Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘constitution’

Compel Lawmakers to Understand Filipino

Posted by butalidnl on 25 August 2011

On 24 August, during the House debate on the RH Bill, Representative Apostol of Southern Leyte demanded that Rep. Bag-ao be compelled to speak in English. Bag-ao replied that Filipino is an official language and that she had all the right to speak it in Congress. This was upheld by Deputy Majority Floor Leader Magtanggol Gunigundo who said that indeed Filipino is an official language. To this, Apostol said Filipino is not his official language, and that if Bag-ao persisted, he would then demand to have an interpreter.

This exchange may sound quite trivial, but it has bigger implications. Filipino IS an official language, and one of the implications of this is that government officials should be fluent at it. Being an official language also means not only that Representatives are allowed to speak it; but that the other representatives should be able to understand what she is saying. Otherwise, it would not effectively be an official language; because why have it as an official language if it cannot be used?

In Switzerland, they have four official languages ( German, French, Italian and Rumantsch). While the parliamentarians are not required to be fluent in all four, they ARE required to understand other parliamentarians speaking them. It is fascinating to attend such sessions, where the MPs speak in German (actually, the Swiss dialect of German), French, Italian or Rumantsch, and they don’t have interpreters! (When Italian or Rumatsch speakers want to make sure the others understand the nuances of what they say, however, they speak in either German or French) I think it would be unthinkable to have a lawmaker there who cannot speak fluently at least two languages.

I believe that Philippine government officials need to be fluent in Filipino, and not merely be able to comprehend it. I applaud PNoy’s consistency in speaking Filipino during his speeches. I note that he is speaking ‘ordinary’ Filipino, and not the version that is too ‘deep’ or ‘classical’. It has many borrowed words from Spanish and English.

The use of Filipino as an official language should also extend to our foreign relations. Erap Estrada was the first, I think the only, Philippine president who talked to US officials in Filipino; forcing the Americans (Sec. of State Albright) to hurriedly look for an interpreter. I think PNoy should follow Estrada’s example and talk Filipino to Americans, just to make the point. Talking in English to the Americans is a courtesy; the Americans should return this courtesy sometimes by listening to us speaking Filipino. I suggest that when Filipino officials talk to Americans in the Philippines, they speak Filipino; and if they talk to the Americans in the US or elsewhere, that they talk in English.

I understand the sensitivity of people like Apostol, who is a Cebuano speaker, to the predominance of the mainly Tagalog-based Filipino over other languages such as Cebuano. I am a Cebuano myself, and my father raised me to be English-speaking. But c’mon: Representative Apostol lives in Manila; he speaks colloquial Filipino every day. Why can’t he learn just a bit more Filipino to understand official talks in it? It isn’t really that difficult, a couple of months of study should do it. I know, I did it too.

The barrier to learning Filipino is more a question of arrogance, rather than difficulty. I bet that Rep Apostol couldn’t also make an official speech in Cebuano (his native tongue) either. He does all official duties back home in Southern Leyte in English (even though he surely speaks colloquial Cebuano fluently.)  It is really a question of an ‘air’ that he is educated, a lawyer, and speaking Filipino or Cebuano in official functions is below him.

I think this is a matter for the Supreme Court to decide. We could not have lawmakers declaring that Filipino is not THEIR official language. They should declare that having Filipino as an official language means that lawmakers should be able to comprehend it. They should decide to compel Apostol and other lawmakers to understand Filipino.

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

Philippine Investment “Myths”

Posted by butalidnl on 24 June 2011

The Philippines needs investments in order to develop. Where should these investments come from? What do we need to do to get them? There are a number of ‘myths’ about investments in the Philippines, and these ‘myths’ either distract us from the real issues, or are even counterproductive.

National Patrimony Provision
There are many who want to amend the Constitution’s national patrimony provision, which reserves the ownership and exploitation of land and national resources to Filipinos. The idea was that if foreign ownership is allowed, foreigners will want to buy land and invest in the Philippines.

This issue is overrated. Foreign companies these days no longer really need to own land for agriculture or mining. All they have to do is to make long-term lease arrangements, or get guarantees to a steady supply of a given product. Take the pineapple plantations in Mindanao – they plant pineapple based on contractual arrangement, and end up supplying foreign companies.  But the land is owned by Filipinos. As for mining companies, the present Mining Act, with its provision for “Financial and Technical Assistance Agreements” which last 25 years allow foreign mining companies to operate in the country without having to technically “own” the land.

A danger of allowing foreigners to simply own land in the Philippines as a right – and no longer requiring them to go through all kinds of agreements and regulations is that they could use the land irresponsibly. In Africa, Chinese companies own land, they bring in their own workers and supplies, and export all production to China. The host country gains little in the process. I don’t see how this kind of foreign land ownership could benefit the Philippine economy.

Cheap Labor
This is a very old concept. Economic policymakers seem to have this idea that the Philippines is a country with cheap labor; and that keeping labor cheap is a very important part of attracting foreign investors.

