(Published by The Manila Times on 3 July 2019)
Elsewhere I proposed that more problems can be addressed by abolishing, instead of creating more, government agencies. I also mentioned that the government of the future—emphasis on the future—can allow the people themselves to make collective decisions, bypassing elective officials who supposedly represent them. This in effect makes Congress, among other institutional contraptions, redundant, and therefore better off abolished.
Even now, the need for trimming government is obvious. Examples:
- Reports about members of the House of Representatives suggesting that their choice for Speaker will be prompted by President Rodrigo Duterte’s body language mean, in my opinion, that they do not have a gut of their own. A visceral extension of presidential clout, Congress—like an appendix whose usefulness medical science has yet to determine—is a costly prop, an embarrassment from which the democratic ideal would wish excised.
- The separate court cases of Jinggoy Estrada and Junjun Binay have been on trial for ages. But the judges ruled on them only after the voters dashed their lingering hope for a lift in their political careers. Public workers like these judges are freeloaders; they thrive in a culture that free rides on private initiative and community action.
- The poor often do not need help to survive. In the countryside, they break their backs raising crops, putting in long hours of work in farmlands which may not belong to them but to landlords. In urban areas, the better off workers get by on rock-bottom wage rates; the worse off informal settlers eke out daily living from the dump, some of them building homes under bridges. In coastal towns, fishermen brave stormy days and nights to provide for their families. All the poor need from government is a fair enforcement of laws where farmers are freed from price manipulations conspired by traders, where the urban poor are protected from unjust evictions and human rights breaches, and where the fisher folk are allowed to freely fish within a territory owned by a sovereign of which they are constituents, without being threatened with physical harm by foreign aggressors. If the government cannot provide them that minimum amount of fairness, what use do the poor have for that government?
In many cases government has wasted so much resource at its disposal that could have prevented it from spending more for current and future need, such as creating government agencies or investing in weaponry. Lack of institutional memory and knowledge management in government compounds its tenacious ills, topped by corruption, which keeps it from responding to problems in a timely, effective and efficient manner.
The proposal to create a Department of Water Services, for example, highlights the current effort to recover lost opportunities. The conditions in 1995 when the National Water Crisis Act was passed remained as dire as they are now; yet the law aimed precisely to prevent the occurrence of water crises that we experience today. Tons upon tons of researches have been conducted to support related aims. Other laws obviously need revisiting, such as the Water Code of 1976. The Rainwater Harvesting Act of 1989 prescribed a 3-year water-for-every-barangay program, but we know nothing of feel-good stories that came out of it.
One of the key findings from water-related studies, and which people sometimes either ignore or forget, is that dams that feed irrigation systems and water supply systems, costing billions of pesos, are only as good as the watershed that supports them, which often costs nothing. But greed destroys the ecosystem and fixing watersheds is costly; it reconfigures the value attribution of resource bases, as taxpayers eventually pay for rehabilitation of watersheds that have been destroyed by commercial loggers and miners, and who recently have been joined in by real estate developers. It is probably more than coincidental that election funders of consequence usually come from their ranks.
Farther afield and stepping back in time, then Secretary of National Defense Juan Ponce Enrile did not only rape the forests of Samar, he also converted the military under his control into a private army, terrorizing the local folks who resisted the unmolested destruction of forested areas in the island by San Jose Timber Corporation, which he owned.
On another point, the Werfast gun licensing case involving former Philippine National Police Director General Alan Purisima shows why corruption gets in the way of modernizing the police and, in a similar situation, the military. Stated differently, our military build-up could have been started years ago as part of a long-term strategy, except that our leaders had been too busy making money, some of them going to the extent of selling ordnance to rebel groups.
Too many misses, either by design or neglect, which kept us from achieving common goals leave us exasperated, wondering how long we can wait for something really good and lasting to come out of government.