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Almonte’s reform agenda

The redoubtable Jarius Bondoc reports on Joe Almonte’s latest foray into the wilderness of Philippine politics as – once again – a sort of Baptist, warning of dire consequences lest ye repent.

Elections are again around the corner. Conditions that marked the last national-local voting have worsened. Almonte is back with solutions for those who’d care to act. During the recent launching of his book, To Put Our House in Order, We Must Level the Playing Field, he chatted up past and present government officials on choosing a Malacañang candidate. “Make sure he’s a reformist now, because if not he will never be a reformist when he becomes President,” he brought the issue down to basics. On speaking tours, he painstakingly explains the need for a modernizing national leader to match a growing number of achievers in local levels. “In our country, only the President has that kind of transformative political power,” he told Galing Pook members, among them governors and mayors, last weekend.

… he pounds back on the need for electoral reforms. Cleaning up the voting process will not bring deliverance overnight. But it will encourage new leaders to try their hand in public service, and restore people’s faith in democratic exercises. Even just a handful of legislators and local officials can force some of the major electoral changes, to produce still more reformists.

Albeit a little obvious, all these things are just lovely. Of course everyone wants a reformist for president. It’s when a reformist actually gets elected that we have problems. More often than not, we realize after the euphoria of victory, that a serious reformist will not care who put him in power – a serious reformist will reform everything – even if it means stripping his supporters of their expectations of entitlement. And very few people appreciate that. So, in short order, the shining hope becomes a hapless target of the very same people – disgruntled now, for not getting what they thought was their just reward – who put him in power. It’s an old story; and one we see being replayed over and over and over …

And I love how everyone says the government should clean up the voting process. It’s like dirty streets, folks. You can field an army of street sweepers but the streets will still be filthy for as long as people keep littering when no one’s looking.

But Almonte doesn’t stop there. According to Bondoc, he has four other “bite-sized” proposals:

• Open up the economy and reduce state intervention — both to cut down oligarchic influence and to curb opportunities for rent seeking.

• Professionalize the civil service, by raising salaries into rates competitive with the private sector; installing a meritocracy through service grades set by examinations; and stabilizing tenures by transferring the appointing power for officers from the President to the civil service system.

• Strengthen political parties, the best way for which is to switch from presidential to parliamentary.

• Recapture the nation’s political center from oligarchic control, starting with putting in place a system of public financing for presidential elections.

I don’t know if I’ve suddenly gone autistic, but I see nothing bite-sized about these proposals. First off, opening up the economy and reducing state intervention? I can think of several ways this proposal might require a constitutional amendment. Considering how paranoid people get when constitutional amendments are being discussed, this proposal is prolly bite-sized only for those of gigantic proportions.

Professionalize the civil service? What? All 99 bazillion of them? Seriously. With government employees earning less than fucking call center agents, how the hell does Almonte propose to start this crusade? Karina David – as awesome as she is – had seven bleeding years to do it, and she accomplished squat. Are we now supposed to do better by 2010?

And transferring the appointing power to the civil service commission? This is the same kind of knee-jerk reaction that led to the crappiest Constitution this country has ever had, maybe we can make this work. 

And raising salaries? Does Bondoc realize how long it takes to manage to raise the salary of one itty-bitty government functionary, let alone the salaries of the entire bureaucracy? It took the Supreme Court more than three years to work on increasing salaries in the judiciary, Jarius honey, and they’re still not competitive with the private sector over there.

I want a hit of what Bondoc is smoking, man. Looks like some pretty heavy shit.

And we’re supposed to believe that strengthening political parties is easy too. Even better, we do that by switching from presidential to parliamentary! Sure, why the fuck not. Let’s do it next week. Oh, wait, doesn’t that take another FUCKING Constitutional amendment?

And finally, this absolute pearl: let’s recapture the nation’s political center from oligarchic control! WOOT! I feel drunk just reading this shit. Let’s put in place a system of public financing for presidential elections!!! AMEN!!! WHOOO-HOOO!!! YEAH!!! How about we calendar that between punching the moon and … holding back the tide? Will that work for you guys? 

Sheesh.

 

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Filed under: 2010 watch, politics, , , , ,

16 Responses

  1. cvj says:

    From the sound of his recommendations, it looks like Almonte needs to put up a blog.

    (BTW, i like the way your ‘Possibly related post’ generated ‘Cuba Libre’ as a result.)

  2. cvj says:

    Also, i find Almonte’s “opening up the economy…both to cut down oligarchic influence and to curb opportunities for rent seeking.” ridiculous in light of the collusion between the State and China’s ZTE. MNC’s normally seek out the locally established operators which will likely be the very same Companies owned by the Oligarchs.

  3. rom says:

    cvj: yeah, uncle, maybe Almonte should! I would be the first to link to it! He’d probably be loads more interesting than Lozada anyway. 😀

  4. Jeg says:

    Monopolies can only come about because of the State. For example, NAPOCOR and TRANSCO, and Meralco. This partnership of the oligarchy and the State I suppose it what Almonte wants to break . Get the state out of business and we won’t have functioning monopolies. Even the ZTE scandal came about because of the state. If it werent for the state, we’d have 2 or 3 companies competing for the NBN.

    What about cartels? We can only look at the newly-deregulated industries of telcos and petroleum. Are they forming cartels?

  5. cvj says:

    Jeg, there are industries such as power distribution where monopolies are the natural outcome. Our more successful Capitalist neighbors did not break up the partnership between the Oligarchy and State, but rather took their relationship to a more performance-based level. Yes, corruption and cronyism was still there but the economic gains for everyone outweighed these negative factors.

