For politics’ sake

Politics is a word that people may have many mixed definitions of, but ultimately it is a reference to citizens and how they influence each other. More importantly, it is about how governance is achieved and maintained, and the process surrounding the attainment of this governance.

At the national level, politics is an object of scorn and derision – government criticism has become a Filipino pastime. The probe on the legislature’s use of special discretionary funds last year, amounting to more than Php 10 billion of taxpayers’ money lost through corruption, led to a public scandal, linking 28 solons to the anomalies in the disbursement of funds, eventually culminating in a massive demonstration of 400,000 people at the Luneta in August 2013.

Sustaining such concerted action, calling for increased transparency in government and accountability from public officials, needs more than a demonstration. President Aquino’s team tried to highlight the disbursement acceleration program, and more recently, boasted that 86 percent of the national budget is already with the departments and agencies to which it is appropriated for.

Even efforts like these on the part of government are up for the criticism of legislators, political observers and the ordinary citizen – hopefully because they too observe that they have a crucial stake in realizing a government that works for them, a government for the people, in that they understand that politics involves everyone.

This only accentuates that the very diversity of opinions on the legislative floor and in the executive branches means that one vision or one public program just being shoved down the throats of other individuals will not work. One will have to compromise, negotiate, and otherwise lower the real barriers rifting policymakers from each other, and from the people they serve.

The political technique of logrolling, or the trading of favors quid pro quo, is a common way by which legislators are able to agree on a particular policy despite ideological or political differences. When a vote is called for on the legislative floor on a resolution approving a particular public program, an assembly member may choose to vote for a resolution of the opposing bench while expecting an assembly member from the opposition to vote for a resolution of his or her own – much like an implicit compromise, very close to the Filipino value of utang na loob.

The effectiveness of this style of negotiation is subject to the context of situation. But I personally think that it is one that is especially applicable to the discussion now taking place in the Legislative Assembly, on the proposal to revise key elements of the University Student Government Constitution.

Ever since March of last year, then independent presidential candidate Migi Moreno has been adamant about shifting the focus of the USG from mere activity generation to policymaking, with the rationale being its redundancy with the activity generation of CSO organizations. Upon winning the seat, he has made this vow to refocus the USG’s activities the central point of his administration.

Two out of three terms in, and political pundits have disavowed the efficacy of this campaign, that is until proponents in the Legislative Assembly entertained the USG President’s notion of a USG that is more policy and governance-centered than it is activity-based. The majority floor, both in the legislative and the executive, has been skeptical of the attempts to hamper the ordinary operation of the student government in favor of dedicating more time to policy analysis.

After all, in the student government, there are many tasks to be done – committees to sit in, budget to allot, enrollment to facilitate, grievance cases to handle, publicity to be blasted, research to be conducted, forums and seminars to be managed, stakeholders to be appeased, as is ideal.

Some groups have even gone on to suggest that Moreno’s advocacy for policy reform is empty, and in violation of certain protocols, to the point that Project REFOCUS might be unconstitutional. To echo the concerns of these groups, why should we even refocus the status quo when we can’t achieve its ideal state?

Perhaps Moreno and the proponents of the amendments are trying to drive the project primarily because of this difficulty to attain the ideal state, in that the structure might in itself be the reason that goals are difficult to attain, that activities in the USG are redundant and can be more efficiently done.

This kind of discourse, on how to better serve the students, should be, as one socio-political party might say, best done in a consultative manner. At the same time, as another political party might say, it should be done founded on ideas that further greater awareness and understanding of one’s own environment. The discussion, far from being shut down as some groups might suggest, should be done with the minds of student policymakers open to compromise and discourse, free from the agendas characterizing clientelistic student politics and alert to the real situation of Lasallians.

Instead of being perceived as an autocratic mandate, the discussion on the reformed structure may benefit more if the proponents be more willing to listen to what other groups might have to suggest, and see if they can secure consensus by meeting the needs of these groups not discussed on the legislative floor.

Too much politics, after all, leaves no room for leadership. Making other stakeholders realize this may be challenging, but I am expecting that the top brass of our student government will be able to see reasons in reform without turning a blind eye to the real situation. For students to want to be involved, they look to the people they vote for and expect them not only to sympathize with them but also to create innovative solutions to their problems. Students are not apathetic, neither are they too dumb. The learned helplessness of those who do not care about life in the University is only a by-product of what these students are fed; this should be the purpose of the rigorous policy discourse.

After all, what is the purpose of politics for politics’ sake?


By Juan Batalla

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