Saturday, June 5, 2010

Institutionalising People Power through an Ideas Summit

The challenge for him (Mr Aquino) will be to consolidate the movement ... "to ensure that the pattern of his mother’s administration – a non-corrupt president surrounded by a host of sometimes dodgy relatives and advisers – is not repeated."
For the soon to be proclaimed presidential frontrunner Sen Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III of the Philippines whose ambition only began 9 months ago with the passing away of his mother, democracy icon Corazon C Aquino, the problem now is consolidating the different messages of his campaign into a coherent narrative to govern his administration over the coming six years.

Many political analysts including Paul D Hutchcroft of the Australian National University have said that the election of Mr Aquino was a "vote for change". Manolo Quezon blogs in the Daily Dose that "The Philippines is OK" after its successfully held elections. With the settling of the political environment, the prospects for future economic growth seem sound. The country posted a 7.3% growth in the first quarter, leading many analysts to believe a recovery from the global recession is on its way.

It is under such auspicious conditions that Senator Aquino is poised to take charge of a country of 90 million filipinos. The challenge for him will be to consolidate the movement that ushered him into the "limelight" as Hutchcroft calls it "to ensure that the pattern of his mother’s administration – a non-corrupt president surrounded by a host of sometimes dodgy relatives and advisers – is not repeated."
It will be quite easy for Mr Aquino to slip into the malaise of incumbency where the true voice of the people that he promised to champion seldon gets passed through the cordon of protocol.
Already there are numerous rumours circulating of infighting within his inner circle. Several unofficial cabinet line ups have been leaked. Amando Doronilla opines that rather than change, the supposed appointments signal more of the same and "bode ill" for the incoming administration. Alongside these developments are the midnight appointments of the outgoing president Gloria Arroyo which include the Chief Justice and Ombudsman. Her coalition also retains the largest number of seats in the lower house of Congress. These represent serious obstacles to Mr Aquino's pledge of prosecuting her for the many scandals that plagued her administration and to run an anti-corruption drive.

Pieces of unsolicited advice keep hugging the headlines which include everything from fulfilling his promise to quit smoking to imposing a permanent gun ban, to surrendering the lands of the Cojuangco-Aquino sugar estate to land distribution. Having had only 90 days to prepare his platform of government which was conducted by an inner circle of seasoned policy advisors behind closed doors, Aquino runs the risk of overinterpreting his mandate for change. The media driven campaign and the numerous debates with eight different candidates did not provide a proper platform for the discussion of serious policy challenges in detail.
In the Philippines, such a tradition of participative consultative coalition building is vigorously espoused by non-governmental sector organisations that have comprised the "parliament of the streets" since the days of the Marcos dictatorship.
It will be quite easy for Mr Aquino to slip into the malaise of incumbency where the true voice of the people that he promised to champion seldon gets passed through the cordon of protocol. In order to arrest such a slide, as a way of institutionalising "people power" that brand of democracy his family legacy made famous, it might serve his administration well to call for a people's summit to consult with various stakeholders and create a bottom-up approach to his governance style.

Such an attempt to frame a policy agenda for an incoming administration was made in Australia by the Federal Labor government of PM Kevin Rudd back in 2008. It drew from the ideas of 1 000 participants hailing from different sectors of society. Participants to the 2020 Summit as it was dubbed were selected by a 10 man steering committee. The summit was co-chaired by the prime minister and a leading policy expert from Melbourne University.

In the Philippines, such a tradition of participative consultative coalition building is vigorously espoused by non-governmental sector organisations that have comprised the "parliament of the streets" since the days of the Marcos dictatorship. Such a summit early in his administration could help keep Mr Aquino's change credentials healthy and provide a more rational systematic approach to dealing with the disparate ideas that are floating around.

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