Mapagpalayang Daan: The Third Way
The esteemed economist and media personality Prof. Solita Monsod has framed the 2016 presidential race as "matuwid na daan vs kurakot na daan.” ("The straight path vs the corrupt path.")
She presented this framing immediately after President Noynoy Aquino "anointed" Mar Roxas as his favored successor. According to Prof. Monsod, Roxas embodies the "matuwid na daan" while Vice President Binay exemplifies the "kurakot na daan."
With all due respect to the good professor, I beg to disagree.
"Matuwid na daan vs kurakot na daan" is not the only issue that voters have to think about come 2016. This framing should, in fact, be contested for at least two reasons: First, whether or not PNoy's "matuwid na daan" should be continued is a matter of debate, not fact. Second, the 2016 elections should not be solely or mainly about beating Vice President Binay. (Note: In 2004, some – especially those who supported Gloria Macapagal Arroyo back then and later shifted support to PNoy – framed the presidential contest as "anybody but FPJ" and look where that got us!)
In this piece, I argue that there is another way, a third way: the "mapagpalayang daan" (emancipatory way).
The term "mapagpalaya" (to emancipate) is deliberately biased for the most vulnerable sections of society. These sections have been neglected by the “matuwid na daan” platform of the current administration. The problematique is not just about corruption in government but also concerns itself with the many unfreedoms that the majority of Filipinos, here and abroad, continue to experience.
This is not to say that realpolitik must not be considered.
The "lesser evil" framing, for instance, remains a valid perspective. But this tends to negate the opportunity to engage all candidates – and their respective supporters – in public conversations that go beyond endorsements of individual sincerity, personal character and track records. We need public conversations that touch on even the most controversial issues so that we can define for ourselves what constitutes “good” and “evil” and thereby, vote accordingly.
I propose eight (8) themes that should be part of public discourse leading up to 2016: (1) anti-corruption, (2) redistribution, (3) labor, (4) strengthening of political institutions, (5) disaster preparedness and response, (6) social policy, (7) the right to dissent, and, (8) national positioning in the international arena.
How will the next president define corruption and what anti-corruption measures will he or she put in place?
While "matuwid na daan" has been the centerpiece of the current government, the actual development and implementation of anti-corruption measures leave many asking: what is matuwid na daan? Is it mainly about jailing government officials who come from the opposition? What about jailing officials who are aligned with the ruling party? More importantly, how will the next president stop the political system from producing plunderers? These questions must be directed even to Roxas’ camp.
In political science, the oft-cited definition of corruption is Robert Klitgaard's definition where C = M + D - A. Corruption = Monopoly + Discretion - Accountability.
The Binay family's governance of Makati illustrates this starkly: the concentration of power and wealth (in the family), wide discretionary powers (especially in allocating resources) and the lack of accountability mechanisms (Binay himself has said he has "made" Makati – this implies unilateral, not accountable, actions).
The current government has also not been sufficiently successful in this regard. We have to remember that the PDAF scandal and the DAP controversy were made public not because of government's anti-corruption efforts but because of whistleblowers. This government, in fact, initially defended both the PDAF and DAP. Will the next President do the same? Or will it finally stop the dominance of opaque public transactions? Will the next President finally push for a Freedom of Information Law?
And what about those who are not corrupt? How will the next president protect and embolden uncorrupt government officials and bureaucrats?
Anti-corruption requires political will. How will the next president operationalize political will? Will he or she resort to authoritarian ways to crackdown on corruption?
Will the next president redistribute wealth and power?
With annual GDP rates ranging from 3.7% to 7.6%, it is evident that there has been economic growth under the PNoy Presidency. These growth figures make little sense, however, when juxtaposed with poverty indices. Can we genuinely claim that we are on our way to becoming a 'first world country' when more than a quarter of our country's population – 25.2% – live below the poverty line? In Southeast Asia, only two countries have higher poverty rates: Myanmar (25.6%) and Lao PDR (26.0%). How can we claim to be a wealthy country when a sizeable portion of the population remains poor?
The issue of redistribution as a means to reducing poverty needs to be raised because thus far, no President has categorically made this necessary connection.
