Let’s Shake It Some More, Baby

Renato Puno

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That only 50 Filipinos own 24 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product–according to research (the global wealth distribution profile is hardly different)–follows a trend that has been established for generations. By now, it should surprise no one to know why war and bloody conflicts, like mosquitoes, just won’t go away.

The world order needs to be changed.

We have this ongoing debate on whether the 1987 Constitution should be amended to open the way for a shift to a federal form of government. Some are wary of the unknown; they argue against amending the constitution. Others are going gung-ho of the unknown; they argue for constitutional reform, wishing to establish a Federal Philippines.

To those who prefer status quo, this is what I can say: I may not take my bolo to the battlefield, but I belong to the lower bracket of the population that own 10 percent of the GDP.

To those who favor reform, I say: Let’s shake it some more, baby.

One Rappler.com article quotes Christian Monsod as saying that “Congress, not Constitution, is the problem.”

Two comments, and a wild suggestion:

1) On the blameworthiness of Congress

How long will it take for you and me to own this problem? The voter who sends people to Congress is a big part of the problem. I concede, however, that politicians would be in a better position to hunt this Ogre that never dies.

Let me oversimplify this discussion. Let’s assume the politician is the mythical rich and the voter is the mythical poor. The rich can live another day even if he/she loses his/her seat in power. The poor, while dependent on the rich in a million and one number of ways, do not know where their next sack of rice is coming from.

One knows the only way to survive is by being loyal to the other.

2) On having the heart to amend the 1987 Constitution

Amazing pride from these guys (Davide, Monsod, et al). Considered to be the best and brightest at the time, the Con-commissioners of 1986, who I further assume would have at their disposal an army of consultants, FORGOT to reword the pertinent provisions when the plenary reversed the committee that recommended a unicameral congress instead of the existing bicameral legislature. How conceited they can be, insisting the 1987 Constitution needs no fixing.

If what Monsod says is representative of what the 1987 Constitutional Commissioners are thinking today, then either none of them had enough orientation on Filipino political culture (which is false) or none of them had the heart to rock the boat (which is probably true). That the mythical politician is lord of the rings (in commerce, in guns, in gambling, in drugs) has been established as early as the days of Capitan Tiago of the Noli Me Tangere fame. That Monsod now blames congressmen for the latter’s failure to pass an enabling legislation for the anti-dynasty provision in the constitution looks more like a convenient cop out than an approach to share responsibility for failure to see clearly the future. Hindsight tells us that they could have made this a self-executing mechanism, instead of passing this on to the care of congressmen whose self-interest depended on its being dead, incapable of being brought to life then, now, and forever.

For all the moral suasion that went into their appointment given what had been acknowledged as the power of Cory magic at the time, Monsod et al did not have the heart to hunt the Ogre.

(Let’s stop for a second to elaborate on what I mean about this Ogre. Even if we succeed to slay political dynasty, anybody who replaces their kind will soon rise to become the patriarch/ matriarch of a political dynasty himself/herself. So it’s not about political dynasties being the problem, it’s about communities being unable to rise as one to address social problems.)


Because people, by force of media (and may I add that social media has now become the mainstream media), are talking about constitutional reform, I, too, cannot contain the urge to speak.

Let me start with an argument that has zero chance of winning followers.

The President and people in congress are unnecessary trappings of pageant-crazy countries like the Philippines. The Filipino will not die if the Philippines does not have a President.

The presidency is remnant of an idea that reprises tales of tribes being swept away by invading tribes unless one of their own will step up to protect them. This was how the Israelites elected David, who killed Goliath at the lead of the Palestines.

The lure of presidency is driven by romantic thoughts of heroism–of being the one who makes things happen for others. One who uses power to create and to facilitate.

With that caricature of the Philippine president in mind, I submit that any justification for having a president is hardly tenable today. With access to information and communication technology, anyone can be as powerful as anybody.

What we need is not a President and all those wise people in Congress. Instead, what we need is a strong civil service system. And probably one or two who is authorized to sign the payroll. This should be enough to make this country move forward along the path of inclusive and sustainable development.

Yet farther afield, I still wonder if we need to have a government at all. Consider these:

  • We have a police and yet those who can afford it still need to hire blue guards. When something wrong happens such as the one-man siege of Resorts World months ago, the police are quick to blame the blue guards.
  • We have judges yet one is free not to hear a case, as in the court trial of Maguindanao massacre.
  • We have an army and yet other countries are free to grab our land, for the reason that their army is mightier than ours. (This debunks the David-inspired idea of a president.)
  • The Constitution imposes through the Bill of Rights things that government cannot do to its citizens; and yet, in the application of pertinent laws, appreciation of these rights sometimes differ between government and the governed.

Smaller, not bigger, bureaucracy

The point I am trying to raise in these attempts to amend the constitution is to create conditions for scaling down of government bureaucracy (just to compromise, because my extreme position is for abolition of the over-rated presidency and congress altogether).

If it is going to be a federal government, focus should be on making regional and local area development work. (Some related changes can be done even without amending the constitution, but a shift in the form of government should be a welcome occasion for making their implementation easier to manage.)

This requires shedding of national government offices and/or transferring their location from Metro Manila to rural areas.

On good governance, there is opportunity for creating something positive out of the negative, without necessarily giving up on the fight against corruption in government.

Tip: The more corrupt a government office is perceived to be, the more remote its national office should be located, where remote is defined as least developed region or province. (Corruption ranking can be validated using Ombudsman, Civil Service or Sandiganbayan data; development ranking can be validated using NEDA, DSWD or NAPC data.)

How it works

The agencies are ranked according to corruption index. Least developed regions/provinces are also ranked according to poverty incidence. The provincial LGUs (say 5) representing the least developed areas submit proposals to host the most corrupt national government agencies (say 3).

The proposals should include infrastructures (office buildings, residential homes, wifi, etc.) and whatever amenities these LGUs can provide. The agency to be relocated shall pick the offer or proposal which to them best responds to the needs of their personnel (say free housing for 25 years, proximity to schools and places of worships, cockpit arena, etc.).

What’s in it for the host LGUs

They need to think at least 25-50 years ahead. If they land the Congress of the Federal Government, for example, they can think of at least 200 congressmen in their midst. Multiply this by an average of 2 mistresses and all of a sudden they are host to 400 high-heeled big spenders. Migrants should include an additional 600, more or less, college students and extended family members, who are by no means freeloaders.

In 20 years local farmers should be better off producing and selling organic farm products. Branches of Ateneo or San Beda are likely to rise from these emerging hubs. Condominium/real estate developers should scurry to outbid each other for choice locations in those areas.

The benefits transcend host LGUs. Money lost due to corruption comprises 40 percent of public funds, computes the World Bank, among other math-savvy experts. The windfall can stimulate economic activity not only in host provinces but in neighboring areas as well.

Dispersal of corruption spoils will not only promote equity (albeit in a roundabout way), it will also decongest Metro Manila and unload some burden on its carrying capacity.




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