Part 3
Shaping culture
CULTURE in the political management context, is the personality of the collective. The Deegong is very clear on this promise of “pagbabago,” or change. All incoming administrations have their slogans related to this much-prostituted word. But the Deegong has a proven track record encompassing two decades of local governance backing up this slogan. His administration is perceived to have one of the lowest incidences of corruption in government and he intends to introduce this culture of anti-corruption applying the same methods in the national level for the desired outcome.


The alter egos’ task is to help him shape this culture, from one where the practice of corruption is pervasive, legitimized and a matter of course; to one where corruption is perceived to be a perversion of positive values and ethically unacceptable. These Cabinet men and women must internalize the task to do what the Deegong did at the outset in his city—to overhaul their own respective departments also. They can’t go for cosmetic changes in techniques and tactics but must go all out to stamp out this sordid practice. Initiating management controls, reeducation and training are just some of the facets of the process. The more important aspects are the firing of corrupt personnel and instituting other sanctions, including cases in court. There is now a critical need to change this culture within the departments yet the pace of change will depend upon the political management skills of the principals—the Cabinet heads. And all these changes and initiatives need to be communicated to the public, clearly and unequivocally. And this is not simply a job for the presidential spokespersons – this requires the all-out efforts of PRRD’s alter egos, the Cabinet members. They need to be the “talking heads” of their own departments.


To understand better the political culture of the Deegong regime, we look back at where he comes from. A city mayor who ran his city successfully, boasting a good steady economic growth over two decades and imposing “law and order” on a city that was perceived to be the CPP/NPA laboratory during the martial law regime. Except for one term as a congressman, the mayor was really—as he himself admitted—“…just a local city mayor who did good by his constituency”. His no-nonsense approach to political governance was effective locally and he is applying the formula on a large scale for the whole country. This is perhaps where his critics may have some argument, on the type of people the President chooses.


Those within the periphery of power (not necessarily Cabinet posts) are from his intimate circle of friends and local boys and girls; some from his alma mater. The profile of his Cabinet are basically local personalities who made good in executive capacities as Cabinet members in past administrations (Finance Secretary Sonny Dominguez, heads the list with Secretaries Bello, Dureza and Diokno); some have extensive experience as local government executives (Secretaries Piñol and Sueño); and some have international exposure (Yasay of Foreign Affairs and Lorenzana of Defense).


Some chosen personally by the Deegong are those recommended by his allies in Congress, those he relied upon during the presidential campaign and the coalition he hammered to catapult him to the presidency. No doubt these choices are qualified and may have the complete trust of the President. We don’t exactly know who these people are but we do understand their entitlements in relation to the realities of this new government, the dictates of the coalition that support it and the decisions dominated by political imperatives. The President must now pay the price for the coalition’s support, by allocating as evenly as possible, appointive positions at all levels of government to the coalition members. This is of course a logical offshoot of the politics of patronage and spoils system practiced over several generations.
To date PRRD has reportedly over 3,000 positions in the bureaucracy and government corporations still left unfilled with the holdovers of the old regime still in place. This is understandable as the PDP-Laban, the nominal party of the President, does not have enough qualified people to take over the sinecures. The old office-holders may also be protected by the large influx of the Liberal Party members into the PDP-Laban who now practically dominate Congress.
But now, these people must perform their jobs based on their discernment of the new set of values which the PRRD has brought with him. And in turn those with specific Cabinet positions will have to reshape the missions and goals of their departmental turf. To do this, each Cabinet head and his own team must remold the organization and re-inject the concepts of ethics and creating public value. Those key persons in the “old organization” who are unable to give way and submerge their personal values to the collective (new political culture) must be done away with.


The job of these appointed presidential alter egos are not really cut out for them. But they need to follow the lead of their principal, the President. And here is where it becomes complicated. PRRD is a self-directed public manager always setting his own goals, pushing the boundaries of discretion. He is a proven political organizer and coalition builder. It was instinctive for PRRD to build consensus for whatever endeavor he is occupied with at the moment; but the Deegong is perceived also to be cavalier in anchoring his actions on the rule of law – and even seemingly has shown contempt for it.


Which puts the alter egos in a quandary as to how their own personal values and those of the President are analogous. A case in point is the concession given by PRRD to the CPP-NDF where three Cabinet posts were assigned to the openly avowed leftists. In the light of the failure of the peace talks between the government and the CPP/NPA/NDF, and the indictment by PRRD of these groups as terrorists; how will these alter egos now align their beliefs with that of their principal?


Another consideration for the managers recruited to populate the bureaucracy is a common belief that it is easy to transition from the private sector, where many of the Cabinet members and heads of GOCCs were recruited from. This is not exactly correct. Central to their careers as public entrepreneurs are their non-aversion to risk taking. While in the private sector, the gauge of the success or failure of entrepreneurship is in the pesos earned or lost, the bottom line for alter egos is the public good and value they create. Success of the alter egos’ work in government is reflected therefore in the eventual emancipation of the Filipino from the shackles of poverty and injustice – even perhaps at a great personal risk. This is the essence of public service.
First of 2 parts
THE ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) recently submitted to the House of Representatives its proposal for constitutional amendments. There has been a lot of apprehensions regarding our shift to a federal form of government. For example, Winnie Monsod fears that federalism will lead to the strengthening of political dynasties and more corruption in the regions. Sen. Ralph Recto is concerned that there will be more layers of bureaucracy and red tape and hence more taxes. Former senator Edgardo Angara Sr. has expressed some concern over the potential break-up of the country if, for example, one region discovers huge oil and gas reserves and no longer needs transfers from the national government.
Professors at the University of the Philippines rhetorically ask: “If federalism is the answer, then what is the question?” What would happen to the party list? What about the administrative capacity of the regions? Businessmen and investors are rightly worried how federalism, especially taxes, would impact their businesses. Would the shift to federalism slow down our growth momentum? Would a presidential, parliamentary or a hybrid form of government be suitable for Philippine-style federalism? Why do we need to change the Constitution and why not just amend the Local Government Code to give more powers to the regions?


