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Citizens’ Reform Agenda 2010_An Introduction

Citizens’ Reform Agenda 2010_An Introduction

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Published by: Manuel L. Quezon III on Dec 09, 2008
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Citizens’ Reform Agenda 2010: An Introduction
Joy AceronMy objective in writing this piece is to introduce the Citizens’ Reform Agenda 2010, an initiativethat the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) is undertaking, along with a few partner civilsociety groups, with support from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in the Philippines. This projectis an attempt to put together pieces of a puzzle that we thought relevant to make a difference inthe 2010 elections. Likewise, it is an attempt to connect political change and governance,domains that are slowly becoming disconnected as evidenced by the lack of political changeagenda behind the governance work of citizens groups.Let me start with several pieces of the puzzle that form part of the concept of this project. Whenwe were conceptualizing this, our first consideration is the upcoming 2010 elections. With our recent experience and reviewing our basic Politics, we know the significance of nationalelections, particularly the election of the president, given the enormous powers that the presidency has. We thought, if we are to undertake an initiative to improve the country’s politicalstate of affairs, the point of reference should be the 2010 elections. What can be done to make itwork?With the 2010 elections in mind, we first turn to the electoral system. It is not good. Thecredibility of the supposed manager of the elections, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC),is severely tarnished by the outcome of the preceding national elections. The election laws,including laws on campaign financing, remain problematic and weak. The structural design of the electoral system remains flawed which makes constitutional change a seeming imperativethat can no longer be ignored.However, there are shimmers of light. You have a new Chair and a few newly appointedCommissioners, one of whom came from the ranks of reform advocates. There is an effort toautomate and reform the system; and there is—or what seems like—an opening to citizensgroups.Then we turn to the other important element of a democratic electoral process, the political parties, which in modern political system, play a key role in aggregating interests and candidateselection. Parties are important in elections for they provide a safeguard that would somehowensure that we will be choosing from candidates who have already been screened by their respective parties, based on their capacity to deliver a coherent program of government and not based on who got Php6-8 billion for their campaigns. Like the state of the electoral system,which parties are part of, this is not that well. We have an underperforming, if not unperforming party system. Others would even say we have no party system at all!We saw a spark of hope when we thought that the Political Party Reform Bill filed in Congresswould be passed into law after several years of consensus building among political elites andreform-minded civil society groups. Though the bill has its flaws and limitations, the passage
could have somehow provided a needed structure for the operations of parties. The bill gotstalled. The only consolation is that the advocates of the bill, including those coming from thetraditional political parties, continue to talk and hopefully the impasse can be used as anopportunity to come up with a better party reform bill.Meanwhile, it is my hope that the bickering and power plays within the major traditional political parties can bring forth a positive change in the power configuration within these parties. I amhoping that a miracle would happen and the major players within the parties, after getting a doseof their own medicine, would get fed up with the patronage-based operations of their party,forcing them to reform and modernize. But as I said, that’s asking for a miracle.The other piece of the puzzle, which we looked into is the growing and consistently vibrantreform actors and groups from the civil society, which clearly indicates a growing constituencyfor change in the country. These are the groups who advocate for reforms in policies andgovernance through protest, collaboration and other forms of engagement with the government.However, though vibrant and active, their efforts are scattered. And except for cases such as thetwo EDSAs where reform groups overthrew presidents, its political relevance (which refers tovote base) remains to be seen.These groups are active in engaging governance, particularly addressing corruption and other forms of abuse of authority. Though there have been openings for civil society groups to participate in governing, corruption is still pervasive. A lot of reform efforts are at the mercy of those holding power in government. The exercise of power by public officials, especially thoseinvolving big ticket corruption, is hardly transparent and accountable. They happen not in officialand public spaces but in golf courses, coffee shops and abroad (not official but neither illegaldecision-making spaces), which the reform groups will never be able to access.The limits and difficulty of governance engagement for reform groups should force them to look at who holds the formal power that they intend to engage and make accountable and how didthese power holders get their power in the first place—the key subject matter of politics and theterrain called elections.In the ASoG, we have what we call the mosaic approach to development and change. There areseparate and scattered movements happening at the same time. The goal is not to change theseefforts for all have their share of imperatives, but instead identify the key pieces that fit the puzzle so as to implement change and development and perhaps even then and there see thedifference.The challenge for us, which is the concept behind this initiative, and the rationale behind thePolitical Democracy and Reform (PODER) Program of the ASoG, is to create, or at least attemptto create, a mosaic. This project therefore, along with the other initiatives of PODER inreforming the electoral system and developing political parties, is our attempt at a mosaic for  political change.

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