Commandments Are Not Enough

Keith Breeze Ten Commandments

By the way, Pork is forbidden in the Old Testament.

There has been some debate among Filipino netizens about what is more important when it comes to fixing the problems of the Philippines. Much of it has been centered on the flawed culture in the Philippines and the need to fix this flawed culture. Some netizens have argued that we need to fix the culture first before fixing the Constitution. Others argue that it is the other way around. So which is it?

The following article explains that culture is built up around systems, and so in order to change the culture it is necessary to change the system first:

Chicken or the Egg: Culture Change or System Change?

So instead of trying to fight corruption alone, we must correct the system that encourages corruption. Instead of just telling people to vote wisely, we must first change the system that encourages people to go for name-recall and vote celebrity politicians instead of voting for competent statesmen based on abilities and platforms.

Essentially, it is all about dealing with root causes. To more efficiently and more permanently fix a problem, one must go to the root cause of the problem, rather than just dealing with symptoms.

Of course, it is possible to change the culture through a dictatorship, but I’d prefer doing it through a much more democratic way. What we need is a system that enforces certain wanted behaviors, and discourages certain unwanted behaviors – and switching to a parliamentary system, rather than a presidential dictatorship, is the way to do it.

Think about the 10 Commandments of the Bible. Sure, it is definitely a good moral code to go by. However, it is not enough just to advise people to not steal. Humans are fallible creatures prone to temptations. All humans have this tendency. Some religious traditions even have concepts to explain this: The Jews have the concept of the Yetzer Hara (The Evil Inclination) that is the source of how people can sometimes be harmful (albeit it is also tied in with the human survival instinct), and Christianity has Original Sin.

When it comes to one of the biggest moral flaws of Philippine society, corruption, it turns out that it is actually an intermediate effect of even deeper systemic root causes. It’s to say that corruption is somewhere in between a symptom and a root cause. Corruption causes other bad things, yes, but something deeper causes corruption to occur and/or exacerbates it.

The truth is that the tendency towards corruption is present in each and every person. It manifests itself as an effect of the human survival instinct which, when unregulated, can mean that one tries to survive at the expense of others. It manifests itself as laziness and the tendency of human beings to want to go with the path of least resistance: i.e., to get something for nothing.

Like I said, all humans have this tendency. Call it Yetzer Hara, Original Sin, Temptations, etc.

What we can do, however, is to come up with systems that will minimize the tendency for such traits to emerge. For instance, when people are needy and desperate, there is often a greater chance that they will resort to corruption in “finding the shortest path to ensure their survival” even if this harms others or goes against the rules or standards of society.

As such, a society where people are at least able to meet their most basic needs comfortably can minimize corruption greatly. If we have an economic system that does not provide enough economic opportunities for people to live comfortably, expect higher incidences of corruption to emerge. Then there’s the fact that if you have “more eyes watching”, it causes people to be more likely to avoid being corrupt.

In short, having systems that dissuade people from being corrupt, having systems that provide economic opportunities for the people at large, having systems that reward transparency and punish corruption can minimize corruption and if done properly, practically eliminate it.

It’s not enough to say, “get rid of corruption” or “thou shall not steal” because the question is: How?!?! Sometimes, even if you try to get rid of corruption without addressing the root causes of why some people risk getting caught while doing corrupt acts in the hope of personal gain, you’ll find that the corruption doesn’t really go down.

It’s like trying to swat flies over and over again, but new flies keep emerging. It’s necessary, thus, to look at the systemic root causes for why there are lots of flies in your area, and often, you’ll realize that it’s the preponderance of uncollected garbage that becomes the breeding ground for maggots and flies. No amount of swatting the flies over and over again does anything because new flies emerge to replace the ones who were downed.

The emergence of corruption is not the root cause… It is the effect or symptom of something else. And that often – at the very core – is poverty and the lack of opportunities. People who have mounting bills to pay because they earn so little or probably don’t have jobs themselves may end up seeing an opportunity to “cheat the system” as being advantageous to them or helpful to their survival. Had they not had to worry about that, they then wouldn’t have resorted to corruption.

We need to look at root causes. In the end, our system in the Philippines is conducive to keeping people poor, and poverty makes corruption come out in full force.

If we CoRRECTed the system so that we have a system that creates more economic opportunities, more prosperity, more chances for people to live decent lives, then there’ll be less tendency for corruption to emerge.

Now where do poverty and lack of opportunities stem from? They generally stem from the economic system and how things work as far as the economy goes. Countries that stifle business and economic activity tend to shoo businesses and entrepreneurs/investors away. Countries that allow free business to happen and allow foreign companies to easily set up shop and create jobs for the local population tend to have better job creation and less poverty as a result.

I also have to mention the case of having “more eyes watching.” Well, that’s why parliamentary systems also tend to be less prone to corruption than presidential systems. Because the way parliamentary systems work involves the opposition sending in representatives to the ministerial meetings of the government so that there is always a witness from the opposition present to watch over ministry meetings. While the majority has a government cabinet led by a prime minister, the minority has an opposition shadow cabinet led by the leader of the opposition. Each minister of the government has a corresponding “shadow minister from the opposition” watching over him and attending the meetings of the minister in his ministry. The Minister of Defense, when conducting meetings for the Ministry of Defense has the Shadow Minister of Defense from the Opposition attending and looking at the proceedings and noting all the decisions.

This is why generally speaking, parliamentary systems outperform presidential systems and parliamentary systems are less prone to corruption: Because there’s someone or many people from the opposition watching.

