Signs of economic progress amid challenges to our “Soft State:” family dynasties, rampant corruption, and rebellions
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Signs of progress. There is optimism reported in the media arising from the Philippines’ reported high GDP annual growth of plus six percent, and the favorable foreign assessments of our improved climate for investments. Credit goes to the leadership and administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III who continues to enjoy high popular trust for his daang matuwid governance. However, we also witness the other side of the state of our nation. This is reflected in the candid and admirable admission of Secretary Butch Abad and Secretary Arsenio Balisacan that the high growth rate is not accompanied by the needed high increase in employment. This is partly because of the lack of direct foreign investments compared to several of our neighbors in the region, and our already large and rapidly rising population estimated to be 97 million.
We should also credit President P-Noy for leading the final passage by Congress of the Reproductive Health Bill of 2012 and the Sin Tax Law against strong opposition. The nation should gain from their beneficial effects in due course.
We now have 52 million registered voters after the Comelec delisted some 5 million who had registered more than once. A large chunk of the voters classify themselves as mahirap and are dependent on their political patrons whom they will vote for in the coming May elections. Some of them are also vulnerable to vote buying by unscrupulous politicians. We also face the challenge of our second automated elections in the face of criticism regarding alleged machine glitches.
Our “Soft State” and its exploiters. Our description of the Philippines as a “Soft State” derives from Gunnar Myrdal who describes “Soft States” as having the following characteristics (Asian Drama, 1969. pp. 66, and 277): (1) “Soft States are dominated by powerful interests that exploit the power of the State or government to serve their own interests rather than the interests of their citizens. (2) “Policies decided on are often not enforced, if they are enacted at all, and in that the authorities, even when framing policies are reluctant to place obligations on people. (3) “Governments require extraordinarily little of their citizens [and] even those obligations that do exist are enforced inadequately, if at all…. (4) “There is an unwillingness among the rulers to impose obligations on the governed and a corresponding unwillingness on their part to obey rules laid down by democratic procedures.”
I have identified the exploiters of our “Soft State” to include (1) “rent-seeking” oligarchs or rich and powerful politicians and their family dynasties who exploit the State to serve their selfish interests; (2) “warlords” who use violence to gain and protect their power and political position; (3) politicians who use force, fraud, or buy votes to win elections and stay in power; (4) “rent-seeking” businessmen; (5) “rent-seeking” public administrators; (5) gambling lords, drug lords, and smuggling lords; (6) tax evaders; (7) rebels who collect “revolutionary taxes”; (8) terrorists; (9) and even poor “informal settlers,” maybe for sheer survival as migrants in the big cities, and “squatter syndicates,” who occupy private or public land and use their votes to buy the protection of politicians.
Dominance of family dynasties in 2013 elections. In most parts of the country, candidates who belong to the wealthy family dynasties have the edge over their rivals in the expensive campaigns. Some of the former are running unopposed. For the Senate whose members are elected nationwide, like the President and Vice-President, those who belong to entrenched political families and who are up for re-election are leading in the election surveys.
There are two contending sets of senatorial candidates. One is “Team P-Noy,” the political coalition led by President Aquino. The other is “Team UNA” (United Nationalist Alliance) led by the triumvirate of Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, and former President Joseph Estrada.
The two coalitions are not distinguished by their political platforms which are not even presented to the public. In fact, Vice-President Binay is a member of the Aquino Cabinet and he claims not to be opposed to the President. He has always been loyal to the President’s late mother, President Corazon Aquino, and against the dictator Marcos.
For sure the two coalitions are monopolizing the senatorial campaign. “Independent” candidates appear to be hopeless in winning a seat in the Senate. This is because of the two coalitions entrenched family dynasties, their ample financing for the nationwide campaign, and their personal popularity and name-recall, and supposed “win-ability.”
Oddly too, three of the senatorial candidates are “common candidates” of the two rival political coalitions: namely re-electionist Senator Loren Legarda, re-electionist Senator Chiz Escudero, and Grace Poe Llamanzares who is an adopted daughter of the late movie idol Fernando Poe. It seems that Legarda and Escudero are common candidates because they lead the senatorial surveys and are sure winners. Senator Franklin Drilon says that “Team UNA” adopted Legarda, Escudero, and Llamanzares not only because they are sure winners but also because “Team UNA” lacked winning candidates.
