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Reforming the frontline institutions

By BEN R. PUNONGBAYAN

The first dozen parts of this commentary series dwell essentially in the exercise of powers of the presidency to make the necessary reforms and take appropriate actions to propel the Philippine nation to greater political and economic developments. And in so doing, break the cycle of poverty that is presently so prevalent in our society, and which creates suffering and humiliation among a great number of our people.

In our form of government, the reforms and actions taken by the President at the top of the hierarchy may not fully achieve their desired objectives without the parallel participation and cooperation of the legislative and judicial branches of government, as well as, of the Local Government Units (LGUs). While the President has a great influence in the performance of the responsibilities of the LGUs, as expressed in some of the Parts in this Series, the entry of the LGU leaders into the government is not within the President’s direct control.

The greater issue in the foregoing government institutions is corruption and its seeming perpetuation. In these institutions, greater attention is spent by the incumbents on gratifying their self-interest and perpetuation of power.

In fact, these two elements feed each other—the resources obtained from gratification of self-interest provide the fuel for the perpetuation of power which leads to further gratification of self-interest—a real enjoyment of playing “merry-go-round”. Worse, the enjoyment of benefits and perpetuation of power by the incumbent get expanded to his or her immediate family circle.

If there is a single major factor that holds back the realization of our nations full potential, it is the dominance in our political system of political dynasties, which as a matter of course makes its presence in the presidency itself. I estimate that our whole nation is governed by an oligarchy of just about 100 or so political families.

The proliferation of political dynasties is like having widespread incest. And you and I know that the product of incest will have some kind of malformation or malfunction. And which results are bound to get worst.

As to the judiciary, because of the generally corrupt political environment, corruption has become so embedded in the system that only a drastic action can fix it.

If I were the next President, I will use my presidential powers to the full extent necessary to enable the Filipino nation to pass an enabling law prohibiting political dynasties as instructed in the Constitution. And, similarly, to pass a law or Executive Order to contain corruption in the judiciary.

For a long time now, there has been repeated filing of bills in both houses of Congress prohibiting political dynasties as required by the Constitution. Essentially, these bills call for the following prohititions for elective national and major local (governor, mayor, barangay captain and district representative) positions:

  • an incumbent’s spouse and relatives within the second degree of consanguinity or affinity (parent; children and their spouses; brother and sister and their spouses) cannot succeed or replace the incumbent. (Applicable for any elective position.)
  • the same relatives of an incumbent holding a local position cannot run as candidates for any local or national position.
  • the same relatives of an incumbent holding a national position cannot run as candidates for any local or national position.
  • If there is no similarly related incumbent, similarly related candidates are prohibited from running as candidates simultaneously in the same election for any local or national position.

In effect, there is only one member of a family, as defined, who is allowed to hold a national position or a major local position at any one time.

If passed, such a bill will effectively check the development of any political dynasty. As a result, it creates diversity among current and future leaders and therefore bring forth fresh ideas that are more geared towards building a better nation and not tinged with much self-interest.

I will strongly support such a bill. I realize that passing that kind of bill into law is against the interest of the members of the present political dynasties who presently hold the majority political power in the country and the bill may just gather dust as had happened many times before. But just the same, I will try to use persuasion and inflame the legislators with love of country and of the Filipino people.

In the event such actions do not achieve anything, I will myself encourage and support the organization of a People Initiative to get the citizens themselves approve such a law and get them passed through a referendum, as permitted in the Constitution.

In fact, when that happens, recognizing that I will face similar legislative opposition for many of the reform actions that we will take as discussed in several Parts of this Series, I will encourage the continuing maintenance of a People’s Initiative organization as an Alternative Congress and keep it always primed for action.

I duly realize that such a strong position may create a national political confrontation. But it is something that cannot be avoided if we want to transform our country to a desirable condition to enable it to achieve a much better future. My colleagues and I will just have to do our best to make sure that the Filipino people emerge as the winners in that crucible.

Reforming the judiciary is also a very difficult task. But we need to confront the problem, too. In this case, we will pass a requirement that for any promotion of a judge from a lower court to a higher one, the candidate will have to agree to a lifestyle check, including a review of his bank accounts.

The candidate has the right not to accept that scrutiny, but he stays where he is. We will then fill up the vacancy by another qualified person within the judicial system who accepts such scrutiny or from outside the judicial system. Such a requirement will break the cycle of corruption in the judiciary.

We must bear in mind that the foregoing stringent steps are required by the exigencies of our current circumstances. To the extent that we are able to create a nation of better educated, much government-concerned and more discerning voters; and corruption is seen as shameful and has to be condemned, then we do not need those laws and requirements anymore. We can take them off the books.

In the meantime, we need to take some drastic actions to enable us to reach the place we want to go.

We are prepared to take those steps—to do what it takes.

Mr. Punongbayan is a well-experienced public accounting practitioner. He founded Punongbayan & Araullo 33 years ago and which is now one of the prominent and leading professional accounting firms in the country. On April 16, 2009, Punongbayan—along with several like-minded Filipinos—founded a national political party under the name of Buklod. As a political party, it aims to replace the present leaders with an entirely new set of trailblazers who do not carry the baggage and ineffectual governance of the past.

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