Keeping things simple | Inquirer Opinion
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Keeping things simple

When problems arise, the simple things start to get complicated. When problems multiply, the complicated get more complicated. When problems intensify and defy solutions, the simple is completely lost and complication becomes the operating system. From that operating system is born a family tree of solutions that only add to the complication.

In fact, what is born is bureaucracy that is wrapped in red tape.

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It would seem that societal leaders would need psychologists, sociologists, and other social scientists as their primary advisers. One would think that governance is a matter of systems – and they are – but only if the people inside that system apply themselves according to the principles on which the system is anchored. Governance is not running a machine, it manages people who, incidentally, may be running machines.

The Constitutions of nations are actually very simple. They lay out the priority values of the culture within which people live their daily lives. Constitutions are less a body of laws and more of a definition of who people in a society are, what is valuable to them, and that definition of values enshrined in a written covenant. Once ratified, the covenant becomes a promise of every citizen to each other.

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A Constitution accepts that there will be a governing body of leaders and workers, public officials and employees, who are tasked with keeping the country, its mechanisms of survival and progress, in line with the values agreed on. To help this governing body roll out guidelines and instructions around which citizens live to survive and prosper, a set of laws and implementing rules and regulations follow.

What remains clear because of its simplicity is the set of values that citizens live by and relate to one another (and later, to other peoples and nations). When laws and their implementing rules and regulations guarantee and enhance the covenant of values, these same values are perpetuated in the culture of the race and nation. And ONLY if they do. Otherwise, they subvert the choice of values of the citizens.

The people and the government of the Philippines have long been mired in problems that are not solved, only deepened and widened. That is what happens when the simple is lost, when what should protect and enhance the simple instead causes more complications than what they try to solve. Excessive red tape in a bureaucracy is the evidence that laws are not followed, and that new layers of laws are enacted to buffer the previous set of ineffective laws.

When the material and monetary costs of the bureaucracy begin to bloat, its inefficiency is highlighted. They are directly proportional – the more costly, the more inefficient, and vice-versa. Inefficiency is rewarded when additional layers of people and rules are imposed, as though it was inadequate staffing that was the original defect rather than an inefficient staff, or ineffective enforcement.

I believe that if a system review were undertaken to measure the government’s costs of operations versus the beneficial output they generate, we would all be shocked at the excess fat of the bureaucracy. In fact, that level of excess fat would bankrupt business enterprises. An equivalent bloated cost would bankrupt households. Most household heads would definitely run their homes better having no money to waste.

Funny. Governments arise in order to make societal life more orderly and economical, where they can buy in bulk to lower costs, build through one group and system to make things faster and more efficient. When efficient, government keeps society generally orderly and secure.

The framers of Constitutions are supposed to be erudite, able to know the soul of the people, the depth and nuances of culture, and the aspirations of the nation. They set the path and the trajectory, provide safeguards to the most essential, and inspiration for every generation to move forward carrying the best of culture and history.

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It is no surprise, then, that in our own Constitution, those who framed it from its original form up to its latest 1987 version, embedded a code of conduct and ethical standards for all public officials and employees. They make Filipinos proud with the following Constitutional provision:

“It is the declared policy of the State to promote a high standard of ethics in public service. Public officials and employees shall at all times be accountable to the people and shall discharge their duties with utmost responsibility, integrity, competence, and loyalty, act with patriotism and justice, lead modest lives, and uphold public interest over personal interest.”

From this Constitutional provision, a corresponding law was enacted, Republic Act 6713, to set specific requirements and corresponding consequences, including termination from office and disqualification from any future public service employment or appointment.

How simple, then, were the intentions of our elders. Anyone who does not understand and accept responsibility, who does not act with integrity, perform with competence, adhere to loyalty, patriotism, and justice, then lead modest lives and uphold public interest over personal interest deserves termination from any public position, presidency or utility personnel, and all in between.

If corruption, incompetence, and conflict of interest are becoming prevalent in government, it is also, and maybe more, an indictment of our system of justice, from the Office of the Ombudsman to the Supreme Court. If corruption, incompetence, and conflict of interest persist, these did not happen overnight. Yet, decades of these crimes were not deterred by law enforcers, by the courts, and we find ourselves where we are today – gone from the simple and mired in complication.

Because simple is where truth and values are. Because the complicated represent violations to the purity of the simple, the accumulation of small compromises that eat away at the truth and one’s integrity. And because what is not only from the laws of men but from sources more powerful and universal, complications carry a steep price, painful consequences, such as life for Filipinos today.

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