Outgrowing Our Youthful Ideals

Written as a Facebook Note on October 17, 2010

Atty. Jocelle Batapa-Sigue, Convenor, SMILE Bacolod Youth 2005

This country will never run out of young activists. I need to remind myself every day to hold on to my ideals, but I realize I am not getting any younger.  So it brings me comfort to know that there will always be young people who will replace the current crop young idealists. But I feel many of those young activists will still end up like every one of us – tired and saddled with our adult or family life after getting the hang of youthful idealism. Unfortunately, sometimes, we feel the pain, or worse, the guilt, of not having achieved our purpose – a better country. It is my undying hope that the people of this country see its real worth that the youth, in the clarity of their minds, see, but eventually outgrows.  

I refuse to cynical, but it is like a “moral” electric chair for me to listen to advocates incessantly fighting for political reforms. We are like recidivists. We know why other countries are in Stage 3 or developed and why we are in Stage 1 (underdeveloped) along with Bangladesh, Burundi, Nicaragua, Timor-Leste, Uganda, Zimbabwe, among others.

In the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2010, these countries’ top problematic areas include inadequate supply of infrastructure, access to financing, policy instability, and access to financing. In the Philippines, corruption is the number one problem, and a close second is inefficient government bureaucracy.

For the past three decades, the World Economic Forum’s annual competitiveness reports have examined the many factors enabling national economies to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term prosperity. Its goal over the years has been to provide benchmarking tools for business leaders and policymakers to identify obstacles to improved competitiveness, thus stimulating discussion on strategies to overcome them. In the current challenging economic environment, their work serves as a critical reminder of the importance of taking into account the consequences of our present actions on future prosperity.

The World Economic Forum defines competitiveness as the set of institutions, policies, and factors that determine the level of productivity of a country. The level of productivity, in turn, sets the sustainable level of prosperity that can be earned by an economy. In other words, more-competitive economies tend to be able to produce higher levels of income for their citizens.

The role of institutions goes beyond the legal framework. Government attitudes toward markets and freedoms, and the efficiency of its operations, are also very important: excessive bureaucracy and red tape, overregulation, corruption, dishonesty in dealing with public contracts, lack of transparency and trustworthiness, and the political dependence of the judicial system impose significant economic costs to businesses and slow the process of economic development.

All other Southeast Asia countries except Bangladesh and Timor-Leste placed lower than the Philippines (87th out of 133) in terms of global competitiveness. We are 130th in terms of public trust of politicians, 120th in number of procedures required to start a business, and 123rd in efficiency of legal framework in settling disputes. The results do not come as a surprise. We know what our problems are. And we have seen the solutions to these problems work in other countries.

The primary concern, which has always been my advocacy, is the maturity of our political system. Advocacies calling for “pagbabago”, “simula” and many others are effective in promoting conscience-based decisions among our voters, but it contributes to the already amalgamating, highly personality-based politics that we have. As Dr. Peter Koeppinger of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung one of hallmarks of democracy is when people are given the choice in a formal party set-up to choose who should run for elections based on objective standards which is not only limited to integrity and trust-worthiness but competence, skills and leadership.   Democracy means our leaders are accountable to their party principles, which must be fully scrutinized by the public, without regard for any other consideration such as money and shallow popularity. In the Philippines, what happens is the opposite. Most politicians buy their positions. At the end the day, no one is accountable. The voters do not feel sorry for their mistakes. The politicians happily clinch power. Until the next polls, when motherhood statements like “stop corruption” surfaces to appeal to the ears of the masses.

Personality-based politics is one of the best breeding ground for corruption. In the Philippines, it is compounded by geographical constraints. Because of a toomcentralized government that governs more than 7000 islands – our country can be likened to a mansion with 7000 rooms and only one cleaning lady.  It is time we think of federalism.

This country needs to learn from other countries. We have been overly proud for the last centuries, protecting our so-called unity as a nation. Unfortunately we are complacent. Unlike other countries, when their people were already dying of hunger, clamored for genuine political and institutional reforms, the Philippines anchors its hope every elections on a persons or sets of persons and not the principles which drive these leaders to run for elections and the programs that people demand to be in place.

Many of the decisions now of President Benigno Aquino are personal decisions, and so every blunder is blamed upon him alone. If he was backed by a set of core principles, with which for example, the Liberal Party is founded upon, people will begin to value the importance of a party-based political system. Governance will involve more people. In fact, there would not be any need to a party-list system when people are effectively and efficiently represented, unlike today.  Under a principled party system, people will begin to pit the programs of the Liberal Party as against other fly-by-night parties or parties for “convenience” that will surface in 2016. It will not be comparing the work of Aquino versus the next “presidentiable”. It will be the programs of the Liberal Party versus, let us say, what the Nationalista or the NPC has to offer in 2016 and beyond. If there is a set of party principles, Aquino need not explain his every decision – his critics will be challenged to be more objective and look at the pros and cons of every policy and stand that the government takes. If Aquino, is a serious leader, that is not vindictive like many other leaders are, and studies the growth patterns of other countries, not only in terms of efficiency but structure, he is, to my mind, the best person of the almost 100 million Filipinos alive today that could turn this nation around.  By then, there will be closure in the wounded hearts of former young activists like myself. 

Published by Jocelle Batapa Sigue

ATTY. JOCELLE BATAPA-SIGUE • Named as one of The Outstanding Women in Nation’s Service of the Philippines or TOWNS for 2016 in the field of Information and Communications Technology or ICT • Positions: Past Vice President (2018) and Past President (2010-2012) and Past Trustee (2013-2017) of the National ICT Confederation of the Philippines or NICP • Founder, Former President and Current Executive Director of the Bacolod-Negros Occidental Federation for ICT or BNEFIT • Served for 3 terms as councilor of Bacolod City • Chosen as one of Asia Society Top Ten Philippines 21 Young Leaders in 2009 • Chosen as the Eisenhower Fellow of the Philippines in 2012 • Awarded as Philippine Individual Contributor of the Year during the International ICT Awards given by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce and Industry in the Philippines

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