In the end, in order for corruption to actually get lessened, you cannot just ask people to not be corrupt. You cannot just command them not to steal. You must set up systems that prevent the corrupt-tendencies present in all people from emerging and to suppress people being corrupt with systems where “many are watching over.”

CoRRECT™ is really all about systemic change, not just surface changes. System change hits at the root causes of problems. That’s how we fix things in the long term. That’s how we CoRRECT™ the Philippines – by CoRRECTing the flawed system enshrined in the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines.

Nápoles & Pork Barrel: It’s the Lousy System

Jeane Napoles

There’s been a lot of anger expressed regarding Janet Nápoles, her daughter Jeane, their lavish lifestyles, and the Pork Barrel scam that funded it all. Everyone seems to be screaming about the need to abolish the Pork Barrel, which today bears the official name “Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).

But before jumping into the “abolish the Pork Barrel” bandwagon, it is necessary for Filipinos to first understand why the Pork Barrel system exists, and why it was institutionalized the way it has been in the Philippines. Understanding this will allow us to see if merely abolishing the Pork Barrel fund will actually work, or whether it is actually part of a wider set of systemic problems that stem from a common set of root causes.

Constitutional Change Now

 

(originally published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, 21st November 2012)

by Peter Wallace

Let me give you a few points to ponder when considering whether or not we need to open up the economy by amending the Constitution. Because now is the time to discuss it. If we do, we can vote upon it in 2013.

In 1935, there was rudimentary AM radio, negligible commercial air travel, cars that could reach 100 kph if they struggled hard enough. TV was unheard of. The only household appliances were a simple refrigerator and toaster.

Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have cell phones; today, we can’t leave the house without them. Imagine if the Constitution had banned mobile communications in the name of protecting national security. Today, I can turn on the TV and CNN is right there in my living room. It doesn’t need a transmitter here, or even an office, so why not let it have one if it wants?

Technology has removed borders. Satellite communications, fiber optic cables, digital technology were all unheard of in 1935 and perhaps a rarity in 1987. They are a part of our lives today, so we may as well let the foreigners in as they’re already in.

The dream of many Filipinos is to gain a foreign education to add to what they’ve learnt here. They dream of going to Harvard, but the cost is prohibitive. Why not bring Harvard here? What it will have to charge will, alone, be enough to make it no threat to local colleges. Anyway, do we want to protect colleges or open up opportunities for students? Foreign colleges can bring research and new technologies to the Philippines, too, an area where we have been weak. Indonesia recently passed a law (it does not need constitutional change) to allow foreign ownership of educational establishments.

Maybe a 75-year lease on land seems enough, but would you want to be able to only lease the land for your house? No, you’d want to own it, passionately so. Well, foreigners don’t think in some strange foreign way; they want to own, too. Filipinos can, and do, own land in America and almost everywhere else, so why not here, at the very least on a reciprocal basis? For “own use” would be fair enough. The agrarian reform law has destroyed the ability to own agricultural land, so farmers are under no “threat.” And if limited to own use for house or factory, the amount of land taken would be infinitesimal.

I’m willing to bet many of those who are against foreign ownership of land have relatives who own land in other countries. So, apart from anything else, it would be only fair to have reciprocity. But that’s not so much the point. What is the point is that if we want to achieve more rapid growth, allowing foreigners to own land at least for their own house or factory will help achieve that. As it is now, that inability to own land is seen as a major deterrent to attracting investment.

The ideal way to review the Constitution is through a constitutional convention. The argument that it costs more and takes more time is true, but we are talking about the Constitution, the fundamental document of the nation. You don’t consider the cost, which is small on the national scale of things, anyway.

But the more practical way, given political realities, is for Congress as a constituent assembly to do the review, with both chambers voting separately before it goes to a plebiscite of the people. There’s also concern that the review would not be restricted to the economic provisions but would shift to the political arena as well, and end up extending the terms of politicians. Maybe, but it may also lead to a serious re-think of the whole system—something that I think is needed. For instance, a parliamentary system would better suit Philippine culture. Having come from one, I think it’s a better system, anyway. I don’t like the dictatorial power a president holds even in a democratic system, particularly in a country where hierarchy is a given. You don’t question, or disagree with, the boss, just because he’s the boss. Well, I disagree with that. Rising to the top through a political process does not make you a greater expert than everyone else. The fact that you need the president’s support if constitutional change is to be effected is a perfect example of this fundamental weakness in a presidential system, Philippine-style. Think about it: Why should you need (as in this system you do) the President’s—one man’s—support for something to succeed?

The problem with the presidential system is that it panders to the hierarchical nature of the Philippines. There’s a reverence for the boss (I like that) at a level not common elsewhere. A Philippine president is almost royalty. A parliamentary system somewhat levels the field. A prime minister is a first amongst equals, and may be taken out by a simple vote of confidence if he doesn’t perform.

In a parliamentary system, the majority decides, the prime minister can’t override it. That’s as it should be. So I wouldn’t object if the style of government were included in the review.

Everyone says, “Not now,” it’s too open to risk of political machination (to just extend terms, for example). But if not now, when? With a President disinterested in a continuance in power—something that’s unlikely to be ever repeated—this seems an ideal time. If a full review were to be agreed to, then a constitutional convention is the only way.

Whichever is agreed to—a full review, or just the economic sections—let’s do it now.

We’ll never have  a more favorable time.

