Thursday, August 11, 2005

The caretaker government of a thousand days

Earlier this afternoon, I attended a forum at Miriam College on the caretaker government being proposed by some sectors calling for the ouster of President Arroyo. Among the panel of discussants were Liwayway Vinzons-Chato, representing the Unity for Truth and Justice and Carol Araullo of BAYAN. The audience was more or less of the leftist persuasion.

According to Vinzons-Chato, the caretaker council, which will exercise executive and legislative functions, would last, a la Arabian Nights, a thousand days and no more. The people who will sit in the council will be determined based on their performance in the anti-GMA struggle. Araullo said she envisions a multisectoral caretaker council, with 100 members more or less. Vinzons-Chato, however, seems to prefer a leaner caretaker council. The council, according to the coalition's primer, would institute "essential reforms that are the precondition for the holding of free and fair elections, and urgent economic and social reforms." Vinzons-Chato also referred to the council's drafting a temporary proclamation akin to President Aquino's Freedom Constitution during her 1986 transition government. The members of the council would disqualify nor seek a cabinet position in the government that will be ushered by the council through fair and free elections.

Personally, I have serious doubts that a caretaker government will do the trick and save the Filipino people from its dysfunctional politicians, and, in the words of the Unity for Truth coalition, "clean up the mess Gloria will leave behind." The Unity for Truth's proposal for a caretaker government would probably go the way of SANLAKAS's Resign All call during EDSA 2--that is, ignored and marginalized. And the Unity for Truth, of course, is working under the presumption that President Aroyo can indeed be ousted--which is, to be honest about it, not yet a foregone conclusion, making the caretaker council harder to sell to the Filipino public.

And speaking of the sellability of this caretaker council--its proponents, alas, do not have a concrete platform of action. The caretaker council will only be convened after Arroyo has been ousted. When people buy something, they naturally would want to see its specifications. For people to want a revolutionary caretaker council, they must know who will make it up and what are they going to do. To present a nebulous platform of reform is not enough especially for a coalition aiming to transform the politics in the country. This is a very serious strategic problem proponents of the caretaker council should remedy at the soonest possible time. We have had Cory Aquino's revolutionary government before, and pray tell, where did it take us?

Also, are a thousand days enough? Sheherezade might have managed to save her pretty head in that time span, but a thousand days seem to be such a short time to institute essential reforms, especially given the intractability of the country's problems. If it is serious in transforming society, the caretaker council would need a lot more time than a thousand days.

Vinzons-Chato says that the primary goal of the council would be to insititute truly free and fair elections. I honestly don't see how free and fair elections would be able to make dramatic political change. While irregularities are quite numerous in Philippine elections, it is not true that elective positions are habitually stolen or bought. How else are we going to explain our colorful and heated campaign season if election results are indeed made-to-order?

The problem is that people keep on electing officials who steal from them because of our perverse patronage system. I remember one household help who had this rather intense hatred against Mayor Jesse Robredo of Naga City, a local government superstar and Ramon Magsaysay awardee for government service, simply because Villafuerte, Robredo's rival, paid for her sister's hospital fees and burial.

As long as people think of politicians as social insurance, we would have no peace in this country. The more important reform, in my opinion, would be the strengthening of our social insurance institutions so that our people are weaned from their dependency on politicians for their KBL needs. President Arroyo followed Thailand Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's "one village one product" concept, but she missed his populist 100-baht universal hospital charge for the people. (Well, she distributed Philhealth cards alright, but that hardly counts.)

It is doubtful that a caretaker government would be effective in pursuing its goals. Its purported future members would, I presume, come from so-called untainted members of the civil society. The problem with civil society members as governing council is that they are inexperienced. They may think they know all the ropes, but so did Aprodicio Lacquian who famously quipped he has seen all politics. Governing is simply not the same thing as advocacy. Exhibit number one: Jimmy Carter--disastrous president, exemplary advocate.

Come to seriously think about it, a caretaker government would be a hard sell for the Unity of Truth coalition. But, I guess, as the Bible says, those who toil will be rewarded.


slim whale said...

members of the council will be chosen based on their performance in the anti-gma struggle? then that means we'll be having marcos and erap loyalists dominating it. i don't think i can put myself to trust a council composed of these people.

i see something dangerous with the formation of such a council. by what or whose authority do they exercise their function? does this mean that a bunch of groups from civil society can just band together and make themselves the authority in cleansing the government? unless, of course, this is provided for in the constitution.

Ronnel said...

I too am strongly opposed to the idea of a caretaker government. The idea is either politically naive or ruthlessly opportunistic. I myself am a member of civil society, but I think this caretaker government will be nothing more than civil society making a power grab of its own.

Anonymous said...

Liway Chato was incompetent even as a BIR Commissioner. Why should we listen to her prattle about a caretaker government? I mean, if she couldn't even make headway in a government bureau, who is she to talk about running the entire government?

Ronnel said...

Huh? I was under the impression, perhaps wrongly, that she did well at the BIR. Wasn't she the one who pursued Lucio Tan's case? In any case , a civilian junta, unelected, no matter how well-meaning or competent, is hardly advisable to replace a sitting president being accused of, in the first place, stealing votes.