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A Conversation with Mongolian Free Press Advocate Naranjargal Khashkhuu

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

A Conversation with Mongolian Free Press Advocate Naranjargal Khashkhuu

August 13, 2014

Blog-Banner_60-60v2As The Asia Foundation recently marked its 20th anniversary in Mongolia, Country Representative Meloney Lindberg sat down with Naranjargal Khashkhuu, president and CEO of the Globe International Center and longtime Asia Foundation grantee, to discuss the Naranjargalcountry’s current media landscape, the media’s role in elections and shaping public opinion, and Mongolia’s right to information law.

Globe International has been at the forefront of the movement toward greater freedom of the press. What is the state of media freedom in Mongolia today?

The Mongolian media has made great strides, partly because in the early and middle 1990s, international donors, including The Asia Foundation, were very active here promoting ideas like public service journalism and freedom of the press. It was a great time for building a free press in Mongolia. But toward the end of the 1990s, politicians started questioning the benefit of a free press. They realized that the media is a very important and powerful tool to reach out to the public, and they started to bribe them and later started their own television channels and newspapers. Now ordinary people can’t really distinguish between paid content and real, professional journalism, and therefore they do not really know what the truth is.

We worked together closely during the last parliamentary elections to ensure that women’s voices were abundant in the election process. What role does the media play in shaping public opinion in Mongolia?

The role of the media in elections is crucial because the media informs and educates the voters, both through journalism and political advertising. So, the media has a dual role. But one of these roles, educating the voter, has become a very low priority for the media. Instead, most media outlets see elections as an opportunity to generate income from campaign advertising, and because Mongolian election law does not really distinguish between professional election coverage and paid advertising, changing this situation will also require improving the legal framework. Of course, media outlets have to generate income, but they must generate it in a more professional way. Mongolia’s government allocates billions of tugriks of public funds to the media, and it’s not transparent how this money is being spent. We recently requested information from the ministries on how the so-called “information and advertising” budget is spent, and we discovered the majority goes to the media. The good news is that now we can get this type of budget allocation information through the Law on the Right to Information, whereas before, it was impossible. But we have to keep pushing.

You were at the forefront of the campaign for Mongolia’s Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information, adopted in June 2011. Can you talk a bit about that campaign?

We spent 10 years trying to get this law passed, starting with an awareness program in 2001. The public and Members of Parliament were not clear on the distinction between freedom of information and media freedom. During the first roundtable at the Government House, where we invited the U.S. Ambassador to talk about freedom of information with 17 members of Parliament, every discussion turned into one about journalism and ethics rather than the concept of freedom of information. We had to change our tactics; we could not give up, because we had many newly elected MPs and we had to start educating them. Finally, in 2011, the Law on Information Transparency and Right to Information was passed. But the government is not promoting the law, and even public officials are unaware of it. We felt we couldn’t wait another 10 years to get the law implemented, so we sent a development proposal to the UN Democracy Fund, which was approved. Now we are working to raise awareness of the Law in 20 soums and eight aimags.

As one of the early grantees of The Asia Foundation, what are some of your recollections of working with us?

My personal relationship with The Asia Foundation started when I was working at Mongolian TV and served as the vice president of the Mongolian Free Democratic Journalists Association, which was a member of the International Organization of Journalists. At Globe International, our very first project together was called Stairwell Democracies, which worked with apartment owners’ associations from 2003 to 2004 to inform citizens of their rights and to educate them on existing laws and rules of construction, which was booming at that time.

Globe International has been an important partner in our new transparency initiative, the Strengthening Transparency and Governance in Mongolia (STAGE) program. What role does Globe International play in that initiative?

Traditionally, we run media campaigns to raise awareness about initiatives, but for this project we wanted to create more innovative ways to raise public awareness, particularly among the youth. We produced lively audio and videos, and targeted the online media, which is more appropriate for the young audience. Globe International will continue its work raising public awareness, particularly through the arts because that is a great tool to change people’s thinking.

As someone on the forefront of fighting corruption in Mongolia, how do you assess the state of corruption in Mongolia today?

People think that corruption is a new phenomenon in Mongolia, but it is actually rooted in Manchurian rule. Sometimes it seems like it’s too late to do anything about corruption and that nobody is fighting. Personally, I think change starts with the family, with the children. Sometimes, though, especially with conflict of interest issues, it is difficult to change the old ways of doing things, especially in Mongolia’s small, close-knit communities. But people say that if you say something 100 times it becomes true; that’s why we have to keep teaching, and after some time, their minds will change. If we don’t continue this fight, we will lose our values.

What have been The Asia Foundation’s main contributions to improving lives and expanding opportunities in Mongolia, and how do you see the Foundation’s role over the next 20 years?

The Asia Foundation was one of the first NGOs to come to Mongolia, and it focused from the beginning on empowering leaders. The Foundation supported many study trips for these leaders, and there are few people among our civil society leaders who haven’t received some assistance from The Asia Foundation. The Foundation played a big role in bringing new ideas to Mongolia and supporting the transition to democracy and human rights, which it continues to do today. I think the Foundation will continue to make a difference because it fulfills a need of Mongolian society.

Related locations: Mongolia
Related programs: Good Governance
Related topics: Civic Spaces, Women's Political Participation

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

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70th Anniversary Impact Highlight

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Minorities within the Minority: Indigenous Communities in the Bangsamoro

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Insights and Analysis

Minorities within the Minority: Indigenous Communities in the Bangsamoro

August 6, 2014

By Steven Rood

Asia Foundation 60th anniversary seriesIn March this year, a major milestone passed in the 40-year effort to end hostilities in the Philippines between the national government and Muslim separatist fronts. The government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) signed a Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB), 17 months after signing a Framework Agreement. Currently a bill is being drafted to go to the Philippine Congress, which upon passage would be subjected to a plebiscite in areas proposed to be part of a new entity, the Bangsamoro, to replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM).

In March this year, a major milestone passed in the 40-year effort to end hostilities in the Philippines between the national government and Muslim separatist fronts. Photo/Karl Grobl

In March this year, a major milestone passed in the 40-year effort to end hostilities in the Philippines between the national government and Muslim separatist fronts. Photo/Karl Grobl

As the drafting is ongoing, controversies have swirled about how the new Bangsamoro would treat non-Islamized indigenous communities – advocates for such communities assert that their core interests are not being accommodated, even though two of the 15 members of the Bangsamoro Transition Commission producing the first draft are indigenes themselves. Central is the issue of ancestral domain (singular) versus ancestral domains (plural).

