Shadow cabinet

FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa - The Philippine Star

The recent announcement of the government that the Philippines grew 7.8 percent in its GDP, outperforming neighbors including the big boy on the block – China, but it was not believed. It may have grown in terms of desktop generated figures but those who look at other signs of growth are unconvinced that this GDP growth is something to cheer about.

The first doubters were investors in the Philippine Stock Exchange. You’d think that if they had any confidence in this growth they would stay put. That is funny. They must know something that we don’t. Instead of giving the country their vote of confidence by “outdoing even China” fund managers went immediately on a “massive selling spree.” Indeed it was recorded by one report as “its largest single-day loss in history.”

“The benchmark Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) suffered a bloodbath plunging 3.81 percent or 275.22 points to 6,953.35. It is the largest single-day loss in the bellwether index, eclipsing the 263.84-point drop on Feb. 28, 2007.”

Most people do not know much about financial workings and how it relates to real life to be able to give an honest appraisal of what happened except to divide critics from followers. The followers say things like “something is really happening to the Philippines,” “it can only be said to be humming with activity” and “points to construction of condominiums and infrastructure as being behind it.”

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There must be some way through which ordinary Filipinos without any economics background can reconcile apparently contradictory statements.  This is where a parliamentary system of government with a shadow cabinet can help.

The concept of a shadow cabinet comes from the Westminster (British) system of government. Opposition is not about opposing for opposing’s sake but about following what is happening in the incumbent government. It shadows the government so when it is their turn to be in power there is continuity and if they do criticize the incumbent it does so intelligently.

If Philippine politics and governance were set up according to the Westminster model, the Opposition or whatever responsible opposing groups there are, would have been able to counter or explain the 7.8 percent GDP growth in terms of a general economic perspective. When the Opposition then takes over it understands the state of the nation and what it should or should not do regarding policy-making.

Through the shadow cabinet the Opposition “criticizes the policies and actions of government with facts coming from its own offices and is thus able to offer an alternative program.” This is what makes a responsible Opposition. It ensures continuity in government whichever party is in power.

There are different ways that countries using the Westminster model of governance designate ministers of the shadow cabinet. Some assign shadow ministers by what is called a “party room ballot” and others leave the assigning to the leader of the Opposition.

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Looking at the political landscape there isn’t really something that can be called an Opposition. The semblance of an Opposition is shaping behind the disastrous and chaotic automated elections held recently. 

This shows that we do not even have to have a parliamentary system of government that recognizes a Shadow Cabinet. Responsible citizens can and should form a kind of shadow government that will enlist different experts that could as it were “shadow” the government in different fields of expertise. There are many issues that would benefit greatly from a responsible opposition, the criminal behavior of the Comelec just being one of them. 

The different groups can work together through a single vantage point and as I had previously said in my column last week – it would be good to start from the omnibus motion filed by Richard “Dick” Gordon, the author of the law on automated elections. I think the different groups like AES Watch, individual computer experts as well as civic minded Filipinos from here and abroad, are already networking informally.

It would be good if they can organize themselves as the Opposition that will take up the undesirability of automated electoral systems on a national and effective scale. It has been rejected in other more sophisticated countries because automation itself is the source of the fraud.

The attacks and criticisms must be streamed into one channel to make sure it never happens again. That means the perpetrators must be punished or in the colorful language of Ado Paglinawan “must be hanged.” If this message is made to sink in it will stop any other group (and there are many preparing themselves to win in 2016) through automated elections offered by the money-making Smartmatic-PCOS. But we need wide participation from citizens.

Gordon as the author of the law is in the unenviable position of being the rallying point to keep up the momentum of the citizens’ challenge to Comelec. If Comelec goes unpunished there are already groups poised to use the automated route  to power. If it was possible to get away with it in 2010 and 2013 why not 2016? That is the issue around which a credible Opposition can be organized.

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Another less controversial but more important issue that needs shadowing is this government’s attitude on what should be done for a decent international airport.  That needs watching. How the government will finally resolve what ought to be done remains a mystery and yet on it hinges the country’s tourism program. Moreover the airport is the arrival and departure point of the country’s biggest earners – the OFWs. The trouble is OFWs do not see themselves as having the power and the right to demand a more decent airport. I am told that the airport is one of the highest earning government sectors. Where does all its earnings go?

It has been announced that prime cities and tourist spots are being prepared for the 2015 APEC meet. Foreign Undersecretary Laura del Rosario, head of the National Organizing Council, told a news conference they are already choosing several sites in Metro Manila, Boracay, Cebu, Davao and Tagaytay for the meetings that would inevitably promote tourism.

 â€œThis will be an opportunity to showcase different regions and cities, culture, arts and cuisine,” Del Rosario said. That’s all very well but I wonder what will be done with the international airport before then.

US President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, among others are expected to come. We have only a little bit more than two years to clean up and be presentable to our guests.


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