Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Posts Tagged ‘pork barrel’

Proportionally Represented Parliament

Posted by butalidnl on 20 November 2011

I am not really proposing Charter Change, but if comes down to it, I would propose changing the Philippine system from a US-style winner-take-all district system to a system of proportional representation.

In a proportional representation system, people vote for the party of their choice, and the total seats in parliament are divided based on the percentages of votes for a given party. Thus, if the parliament has 100 members, a party that gets 10% of the votes will get 10 seats.

Why is a Proportional Representation System Better?
A proportional representation system will result in simpler, cheaper government, and the development of real parties. This system could be implemented so that not only is the national parliament elected this way, but also provincial and city officials. Thus, mayors and governors will be selected by city or provincial councils.

Simpler Elections. People would only have to remember the name of the party of their choice, instead of the names of a lot of candidates. This means that he/she would need to remember at most 3 parties (assuming that he prefers different parties for various levels) – for parliament, province and city. Simple.

Administering such an election is simple; the ballots are simple, and if ballot boxes are separated by level (national, provincial, city), counting is just a matter of piling ballots. It also means that less money would be used in the campaign. There would be no need for sample ballots, and advertisements need to only project a party name. Also, campaign machinery is organized per party, there would be no need for a personal campaign machinery.  And because campaigning is cheap, there is less chance that rich people would control the election.

Programs. Members of Parliament will represent the people who voted for their party. And this means that a party’s program will be more important than individual candidates’ profiles. In Europe, this has led to parties representing various parts of the population, with different policy proposals. Parties who are simply for ‘clean government’ or ‘change’ (and thus, no real program) will be voted out. Parties will stress on the policies in which they stand out.

Every Vote Counts. In a district system, minorities have no voice. If you don’t want either of the two choices for an office, you can’t do anything. You may also decide not to vote if you expect that your candidate has on chance of winning. In a proportional representation system, every vote counts towards the seats that the party will be alloted. In theory, even a single vote could result in a difference of one seat in parliament.

No Pork Barrel. Since Members of Parliament represent parties (and not districts), pork barrel allotments would no longer be necessary or even applicable. Members of Parliament will be more focused on the making of laws, and not on naming a school or bridge, or other specific ‘goodies’ for their districts.

Not District Parliamentary
A UK-style district parliament would not be as good as a proportional representation type of parliament. A UK-style parliament will not make every vote count, there would be more (not less) pork barrel, and the rich can still control the outcome of elections. The UK-style system would only be marginally better than a presidential system.

A proportional system of electing representatives already exists in the Philippines – in the form of the party-list system. The party-list system just needs to be expanded to include all the members of parliament, and it should be opened to all political parties.

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Church Should Focus on Corruption

Posted by butalidnl on 6 March 2011

The Catholic Church in the Philippines has been putting a lot of its energy on the question of the RH bill. I think that instead it should focus on the real moral question – that of corruption. Corruption is an evil in our society. It is so prevalent that we need everybody’s help in fighting it. Now that the government is starting to do something about it, it is time that the church also does its bit.

Isn’t the church going against corruption already? No, not really. If it was, I think that there will be a lot less corruption in society today. What can the church do then? Well, let us see some of the ways.

Declare Corrupt Money “Tainted”
The Muslims have a name for it: haram.  It is the opposite of halal. Haram means “tainted”, in the sense that if someone holds it, ingests it, or receives it, they commit a sin. Good Muslims avoid haram things like the plague.   Haram works: a few years ago, MILF imams declared kidnap ransom money haram. Now, the Abu Sayyaf has difficulty using ransom money, and consequently kidnap-for-ransom has dropped dramatically.

I suppose that the church could simply say that corruption money is cursed. While less emotive than haram it should serve as a dis-incentive to government officials and others to engage in corruption.

If money from corruption is “cursed”, then corrupt people will have a harder time spending their money. And this will greatly reduce the extent of corruption. The church should take the lead in this, by refusing money from known corrupt sources. They can do this by asking people who donate big money to the church to prove where they got the money, or they could set a limit on the amount donated.  If the church does this, it will indeed be brave; since it will be foregoing a lot of donations. But it is sure to have an effect. The church should also preach that knowingly receiving cursed/tainted money (from corruption) constitutes a sin in itself.

Revise the concept of Penance for Corruption
Corrupt officials often erase their sins by donating to the church, or to other charitable causes. They may even confess their sins, and get to “pray 3 Hail Mary’s” to erase their sins. If the Catholic church declares that the penance for the sin of corruption is that the money be returned, and that donations will not do anything to ensure a place in heaven, this will be another big thing towards reducing corruption.  (See: Catholicism Impedes Philippine Development)

Set a Good Example
The Church should institute internal reforms to ensure that corruption within its ranks is eradicated. It should require financial auditing of all church funds, the issuance of receipts for large donations, the publishing of financial reports on the internet.

