates of the global trend. A global trend embraced even by the formerly-Colonized, non-Western, supposedly-Underdeveloped countries, who sought dire solutions to escape their perpetual cycle of poverty and economic crises. The economic prescriptions of liberalism may provide momentary solutions, but I doubt its capacity to alleviate deep-rooted social problems of a state. The market is too profit-driven to devote itself to providing social welfare, or at the very least, to contributing significantly in order to fasttrack solutions. If the state processes are dictated merely by those who hold economic and political power, then there is no democracy. What a country would be is an oligarchy - in the guise of a one pretending to be democratic.
Social actors could only permeate the governance realm if they are provided the venue and equipped with the capability to do so. The widening of the income gap similarly augments power and social gap. Incurable, this societal dilemma would remain, if no efforts are diverted into the promotion of social and economic equality. If so, then democratization and democracy would remain but a paradox. Its inability to provide to the social milieu the relative freedom that it promises would in fact make it non-democratic.
This problem could perhaps be remedied by revitalizing social welfare efforts.
The economic and social gap that is a reality in developing countries, like our own, requires the intervention of the state in the provision of the basic needs, like education, employment assistance, health services, among others. What is essentially required, in a country taking on the democratization path, is the adequacy to provide social conditions that are indispensible requisites in the formation of a truly democratic state. As social conditions in underdeveloped/developing countries remain less than laudable, the vision of the just and free society would be a perpetual reverie.
Take for instance the Philippines. Despite experiencing democratization, and having the bragging rights as it is one of the first to do so, remains but a glaring contradiction. People do vote, but their votes are subject to manipulation as they submit themselves to offers of vote-buying and cheating. Everyone is free to articulate their political stances, yet few voices are listened to, because the elites still have the power monopoly. The market is left to operate without significant constraints, yet many are mere spectators as the economic arena is but exclusive for the moneyed.
This is to be owed to the lack of education, the widening income gap, the lack of government services, to mention a few. The citizens, unable to taste the fruits of what claims to be people-centric, are forced to submit themselves to the (oppressive) structures of the society. Thus and so, democratization, at the absence of social welfare, is an effort in futility. If a government envisions a democracy that is true to its ideals, then it must give premium to the welfare and conditions of its peoples.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Philippines and Federalism

Devolution and decentralization
Decision-making proves to be painfully tedious when all would emanate from a cenral office. More often than not, the central government is less than responsive to the plees of some of their constituents. The politically-economically insignificant, far-flung areas of the country tends to be ignored except every three years - elections. The too-complicated hierarchy encourages surreptitious fund acquisition by local leaders. Development takes place at a snail's-pace as economic profits and development projects are monopolized by the center.
This is so in the case of the Philippines. The Imperial Manila has evolved into this battleground of taipans, politicos, and the elites. Lagging way behind are the local cities/provinces, whose natural resources are all but non-existent, something which the Manila Club can take credit of.
Eluding pessimism and sarcasm, there are efforts to empower the local government, for instance the 1991 Local Government Code. But since its conception, it has yet to have impactful amendments to respond to the needs of the 21st century Philippines. Thus, adoptiong a federal system may well be the solution to the problems of the country.

Federal Philippines: Challenges
Weak local governments
Most have been witnessed to the distressingly inept stratagems adopted by local politicians.
A poverty-stricken and corruption-ridden region, whose fundamental issues of welfare and security is barely addressed by the indifferent rent-seeking leaders, could not be expected to develop reliable judicial, executive, and legislative systems relatively independent from the central government.
A weak local government now, would mean a weak federal state.
Dynastic Politics
Political contestation IS more turbulent outside the metropolitan Manila. Elections proved to be more chaotic in the provinces, as the feuding clans batle for event the lowest of the government positions - barangay captain. Granting autonomy may only perpetuate the grand fund acquisitions of local lords.
As what is happening now, local politics is dominated be the elite families who have monopolized economic and political power for practically the whole century. If they be given more powers through decentralization, then there are fears that they can well perpetuate their hold in the political sphere.
The Income Gap
The proposed federal states vary greatly in terms of development and economy. There are very developed provinces, like Cebu, Iloilo, among others, but there are also disappointingly poor provinces, say Batanes or Samar. Giving relative autonomy would mean that the federal state would rely on its resources, on its own capabilities. As the different provinces possess different capabilities, there are concerns that the gap between provinces would further widen.While competition is said to increase efficiency, the different state capabilities may merely increase socio-political chasms.

