Power to the people (Business Mirror (Philippines))

TO most of the Filipinos, the perceived control of a limited few on the country’s economy and politics has been the main hindrance in elevating and improving the lives of our countrymen.

The advanced economies of the Philippines neighbors in the region have clearly dented poverty and a quality of life of their citizens. It something that is still being pursued by the country.

Faced with these odds, many Filipinos have either resigned themselves to the situation or have chosen to find their fortunes in other countries.

There have been silent whispers that a bloody revolution needs to happen for meaningful change to take place. There are those who push for education as the key toward political and economic freedom.

It starts with LGUs

For Partnership for Integrity and Jobs (Project I4J) Project Director Dr. Peter Koeppinger, empowering the local government units (LGUs) is where it should all start.

The 14J project aims to install a culture of integrity and corruption-free environment in nine LGUs.

He said that reaching out and teaching from the grassroots level can empower and eventually reach a critical mass, strong enough to replace the well-entrenched oligarchies, dynasties and strong-arm politics.

He views this as the long-term solution. But the road to salvation is long and requires the citizens’ participation.

Koeppinger, as a dues-paying member of the Christian Social Democrats, said Germany had been led by leaders who are not rich by any stretch of imagination, but whose elections were financed from the party’s coffer and the rest were contributed by the state. Thus, there is the absence of temptation to steal and amass wealth.

A resident of the Philippines for the last six years, Koeppinger said the I4J project is funded by the European Union (EU), while 25 percent comes from the contributions of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a contractual partner to EU.

The project has also created a consortium with the European Chamber of Commerce of the Philippines (ECCP), Centrist Democracy Political Institute, and the League of Cities, Municipalities and Provinces.

This project tries to go to the reality of corruption and the lack of integrity at the local government level and tries to mobilize local stake holders to find solutions to their problems, Koeppinger said.

He said previous solutions that come from the top, meaning the central government, do not work on the ground level.

If you take the citizens code of ethics, the anti-red tape, drive to be honest and everything down to the ground, then discuss it with small business people and ordinary citizens, including the civil servants, they all will tell you it is just on paper, Koeppinger said.

Koeppinger once talked to a tricycle driver, whom he said understands the political situation despite his apparently limited education.

He said since there seems to be no incentives for good behavior during the electoral process with the tricycle driver saying he would elect the candidates who would give him money.

Koeppinger also discussed his experience dealing with some LGUs in the provinces, where he is trying to organize a core group in order to teach them how to run their affairs related to the necessities of a vibrant society.

Eventually, he said the aim is to become a coherent group, whose voice could be heard someday in the halls of Congress.

The I4J project has selected nine pilot areas, one each in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao, representing provinces, cities, and municipalities. Then the technical working groups were chosen from each of those places.

Specifically, the project aims to include LGUs as key players for clean administrative procedures into the Integrity Initiative program of the ECCP and the Makati Business Club.

It recognizes the role of LGUs as a sustainable network for self-obligation and monitoring of transparent and uncorrupt structures and procedures. It also aims to create models of transparent, effective small business and investment registration and promotions procedures that would be disseminated.

Initially, the group were asked to list the deficiencies in the locality and then to organize a technical working group to work out some mechanism to improve the business and investment climate. They made the draft mechanism, they went into what they call integrity circles, and appointed representative from each sector.

The same concept spelled out all the parameters of the project, including the costs, and would soon be offered to 80 members of non-governmental organization in 15 provinces and 80 municipalities to replicate it.

Koeppinger found out that what appears to be a well-defined activity from the national perspective, could not be applied locally because going into the bidding process for a minor project, for example, is a very complicated process for them.

In the provinces, applying for a loan from the Development Bank of the Philippines is a fearsome prospect, he said.

Koeppinger list five major problems in the local level, including the lack of system in place to control and monitor implementation of national laws, lack of effective policy to protect and promote the integrity of civil servants, noninvolvement of local citizens, ineffective promotion of investment and business, and absence of rules to ensure integrity of business partners.

He said in the local level, mayors and governors have appointed their friends into office after they accompanied them in their campaign.

This is against the law, he said with apparent surprise, not realizing that this practice is a national malaise. You have it in Germany and Switzerland. But the question is whether it is widespread or endemic. Or does this problem come up again and again.

A better form of governance

Koeppinger admits that as a Christian Democrat raised in Christian social thinking, he does not believe in revolution, but as shown by examples in Germany, people have to participate in the political, economic and social activities to give them incentives for good behavior and to punish those who behave badly.

He said the political system the Filipinos inherit form the Americans, where presidents came from powerful and rich families, is very hard and difficult to manage.

‘We believe that many problems of this country can be solved, including the problem of poverty, lawlessness, impunity, if you change some of your political structures, Koeppinger said.

He added: Under a federal system, the prime minister or the mayor, if they behave badly, can be removed, you do not have to wait six years. They lost their authority in the parliament or in their councils because there is accountability.

Koeppinger said the current system where a new president is elected every six years, presents the problem of not being able to follow up on many projects because the next administration would simply put up their own.

All the problems of your country including traffic, energy, pollution and so on, these are problem which you can solve only with long term solutions, Koeppinger said.

He said for the Philippines a much better structure would be to have regional autonomies. He said federalism could be the long-term solution to give the Cebuanos or the Muslims under the Bangsamoro, the prospects of running their own region because they know it better than Manila.

They can better connect with the local level with the regional development than when you do from the top down.

He said corruption thrives if there is lack of effective procedures and lack of transparency and the end result is overwhelming bureaucracy.

But these all coming together during our discussions with the LGUs and we believe that the big part of the solution cannot be found on the national level. The solution has to be found in the people who are daily implementing procedures, he said.

Koeppinger sees the LGUs, local businessmen and civil-society groups can come together and to try to improve the current situation.

He said there is a need to change the political system so that the people will have incentives to do the good things and that control and monitoring of power is possible.

Koeppinger said he worked in Cambodia in propagating the same idea and although that country went through horrible experience under the Khmer Rouge 25 years ago, their poverty incident has drastically declined from 50 percent to 22 percent.

Surprisingly I4J seemed to have started their work in the country 50 years ago, where they tried several concepts.

He said in the 1960’s they worked with the Federation of Free Farmers, Federation of Free Workers and with the late Raul Manglapus as one of the guiding lights.

Koeppinger recalls with a bit of amusement that four years ago, together with Rep. Rufus B. Rodriguez and former Sen. Edgardo Angara, they drafted a modern political bill that was discussed in both Houses of Congress.

In the House the bill went through all the committees and on third reading it was approved, a real, good, modern political party bill where political parties have to have meaningful programs.

However, Koeppinger said the bill never got further and was never signed into law.

In an attempt by likeminded individuals to provide meaningful change in the country, Koeppinger said they will ask those aspiring for the presidency next year if they see a need to change the presidential form of government to a more accountable system, a need for more regional autonomy, a need for a different economic policy that would generate jobs and reduce poverty and a need to change to a more modern political system.