Negotiations with the MILF that culminated in the CAB were to solve “the Bangsamoro problem.” From 2001, such a solution was taken to have several strands, including that of “Ancestral Domain.” Most well known was the abortive “Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain” that was initialed in 2008 but declared unconstitutional by the Philippine Supreme Court before it could be signed. Given this unhappy result (which was accompanied by an upsurge of violence displacing 750,000 persons), since then ancestral domain has been treated as one element of a more comprehensive approach, culiminating in the exclusive power of the Bangsamoro, according to the Annex on Power-Sharing signed in December 2013 over ancestral domain and natural resources.

At the same time, legal efforts to afford indigenous communities (some 17% of the Philippine population) legal instruments bolstering their security of tenure in ancestral lands (pertaining to individuals) and ancestral domain (for communities) have been gaining ground since the early 1990s. Under the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act (IPRA) of 1997, Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles can be issued to indigenous communities, giving them power to manage the natural resources according to their customs and traditions. However, even though there are non-Muslim indigenous people located in the ARMM, IPRA was never operationalized in the region due to its autonomous status. When finally in 2013 a reform-minded ARMM administration wanted to cooperate with the IPRA-mandated National Commission on Indigenous Peoples to finally recognize an ancestral domain claim by Tidurays, the MILF objected in negotiations that this amounted to creating new facts on the ground in the middle of negotiations. Thus, the effort was stillborn.

This is not to say that the concerns of non-Muslims have been absent from the negotiations. Genealogies and tradition tell, after all, of two brothers – one who adopted Islam and one who did not – and both groups have stressed this shared ancestry. There have often been indigenous people on negotiating panels for both sides, and provisions in agreements mention their concerns. The upshot is that the next provision after the exclusive power over ancestral domain and natural resources is (quoted in full):

Protection of the rights of the indigenous peoples in the Bangsamoro in accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and taking into account, in addition to economic and geographical criteria, their individual and communal property rights, cultural integrity, customary beliefs, and historical and community traditions.

Indigenous people’s organizations and their allies, though, point out that what is missing from this is a recognition of their ancestral domains (plural). Immediately, lobbying sprang up both in the media and in Congress, and has found an echo among some members of the legislature. They may have the Bangsamoro Basic Law, currently being drafted for submission to Congress, reword the relevant provisions from the Comprehensive Agreement (perhaps by insisting that IPRA apply to the Bangsamoro). While the drafts of the Basic Law being discussed are still confidential, the MILF has disclosed that one of the points of disagreement is the pluralizing in a government version: substituting “domains” for “domain.

The MILF has been firm on this matter, regarding those who press the case for recognition of plural ancestral domains as “spoilers” who are diluting the meaning of the Bangsamoro people and the Moro’s ancestral domain. However, many of those advocating this are, in fact, quite sympathetic to the peace process and have been operating for years under a “tri-people” framework trying to promote peace and development in Mindanao by bringing together Muslims, Lumads, and “settlers” (Christians whose family origins are from outside Mindanao).

Thus far the issue has generated more heat than light, and as activity moves from closed-door drafting of agreements and proposed bills to the more public halls of Congress, it behooves both sides to be more precise. For instance, indigenous peoples and their advocates should state precisely what is missing from the provision quoted above that would be included if IPRA was incorporated into the Bangsamoro Basic Law. And how their claim of separate “sub” ancestral domains would not weaken the case for a Bangsamoro identity (recognized in the CAB) and its ancestral domain.

The MILF, for its part, needs to provide reassurances about how fully this provision on the “rights of the indigenous peoples” will be implemented. A concrete example might be an open discussion of how territories of MILF camps and indigenous people’s ancestral domain might overlap, and how IPs “individual and communal property rights” will be respected in such places.

As Patrick Barron will point out on August 13 in part two of his In Asia blog post about subnational conflicts, when talking about why they are often neglected in bilateral relations between countries “Other things matter more. Subnational conflicts are usually marginal issues for bilateral relations.” An unfortunate parallel might be drawn when talking of negotiations between the national government and the Moro minority: some might think that other things matter more than the minority within the minority. That would not be in the spirit of equal rights for all.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. From 2009-2013 he observed negotiations between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as the Foundation’s representative on the International Contact Group. Since 2013 he has been a member of the Third Party Monitoring Team, overseeing the implementation of agreements. He tweets as @StevenRoodPH, and can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

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Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao

Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao

DOWNLOAD

The new 2014 Rido: Clan Feuding and Conflict Management in Mindanao – Expanded Edition is edited by Wilfredo M. Torres III and published by The Asia Foundation and the Ateneo de Manila University Press. An expanded edition of the 2007 edition, this is a comprehensive and informative resource on rido and features deeper analysis and new approaches to resolving local clan conflict, still prevalent in many parts of Muslim Mindanao.

The book is available for order at the Ateneo University Press website. Read more about the book launch here.

Posted April 29, 2014
Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Conflict and Fragile Conditions

Implementation of Bangsamoro Holds Lessons for Philippines as a Whole

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Insights and Analysis

Implementation of Bangsamoro Holds Lessons for Philippines as a Whole

March 26, 2014

By Steven Rood

As we prepare for the long-awaited March 27 signing in Manila between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro, one of the striking things of the peace process as it stretches back over more than a decade is the extent to which both negotiating parties tried to learn from past mistakes in striving for peace and development in Mindanao.

Conflict in Mindanao

On March 27, the government of the Philippines and the MILF will sign the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro which aims to bring to close a decades-old armed conflict in Mindanao. Photo/Karl Grobl

After the 1996 “Final Peace Agreement” with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF), the MNLF moved directly and abruptly into positions of leadership in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and other institutions under the leadership of MNLF Founding Chairman Nur Misuari. MNLF members had little to no experience in government office and development practice, which many feel contributed to the “failure” of ARMM. In the MILF peace process institutions were put into place to already begin the transition even before the Comprehensive Agreement was completed. Thus, in 2003 the Bangsamoro Development Agency was created to “manage and implement reconstruction and development,” and has been doing so with funding from various agencies, in particular the Mindanao Trust Fund set up by several donors and managed by the World Bank. In 2005, the Bangsamoro Leadership and Management Institute was set up to help train those who will work after the agreement is finished.