Prescriptions: Fortifying the Federal Philippines
In order to decrease the hurdle the hindrances offered by the current system, what the government must focus on, if they desire to adopt a federal system, are:
1. Provide Social Welfare
2. Eliminate Corruption
3. End the Dynastic Politics
4. Empower Local Institutions
5. Create a Strong Central Government

If no reforms are done before fully implementing this grand idea of a federal government, then the achievement to what the federal system promises is placed in doubt. It is argues to unite the states, to empower thelocal government, to make government more responsive, to recognize diversity. If the federal system, given the present conditions in the Philippines, fails, then the exact opposite is what they would have -a divided Philippines, weak governments, and states in constant conflict and rivalry.

Creating a Philippine Parliament

The adoptation of a parliamentary form of government is the emerging trend among governments around the world. As with the presidential system, it has its advantages and disadvantages. But ultimately, governmental success would be determined by how its officials govern the state.

Parliamentary Failure?
The legislature in the Philippines suffers crises in credibility and legitimacy. The people has grown weary of the unending inept yet amusing exchanges in the Congress floor - whose politicos compete for the longer media mileage and merely devote time in increasing political clout. This chronic disease, if one may call it that, has significantly reduced the credibility of the Congress as they earn the ire and distrust of the very people they serve.
Can this 'parliamentary dilemma' be remedied by a restructuring of the legislative system? What is proposed is the shift from a presidential to a parliamentary system, as the latter emerges as the current fad in the world systems. Restructuring the state organizations and redefining processes may perhaps be the answer to the socio-political ills. The parliamentary system is argued to be the institutional solution to the inefficient status quo. Although it has been repeatedly argued by esteemed scholars that institutions do essentially determine political outcomes, individual actions of actors would inevitably emerge as an equally strong independent variable in meeting certain political goals.
Numerous arguments have been presented on the merits of the adaptation of the parliamentary system as per its ability to determine and shape the fundamental qualities of the actors and processes working within it. For instance, a consequence of a governmental shift to parliamentary system would be the acquisition of value-systems indispensible in successful parliamentary governments. If we have a weak party system and there is no party discipline among the politicians, adoptation of a parliamentary system would eventually and consequently result to the 'improvement' so to speak of the political party system. As no hard empirical evidence has yet been produced, these are risks that a country must be willing to take - as the failure of such predictionss may well be the failure of the whole government.
Such claims do have the semblance of truth (as some would contend), but institutional prognostications, I believe, would be ultimately fatal if forcibly applied, as the government is doing now, in the Philippine system, as the internal structures of the institutions fails to give the assurance that undertaking such transition would result in efficient institutions. If such endeavor is failed to be attained, then what the outcome would be formations of merely half-baked systems that would offer no real solutions, or worse, would, instead of alleviating, prove that the cure is worse than the disease.

The Transactional Parliament
A compelling argument against the parliamentary system is the absence of checks and balances that the presidential system offers. In the presidential system, the existence of the executive branch assures neutralization of powers when necessary. Removal of this safeguard may in the end have dire consequences.
The idea of constitutional change in the Philippines emerged from a series of dealings and transacions between the politcal elites of the country. If the reqriting of the highest law in the land would be dictated by the transactional, power-seeking politicos, then there is a high propensity that your reforms are half-baked products that are merely created to prolong political power. What is feared is a transactional, weak parliament that are dominated by rent-seeking, traditional, transactional politicians.

Adopting a Parliamentary System: Veto Players
On the other hand, taking the framework of the Veto Player analysis, the creation of the parliamentary system may be the solution to the stagnancy of development reforms in the country. As Tsebelis would argue, the increase in the veto players in the system would result to increase in policy stability and decrease in policy change, while the decrease in the veto players would result to a decrease in politicy stability. By policy stability I mean the capacity to alter/change the status quo and institute reforms in the country - thus policy stability may be positive or negative depending on the need for reform in a country. Unquestionably, the Philippines needs reforms - policy change - or the opposite of policy stability.
What the current system is, in terms of policy determination and decision making, is a tripartite system - with the President, the House of Representatives, and the Senate. When coming up with policy reforms and decision, these three competing veto players are more often than not in disagreement. The conflictual relationship of the veto player, as what is happening currently in the country - results to an inability to institute necessary reforms. Thus, adopting parliamentary system would reduce the veto players from three to just one. If this is so, there would obviously be no conficts between the three offices, as they are non-existent - and only the single veto player - the parliament - would call the shots when crucial decisions are needed.