Will the next president be bold enough to install redistributive programs that will change social relations? Will he or she finally support agrarian reform and agricultural development that will raise incomes of farmers in the countryside? Will he or she finally support local development through empowered local government units? Will he or she continue the conditional cash transfers – towards what ends and through what means? Will he or she be radical enough to prioritize much-needed massive public investments for social housing and education? Will he or she have new solutions to the public transportation problem? Will he or she view the BBL as a redistributive and social justice issue?
And will the next president finally meet with the “basic sectors” of the National Anti-Poverty Commission? A president that does not have anything to say to or thinks that he or she does not have anything to learn from the marginalized sectors is not worth supporting.
Prof. Nathan Quimpo of Tsukuba University, Japan has said it best: “We are moving away from plunder but not from patronage politics." And that – patronage politics – is one of the root causes why wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a few (families). Will the next President institute asset reforms or will he or she simply transfer funds from national to local, from government to citizens, through patronage means?
In my view, the clearest reform of this government that is not patronage-based and has long-term redistributive impact is the K-12 program. It is reform because it entails adjustments in both form (institutional improvements) and substance (curriculum change). The impact of K-12 may be debatable but its redistributive potential is obvious. It is not difficult to see that a family that is unable to educate its members is condemned to a lifetime of poverty.
The next president must be categorical about its development policies, not just in terms of economic growth but also in terms of reducing poverty and inequality. A more egalitarian society produces a more socially cohesive citizenry and social cohesion is something that we have yet to achieve. A world without the elite is probably just a utopian ideal but a country where the elite is regulated, the middle class is expanded and extreme poverty is eradicated, is possible. This – and not just "more investments" – is what the next president must aim for.
In connection with this, one has to be wary of a Binay presidency. Not only because the Binay family's governance of Makati clearly illustrates patronage politics ("kay Binay gaganda ang buhay") but also because he has recently declared that he will push for charter change to amend the constitution's economic (patrimony) provisions. Why open up an economy that is already very open? Does Binay really believe that the country's economy can withstand further competition?
Will the next president continue to ignore labor?
This is clearly a loaded question but it is not without basis. One of the earliest of PNoy's pronouncements on labor was his dismissal of the Philippine Airlines Employees’ Association (PALEA) strike in 2010 as "economic sabotage.” In a couple of SONAs, PNoy talked about the absence of strikes with a celebratory tone. Does he not see that the absence of strikes in this country is not a function of industrial peace but of a weakened labor movement?
It is not an understatement to say that labor has been one of the most neglected sectors in this administration. Yes, the DOLE continues to be operational and there are a few tripartite bodies that discuss labor issues. The passage of the Kasambahay Law is also commendable. The administration, however, has been silent on contentious issues such as labor contractualization and enforcement of labor standards especially the right to organize unions. Forming trade unions has become an increasingly difficult feat but government does not seem to look at this phenomenon as a problem. It is, in fact, quite telling that in the last SONA, the address included a testimony from organized business but the voice of organized labor was not heard.
At least two recent tragedies embody the labor problem: Kentex and Maryjane Veloso. In both cases, the safety and security of the workers were neglected. How will the next President prevent such tragedies from recurring?
Ignoring labor is an issue because it signifies the neglect of majority of the population – 40 million here in the country and 5 million overseas. Not caring about precarious work, underemployment, forced migration, and, union decline, is tantamount to not caring that a very large section of society is being exploited. What kind of society will we have if we thrive on an exploited majority?
How will the next president strengthen the public sector, in general and political institutions, in particular?
How will the next president prevent a Kentex tragedy from recurring if there are not enough labor inspectors in government? Corruption is a problem, yes, but so is the lack of functioning institutions. As shown in the Kentex case, this problem could result in fatal consequences. How will the next President manage the bureaucracy? What will an empowered executive look like? What reforms in local governance will the next President push for? How will he or she ensure independence of the legislative and judicial branches?
In this connection, we must draw the lessons from Mamasapano. Binay is wrong that the "SAF 44 should not be politicized" (although by making that statement in an electoral speech he actually already politicized the SAF 44). Politics – especially the failure of governance – was at the heart of the Mamasapano tragedy.
