News and Features

An Institutional Test for the Left and our Democracy

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Image from newsinfo.inquirer.net

On July 1, Pres. Duterte announced that Liza Masa would take over as the new Secretary of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. Before this, appointments to Cabinet positions were drawn from a pool of leftist personalities. These include Prof. Judy Taguiwalo for DSWD and Ka Paeng Mariano for the Department of Agrarian Reform. Also in the works are the resumption of peace talks between the Republic of the Philippines and the National Democratic Front and the return of Jose Maria Sison. Now, I have written essays (here and here) to raise alarms about the consequences of Duterte-style leadership. Still I admire the administration for placing these great choices in the executive department. The coming six years would be exciting and hopeful times for change indeed.

How the left will confront these realities and maintain their high standards for public service will require a lot from them. How they apply it to themselves will ask for a lot more

For one, the left would have to innovate on their dynamics with the government. They have already stated that they will continue to have a critical stance with the new president as they have done so in the past administrations. The difference now is they are now in a position of power. The left now has the capacity to reform from the top-down while maintaining bottom-up organizing. In other words, channels that may not have been open for marginalized groups may start to become available. Its positive or negative impact for policies and projects would be unfolded in the next six years.

But it is not all sun and rainbows. Good intentions and a commitment to poverty reduction are just parts to a complex formula for government to be “felt”. These leaders would have to contend with the weakness of the state and the limitations of bureaucratic power. For example, there are several reasons on why programs may fail. This may be due to malice or negligence on part of the duty-bearer. Here good intentions and commitment would matter to serve as a counterbalance. But there are also instances when the problems are beyond the control of the individual because they are organizational. These can include budget cuts, a dearth in skills, insubordination by permanent employees and the like. How the left will confront these realities and maintain their high standards for public service will require a lot from them. How they apply it to themselves will ask for a lot more. This is not to say that everything is in their control. You also have to consider the economy, other officials and the international arena. Nevertheless, they are as powerful as can be in the current system. Their delivery of results and promises can spell either credibility or distrust from the public.

How they will manage the birthing pains of this emerging society would be another obstacle to cross. The revolution may not be a dinner party but it does not mean it has to be as painful as possible.

Also, the left has a different way of doing things. It can be argued that the previous administration took a safe but slow path to what they thought would lead to inclusive growth. But we are given the impression that there is to be a break from that. It seems that we are going to see an expansion of state power to reform long standing unjust systems which accumulate wealth only for the few. Agrarian reform is one and the review of the 4Ps is another. This is a breath of fresh air and should be pursued. But there are going to have negative repercussions that would need management. Businessmen may cry over property rights which they would say are under attack. The civil service employees that have come to rely on these programs for employment would have withdrawal pains among others. How they will manage the birthing pains of this emerging society would be another obstacle to cross. The revolution may not be a dinner party but it does not mean it has to be as painful as possible.

Last point on the left, can they consolidate themselves post-Duterte? These positions can serve as a springboard to the blossoming of a real party system in the country. We have already seen how turncoatism is (almost) a norm in congress which shows the horrendous lack of a coherent ideology for any party. What does this mean for us? One, you get no policy continuity. Second, you get traditional politicians because good public servants have no party mechanism to back them up. If they are able to consolidate themselves, it can signal a new standard to prop against our ever vacillating parties.

When much-needed reforms are made unfeasible systematically, new systems will be made necessarily.

In a system, in every reaction, there is a counter-reaction. The power to pursue their policy agenda and programs is a reaction in the system. This is bound to have a counter-reaction from those who benefit from the status quo.
If the left fails due to this counter-reaction, it would raise questions on what can be achieved in the current system, what are the limitations set and whether it is feasible to achieve an enhancement of human life the field it has set. When much-needed reforms are made unfeasible systematically, new systems will be made necessarily. If our democracy cannot facilitate changes from within, it will collapse on its own weight. What we are given here is a quasi-experimental setting. Let’s hope for the best.

Yvan Ysmael Yonaha is a Development Practitioner, Technology Enthusiast and Productivity Buff. Yvan holds an AB Degree in Sociology from UP Diliman. He is currently an instructor in the Department of Social Science of the University of the Philippines – Los Banos. Follow him on Google+, Academia.edu or Facebook.

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