Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Archive for August, 2010

Command Responsibility for Human Rights Violations

Posted by butalidnl on 31 August 2010

Senator Manny Villar recently filed a bill (Senate Bill 1228) that will hold department heads responsible for human rights violations committed by their subordinates. This is a good step in promoting the human rights performance of government. In effect, the proposed bill forces department heads to ensure that people in their department respect human rights. [see Bill Defining Liability of Department Heads Pushed ] This means, for example, that the superiors of the Tondo police accused of torture would also have to answer for their subordinates’ misbehavior.

Isn’t this already covered by existing laws?
Well, yes and no. Command responsibility is an integral part of International Human Rights laws, and since the Philippines has ratified these, it constitutes a part of Philippine laws. However, it is not specified in any Philippine law. So, cases of human rights violations in the Philippines usually involve only the perpetrators, and not their superiors. So, I think it is a good idea to specifically include command responsibility in a Philippine law. It is time for us to pass a specific Philippine law on command responsibility.

Provisions
“Gross Violations”? One thing about the bill is that it only establishes command responsibility in cases of “gross violations of human rights”. It does not clarify, though which acts would constitute a “gross violation” of human rights. For example: if a policeman punches the suspect in the face during interrogation, is this a “gross violation” or merely a “minor violation” of human rights? Is the line drawn where the police or military tortures the suspect by electrocuting their testicles? or by subjecting him to “water boarding”? Or is it when the military kills a suspect extra-judicially?

I think the law should simply say that all human rights violations by police/military/government officials are covered by command responsibility. And, of course, the relatively minor violations carry lower sanctions than the gross violations.

Department Heads. I think the law should specify what a “department head” is.  In the police force, does this mean the police chief of the city? In the military, the commander of the company (Captain) or of the brigade (General)? And if city hall bureaucrats commit human rights violations, is the mayor answerable? or merely the direct superior of the offending bureaucrat?

It would be good to specify how far up the “chain of command” would be accountable for the human rights violation.

I believe that this is a good bill, and that it would go a long way in reducing human rights violations in the country.

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Limit Government Corporation Salaries

Posted by butalidnl on 17 August 2010

President Noynoy Aquino made a big issue of the excessive bonuses paid to the board of the MWSS during his recent State of the Nation Address (SONA). It seems that there are a lot of other government corporations which also pay their boards quite richly. Is there a way to limit the pay of these people? How high should their salaries and bonuses be, then?
One angle that the Senate is looking into is whether these Government Owned and Controlled Corporations (GOCCs) comply with RA 7656, which require GOCCs to remit at least 50% of their annual net earnings to the government. Apparently, some GOCCs are not remitting their earnings, and have funneled these instead to their own pockets, by way of bonuses and other benefits to their managers.
But, if we take aside the issue of whether or not a GOCC is remitting its earnings to the government, there should still be a limit on the salaries of their executives. The question of what constitutes excessive pay needs to be answered.

I  suggest that limit for the compensation for GOCC executives, should be the salary that the president receives himself. It should be reasonable enough to establish the salary of the president as the maximum “norm” for government salaries. After all, as the chief executive of the country, he should be the highest paid government official. But, how will this work when the boards of MWSS and other government corporations and institutions are governed by their own charters?

The Netherlands
In the Netherlands, there is a “norm” regarding how high the salaries of publicly owned corporations can be; and this is the salary of the prime minister. This norm is called the “Balkenende Norm”, which is the name of the current prime minister, and who earns about Euro 188,000 per year. However, the government could not impose this as a formal limit, . So, the Dutch parliament passed a law requiring the publication of the list of government officials (as well as officials of government owned or controlled corporations) who earn more than the Balkenende norm. And, since this law was passed in 2006, there has been immense public pressure put on those who do earn more than the premier, but who don’t really deserve to (according to the public, that is). This has led to many managers being forced by their boards to return “excessive bonuses”.

In the Netherlands, people accept that people like the head of the Central Bank, the AFM (equivalent to the SEC) and other financial regulators, need to be paid high salaries; because, otherwise, you will not be able to get the most qualified people for these jobs. But they frown upon some hospital directors (these are public corporations here) who get higher salaries than the prime minister, for instance.

