Sta. Ana coordinates Action for Economic Reforms. This piece was published in the February 22, 2010 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.
Repetition does not transform a lie into a truth. – Franklin D. Roosevelt radio address, 26 October 1939.
Black propaganda is a fixture in any elections. Even in amateurish school elections, black propaganda has been used, sometimes successfully, to defeat a candidate or a slate. In 1971, at a time that radical student activism was surging, the radicals lost the leadership of the University Student Council because of red-scare tactics that scared innocent freshmen voters.
As Lenin once said, “a lie told often enough becomes the truth.” We therefore cannot dismiss black propaganda, even if we believe that the truth will eventually set us free.
In the campaign for the 2010 elections, black propaganda is widely circulating on radio and on the internet. An example of this is the unrelenting attack that Noynoy Aquino lacks competence as shown by his bad legislative record. The spin used by his rivals is that Noynoy’s supposed incompetence in Congress does not qualify him to become a President.
The black propaganda describes Noynoy as a legislator who has not authored a single law; that a couple of dimwits in the Senate even fare better than Noynoy in terms of legislative record.
Judging how good a legislator is by the number of laws he authored is a fallacy. By itself, the number of laws sponsored by a senator or congressman does not make one a competent legislator. So many bad laws have been passed—laws that protect vested interests; laws that perpetuate injustice; laws that harm employment; laws that drain the public coffers; laws with good intentions but with adverse consequences; laws that are superfluous; and so on.
And the fact is Noynoy has co-authored in the Senate three bills that have become Philippine laws, including the self-explaining Climate Change Act.
Noynoy also deserves credit for authoring a number of substantive bills that address workers’ welfare, economic development, human rights, checks and balances, transparency, and checks and balances. He is the principal author of nine bills. It is worth citing these bills, namely:
1) Amendment of the government procurement law so that contracts based on international treaties or executive agreements will not be exempted from the coverage of procurement rules;
2) Reform in the appointment of Philippine National Police officers;
3) Budget impoundment control to check the Executive’s abuse of power;
4) Increasing penalties for the violation of the minimum wage set by law;
5) Disallowing the reappointment of members of the Judicial Bar Council who have served a full term;
6) Preservation of public infrastructure by raising the infrastructure standards and penalizing the contractors who violated the standards;
7) Granting of bonuses as productivity incentives to employees, drawn from the net profits of the companies;
8) Limiting the power of the president to re-appoint officials bypassed by the Commission on Appointments; and
9) Accountability of senior officers or superiors in relation to abuses of human rights.
The skeptical may ask why these bills, noteworthy as they are, have not been enacted. Two of the bills, namely on the Philippine National Police on the Judicial and Bar Council have been passed in the Senate and are pending in the House of Representatives. The other bills are still pending in different Senate Committees.
The author of a good bill does not have full control over its enactment. A bill that the President does not certify as an urgent and priority measure will have a difficult time getting passed by a Congress that is often subservient to Malacañang. And within Congress, many politicians, especially those who chair sensitive committees, are captured by vested interests.
Reform advocates can empathize with Noynoy. I recall the advocacy way back in the late 1980s to have a law that would limit foreign debt servicing on the basis of the country’s ability to pay. It was a popular and technically sound bill, which was co-authored by a big number of legislators. Yet, the bill never became law. The failure to pass this bill authored by the likes of Alberto Romulo and Edcel Lagman not mean that Mssrs. Romulo and Lagman are incompetent.
Today, we are so near yet so far from having a law on freedom of information (FOI). The struggle for this bill commenced in the late 1990s. In other words, it has been more than 10 years, and we still have to see the passage of the FOI. The House of Representatives and the Senate as well as the bicameral committee have passed the FOI. Yet, because Malacañang said so, the House of Representatives did not ratify the FOI on the last day of its regular session. The indefatigable sponsors of the bill both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives—the likes of Senator Alan Peter Cayetano and Representative Erin Tañada—cannot be called incomptetent, despite the temporary setback.
The moral of the story is that Noynoy cannot be judged incompetent just because his bills do not have the support of Malacañang and other politicians.
What is also interesting is the content of Noynoy’s bills—they all serve the public good. He may have fewer bills compared to the bills authored by Senator Manny Villar. But in Villar’s case, the laws he sponsored include those that serve his private interests like banking and real estate.
As my friend puts it, what we want is not just competence, but competence with integrity.
And that is the plain truth.