A shadow Cabinet scenario
The latest meeting of the People’s Counterpart Policy Council (PCPC) Network was held last Saturday in Quezon City. There were around 30 representatives of three or four of the major citizen groups attentive to and active on public issues. The atmosphere of the meeting was animated and hopeful, reminiscent of the People’s 2000 that Fidel Ramos organized at the start of his term.
The interim convener of the PCPC Network summarized the concept of the Council for those who were attending the Network’s meetings for the first time. The Council was going to be a “shadow Cabinet,” composed of eminent persons, each of whom stands as the designated shadow of a real Cabinet secretary. The Network is the membership and support structure for the Council. At the moment, only the interim counterpart secretary (CoSec) for the Department of Agriculture (DA) has been designated. The vetting process is still going on, as the Network has not gained the critical mass for nominating and choosing Cabinet-grade designations from among their ranks in all the departmental areas.
The PCPC Network is designed to be an answer to the cacophony of policy voices from the citizenry. In the absence of real programmatic political parties, the various ad hoc social movements have competed with one another for the ear of the citizenry. In this situation, the essential core of public opinion is dashed or waylaid by even the smallest organized fake-twist-rattle-and-troll agency.
The nation under the current administration is being struck by a confluence of actual and potential disasters. A self-help citizen mechanism like the PCPC Network serves to focus public attention on essential issues and warns against the government’s policy folly. It informs and forms intelligent public opinion by sharing information not usually available to individual citizens.
The idea of a counterpart Cabinet aims to simulate the “all-of-government” level of strategic thinking that is found lacking in the Duterte administration. The counterpart Cabinet members are freed from the usual administrative dilemmas and conflict of interests of the actual departments so they will be able to represent the “true” interests of the people.
During the meeting, there was some laughter and animated discussion when a member referred to the Council as a “shadow government.” A senior (in age) member of the Network quickly made the clarification that a shadow government is different from a shadow Cabinet. A shadow government seeks the downfall of the current government, while a shadow Cabinet merely formulates an alternative program of government, and provides alternatives to the policy positions and pronouncements of the government.
In the meeting last Saturday, the interim DA CoSec made a pilot presentation. She said that the DA is the most beleaguered and critical department of the Duterte administration at the moment. The confluence of the rice, copra and swine industry crises is not getting the proper response from the government.
In the case of rice, the recent order of DA Secretary William Dar to flood the market with National Food Authority (NFA) rice looks decisive, but will not help the farmers. The NFA will buy palay from Filipino farmers, but only if the moisture content is 14 percent or less. Without drying equipment, Filipino farmers cannot attain this requirement. Also, not all municipalities have NFA rice-buying stations. Farmers will not transport their rice to faraway buying stations at great cost. Moreover, there is no guarantee that their rice will be purchased by these buying stations.
In the case of copra, the interim DA CoSec said, among others, that the coconut farmers are pauperized by the ban on the export of mature coconuts, which fetches a price three times the local price. The ban serves the interest of the local oil mills, which will continue to be viable only if the price of mature coconuts is depressed.
In the case of the African swine fever (ASF), the DA CoSec noted that once ASF presence is confirmed, it can no longer be eliminated, only limited. She cited the case of China, which has managed to cull millions of stricken pigs given its authoritarian control, yet has been unable to eliminate ASF. The Philippines’ own alarming lack of control is demonstrated by ASF-stricken pigs floating down the Marikina River, endangering all stocks downriver all the way to Laguna Lake.
The DA CoSec said Secretary Dar knows what needs to be done, but fears endangering his confirmation by the Commission on Appointments. He does not want to end up like the late maverick but CA-rejected Gina Lopez.
When fully organized (some time in December), the PCPC will have a weekly meeting (8-11 a.m.) to be followed by a press conference (12-1 p.m.), according to the organizers. When the meeting ended, the participants stayed on, conversing, as if unwilling to let go of a compelling idea.
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