Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘Congress’

Repeal the RH Law?

Posted by butalidnl on 27 January 2013

The CBCP wants the next Congress (i.e. the one that will be elected this coming May) to file a bill that will repeal the RH Law. This might seem achievable at first; but it is actually an impossible dream. The chance of the RH Law being rolled back is extremely small.

In the first place, the next Congress will probably look very much like the present one. Half of the senators will remain in place, and a number of other senators will probably be reelected. The majority of Congressmen will either retain their seats or pass on their positions to relatives or allies.  There will be no big shift in the composition of Congress.

The political dynamics that got the RH Law passed will remain in place after the elections. Aquino will still be the president, and most lawmakers would want to stay in his good side and not go against a law he supported. Public opinion will remain overwhelmingly in favor of the law.
Then the law would generate its own inertia. There would be organizational changes in the Departments of Education and Health, as well as in LGUs: people will be hired, reassigned, etc, to implement it. This in itself is a pro-RH constituency, and this goes beyond those directly involved in RH.  Reversing the law will mean lay-offs, reorganizations, etc. and will be resisted.

Legislators have a general aversion to reversing laws that they have just passed. Take the Cybercrime Law – although everybody agrees that it is defective, it takes forever to reverse because some would want to change parts of it (and the specific parts they want changed would differ) while others would want to repeal the whole law. And all these options have to go through committee; and this takes a long time.
A law which has so much support will have a lot of difficulty even hurdling the committee level of discusions.

If bills will be introduced to change the RH Law, they will have to give way to a reevaluation of the law itself, and this would mean that the law would then have to be implemented for a time. And when eventually amendments to the law will be considered; there would be as many proposals to strengthen it as to weaken it.

The implementation of the RH Law is sure to demonstrate its benefits, and it will show that the claims of its negative effects were exaggerated. Sex education will become part of the standard education curriculum; family planning advice and cheap contraceptives will be routinely available for poor couples. After a few years, even Catholic high schools will decide to integrate sex education in their curriculum. This is because their students would otherwise be at a disadvantage when they take exams e.g. the NCEE or State University admission tests.

The CBCP call to reverse the RH Law is most probably just a political rearguard action on their part. As long as they keep on screaming about it, they hope to deter lawmakers from passing other laws they don’t like, specifically a divorce law. This may work for a while; but if the CBCP keeps it up for too long, everyone will see how little political power the CBCP actually has. The CBCP case against the Divorce law will be a lot weaker, though. After all, the Philippines is the ONLY country in the world without a divorce law.

The CBCP would be better advised to concentrate on other issues than RH or Divorce. Gun control would a better thing to push. If the church pushed for a stricter gun control law on the basis of its being pro-life, it could regain some of its lost prestige. The CBCP could also strengthen its opposition to Mining (after having ‘dropped the ball’ on this issue in the last years).

Posted in LGU, Philippine education, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Implementing a Proportional Representation System

Posted by butalidnl on 27 November 2011

In a previous blog (See ‘Proportionally Represented Parliament’), I dealt with the question of why a proportional representation system is better than the present Philippine system. The advantages include: every vote counts, parties represent programs, simpler and cheaper campaign and elections, no pork barrel. In effect, this means a lot less corruption and more citizen participation.

Now, let us get into more specific things about how a proportional representation system can be set up in the Philippines, and what problems to look out for.

Voting Threshold
One real possible problem would be that proportional representation may end up with so many parties in parliament. If parliament were to have 200 members, they could theoretically represent 200 different parties. Having a lot of parties (even if not really 200) would make forming a governing coalition difficult, and keeping it together would be quite tedious. This is the problem, for example, in India, where they have many parties splintered on regional and caste lines.

In order to avoid that problem, various countries have an Election Threshold – which is a minimum percentage of the vote needed before a party can be represented. In effect, this puts a limit on how small a party can be but still be in parliament.

If the election threshold is set at 5% in a 200-member parliament, the minimum size of a party parliamentary group would be 10 MPs. So, a 5% threshold will result, at most to 20 parties in parliament (i.e. 10 each). In practice, however, the number of parties for a 5% threshold will probably be 5 to 7, with perhaps 3 big ones. The German parliament has a 5% threshold, and it has 5 parties represented.
For the Philippines, I think a 5% threshold is too high. A threshold of 2% will suffice – it would eliminate marginal parties, but allow a wide enough range to be represented.

Personality-Based Parties
While all parties will be required to have a program and a list of candidates to participate in the elections; some parties will not really take their programs seriously. In effect, there would still be party formations built around personalities. This is inevitable, but it is also going to be short-lived. If parties are based on party-lists, there are inevitably going to be politicos who don’t agree with their position on the list, and they may leave. But if they leave and form a new party, the question of who gets top billing recurs. Eventually, these small parties will fail to achieve the election threshold and die out as parties.

