A strategy for institutional reforms

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

The year 2018 is indeed a hopeful one, where the optimism for “tunay na pagbabago” — real change — runs strongly among Filipinos. Such optimism is animated by the latest survey results, which showed the net satisfaction ratings of President Duterte at 80 percent in Mindanao, 55 percent in Metro Manila, 50 percent in Luzon, and 53 percent in the Visayas (Social Weather Stations, December 2017). The net increase of 10 points in the ratings reflects that Filipinos are confident that radical change will come.

In a society subsisting on political continuity, change is what is expected in every new administration. However, the bold attempt to reestablish law and order, achieve inclusive growth, and restructure the government is indeed a huge task. Radical change, most importantly, necessitates a degree of institutional development. In the second year of the Duterte presidency, it is high time for it to focus on institutional reforms.

Generally, government institutions operate in the spirit of public service. Their political authority evolves from and matures in the promotion of public interest. It cannot be nurtured under the conditions of a “captured state” or “cacique democracy.”

The foundational element of institutional development lies in the capacity of our political organizations to independently formulate and implement policies. For instance, the three branches of government and the bureaucracies should be insulated from all sorts of control by any particular interest or group.

In sum, the government should be a disinterested actor in the political arena comprised of powerful and influential stakeholders. To decide and implement uninfluenced policies is perhaps the barometer of the exercise of political authority. In effect, only with political authority can the government and its leaders provide strategic leadership for the people.

However, governments and their institutions do not operate in a social vacuum. Institutions, so to speak, operate in a web of social relations, and everyday politics demonstrates how decisions and policies can be influenced by such relations. This is the reason political culture is also a critical factor in institutional reforms.

Political authority and embeddedness are thus part of the puzzle in reforming and developing institutions. While political authority must be independent, it should not be separate from or unmindful of the social relations that surround it.

Governance based on political inclusion underlines the need for grounded political authority. Democratic governance promotes a political culture of active citizenship and eschews apathy, indifference and mendicancy. Through inclusive institutions, the people are enjoined to engage in decision-making processes and participation becomes the duty of every citizen.

The sincerity of the Duterte administration, in sum, lies in the existence of a strategy for institutional reforms. In turn, far-reaching institutional reforms should be anchored on independent political authority, uninfluenced policies, social relations, political culture and democratic governance.

Radical change can never come about without capable institutions that would cushion and absorb the impact in transforming the political practices of the government and its people. Furthermore, institutions should serve as the harbinger of an uncorrupt culture that would govern social, economic and political relations.

In essence, institutional reforms cannot be accomplished through simple pronouncements, populist appeals, and the intermittent sacking of corrupt officials. What the Duterte presidency needs is a definite policy and a comprehensive program of action to overhaul corrupt institutions. Only in this context can radical change be possible.

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