States with the most efficient bureaucracies and civilian institutions tend to be those whose civilian structures operate with the discipline, patriotism and sense of duty that is akin to what is expected of the military. In a country like Singapore, harsh punishments for corruption and the through training of officials has led to a system where civilian discipline is tantamount to that which one normally finds in the world’s most effective armies. In China, even the taking of comparatively small bribes is frequently punished with capital punishment, thus disincentivising both prominent and minor officials from engaging in the kids of behaviour that have long retarded the growth of a mature bureaucracy in The Philippines.
When contrasted with economic and bureaucratic success stories like Singapore and China, The Philippines has grown corrupt due to un-streamlined institutions, poor training among those who enter into the state bureaucracy and a disjointed political system that gives elected officials little room to take action in respect of implementing tough long term and sustainable bureaucratic reforms.
In too many bureaucratic institutions in The Philippines, one governmental body is unconcerned with what another is doing even if both such institutions are theoretically working towards a similar end goal. While for example the police have been operating under policies designed to cut down on the trafficking, dealing and consumption of illegal narcotics, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) was recently found to be operating in a perpetually corrupt environment that has allowed for the illicit import of drugs to continue. As a result, President Rodrigo Duterte fired all of the top officials at the BOC and put military officials in charge.
Given the modern history of The Philippines it is actually not surprising that the country has reached such an impasse – one that would have otherwise gone unnoticed if not for the strong opposition to all forms of crime that has typified the Duterte administration. As the 1987 Constitution was drafted by the political enemies of former President Ferdinand Marcos, it became apparent that the authors associated anything remotely centralised or disciplined in terms of governmental and bureaucratic organisation with the period during which Marcos ruled under a martial law regime.
The result is that in the name of “democracy”, the 1987 Constitution created bureaucratic organisations that instead of having local discipline and central accountability, functioned as political satrapies in which everyone saw their organisation as being more important than others and thus, more important than a sense of duty and loyalty to the state and people. Consequently, a culture of corruption developed where selfish imperial style bureaucratic bosses presided over either selfish or aloof officials resulting in chaos in terms of both law enforcement, public service and overall accountability.
Singapore’s modern founder Lee Kuan Yew summed up the problem with post-1987 Philippines when he recalled a conversation he had with then President Fidel Ramos:
“In November 1992, I visited [Ramos]. In a speech to the 18th Philippine Business Conference, I said, ‘I do not believe democracy necessarily leads to development. I believe what a country needs to develop is discipline more than democracy.’ In private, President Ramos said he agreed with me that British parliamentary-type constitutions worked better because the majority party in the legislature was also the government. Publicly, Ramos had to differ”.
Luckily, Duterte has not decided to go against his own interests for the sake of pleasing competing arms of government and has instead spoken of the need for both federal and parliamentary reforms while also showing a keen grasp for the need to open The Philippines up to more foreign direct investment. And yet until the moment that a new constitution is drafted, Duterte continues to preside over not only a broken political system but a broken bureaucracy. Because of this, it is no surprise that Duterte has come to employ the military to execute tasks that would otherwise have been carried out by the civilian bureaucracy. This itself is symptomatic of presidential rather than parliamentary systems where military involvement in what is normally the reserve of civilian experts is the exceptional rule rather than the consummate exception. Even in a wealthy country like the United States, some of Donald Trump’s top advisers and cabinet members are from the military including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. This is a much rarer occurrence in parliamentary democracies where an effective civilian civil service with transparent accountability to democratic officials normally develops.
It is against this background that one must understand Duterte’s recent remarks where he explained that the reason he has had to rely on the military to implement his anti-corruption reforms is due to the fact that just about everyone outside of the military has proven to either be corrupt or incompetent. During a recent speech Duterte stated,
“I will not sit as President and let you render me inutile as you continue with your corruption there in Customs right in front of me. Sons of bitches! Now you have a problem. They say it’s militarization of the government. Correct…
…They will really do it. You know, that’s why I like military men. There are very few of us remaining who are (not from the military). Almost everyone is from the military except for me, Dabs (Presidential adviser on overseas Filipino workers and Muslim concerns Abdullah Mama-o) and (Executive Secretary Salvador) Medialdea.
The salaries of the military and the police have been doubled. But I’ll ask you now, what’s the job of the military? Fight the enemies of the state and die. That’s their job…
…Now if there’s a flood… who would you call? When the digging starts – you can see it on TV – who dug through the landslides in Cebu? Who? The military. They are utility boys. They are the first to die. They are the ones whom you call to pave the road if no one else is there to pave it. If there’s a civilian who would help with the digging, it would only be up until a certain point.
You instruct the military to take turns sleeping and continue digging. That’s their job. So that’s why most of the people I face are generals”.
Duterte continued to explain that there is far less of a temptation among the military to seize money and assets during substantial projects than in a broken civilian sector – a reality that becomes self-evident when one looks at some of the major failed projects during the years when President Noynoy Aquino was in power.
If The Philippines is to have the strong civilian institutions of state necessary to run the country effectively, a new constitutional order establishing a new civil service that is responsible to a parliamentary government must be implemented. Presidential systems from Brazil to central Africa breed the kinds of corruption that have forced Duterte to turn to the military while in parliamentary systems like those in Malaysia and Singapore, the role of the military in civilian life is virtually invisible.
It is not Duterte’s fault for recognising this and taking emergency measures to make sure that problems are solved rather than prolonged in the short term. Of course in the longer term, constitutional reforms will make it necessary for the state to function in a cohesive way as such things are simply impossible under the current system.
While even some of Duterte’s misguided detractors have in fact been accurate at highlighting the problems of poor state institutions in The Philippines, it is only among Duterte’s supporters that real proposals for long term reform on a sustainable political and bureaucratic model are being proposed.
The case against the current system is one that is self-evidently made by the flaws that the 1987 Constitution has made unavoidable in the current political system. The only solution is to implement a federal-parliamentary system with a brand new civil service to replace a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy that is answerable to no one and nothing.