A FORTNIGHT AGO, a policy forum on the state of “Democracy and Governance in the Philippines: Deficit, Surplus, and Unfinished Business” was conducted by the PCIJ, in partnership with the Office of the Ombudsman of the Philppines and the Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition.
To flesh out inputs from the resources persons — Ombudsman Conchita Carpio-Morales, Atty. Christian S. Monsod, Atty. Jose Manuel I. Diokno, and Dr. Emmanuel S. de Dios — the forum organized the 100-plus participants from civil society organizations, media, academe, and government into four workshop groups to discuss specific policy and action reforms they deem relevant and urgent.
The forum served as well as a cursory audit of what issues the participants wish could be address in third State of the Nation Address of President Rodrio R. Duterte.
Each group was tasked to define topic-specific policy issues that should be underscored by the Duterte administration, as well as specific action steps that must be undertaken at various levels and by different stakeholders. No guide questions were provided but the organizers designated group facilitators to assist the workshop objectives. A third of the forum participants signed up for the workshop that lasted for two hours. Each group later reported to the plenary a summary of their discussions.
The reports of the workshop groups follow, with comparative notes on what were addressed in part or in whole, or not addressed at all, in the President’s third SONA.
CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS, AND THE RULE OF LAW
(Workshop Participants: Greenpeace, Public Services Labor Independent Confederation (PSLink), CEU/DZMM, Nightwatch, Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD)-House of Representatives/ Facilitator: Sunshine Serrano, Task Force Detainees of the Philippines)
Weak realization of human rights as well as low public awareness of what these rights are were pinpointed as topmost concerns by the group assessing civil and political rights and the rule of law.
The participants also highlighted increased “securitization” as an issue in civil and political rights. This is particularly concerned with government programs or directives such as “Oplan Tokhang” and “Anti-Tambay” that the government and the police have projected as measures to protect the security of citizens. As a result, people swayed by the justification eventually let go of certain civil and political rights in exchange for “security.”
Yet, the participants noted, the poor implementation of laws and policies remains a problem, especially since there seems to be a double standard in the application of rules and regulations. To the participants, erring rank and file employees in the public service sector are more likely to face consequences for their actions than high-ranking officials.
According to the participants, there seems to be a widening gap in terms of equity and fairness in the implementation of laws and policies.
One policy they cited was that against tambays that resulted in another wave of arrests and detentions of people coming from poor communities. The police, obviously, won’t look for tambays in posh subdivisions, said the participants.
The group’s viewpoint is that lack of proper enforcement of laws erodes confidence of the people in laws. Coupled with limited to no access to redress mechanisms, institutions expected to carry out justice are perceived to be perpetrators themselves, while those who seek redress are attacked and killed, resulting in a creeping culture of fear.
The participants noted, too, that people are less likely to realize or assert their civil and political rights these days even as their economic rights diminish as well. To the group, thus, communicating rights issues and raising the level of critical thinking are urgently needed so that the public would not only appreciate their rights, but also assert them. These in turn call for concerted efforts in mobilizing communities and educational institutions to inform and educate the public on human rights.
But the participants observed as well that there is now diminishing civic space for discussion of issues. This is due to attacks on press freedom, using the Internet as a weapon with the rise of trolls, limited access to information, and the proliferation of misinformation and disinformation.
According to the 2017 Oxford University study “Troops, trolls and troublemakers: A global inventory of organized social media manipulation,” some USD200,000, or around PhP10 million were used to hire 400 to 500 trolls to spread propaganda for then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte and target his opposition. The report said that “many of the so‐called ‘keyboard trolls’ who were hired to spread propaganda for Duterte during the election “continue to spread and amplify messages in support of his policies” now that he is in power. Responding to this through media interviews, Duterte has admitted he may have spent PhP10 million for trolls during the elections, but that now he has “no need to defend himself against attacks.”
Those who may be in need of defense against attacks may in fact be members of the media. In May 2018, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and PCIJ reported a total of 85 cases of attacks and harassment against the press in the first 22 months of the Duterte administration. This included at least nine deaths. Since the report was published, at least four more deaths have been reported.
At the same time, the media often face difficulty when requesting for information or documents, not in the least because of the continuing lack of a Freedom of Information Law. The situation has become even more complicated, however, with the enactment of the Data Privacy Act.
