Politics and the Philippines.

Tonight I am featuring a Filipino blogger, Praning. I am not overly affluent in the affairs of the Philippines, so this interview was not only tough, but very enlightening for me, and I hope it will be for you as well. Praning certainly knows the inner workings a great deal more than I do, and I suspect she is rather well versed, perhaps better than most, in politics in her home country.
Q: Describe the popular opinion of the Philippine government. What are the benefits? The detriments?

A: Philippines is a democratic country. Basically, laws are made for the common good. Here in the country, we often hear politicians saying the most overused line "... For the People and By the People. But, they are just words coming from the mouth, without much meaning to the politicians.

Devolution is contributing to democracy in the Philippines, as seen in three indicators of democracy on the local level: public opinion, electoral outcomes, and popular participation in the process of governance between elections. On contrary, on top of our democracy has always been a theocracy. On top of our politicians are the theologians with the wealth, power, and glory to determine who amongst our stupid politicians will go to heaven and who will end up in Purgatory. Imagine men and women of this country, with college education, in this 21st century, still believing the claims of ancient superstition from the religious morons.

After more than 60 years of democracy in this country, we have already perceived the evils of democracy,The traditional view of local politics and government in the Philippines is not flattering: elected officials are personalistic faction leaders (or worse, bosses or warlords) interested in parlaying their personal wealth and power rather than promoting good governance.

Q: You stated that you feel the government is chaotic. What are the reasons for this chaos?

A: Whether local politicians were characterized as warlords, based on the use of violence, or as patrons, based on the material benefits and favors distributed by elected officials, the portrait did not depict good governance. In fact, rather than promoting comprehensive or sustainable development, local officials often provided scattered, particularistic benefits. These included small public works projects such as paving sections of roads or constructing basketball courts, barangay halls, and footbridges; providing government jobs, preferential access to government funds, or special exemptions from (or nonenforcement of) government regulations; and favoritism in the resolution of disputes over land, resources, or commercial transactions.

Even social services tended to be discretely distributed. Medicines were labeled with officials’ names before being handed out. Patients brought their doctor’s or pharmacy receipts to politicians for reimbursement. And, most famously, family expenses for christenings, education, weddings, and funerals were solicited. KBL, it was said, stood for Kasal, Binyag, Libing--wedding, baptism, funeral.

The focus on specific benefits eclipsed planning for more general economic development. Development projects were frequently selected on particularistic or personal grounds, leading to faulty implementation. This type of planning, combined with widespread corruption, resulted in many incomplete projects or in shoddy construction and maintenance.

Q: How involved is the average Philippine in both local and national politics?

A: Average Filipino have passive involvement in the local and national politics. We only participate in politics during elections, where, unfortunately, vote buying is very popular. Other than that, we are more concerned of how to earn a living to put something in our children's mouth, on a daily basis. We do care of what is happening in our government, but we are also aware of the fact that belonging to middle and lower class can't give us the power to change our political system, especially that it will take a long process.

Q: With so many political parties, tell us about how elections are run, and how the multi-party system works with regards to representational government seats.

A: Survey data on how citizens view their local governments shows respondents in nationwide surveys more satisfied with provincial, city, and municipal governments than they are with the national government. Significantly, citizens feel more able to influence these lower levels of government.

In the last two local elections, winners typically won with less than half of the vote. This is because votes are split among so many candidates, which is part of the trend noted toward more candidates for each office (a trend caused in turn by a larger pool of middle-class citizens). The result is that less than one-third of the governors reached their constitutionally prescribed maximum of three terms, and fully two-fifths were elected to their first term. (Members of Congress, also elected by districts but less accountable locally, had exactly the opposite profile. Only one-fourth were elected for their first term, whereas two-fifths were on their third and last term.

With respect to disadvantaged sectors, such as women and indigenous peoples, the picture is somewhat mixed. At lower levels of government, women are better represented, but rarely do they form more than one-fourth of elected officials. Indigenous peoples are well represented in areas where they form a majority of residents. But in areas swamped by in-migrants, the representation of indigenous people is low. The Local Government Code provided for sectoral representation (e.g., farmers, laborers, women, and youth) has been postponed by an Act of Congress (the postponement was supported by the regularly elected local officials).