One problem for trapos is that, on the average, they will have to get support of twice as many votes to get a proportional representation seat than they did previously for a district seat. To get a district seat, they just had to get a majority (50%+1 of votes); but for a proportional representation seat, they would need to get approximately 100% of all votes of a district (or the equivalent from all over the country). With a threshold of 2%, parties would have to get at least 8 times as many votes as before to even get represented in parliament.
This will be an enormous burden on the capacity of the campaign machinery of trapos.

‘Trapo’ parties will be many during the early days of a proportional representation parliament. But these will splinter and die out with time. By the 3rd or 4th round of elections, the overwhelming majority of parties will be national and program-based.

Absenteeism and Useless Speeches
If an MP is consistently absent, the party has the right to kick that MP out and replace him/her with the next person on the list. Being absent is especially frowned upon because parties vote as blocks, and when one is absent the party in effect loses one vote.

The waste of time due to all kinds of speeches is put at a minimum. During plenary discussions, parties designate issue-spokesperson to present the party stand on an issue or proposed bill. Thus, there will be only one speaker per issue per party. There are no ‘privilege speeches’ by parliamentarians.

Posted in charter change, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Congressman Pacquiao?

Posted by butalidnl on 9 March 2010

Boxer Manny Pacquiao is running for Congress as the Representative for Saranggani Province. With the international fame and immense popularity he has, this should be a breeze, right? Wrong. I think Pacquiao is in for another disappointing defeat in his attempt to become a Congressman.

Pacquiao is running for District Representative of Saranggani. He will be running against Roy Chiongbian, who comes from the powerful Chiongbian family which has supplied all the congressmen for Saranggani since it was formed as a province.

Pacquiao is running with the suppport of the Nacionalista Party of Manny Villar, which probably means that he is going to get financial support from Villar for his campaign. This, plus his popularity, should be enough to make him congressman, he thinks.
Well, money plus his popularity were certainly not enough when he ran against  Darlene Antonino-Custodio for the seat of the First District of South Cotabato (which includes General Santos City) in 2007.  Darlene Antonino-Custodio defeated Pacquiao handily by more than 60,000 votes.

Pacquiao says that the Chiongbians had not done anything to uplift the lives of the poor in Saranggani province during their 16 years of controlling the province.  But my question is: if he really wants to reform Saranggani, why is he running for Congress? Wouldn’t it be better to run for Governor? I guess that the reason he wants to become congressman is in order to have access to a congressman’s PDAF (otherwise known as pork barrel funds), and distribute this to benefit the poor in Saranggani. Being governor would be a fulltime job, one which he cannot combine with boxing,  but he can always be an absentee congressman.

I would think that if Pacquiao really meant to change things in Saranggani, he should really run for the governorship, and have access to the even bigger IRA (Internal Revenue Allotment)  for Saranggani province. Pacquiao, as absentee congressman, could not access enough funds to develop Saranggani. But does the Philippines need another absentee Congressman?

The elections in Saranggani will be won by the so-called “command” vote, where local leaders deliver votes for the candidate. Chiongbian has a network of local leaders who cover the province. If Pacquiao wanted to exploit his fame, he should run in the city, where the “market” (votes dependent on the media and public opinion)  votes are more prevalent. But he lost in General Santos City in 2007.

I think  that part of the reason for his 2007 defeat, and his impending 2010 defeat, is that people prefer that he remain a fulltime boxer, and not be “bothered” by being a parttime politician. And of course, Pacquiao’s lack of political machinery in a rural area is sure to go against him.

So, is it “Congessman Pacquiao” come May? Probably not.

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Alternative Media and Democracy

Posted by butalidnl on 15 February 2010

Alternative media is going to change Philippine democracy. By alternative media, I would include social networking sites like Facebook, as well as blogging, websites, Twitter, and YouTube.  And it would even include, by extension: mobile telephones with voice and SMS, Flickr, e-mail etc.

We are now seeing lots of alternative media active in the 2010 election campaign – from candidates websites and Facebook pages, to independent initiatives like BlogWatch, to lots of independent bloggers, and of course ordinary people’s Tweets and Social Networking sites.  At this moment, alternative media is all over the place, but is not yet strong enough to enable a candidate to win. But this will change with time: who knows, maybe next elections in 2013 will witness the first time when some local candidates will win as a result of an internet campaign.

As we said, the alternative media is growing in strength and in its impact on democracy.  After the elections, the question may be asked: what does alternative media do? Well, let us lay out some aspects of what it could do.

Corruption Watch
Alternative media could help in catching and preventing corruption from elected officials and bureaucrats. For one, a lot of the dealings of government officials could be posted on the internet. The budget and actual expense items of the various national government offices and LGUs could be posted. Lifestyle survey findings could also be posted. Anti-corruption action sites could be made, to which people could tweet, SMS or e-mail tips and leads. These could then be taken up by blogs (data-mined, analysed, and commented on), and if need be posted on Facebook and other social  media.

