In most countries, elections are intensely contested because it has policy implications. Governments are sustained or ended on the basis of the public’s approval or disapproval of a government’s performance and or policies.
George H. W. Bush or Bush Senior, failed to win reelection in 1992 because the economy was for the first time in so many years on a downturn. The public supported Bush Senior’s foreign policy that he was so popular because of it, but eventually it was not enough to maintain the country’s economy and cost him his reelection.
In parliamentary democracies, changes in government because of policy issues are more pronounced and happens even in between election, or that elections are called because of policy issues. Tony Blair resigned as a result of Britain’s participation in the invasion of Iraq. After he resigned in 2007, it was already expected that the dominance of the Labour party has reached its end and that the Conservatives are expected to take over by the next general election, which they did. Recently, we have seen the same change in government as a result of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
We never had any of these kinds of leadership changes or reasons for election or re-election here in the Philippines. Perhaps one will say it happened during the time of Carlos P. Garcia’s failure to win reelection, but it will require a thorough study whether it was because of the public’s disapproval of his policies as President that he lost to his then Vice President Diosdado Macapagal. Garcia will be remembered as the President who pushed for the “Filipino First Policy”, the very first policy act of government to promote Philippine products. I cannot make sense how and why the public wouldn’t support anything like that and opt for another leader.
Dadong Macapagal will prove to be equally patriotic but just like his predecessor he failed to stay in office. Again, if we base it from what we have in our history books, their failure to win reelection cannot be because of the people’s dissatisfaction from their performance. The only possible explanation is that the people choose base on their perception of the kind of person a candidate is. Especially in the current context where there is no reelection for a President, there is no mechanism that will promote or will allow the public to choose leaders based on performance or policy record.
Under the existing political system, our choices, if at all could be considered choices, can only be between the same crops of leaders. Choices are not between political parties but between political families or simply personalities, even if candidates run under a political party. There is hardly any incentive to run on the basis of platforms as even if a leader and his group make it a point to run and govern guided by a platform, there is no instrument nor incentive for the next government to follow through.
There are no incentives or mechanisms that prods leaders and governments to govern by some policy direction that there is hardly any reason for different offices to coordinate and work as institutions. Each office is like a turf and depends significantly on the one running it, who is more often a political appointee. Yes there are career officials, but they are not able to go up to the top and be in a position to call the shots. Not that career officials necessarily would always be better than political appointees, but they always have the institutional memory and could contribute significantly to the political leadership. If only there is a way to have the best of both having career and political officials leading key agencies, we would have been a lot better off.
Because of all these accountability is significantly wanting. Whether or not an official is going to perform or not, for his own advantage or for the people, it is not defined by established processes or institutions but his own choice. Good intentioned letters are not of short supply, but the lack of mechanism to act accordingly provides the wrong incentives that more often than not result to abuses or equally odious, nonperformance.
This has been the political setup from the very start. We could have changed it in so many occasions before. We could have had our own political system if the 1971 Constitutional Convention was not ended abruptly by Martial Law. We could have corrected the problems that have been there from the start and those committed under the Dictatorship when Edsa 1986 happened. Unfortunately, not one of these opportunities successfully put in place a system that produces the kind of governance we so rightly deserve.
The whole system needs to be changed. No amount of legislation can do the trick. No piecemeal approach, no matter how careful could work. I have written enough on this as there are so much literature already that shows it. In fact, we have been doing this piecemeal “sigurista” approach ever since, and look at our laws now. There will always be a law that cannot be fully implemented, as it will always conflict with another. The reform intent of any law is therefore defeated as it is essentially made inutile.
I can’t help but remember the time when I used to write for another media organization. I think I was one of the first to be their opinion writers, until one time that I wrote about the Edsa Revolution and argued that it was not a “revolution” but a “restoration”. Even as I cited several scholarly works to show that this is not just a personal observation, the editors had to excise parts that they deem unacceptable. And this happened only on that piece about Edsa and was not done on my earlier contributions. Why would they be doing that when it is precisely an “opinion” piece?
As you can see, the problem is systemic. The solution can only be systemic. Some kind of surgery can probably work, but it cannot be as comprehensive as a systemic change. I can only continue to hope that we have learned enough from our history and are now more aware that what we need is not just a change of name or people running the government. Not another Edsa can do the trick. Not until we change the system. Until then, we will continue to wrongly blame our own culture.
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.