Unsolicited advice to President Duterte
Twelve years ago, we published and presented the findings of our study on the issues and challenges of bureaucratic reform in the Philippines to a group of legislators, local executives, academics and journalists. In that study, we described the numerous overlaps, duplication, and unclear lines of authority in much of the government bureaucracy, which have resulted not only in confusion but also in great difficulty in transacting business with various government agencies.
This situation becomes more egregious when foreign entities are involved and they are at sea in regard to how to deal with the labyrinthine bureaucracy: which agencies to deal with, aggravated by corrupt people in these agencies who demand bribes or commissions every step of the way. Result: Not only will foreign investment go away; even domestic investors will go where their business will earn and where their permits, licenses, etc. can be obtained within a short period of time and without bribing anyone.
A case in point: The Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (CAAP) was created by a republic act. It has its own charter, but the misguided “reading” of its mandate makes it directly controlled by the transportation department which was created only by an executive order and which, in principle, may lose its legal personality if a new president issues another executive order to replace the prevailing one.
Then, too, the CAAP’s mandate is to regulate any and all matters and concerns regarding civil aviation; yet, it is also an operator. How can one be regulating and operating at the same time? We can say the same of the Office for Transportation Security, which was created by an executive order to be the counterpart of a Department of Homeland Security, but whose mandate is nowhere close to it. To top it all, it is like the CAAP—both an operator and a regulator.
The National Defense College of the Philippines (NDCP), which I once headed for three-and-a-half years, has only a miniscule number of faculty members in its plantilla. A very big percentage of those faculty members are lecturers/consultants who come mostly from the University of the Philippines. The courses being offered at the NDCP have their counterparts at UP since the head of its academics department comes from the UP and most of its modules were designed by the faculty from UP. Not surprisingly, I received a deluge of criticism for proposing in my book to save P42 million in taxpayer money by abolishing this entity and transferring its work to the universities who can issue the appropriate master’s degree diploma. By the way, the NDCP has yet to be accredited as a “special” education college by the Commission on Higher Education.
Also, have we counted how many agencies are in charge of Mindanao matters? You can look up the enumeration in the government website. Even my friend and former colleague, Nur Misuari, former governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, has told me how confused he was with all these agencies with overlapping mandates.
The newly created Coast Watch could not stop counting and studying the many, many agencies, bureaus, authorities and offices that have overlapping jurisdictions over our territorial waters and our exclusive economic zone. As usual, they started by asking our benefactor, the United States, to build a beautiful, multistory edifice on the Philippine Navy grounds by Manila Bay. Up until this time, they are still grappling with who is going to do what over our waters.
Yes, we seem to have a penchant for doing that. We start with a building with equipment and then we decide what to do with it. Like, I wonder what has happened to that building for the Philippine Center on Transnational Crime? It had so many computers but it remained unoccupied for so many years.
One of the hallmarks of our foreign policy is economic diplomacy. Can you guess how many decades we have been urging the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Trade and Industry to merge? This has been done in many countries, and while we are not wont to copy, yes, we need to copy because it works.
So what is to be done? Apologies to Lenin…
We need a massive, comprehensive, involved effort to do a major bureaucratic reform in our country. The overlaps, the duplications, the unclear lines of authority really have to be addressed, and addressed now.
The most noble and best crafted policy can be genuinely compromised by a bureaucracy which is, naturally, inertia at rest. It will require tremendous effort, political commitment and political courage to transform this into inertia of motion.
I believe that our newly elected President has the wherewithal, a deep understanding of our bureaucracy, and huge political capital to make this happen. I am confident that many of our people will rally behind this endeavor.
Clarita R. Carlos, PhD, is a retired professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, a former president of the National Defense College of the Philippines, and executive director of StratSearch Foundation Inc.
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