This idea of getting ready beforehand has extended to one of the truly novel parts of the peace agreement, the setting up of a “ministerial” form of government for the Bangsamoro. In this parliamentary setting, voters will choose members of the regional assembly, and those members in turn will choose the chief minister to head the executive branch of the Bangsamoro. This is in contrast to the pattern throughout the rest of the Philippine government, from the national government down to provinces, cities, municipalities, and villages, where citizens vote directly for both branches of government – the executive (president, governor, mayor, barangay captain) and the legislature.

The issue of parliamentary governance has come up repeatedly in Philippine politics during periodic discussions of changes to the 1987 Constitution, but the average citizen is at best unenthusiastic and generally they reject the idea: they want to be able to vote directly for the president. However, two special “autonomous” regions are provided for in the constitution for areas “sharing common and distinctive historical and cultural heritage” and a parliamentary form of government was proposed in 1989 by the Cordillera Regional Consultative Commission (CRCC), set up to draft an Organic Act for the Cordillera Autonomous. The CRCC felt that a parliamentary system was more in consonance with the indigenous way of governing through the Council of Elders in each highland village. However, when the Philippine Congress took the CRCC draft and enacted it into law this provision was changed back to a “presidential separation of powers” system to be in line with all the other levels of government in the Philippines. (When the autonomy law was put to a plebiscite, it failed so there is no autonomous region for the Cordillera.) Similarly, the MNLF during negotiations for the 1996 Final Peace Agreement strove for a parliamentary form of government but was told that it was unconstitutional.

The current administration and its negotiating team certainly believe it is constitutional. The president’s instructions to the negotiating panel included exploring the flexibility of the current constitution, inasmuch as President Aquino has repeatedly stressed that he is against amending the constitution. The head of the negotiating panel when the ministerial form was included in the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro, Marvic Leonen, has since been elevated to the Supreme Court. While we can confidently predict that some will try to argue the unconstitutionality of the ministerial form of government, it seems unlikely that this provision would be sufficient to have the agreement declared invalid.

In the spirit of getting ready for the transition, there have been a number of different efforts to explore what having a ministerial form of government means in the Philippine context, particularly in conjunction with both elements of the MILF and with the Bangsamoro Transition Commission tasked (like the CRCC was) with drafting a law for consideration by Congress. Focusing on the system of elections in sessions with MILF cadre, Konrad Adenaur Stiftung laid out options and produced a paper that endorsed proportional representation as the best system for handling the various ethnic and religious minorities in the Bangsamoro. International Foundation for Election Systems undertook similar analysis, simulated the outcomes under different counting systems, and pointed out that a parallel system of voting both by district for members of the assembly and a proportional representation system for parties helps balance accountability to the citizenry with representation of minorities. Local organization, DemokraXXIa, similarly canvassed various electoral systems, and reviewed the experience of political parties in majority Muslim countries.

In the Philippines as a whole, political parties are notoriously weak, being largely vehicles cobbled together among disparate individuals for the purpose of contesting particular elections. For a ministerial form of government to work to adequately represent the citizenry in any form of proportional representation, parties must mean something. The Asia Foundation has published an assessment of parties for the Bangsamoro laying out what might be done to strengthen the ability of parties to serve citizen interests. Both DemokraXXIa and the Institute of Bangsamoro Studies worked with the MILF to develop an understanding of what is involved in setting up principled, disciplined parties – going to the main camp in Darapanan Maguindanao and to other camps to explore with MILF cadres a roadmap forward. As a result, the MILF plans to establish a party to contest the regional elections at the general elections in May 2016.

President Aquino’s ruling Liberal Party could clearly contest in 2016, as the current governor of the ARMM and all provincial governors are members of that party. Akbayan Citizens Party is also active in the area, and SIMCARRD explored the notion of establishing an Akbayan sister party for the Bangsamoro as a way both to ensure regional representation but also avoid excessive domination by a national-level political organization.

Considerable attention will be focused during the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro on whether this effort will indeed “solve the Moro problem” and contribute to peace and development in Mindanao. But there are many other exciting details in the implementation of the Bangsamoro that may hold lessons for the Philippines as a whole, including how to reform the police as a new police force for the Bangsamoro is set up, what are the new roles for the Armed Forces of the Philippines as they turn over law enforcement functions and focus on national security and defense, and how to deal with private armies that exist throughout the country, not just in the Bangsamoro. Creation of the Bangsamoro offers opportunities to learn how to improve governance. Establishment of a ministerial form of government and the strengthening of political parties can be watched by all Filipino citizens, not just Moros, to see whether these innovations help promote good government.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines and was research director of the Cordillera Studies Center before becoming country representative. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

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Is Aquino Moving the Philippines Closer to Good Governance?

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Insights and Analysis

Is Aquino Moving the Philippines Closer to Good Governance?

May 29, 2013

By Jose Maria M. Mendoza and Steven Rood

Philippine President Benigno Aquino secured big wins in the May midterm elections, which were seen as vital to his ambitious reform agenda. Aquino now marks the midpoint of his single six-year term as president, and while it might be clear that politics has yet to change in the last three years, it’s less clear the extent to which changes in governance may point to longer-term political changes.

Aquino 2010 Campaign

Philippine President Benigno Aquino marks the midway point in his term since he was elected in 2010. Midterm elections this month were seen as a test to his ambitious reform agenda. Photo/Flickr user thepocnews

As early as the 2010 presidential campaign, then presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III together with his vice-presidential running mate, Mar Roxas, had governance reforms in mind when they said that it would take two presidential terms (of six years each) to transform the country from a regime of bad to good governance, to demonstrate that “Kung Walang Kurupt, Walang Mahirap” (“if there is no corruption, there will be no poverty”). The notion was that corruption was so ingrained in the system that six years would be needed just to initiate the key strategic reforms and another six years needed to institutionalize them.

Many discussions of reform list as examples the well-publicized change in the ombudsman, the arrest of former President Arroyo, and the impeachment conviction of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. While these efforts required considerable political capital, Aquino was inevitably subject to criticism of the sincerity and wisdom of his good governance campaign. As Peter Koeppinger, Resident Representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in the Philippines, aptly put it: “Corruption is everywhere. In many public agencies, it is organized in networks, making it difficult to break up. The government needs a much more comprehensive strategy to reduce the endemic corruption.”

