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    LOGODEF organized a Capacity Building Program for the Municipality of Tuba, Benguet
Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform-new

Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform

The purpose of the Constitution is to constitute, one could say “to put together”, therefore consolidate. The assumption could only be that the idea is put together otherwise separate and uncoordinated stakeholders, even institutions and possibly determine a common direction. This common direction is another way of looking at the constitution, hence at times called the “Charter”, to chart the direction of the country. If there’s an agreement that this is what the constitution is for then we have a good measure what makes it a good one.

A country can have the longest most detailed constitution, with a litany of all ideals but the ultimate question is if any and all of which can in fact be implemented. The measure of a good constitution is if it is able to set up the right political framework for the country that it leads to an effective mechanism needed to effectively implement what is prescribed by it. It is the right political framework that it fits the unique conditions of the country. This means a political system is in place accommodating the various interests in that not one particular entity dominates and subsequently limits the possibilities in the country. This political system in a word results only to strong, that is, effective public institutions, the kind that we simply do not have at this time.

When a country’s government is able to not only come up with good policies but also to effectively implement without bias or favor to a particular interest, then there is strong public institutions. So much depends on public institutions that without it there is simply nothing good that could be done in any country that fails (There had been so many good books in this regard but a popular read recommended is Acemoglu and Robinson’s book “Why Nations Fail”. This book gives concrete cases, contrasting different countries with supposedly similar locations even situations but simply didn’t turn out the same). To argue then that we have to first strengthen public institutions is a step in the right direction, as it will only lead us to looking at the mechanisms in place right  now that it only strengthens the argument that we have to revise the constitution.

It is also right to say that we have pressing problems at this time, the most fundamental of which is poverty. The government under probably all presidencies has not been remiss in addressing this pestering problem, but it still remains the same. We can check from both the government’s official statistics and the poverty surveys conducted by private organizations and you’ll see that it barely changed after all theses years. This despite the continuously increasing budget for a supposedly directly targeted program on poverty that is the 4Ps. Is the problem the policy and or program? Is it the implementation? Is the problem because of both?

There are many good programs and reform initiatives propounded under different administrations. An assessment of how all these turned out will give us the idea whether anything can be effectively implemented under the present setup. We can always bewail the non-implementation of the social justice provisions in the constitution that supposedly cuts it above all our previous constitutions but the question remains why it has yet to be implemented. The argument that the current constitution should be fully implemented is right, but again it only brings us back to the question of how. It is an argument that calls for revising the constitution not in  retaining it, as precisely the problem is that what is lacking is the capacity to implement that can only be addressed by a system change. It is not even a question of leaders. It might be interesting that there are leaders who are not popular as they seem to act differently in public, appearing empty and or callous, but talking to them in person could show an exact opposite. So one can only ask why? Is it a strategy that the public persona is different from the real person?

We always attribute things that don’t work or things we don’t like that’s happening to culture. This argument however is arguably the most lackadaisical one could come up with. To cite culture to explain all the negative things we have is to simply say there’s simply nothing we can do about it, that we are cursed and therefore should just sit back and do nothing. Culture is different from behavior, perhaps we can ask experts to elucidate more on this. What is certain however is systems impact on people’s behavior.

Taking off from the foregoing, let’s take the example of political dynasties, probably the most used up reason used to explain why we are in this rut. A reason that takes off from all previously argued description of Philippine Politics, that is patronage politics, clientelistic, bossism etc. Now, are all these the cause of the kind of governance we have today? In the first place, the better question to ask is why do we have the kind of political dynasties we have? The reason why this is the better question can be answered by comparing our political dynasties, at least the most number of them to political dynasties in other countries. In fact we can even ask, why is it even possible to have so much political dynasties in this country?

Let’s start with the size of our local government units (LGUs), what has been explained better in a chapter in the book “The Quest for a Federal Republic”. We have very small LGUs, especially in the countryside that it is simply impossible to even just come up with good plans for development. We can compare the size of our political units with other countries and see the staggering difference. How can we then think of development in the countryside? If there’s no development, poverty will simply persist. If there’s continued poverty, it will simply be easy to dominate the local economy and thus local politics. It is not because voters can be bought, that it is culture that explains why they allow themselves to be bought. It is simply because any opportunity that they can have to allow them to buy what they need will be welcome. Moreover, there won’t be many families in the poverty stricken countryside that will likely have the capacity to contest elections. Precisely, the size of the political unit, the constituency itself is so small you can’t have more contenders. Then you have the perfect environment for the kind of political dynasties we have.