* * *

Peter Wallace has been described as the most prominent foreign businessman in the Philippines, and an important voice for business within government. Peter has been conducting political, economic and business analysis for over two decades, advising multinationals, major Filipino companies, embassies and international agencies. Having covered 4 presidencies, 2 revolutions and some 8 attempted coups d ‘etats, Peter provides a balanced assessment of conditions and forecasts of what can be expected. Peter’s links into government, senior business groups, the academe and various political factions ensure some of the best insights available.

Let’s Talk Basketball – by Figo Cantos

I’ve been an advocate of the CoRRECT™ Movement for almost a year now.

After getting in touch with Orion Pérez Dumdum during a Christmas Celebration of the Bagumbayan-VNP (Gordon-Bayani 2010) Party, I studied its 3-point agenda and realized that the changes it has proposed should be implemented.

Of course, every great idea does not come without great opposition; so I’ve been encouraging everyone around me to study the CoRRECT™ Movement, ask questions, debate and take a stand – but more impotantly to always keep an open mind. If this is implemented within our lifetime, we might only mostly see the change in direction but it will be the next generation of Filipinos who will benefit greatly from the results of such a change.

Now, among some of the most common reasons that opponents oppose the CoRRECT™ Movement are “it will never be applicable to us” or  “it’s not our culture” or even “it’s not in our character”; I believe that until a new and better system is implemented for us, our culture and character will remain as it is in the status quo. Let me make an analogy on how a system changes a culture and characters using a game that most Filipinos love – basketball.

In 1984, the Chicago Bulls drafted arguably the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan. As a young player, Jordan had already shown his great potential and awesome athleticism, but his team’s rivals (notably the Detroit Pistons) knew that if they stopped Jordan, the Bulls’ could be stopped as well. That was until Phil Jackson took over as coach, a proponent of Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, changed the system and changed the team’s direction – resulting six championships (two 3-peats).

Tex Winter – the Coach who developed the “Triangle Offense” system and methodology of game-play

Most people believe that the Triangle Offense is “just a play”, but it is not – it is a system. It reads and adapts to the defense of the opposing team, its players moves are strategic (with or without the ball), and it distributes the scoring opportunity to everyone in the team.

Some might say that the Bulls have Jordan and it’s not applicable to other teams. But the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakes proved them wrong. When Phil Jackson took over and applied the same system, it changed the culture and character of his new team and brought back its dynasty winning 5 more NBA titles.

Some might still say that Jordan and Bryant are Americans, and that the culture and characters are different and “it is not applicable” to other countries, where the situations may be different.

So let’s check out something local – our very own Philippine Basketball Association. In 1986, a young Alaska Team had a difficult time fitting in the league. That was until the arrival of Coach Tim Cone (another proponent of the Triangle Offense) gradually changed the culture of the Alaska team, and led them to a rare Grandslam of 1996.

Sure, some might still say that the Alaska Team has good players, but that would be grossly unfair to other teams who had good (if not great) players of the same era.

Coach Tim Cone taught the “Triangle Offense” system & methodology to the Philippine basketball teams he coached and made them winners

Fast-forward to this year, 2011. Coach Tim Cone jumped from Alaska to B-Meg Llamados and brought the Triangle System with him. They had a rocky start, the adjustment period was there, and they initially won only 2 of their 4 games – until they got used to the system, until their culture had changed, until their characters had changed: and by then they’d have won their 8th straight game!

Does this guarantee them a title this year? Most-likely, because no one can really count them out, so they have a good chance. Their main players’ (James Yap, Kirby Raymundo and PJ Simon) opportunity of scoring is shared, even way deeper to the bench.

Truth be told, I was a Jazz fan back in the 90’s, a Mavs fan since Mark Cuban’s ownership, and a Ginebra Fan back in the Jaworski-era; so the Triangle System hurt my teams back then (until the Mavs swept the Lakers last playoffs), but I’ve learned to respect it, and to understand its concept and the way it changes culture, character, playing style, and direction of a basketball team.

A change in the system can change a people’s culture and character. I need not specify what the changes will be if the CoRRECT™  Movement’s Three Point Agenda is applied to our country, and it’s really up to you to study it.

The bottom-line is this: Jordan, Kobe, Johnny A., James Yap and all those great players can be compared to the natural resources of our country, as well as the skills of our countrymen; but why are we trailing behind other countries? Changing the system, applying the CoRRECT™ Movement’s 3-point agenda may not catapult us immediately and instantaneously from being a Third World to a First World country, but if we at least make the proper system changes now, over a period of time, we’ll have a better chance of improving our country.

It worked for them, it can work for us.

Let us study and spread this link to other Filipinos: http://correctphilippines.org/

* * *

Figo Cantos is an IT Systems Professional who has had a lot of exposure to the concept of how systems work. He is also a Red Cross Volunteer and is active with the Bagumbayan Volunteers for a New Philippines which campaigned for Dick Gordon and Bayani Fernando for the May 2010 Elections. Himself hailing from Marikina, he has witnessed the success of Bayani Fernando’s goal-oriented and management-by-objectives “engineering-oriented” system of governance.

He has also witnessed the effectiveness of Dick Gordon’s system (aka “management methodology”) in personally handling the Philippine Red Cross, making it a highly responsive and effective organization for disaster response, rescue operations, and emergency services.  As a basketball aficionado, Figo has also observed how different “systems of gameplay” have caused different teams to behave differently on the court, partly determining their chances of winning.