Consequently, the group considers a media and information literacy campaign to be a vital measure that must be undertaken – one that engages the academe and other yet untapped sectors, and encourages international solidarity – with the end view of building a community that agrees on common ground in fighting for civil and political rights. As well, the participants think the media should start looking into its own shortcomings and address of issues of corruption and unethical behavior, and more importantly, do better journalism.
As specific policy action points for the government, the group suggested these:
• Rule of law should apply to all regardless of who you are;
• Review and consider revising obsolete provisions in existing laws;
• Streamline the due process mechanism;
• Strengthen institutions;
• Government transparency and accountability is important; and
• There should be an accountability mechanism for non-implementation of laws.
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON THE DRUG WAR
“…the war against illegal drugs is far from over.”
“…the illegal drugs war will not be sidelined. Instead, it will be as relentless and chilling, if you will, as on the day it began.”
“If you think that I can be dissuaded from continuing this fight because of [your] demonstrations, your protests, which I find, by the way, misdirected, then you got it all wrong.”
“Your concern is human rights, mine is human lives.”
“Human rights to me means giving Filipinos, especially those at the society’s fringes, a decent and dignified future through the social and physical infrastructures necessary to better their lives.”
ECONOMIC AND BUSINESS POLICY REFORMS
(Workshop Participants: Freedom from Debt Coalition, United Nations Development Programme, and Action for Economic Reforms/ Facilitator: Joy Chavez, Action for Economic Reforms)
Deficits on transparency, accountability, and participation in governance were identified as the overarching concerns with regard to economic and business policy reforms. The group observed difficulty in monitoring how economic and business policies are crafted, as well as how these are implemented.
The participants said that stress should be given to more democratic participation of people in governance even as they emphasized that Duterte’s “populism” is not the way to go. The incompetence of some government officials was also identified as an issue affecting economic and business policies.
Foremost of the specific issues identified by the group are the unexpected and unintended consequences of instituted economic policies or reforms such as the TRAIN Law. This includes the high inflation rate and its impacts on the poor and basic sectors, and redistribution issues.
According to Philippine Statistics Authority (PSA) data, the headline inflation in the country increased by 5.2 percent in June 2018. This is 0.6 percent higher than the previous month’s 4.6 percent and 2.7 percent higher than the 2.5 percent headline inflation in June 2017. The June 2018 inflation rate is also all-time highest since 2013, based on PSA data.
The participants also highlighted the government’s failure to protect the rights of consumers and workers from predatory practices of companies, such as profiteering, laying off of workers, and increases in prices beyond the excise taxes, among others. Then again, the group identified a lack in clear policies and programs on job generation and industrial policy as major concerns in economic and business reforms. While there are existing roadmaps on certain industries such as those of copper, furniture, and automotive, the participants noted that no policies exist to rationalize the integration and development of these industries as well as address the weakness of the country’s agricultural sector.
Meanwhile, the group described as “selective” the government’s focus on energy investment projects since it leaves out other economic sectors. The participants called the implementation of the anti-contractualization policy on certain firms as “selective” as well. Too, the group raised concerns on the implementation issues and dangers of the Build, Build, Build program, particularly on:
• Debt generation (Official Development Aid vs. Public-Private Partnership);
• Non-participation of people in the planning of projects;
• Transparency issues; and
• Involvement of Chinese ODA/money.
Lastly, the participants shared their concern on the implications of human-rights issues on the country’s economic prospects. The war on drugs and “anti-tambay” policy of the government has had an impact on investment and business confidence, they said. It is important, they stressed, to craft a national action plan on business and human rights to provide additional protection and standards for people, government, environment, and business.
As specific policy action points, the group identified the following:
• More transparency on the plans- disclosure on what have been implemented;
• Address the impacts of TRAIN: e.g. arrests and sanctions against firms found to be violating workers’ and consumers’ rights, in the guise of TRAIN impacts;
• Have a clear roadmap to address selectivity issues, lack of industrial policy and job generation;
• Review the impacts of these policies (e.g. E.O. 30, establishing the Energy Investment; Coordinating Council or EICC) on key sectors such as indigenous people (IPRA);
• More proactive disclosure of information
o Transparency on the status of loans
o Public disclosure on who is building and using the money;
• Passage of FOI law and Deepening FOI Practice;
• Pursue the enactment of a National Action Plan on Business and Human Rights and its implementation, with the rights of people as primary consideration
o rights of workers
o rights of consumers
o rights of communities
o government as duty-bearer to see this through; and
o More platforms for constructive engagements and discussions
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
“…we shall continue to assert and pursue an independent foreign policy. Our long-term national development and national security goals come first.”