One of the most significant strategic reforms to which the government itself has committed so far is the Philippine Government Action Plan, entitled “Institutionalizing People Power in Governance to Ensure Direct, Immediate, and Substantial Benefits for the Poor.” The plan is anchored upon transparent, accountable, and participatory governance as a key ingredient to achieving poverty reduction and economic expansion. In this plan, the government is committed to undertake 19 initiatives: two in transparency (including disclosing budget information of all major departments and a roadmap for improving public access to information); five in citizen participation (including expanding participatory budgeting and bottom-up budgeting, establishing an empowerment fund and undertaking participatory audits); four in accountability (including the Results-Based Performance Management System); and eight in technology and innovation. Thus, the Action Plan combines both greater involvement of the citizenry in governance affairs with internal changes in how the bureaucracy operates.

Watchdog functions are not new in the Philippines. Myriad coalitions have organized to monitor the delivery of various government services and public processes. However, the collaborative implementation of the bottom-up-budgeting (BUB) between municipal governments and citizen groups, abetted by a system of national government incentives and disincentives, has the makings of real radical reform. The BUB, first introduced in the 2012 budget process and now on its second budget cycle, is the government’s new approach to the preparation of the national budget to reduce poverty and achieve the country’s MDG targets. It begins with proposals from a participatory planning process between local government officials and constituent citizen’s groups as a starting point for national government agency budgeting to achieve what the government calls “a people-centric budget.” It seeks to ensure that critical and priority local development projects are increasingly funded by the national budget and less dependent on arbitrary and capricious pork barrel spending. The approach strengthens  responsiveness of national and local government programs and processes while encouraging a “me-too mentality” among local leaders for a more transparent and participatory governance. It can be argued that providing incentives for the national government, local governments, and the citizenry, as they all benefit from this new process, makes it more difficult to roll back this reform.

The rearrangement of incentives seems to be the implicit formula for other key reforms. The Performance Challenge Fund and Seal of Good Housekeeping for local governments are complementary programs that set up transparency and accountability standards for LGU and provide incentives for local governments that achieve them. These typify the governance-through-CSO-engagement approach that the current administration has undertaken in a major way. Indeed, it will go even further with the soon-to-be-released Empowerment Fund, a well-resourced private and public fund allotted to projects that strengthen CSO capacity to participate in these reforms and, in turn, build communities’ capacity to demand the continuity of reforms. The fund will be composed of counterpart contributions from both government funds and funds from local financing institutions (LFIs). The fund is seen as critical for the institutionalization of CSO engagement in governance reform. This of course would follow the logic that CSO engagement is critical to the success of citizen involvement in transforming our public institutions.

When it comes to the internal bureaucratic reform, the Department of Budget and Management is effectively the process-keeper of important institution-building elements of the program. These include fiscal discipline (e.g., doing away with undue budget discretion and lump sum funds and enforcing transparency and accountability among “sacred cows” including the military, national security, and the judiciary), as well as allocative and operational efficiency via the Organizational Performance Indicator Framework (OPIF), zero-based budgeting (ZBB), and the Results-Based Performance Management System (RBPMS), three examples of complementary results-based approaches to strengthen and rationalize the government’s public expenditure management.

The administration thus has a strong emphasis on both the supply side (bureaucratic reform) and the demand side (citizen involvement) of the reform equation.

So, is governance in fact changing for the better? While reformers in key leadership positions who know how to use both the technical and political leverage provided by these positions, represent a significant factor that cannot be overstated, the challenge of winning over the middle-level bureaucrats is where the battle will ultimately be won. Needless to say, the challenge of institutionalizing these programs and initiatives remains.

Conscious of the tenuousness of the reform situation, Department of Budget and Management Secretary Florencio Abad has identified the task of resisting policy reversal as one half of the core agenda for the next three years (the other being achieving inclusive growth). In the end, institutionalized change remains inextricably linked to Aquino’s successor, and therefore very much in the hands of the electorate.

Jose Maria M. Mendoza is program leader for the Coalitions for Change Program, an activity under the AusAID-Asia Foundation Partnership in the Philippines, and Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative there. They can be reached at [email protected] and [email protected], respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Good Governance, Inclusive Economic Growth
Related topics: Corruption, Elections

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

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This year, we celebrate 70 years of improving lives and expanding opportunities.

Families, Not Political Parties Still Reign in the Philippines

InAsia

Insights and Analysis

Families, Not Political Parties Still Reign in the Philippines

May 22, 2013

By Steven Rood

There has been some controversy about the quality of the May 2013 general elections in the Philippines, during which some 18,000 local and national positions were elected. But the fairest verdict of this exercise in electronic voting would seem to be that, like in May 2010, elections changed, but politics didn’t. As always, discussing the May elections inevitably involves talking about families and personalities but not political parties.

Manny Pacquiao's wife Jinkee Pacquiao files her certificate of candidacy on Tuesday, October 2.

Manny Pacquiao’s wife Jinkee Pacquiao files her certificate of candidacy on Tuesday, October 2. Photo by Cocoy Sexcion.

When it comes to the nationally elected upper house of the legislature – the Senate – much has been made of the fact that nine of the 12 winners came from President Aquino’s slate, dubbed “Team PNoy.” It’s important to note that from the start, this was not a group of Liberal Party (LP) members – only three candidates were Liberal Party members (and of those, only one had been a Liberal Party member for more than a few months). The rest are from the LP’s coalition partners, the Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino.

In the end, the only LP winner was the newly minted member Bam Aquino, a first cousin of President Aquino with a distinguished NGO career. Other newcomers to the Senate were topnotcher Grace Poe (daughter of the late Fernando Poe Jr., defeated 2004 presidential candidate), Nancy Binay (daughter of Vice President Jejomar Binay), Sonny Angara (son of outgoing Senator Eduardo Angara), Cynthia Villar (wife of outgoing Senator Manual Villar), and JV Ejercito (son of former president, and newly elected Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada). The pattern is obvious, and replicated throughout the archipelago for many offices – mayors and governors, members of Congress, and local council members.

In a post on this blog last year, I examined the fate of political families in Philippine history. One of those examined was the Dimaporos of Lanao del Norte, which in 2013 continued their unbroken hold on the province with husband Abdullah (the second generation of the dynasty) and wife Imelda being the two elected representatives, and their son Khalid the governor. Another was the Durano clan of Danao City in Cebu, which in 2013 continued their bewildering internecine competition as brother bested brother and nephew defeated uncle.

