Parliament of mayors

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 20, 2019 - 12:00am

On Monday, the 1st branch of government officially convenes in joint session as the 18th Congress. The first branch reference, attributed to James Madison, is owed to American Constitutional history. In a republican government, he wrote, the legislative branch necessarily predominates. In fact, in the US Constitution, Congress is front and center as Article 1. In our own Philippine Constitution, the Legislature is in Article 6, ahead of the Executive (Art. 7) and the Judiciary (Art. 8). Under the American Articles of Confederation (1781-1789), prior to the adoption of the 1789 Constitution in Philadelphia, the only branch of Government that existed was Congress. There was, as yet, no Executive created. Hence, Congress is first.

Just like any deliberative assembly, our legislature is no stranger to paralysis, politicking, deadlock, waste of resources. For Monday’s SONA, not a few rule out a repeat of 2018’s eruption. This frustration and inefficiency in our higher echelons of governance, including the morass we find ourselves in when it comes to international relations, is in stark relief to the apocalyptic performance of our mayors. Led by Manila Mayor Francisco Moreno Domagoso, this local band of brothers are showing us in just a few weeks, not just how it’s done but, more importantly, how it CAN be done. 

This leads us to revisit the thesis of the late political theorist Benjamin Barber - that we are confronting the problems of 21st century society with institutions designed 400 years ago. More than half the world’s population live in cities now and mayors run those cities. Barber would create a space where mayors take on even more prominent roles. After all, he points out: (1) mayors are pragmatists. They deliver or they’re out of a job; (2) mayors are your neighbors; (3) mayors have higher trust ratings and actually gladhand people all around in contrast to the arms length distance of our national officials; (4) Cities are more open, participatory and democratic. 

 Mayors deal with real world problems. Practice, instead of theory. As Manila Mayor Domagoso puts it: lets do real talk. Barber proposed a global parliament of mayors – to share best practices. And it has been realized as a going concern, in one version or another across the continents. The emergence of cities on the global stage is a portent of the inevitable key role they and their mayors will be playing in the political, social and economic governance regimes of the future.

Collateral damage. Ken Burns, CEO of JUUL Labs, the world’s leading e-cigarette manufacturer, has apologized to parents of minors who’ve become addicted to their products. E-cigarettes were meant to wean adults away from cigarette smoking while retaining their nicotine fix via this less hazardous delivery system. But in their slick marketing campaigns, whether intentional or not, the use of bright colors and young models resonated with the youth demographic. JUUL Labs co-founder Adam Bowen conceded that this campaign was inappropriate. 

It doesn’t help that the JUUL devices look like your latest Apple or Samsung product which are “cool”, per se. A product to help adults kick a deadly habit or to lessen the harm to themselves ended up catering overwhelmingly to minors who had never even smoked. 

Cigarette smoking rates have dipped consistently for decades. But last year, three million high school students in the US vaped. This was up 75% from the previous year. Even as cigarette use among teens has hit record lows (8%), 21% of high school students smoked an e-cigarette this past month. Designated smoking areas look increasingly like dream sequence venues due to the thick smoke emanating from these handheld “fumigation” machines.

Net public benefit may have justified giving adults a way out via a route toward safer nicotine addiction. But it actually resulted in giving minors a way in. The horrible reverse consequence created a whole new generation of nicotine addicts. These kids would likely pick up the smoking habit in adulthood. E-cigarettes are a gateway product to using combustible real cigarettes.

 We applaud the Department of Health ban on e-cigarette vaping in public places. As Dr. Michael Steinberg of the Rutgers University Center for Tobacco Studies explains: e-cigarettes are less toxic than cigarettes but it does not necessarily make them safe. “Less harmful doesn’t mean harmless.”

Spoiling for merit. President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has spoken of 4,000 vacancies in government. I’m sure there are more. President Benigno Aquino III, with a few months left to go at the end of 2015, still had to contend with 190,000 positions unfilled. PRRD’s 4,000 are likely the positions that he appoints directly or indirectly.

One way to finding a few good men would be to open the selection process to merit rather than limiting eligibility to loyalty. The Jacksonian spoils system was precisely the catalyst so essential to the establishment of a Civil Service. An aspirant’s political affiliation should not be a hindrance to appointment for as long as the fellow is willing to serve. PRRD  understood this when he invited Vice President Leonor Robredo to join his Cabinet in 2016. 

The invitation to jump the fence is a practice not alien to our leaders. PNoy worked with Vice President Jejomar Binay. Even President Ferdinand Marcos strategically selected the independent minded Arturo Tolentino as his running mate in the 1986 Snap elections. This was intended to counteract the rising clamor for balancing his ticket with an oppositionist’s voice.

President Marcos, more than any Philippine leader, weathered the indictment of authoritarian leadership. But he also proved capable of sublime political maneuvers showing sensitivity to democratic values. Even before the Tolentino choice, as a nod to the independence of the Commission on Elections and to further affirm the commitment to free and honest elections, he appointed opposition nominee, former Camarines Sur Representative Ramon Felipe to the Commission.

In the coming Cabinet reshuffle and to fill the many vacancies, the President may benefit from the insights of candidates more prepared to deliver real talk.

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