Thursday, July 21, 2005

Form and Function

I love playing sports, though I’d never consider myself truly athletic. I have friends who just need to watch a particular move being done once to be able to do it themselves. This could be a volleyball spike, a tennis serve, or a basketball baseline drop-step pivot and lay-in. I myself take a while before I can consistently get the result I want.

This terribly frustrating waste of time, also known as the Philippine political crisis of the moment, is certainly one reason to escape to sports. What did get my attention is what is now proposed as the acceptable solution, changing our country’s constitution to allow for a parliamentary form of government.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with the form of government. What I do find wrong is in how it is paraded about as the true solution to our nation’s ills, so much so that our country’s sitting president wishes to leave it as a legacy.

The first of the parliamentary government’s much touted advantages is the selection process of the chief executive.

This process involves only the members of parliament, which ensures that the chief, the prime minister, as well as those participating, are all capable representatives of nation. Popularity with the dumb and ignorant masses will no longer be the foremost criteria.

Corollary to this is the speed and efficiency at which chief executives can be placed and replaced. There is no need to wait for six years to replace an ineffectual one.

It’s not like our previous performance in selecting a president was all that bad.

We, the people, have only been playing at the independent republic game since 1945. From then until 1986, all the presidents have been professional politicians. Some were better than others, until one emerged who stood out from all the rest, Ferdinand Marcos. His academic and political achievements were truly stellar, and arguably surpassed any previous president.

In Marcos’ two decades as the leader of our nation, however, the image of the politician was so blackened and tainted that the next two presidents were a housewife and a professional soldier.

The next one was Joseph Estrada, who possessed both overwhelming popularity as an actor as well as two decades of experience in government. His term was cut short with charges of directly accepting bribes and pocketing government revenues, supported by various witnesses and documents. These charges, and the evidence supporting them, are unmatched for any Philippine president.

The next election pitted another massively popular actor, though with no experience at all in government service, against the incumbent president, a career politician. Unproved allegations of massive electoral fraud aside, the nation selected the politician, Gloria Arroyo.

I believe that we, as a nation, have managed to apply critical thinking in selecting our chief executive. When we, selfish elites and ignorant masses included, did have to choose between popularity and experience, we went with experience.

Other advantages will be from a unicameral legislature elected locally.

This means that instead of bills getting tossed between a Senate and a Congress, proposed legislation will be discussed and passed into law by a single body, a parliament.

Each member of the parliament will be elected by the registered voters of a particular congressional district. Even with a manual vote count, elections would now be concluded in days, the present time it takes to declare winners of congressional elections.

I see this as so inappropriate, as such an about-face for us, on so many levels.

My first objection is fairly straightforward. Even with the ever-present investigations in aid of legislation, our elected representatives can deliberate and pass legislation within a year from it being filed. A more recent, if controversial, example is the Expanded Value Added Tax. While this has proven to be more of an exception, that it can be done shows that there really isn’t any critical delay caused by the system of legislation itself.

My succeeding objections are more subtle, but involve issues that deeply affect our long-term performance as a nation.

The present requirement for a national election for the president and members of the senate guarantees that, every three years, would-be leaders of our country actually have to show awareness of all parts of the country.

Prospective national leaders would be disinclined to think of the country simply because it would not be necessary to win the hearts and minds of all far-flung regions. It would not be necessary to visit them or even know their names. Once the parliamentary elections are done, only the elected representatives need any convincing. And it can all be done in the urban comfort of the capital, the imperial Manila.

The national elections are also the time that we all come together and participate in something that directly affects the entire nation. In parliamentary elections, representatives are elected by region or district. Voters would be less inclined to have an idea of the nation as a whole, since our actions would affect only our individual locality, not the entire country.

When a Manila magazine condescendingly refers to people from Cebu as new to the big city, I don’t believe that this is the time to give people one less reason to think beyond their immediate vicinity.

My final objection is that switching away from this would take away our personal right to directly elect and participate in selecting the chief executive and the senior legislators. This is a right we have always had since our country’s independence.

For our impoverished countrymen, this clearly means the loss of one right.

For our elite, their access to the wealth and resources required for winning elections would allow some influence on selecting the chief executive. What they would lose is one true sense of the environment in which we live. This is the sense that all votes are equal, even if the environment, the distribution of wealth and resources, is inequitable. Insulation from the realities of our landscape results in less-informed decisions. Continually successful and lasting organizations, as those controlled by the elite, demand the opposite.