“We shall continue to reach out to all nations regardless of their prevailing political persuasions or proximity to or distance from our shores so long as these nations wish us well.”
“Our stronger bonds with our ASEAN friends have made possible our trilateral border patrols with Indonesia and Malaysia, which has since then put out of business sea pirates, piracy and other terrorists who used to infest our shared seas.”
“Our re-energized relations with China has (sic) also led to an unprecedented level of cooperation between our nations on the war against transnational crimes.”
“Our improved relationship with China, however, does not mean that we will waver in our commitment to defend our interests in the West Philippine Sea.”
“Opening lines of communication and amicably managing differences have led to positive developments that include renewed access of Filipino fishermen in the areas in dispute in the Philippines — West Philippine Sea.”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON LABOR ISSUES
“We strongly condemn the deaths and abuses experienced by Filipino migrant workers in the hands of their foreign employers.”
“It is for this reason that we are continuing to work with the host nations to ensure the welfare of our countrymen. I appeal to all host governments to help us, as true and dependable partners, in this endeavor.”
“Our campaign against Endo has resulted in the regularization of more than 300,000 workers as of early this month. On May 1 of this year, I signed Executive Order 51, which sought to protect the workers right to security of tenure.”
“I understand that this does not satisfy all sectors. I share their sentiment; I truly do. Much as I would like to do the impossible, that power is not vested upon me by the Constitution.”
“That is why I add mine to their voices in asking Congress to pass legislation ending the practice of contractualization once and for all.”
“I urge you Congress to convene the [bicameral] conference committee and pass at the soonest possible time the bill establishing the Coconut Farmers’ Trust Fund.”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON RICE PRICE AND SUPPLY
“To help stabilize rice prices, we also need to address the issue of artificial rice shortage. “
“I am directing all intelligence agencies to unmask the perpetrators of this economic sabotage and our law enforcement agencies to bring them to justice.”
“We need to switch from the current quota system in importing rice to a tariff system where rice can be imported more freely. This will give us additional resources for our farmers, reduce the price of rice by up to 7 pesos per kilo, and lower inflation significantly.”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON TAX REFORM AND TRAIN LAW
“I applaud Congress for the timely passage of the TRAIN law. You have made funds available to build better roads and bridges, and improve health and education, and strengthen our safety and security.”
“Some have incorrectly blamed our efforts toward a fairer tax system for all the price increases in the past months, and some irresponsibly suggesting to stop TRAIN’s implementation. We cannot and should not.”
“TRAIN is already helping poor families and senior citizens cope up with rising prices.”
“I am committed to a comprehensive tax reform, and I ask Congress to continue the job.”
“The enactment of the Package 2 is what stands between today and millions of jobs in the near future.”
“By the end of July 2018, all 5 packages of my tax reform would have been submitted to Congress. Apart from TRAIN, rice tariffication, and Package 2, they include the mining, alcohol, and tobacco tax increase, reform in property valuation, reform in capital income and financial taxes, and an amnesty program. I urge Congress to take them seriously and pass them in succession…
FEDERALISM IN THE CONTEXT OF ECONOMIC, SOCIAL, AND CULTURAL RIGHTS
(Workshop Participants: CODE-NGO, UP College of Social Work and Community Development, Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates, National Economic and Development Authority, CPBRD – House of Representatives, and Philippine Press Institute / Facilitator: Eirene Aguila, Right to Know, Right Now! Coalition)
To the group, the top and crucial question regarding the proposal to shift to federalism is whether or not the country is ready for it, considering the capacity (or lack thereof) of the proposed federal states to grow economically, reduce poverty, and to govern themselves.
The group also questioned the government’s ability to roll out and trickle down the conversation and discussion on federalism to the grassroots level.