All Readings.
George Tsebelis.

New Institutionalism

Theoretical discourse dynamically evolves over time, as it responds to the emerging trend of the moment and the specific needs of the scholars. Thus, the rationalization of reality through conception of theories is a fluid task that requires continues refinement process. This cyclical process ensures the absence of monopoly of but a single perspective, and compels future theories to patch up the flaws of their predecessors (for lack of a beter term).
The idea of institutionalism was brought forth at the onset of rapid globalization and bureaucratization. This institutionalism adopted the traditional definition of the state - who components include state structures and the government. The formal institutions and the formal structures are the basic unit of analysis for this institutionalism. As it was to formalist, abstract, and statist, it was for w while overshadowed by more individual-centered theories like raional choice and behavioralism. As these rival theories does not ignore the role of the individual as institutionalism does, it was deemed more appropriate as tools for analysis in the social sciences. The response thereafter was the idea of new institutionalism, which saw the marriage of the state and the society - how institutions and structures would determine and regulate individual behavior.

Old Institutionalism vis-a-vis New Institutionalism
Old institutionalism assumes that institutions are the totality of man's actions. Institutions are defined as "settled habits of thought common to the generality of men." (Veblen) New institutionalism would define institutions as the "humanly devised constraints that shape human interaction." (North) The focus therefore of new institutionalism are the 'constraints to human interaction' as opposed to the 'formed/acquired habits' of old institutionalism.
For the old institutionalist, the scope of institutionalism are the structures (rather than processes) in the social milieu and the coordination of organizations. New institutionalist on the other hand focuses not sole on the grand structures, but incorporates aspects of its rival theories - behavioralism and rational choice- which recognizes the consequential role of social and political actors. New institutional would focus on the interactions of the institution and the individual.

(All Readings. Lecture of Dr. Teehankee.)
North, Douglas. (1990). Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hodgson, Geoffrey. (n.d.). "The approach of institutional economics". JEL. Vol. 86, p. 166-192.

Constitutional Reforms: State, Institutions, and Corruption

Reforming Constitutions
The constitution, in elementary terms, is the set of guidelines that are rendered obligatory that each citizen of the state must adhere to. The constitution defines the processes that operate, and the structures that exist, in the society. Hence, this would ultimately be the primary influence of political, social, and economic outcomes. As this is the determinant, generally, of the success or failure of the state, to finetune it is a task that requires the collaboration of the most prudent and cautious of the state politicos.

Philippine Constitutional Reform
In the Philippines, what needs to be focused on is the strength, or rather weakness, of the institutions. One indicator of this weakness, that I would focus on in the subsequent paragraphs, is the seemingly incurable corruption. The proliferation of this problem reflects negatively on the capability of our institutions. The Philippines would remain the weak state that it is if enhancing state and social structures are regarded as merely inconsequentialby our government.
Even this present attempt to change our constitution is in itself a clear evidence that surreptitious dealings and undertakings do exist in our country. The initiative is borne from transactions of those in the highest political echelos. The hopes of political ascent, budget augmentation, economic incentives - are too enticing to resist - a sentiment apparently shared by our politicos.
Hence, curroption. Some scholars would claim it to be cultural, some would blame it on how the the institution are structured. But the glaring fact is - corruption does exist, and may eternally be the hindrance to progress. Thus, in reforming the constitution - in the endeavor to bring about significant changes, be it in our culture or in the institutions, targeting conrruption must be the foremost in the agenda.

Corruption in the Philippines
It is amazingly baffling how corruption is widely recognized as the catalyst to state erosion, yet the government, for all its grand plans of reducing if not eliminating corruption, dedicates itself to quixotic ventures that impacts insignificantly. The decades-long battle has yet to show something laudable, or at least something to work with.
The people, the civil society, short of ignoring corruption, has grown tolerant, or more appropriately – desensitized. They themselves fell prey to the systemic brainwashing, as they not only become indifferent, but so tolerant that corruption has reached the level of acceptability. For instance, it is rumored that applying for a business permit in a city in Batangas requires one to offer “monetary endowments” to the city administrator. In a town in Mindoro, infrastructure projects are the cause of political struggles among the local officials, something that would test the “political acumen”, for as the bigger the project gets, the higher one’s kickback is. In a certain Manila office, a simple government service, supposedly free, becomes a tedious, costly expense, owing to the multi-agency connivance. These may be mere rumors, something that the country would never experience a deficit of, something unacceptable in academic critique papers. But these are things that I personally had the misfortunate of witnessing, and something that perhaps can be an evidence (though rather rough) that the people have practically embraced such reality.