In short, I see this move for a parliamentary system as a solution to a problem we don’t have and a source for even worse issues going forward. One doesn’t improve performance by changing the rules of the game. So I’d rather we just continue playing the game we’re already in, and just improve the normal way, with practice and experience.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

In the News

I love reading the newspapers, anywhere I am. Over the past year, however, I found myself preferring one newspaper over another. Among the reasons for my change in preference is the method of reporting.

The recent events in the Philippines have provided a fertile ground for news reporting. All the best and the worst seem to be filled with passionate intensity, and we can read all that in the papers.

Take this excerpt from the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 30, 2005.
President 'exiles' her husband
By Christine O. AvendaƱo
Inquirer News Service

The President did not say when or where her husband would go or how long he would be away. But she said that as a wife, she was "grateful" to him for making such a "sacrifice" to allow her to go about serving best the nation.

Ms Arroyo blamed her political enemies for deriding her husband, even on his
contributions to his pet projects such as health care and sports development, in
order to "distract" her from implementing her reform agenda.
Quotation marks around statements normally signify exact references from an information source. In this case, it would be the President of the Philippines. In modern composition, placing quotation marks around words is one tool to indicate a sense of irony or insincerity. It’s not uncommon to see conversations where one party raises both hands and hooks two pairs of fingers downward while speaking a word or a phrase.

An example is a question on whether this “journalist” trying to “report” the news “accurately”?

Take this version of the event from the Philippine Star
Mike A goes into exile
By Aurea Calica
The Philippine Star

"For my children and granddaughters, missing their doting father and grandfather
is their small contribution to rebuilding our society. As a wife, I’m grateful
to my husband for his sacrifice. My family will miss him terribly, and I ask for
you to help pray that we remain strong as a family," the Chief Executive said.

She did not say where the First Gentleman would be relocating or how long he would be staying abroad.

Mrs. Arroyo said her husband "will leave to remove these distractions and doubts from our people," comparing him to a "Caesar’s wife" who must not only be incorruptible but also appear to be incorruptible.

She complained that her husband’s "contributions to health care and sports development have been the object of pillory, especially by my political enemies, who have been trying to distract me from fulfilling my reform agenda as president."

This above is a more conventional use of quotation marks, quoting complete lines from the subject’s statement. Of course, even this can be subject to misinterpretation depending on the narrative the quoted statement is placed alongside with. There’s always the common complaint about things being taken out of context. But entire statements can more often convey more accurate and precise meaning than a single word.

Once can also be unduly influenced by the adjectives, or the repeated use of related adjectives, in a narrative. Again, we can take samples from the recent headlines.

Susan ready to replace GMA
By Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star 06/30/2005

An angry Susan Roces yesterday declared her readiness to lead the country and
replace President Arroyo if she decides to step down from office.

Roces also rejected Mrs. Arroyo’s apology to the nation and demanded her resignation,
calling it "the most honorable thing to do."

Angry Poe widow calls on Arroyo to resign
Susan Roces ready to join protest rallies
By Fe B. Zamora
Inquirer News Service
Editor's Note: Published on page A1 of the June 30, 2005 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

A combative Susan Roces yesterday demanded President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's
immediate resignation, saying it would be the "most honorable thing" the latter
could do.

"The gravest thing that you (Ms Arroyo) have done is that you have stolen the presidency, not once, but twice," Roces said in a fighting speech at a press conference in the historic Club Filipino in Greenhills, San Juan.

In the second excerpt, we can find the similar words angry, combative, and fighting. The first is in the title line and the next two are in each paragraph. It should be safe to assume that the writer intended to make a point.

My own point is that I prefer my news to be delivered straight and unembellished.

Without picking any political stand, I truly dislike texts identified as news reports that indicate a certain slant in the item being reported.

My reason is simple. I prefer to form my own opinion, so I’d like the event to be reported clearly and simply.

I do understand that a journalist has to distill a particular event into a form that fits neatly and concisely in a few columns. I wouldn’t want a newspaper filled with interview transcripts. Admittedly, a newspaper that prints the transcripts of the phone conversations could probably assure itself of the sale of a few copies.

But I do prefer a newspaper that ensures that its balanced news is clearly and only that, and not mixed up with its people's views.