As witness the Durano imbroglio, being a political family is not necessarily a secure position. Some prominent political clans suffered a more crushing blow in May elections, with only one of the Villafuertes of Carmarines Sur winning a seat, and that winner defeated his grandfather, clan patriarch Luis. In the Zamboanga peninsula, the expansionist Jalosjos clan, which in 2010 spread from Zamboanga Norte to Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibuguey, was rolled back to its one bastion of Dapitan City by allies of the president. Naturally, however, these allies were also established political families, such as the Hofers of Sibuguey and the Cerilles of Zamboanga del Sur.  One scion of a political clan, General Santos City mayor Darlene Antonino-Custodio, lost her re-election bid to a candidate supported by a nascent political force – boxing champion and Congressman Manny Pacquiao. An example of how new political families arise (almost half of all political clans originated after the restoration of electoral democracy in 1986), Pacquiao fielded his brother in another congressional race (the brother lost) and his wife, Jinkee, for vice-governor (she won).

Given this emphasis on families not political parties, on personalities not policy, we should view with skepticism any assertion that these election results, which do indeed demonstrate the continued popularity and drawing power of President Aquino, represent a surge for general reform. The organization of Philippine politics by clans and personalities makes it harder for the president to pursue his central theme of “if there is no corruption there is no poverty.” As explained by corruption scholar Michael Johnston, elections do induce uncertainty in political families (since they are not certain to win) who are appealing to citizens on the basis of favors and personal services. The incentive to accumulate irregular resources is increased since not only do they finance bids for power but they must be accumulated while in power:  “make hay while the sun shines,” as the saying goes. In this climate, where almost all politicking is conducted in this fashion, even anti-corruption efforts can be portrayed as “partisan,” as the insincere attempt by one faction to persecute another.

Reform is in fact possible in the Philippines. For example, the recent passage of tobacco tax increases in the teeth of fierce opposition of some in the industry, will allow better financing of health care for average citizens. But the more general question is, if politics is not changing, can governance patterns change in any sustainable fashion?  That is the topic of next week’s post.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Good Governance
Related topics: Corruption, Elections

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

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Civil Society More Ready Than Ever to Play Role in Forging Peace in Mindanao

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Civil Society More Ready Than Ever to Play Role in Forging Peace in Mindanao

February 20, 2013

By Steven Rood

In a study I wrote a number of years ago, I quoted a peace activist in Mindanao lamenting the lack of success in ending the war between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). He was speaking in the wake of President Estrada’s 2000 “all-out war” offensive that overran fixed positions of the MILF. Similar sentiments were echoed after the 2003 government attack on the Buliok Complex (in an attempt to arrest MILF Chair Hashim Salamat) and the 2008 upsurge in violence when “rogue” MILF commanders responded to the aborted signing of the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). In short, civil society in Southern Philippines has often had to face the reality that despite “sustained and varied collective actions,” progress toward peace in the Muslim separatist conflicts has been halting.

In describing and diagnosing the efforts of civil society, I wrote that there was the promotion of dialogue among communities, but that there was an asymmetry since Christian churches tend to have hierarchies that can organize activities, while Islam has no hierarchy, leading to a perception that such dialogue was Christian-led. A similar situation was seen in that Moro civil society was considerably less developed than Christian civil society. This seemed to be the dual result of poverty and the fact that the revolutionary fronts, the Moro National Liberation Front and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, used up much of the ideological space for organization.

At the community level, “peace zones” were often established, where citizens requested combatants from all sides to stay away. However there was not much evidence that they were effective in reducing violence in the absence of a general peace agreement, since combatants would still maneuver. An encouraging development was the Bantay Ceasefire (ceasefire watch), a valuable parallel civil society initiative begun in 2003 to supplement the formal Local Monitoring Teams (LMTs) that had been agreed upon in the talks. Since the LMTs were not uniformly active, and since their reports to negotiators were confidential, the public activities of the Bantay Ceasefire were most welcome. However, at that time, the effort was very poorly funded.

Peace Forum on Harnessing Peace and Security in Marawi City

Thanks to a stronger civil society, women are increasingly active in the peace process in the Southern Philippines. Photo/Karl Grobl

I also noted that civil society has over the years become increasingly engaged in the formal peace process, with a good example being the chair of Mindanao Caucus of Development NGOs (MinCODE), Sylvia Paraguya, serving on the government’s negotiating panel (and Teresita “Ging” Deles serving as Presidential Assistant on the Peace Process). Still, overall civil society had little effect on the formal peace process, since negotiation contained considerable confidentiality, went through back channels, and can be highly technical. Civil society members on the panels are constrained in what they can say without violating confidences, and in their new role in government were no longer able to be as freewheeling in their participatory consultations as they had been in the past.

Since the study was written, the better part of a decade has passed, and the implementation of a new Agreement seems imminent, as promised in the October 15 signing of the Framework Agreement on the Bangsamoro. In particular, there is a Transition Commission being set up to draft the Basic Law for the new arrangements. The Executive Order establishing the Transition Commission mandates “authentic democratic collaboration in the crafting of a proposed law by the affected people themselves.” In light of these new developments and progress in civil society over the past years, what are the prospects for the role of civil society in managing the conflict?

Firstly, direct civil society engagement in keeping the peace on the ground is considerably more robust than in the past. Bantay Ceasefire is now better funded, and such engagement is formalized now with Mindanao People’s Caucus involvement in the Civilian Protection Component of the International Monitoring Team. They are joined by two Moro NGOs, Mindanao Human Rights Action Center (MinHRAC) and the Muslim Organization of Government and Other Professionals (MOGOP), in this role of providing local, on-the-ground complements to the efforts of the IMT.

The addition of two Moro NGOs to the Civilian Protection Component is a reflection of how Moro civil society has been strengthened in recent years. Long-standing programs by donors, both foreign and domestic, have over the last decade begun to make a difference. Despite progress, there still remains a lot to do, with the strife-torn island provinces of Sulu and Basilan still having far less developed civil society than central Mindanao.

Along the same line, the ulama (Muslim male scholars), and to a lesser extent, the aleemat (Muslim women scholars), are beginning to become more involved in solving community problems. This begins to remedy some of the asymmetry I mentioned earlier where the hierarchies that Christian churches have makes organizational efforts easier. For instance, the Sulu Ulama Council for Peace and Development interacts with the provincial government on development issues, and with the security forces on peace and order.