The PDP Laban draft constitution—drafted by experts under the guidance of Senate President Koko Pimentel, the PDP-Laban president—recognizes these concerns as valid. The draft constitution in fact proposes the shift to federalism as a grand bargain, a package of reforms. These reforms include: 1) constitutional restrictions on political dynasties; 2) shift to a dual executive or semi-presidential form of government; 3) banning of political butterflies; 4) strengthening of political parties; 5) shift to proportional representation; 6) strengthening of constitutional bodies in the regions, particularly the commissions on civil service and audit; 7) reducing the duplication of work between the Senate and the House of Representatives; and 8) judicial reforms, including strengthening of the Sandigan Bayan, appellate courts and Ombudsman at the regional levels.


Tinkering with the Local Government Code alone would not be sufficient.


From political dynasties to political parties
One of the main apprehensions about federalism is that the transfer of significant powers to the regions will only perpetuate political dynasties. Not all political dynasties are the same, however. Some contribute more to the public good than others. Some political dynasties are fat-tailed—with many members of clans simultaneously occupying positions of power—while others are thin-tailed. Political dynasties themselves are not to blame. The proliferation and durability of political dynasties came about, in large part, because of the failure of the 1987 Constitution to pass a self-enforcing provision regulating these dynasties. This mistake has to be corrected. We need a self-enforcing constitutional provision regulating political dynasties, without which the transfer of more powers to the regions would be at risk of political capture.


But why do we need to regulate political dynasties? Why not just let the voters decide? There is a problem with this argument. First, voters decide based on what choices are available to them. If the only options are familiar names of political dynasties, then naturally voters choose the candidates they like most. Candidates do not have incentives to differentiate themselves on the basis of policies and programs. The solution to this is to give voters choices in terms of policies and programs and not just familiar names. This way they can hold political parties accountable. At present, politicians cannot be held accountable for failed promises because their policy positions are unclear. For this, we need to shift from elections based on personalities to one based on political parties with distinctive policies and programs. For this reason, we need to strengthen our political party system.


Most successful federal systems of the world depend on strong political parties and not families or personalities. To have strong political parties, we need to 1) shift to a semi-presidential form of government; 2) ban party switching or balimbing; 3) provide state subsidy for political parties as they do in Europe; and 4) ensure party discipline as they do in all parliamentary systems. What happened to the confirmation hearings of the appointees of President Duterte – Gina Lopez, Rafael Mariano and Judy Taguiwalo – is an instructive example. Members of the ruling coalition voted against them while members of the opposition supported them.


Semi-presidential form of government
Why would a semi-presidential form of government be better than a purely presidential or parliamentary system if we are to shift to a federal structure?
A presidential system of government is most familiar to Filipinos. It reduces uncertainties in the transition to federalism. Its main disadvantage is the over-centralization of powers, such as what we have now, the difficulty of removing the president if he becomes corrupt or abusive and the potential for gridlock with the parliament. The problem with gridlock has been partly solved via the pork barrel mechanism and a system of patronage with local governments.


A parliamentary system of government is more efficient in terms of lawmaking and policy implementation. There is no problem of gridlock and unfunded mandates because members of the cabinet come from the parliament. It also has strong mechanisms of accountability via vote of no confidence and question time. Indeed, most federal systems in the world have parliamentary governments—except, for example, the US, Russia and Mexico where they have popularly elected presidents. Its main disadvantages include the following: 1) strong parliaments rely on strong political parties which we currently do not have now; 2) most likely in the initial years of transition to federalism there will be a proliferation of political parties along regional, ethnic and ideological lines; therefore, parliaments can be unstable, especially if the ruling party comprise a coalition of parties. As a result, we could have a weak and unstable ruling government.


A semi-presidential form of government brings together the pros and cons of both presidential and parliamentary systems. In my view, this is the best system if we are to shift to a federal form of government. Let me explain why. First and foremost, the transition to federalism will be challenging and therefore, ironically, we would need a strong national leadership. There will be inherent resistance from national government agencies which will lose their powers and budgets. There is a need to strengthen the capacities of the regions—the middle government—to assume these powers. There will be many implementation issues to be sorted out. A decisive president is needed to ensure a successful transition to federalism.


Second, it is better to have a collective leadership with more horses pulling the wagon together—the president, prime minister, the cabinet, regional governors and local governments—compared to the current highly centralized presidential system. Collective and cohesive leadership has proven to be an effective arrangement for the rapid growth of highly decentralized developing countries such as Vietnam and China. Both countries have a president as the head of state and who looks after national security and foreign affairs, a prime minister and cabinet which looks after economic and social policy, and governors who execute policy on the ground.