The bureaucracy is a source of what is called “petty corruption”, with fixers asking for money to help people get a drivers license, accomplish and submit income tax returns, get GSIS or SSS benefits etc.  What if people would set up “honest citizens’ desks” in the LTO, BIR, GSIS, etc. where volunteers would help out ordinary citizens with their applications. These desks would double as assistance centers and complaints desks for ordinary citizens, and they would be online through blogs. Many problems with these offices would be blogged about, and get the necessary mileage in social networking sites; and citizens can always contact these by SMS, Tweet or blogs. I’m sure petty corruption will be lessened, and efficiency increased as a result of this.

Facilitating Government Services
Alternative media is not limited to criticizing officials – it could also facilitate the delivery of government services. Various government office websites could offer online services.  This would either eliminate or shorten the need to go to the various offices. And then there is the case of a government information channel. Other countries have this – a general information channel, both online and by telephone, so that citizens could find out where they need to go, and what they need to present. And, an online citizen report channel – telling where there are potholes or problems with the bureaucracy; thus, this would be sort of a “complaints box”, but online.

When government programs would be launched, they should be matched by a website, and a blog, for monitoring of its implementation. For example, if there is a new sex education program to be launched in public schools;  a website/blog arrangement would be useful for parents who have questions, for children who missed out on a module, or any citizen for that matter who would like to contribute to the program.

Monitoring the Formation of Policy
Then there could be those who monitor the legislative and executive decision making. Just imagine that there would be blogs covering legislative working committees and the plenaries which would report and when necessary mobilize public opinion to move legislation.  Public discussions of the various bills would help to push them forward.

Congressmen and senators today can hide behind the fact that their work is not covered that much by the media. But what would happen when there would be TV coverage of Congress plenaries, websites monitoring the progress of proposed bills, blogs covering committee meetings, and websites monitoring the distribution of “pork barrel”? I think this would make them behave much better than they do today.

Interaction, Combination
In all this, there would be combination of various forms of alternative media: from SMS to website, to blogs and social networking sites. But there also need to be work in the old low-tech way, with people actually lobbying in Congress, or operating various “honest citizens desks”, or even demonstrating in the streets. Alternative  media is just an aid to action, it doesn’t replace action.

There would also be interaction between alternative media and more traditional media: newspapers, radio and TV. More and more, blogs and websites would be featured in traditional media, and these same blogs and websites extend the reach of traditional media in their turn.  A simple petition or statement of local import could become known nationwide when it gets posted in a blog or facebook page, and then gets picked up by the media.

Democracy needs people’s participation, and alternative media gives an added dimension to this participation.  With this development, perhaps the Philippines can overcome things like corruption, political dynasties, nonperforming officials, etc.

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No New Taxes?

Posted by butalidnl on 22 January 2010

Noynoy Aquino promised, during a speech before the Makati Business Club on 21 January 2010 that he will not raise taxes as president.  This is a nice promise, but unfortunately, I don’t think that Aquino, nor any president for that matter, could possibly keep such a promise.

In the first place, it is Congress that decides to raise taxes, and not the president or the executive branch. When the Congress deliberates on the budget, they also deal with taxes (usually small ones); the budget is such a complicated and involved bill that when they agree on it, it is the result of such a long process of deliberation and compromises. When the budget comes to the president for signing, and it  has a few tax increases, it will be extremely difficult not to sign. Not signing may mean that the budget has to be deliberated on again, and that the first few months of the following year would be without a new budget, etc. Thus, the president may really have to sign such a budget.

Then, there are the adjustments made to taxes on a regular basis. For example, some excise taxes are regularly adjusted to go with inflation. Thus, an excise tax on say alcohol, will have to be updated if the price of alcoholic beverages rise. Or, in the course of negotiations with other countries, it may be necessary to change some taxes from excise to ad valorem (excise is a specific amount in pesos per unit to be taxed, will an ad valorem tax is based on the price of the unit to be taxed) or vice-versa, or to raise some taxes and lower others. When this happens, the overall tax burden may remain the same, but specific individuals may experience an increase in their taxes, while others experience a decrease.

Also, if the national government decides to cut down on subsidies for some services at the local level, this may push the LGUs to raise some of their own taxes to recoup the added expense. In a sense, the national government raised local taxes.

Overall impact
Of course, if the “no new taxes” promise is taken to mean: “I will not increase the overall tax burden.” this become more feasible. This means that increases in some taxes will be offset by decreases in others, so that the overall effect will be the zero. This means that the government will seek other ways to generate money – e.g. through more economic growth – than taxing the people.

The idea behind Aquino’s no-new-taxes policy is that enough money could be raised through efficiency in government and tax-collection. And though this is a good idea; it’s just not an absolute thing. I don’t believe it is a good idea to tie down the president to a “no new taxes” policy, since taxes are inevitably part of the arsenal of instruments open to the president.   If good government requires that some taxes go up, then so be it. Just make sure that it is done fairly and that it really is the last resort.

Posted in Philippine economics, Philippine politics, Philippines, politics | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »