If I had President Duterte’s power, I would…

THE CORNER ORACLE - Andrew J. Masigan (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2020 - 12:00am

The decision of Congress not to renew ABS-CBN’s franchise despite public clamor demonstrates how much the House patronizes the President. For its part, the Supreme Court’s decision not to grant a temporary restraining order on the Anti-Terror Law despite 10 petitions from reputable civil and legal groups similarly proves that it too is under the President’s thumb.

With the legislature and the judiciary acting as virtual rubber stamps for the Executive branch, President Duterte now has powers akin to President Marcos. He can basically do whatever he wants without check and balance.

This piece is not meant to judge Malacañang for its political maneuvers. Rather, it is to suggest game changing reforms that can only be done under an authoritarian leadership. Reforms that are vital to the country’s development but could not be enacted under normal circumstances.

First of these reforms is to enact the Anti-Dynasty Law.

Article II, Sec. 26 of the 1987 Constitution is clear in its intent. I quote, “the state shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”

Although the Constitution explicitly prohibits political dynasties, there is still no enabling law that defines what a dynasty is and its repercussions. Congress was mandated to enact an enabling law since 1987 but failed to do so. There have been 32 attempts but none have passed the committee level due to self-serving reasons.

The nation has paid a steep price for breeding political dynasties.

On governance, when members of the same family occupy multiple positions within a city or municipality, most are likely to consolidate power in a monarchial manner. As such, the preservation of power becomes the priority, even more important than social and economic development itself. Painful reforms and unpopular decisions are avoided as they erode political equity. Adoption of populist policies becomes the norm at the cost of progress.

On competence, capabilities and work ethic rarely improve from generation to generation, especially within powerful families enjoying positions of influence. More often than not, the second generation simply emulates the habits of the first. New ideas are stifled due to inbreeding of management practices and bad habits are magnified. Quality of governance deteriorates over time in dynastic bailiwicks.

On political fairness, dynasties have formidable political machines, funds and the advantages of being the incumbent. The playing field is skewed to their favor. They monopolize power by depriving capable individuals from a fair opportunity to serve.

On income inequality, the political and economic elite are one and the same in the Philippines. This is why political decisions are often laced with self interest. The proliferation of political dynasties only strengthens the sway of the elite over the poor.

The second reform is to “compel” oligarchs to fuel the nation’s rapid industrialization.

Its no secret that the President has axe to grind against oligarchical clans. He believes they have grown scandalously rich on the back of undue privilege.

That said, instead of tearing them down and relegating thousands to unemployment (not to mention allowing their professionally managed organizations to go to waste), Malacañang should consider allowing them to operate in peace on the proviso that they “pay back” the nation by investing in the country’s industrial modernization.

Industrial modernization involves building capacities in upstream industries like petrochemicals and steel mills as well as downstream industries like technology-driven manufacturing, renewable power and the like.

For oligarchical clans, investing in modern industries is a better alternative than dealing with the disruption that comes with the President’s ire.

Companies that play in the billion dollar category but whose core business revolve around property development, importation and retail should be made to balance their consumer-driven operations with real brick-and-mortar production.

The importance of transitioning from a consumer driven-economy to one that is production-led cannot be over-emphasized. Not to make the transition will make us perennially dependent on imports which will cause our budget deficits to become increasingly unmanageable. This is unsustainable especially for a growing economy like ours. If we remain import dependent, our growth will have to decelerate.

The third reform is to reach a compromise with the Lopez clan on ABS-CBN’s closure.

First we have to agree on one thing. As a growing nation, the Philippines must give due attention to its “soft power” or country brand.

Soft power refers to a country’s ability to attract followers, cohorts and cliques not by force or money but by persuasion. A favorable image allows people to prefer anything that emanates from that country – be it its people, policies or products.

The Philippines needs to amass soft power since it is in that awkward position where it is too small to dictate global policy, yet large enough to be affected by every accord signed by more powerful nations. We must gain a louder voice in the world stage to protect our interest. Soft power gives us the gravitas we need. The ability to influence policy and global decisions is where true power lies.

We can learn valuable lessons from South Korea. In the 1990s, South Korea launched a movement called “hallyu” or the Korean cultural wave. The South Korean government was so committed to hallyu that it created a Basic Law for Cultural Industry Promotion in 1999 and allocated an annual budget for its promulgation.

At the heart of hallyu is a program to export Korean pop culture. This was done to foster better understanding of Korean culture and to shape the country’s image as a modern, advanced, open-minded society. Hallyu has worked to South Korea’s benefit spectacularly, not only in the political front but also for the export of its goods.

Under the purview of the President’s office, ABS-CBN can be given its franchise on the provision that it dedicates X amount of its gross revenues to the Philippine equivalent of hallyu and use its wealth of talent to produce content to uplift the Philippines’ image abroad. This is a fair compromise.

Finally, because I believe our cities should be greener and made free from clutter, pollutants and visual garbage of outdoor advertising, my fourth recommendation is to impose stricter policies on billboards. Outdoor advertisers and the corrupt officials from the DPWH and local governments have benefited too much and too long from this urban menace. Its time the wellbeing of our cities be given the priority.

The suggestions I just brought forward may be out-of-the-box. But these are some of the reforms I would carry out if I had the power of the President.

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