Ranked 1st to 3rd in the Pulse Asia election surveys are re-electionist Senators Legarda, Escudero, and Peter Alan Cayetano. Ranked 4th is Nancy Binay, daughter Vice-President Binay; 5th is San Juan City Rep. J.V. Ejercito Estrada, son of former President Estrada. Also among the probable winners are: Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile, Jr. and Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, respectively the sons of the Senate President and outgoing Senator Angara, Sr.; and Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, wife of outgoing Senator and former Speaker Manuel Villar. Belonging to a rich and powerful family dynasty is indeed a great advantage.
Among the other probable winners are re-electionist Senators Antonio Trillanes and Aquilino Koko Pimentel III, former Senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, and re-electionist Senator Gregorio Honasan. Koko Pimentel is the son of former Senate President Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel, the respected leader from Mindanao. Senators Honasan and Trillanes are former military officers and rebels who became folk heroes.
Among those outside the January list of the leading 12 senator candidates are youth leader and entrepreneur Bam Aquino, cousin of the President; Grace Poe Llamanzares; former Senators Richard Gordon and Ramon “Jun” Magsaysay; ex-Akbayan Rep. Riza Hontiveros; ex-Sen. Ernesto Maceda; ex-Tarlac Governor Margarita Cojuangco; and Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño. As the campaign goes on, a number of these candidates still have a good chance of catching up as “Team P-Noy” and “Team UNA” intensify their campaigns nationwide.
Meanwhile, groups challenging the family political dynasties before the Comelec and the Supreme Court have failed. So they are forming a national campaign to amend the Constitution by defining the “political dynasties” that are prohibited, through a national People’s Initiative, as allowed in the Constitution. This will be a formidable challenge to its initiators and supporters. We should challenge our family dynasties by forming modern political parties that are mass based and program and reform oriented. The first such political party is the new Centrist Democratic Party: Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya.
Corruption in Congress and the Armed Forces. We are now more aware how senators and representatives are helping themselves to public funds, as exposed in the debate between Senate President Enrile and Senator Alan Peter Cayetano. In her Inquirer column on January 25, Winnie Monsod writes: “Since 1998, there seems to be a mini pork barrel fund that the senators (and apparently members of the House of Representatives as well) have been feeding off, courtesy of some provision inserted in the General Appropriations Act at the time. In effect, the maintenance and other operating expenses (MOOE) budgets of the legislators have been and are being treated like “confidential and intelligence funds” (CIFs), in the sense that when liquidating these expenses, the legislators do not need to produce receipts or other documentary evidence to justify them. All that is needed is a “certification,” signed by them, that they had spent the money on MOOE items.”
“Incurred for each Senator (from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2010),” these amounts totaled P472 million, of which P186 million, or about 40 percent was for “other MOOE.” These itemized expenses do not include expenses as Permanent Committee Members and/or Officers of the Senate”—amounting to P590 million. Assume another 40 percent of that was for MOOE, and you have at least another P236 million worth of expenditures that essentially could be spent at the whim of the legislators. The bottom line is that the senators …could spend (or pocket) with impunity an average of around P18 million. xxx And hopefully these servants of the people will, in the next Congress, remove that scandalous, unconscionable, self-serving practice.”
What has happened to the well publicized rampant pabaon irregularities in the Armed Forces of the Philippines involving huge gifts from P2.3 billion in public funds to outgoing military officers in past years? These are still pending with the Office of the Ombudsman. Plunder charges were recommended to be filed against the alleged benefitting generals.
Signs of a “failing State”. The State is entitled to a monopoly in the legitimate use of force or violence in the national territory. So, losing such monopoly is a sign of a failing state. In our country various armed groups and rebels have territories under their own control. This is true of the CPP-NPA-NDF, the MNLF, the MILF, and the Abu Sayyaf. Last week the MNLF and the Abu Sayyaf were engaged in a war in Sulu resulting in several casualties. On January 6, 13 people were killed in a police-military checkpoint in Atimonan, Quezon. There also has been a rash of robberies and break-ins in various cities. The trial of the Maguindanao massacre of 58 victims is now on its fourth year.
Jose V. Abueva is the President of Kalayaan College & Director of its Institute for a Nonkilling Philippines. He is Professor Emeritus of Political Science & Public Administration at the University of the Philippines.
Visit his blogsite here.