Philippines: Negative Externalities- Weak State
The failure of the state to impose its will on the people and the society would make it into one incapable of reforms, thus incapable of progression. The inadequacy of the government to relieve the country of its corruption crisis places uncertainties on the overall state capacity. If the covert forces (read: corrupt officials) dictate the functioning of the society, then the state degenerates into a nonentity that merely nurtures chaotic, disorganized interactions. There is thus the urgency for the fortification of the state institutions to avert the further aggravation of this systemic problem.
Proliferation of negative externalities creates a weak state. The ideal market transaction is defined by precise and definite movement and exchange of 'value' - cost and benefit. If a politico acquires something nto his own, then he would have a benefit without 'exchanging' something for it - the 'cost'. The existence of corruption greatly disturbs the socio-economic equilibrium.

Philippines: Prescriptions
The subsequent prescriptions are those that I deem necessary, yet was not as emphasized as some agencies/institutions. Perhaps these are but few of the other institutions that can be reformed or utilized as tools/watchdogs, but significant reforms targeting these institutions may bring about significant changes.
Legislative: COA. The Commission on Appointments (COA) must serve as the watchdog to ensure that governmental positions are not utilized by the powers-that-be as mere bargaining tools to obtain and retain political clout. In the current administration, most high cabinet officials are political appointees - and the number is increasing by the day. If the COA would be vigilant enough to prevent the inept from taking position, then there would be no surplus of underqualified but politically-powerful officials in the government.
Executive: Strong Enforcer. There must be a strong administration to be able to truly focus on battling corruption. A leader who is a visionary, who would not waver in his/her ideals and norms, may effectively implement the deaces-long overdue reforms. A leader that relies on transactional dealings and lacks the political will to push for agendas, would see no significant changes in the current structure.
Judiciary: Punishment as Deterrent. There must be strong deterrents to corruption. If you would look at Philippine History - no high-profile personality who is openly and undiscreetly corrupt has been persecuted - or at the very least reprimanded by the courts. Maros and Estrada blatantly consumed public funds, yet they walk away scot-free. If no forms of social control exists, then public officials would be oblivious to the calls of ending corruption. There are efforts to address some problems, like the creation of the ombudsman, but tangible results are yet to be seen. Hence, the Judiciary (especially the Ombudsman) must penalize corrupt officials to prove that corruption is a practice not tolerated in the country.
Civil Society: Empowering the Media. Television shows like Imbestigador, Correspondents, among others, undeniably have their share of criticisms. These shows have never been keen on procuring hard evidences, and puts premier on the mass/audience appeal of their mini-documentary episodes. Although this remains undesirable for the media and the people alike, as it tarnishes the image of the media by publicly persecuting people prior to the formal court trial, it is in fact, if one would be look at its ‘positive’ side, a deterrent for the would-be corruptors and the non-discreet professionals, as it instills the fear of public flagging by the media, of officials who had the misfortune of having disloyal bagmen and clients. Take former-President Estrada, whose downfall was fasttracked by the scandal-thriving media. The media, despite glitches, can be the one to check the government, and encure that no abuse of power would take place.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Elections and Political Parties: Revitalizing the Party List System