Electoral System

Together with the presidential form of government, the electoral system has set the institutional frame for the development of Philippine political parties. The current electoral system, established in the 1987 constitution, has the following characteristics:

* The president and vice president are elected nationally for six year terms with no reelection allowed. The national legislature is bicameral, with a lower house of 200 representatives elected in single member district constituencies for three year terms, plus sectoral representatives appointed by the President. The 24 member Senate has senators elected for six year terms nationally, half elected every three years. Representatives are limited to three terms, senators to two.
* Local government officials (governors, provincial councils, municipal and city mayors, municipal and city councils) are elected to three year terms, with a three term limit. Senators, congressmen and local government officials are elected in mid-term elections, but during presidential election years, everyone is elected at the same time. During synchronized elections, more than 17,000 positions are filled. Elections for barangay government, the lowest level of government roughly corresponding to rural villages and urban neighborhoods are held separately.
* The system has been "first past the post", whoever wins the most number of votes, wins. Voting in the Philippines has required writing down the names of individual candidates. This has created problems especially during synchronized elections when voters have to write down anywhere from 32 to 44 names on the ballot. Another set of problems occurs as a result of the long period required for counting and canvassing of votes cast. Votes are counted by hand at the precinct level, then precinct returns canvassed at the municipal level, municipal returns at the provincial level, and only then added up at the COMELEC in Manila, a process that can take over a month.
* Elections are supervised by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), a constitutionally mandated, independent body. Although it is supposed to be an independent body, the COMELEC is invariably accused of being pro-administration in nearly every election.
* Parties are required to register with the COMELEC with a verified petition with attachments including a constitution, by-laws, platform, and such other information as may be required by the COMELEC. They are required to have chapters in a majority of regions, and within each region, a majority of provinces, down to towns and barangays.

Cheating is a well-developed art in Philippine elections. Local politicians are adept at manipulating the process from beginning to end. Cheating begins during the registration process when politicians work to remove supporters of competitors and pad the voters list with "flying voters" (those who vote more than once in several precincts). During the campaign "guns, goons, and gold" are used extensively to intimidate competitors' supporters, and to literally buy support. Cheating does not end at the time of the actual election. Election return canvassers, often public school teachers are bribed to manipulate the results. If cheating before and during the election is "retail" cheating, at the canvassing stage it is "wholesale" cheating which occurs.

If cheating is a normal part of elections, so is protesting election results. Politicians say there are only two kinds of candidates in the Philippines, winners and those who are cheated.

Q: How are the some of the more prevalent parties perceived by the general public?

A: The structures of all major parties are almost all the same. The basic party unit is at the municipal level. Party units then go up the ladder to the provincial party committee, then the national convention or directorate. These bodies are made up of prominent leaders of the party, former and incumbent elected officials. Within these bodies there are central/executive committees made up of a smaller number of top party leaders. Except for the ruling party, none have permanent party headquarters or paid staff except during elections. In between elections, party headquarters are usually at the party leader's home or office.

The party candidate for president and the key national players in the party have the most say in candidate selection down to local candidates. The centralization of the process of candidate selection has increased in recent years because of two developments: one, the synchronized national and local elections mandated by the 1987 Constitution, and second, the increasing importance of money in elections. Synchronized elections make local candidates dependent on national candidates and their parties in contrast to the past where local officials, already in place in local elections held earlier, are needed by national candidates in subsequent national elections. Although local candidates still have to have their own campaign resources, the rapidly increasing cost of election campaigns have made national party organizations stronger because they have more access to larger pools of campaign donations.

Candidates are selected on the basis of their performance, political machinery, popularity (name recall/public acceptance), geographical base/support, adequate financial resources. The importance of these elements vary from national to local candidates. For national candidates, it is generally accepted that if the presidential candidate comes from Luzon and its Tagalog speaking population, the vice presidential candidate has to come from the Visayas and its Cebuano speaking people. Popularity, increasingly determined by performance in surveys, is more important for national than local candidates. For local candidates clan/family connections are very important.

Political parties are not very popular in the Philippines. The media and academics are almost uniformly critical. Public opinion is not any less unkind. The popular term used to refer to politicians is trapo (from traditional politician), which literally means "dirty dishrag". While the public continues to be nervous about constitutional reform, witness the widespread opposition to cha-cha (charter change), there is at the same time, a palpable sense of the need for political reform.

As unpopular as political parties are, they continue to be the main political instruments for social mobility. While this is true, mobility occurs within a society that over time has become more and more unequal. While allowing ambitious young, mostly men, from the provinces to move up in the world, such movement is worked out within political parties which remain instruments of a narrow upper class. Attempts to set up political parties representing the interests of the poor majority of workers and peasants have been suppressed or more often, have been unable to survive in a political system biased against such attempts. In the end, it is not that Philippine political parties are not ideological, but rather that because they are all or mostly instruments of the same upper classes, their members share the same conservative ideology. Their political parties, therefore are not distinguishable from each other on the basis of ideology.

Q: Let's talk about the economy for a minute. How are things faring over there, and what has the government done to stimulate, or stall the economy?