“P-Noy Norm”
In the Philippines, I think it would be a good idea to have a “PNoy Norm” , which will set the president’s salary as the norm for the highest salaries in government. The Congress should also pass a law requiring all officials (especially those from GOCCs) who earn more than that to declare how much they earn, and that this should be published in the internet and in other media. This way, the public will have the possibility to assess whether these officials deserve such high salaries.

The PNoy norm should be set above the president’s nominal salary. After all, he has some non-salary benefits e.g. free lodging in Malacanang, free travel, etc. So, let us say we put the norm at Php 1.8 million a year (Php 150,000 a month), and this would include salaries, bonuses and other fringe benefits. So, GOCC executives earning more than this should declare it.

The government could put this norm in effect simply by the power of an Executive Order.  And, and the same time, the president could set up a commission to review the salaries of all executives who receive more than the “P-Noy Norm”. And I am sure that public pressure will come to bear on officials who receive more than the PNoy norm, but who cannot justify such a high level of compensation.

And of course, the Senate should continue with its investigation of whether funds which should have gone to the government have instead gone to the pockets of GOCC managers.

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Ban Officials from Claiming Government Projects

Posted by butalidnl on 7 August 2010

President PNoy Aquino said that he supports Senator Escudero’s Senate Bill 2187 which prohibits the naming of government projects after officials. And he went on to declare that he does not want to have any project named after him. This is a good sign.
Actually, Escudero’s bill is only the latest Senate attempt at curbing this practice. In 2004, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago proposed Senate Bill 1967, which will penalizes the attaching of the name or image of any public official to a sign announcing a proposed or ongoing public works project. It was not passed by the 13th Congress, so Santiago reintroduced it in 2007, in the 14th Congress, and it still didn’t pass.
Santiago’s SB 1967 bill penalizes officials who do attach their name or image to a project, to 6 months to 1 year in prison, and to permanent disqualification from running for public office. Escudero’s SB 2187 penalizes the offenders with 1 year imprisonment and a fine from Php100,000 to Php1,000,000.

Corruption
The practice of claiming government projects as “theirs” by government officials is not only irritating, it is also a waste of money. And, more importantly, it is a form of corruption. After all, these officials use public funds and projects for personal gain. It is a form of free advertisement for themselves, as a sort of advanced election campaign. Even if no additional funds are involved (i.e. the sign would have been put up anyway), it is still corruption. And, if it involves additional expense for the government, it becomes even worse.

Congressmen seem to need to show off where their pork barrel allotments go to. Let them just show them in their websites (or the websites of the Dept of Local Government, or that of Congress), where they could publish what projects got funded by their pork barrel funds. This would have the additional advantage of increasing transparency in the allocation of pork barrel.

Just like the anti “Wang Wang” drive of the government, a ban on claiming government projects will go a long way towards changing the general atmosphere that leads to corruption. It will be a small, but quite visible (or should we say, “invisible”) step in the right direction.

Provisions
Let us go to the provisions such a law should have. In the first place, I think the law should specify by the claim ban. Billboards explaining the project is one way, but there are others e.g. words painted on a waiting shed, or the name of the project is similar to the politician’s name, or words printed or attached to a label of a product (e.g. school bags given to children). The ban should cover all these.

Then, the punishment for violating the ban should not include imprisonment. I think that would be too harsh, and may have a counter-productive effect, i.e. people would not complain of violations, because they think that imprisonment is too harsh. The punishment should include: a big fine, suspension from office for 6 months to a year for the first offense, and expulsion from office plus a permanent prohibition from public office for the second offense. I think this should be fair enough to be upheld.

And the government should also allot money to “erase” all claims on projects by government officials. Waiting sheds may need to be painted over, projects may need to be renamed, etc.

I think President PNoy should include this bill among the priority bills that he will push Congress to pass.  Then, passing it through Congress becomes a possibility. Otherwise, if he doesn’t signify it as priority, it will not pass; since many lawmakers like to claim government projects.  And, if the president doesn’t think it should go through as a bill, he could adopt it as an Executive Order, which although faster, would also be less effective than a law.

