Monday, December 12, 2005

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.


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