Civil society is undertaking new tasks – an interesting example is Consortium of Bangsamoro Civil Society and its long-standing efforts (funded first by The Asia Foundation, and more recently by Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue) to assist in “convergence” between the MNLF and MILF by consulting the grassroots on what they want from the two fronts. The idea is to produce an independent “Moro Agenda” to which the two groups could react. This begins to open up what I called the “ideological space” for alternative approaches. At the community level, as Asia Foundation conflict expert and author Willy Torres describes in his “Letting a Thousand Flowers Bloom,” civil society organizations have gone beyond just making bantay (watching) to active work on mediating and helping to settle conflicts. In the last five years or so, Asia Foundation partners have been able to settle a total of 204 clan conflicts (accounting for 604 deaths and 231 injuries).

There is one aspect of the peace process that definitely shows the impact of civil society:  the greater involvement of women. Last year, I blogged on Professor Miriam Coronel-Ferrer who became the first woman to chair the government’s peace panel. But still, overall, we must stick with the judgment that civil society has not had much influence on the peace process thus far – it has been the choices of the parties that make the difference. Notice the progress made in the MILF peace process versus the decades-long stalemate in the NDF process. The MILF chose not to let the question of detainees halt the process, while the NDF refuses to talk until this issue is resolved. Peace talks start and stop based on decisions of the GPH and the MILF, and the details of the talks develop behind closed doors, with little reference to the activities of civil society.

Such disconnect is perhaps understandable since the confidential negotiations were taking place in Kuala Lumpur following diplomatic modalities. But now that the Transition Commission is about to start work in Cotabato City, civil society has an opportunity to engage directly in the process – but it must go beyond mere expressions of sentiment. Taxation, forms of governance, policing and community security, social service delivery, new forms of politics – all of these are difficult and often highly technical topics that must be tackled by the Transition Commission in a limited time. Civil society must step up to the challenge of helping the Transition Commission draft a Basic Law that sets the new Bangsamoro on the path to peace and development.  At the national level, something of a stretch for Mindanao civil society, Congress needs to be encouraged to see the document produced by the Transition Commission as a positive step for the entire Filipino nation.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines, and represents the Foundation as part of the International Contact Group for the GPH-MILF negotiations. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

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Have Philippine Presidents Overcome the Governance Impact of the ‘Hollywood Years?’

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Have Philippine Presidents Overcome the Governance Impact of the ‘Hollywood Years?’

February 15, 2012

By Steven Rood

The Philippines has many cultural similarities to the rest of Southeast Asia. Some similarities, take cockfighting for example, puzzle some Filipinos and give great pride to other Filipinos (particularly males). Cockfighting is pre-colonial (as the chronicler of Magellan’s voyage when it arrived in the Philippines, Antonio Pigafetta observed) and is shared with Southeast Asia as is obvious from the classic anthropological essay by Clifford Geertz, “Deep Play: Notes on a Balinese Cockfight.”

Interestingly, though, Samuel Huntington in his “Clash of Civilizations” places the Philippines in the category of Western civilization. Perhaps this is unsurprising – the old stereotype is that the Philippines was “350 years in a convent, and then 50 years in Hollywood.”  The religious impact of the “convent years” is a topic for another post, and the governance impact of the Spanish friarchy (a decentralized state with a weak center) was treated in last week’s post. In this week’s blog, I’m exploring the governance impact of the “Hollywood years” and efforts by Philippine presidents to overcome this impact.

People pass an old Coke sign in the Philippines

American influence over the Philippines was far-reaching, with significant impact on the nation's culture and system of governance. Photo by Karl Grobl.

Almost immediately after America took colonial rule over the Philippines, it instituted elections:  first municipal, then provincial, and then in 1907, it established elections for the Philippine Assembly. Filipino elites at the local level thrived under this deliberately decentralized regime that allowed the buildup of networks to the national level. Of course, since it was a colonial regime, the executive power was in the hands of Americans, but that was not long-lasting. In 1912, Governor-General Francis Burton Harrison began a rapid process of “Filipinization” and by 1919, Americans held only 5 percent of senior positions.

The point here is that there were powerful Filipino politicians before there were Filipino civil servants, so that, in Alfred McCoy’s words, the colonial bureaucracy was “effectively penetrated and manipulated” by the Filipino elites. This is the opposite of the general colonial pattern where the colonizer would allow indigenous bureaucrats before indigenous politics (since the former helped the colonizer carry out policy while the latter would challenge the colonizer). Renowned political scientist (and SAIS fellow) Francis Fukuyama points out that the same pattern held for the United States, with Jacksonian democracy being introduced in the 1830s whereas meritocratic civil service waited until the 1880s. He (perhaps controversially) thinks the quality of governance in the United States tends to be low – it certainly is not controversial that in the Philippines it is not. Bureaucrats in the Philippines lack the autonomy and prestige of bureaucrats elsewhere – which is obvious to anyone who has witnessed interactions between politicians and bureaucrats in a number of other countries.

Presented with a decentralized political system and a weak bureaucracy, what is a president, head of the executive branch, to do?  Since the beginning of the Commonwealth period in 1935, pyramids of patron-client networks were built (with party labels but with such low levels of loyalty to make political parties otherwise meaningless). The weakness of this strategy is the fissiparous nature of such structures, as witnessed by the fact that no Philippine president ever won reelection before Ferdinand Marcos in 1968. He managed his situation by devising mechanisms to bypass some of the steps of the pyramid (such as Congress) by going directly to localities through, for example, the Presidential Assistant for Community Development. Even after Marcos launched martial law in 1972, which he labeled “Revolution from the Center,”  local factions flourished and were not controllable from the center. Thus, in the 1984 parliamentary elections, factionalism among Marcos supporters in Baguio city allowed an opposition politician to win the election.

Over the years national administrations tried to overcome this decentralized political situation by restricting local governments in their spending through central funding and other activities by imposing red tape from the national government. However, the experience of an authoritarian government from 1972 to 1986 spurred the passage of the 1991 local government code, which brought administrative practice (that is, more autonomy for elected local governments) back in line with political reality. Of course, with most of their budget automatically allocated by a transparent formula, local governments lost some incentive to cooperate with the national government.

Another mode of control from the center is for the president to appoint more people throughout the bureaucracy – to the point where the president of the Philippines has more appointments to make than the president of the United States – some 11,000 compared to 9,000. Unfortunately, this tactic has long had its limits. As John Adams said, “Every appointment creates one ingrate and 10 enemies.”