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Increasing LRT/MRT Fares

Posted by butalidnl on 2 August 2010

The government is studying the possibility of raising the fares for the LRT and MRT; they will probably raise the fares by September. And while many people will be adversely affected, I think it would generally be a good idea that they do get raised.

Well, the first reason why I think so is that I think that LRT/MRT rates are a bit too cheap. Take the MRT – you could go from one end (almost) of EDSA to the other for 15 pesos. With this amount, you get to ride a fast, airconditioned vehicle all the way (of course, they tend to be quite overcrowded, but that’s beside the point). If you were to ride an aircon bus or FX for the same route, you will pay way more than 30 pesos. Obviously, the government has been subsidizing the MRT like crazy, and that’s why it is so cheap.

The government now wants to cut the subsidy it gives to the LRT/MRT.  They are not saying that they plan to cut the subsidy to zero, just that they don’t want to subsidize it that much anymore. In a sense, it is a good idea. If you think of it, a government subsidy would mean that everybody in the country (including the poor guys in Mindanao) is paying money for the LRT/MRT, and only the people in Metro Manila (and not even all the people there) get to enjoy it. There is something not very fair about this subsidy set-up.

Transportation Infrastructure
Thus, there is a case for cutting the amount of subsidy to the operations of the LRT/MRT. But what do we exactly mean by “operations”? Part of the government “subsidy” goes to the maintenance of the physical infrastructure of the LRT/MRT system. But wouldn’t this be equivalent to the government “subsidy” towards the maintenance of the country’s  road system? After all, cars, jeepneys and buses don’t pay directly for the maintenance of the road system. Funds for this are rightly taken from the general government budget. Thus, it would probably be right for the government to simply shoulder LRT/MRT infrastructure maintenance as part of its expense in maintaining the transportation infrastructure . In other words, a “subsidy” for this would be justified.

Now, let us look at the security in the LRT/MRT system. This is mostly handled by company security guards. In other countries, the security for their metro systems is done by a special unit of the police force (the “Railroad Police”), which is paid for by the taxpayers. A “Railroad Police” force would be similar in function with Highway Police, except of course, that their area of operations would be the railroads. So, if the rail transit companies instead hire security guards, I think it would also be justifiable for this expense to be shouldered by the national budget. The Philippines could also consider forming a “Railroad Police” unit for the LRT/MRT system, which would take over the functions of the private security guards.

Rough Equivalence with Other PUVs
Once we deduct the amounts for infrastructure maintenance and security, we would come up with the real subsidy the government pays for the mass transit systems. And, if we were to take this amount, the resulting fare would be still higher than the equivalent bus ride. And this would be natural, since after all the LRT/MRT is faster and potentially more comfortable than the equivalent bus ride.

I think that the government then will need to also consider other things that have to do with rail transport. One of this would be regarding the amount of pollution that the LRT/MRT system DOES NOT produce. This would mean a lot, since everyone suffers from pollution, not only of carbon dioxide, but especially from soot and other gases that come out of vehicles. The LRT/MRT system is relatively clean, and this should be worth some kind of subsidy.

The main thing that is left, with regards to fares, would be its “affordability”. Passengers would need to afford the LRT/MRT, or else they won’t use it, and that will be an even bigger waste of money.  I think that the key would be to base it, more or less, on the equivalent bus fare. And, in this, I think the LRT/MRT should concentrate more on serving passengers who have longer rides, that those with shorter trips.

For the MRT, I would suggest that the fare be raised from the present 12 pesos for the first five stations, and 15 pesos for longer trips, to a simple flat rate of 20 pesos for all trips. This would mean that passengers on longer trips will have a 33% increase, while those with shorter trips will have an increase of 67%. This should discourage people with shorter trips from riding the MRT, while not be too expensive for those with longer trips (since it would be roughly equivalent to their bus fare).

And the resulting “subsidy”, if  we extract infrastructure maintenance and security, would not be too big anymore. And, whatever the amount that is left, should then be ascribed to the cost of controlling pollution and decongesting our streets.

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