The problem of weak political institutions is linked to political dynasties. This has in fact become a sort of chicken-and-egg problem: which came first – weak institutions or strong political families? The task ahead, however, is very clear: institutions can only become stronger if political dynasties are weakened.
Moreover, to borrow the sociologist Joel Migdal's framing, the state can only be strong if it is strong relative to other social institutions (e.g. stronger than jueteng lords, big business, political families, churches) in terms of exacting compliance from its citizens. A strong state need not be an authoritarian state, just a state that is able to mobilize people around agreed upon societal objectives.
Among the (potential) candidates, only Senator Poe does not belong to a political dynasty. She has shown leadership skills in her Senate Committee work such as the Public Information and Mass Media Committee for the FOI bill and the Public Order Committee for the Mamasapano investigation. Of late, however, she has been banking on the image of her celebrity parents rather than on her own merits. If she is to run in 2016, she will have to go beyond the "anak ni FPJ" branding.
How will the next president prepare for and respond to disasters?
The next president will have to prepare and respond to at least three types of disasters: “natural” disasters like earthquakes, climate change-related disasters like Yolanda, and pandemics like the MERS-CoV.
Thus far, the current administration has taken strides to prepare for the first two types of disaster although the effectiveness of its efforts needs to be examined further. For pandemics, however, there seems to be no preparation, i.e. the public has not been informed or educated on how such pandemics can be prevented and how citizens should respond incase a pandemic breaks out.
We are a disaster-prone country. We already know this and we all have done our bit in preparing for and responding to disasters. We thus need to ask: how will the next president help us deal with the next disasters?
How will the next president improve the quality of life? What social policies will he or she put in place?
While social issues are also political-economic issues, social policies must be treated as a related but separate terrain. The latter go beyond issues of economic or political development. They usually pertain to humanitarian and/or "quality of life" issues and often touch on concerns of social relations commonly perceived to be "private issues.”
What social issues will the next President prioritize and why? Will he or she also promote reproductive rights? Will he or she care that HIV cases are on the rise? How will he or she prevent another Jennifer Laude tragedy from happening? Will he or she speak on “untouchable” issues like divorce and abortion?
How will the next president view and deal with dissent?
As mentioned above, a strong state need not be an authoritarian state. A Marcosian state is out of the question. A return to this kind of state is what is most worrisome about a Duterte Presidency. Duterte, after all, has been unapologetic about his human rights record.
Ironically, among the candidates, Duterte has been the most vocal supporter of the BBL. The question of support for the BBL should be an electoral issue because the BBL represents a preference for political over militaristic solutions. Furthermore, the next President must be supportive of the BBL not only because it will help right a historical wrong but also because the people of Mindanao need to be free from armed conflict.
How will the next president deal with the communist insurgency? Will it pursue peace talks with the CPP-NPA-NDF? How will the next president view and treat political opposition – from both the mainstream and left opposition? And how will he or she manage “everyday dissent”?
How the next president deals with dissent is important because in a democracy, the right to dissent should be held sacred.
How will the next president position the Philippines vis-a-vis global and regional developments?
What will the next President's foreign policies be? What will be its policy regarding our territorial dispute with China? How will he or she position the country in light of regional and global developments? What will be his or her engagements in regional institutions like ASEAN, APEC and in global institutions like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization?
No presidential candidate has discussed these matters during electoral campaigns. Most candidates discuss the country's standing in the international community only from the perspective of a migrant-sending and foreign investment-receiving country. It would be refreshing to hear a candidate talk about these issues from a hardcore globalization perspective.
This list of issues is long. Mapagpalayang daan, after all, is not easy and is more complex than Daang Matuwid. This list, in fact, might not even be long enough.
The task of the next president is akin to the challenge of a developing country: to solve several deep-seated problems all at once. The task of the candidates for president, meanwhile, is this: to put our brains to work and not just appeal to our emotions. – Rappler.com
Carmel Abao teaches political science at the Ateneo de Manila University.