Weak 'political parties' would yield weak systems.
The sizeable political parties like the congress leader Lakas, the NPC, the Nationalista Party, among others, although never in shortage of funds nor political support, are experiencing serious deficits in party discipline, ideological foundations, and far-seeing programs. Doubtable is their capacity to sustain a consociational parliament, almost as doubtable as the appropriateness of recognizing them as political parties. The absence of the fundamental values does not merit them the privilege of being called a political party.
The political parties contesting for Party List seats in the parliament are the ones in possession of relatively laudable qualities a political party should have. In other words, they are relatively tolerable. Yet they are given minimal political mileage as they are in competition with political bigwig groups who are dismissive of any idea of power sharing. This is evident on how the Party List system is practiced and structured in the electoral system.
The Party List system is a paradox.
Theoretically and ideally, party list groups are those that represent marginalized sectors – the workers, women, sectoral groups, among others. Although it managed to obtain its share of critiques and scandals, the Party List system allows broader political participation, as it embraces groups with diverse social and ideological stance. This ultimately fortifies that essence of a democracy of limiting, if not eradicating, the barriers that fosters political exclusion in the government.
Twenty percent of parliament seats in the Lower House are reserved for Party List Representatives. Elected nationally, garnering two percent of the votes would entitle a group to a seat in the Lower House. A ceiling of three seats per group is set. This system is supposed to be patterned after the proportional representation model, yet remains extremely paradoxical because it is proportional representation… but not really. The rationale perhaps in the inclusion of the provision that disallows acquiring of more than three seats is a safeguard against a monopoly of a single party. But, at the end of the day, even such argument could be invalidated, as it, for lack of a better term, mocks the very essence democracy of popular determination of government positions. Thus and so, there should be reforms as to how we practice our Party List system.
Feared perhaps is the permeation in the parliament/government of left-leaning groups. A misconception borne from the systemic conditioning - the eternal propensity to shiver at the thought of the slightest participation of the leftist, or progressives as I prefer to call them. It is undeniable that several/some party list groups do have leftist/socialist inclinations, but this is not reason enough to subject them to something which is essentially unjust.
Hence, my proposals are:
1.) The increase of seat allocation in the parliament for Party List groups. Critical in the democratic setup is the diversity in manners of representation so as to provide avenues for participation and articulation for marginalized sectors of the society. As important as district/regional representation is in the Congress, the ideological and programmatic Party List group would enhance policy-making and sector representation, the two fundamental tasks of the legislature.
2.) The abolition of the ceiling rule that only a maximum of three seats can be occupied by a Party List group. Since its inclusion in the National Elections, only less than half of the fifty seats allocated for the Party List groups are occupied. The rule on the maximum seats deters Party List groups from maximizing the fifty seats allocated to them. Furthermore, such directive infringes on the right of the populace to choose their representatives, for they are shortchanged when a Party List group only gets three seats when they deserve more.
3.) The increase of subsidies and incentives for political parties contesting Party List seats. The government should regulate the party list system, in terms of election financing and other incentives. Since Party list groups represent marginalized sectors, some may encounter difficulties in fund acquisition, thus there is an unequal opportunity in election participation. This could be remedied by the provision of sunsidies and incentives.
However, there should a system to check whether the groups claiming to represent marginalized sectors truly represent marginalized sectors. As in any avenues in politics, the party List system may be used, or abused, by opportunist politicians whose constituents are non-existent and whose objectives are mere financial advancement and political ascent.

Fermin, Adriano. (2001). "Prospects and scenarios for the party list system in the Philippines". Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Manila: Ateneo School of Government
"Election Laws in the Philippines: Party List System Act". The ChanRobles Group
Choi, Jungug. (2001). "Philippine Democracies Old and New: Elections, Term Limits, and Party Systems". Asian Survey. USA: University of California Press.
Montinola, Gabriella. (1999). "Parties and Accountability in the Philippines". Journal of Democracy. USA: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Websites: COMELEC Website, Congress Website

Monday, September 19, 2005

Welcome!!! (co-conspirators!)

Part I.

Never thought I'll be into this blogging business.
But enjoying the dictates of technology. It's too fun to miss.
And it might just be a blog revolution that would reform Philipppine politics right?
Who knows.
But welcome to my blog!

JET (call me jet! haha)
Comedian (not!)
Claims to be a researcher
Student at heart
Politically and Technologically Stressed

Part II.

With a warm (sizzling sound) welcome, all thy blog-viewers, I greet

Hesitant, I was, to be a party to this blog mania/fad/hysteria/whatchamacallit
But quite intriguing, this blogblog hoohaa is, that try it, I would do
Of course, helps, to come up with one, Doc July requiring all, it does (it can get confusing, huh?)
With much enthusiasm, write/post/whatever my incredible/fantastical (haha) musings, I will

And with this sacred vow (poetic, I am not), goodbye, I bid thee...
(Beat that Yoda-boy!)

Socrates/Kant/fukuyama - but not really!
Lecturer/Researcher (kuno)
FRIENDS enthusiast
Former-"political elite" turned activist-wannabe