A: We are currently facing a great rice shortage and weekly oil price hike, which is followed by increase price of prime commodities.
The Philippines is one of the top importers of rice in the world. Rice is a politically sensitive commodity in this country. It is not surprising that reports of a rice shortage have energized political debate and public concern regarding the economic policies of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

If the global supply of rice is dwindling, what is being done to increase local production? In the first place, why is the Philippines, which is predominantly an agricultural nation, importing rice from other countries?
Something is wrong with an economic policy that prioritizes the planting of cash crops to be exported to other countries over the planting of food crops needed by the people who are suffering from hunger.

Instead of increasing local rice production, the government is dependent on imported rice. Since joining the World Trade Organization in 1995, the Philippines has become Asia's top rice importer with average annual imports of over 1 million metric tons.

Rice lands are also disappearing because of land conversion. The government today, like the Spanish and American colonial governments of the past, has been persuading farmers to plant cash crops and other export products. Big landlords are also converting farmland into golf courses, residential villages, and agro-industrial parks to apply for exemption from the land distribution program of the government.

The rice problem is made worse by rice smuggling. Unscrupulous rice traders collude with politicians and agricultural officials in hoarding rice supplies. This creates an artificial crisis which jacks up the price of rice. Corruption is also to be blamed. In the 2004 elections, President Arroyo distributed millions in fertilizer funds to her loyal supporters. The money could have been used to improve rice productivity.

Rice is the staple food of Filipinos. Remove it from the tables and there will be mass unrest. Blaming the weather and the limited global supply to explain the rice shortage is not enough. The government has to abandon its agricultural liberalization program and its overdependence on rice imports. The government must adopt emergency measures to increase the rice output of farmers. The time has come to implement a genuine agrarian reform.

Q: Does the average Filipino worry about US politics at all?

A: No. Average Filipino have more than what they can handle, so why worry on others? What is clear here in our country is that, our President is a crony of George Bush. She (our president) is more than willing to do whatever Bush requested, even if it will negatively affect the average Filipinos. The way Filipinos see it is that, our president is afraid to stand on her own and that she is very dependable on the US Government.

Q: Let's talk about foreign policy. What stance does the Philippine government take on foreign policy, international aid, or trade agreements?

A: Philippines is very active in taking part on almost anything, if not all, foreign policy. The government believes that if we want support, especially financial support, from World Organizations and other neighbouring countries, we must support every foreign policy and it is really implemented here in our country, without much consideration on how average Filipinos will be affected.

Q: How has the Philippines been affected by the US "War on Terror", if at all?

A: We are very much affected by the US "War on Terrorism". In fact, numerous bombings have occurred here and many innocents have already died. Bomb threats and other acts of terrorism is still evident today. We also have local version of Al Qaeda terrorist groups here.

Q: Finally, I once had an ex tell me that Filipinos reserved a special smile for people they hate the most. Is this true? (Note: He was Filipino, and this is meant to be silly.)

A: Yes, personally, I believe his statement to be true. Filipinos are known for being hospitable that even if we run out of food, for instance, we can still manage to offer it to our visitors.
Being patient, usually, we don't immediately confront people we hate, we just gave them a very special smile, having, of course, negative thoughts at the back of our minds.

I want to thank Praning for her insightful views on the politics in the Philippines, and I would also like to thank her for making me wonder just how many of those smiles my ex was giving me was in fact, the "special smile".

Praning is a physically lazy but mentally active person, who's mind never ceases to contemplate on anything, and she means ANYTHING, that bothers and interests her. You can visit Praning over at her blogs, Praning's Thoughts and Praning's Shoutout.


an average patriot said...

I have to tell you, I was here yesterday too but realize I am an observer in this one. Way over my head or something. Funny but the Philippines is learning what the rest of the world is seeing first hand thanks to Bush and that is that Democracy is a facade and like religion, to be used to follow a hidden agenda.
I was pretty surprised to hear that the Philippines has a rice shortage. Good luck to them and everyone else as this entire mess in every instance will get a hell of a lot worse period!

Daniel Owen said...

Fascinating. I certainly learned a thing or two. Thanks, ladies!

"While allowing ambitious young, mostly men, from the provinces to move up in the world, such movement is worked out within political parties which remain instruments of a narrow upper class."

Ain't that the truth!


leon said...

yep it will get worse and i can't believe rice shortage what!!!!

praning5254 said...

I believe that this "rice shortage" thing is just a cover up to divert the Filipino people's attention. Our president has been accused of a multi-billion peso broadband deal, which involved her husband, close friends and other cabinet members.

brighfeather said...

This was such a remarkable opportunity to learn about politics in the Philipines. Not surprisingly, my eyes when my vision cleared focused on the same quote that Daniel extracted above.

Thanks so much Praning for being interviewed and thanks Anok for conducting the interview.