Philippine Progress: Shift in Sports, Shift in System

(First published on antipinoy.com on July 7, 2010)

At the time of this writing, millions of people around the world are obsessing about the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the noise of the annoying Vuvuzela horn. From every continent, people speaking almost every language, coming from practically every race, creed, and color are excitedly watching the game called “Association Football.”  Unfortunately, there’s been relative calm in the Philippines, as hardly anyone, save for a few die-hard soccer fans, actually watched the World Cup closely.

Soccer, (coming from the word “association” in the sport’s full-name “Association Football”), called “Football” by everyone else, is also known as the world’s Beautiful Game. It is one of the most democratic sports ever – as Time Magazine recently described it. Anyone can play and excel in it: Rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, and most importantly, tall or short.  That last one is of utmost importance, considering that we Filipinos, most of whom are not very tall, are crazy about basketball – a sport that obviously favors tall players.

It has caused numerous ceasefires in many conflict zones as Israelis and Palestinians (Soccer is the biggest sport in the Middle East) or Rebel guerrillas and Government troops in continents like Africa or Latin America, often stop fighting just to watch the World Cup or other high-profile soccer matches on TV or listen to live commentaries on radio. During World War I, an informal Truce on Christmas Day in 1914 witnessed one of the most amazing displays of human fraternity as warring sides – British & French versus the Germans came together and played Soccer. After having played the game, made friends, and exchanged names & addresses, the soldiers simply could not shoot at each other once the truce ended, forcing their respective angry generals to send all of them to other fronts to fight against other enemies.

It’s a real shame because while Filipinos were glued to the NBA Finals at about the same time that the World Cup was just about starting, one unfortunate fact continues to be ignored by basketball-crazy Filipinos: We are never going to excel in sports that require height. Unlike most basketball-loving Filipinos, millions of average-height, barely middle-class, or even impoverished Africans and Latin Americans who play and practice soccer can actually dream of one day playing professionally for local or internationally-famous professional teams such as Manchester United (England), Juventus (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), or Galatasaray (Turkey) – to name a few – and live a life of fame and fortune. These are dreams which are feasible as long as whoever plays and practices the sport has the competence, talent, and commitment, because the game-dynamics of soccer simply does not require height. It needs to be said that soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina became a soccer superstar with his very Filipino height of 5 ft 4.

In stark contrast to the meritocratic nature of soccer which does not care much about being born with the genes for height, the fixation that Filipinos have for basketball creates so many shattered dreams. Millions of young Filipinos are raised to love a sport that does not love them back. Many waste inordinate amounts of time practicing the game, wishing that they would be just like Kobe Bryant when they grow up, only to grow to their full height which might be just a few inches taller than Diego Maradona – a height that is just not cut for competitive basketball.

Filipinos even love to watch the NBA play-offs, but even if the Philippines is perhaps the most basketball-crazy country in the World (Americans are more obsessed with American Football and Baseball), countries with much more diversified sporting interests such as Mainland China and the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Croatia, etc, who all watch more soccer than they do basketball, have successfully sent players to the NBA. The Philippines has never sent a Filipino to the NBA!

Numerous honest discussions and debates have erupted about the need to shift the Philippines’ team sports focus from the excessively height-centric basketball towards the more height-agnostic soccer in order to focus on a sport in which every ordinary Filipino can excel. However, the rebuttals to the contrary range from such excuses as “The cultural temperament of Filipinos makes them prefer basketball because it has a faster-pace of point-scoring while soccer’s scores are low and goal-scoring is rare” to other excuses like“soccer requires a huge field in order to play while basketball needs a much smaller space.”

Who says you need a field to play soccer?

Both excuses fall flat considering that Filipinos are ethnically and even temperamentally similar to the Malays of Malaysia and Brunei (except in religion), both of whom enjoy and excel in soccer within the ASEAN region. It can be argued too that most Latin Americans, with whom Filipinos share common Spanish colonial history vis-à-vis Hispano-America and a very similar Iberian heritage with Portuguese-speaking Brazil, are somewhat culturally similar to Filipinos (especially in their sense of humor) and yet they too enjoy the sport immensely and are perhaps among the most excellent players of the Beautiful Game in the World. Most importantly, millions of impoverished Latin-Americans and Africans often practice playing soccer just about anywhere, be it on a small field, a dusty road, or even a small backyard. Some of the world’s highest-paid soccer stars come from such an impoverished background and they often cherish their childhood memories of growing up, playing soccer barefoot with plastic bottles or anything they can kick around as their ball, drawing lines on the ground to serve as their “goals.” It is just not true that Filipinos cannot shift to soccer.

The unfortunate fact is that Filipinos prefer to stick to whatever status quo they’ve grown used to. The real problem here is Inertia: the resistance to change.

Resistance to Change

Indeed, there is something really flawed about the situation, and Filipinos have to immediately correct it. Unfortunately, there seems to be something about us Filipinos that exacerbates our resistance to change: We have a tendency to refuse to admit that a problem exists, and often prefer to just ignore it and sweep the problem under the rug. In case that problem stares squarely at us, thereby making it impossible to ignore, quite often, we just outright refuse to do the work that would fix that problem and just endure the resulting mediocrity. Worse, many Filipinos prefer to make excuses that seek to justify such refusal to fix the problem, oftentimes reasoning – using intellectual dishonesty – that trying to fix the problem would actually make things worse.

We need not look far to see that this problem is not solely confined to the world of sports, in which increasing attention is being placed on the Soccer versus Basketball debate. Just recently, journalist and current Ambassador to Greece, Rigoberto Tiglao, recently wrote a two-part special on why Filipinos are not into Soccer.