  6. rom says:

    cvj: people love throwing statements like “dismantle the oligarchy” around, don’t they. Reminds me of Marcos and his tortured rationalizations for martial law. But seriously, how would you go about dismantling the oligarchy? Come to that, who actually comprises the oligarchy anyway – apart from the obvious suspects.

  7. Jeg says:

    Jeg, there are industries such as power distribution where monopolies are the natural outcome.

    Let me get this straight. Im having a bit of a problem with monopoly being the natural outcome. I should think monopoly IS the artificial outcome.

    Let’s assume the state gets out of regulating power distribution. Meralco is the big corporation servicing Metro Manila. My backers and I want to invest because I have a cheaper and more efficient means of doing so and I want to cover Metro Manila (or parts of it) as well, offering cheaper power and more efficient service. Does this mean I can’t do that? I think I can since the State is no longer telling me I can’t. Consumers then have a choice: stick with the dinosaur or choose my company. Meralco then shapes up to compete. (Im assuming they won’t hire goons to sabotage my power plant.) In this scenario, consumers win, dont they?

  8. Rom, while i disagree with Almonte’s prescription, i agree with his call for dismantling the oligarchy. As for Marcos, he took a good idea (not his original btw as it was that era’s zeitgeist), used it for his purposes, and failed to deliver.

    Jeg, in a developing economy, it’s more about the producers (i.e. developing local production capability) rather than the consumers. Here’s some info on what constitutes a natural monopoly. Leaving a natural monopoly to market forces opens it up to market failure. An example is the rolling blackouts experienced by California when its utlities were deregulated. In our more successful neighbors (both Capitalist and Communist), the State played a big role in developing home grown industries by prioritizing getting the job done over getting the prices right [aka ‘the market’], at least in the early stages.

  9. rom says:

    chuck: some questions, uncle. first – isn’t the call for dismantling the oligarchy just as much a product of this era’s zeitgeist as it was a product of marcos’? second – how does one demolish an oligarchy? and third – who comprises the oligarchy in this country, aside from the usual suspects.

  10. cvj says:

    Rom, my responses as follows:

    (1) On the zeitgeist: it’s not a late 60’s/early 70’s fad if that what you mean. Inequality in Philippine Society is the one thing that has never change since the time of the Spanish Friars, the American Occupation and Commonwealth, the post-War democratic order, the Marcos’ dictatorship, the post-EDSA democratic restoration up to today. Our neighbors didn’t just call for the dismantling of the Oligarchy, they actually went ahead and did it at some point in their history.

  11. cvj says:

    (2) On how to dismantle an Oligarchy: In Meiji Japan, a new Oligarchy restored the Emperor and exterminated the Old Oligarchs i.e. the Samurai. In China, the Communist drove the Oligarchs to Taiwan. In Taiwan, the surviving Oligarchs (under Chiang Kai Shek) decided to implement land reform to prevent a repeat of what happened in the mainland. In South Korea, the government also implemented land reform. In North Vietnam, they implemented land reform after defeating the French.

    Over here, short of a bloody revolution or a soldier’s revolt, i think a Latin American style electoral revolution is our best and most peaceful shot at Reform.

    I blogged about these scenarios over at the Republic.

  12. cvj says:

    As i commented over at Manolo’s recently, in the United States, it took a Civil War for the Northern Industrial Oligarchs to break the power of the Landed Oligarchs of the south. (BTW, Brian also mentioned this earlier a few months ago.) Over here unfortunately, we have no such antagonism between the Industrial and the Landed Elites.

    (3) On who are the Oligarchs: Neri supplied a diagram of the present configuration under Arroyo. More of them can be found in Forbes Top 40 list. This list is not exhaustive though.

    Temario C. Rivera has classified the Oligarchs into separate but overlapping categories of landed (e.g. Sugar barons), Industrial (e.g. Cement) and Chinese-Filipino businessmen.

  13. Jeg says:

    Thanks, cvj. So because of the natural monopoly, it wouldnt do for, say, a small group of investors to put up windmills to service for example 100 barangays in Metro Manila? I still think they could if it werent for State regulation.

    The California blackouts were the result of birth pains, I gather. Remember, the monopoly resulted in 8 hour blackouts in metro manila as well.

    In any case, opening up the oligarchy to competition, that is, stop protecting them, would be one way of ‘dismantling’ them.

  14. cvj says:

    Jeg, it’s power distribution (more than power generation) that is the natural monopoly. As of now, any electricity generated by the windmills needs to go through wires to get to its destination.

    As for the California blackouts, here’s what Paul Krugman wrote on California’s ‘faith-based deregulation’.

  15. Jeg says:

    Let’ me put aside my misgivings about natural monopoly (havent studied it thoroughly) for a minute and come back to Almonte’s recommendations on the oligarchy. Power distribution, that’s Transco, right? Another state owned entity that is to be privatized via sale to another state-protected member of the oligarchy. In the Philippines, it is the State that’s the problem. The oligarchy cannot exist without state protection. It is the state that needs ‘dismantling’. Dismantle it’s power to enter into negotiated monopolistic contracts for example. Without the state protecting them, the oligarchy will wither.

    Thanks for the Krugman link. I suppose youre closer to Krugman ideologically than I am. But they have solved their power distribution problems I gather. We have solved ours by entering into negotiated contracts wherein we will guarantee — guarantee! — power producers that we will buy their power whether we use it or not. That’s how Mirant in the Philippines was profitable despite the fact that they were going bankrupt elsewhere.

  16. carl says:

    wise men dont just criticize, they give better solutions,

    criticisms without better suggestions are considered jokes….

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