Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reforming the Reformists

Yesterday I had the occasion of attending the talk “How Much Reforms are there in the 2010 Campaigns?” organized by the Ateneo School of Government. Discussants present were Joel Rocamora of the Institute of Popular Democracy and Ramon Casiple of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform. Allow me to echo the gist of the discussion.

Is Noynoy the Reform Candidate?

Rocamora was clearly partisan and really only spoke of the Aquino platform.

He speaks of a Reform Constituency that has been brewing in the past two or three years. This ragtag group was energized by the massive turnout of people at Cory’s funeral and the consequent decision of Noynoy to run for the presidency.

Rocamora asseses the “reform” elements of the Aquino platform. He argues that there are enough reformers among the inner circle of the Aquino campaign. These include former senior government officials such as Butch Abad, Johnny Santos, Dinky Soliman and Chito Gascon. He claims that every single one has serious reform credentials. However Rocamora acknowledges that there are also non-reformers among the ranks, attracted by the huge Aquino lead in the early surveys. As a result, there is a struggle within the campaign but “so far, it is the reformers who have managed to run the campaign because of the absolute support of Noynoy and Mar.”

Rocamora groups the reform measures under two broad rubrics – “Anti Rent-seeking reforms” and “Redistributive reforms.”

The anti rent-seeking reforms are meant to curb corruption, allow the leveling of the playing field in business by reforming the regulatory system running the economy and strengthen the capacity of government to provide infrastructure by removing patronage in the allocation processes.

Now why is the majority of the reform measures unveiled so far in the economic sphere? Rocamora proffers an answer – a big chunk of Noynoy’s supporters are in the business sector. Those present at the pow-wow last week were not only MBC members but also managers (Management Association of the Philippines) and finance people (FINEX). Rocamora recounts a chiding he got from former NatDem comrades - Is this, finally, the “reform bourgeoisie” a-coming? “Hey, you’ve been looking for a national bourgeoisie for forty years,” he replied. Indeed, half a century late, in my opinion. But better late than never.

The second umbrella of reforms are meant to be ‘redistributive.’ The Aquino platform is strong in the support for urban land reform. It seems I have read accurately between the lines of his Economic Vision speech as Rocamora acknowledges that “Agrarian Reform is one of the vulnerabilities of the campaign, in particular of Noynoy, because he has not yet figured out how to deal with Hacienda Luisita.”

Reformers must trump those who would hold the Status Quo

Rocamora describes a campaign team with different clusters of reformers. The clusters are charged with different issue areas and are tasked to translate policy papers into speeches. We can expect such speeches to be delivered in the coming months.

In conclusion, Rocamora expresses his concern not for the prospects of reform but what an Aquino administration might face once it is in power. He is not confident that reformers will get the majority of the Congress (both the lower House and Senate). This will make it difficult to pass reform measures initiated by the Executive.

An Aquino-Villar Contest

The second discussant, Mon Casiple, concludes that the presidential race is really only between two contenders at this point.

With regard to platforms, Casiple is circumspect. He says “these are statements of intentions designed to attract the greatest number of votes.” A platform is not a program of government – which will not be unveiled until after a candidate wins. On the other hand, he acknowledges, a platform cannot be all that different from the nitty-gritty of governance.

What Casiple advises us to do in the coming months is to listen to these platforms carefully and to “read between the lines.” While ALL platforms look to be “reformist”, there are nuances. He cites the difference between Aquino and Villar is that the former explicitly calls the Arroyo administration “corrupt” while Villar blames the “corrupt system.” Aquino has also categorically said he will not raise taxes while Villar leaves the possibility of raising them.

Casiple advises voters to deal with the record of these candidates and the “circumstances of their way to the presidency.” Here I suppose he means for us to judge whether these politicians have played fairly to win the prize.

Non-conventional Campaigns

Casiple proposes that the 2007 elections opened the field for non-conventional campaigns of non-conventional politicians. Fr. Ed Panlilio and Grace Padaca came completely from left field but won governorships against conventional wisdom. Casiple acknowledges that the Noynoy campaign is also a non-conventional one. It has so far swept aside Mar Roxas, Noli de Castro and Chiz Escudero. He hints at Joseph Estrada throwing in the towel as well.

Casiple concludes by saying the reform agenda, at this point, is not a laundry list of policy initiatives. It is “more about symbols” and a negotiation of what we mean by “reform.” He says what we know at this time is that we are rejecting the status quo. I take this to mean we are rejecting nine years of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.