The Tall Man’s Game

In it, he likened the need for Filipinos to carefully consider shifting from basketball to soccer and the difficulty in convincing Filipinos to do so, with the fact that many Filipinos still stubbornly refuse to at least attempt to consider the objective merits of the Parliamentary System as a possible option to replace the current Philippine Presidential System. It has been observed that the Philippine Presidential System’s skew towards popularity and name-recall , coupled with the Philippine Electorate’s preference for form over substance that unfortunately brought about perhaps the most embarrassing stain on the Philippines’ international reputation in 1998, when celebrity actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada won as President of the Philippines. The Philippines had another close call in 2004 when his fellow celebrity actor and close friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. almost won. And just recently in May 2010, the convicted-of-plunder ex-President Estrada who was deposed in 2001 ran again and took second place.

In the meantime, numerous politicians aspiring for the Presidency jockey for positions in the equally useless and non-representative Philippine Senate (whose Senators do not represent constituencies unlike in the USA, where Senators are elected per State), and as a result, the Philippine Senate has numerous “Senactors” (Senators who are actors) as well as politicians married to actresses or celebrities.

We continue to be a basketball-crazed society that is isolated from the soccer-loving rest of the world and yet we can’t even excel in this game we so love, nor can we send talented Filipino players to the NBA because basketball is a game that clearly favors height and we simply do not have the height that would at least give us a fighting chance.

In almost the exact same way, we continue to clamor for improvements in our lives, our economic livelihood, and the quality of our politics, yet because of a system of government whose electoral procedure (choosing the name of an individual candidate running for President) clearly favors “winnability” (popularity and name-recall) over competence, we end up with incompetent people who become President only because of their celebrity status or famous surnames. At other times, we also end up with leaders who – though sometimes competent – are forced to pander to the public lest they risk being unable to govern if they fail to play the popularity game.

When will we Filipinos realize that for us to excel in team sports, we need to choose a sport where competence and real talent are much more important than one’s height?

When will we Filipinos realize that for our society to be better-run, more efficient, and more responsive to our people’s needs, we need to choose a system of government in which quality policy-making, platform relevance, and competence take overwhelming precedence over petty traits such as celebrity-status, personal popularity, and name-recall?

Knowing that both basketball and the current Presidential System are not good for us, why then do we Filipinos continue to insist on sticking it out with the both of them instead of making the necessary changes that would correct the problems that these two Problematic American Imports continue to cause?

Once upon a time, Albert Einstein said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”

Basketball & the Presidential System: Problematic US Imports

There is absolutely no doubt that an objective and honest discussion on the merits of soccer over basketball most certainly parallels the discussion on the merits of a Parliamentary System over the Presidential System.

Both Basketball and the Presidential System are largely American inventions which they brought along with them during the almost 50 years that they occupied our country and we Filipinos took to both of them as if they were our own.

Unfortunately, both basketball and the Presidential System have pre-requisites that Americans often meet which Filipinos don’t: Basketball inherently favors height for a player to be considered eligible for competitive play because the hoops are high. On the other hand, the Presidential System requires that the electorate be naturally issues-centric and platform-oriented in order to counterbalance the inherent personality-centered exercise of voting for a presidential candidate.

They want to be like Kobe

Incidentally, both basketball and the Presidential System have brought Failure to Filipinos: Basketball has shattered the dreams and self-esteem of millions of young Filipinos who’ve continued to aspire to be just like their idols Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, practicing basketball for hours on end, only to be rendered ineligible for competitive basketball all because they were too short.  On the other hand, the current Philippine Presidential System (based on the 1987 Constitution) has shattered the lives of millions of Filipinos who – because the system favors candidate winnability (popularity, and name-recall) over competence and a sound platform for governance – often end up with leaders who merely have popularity but no competence. Sometimes we end up with leaders and lawmakers who have no choice but to pander to the public instead of focusing on doing what is the correct and beneficial course of action in the long-term, even if it may appear to be unpopular in the short-term. Most politicians with presidential ambitions (except for a select few) therefore tend to focus too much on short-term popularity by engaging in publicity stunts in order to have the name-recall and media attention they need just to have a stab at the Presidency when the time comes to run for it.

In the end, Philippine Society as well as its Government is often unable to make the hard decisions necessary that would bring about a better economy, more jobs, more prosperity, and more improvements to the lives of the people, all because the focus on popularity-based personality-politics always manages to derail society away from focusing on the most important aspects of governance.

In a manner of speaking, it can be said that both basketball and the Presidential System are skewed towards traits which Filipinos either do not have in abundance (height for basketball) or towards traits that Filipinos are extremely obsessed about (popularity and celebrity-status for the Presidential System), both of which lead to Mediocrity and ultimately, towards Failure.

In the former case, Americans have a bigger pool of tall people to select from who may excel in professional basketball, while Filipinos clearly do not. In the latter, Americans have the required cultural and political maturity, policy and platform focus, issues focus, and the ability to zero-in more on the message rather than the messenger in order to counteract and counterbalance the inherent skew towards popularity and name-recall that is inherent in the Presidential System. Filipinos, sadly, are more culturally pre-disposed towards personality, celebrity-status, and popularity, so that winning Philippine presidential elections is more about fielding candidates who are deemed “winnable” rather than determining who among the prospective candidates is the most competent, possesses the necessary qualifications that would enable him to perform his duties successfully, and who has done the best job related to governance in the past and as such, is therefore most likely going to do a splendid job.

