Saipan — Never underestimate humanity’s ability to ruin a well-intentioned public policy. In 19th century Vietnam, the French colonial government implemented what should have been an effective and successful rat-control law: members of the public would receive cash for every dead rat they presented to the authorities. Result? Rat-infestation remained a problem. Why? People realized that they could breed rats, kill them and then collect cash.
In the Philippines, the progressives who drafted the 1987 constitution included a provision that reserved legislative seats for the “marginalized” sectors of the society — those who, unlike the traditional politicians, can’t afford costly elections campaigns: workers, peasants, the urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, “and such other sectors as may be provided by law….”
Result? Traditional politicians formed their own parties that supposedly represent the marginalized sectors of society. One of them was the son of a former president who served as a congressman “representing” security guards and drivers of motorcabs-for-hire or tricycles.
The Philippine constitution also imposed term-limits on elected officials. Result? The incumbent, say, mayor, who steps down once his/her term ends, runs for another elective office. His/her spouse/sibling/child runs for mayor. The current Philippine president, who served as mayor of the southern city of Davao, was succeeded by his daughter, who easily won the mayoral election, while her father was elected vice mayor. Now there are talks that the president — whose term ends in 2022 and can no longer seek re-election — should run as vice president while his daughter runs for president.
To prevent a repeat of a Marcosian, Guinness-Book-of-World-Records-level of corruption, the Philippines enacted an anti-plunder law which made plunder a non-bailable offense. Result? Presidents, now and then, charge their political opponents with plunder.
The Philippines has several other anti-corruption laws, one of which designates December, the time of giving, as the annual Anti-Corruption Month.
Moreover, the Philippines has an anti-graft prosecutor and an anti-graft court.
The Philippine constitution’s Article XI, Section 1 declares that “Public Office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
Since democratic elections were instituted by the then-U.S. colonial authorities in 1907, you cannot win an election in the Philippines without campaigning against graft and corruption. (President Marcos declared martial law to create a “New Society” and “end corruption.”)
From a recent South China Morning Post report:
“Despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign boast that he would eliminate corruption in the Philippines…corruption has worsened under [his administration] and, by his own admission, the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown to stem its spread have become lucrative sources of graft.”
According to Rappler, the news website that is on Duterte’s enemy list, the Philippines dropped two places in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index in 2020. “With a score of 34, the Philippines ranked 115th out of 180 countries and territories.
While this was the country’s same score in 2019, its 2020 rank dipped from 113th in the previous year. It is now the country’s lowest rank recorded since 2012.”
Here in the CNMI, several years ago, concerned citizens petitioned the local high court to reduce the number of House seats. The goal was to reduce the cost of government. Result? The high court ruled that there should be two more House seats.
Also in the CNMI, many concerned citizens consider the Open Government Act as the cure-all for what ails local politics and/or governance. In 2009, a proposal to apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature was approved by over 68 percent of voters. Its proponents were ecstatic. One of them said that it would “change the way how the lawmaking body conducts its business which should further empower the people to hold their elected officials accountable in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands….”
Since then, candidates for office are still complaining about “lack of transparency,” the need for a more open government, etc., etc.
In 2005, the CNMI held a four-way gubernatorial election. The winner garnered about 28 percent of the votes. His winning margin was 84 votes out of over 13,000 votes cast. His political opponents later passed legislation requiring a runoff election in case no gubernatorial candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes cast.
Result? In the next gubernatorial election, which was another four-way race, the supposedly unpopular incumbent governor lost by eight votes to his opponent who did not secure a majority of the votes cast. In the runoff, the incumbent governor was re-elected with over 51 percent of the votes cast.
In the U.S. and other developed countries, welfare and other well-meaning laws have resulted in new and more problems. The War on Drugs, for its part, was lost a long time ago, and its disastrous consequences should be well known by now, but many countries are still waging it because it is “popular” among many members of the public.
Throughout recorded human history, reforms have been proposed and implemented to “fix” politics and/or government. The results, generally speaking, are grim. Many of us, however, are blessed with short memories…without which elections — however entertaining they are sometimes — are pointless.