Tuesday, March 24, 2015


Posted on March 23, 2015 11:16:00 PM


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To Take A Stand
Mario Antonio G. Lopez

More Filipinos have become not only acutely aware, but also less docile in accepting poor private institutional, government agency, and community government in the past two decades. That is a good development. It is an essential part of democratic nation building. It is a crucial part of employee, citizen, and community member empowerment.


To Take A Stand -- Oscar P. Lagman Jr.: "... But was Mindanao ever part of Philippine territory?"
To Take A Stand -- Rafael M. Alunan III: "His own worst enemy"
To Take A Stand -- Mario Antonio G. Lopez: "50 shades of bad leadership"
To Take A Stand -- Oscar P. Lagman, Jr: "What is PNoy’s utang na loob to Purisima?"
To Take A Stand -- Rafael M. Alunan III: "The road straight to hell"

The word “governance” has emerged in common use and “good governance” has become a mantra. What does “governance” mean?

I offer several definitions.

The World Bank, which popularized the concept and the word’s usage globally, in 1991 defined it simply as “the manner in which power is exercised in the management of a country’s economic and social resources for development.”

Marc Huffy’s 2011 definition is more detailed, and is contained in his book, “Investigating Policy Processes: The Governance Analytical Framework”, where he writes that governance relates to “the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions.”

The World Bank’s definition has been made more explicit in subsequent years with the qualifier that may be paraphrases as “for the greater benefit of the people”, the greater benefit not being limited to economic growth but also stressing equity in wealth distribution, the uplifting of the poor above poverty, the sustainable use of natural resources and the protection of national patrimony whilst ensuring fair economic returns those who invest.

In 1986, we liberated ourselves from what had become a clearly bad government. We have conducted a number of national experiments of sorts that started with our electing a woman who had no experience in government or management but was known to be “not corrupted”. Her administration produced neither the social reform we had anticipated nor the economic recovery we wished but she had at least caused the putting in place of what we hoped were better political institutions. A number of her people, however, were seen a corrupt.

A four-star general then won a heatedly contested election the results of which were questioned. His administration worked much better that the previous one but ended, too, with allegations of corruption. The majority then opted for a popular actor who had been a big town mayor over another tried and tested “trapo”. We cut his term short because we perceived what he had been doing, which involved corruption and sexual intemperance, as unworthy at least of our aspirations. We replaced him with a promising, seemingly more professional person who many now think pulled a very fast one on us, with perceived corruption greater than the actor she replaced. And then we topped that by electing to son of the “uncorrupted” woman because while he had no record of performance, he was, at least the one that could prevent the return of the actor.

Now, while we seem to have progressed much in the world’s eyes, in our own we not only are still unsatisfied but now see this administration as having gone the way of its predecessors as far as corruption is concerned, coupled with embarrassing ineptness in handling a number of local and international incidents.

What have we done as a people to deserve this? Why are we like Sisyphus, condemned to pushing a rock uphill, only to have it escape our control and roll back down? Sisyphus liked to fool the gods who punished him for his tomfoolery. Unlike Sisyphus, we have no gods to fool. But worse, we fool ourselves.

We fool ourselves with the myths we weave about us. We have lived far too long with the myth that ours is the first democracy in Asia. We like to see ourselves as modern. We go by the myth that we have a legal system based on universal values and a mind-set that is global in dimensions. We say we are a nation united. Many of our social scientists speak of a Filipino culture. Many of our thinkers speak of the Filipino psyche and spirit.

But the reality is we are neither a true democracy nor modern in our thinking. To be sure, there are segments of our population that think and act modern ways, and live lives that reflect democratic principles. Too many of our people born into poor families, in poor and backward communities, stay poor and backward.

Hamstrung by a paucity of accessible resources and much needed life support and social services -- potable water, sewerage, power, education, vocational training, housing, health, transport and communication -- they are unable to develop themselves to break out of the bonds of poverty.

Education and training, often seen as avenues out of this poverty, are restricted and often clogged. The numbers of school houses and teaching facilities are still limited, many inadequately equipped, and many, despite best efforts by our more dedicated officials, in various states of disrepair. We have insufficient teachers and many fall below even our own standards for knowledge, skills, and attitudes, not to mention in too many cases poorly managed and led. There is also the obvious disconnect between what is taught and the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed to live productive, responsive and responsible lives.

Our elected and appointed leaders and managers often show a disinterest in their real jobs, looking at their positions instead as positions in which they can enrich themselves while enjoying undeserved perks and privileges, calling themselves “servants of the people” but in reality acting like the people’s lords and masters.

They never consult with the people on any major issues because they claim the people are ignorant and cannot intelligently discuss issues. That they may not know seems like a matter of design.

Many of our structures and systems were designed for simpler and more stable times, when even then they could not work as designed because the mindsets and the spirits that run them were at odds with the principles and values that underpinned these structures and systems. In more complex and quickly shifting times, they have become barriers to open experimentation of new approaches to fast evolving problems, condemning us to continuing poverty and snail’s pace development.

The disconnects in our operating systems -- national unable to link effectively and efficiently with regional, provincial and municipal governments; agencies that are supposed to coordinate for better delivery of services but do not and instead protect turf; avowals of integrity and reforms put in place but then subverted by existing networks of graft and corruption -- have become unbearably apparent. They not only have caused the loss of money and opportunities. They have costs far too many lives, and often of our children and our youth.

Jobs, badly needed in a labor surplus economy like ours, are few because we have managed to block substantial foreign investments in the name of nationalism and strategic interests, casting aspersions on the vested interests that others may have on our country. In the meantime, many of the moneyed in our country have not made the kinds of investments in the sectors and in the parts of the country where they can do the most good -- in modernizing our agriculture, fisheries, agribusiness, and natural resources exploitation in a sustainable manner. We have chosen, instead, to concentrate the money in real estate development and other speculative ventures that generate big profits for the few and hire a few at short terms for less than decent wages.

And we feign puzzlement at why our poor gravitate to the politicians who can promise immediate relief from their miseries even for all the warnings we give them. The fact is we are as guilty of perpetrating this rotting system as the politicians who most obviously enjoy the powers and the not so hidden prosperity. The politicians are guilty of rapacity. The poor are guilty of selling their votes. And we are guilty for our mindlessness and lack of caring.

Yes, we need to change our leaders, of that I have no doubt. But we must change ourselves first, now, so that we will earn the right to kick them out.

Mario Antonio G. Lopez teaches at the Asian Institute of Management and consults for business, government and civil society


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