Regarding the sport of basketball, it is also no wonder that Filipino basketball players are not exactly NBA-quality (and therefore explains why no Filipino has ever gone to the NBA). In the Philippines, many basketball players who get chosen to go professional are often those who are of towering height, never mind that they may not exactly be the best among the entire pool of available players. There are oftentimes people who play basketball really well and can shoot hoops accurately, but simply because they are too short and unable to do slam-dunks, they are totally ignored by recruitment scouts for professional or semi-professional teams.

In fact, stories circulated in the past about some UAAP basketball teams whose alumni associations recruited players who were not really basketball prodigies, but just plain “tall giants” from their respective high schools. It was evident from their on-court performance: These were extremely tall players who always missed getting the ball through the basket during free throws. No mystery there: Such players were recruited for their height, not for their prowess in basketball.

Product of the Philippine Presidential System

Once again, this parallel zeroes in on the main problem that the Presidential System has brought on the Philippines. Very similar to basketball’s unfair preference for tall people, the  Presidential System has an inherent skew towards winnability  (popularity and name-recall), coupled with the cultural inclination of Filipinos to gossip more about popular celebrities and their private lives or marital woes, and discuss less about the most important issues related to the economy and governance. It is therefore not difficult to see why numerous actors and showbiz celebrities end up as politicians and why professional politicians often end up marrying famous actresses or TV personalities just to gain media mileage and rapport with the voting public. It also shows precisely why the discussions in Philippine Politics tend towards vacuity and pettiness, rather than on real practical problem-solving. For this reason, the Philippines continues to be unable to fix the same kinds of problems that have hounded it for decades, while other countries are zooming ahead leaving the Philippines in the dust.

In other words, the system of government in the Philippines is set up so that the people who are most favored to win in national elections tend to be those candidates who have the necessary popularity and the name-recall (actors, showbiz celebrities, children of well-known politicians, politicians married to celebrities, controversial public figures who get excessive media exposure, athletes and basketball stars, etc) required to win said popularity contests, to the detriment of those people who have the requisite expertise, competence, track record, vision, and most importantly, the relevant platform of governance that matches the needs of the country at a given point in time.

It doesn’t help much that the Philippines continues to make use of the direct popular vote in stark contrast to the more indirect voting system of the US Electoral College, which was set up by America’s Founding Fathers with the express intention of moderating and mitigating the tyranny of popularity, name-recall, and emotionalism that is the unfortunate negative tendency of direct democracy. In addition, there also is the fact that the two-party system of the USA makes use of party-based Caucuses & Primary Elections to ensure that – as much as possible – the best man (or woman) for the job is chosen by each party.

To be absolutely honest about it, there is a steadily increasing dissatisfaction and growing base of evidence worldwide against the dismal operational efficiency and low degree of accountability resulting from the Presidential System. Case in point: There is a large number of disadvantages that the Presidential System is described to possess by numerous political scientists and economists, particularly by renowned political scientist and expert on political systems Dr. Juan Linz, PhD of Yale in his famous essay “The Perils of Presidentialism) as well as a recent joint World Bank and University of Chicago study entitled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter” – authored by three Latin American economists namely, Dr. Daniel Lederman, PhD – Chile, Dr. Norman Loayza, PhD – Peru, and Dr. Rodrigo Soares, PhD – Brazil, correlating the Presidential System with greater levels of corruption on the one hand, and much lower incidences of corruption with the Parliamentary System on the other.

Notwithstanding all those operational disadvantages of the “separation-of-powers” Presidential System, coupled with the inherent tendency towards personality-politics found in it, at the very least, it can be said that the USA has specific safeguards such as the use of Primaries and the Electoral College which clearly mitigate the negative traits associated with the Presidential System’s popularity-centric electoral procedure.

Alas, no such safeguards such as a “Two-Party System”, “Party Primaries” and the reliance on an “Electoral College” exist for the current Philippine Presidential System based on the 1987 Constitution. It is for this reason that the full unadulterated impact of the tyranny of popularity bears down heavily on Philippine Society.

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Defects of the 1987 Constitution’s Presidential System 

Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ: Forgot to consider the Problem of having a Minority President

Unfortunately for Filipinos, the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986 which created the current 1987 Constitution – of which one of the most vocal members is revered Constitutionalist and Jesuit Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ – set up a system that has consistently produced presidents who do not have a majority mandate. The 1987 Constitution did not support the creation of a two-party system which would enable the electoral winner to emerge with an absolute majority, and instead, allows for multiple candidates to run for president. The real dilemma here is that allowing multiple candidates to run for President of the Philippines invariably results in splitting the vote in three ways or more, in which there is a big possibility that the candidate who emerges with the most number of votes merely wins with a plurality but unfortunately does not have a majority (more than 50%) of all votes cast. A President who does not get a majority of all votes cast is a Minority President.

Having a minority president is obviously a major disadvantage and creates a crisis of governance. In fact, it is a curse. Minority Presidents are always disadvantaged, because Philippine media has always had the tendency to pander to the preferences of the public. A minority president with say, 40% of the vote, will have 60% of the electorate stacked against him as they did not vote for him, making him vulnerable to gripes, complaints, and negative articles published in the papers.

Every single Philippine President who came after the late President Cory C. Aquino has been a minority president. Former President Fidel Ramos only had 23.5% of the entire vote thanks to so many rival candidates running for the presidency in the 1992 elections. Ousted former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was a minority president, having just around 40% of the entire number of votes cast. And in 2004, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also a minority president with around 38% of all votes cast. It is no surprise, therefore, that all of them were often presented unfavorably by media during their term.

