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									                       When reforms do not transform: What do we do?

                                        By Gelia T. Castillo

Closing address, Launching of the 2008/2009 Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) at

the Crown Plaza Galleria Manila Hotel, May 20, 2009 Pasig City, Philippines

         Two years ago, when the Human Development Network decided that its theme for the

Sixth Philippine Human Development Report (PHDR) would be Institutions, Politics, and

Human Development, the question in my mind was: “How are they going to do it?”

Theoretically, empirically, technically, and intellectually, this is not an easy theme to address.

But doubt as to whether it could be done should have never come to mind. They did it! When the

HDN came into being, the PHDR became the source of my glass half-full, rather than half-


         Looking back the recent 25 years of our history, when reforms did not transform, what

did we do?

         EDSA I, II, III, hundreds of kilos of protestas, impeachment and resign movements,

series of coup d’etats, borderless investigations without closure, etc. In the process, we made

heroes out of non-heroes. We also took pride in the ability to laugh at ourselves. As Eric

Wainaina, a Kenyan singer said: “If we can laugh at ourselves, we can change.” We are still

laughing at ourselves but we have not changed much. We used laughter as a substitute for


         Then came the Bantay AGRI; Bantay DPWH; Bantay Supreme Court Appointments;

Bantay Election; Bantay Gobyerno; Bantay Oir Price; Bantay Dagat; Bantay Gubat; Bantay 7941

(the latest for the Party List) etc. Seriously, these watchdogs of government performance have
shown some deterrent effect on “social and political misbehaviour” but wouldn’t it be great if in

the near future, we achieved PUBLIC TRUST exemplified in Supreme Court Justice Reynato

Puno’s definition that “Character is who we are when no one is watching!” After all, sino ang

nagbabantay sa Bantay?

       Among those who were empowered wittingly or unwittingly through these continuing

extra institutional measures were: Presidents, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Congressmen,

Governors, Mayors, powerful public officials and even presidentiables. But where are we now?

Huli pa rin. Wala pa ding pagbabago. From now on, let us proceed with caution on

empowerment and try enablement. The empowered who are not enabled and are ethically

illiterate and clueless about the COMMON GOOD, could be dangerous to society. As Dr.

Florentino Hornedo of the National Research Council (NRCP) said: “To be duly elected is to be

legal; but legality of power does not add a whit to official IQ!”.

       The Philippines has been described in many unflattering objectives. From someone

unsophisticated, our country can be characterized as a “noisy” democracy equipped with a

vibrant media to whom people go for public service requests and for redress of their grievances.

However, being a “noisy” democracy is a blessing; a silent one is a dictatorship.

       Having said all these, I like the focus of this report on Institutions, not on personalities.

Unlike people’s past actions enumerated earlier, this Report argues that: “deeper than policies

and larger than the individuals, it is the institutions that structure behaviour which matter deeply

for whether human development advances or not”. We cannot organize people power against

institutions because Institutions are us. Institutions do not resign; they simply persist.

       The Report begins with why public institutions are important. There is a “strong causal

link between improved governance and better development outcomes including GDP per capita,
infant mortality and literacy. Estimates have shown that the “development dividend from good

governance is about 300 percent increase in incomes per capita in the long run, similarly for

social development”.

       The PHDR points to key institutional anchors for reform, and to an optimist, they all look

“reformable”: To address the weaknesses of the Civil Service Commission, the Career Executive

System, the Budget Law in order to restore Congress’ Power of the purse, Senate and House

Bills have been proposed including the Government Classification and Compensation Act, the

Freedom of Information Act, the Intelligence and Oversight Act, the Budget Reform Act, etc. but

they have not seen the light of day. Can we find the proverbial “needless in the legislative

haystock”, a few statesmen or women who will take them on as their “flagship of responsibility”

to the nation? But in the event of legislative inaction, the Report asserts that “rule changes are

available which do not require legislation such as changing the qualification standards and

recruitment processes for principals and school superintendents, an action within the jurisdiction

of the Civil Service Commission”. From “soft Ph.Ds” to qualities of intellectual integrity and

managerial competence for school officials could be a step forward.

       On the bright side, we have BRIGADA ESKWELA and open voting in the Judicial and

Bar council. To carry this further, an independent search mechanism for qualified candidates is

proposed to lessen the influence of politicians’ recommendations.

       Throughout the Report, the image of the politicians did not shine very brightly. Is this

something we can do about in 2010? Can we develop an honest-to-goodness political party

system as suggested by Senator Angara?

       With regard to the Department of Education, which is the largest public sector employer,

experience with BESRA can be developed as a unifying platform for disparate initiatives from
the community, civil society, private sector, international donors and the school bureaucracy

itself. To a simple-minded great grandmother, the Department of Education’s woes could be due

to the fact that the children and grandchildren of the educated rich and powerful are not in public

schools. If they were, parents would not leave school officials alone. They would be putting up

school buildings with water and bathrooms; lobbying for higher pay for teachers; and sending

school officials for management learning. Happily, some of them are doing that but their children

are still in private schools.

        From the seven Awardee Provinces the lessons are:

                                    It is not necessary to be rich

                                 to progress in human development

                                    but for the richer provinces,

                         it is a “sin” not to progress in human development.

        In a country where there are so many things Kailangan ayusin, the negatives are the

opportunities; the positives are bonuses.

        Having identified the institutional anchors for reform, can the Human Development

Network Community consider CONSTRUCTIVE ENGAGEMENT not just in a social critic and

watchdog role but in a manner which will enable reform to transform.

        Thank you Hon. Ricardo Saludo, Hon. Jesli Lapus, Hon. Edgardo Angara, and Hon.

Adolf Azcuna for honouring us with your presence so we have partners in institutional


        Thank you UNDP and New Zealand for believing HDN could do this Report and for

“putting money where your mouth is”. Finally thank you all the authors, past and present, for
translating the human development concept into a moving reality in our own country. Let us stop

racing to the bottom. From now on, it must be a determined climb out of where we are to where

we would rather be! Institutions are our common ground. They must not be out battleground!

Gelia T. Castillo, 6 May 2009

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