By Joy Aceron LET me start by sharing pieces of a puzzle that form the concept of a project called the Citizens Reform Agenda 2010 (CRA 2010), an initiative of the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) in partnership with other civil society groups. With the kind of politics that we have in our country, we cannot overemphasize the significance of the forthcoming national elections, particularly that of the president, given the enormous powers that are lodged in the said position. If we are to undertake an initiative to improve the country’s political state of affairs, the take-off point should be the 2010 elections, particularly the presidential elections. What can be done to make it work? With the 2010 elections in mind, we first turn to the electoral system. It is not good. In fact, it is so bad that saying so has already become a cliché. The credibility of the supposed manager of the elections, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), is severely tarnished by the outcome of the preceding national elections. The election laws, including laws on campaign financing, remain problematic and weak. The structural design of the electoral system remains flawed, which makes constitutional change a seeming imperative that can no longer be ignored. However, there are shimmers of light. You have a new Chair and a few newly appointed Commissioners, one of whom came from the ranks of reform advocates. There is an effort to automate and reform the system; and there is -- or what seems like -- an opening to citizens groups. Then we turn to the other important element of a democratic electoral process, the political parties, which in modern political systems play a key role in aggregating interests and candidate selection. Parties are important in elections for they provide a safeguard that would somehow ensure that we will be choosing from candidates who have already been screened by their respective parties, based on their capacity to deliver a coherent program of government and not based on who got P6 to 8 billion for their campaigns. Like the state of the electoral system, which parties are part of, this is not that well. We have an underperforming, if not nonperforming party system. Others would even say we have no party system at all! We saw a spark of hope when we thought that the Political Party Reform Bill filed in Congress would be passed into law after several years of consensus building among political elites and reform-minded civil society groups. Though the bill has its flaws and limitations, the passage could have somehow provided a needed structure for the operations of parties. The bill got stalled. The only consolation is that the advocates of the bill, including those coming from the traditional political parties, continue to talk and hopefully the impasse can be used as an opportunity to come up with a better party reform bill. Meanwhile, it is my hope that the bickering and power plays within the major traditional political parties can bring forth a positive change in the power configuration within these parties. I am hoping that a miracle would happen and the major players within the parties, after getting a dose of their own medicine, would get fed up with the patronage-based operations of their party, forcing them to reform and modernize. But as I said, that’s asking for a miracle. The other piece of the puzzle, which we looked into, is the growing and consistently vibrant reform actors and groups from the civil society, which clearly indicates a growing constituency for change in the country. These are the groups who advocate for reforms in policies and governance through protest, collaboration and other forms of engagement with the government. However, though vibrant and active, their efforts are scattered. And except for cases such as the two EDSAs where reform groups overthrew presidents, its political relevance (which refers to vote base) remains to be seen. These groups are active in engaging governance, particularly addressing corruption and other forms of abuse of authority. Though there have been openings for civil society groups to participate in governing, corruption is still pervasive. A lot of reform efforts are at the mercy of those holding power in government. The exercise of power by public officials especially that involving big ticket corruption is hardly transparent and accountable. They happen not in official and public spaces but in golf courses, coffee shops and abroad (not official but neither illegal decision-making spaces), which the reform groups will never be able to access. The limits and difficulty of governance engagement for reform groups should force them to look at who holds the formal power that they intend to engage and make accountable and how did these power holders get their power in the first place -- the key subject matter of politics and the terrain called elections. In the ASoG, we have what we call the mosaic approach to development and change. There are separate and scattered movements happening at the same time. The goal is not to change these efforts for all have their share of imperatives, but instead identify the key pieces that fit the puzzle so as to implement change and development and perhaps even then and there see the difference. The challenge for us, which is the concept behind the CRA 2010 Project, and the overall rationale behind the Political Democracy and Reform (PODER) Program of the ASoG, is to create, or at least attempt to create, a mosaic. This project therefore, along with the other initiatives of PODER in reforming the electoral system and developing political parties, is our attempt at a mosaic for political change. This project, in particular, starts to connect the dots and form a convergence by facilitating the engagement of reform groups in the 2010 elections. The call of the time is not just to guard authority but also to wield our own power to change the face and exercise of legitimate power. Let our take off point be the elections, where authority in our democratic system is formally allocated and distributed. Connect our advocacy to the elections. Let us once again connect political change and governance -- domains that are slowly becoming disconnected as evidenced by the lack of political change agenda behind the governance work of citizens groups. The question is what kind of engagement? The bigger goal is to be a force that will be determinant of the outcome of the elections. The other big goal is to aggregate interests to come up with an agenda -- filling up the gap of an underperforming party system -- and to influence the platform and program of government of the candidates. But at the minimum, we want to influence the electoral process to become issue-based by identifying the key issues, articulating and popularizing these key issues and engaging the candidates on these key issues. Citizens will have to build the relevance of reforms in the elections. In the current electoral system and its dominant political parlance, relevance in elections means who’s got the votes. That’s a difficult and complicated agenda, which citizens’ reform groups will have to deal with sooner than later for the country to have a shot at change again this coming 2010 election. Joy Aceron is a faculty member of the Political Science Department of the Ateneo de Manila University and the Program Coordinator of the Political Democracy and Reform (PODER) Program of the Ateneo School of Government. The article is based on her presentation during the Roundtable Discussion on Citizens’ Anti-Corruption Reform Agenda 2010 held last 14 November 2008 at the Imperial Palace Suites Quezon City.