In fact, our popular new president, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is himself a minority president as his mandate is said to be just around 42%, with roughly 58% of the electorate having voted for another candidate.

Now, lest we think that Minority Presidents are extremely common around the world, the fact is that in a majority of countries that allow for multiple candidates for President such as France, numerous countries in Latin America, countries using a presidential system in Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and even East Timor, the prospect of a Minority President (a president with less than 50% of all total votes cast) is thoroughly avoided through provisions for a second round of elections called the “Run-Off.”

Le Pen took 16% versus Chirac’s 19% in 2002’s first round as the vote was split among 16 candidates. After the Run-off: Chirac won 82%, Le Pen took 18%

The dynamics for holding Two-Round elections are simple: The first round of elections pits all candidates, say, 3 or more candidates for President against each other. After they slug it out in the first round, the top 2 candidates who emerge from the first round are then pitted against each other in the Run-Off election, where a week or more after the first round, everyone goes back to the polling stations to vote in the second round “Run-Off.” Since there are only two candidates in a run-off, a clear majority-winner will emerge. It is in such an electoral system where people who voted for other candidates during the first round are then forced to “choose the lesser evil” during the “Run-Off” round. At the very least, voters can choose whom they really want during the first round, and if their favorite candidate was eliminated after the first round, it’s during the run-off where they throw their support behind one of the two candidates.

Here is an example: France’s 2002 Elections. The first round of elections saw numerous candidates slugging it out with Gaullist re-electionist Jacques Chirac coming out on top and with Right-wing “Neo-Nazi” and anti-immigration Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen snatching second place. As there were too many candidates, Jacques Chirac did not get a majority of the vote, so a Run-Off had to be held exactly one week after, pitting the top two candidates from the first round  against each other. The Run-Off was an amazing display of solidarity among the French in order to avoid allowing a “Neo-Nazi” like Le Pen to emerge victorious. Everyone from the Left – Communists, Socialists, even people who had formerly hated the right-of-center Gaullists with a vengeance, went in all-out support for Jacques Chirac in order to ensure the defeat of far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Front National candidate Le Pen.

Alas, the 1987 Constitution made absolutely no provisions for a run-off election, nor did the Constitution’s framers find it important to avoid having a minority president. That is a major defect.

Unfortunately, this inherent defect in the 1987 Constitution cannot be fixed unless the Constitution is amended. That is exactly what a Constitutional Amendment is all about: If something is missing, needs to be removed, or changed in the Constitution (never mind if it’s a word or a punctuation mark), the Constitution needs to be amended. There is unfortunately no real way around it. The 1987 Constitution is defective and needs thorough revision, if not an overhaul.

The Better Way: Soccer and the Parliamentary System

Fortunately, since it is clear that both basketball and the current Philippine Presidential System are more and more proving to be inappropriate and extremely non-conducive to success for Filipinos, we now have the opportunity to look at the clear alternatives. For our “national team sport”, we definitely should consider soccer. For our form of government, we should bid Adieu to the Presidential System and move on towards the highly recommended Parliamentary System. (Recommended by Ivy League Political Scientists and Economists)

We already know the issue with basketball. Basketball requires height and average Filipinos just don’t have height. Rather than continuing to produce heart-broken basketball-loving youngsters whose dreams of going professional are shattered by their inability to grow to at least 6 ft tall, it’s about time our society – led by our Government, Media, Schools, and our Businesses who sponsor sporting events – decisively shifted over to soccer.

There should be no turning back. Soccer is clearly the World’s Beautiful Game, loved by almost everyone of all creeds, colors, cultures, languages, races, and continents. It is a sport that can allow Filipinos to excel because it does not require nor does it even favor height in order for players to be successful. It is a sport that promotes more teamwork as there is much more ball-passing that goes on than in basketball. In soccer, most goals are scored as a result of teamwork and last-minute ball-passing, in contrast to basketball’s tendency to promote keeping the ball to oneself selfishly in order to reap the glory of scoring.

We also know that the Presidential System has the tendency to promote personality politics due largely to the electoral procedure of choosing an individual candidate to become President. During such Presidential campaigns especially in the Philippines, candidates are extremely likely to promote and differentiate themselves from their opponents by talking more about their own personal traits. Instead of playing up their party-affiliations and their party platforms, advocacies, and policy proposals, Presidential candidates in the Philippines, are forced to play the popularity game simply because it is ultimately popularity, winnability, and name-recall that gets voters picking a candidate’s name on the Presidential System’s ballot. Worse, the Philippine Presidential System creates Minority Presidents.

Question Time: You need to know your stuff well to be Prime Minister

In stark contrast, the Parliamentary System requires the formation of majority governments, through either of two ways: a party can win an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats, and immediately, the majority party’s leader immediately becomes the Prime Minister. Another way such a majority government is formed is through coalition-building. Coalition-blocs can be formed, so that if one bloc gains a majority of all seats in parliament, that coalition then forms the government, and the leader of the party with the most seats within that majority bloc emerges as Prime Minister. Prime Ministers in a Parliamentary System, therefore tend to have more majority-support and therefore a clearer mandate than minority Presidents emerging from the runoff-less Philippine Presidential Elections.