There is a need to further study reforms, specifically the ones we want to have institutionalized. This is the only way we can avoid Begging the Question in Constitutional Reform. We can’t continue to push or prevent charter change based only from where we sit and which group we belong and protect. If this continues, then perhaps there’s really nothing we can do.

Pursing Federalism is not a Question of Time

Pursuing Federalism is not a Question of Time, It Is A Question of Opportunity.

Why change the constitution now? Is it the right time to change it? These questions are probably the most instinctive of questions asked the moment charter change is discussed or considered by any sitting President or by any political leader. We will never be able to reflect on the significance of public institutions and the need to change if we can’t get pass the question of timing. This question prevents the understanding of the significance of political systems, of institutions and mechanisms. Timing should be considered more as any opportunity to change what needs to be changed. Any leader who vigorously pushes it should be supported, especially with the objective of making sure that everyone is able to take part and contributed. In the first place, there is no answer to the question of time, especially that the main considerations for it are always given, as it is essentially a political question.

The fact that timing is always raised as an issue in fact shows the need to take a really close look at our public institutions; it shows that reforms should be introduced before it is too late. Timing is always an issue because we barely trust our leaders. How can we trust our leaders if good leaders are chosen only by chance? The existing political system is limited only to those who are popular and have the money to sustain a very expensive popular campaign. How many of these popular and moneyed would-be leaders prove to be capable and trustworthy? Qualifications in the first place barely matter or considered, as precisely the choices are limited. You can very well surmise that those who are consistently against changing the current system benefit from it that it is difficult to consider any substantial reform to be introduced.

Self-interest is the foremost reason used to explain the issue of timing, and the answer to it is simply another question, who doesn’t have self-interest in the first place? Politics is precisely aptly defined as “who gets what, when where and how. . ?” Self-interest is a given, it is not something that cannot be taken out of the question. In fact, there shouldn’t even be any effort to take it out of the equation. Self-interest is what makes the idea of freedom and popular participation relevant to everyone. The very reason why there is dissent or assent is self-interest. Anyone pushing for any initiative will have self-interest, as will the ones opposing any initiative.

The point is not to prevent self-interest, not even to judge one person or group to only have self-interest in pushing for whatever in any given occasion or opportunity including pushing for charter change. This can in fact be considered as the densest most desperate reason that can be raised. On the contrary, what should be ensured is to have everyone’s self-interest considered and ensured that a new system can contain these and produce a veritable output and outcome that can be acceptable to most. Acceptable to everyone is ideal but is quite a long shot. It is such a pity when any well-meaning individual takes part in this initiative to finally reform our current ineffective political system and dismissed by some as being a tool or being self-interested himself.

It is thus not surprising to always find a good number of well-meaning individuals to contribute without hesitation in the pursuit of political and governmental reforms regardless of who is in power. We have seen many during the time of former Presidents FVR, Erap and GMA, each presidency seen by these individuals as an opportunity to change the current system. Opportunity that is so critical as there has been so many unsuccessful attempts before that didn’t succeed. There were in fact a good number of structural reforms successfully introduced in all presidencies after the end of the dictatorship, indicating a good understanding of how institutions matter, but all came short of being far-reaching. All of these reforms came only by legislation, by policies and programs that most of these reforms simply could not be implemented or could not be implemented effectively. The point that is shown then is that is not so much about the right policies and programs but in terms of effective public institutions in place.

Why support charter change under President Duterte, given his ways that is a significant departure from all previous presidents? Is it not precisely this different way that is the very reason why the public continues to support him? We don’t even have to base it on his person; we should not in fact base our support only on his person. Compared to all previous who pushed for system change, who could have pushed it as vigorously as he is doing it now? He has been doing it from day one as he has been talking about it incessantly during his campaign. As a result there has never been a more critical and detailed discussion of systems and forms of government than we have now. Then we can understand why support for charter change has been more because of the support to him as a person. The objective is to contribute substantively, not just simply supporting the initiative without understanding.

This brings up the other reason that is often used to support the issue of timing. Charter change apparently, should be considered only after pressing problems like poverty is solved. Interestingly, the very reason why charter change is being pursued is the critical need to put in place a better set of public institutions ran by more capable leaders in order to have a better handle of the country’s development and ultimately better address the problem of poverty. The country has constantly struggled to find the right mix of policies and or programs only to perform considerably behind many other developing countries. How many similarly situated countries have now left us behind only after a generation? And we will always hear the argument that it is a matter of implementation that we have been constantly lagging behind. Precisely the reason why we have to revise the constitution is to zero in on the problem of implementation, caused by none other than a non-functioning, even non-existent political system.