I have news for these policymakers – Philippine labor is not cheap, and it hasn’t been so for a while. Instead of recognizing and adapting to this fact, the government has been implementing a cheap labor policy, to the detriment to Filipinos and the nation’s development.

If we recognize that labor is not cheap, the first thing the government should do is to prioritize the education and training of our workforce so that it could fit into the kinds of jobs that fit the level of our wages. The government should take steps to reduce other costs of doing business in the country, such as electricity, transport, taxes etc.

If anything, what the country needs is to raise the wage levels of a whole range of workers. This way, we could retain many workers who now prefer to work abroad. And a pool of skilled workers is another thing that is very good in attracting investments.

Need for Capital
One reason put forward for wanting more foreign investments is that the Philippines would otherwise not have enough capital to build its industries.  While it is true that foreign investors do bring in money, I think that the Philippines is perfectly able to raise the a substantial amount of the money domestically.

The Philippines has a lot of capital sitting at the sidelines. People invest them in things like real estate because the conditions for making investments are not too favorable. The investment climate has to improve – in things like less taxes and administration, lower power rates, better enforcement by the justice system of contracts etc – for Filipinos themselves to invest in new industries, agriculture etc. Things are so bad that the richest Filipinos, who would otherwise be pouring money into industrial investments, invest instead in building condominiums and malls, or in conspicuous consumption, or they salt their money abroad.

Local investments are a vital ingredient in attracting foreign investments. They provide a link to the local economy, and also to local policymakers and regulators. They are an assurance that the sector has a long term staying power in the country. The electronics industry has a growing number of Filipino investors, and it is booming. The BPO industry is now starting to get more Filipino investors.

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

Elect parliamentarians based on the proportional representation system

Posted by butalidnl on 18 September 2006

I agree with the GMA government when it says that the Philippines needs a change in the government system, and even that the constitution needs to be amended as part of this process of change. However, I differ with it in that I feel that the constitutional proposals they have put forward are ineffective. We need real changes, not cosmetic ones.

The proposal to change from a presidential system with a bicameral legislature, to a parliamentary system with a unicameral legislature is not automatically going to address the big problems with the present system. Gridlock in the making of laws, corruption, weak party system – all these features will not only be maintained by the proposed changes in the constitution, they will even grow worse.

The key change that needs to be made is not on what we elect, but on how we elect our representatives.
The proposed changes to the constitution will  keep the basic workings of the system intact. Under the current charter change proposal, the parliament members will be elected on the basis of whoever gets the most votes (note, not the majority of the votes, but a “plurality”) in the present congressional districts.  This means that the present system of patronage and pork barrel will likely be maintained.

In order to abolish the system of patronage and pork barrel, we need to cut the link between local interests and national policymaking. Thus, representatives should no longer be elected on the basis of constituencies, or districts. Under the proportional representation system of electing parliament, the voters choose the party that they like (hopefully, on the basis of the party platform) and the seats are allocated on the basis of the percentage of the overall national votes that the various parties get. This means that if a party gets 10% of the votes, it is entitled to 10% of the seats (which, in a 200 member parliament, means that it would get 20 seats).

This system is not that new to the Philippines. We have it already in the form of the party-list system.  At present, though, the party-list system only applies (at most) to 50 seats out of 250 in the House of Representatives. It is also only open to parties which represent the “underrepresented sectors of society” – and thus excludes the main political parties. What we need to do is to expand the party-list system to include all the seats in parliament, and to include all parties.

Since, with this system of electing parliament, there is no longer a direct link between a constituency area and the individual seats, there will be no need to develop patronage in one’s “base” in order to get elected. It will also mean that “pork barrel” as a way of developing patronage will also no longer be needed. What will instead develop will be a party system – since representation will be thru parties.  It will also mean that the parliamentarians will need to concentrate on their main work, which is to make national policies.

We should also adopt the rule in the present party-list law, wherein the lawmakers represent their parties, and when they leave the party, they automatically lose their seat in parliament. This will make it impossible for one to shift party affiliation in between elections. The list of party candidates will be the official list of succession for party seats in parliament, and this list is filed before the elections. And nobody is allowed to be in more than one list.
This system forces parties to form coalitions in order to get a working majority. It means that the ruling coalition will grow on the basis of inter-party negotiations, and not on recruiting members from other parties.

The proportional representation system also ensures that a majority of the population gets represented in the government. Since the parliamentarians’ seats are apportioned according to the votes their parties get in the elections, a majority in parliament will need to represent the majority of voters.
With this system, it would be possible for parties which represent a wide variety of views and interests to run for parliament. This is good for democracy, in that no significant group of voters would be left out of the political life.

The proportional representation system also would improve party discipline among parliamentarians. If a parliamentarian is consistently absent during sessions, this would be bad for the party, and thus the party could expel the delinquent parliamentarian from the party – meaning that he/she loses the seat. In many parliaments, this system ensures good attendance in parliament sessions. It also means that if a member of parliament regularly votes contrary to the party’s position she/he risks being thrown out.

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