Quandary

“When   reforms   do not  transform, what  do we do?” We’re  up to our gills  with  aborted reforms.  Are our options  boxed  into  picking  between  Barrabas or Barrabas? Or scrambling for a visa?

Sociologist  Gelia T Castillo led  with this  reform-transform dilemma in her address at   the launch of Philippine Human Development Report.”  PHDR  today is  a key reference on complex  issues. The  2008/2009  edition  focuses on institutions and politics – and  impact on daily life..

“This is  a country where  there are so many things  kailangan ayusin, former UP professor  Castillo noted. But  “the negatives are the opportunities; the positives are bonuses.” HDR identifies “institutional anchors for constructive engagement in…a manner which will enable reforms to  transform.

“Let’s stop  racing to the bottom,” she added.  “It must be a determined climb… to where we’d  rather be.  Institutions are our common ground.  They must not be our battleground.”

UN   publishes the global  “Human  Development  Report”. Since 1994, the Philippines produced a national counterpart – one of the few countries to do so.  National Economic Development Authority secretaries  Solita Monsod and Cielto Habito oversaw  the first PHDR  issues. Both  are also   Inquirer columnists.

PHDR  has analyzed  people’s participation in governance, status of women, education,  employment, armed conflict and security. Reports    use the innovative “human development index”  HDIs go beyond  traditional  yardsticks like gross national product, etc.. They gauge  the human condition. .

HDI 2009  found  five conflict-ridden provinces in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  tailenders  in  development.  Maguindanao,  Tawi-Tawi ,  Basilan, and Lanao del Sur  trailed  Sulu..

Inquirer published  PHDR  findings on a bloated bureaucracy. It  examined  how incentives can  impact performance. Seven  other papers  cover  under-performance in education, health services decentralization, ombudsman  institutional weakness, the budget process, plus life table estimates by province and sex

When reforms floundered, over   the last 25 years, Filipinos whipped in   EDSA I, II, III,   protestas, impeachment and resign movements, coup d’etats, borderless investigations without closure.    That  even   made heroes out of non-heroes.

‘If we can laugh at ourselves, we can change,’ a Kenyan song goes. ”We are still laughing at ourselves,” Castillo says..”But we’ve  not changed”.  We merely substituted laughter for transformation.

The  Bantay fad: followed:   Bantay Election; Bantay Gobyerno to  Bantay Dagat. These  watchdogs did deter — somewhat.  But sino ang nagbabantay  sa  bantay? Castillo wondered.  “Quis  custodies  ipsos custodes,” the ancient Romans  asked.

Persistent  extra- institutional measures  empowered, wittingly or unwittingly, presidents, mayors, even   presidentiables.   Wala pa ding pagbabago! Ethical illiterates, if empowered, turn into  threats.  “To be duly elected is to be legal; but legality of power does not add a whit to official IQ.”

Here,   people go to a “vibrant media  for  public service requests and  redress of grievances.  This, produces celebrities who embed themselves in  political power. “ Being a “noisy” democracy is a blessing. A  silent one is a dictatorship”.

Deeper than policies and larger than individuals, institutions structure behavior, “We can’t organize people power against institutions because institutions are us,” Castillo comments. “Institutions do not resign. They simply persist.”.

Improved governance is causally linked to  better development outcomes. PHDR  tables document higher incomes and lower infant death rates. The number of  “no-read-no-writes” also  shrink.

The “development dividend from good governance is about 300 percent increase in incomes per capita in the long run,” Castillo notes. Payoffs for social development are equally hefty..

PHDR  2009  pinpoints  “institutional anchors” for reforms from  civil service, budgeting to schools and career executive systems.. “To  an optimist, they all look “reformable”:   Proposals include :  Government Classification and Compensation Act,  Freedom of Information Act, the Intelligence and Oversight Act,  Budget Reform Act, etc.

“These   have not seen the light of day,” Castillo  admits. “Can we find the proverbial needles in the legislative haystock,  a few statesmen or women who’ll  take them on as their flagship of responsibility?”

But  what if Congress bogs down?  It  just skid  into  the con-ass  quagmire. Vital  “rule changes are available, PHDR says. They do not require legislation,

One  example is open voting in the Judicial and Bar council. This boon can be buttressed by an independent search mechanism for qualified candidates.  Another is simple changing  of  qualification  and recruitment  for principals and school superintendents.  “

From “soft Ph.Ds” to qualities of intellectual integrity and managerial competence for school officials could be a step forward” Castillo says.  But throughout the  study,  “ the image of the politicians did not shine very bright”.

The  Education Department  is often seen as “a reform-resistant institution” But the Basic Education Sector Reform Agenda  emerged as “our seeds of hope.  Castillo underscores that seven awardee provinces offer a pointed  lesson: “It is not necessary to be rich to  progress in human development.. But for the richer provinces,  it is a ‘sin’ not to progress in human development.”

( Email: juanlmercado@gmail.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

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