OPINION: The vicious circle of spoils

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Sep 19 2020 01:27 AM

Everyone is now again looking towards or forward to 2022, carefully analyzing prevailing conditions and trying to project it to the next year and figuring how it could impact on the next presidential election. For most people, the big majority who are not directly involved in politics, especially in terms of jockeying for positions, there is a need to anticipate, even prepare for 2022 given the missed opportunities under the current administration.

Many continue to still hope for real change to take place in the not so distant future, hence the persisting aspiration of having a really qualified, sincere and therefore good leader to be elected president and deliver the country to its long desired and deserved development. 

On the other hand, we may already have had such a leader, only that he wasn’t enough to actually make full use of the government, as the system simply prevents a comprehensive and integrated take on governance. Ours remain fundamentally defined by spoils. If at all, it is a system, it is a degenerative system.

I may be monotonous in constantly reiterating that our kind of politics is erroneous. Politics is ultimately about policy, and the partisanship that goes with it is the process of political participation as people choose their representatives who will get to that objective of a policy and/or program of government. Our politics is mainly, plain and simple, about partisanship, as ultimately, the goal is not to get a particular policy or program enacted and implemented. The goal is to be in position, and the objective of policy is just ancillary to pursuing particular interests or benefiting from the position. In the process, what we get is just more of the same and the change is just a change of people in position, or change in name.

We could have changed this vicious circle, which is borne out of the country’s failure to evolve a system in place that could have put up the appropriate public institutions that make up a true state. This has been the formula for all states, regardless whether they were subjugated by a colonial master or not. Those who were able to evolve on their own, which include those that emerged from empires before, had the advantage; not only were they ahead and therefore had the opportunity to build on their institutions way before the others, but also that their institutions, their system of government is purely their own handwork. The former colonies have to play catch up and would have to compensate for the kind of institutions that are already in place, which are not their own. 

The only way to shape effective public institutions and therefore put in place the appropriate system of government is for the people to reflect on their history, of themselves as a people, their recurring problems in governance and design their own government. This situation of having to follow the more established states seems to have its advantage too; there are already a myriad of examples of effective and therefore successful governments to learn from.

We are a former colony and we’re catching up, trying hard to catch up, in fact, and we’re compensating for the institutions put in place by our colonial masters before. Unfortunately, we have yet to actually take the initiative to build our own institutions. There is hardly any institution to speak of in the first place. We're still largely governed as medieval societies were before. The leaders in government do as they please as any medieval or feudal leader did before, hardly limited by rules and processes, by laws and therefore institutions. Whether you perform or not, or worst, exploit your being in position in government, it doesn’t matter as long as you have enough ‘friends’ or ‘allies’ in government. We had so many opportunities to take that option to build appropriate institutions for us, as other countries did, and shake off the colonial relic of ineffective if not inutile public institutions. We had that opportunity in 1971 when we had a Constitutional Convention whose members were elected. Martial law would, however, abbreviate its work.

Nonetheless, the martial law period could have been another opportunity. After all, the strong man rule has been the route taken by most Asian countries starting in the 1950s. Taiwan had Chiang Kai-Shek, South Korea had Park Chung-hee. Malaysia had Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Singapore, once a part of the Federation of Malaya, had Lee Kuan Yew. Indonesia had Sukarno, who popularized what he termed “Guided Democracy”, as if suggesting that Asia has its own version of democracy that is different from that of the West. 

All these countries are now ahead of us, most are way ahead of us. If our own strong man had a legacy, we should have the kind of institutions many of these Asian countries now have. Still and all, we still yearn for that president who is not only accomplished in bettering the lives of his people during his own watch, but will leave a lasting legacy of strong public institutions; one who will set a standard in government, that it really has to, first and foremost, work for the welfare of the people.

Take a really good look around you. After all, we have so much of that opportunity given this pandemic now. What are the possible choices to we have? 

There is one who has yet to reconcile with the past that seem to insist to revise it. Another always wants to be noticed, and has practically done all kinds of tricks to be noticed except that often, what is revealed is nothing, other than a tautology. 

There are those who for some reason still believe that they will be remembered and would likely have a good chance if their name will be easily recalled. A good heart is shown by one, except that unfortunately, leading will require a team and we only have to look at all previous presidents and learn from the people who worked closely with them. 

There are many others, one very popular, another made a name for a nationalist advocacy, and one more who leads in another industry. We have many choices, which is good, but what is it that any of them might offer as something really unique, that is different from what we already heard before and hopefully lasting that it will forever change our kind of politics and governance forever? I can’t wait to learn more about them and listen. 

Meanwhile, the circus is already starting.

(The author is the Executive Director of the Local Government Development Foundation and a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.