A recent report of the PCIJ revealed that only three of the proposed federated regions — National Capital Region (Metro Manila), CALABARZON, and Central Visayas – have local revenue collections larger than their Internal Revenue Allotment or IRA from the national government. The rest of the 15 regions remain largely dependent on their IRA shares to sustain their most basic operations. With the shift to federalism, these 15 regions would have to fight it out to survive.
The group’s sense was that there is a need to bring the draft federal bill to the grassroots level for consultation. But this has become moot since the draft federal constitution drawn up by the Consultative Committee was approved by President Duterte last July 10 and is now in the hands of Congress.
Nonetheless, the group among other things also thought it fair to seek clarity on the impact of federalism on issues related to environmental management, delivery of social services, rural development, and promotion and protection of economic, social, and cultural rights, among others. They broke these down further into:
• Management and control of local environmental resources;
• Effects on land, water, forest, and mining; and
• Who gets to exploit environmental resources.
• Initiatives to enhance capacity of LGUs/federated regions;
• Relation to Bangsamoro, effect on Mindanao; and
• Vertical/horizontal relations.
Delivery of Social Services
• Division of labor and assignment of powers: role of local and role of national;
• Effect on healthcare service: availability of medicine, procurement/contracting, healthcare financing, universal health care and coverage;
• Effect on education;
• Politicizing delivery of services;
• Exacting accountability from three levels of government under federalism;
• Determination of national standards, existence of minimum standards for delivery of services;
• Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policy standards, information systems readiness; and
• Relation and role of private sector in the federal system.
Promotion and upholding Economic, Social, and Cultural rights:
• Progressive realization and basic minimum of ESCR; rights-based development planning;
• Are there minimum standards already for ESCR?; and
• Constitutional and legal frameworks for ESCR under federalism.
The participants agreed that there could be a lot more things that will be in the realm of confusion should the federal shift push through. As such, the group said that there should be more intelligent advocacy, meatier discussions, and deeper appreciation of scenarios – whether to retain the current system or shift to federal system.
Opportunities for detailed and timeline-based discussion with civil society organizations and their respective sectors must be carried out, the participants said, and avenues that will allow sectors and groups to raise questions, and share concerns and information, should be pursued.
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON ISSUES IN MINDANAO
“…Mindanao pauses at the crossroads of history. One road leads to harmony and peace; the other, to war and human suffering.”
“Despite all that has been said [for] or against the Bangsamoro Organic Law by all sectoral groups, I make this solemn commitment that this administration will never deny our Muslim brothers and sisters the basic legal tools to chart their own destiny within the Constitutional framework of our country.”
“To me, war is not an option. We have been through the catastrophe in Marawi. We have seen the horror, the devastation, and the human toll and the displacement of both Christians and Muslims alike.”
“I have made a pledge that ISIS terrorists or groups or its allies will never gain foothold in our country.”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
“What has happened to Boracay is just an indication of the long-overdue need to rationalize, in a holistic and sustainable manner, the utilization, management, and development of our lands.”
“I therefore urge the Senate to urgently pass the National Land Use Act to put in place a national land use policy that will address our competing land requirements for food, housing, businesses, and environmental conservation. We need to do this now.”
“…we, in the Cabinet, have approved for immediate endorsement to Congress the passage of a law creating the “Department of Disaster Management,” an inter-agency — just like FEMA.”
“My policy in the utilization of these resources is non-negotiable: the protection of the environment must be top priority and extracted resources must be used for the benefit of the Filipino people, not just a select few.”
“To the mining industry, I say this once again and maybe for the last time, do not destroy the environment or compromise our resources; repair what you have mismanaged.”
“Again, I warn irresponsible miners, along with their patrons, to stop destroying our watersheds, recharge areas, forests, and aquatic resources.”
“I exhort all concerned agencies and local government units to uphold the concept of intergenerational responsibility in [the exploration] and utilization of our mineral wealth, the protection and preservation of our biodiversity, anchored on the right to a balanced and healthy ecology.”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON HEALTH ISSUES
“We are currently institutionalizing the unified implementation of the “No Balance Billing Policy” through which the government and our private healthcare providers can work out a system that will provide an order of charging of medical expenses.”
“Much needs to be done to improve our healthcare system, which remains highly fragmented, resulting in disparity in health outcomes between the rich and the poor in the urban areas and rural.”
