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So You Say You Want to Change the, er, Government… August 22, 2006

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Ramblings.

Pardon this “by-way-of-ranting” about the Philippine government. Old habits are hard to break: I am a political economist deep down, after all.

I’m tired of the all too familiar public posturing that numerous politicos purport to propound about reform (what an alliteration!). What I take issue with is not the sincerity behind such pronouncements – though one can’t help but be skeptical, either way – but with the tendency for suggestions along these lines to consist of grand gestures. Amend the constitution. Change the form of government. Revamp the electoral process. No matter how sensible the rationale behind these, it’s plain to see that it will take a Herculean effort to get them started and the benefits won’t be reaped until twenty or thirty years down the road, if at all.

I think even simpler initiatives can be as effective. As far as I’m concerned, I can think of three things I would like to see that would improve the quality of governance immensely.

Stop attaching the titular “Honorable” to the name of any public official. I would even go so far as to say that if it could be made illegal, it should. In a perfect world, that title is earned based on what you do rather than who you are, and “what you do” does not include getting elected or appointed into office but instead pertains to how the powers that accompany the same are put to use. The problem is that when done often enough the politicians themselves begin to believe that they are, when in fact many of their actions – not the least of which those that propel them to office – are anything but. No: I say, call them by the titles they have earned as private citizens – Mister, Miss, Doctor, Attorney, Whatever! – to remind them that they are no better than their fellows and that their responsibility is to serve the public rather than themselves.

Make it illegal for public officials to take personal credit for public projects. It sickens me to no end that every public works project must have a sign proclaiming whose priority project it was, sometimes with a picture of the official in question. I’m all for giving credit where credit is due, but in this case the sign is less about taking due credit and more about making sure that one’s “achievements” are bandied about in big bold letters so voters remember come the next election. It’s downright wrong. Roads do not get paved, buildings erected or water mains fixed because of the genius, dispensation or favor of Mayor/Representative/President so-and-so. These projects see fruition because our taxes pay for them and thereby we are entitled to them. If anyone deserves the credit, it should be government the institution rather than the specific individuals who happen to represent it. Admittedly, it’s a fine line, but one that is important to make and intuitive to grasp. If such signs are any indication, our politicians would have us believe that we are lucky that they have had the time to put together one project or another for us, when in fact we have the right to demand those very things from them in the first place.

Eliminate all perks for government officials. And I mean all perks. If they were subject to the same things that ordinary people experienced – and in the same way – it stands to reason things would improve very quickly. If they could not fast track procedures or skip to the top of queues, I’m betting a lot of red tape and bureaucracy would disappear. If they had to suffer the same as anyone else would in traffic without their “emergency” lights or convoy of motorcycles and lead cars to get them through faster, I’m betting traffic would improve overnight. If acquiring a personal security detail was never and option (even for the President!) and they had to worry constantly about their safety, then maybe peace and order would improve, as would the justice and penal systems in the country.

I know it’s mighty idealistic, but there’s a lot of common sense to it. The last one in particular will be a tough sell (though how I wish!). But typing up these thoughts gives me a profound sense of despair and pessimissm, if not hopelessness: they remind me all the more that this country gets by in spite of its government, not because of it.



1. chichi - August 23, 2006

By the way, I’m leaving my job as research assistant here in Yuchengco Center and I’m going back to public service come this October. Apparently, they offered me a better job and competitive salary. Hehehehe. So, my employers are the loyal Filipino people who pay their taxes.

2. brian.belen - August 23, 2006

I think that’s great, Chichi! Of course, it also means that the next time I rant about government, I’d be ranting about you, albeit indirectly…=p

3. chichi - August 25, 2006

Yes, I already thought of that. The next time my family, friends and relatives would rant about the government, they will be blaming me. Hahaha. When I’m there I’m going to compute what percent of all their taxes goes to my salary alone 🙂

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