Setting a good example is key in gaining the high moral ground in the campaign against corruption. When people see that the church is not corrupt, they will heed its calls to stop corruption.

Particular Forms of Corruption
Of course, before launching a campaign on corruption, the church should be clear exactly what kind of corruption it is campaigning against.  I suggest that it concentrate on the following:

Graft. This is the use of government money for personal gain. Or the theft of government money. It takes various forms. The most obvious would be when a portion of funds for a department or LGU are simply siphoned off. I think that what the Generals Garcia et al have done is a clear example of graft. But there are also more indirect ways. For example, Congressmen who refer projects to line agencies as part of their “pork barrel” get a kickback from that agency (e.g. Dept of Public Highways). Or, contractors are asked to shoulder an LGU executive’s “representation expenses” and in return they get some juicy contract in return.

The church should condemn graft in the strongest terms. It could even threaten (and impose) exclusion  from church services for the worst grafters.

Tax Evasion. This is rather straightforward. If you don’t pay your taxes correctly, you are guilty of corruption.  But taxes are not only income taxes. Importers often pay corrupt customs officials to under-declare the value of the things they import, in order that the tax assessment will be lower. This is called “technical smuggling”, and it is tax evasion. Or, medical doctors don’t declare the true amount of patient fees. And many people buy smuggled goods e.g. cigarettes.

The church should call for full tax compliance. And that people who evade taxes should confess this, and pay the tax due as penance.

Bribery. When you pay a policeman who caught you driving a car that should not be driven on that day due to number coding, this is bribery. When you pay a “fixer” to arrange papers for you at a government office, this is also bribery. Of course, this is small change compared to bigger cases of bribery, but they are significant in that bribery becomes the social norm if allowed to continue.

The church should condemn bribery whether it is small or big. People should pay their “number coding” fines instead of bribing policemen. Church workers could be sent to visit LTO and other such offices to “harass” fixers. The Church should also declare that both the one giving the bribe as well as the one receiving the bribe commit a sin.

Usury. The practice of “5-6” is a clear case of usury. It is corruption in that it exploits the receiver of the loan; who has to pay such a high price just in order to have money for their business or for urgent family needs. It is exploiting the other person’s tight financial situation.

The church has a lot of funds. It should set up a system to provide proper credit facilities for the poor.  The practice of “5-6” should be clearly declared as a sin.

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No Work, No Pork

Posted by butalidnl on 17 February 2010

In August 2009, Nueva Ecija Representative Eduardo Joson proposed to have a policy of “No Work, No Pork”, in which Congressmen who are frequently absent in Congress sessions be deprived of their share in the PDAF ( Priority Development Assistance Fund, or “pork barrel”).  Joson proposed that a Congressman who has three unexplained absences from Congress’ plenaries in a month would be subject to such a punishment. The proposal was shot down by House Speaker Prospero Nograles because he says that it would be unfair to the congressman’s constituents to be deprived of such government spending – to the tune of PhP 70 million per year.

Fast forward to today.  Speaker Nograles has told Negros Occidental Representative Jules Ledesma that he will only get his salary and PDAF if he attends the last two sessions of this year. Rep. Ledesma is the House’s most notorious absentee congressman, having attended House sessions only twice in the 14th Congress. If he does so, he will get paid his full salary and get his PDAF for having attended House sessions for a grand total of 4 times in 3 years. I think this is scandalous.

Absenteeism in Congress is a big problem for its work. A lot of bills have had a difficult time being passed, because the House often lacked a quorum.  It has gotten so bad that sometimes, Representatives get paid (as in bribes) just to be present during the discussion of certain laws, even if they would vote against it,  as long as there are enough Congressmen around to have a quorum. I think this is scandalous.  The country spends a lot for Congress, and they are continually lacking quorum.

Perhaps it is time to again take up Joson’s proposal for “No Work, No Pork”. It may be too strict to say that three absences are needed before sanctions are taken on a Congressman’s PDAF. However, perhaps we could be a bit less strict. Let’s say that the limit is still 3 absences in a month, and if they exceed it, 1/12 of that Congressman’s  PDAF is taken away (that should be almost PhP 6 million). That way, they always have a chance to behave better in the next month.  And, so as not to be unfair to their constituents, let the PDAF portion be given to the provincial governor, with the specific restriction that it has to be spent in the congressman’s constituency. Or, alternatively, the amount could also be divided among the various municipal mayors in his district. This would take care of the problem of the constituents suffering for the sins of the congressman.

As for the absentee Representative himself, there should also be a sanction if he is continually absent.  For example,  if he is absent for 2/3 of the sessions in  a year, he would be expelled from the House of Representatives. And if he is expelled this way, that he will not be allowed by Comelec to ever run for a legislative position again.

All that is needed to implement this plan, is for the House as a whole to amend the House rules.

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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.

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