Leaving aside current political maneuverings (as most spectacularly represented by the impeachment trial of the sitting chief justice of the Supreme Court), the current administration of Noynoy Aquino is attempting administrative remedies to strengthen the ability of the national government in Manila to achieve its policy objectives. First, in a technocratic maneuver, there is zero-based budgeting, which is increasingly tied to an organizational performance indicator framework (OPIF). Secondly, in an attempt to tie local government plans into national government budgeting, Aquino (beginning with the 300 poorest municipalities) focused on developing local project proposals for the national government agencies. By the end of this budget cycle in December 2012 we will have an idea of how successful these methods have been.

This is the fourth posting in the series, “A Representative Professor,” a weekly series during a teaching sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation. 

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

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U.S. Military and the Philippines: What do Philippine Citizens Really Think?

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U.S. Military and the Philippines: What do Philippine Citizens Really Think?

February 1, 2012

By Steven Rood

No sooner did I warn in last week’s blog on my way to Washington, D.C., that there is “a danger that U.S.-Philippine relations will be viewed entirely through the lens of ‘the rise of China'” than I was greeted upon arrival by the morning front-page story in The Washington Post entitled, “Philippines may allow greater U.S. military presence in reaction to China’s rise.”

A U.S. army captain greets children in the Philippines

News that the Philippines may allow greater U.S. military presence sparked controversy. However, SWS surveys consistently show that the majority of Philippine citizens feels that they benefit from military cooperation with the United States. Photo: U.S. Navy.

The article stated that “the sudden rush by many in the Asia-Pacific region to embrace Washington is a direct reaction to China’s rise as a military power and its assertiveness in staking claims to disputed territories, such as the energy-rich South China Sea.”  Immediately, other pundits piled on, agreeing that “U.S.-Philippines Relations Benefit from China’s Poor Public Image” or discussing “The Great Game:  Philippine Edition.”

Unsurprisingly, neither China nor Philippine opponents of the United States were pleased. A Global Times editorial said, “Make Philippines pay for balancing act,” and this was certainly noticed in the Philippine press. But then diplomats began to calm the roiled waters. The Joint Statement on Friday after the finish of the 2nd Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue listed a whole host of items being discussed – well beyond a focus on China. Over the weekend, the Presidential Palace in the Philippines insisted that territorial disputes in the South China Sea (which the Philippines calls the West Philippine Sea) was not the main motivation behind the Strategic Dialogue. In turn, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a more measured statement, taking note of the report. Finally, some U.S. analysts argued that the entire “pivot” to Asia, much less specific U.S.-Philippine initiatives, were “not all about China.”

The usual small number of protestors showed up at the United States Embassy in Manila after the news broke, but a broader discussion about the presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines has been going on for some time. Continued U.S. bases were rejected by the Philippine Senate in 1991, but a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) was signed in 1991 that governed U.S. troops while in the Philippines. (The Australian government signed a Status of Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines in 2007, but this has not been ratified by the Philippine Senate.)  Under the VFA, there are port calls by U.S. ships, joint exercises, and frequent humanitarian missions by U.S. forces after humanitarian disasters. More controversially, since 2002, there has been a Joint Special Operations Task Force in the Philippines (JSOTF-P) of about 600 U.S. personnel working with Philippine security forces on anti-terrorism efforts in the southern Philippines. While no member of the task force stays more than six months, and they are housed on Philippine military bases, this presence remains controversial.

This issue may be seen as controversial among the policy elite heard in the media or the halls of Congress. But for the average citizen of the Philippines, there is no controversy. The American forces are welcome. Consistently, Social Weather Stations data from national probability sample surveys show that the majority feels that the Philippines benefits from military cooperation with the United States. Asked what country is the most reliable ally of the Philippines, some 80 percent name the United States, with no other country even reaching double digits. Fifty-nine percent say that it is important to maintain a close alliance with the United States, while only 15 percent disagree.

Perhaps public regard for different countries can be summed up in the graph below, where Social Weather Stations has plotted net trust (percent with much trust minus the percent with little trust) toward four countries active in the region:  the U.S., China, Australia, and Japan.

SWS Survey graph

The results are clear: over the course of more than 15 years of data, the United States is virtually always the highest, Japan and Australia start low but increase, and China stays low at roughly zero over time.

This is not to say that Filipinos are uncritical fans of the United States. The decline in trust in the mid-2000s is associated with fears over the war in Iraq – fears that were brought home when a Filipino was kidnapped in Fallujah and the Philippine government brought home a 51-person peacekeeping contingent to secure his release. (I must admit to puzzlement about the dip in trust in late 2009/early 2010 – was it caused by Filipino worries over the global economic crisis? Your suggestions are welcomed.)

And, treatment of Filipinos by U.S. troops can be a sore topic. In 2006, a U.S. marine was convicted of rape during a port call at the former Subic Bay naval base, and held for over a year pending appeal in the custody of the U.S. embassy rather than in a Philippine jail. When his conviction was overturned by a Philippine appellate court he was freed after being held for over a year in a cell in the U.S. embassy. The publicity over two years did stir doubt in the public’s mind, with equal numbers telling Social Weather Stations that they had much trust, or had little trust, in U.S. personnel in the country respecting the laws. President Aquino has indeed announced that there would be a review of the VFA, with one focus being the question of custody of U.S. servicemen accused of breaking the law.

Citizens have also expressed to SWS a preference for non-military assistance, with U.S. government civilian agencies and U.S. private organizations both outranking U.S. military agencies. But there is general acceptance among the public, so this controversy will most likely continue to play out only among the elite.

This is the second posting in the series, “A Representative Professor,” a weekly series during a teaching sabbatical at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s country representative in the Philippines. He can be reached at [email protected]. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation. 

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

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Philippine Voters Deluged by Election Surveys: But What Do They Measure?

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Philippine Voters Deluged by Election Surveys: But What Do They Measure?

May 5, 2010

By Steven Rood

As the Philippines enters the final stretch before elections on Monday, May 10, competing survey results continue to deluge the public. The Philippines is well-endowed with respected, technically sound public opinion pollsters (as well as long-standing market researchers). So much so, that many suggest a “poll of polls” approach is necessary to make sense of it all.