“We shall pool all our resources for health services under the [PhilHealth]; institutionalize primary care as a prerequisite to access higher level of healthcare; and supplement human resource gaps of the LGUs through a National Health Workforce Support System.”
“…I urge the speedy passage of the Universal Health Care Bill”
WHAT DUTERTE SAID IN HIS 3RD SONA: ON CHARTER CHANGE
“I have no illusions of occupying this office one day longer than what the Constitution under which I was elected permits; or under whatever Constitution there might be.”
“I therefore consider it a distinct honor and privilege to have received earlier from the Consultative Committee that I created, the draft Federal Constitution that will truly embody the ideals and aspirations of all the Filipino people.”
“I am confident that the Filipino people will stand behind us as we introduce this new fundamental law that will not only strengthen our democratic institutions, but will also create an environment where every Filipino—regardless of social status, religion, or ideology—will have an equal opportunity to grow and create a future that he or she can proudly bequeath to the succeeding generations.”
CATCHING CROOKS AND AVERTING CORRUPTION
(Workshop Participants: Office of the Ombudsman, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism/ Facilitator: Czarina Medina-Guce, Institute for Leadership, Empowerment, and Democracy)
Save for the facilitator and the PCIJ staff, the group for this topic was made up of representatives of the Office of the Ombudsman. They said that while the Ombudsman has established a zero-backlog goal in the disposition of cases, it has had to deal with the issue of “inordinate delay” and the so-called “Condonation Doctrine” being used as a shield by officials facing charges.
In 2017, the Office of the Ombudsman asked the Supreme Court for a clear definition and ruling on “inordinate delay,” as well as to issue a temporary restraining order on the Sandiganbayan for acquitting respondents based on the Inordinate Delay Doctrine. The Supreme Court then ruled that “inordinate delay” should include fact-finding investigation, which is contrary to the opinion of the group – you do not have a case yet when you are in the fact-finding phase, said the participants.
The Condonation Doctrine, meanwhile, presupposes that when a public official is elected into office by the electorate, the latter has complete knowledge of the any and all administrative misconduct of the said official and that this suits them fine still.
Apart from these, the group said that the Office of the Ombudsman has had “cooperation problems with some agencies,” contributing to delays in investigations.
Still, the Philippines has been going down Transparency International’s corruption-perceptions index in the last few years. The index ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. It uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. In 2015, the country scored 35 and ranked 95th of 168 countries. The Philippines scored the same in 2016 but went down to 101strank of 176 countries. By last year, it gained a score of 34 and was at 111 out of 180 countries.
The participants said that there is still a greater need in corruption-prevention measures that include all stakeholders, including government agencies, students and the academe, and civil-society organizations at the local, national, and international levels. Greater awareness must be achieved among all Filipinos, they said, adding that awareness-raising activities must include knowledge on procurement policies, since many cases filed are related to violations of these.
Particular policy actions identified by the group were:
• Update on case filed questioning the ruling of the Supreme Court on inordinate delay. Take a second look of existing jurisprudence;
• Abandonment of Condonation Doctrine relative to elective officials. Re-election should no longer obliterate an official’s previous administrative liability;
• Review provisions in Bank Secrecy Law;
• Pass the Whistleblower Protection Act;
• Do away with preliminary investigation in forfeiture/asset recovery cases.Reverse the Marquez ruling, which prevents the Ombudsman from looking at bank accounts;
• Enforcement of an Ombudsman order by the House of Representatives, i.e. case of Deputy House Speaker Gwen Garcia, who was ordered dismissed by the Ombudsman last February but who remains in her seat;
• Strengthen MOA/Joint investigations with Commission on Audit, Civil Service Commission, Anti-Money Laundering Council, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines, and the Department of Justice;
• Increase awareness and compliance of officials, especially of local government units, of the Government Procurement Reform Act; and
• Build capacity of investigators and prosecutors.
WHAT DUTERTE SAID in his 3rd SONA: ON CORRUPTION
“Time and again, I have stressed that corruption must stop.”
“One day, justice will catch up with those who steal government funds. And when that day comes, it will be the public who will have its retribution.”
“Our people deserve efficient, effective, and responsive government services. They deserve nothing less.”
“…make your living from the pockets of the people, and you have a lousy and corrupt bureaucracy.”
“I have friends and political supporters whom I appointed to public office and then dismissed or caused to resign.”