Moreover, the Parliamentary System is a much more party-centric system whose campaigns tend to be much more issues-advocacy, ideas-centric (as opposed to personality-centric), and platform-focused as the electoral dynamics do not involve the Pubic Electorate directly choosing who the Prime Minister will be. This does not even talk about the Parliamentary System’s bias towards leaders with competence and solid knowledge of all the relevant details regarding the country’s affairs: A Parliamentary System features a weekly Question Time session where the Prime Minister and his Front Benchers (Cabinet) are grilled by members of the opposition to make sure that all angles relating to policy-making and functioning of the government and cabinet have considered the best options and are also running properly. A Prime Minister must therefore be on his toes, totally knowledgeable, and able to respond extemporaneously as he is often expected to answer most questions without deferring to other members. For this reason, not all ordinary MP’s aspire to become PM and members of the majority party often cooperate to help brief the PM and the front bench on what they need to know so that they can properly respond. This Parliamentary feature further promotes more solid team dynamics as party members close-ranks to support their PM and party front-benchers.

Listed below are two ways in which the Philippines can develop a True Party System where the politicians rally around ideas, platforms, and consistent policies, and form a loyalty to their parties and their core principles, and where the voting public can be made to look less at personalities and look more at the collective nature of parties and vote accordingly:

  1. Dr. Kasuya´s observation: 1 term only limit = weaker parties

     Removal of Term Limits – Allowing the top leader to continue to stand for elections more than once (removal of term limits) actually promotes stronger party dynamics as parties cease to be ad-hoc election clubs that get formed only to defray election-period campaign costs, and become more long-standing and consistent in rallying around a stable policy-platform in order to maintain continuity. This was the observation made in a research paper entitled “Presidential Term Limits and Party-System Stability in New Democracies as well as the book “Presidential Bandwagon: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines“, both authored by Japanese political scientist Dr. Yuko Kasuya, PhD when she observed that the party structure of the Philippines rapidly deteriorated after the idea of presidential re-election was banned by the 1987 Constitution, thus preventing an elected President (or Head of Government) from standing for more than one term.  This has caused presidential aspirants as well as those people running together with them in their parties to unfortunately regard each election as essentially a one-shot deal. In case a presidential candidate does win and becomes President, there is hardly any real sense of continuity as that President and his staff only look at the specific 6 year term he has. One-shot deal thinking of that sort turns parties into ad-hoc “cliques of convenience” (my term), thereby eroding whatever sense of continuity and working for the same goals may have existed during the campaign. In short, the idea that an incumbent President may run for re-election develops a better focus on continuity among members of a party to act in support of the incumbent party-mate. Since Parliamentary Systems do not have term limits for Prime Ministers, the tendency for parties to act like one-shot, ad hoc, and temporary “cliques of convenience” is greatly reduced and in fact, practically eliminated, and it is thus no wonder that the party system is much stronger in countries using Parliamentary Systems. A Prime Minister who continues to enjoy his own party’s (or coalition’s) internal support, and whose party (or coalition) continues to enjoy a parliamentary majority stays on as Prime Minister. (Technically, under the Parliamentary System, the parties are bigger than the personalities involved, and so it does not matter who the Prime Minister should be, because it is the party or coalition and its accompanying platform that truly matters.)

  2. Strong Parties: a section of a US Ballot from the 1908 polls – Mark a circle in order to choose a Straight Party Ticket

    Forced “Straight Ticket Voting”– Superior party-dynamics emerges (or is further enhanced) when the ability to choose different candidates vying for different positions is eliminated, and replaced with a system that forces “Straight Ticket Voting” or “Straight Party Voting(sometimes confusingly called “bloc-voting” as that term may also mean groups voting as a “bloc” as in the INC’s tendency towards telling their members whom to vote for: “voting as a bloc”) The use of the term “Forced Straight Ticket Voting” clearly refers to the scenario where voters are not able to split the ticket across to vote  for a candidate from party A to be President, a candidate from party B to be Vice-President, and a candidate from party C for their local district representative.  “Straight Ticket Voting” in the USA would clearly refer to voting straight Republican (for all positions) or voting straight Democrat (for all positions).  Modifying the ballots to remove the ability to choose different candidates from different parties for each position and instead determine the party that the voter chooses and all candidates from the same party are assumed to be selected for all the relevant positions. This feature forces the electorate to cease looking at individual candidates and instead forces the voters to look at entire parties. Since political parties are not human beings with “individual personalities”, the key differentiator between political parties then becomes their Party Platforms.

Mahathir: Product of Parliamentarism

When one carefully looks at both, it is obvious that number 1 forces Strict Party Dynamics among the Politicians themselves, as they end up having better party discipline as they seek to allow for more continuity of their party’s programs instead of seeing their “parties” as mere ad-hoc cliques that stand for nothing and come together every 3 or 6 years with the sole purpose of simply pooling campaign financial resources together to share and defray the costs of their poster printing, TV and Radio advertising, etc. Number 2, on the other hand forces Strict Party Voting among the Electorate. As mentioned, the inability of the voters to “extricate” the personalities from the parties forces the electorate to look at parties as a whole, rather than rely on the default Filipino tendency which is to look for individual superstars.

Both these features which promote better Political Party Dynamics can be done within a Presidential System. Term-limits can be removed *and* the ballots can be redesigned to force voters to choose only straight party tickets. In order to do this, ballots should no longer have individual names of candidates, and instead, only party names will be written down and selected by the voters.

However, when you do both 1 and 2 within a Presidential System, you’ve essentially turned that Presidential System into a Parliamentary System, because this time, the voting system fuses the choice of Executive (President) and Legislative (Senate and Local District Representative) together so that both choices come from the same party.

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