November 2008 Archives
By Harvey Keh AS I listened to the testimony of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn "Joc-Joc" Bolante, I again realized how important it is for our country to elect the right President in the upcoming 2010 National Elections. If you listened to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's arguments, she stated that Bolante is such a powerful person given the fact that he is able to disburse almost one billion pesos of the alleged fertilizer funds to chosen local government units and congressmen. Santiago even said that even she as a senator doesn't have that same power as Bolante; thus, we begin to ask, who gave such power to Bolante? Who appointed a man like Bolante to his position? Of course, it's none other than President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whose government never seems to run out of controversies, scams and allegations of graft and corruption. It's been more than seven years since Arroyo took power in the 2001 People Power 2 Revolution. Since then her administration will be remembered not with helping uplift the lives of millions of very poor Filipinos but with the billions of pesos that have been allegedly used to enrich the pockets and promote the self-interests of a few. With this in mind, many of my friends have asked where have we gone wrong? Why can't we seem to elect right leaders to our country especially in the national level? Some of my friends who are volunteers of election watch groups, such as Namfrel and PPCRV have even told me that they are beginning to feel frustrated since it's been more than 20 years when we started these groups. I'd like to believe that the main problem isn't so much because we have failed to educate our Filipino voters on who to vote for in our elections but rather we haven't given Filipinos the right candidates to choose from. Time and again, when the national elections come, it seems that we always have to settle for the lesser evil or for the candidate that is popular but not necessarily the right leader for our country. Why do we have to always settle for less? I think the Filipinos deserve more. I think it's time that we look for and support candidates that may not necessarily have the money and the political machinery but has a proven track record of service and more important, is an effective and ethical leader. A leader that does not only know how to criticize in front of the glitter of the TV cameras but also delivers concrete programs and outcomes that will solve our nation's social problems. We have seen it happen in Pampanga, Isabela and Naga City wherein against all odds, the people from these areas have chosen good leaders to govern them and as such, Filipinos in these local government units were gifted with better delivery of basic services. The victories of Governors Ed Panlilio, Grace Padaca and Jesse Robredo in these areas have shown that Filipinos will vote for the right person if only they are given good people that they can choose from. The main problem is that for PPCRV and NAMFREL to be truly effective, it will have to be complemented with a movement coming from ordinary Filipinos from here and abroad that will look for a common Presidential candidate that will not be beholden to the interests of the elite but will earnestly work for the genuine human development of every Filipino. Is this possible? Yes! I believe that this is possible if only all of us will do our own share in working to bring genuine change to our nation. Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government
By Harvey Keh AS the United States of America's President-elect Barack Obama was delivering his victory speech in Chicago, a sense of inspiration and hope began to fill me up. Here was a young African-American, first-term Senator who has defied all odds to become the first Black President of the most powerful country in the world. Obama campaigned on the message of “Change,” a change that every American could believe in, a change that resonated with so many American voters most especially those aged between 18 to 29 years old. In CNN's analysis, one of the major factors for Obama's victory was his charismatic appeal to young voters. This appeal along with his very inspiring words would rally millions of young and previously apathetic American voters to register and take part in the elections. Obama also showed the world a new way of campaigning, earning hundreds of millions of dollars not by getting big donations from businessmen but by appealing to ordinary people to donate small amounts of $5 to $10 to his campaign. More importantly, Obama's campaign team was a master of using the power of the Internet and social networking sites such as Twitter, My Space and Facebook thereby being able to relate to the more the younger, tech-savvy generation. He ended his speech with the words Yes We Can and he showed the world that despite having not enough financial resources or political clout compared to Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator John McCain when he launched his bid for the Presidency more than 2 years ago, he was able to win decisively because he was able to rally ordinary people to his cause. Indeed, change has come to America and Filipinos can learn much from the experience of Barack Obama since as we draw near to our own Presidential elections in 2010, will we have to content ourselves again with choosing from the same faces or worse, choosing between the lesser evil among the candidates? I hope not. I look forward to the day that we can also find a true Filipino leader that will also inspire millions of Filipinos to rally for change, a change that millions of Filipinos have been longing for and a change that will hopefully, put an end to the growing poverty cycle that majority of Filipinos have to face each day. Many Filipinos have begun to lose hope in finding that leader but I think that we have our own little Obamas in our country today such as the likes of Ramon Magsaysay Awardees Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela, Gov. Eddie Panlilio of Pampanga, Mayor Sonia Lorenzo of San Isidro, Nueva Ecija and Gov. Teddy Baguilat, Jr. of Ifugao. These local government leaders have defied the odds in their respective areas to win against well-entrenched political dynasties and at the same time, deliver proper basic services to their constituents. Being with them in our group which is aptly named Kaya Natin!, we go around to different colleges and universities to share their stories of hope and change towards inspiring more Filipinos to work for good governance and electing effective and ethical leaders for our country. Obama was not entirely correct when he said it is only in the United States of America where someone can defy the odds and win, our own Kaya Natin! leaders have shown that Filipinos can also say, "Yes We Can! Kaya Natin!" For more information about Kaya Natin!, you can contact Kai Pastores at email@example.com or at (02) 426-5657. Harvey S. Keh is Director for Youth Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship at the Ateneo de Manila University-School of Government. He is also part of Kaya Natin!