Citizens’ Reform Agenda 2010: An Introduction Joy Aceron My objective in writing this piece is to introduce the Citizens’ Reform

Agenda 2010, an initiative that the Ateneo School of Government (ASoG) is undertaking, along with a few partner civil society groups, with support from the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung in the Philippines. This project is an attempt to put together pieces of a puzzle that we thought relevant to make a difference in the 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 change agenda 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. When we 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 national elections, 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 political state of affairs, the point of reference should be the 2010 elections. What can be done to make it work? With the 2010 elections in mind, we first turn to the electoral system. It is not good. The credibility 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 imperative that can no longer be ignored. However, there are shimmers of light. You have a new Chair and a few newly appointed Commissioners, one of whom came from the ranks of reform advocates. There is an effort to automate and reform the system; and there is—or what seems like—an opening to citizens groups. 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 candidate selection. Parties are important in elections for they provide a safeguard that would somehow ensure 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 Congress would be passed into law after several years of consensus building among political elites and reform-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 got stalled. The only consolation is that the advocates of the bill, including those coming from the traditional political parties, continue to talk and hopefully the impasse can be used as an opportunity 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 am hoping that a miracle would happen and the major players within the parties, after getting a dose of 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 vibrant reform actors and groups from the civil society, which clearly indicates a growing constituency for change in the country. These are the groups who advocate for reforms in policies and governance 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 the two EDSAs where reform groups overthrew presidents, its political relevance (which refers to vote 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 those involving big ticket corruption, is hardly transparent and accountable. They happen not in official and public spaces but in golf courses, coffee shops and abroad (not official but neither illegal decision-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 did these power holders get their power in the first place—the key subject matter of politics and the terrain called elections. In the ASoG, we have what we call the mosaic approach to development and change. There are separate and scattered movements happening at the same time. The goal is not to change these efforts 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 the difference. The challenge for us, which is the concept behind this initiative, and the rationale behind the Political Democracy and Reform (PODER) Program of the ASoG, is to create, or at least attempt to create, a mosaic. This project therefore, along with the other initiatives of PODER in reforming the electoral system and developing political parties, is our attempt at a mosaic for political change.

This project, in particular, starts to connect the dots by facilitating the engagement of reform groups in the 2010 elections. The call of the time is not just to guard authority but also to wield our own power to change the face and exercise of legitimate power. Let our take off point be the elections, where authority in our democratic system is formally allocated and distributed. Connect our advocacy to the elections. The question is what kind of engagement? The bigger goal is to be a force that will be determinant of the outcome of the elections. The other big goal is to aggregate interests to come up with an agenda—filling up the gap of an underperforming party system—and influence the platform and program of government of the candidates. But at the minimum, we want to influence the electoral process to become issue-based by identifying the key issues, articulating and popularizing these key issues and engaging the candidates on these key issues. The process begins with the inventory of existing reform agenda followed by the series of roundtable discussion-workshop, which will gather reform-oriented citizens’ groups to discuss and identify priority reform agenda and issues on selected reform areas, assessing the urgency and political feasibility of the proposals given the political realities and trade-offs. The preparatory phase shall be culminated by a national conference that will inform, not only the candidates and political parties but the public as well, about what issues and agenda are critical to be tackled in the 2010 elections. The output of the process is a list of key issues and/ or agenda, which will serve as a basis for advocacy before, during and after elections. The process after this preparatory phase will have to be building our relevance. In the current electoral system and its dominant political parlance, relevance in elections means who’s got the votes. But that’s a different and more complicated matter and we will have to deal with it together one step at a time.

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