Actually, with respect to the president and vice presidential races (who are actually elected separately, though they run as a team), recent results are easy to interpret – all reveal clear front-runners. A Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey from April 16-19 has the Liberal Party’s Noynoy Aquino (Ninoy and Corazon Aquino’s son) leading the Nacionalista Party’s Manny Villar by 12 points, 38 to 26. The same poll puts the Liberal Vice Presidential candidate Mar Roxas ahead of the Nacionalista’s Loren Legarda by 39 to 24 (with Makati Mayor Jojemar Binay at 25 percent – he is running in tandem with former President Estrada who ranked third as a presidential candidate in this year’s race, at 17 percent).

Pulse Asia’s April 23-25 survey finds Noynoy with a 19-point lead over Villar (39 to 20, with Estrada at 20) while the survey places vice presidential candidate Roxas at 37 percent, leading Binay (28 percent) and Legarda (20 percent). The newest of the survey outfits, affiliated with the Manila Standard Today and run by Junie Laylo, in its April 25-27 survey, shows Noynoy in the lead with 38 percent, 16 percentage points above Estrada’s 22 percent. Villar comes in third place with 20 percent. In the vice presidential race, Roxas still leads with 38 percent, followed by Binay at 28 percent and Legarda at 20 percent. (UPDATE May 6: The final May 2-3 SWS poll gave Aquino 42 percent, up four points and ahead of Estrada with 20 percent, and Villar, at 19 percent. The poll had vice presidential candidates Binay and Roxas tied at 37 percent.)

But these clear statistical results haven’t actually had the effect of bringing clarity to the political situation. Despite the Philippines’ long history of successful electoral surveys, and colorful attempts to explain sampling methodology in down-to-earth similes (“Don’t you know that you need not finish off a bowlful of dinuguan from a neighborhood carineria to check if it is as yummy as the stew from your mother’s kitchen?”), some candidates profess not to believe their results: “In fairness to [political commentator] Mon Casiple, he does not know what is happening on the ground. He has not been going around like us. He bases his analysis on surveys, and we completely dispute all this. It does not reflect what we’re seeing on the ground,” said Administration Senatorial Candidate Raul Lambino recently. He supports presidential candidate and former Secretary of Defense, Gilberto Teodoro (fourth in the polls), who is backed by outgoing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. On the campaign trail, Teodoro recently showed off a T-shirt saying, “Hindi ako tinanong sa survey.” (“I was not asked in the survey.”)

Objections to surveys range from skepticism over their ability to reliably predict outcomes, to doubts over whether they are actually unbiased. For example, in 2004, many felt that SWS would be biased in favor of movie star Fernando Poe Jr., (FPJ) since SWS President Mahar Mangahas was FPJ’s cousin. In turned out that the poll contained an error – but against FPJ and in favor of victor Arroyo. (SWS later commissioned an independent investigation to improve their methodology to reduce the likelihood for errors.) Others will point out that the three survey groups mentioned – SWS, Pulse Asia, and Manila Standard Today – have common roots; at some point in their evolution, they were all part of SWS.

Another criticism focuses on the fact that, while surveys may accurately predict winners, they also may influence the election itself by encouraging “trending” which gives the impression that one candidate is winning which in turn produces a bandwagon effect. Some regard this as a weakness in the democratic process. Senator Richard Gordon, yet another presidential candidate trailing behind in the polls (ranked fifth), filed a court case in late April against SWS and Pulse Asia for “conditioning the minds of voters to go for candidates based on what surveys say instead on their actual platforms.” In reality, survey findings on what exactly influences the attitudes of individual voters is quite thin – any tendency for voters to jump on a “bandwagon” is apparently counterbalanced by a tendency to root for the underdog. SWS President Mangahas consistently rebuts any attempt to restrict surveys by invoking the Philippine Supreme Court’s ruling in 2001 that surveys are protected under the constitution as a form of free speech.

Even if survey findings cannot be proven to affect the attitudes of individual voters, they may indeed affect electoral races in other ways. Anecdotal evidence abounds that financial backers make decisions on candidate donations with one eye on the polls. Or, as one local pollster relayed, a local candidate changed his tactics after attending a briefing of survey findings that revealed he was running behind. Just days before election day, the candidate allegedly flooded the constituency with money, buying enough votes to overcome the survey deficit. (The pollster noted proudly that this was the only local race that wasn’t successfully predicted.)

This does bring us to a widely heard criticism of surveys that survey researchers themselves agree upon: an overemphasis on the “horse race” aspects of their results. While an ability to predict election winners is crucial in demonstrating accuracy, much of the value of surveys is their ability to measure other opinions of the citizenry. Unfortunately, voters’ views on specific issues is almost nonexistent in not only the surveys, but the overall debate at large. While some candidates’ websites, such as Noynoy, elaborate on platform and issues, the campaign focus (and voter choice) remains at the very abstract level of Noynoy promising not to be corrupt and Villar promising to end poverty through industriousness and persistence.

One crucial issue that has been probed in the elections is public attitudes toward the new automated technology for counting and voting. Voters’ acceptance of this new method will be essential to whether or not the election produces a legitimate government. While we cannot know voters’ judgment of the new process until after the election (particularly until we know whether the technology works, as Tim Meisburger details in the above piece), survey outfits have measured expectations. Pulse Asia found in January, just as the election campaign started, that 71 percent of the voters knew little or nothing about the new system, but 66 percent trusted the teachers who man the polling place to manage the Automated Electoral System. In February SWS found that 62 percent had some prior experience with forms that required shading of ovals, and 81 percent said the new system of voting would be easier than the old.

We’ll know in a few days whether voters’ expectations are fulfilled, and the survey predictions are correct.

Steven Rood is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative for the Philippines and Pacific Island Nations. He can be reached at [email protected].

Related locations: Philippines
Related programs: Good Governance
Related topics: Elections

About our blog, InAsia

InAsia is a bi-weekly in-depth, in-country resource for readers who want to stay abreast of significant events and issues shaping Asia’s development, hosted by The Asia Foundation. Drawing on the first-hand insight of renowned experts, InAsia delivers concentrated analysis on issues affecting each region of Asia, as well as Foundation-produced reports and polls.

InAsia is posted and distributed every other Wednesday evening, Pacific Time. If you have any questions, please send an email to [email protected].

Contact

For questions about InAsia, or for our cross-post and re-use policy, please send an email to [email protected].

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This year, we celebrate 70 years of improving lives and expanding opportunities.