Regionally elected senators

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By Neil Honeyman

An Independent View

Monday, February 24, 2014


“DO I pray for the senators? No, I look at the senators and pray for the country.” – Adapted from Edward Everett Hales (1822-1909)

The recent statement from Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon Jr that he is in favor of amending the Constitution to enable the election of senators by region is worthy of consideration.

He makes the important point that the present system in which our 24 senators are elected nationally gives an advantage to those who are known nationally by the populace. This means that movie stars and television personalities have an advantage over other candidates.

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Marañon says that electing senators by region would enable the country to have better quality senators (thereby implying that movie stars and television personalities reduce the quality). He suggests that at least two senators per region should be elected to enable various parts of the country to have better representation in the Senate. Since the Philippines has 17 regions, this would mean 34 senators if we had two per region.

One of the main problems facing the nation is poverty. But poverty is not evenly distributed around the country. Some regions are much poorer than others. If even the poorest region had two senators, would this help to address the seemingly intractable problem of poverty? I believe it might.

An energetic senator representing a poor region would, by focusing exclusively on his region, be able to make articulate representations on behalf of his constituents that, hopefully, would result in helpful legislation being passed.

There would therefore be more focus on why some regions are poorer than others and what may be done to “level up” the nation’s wealth distribution.

After all, the Nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is over P10 trillion. With a population of 100 million, this means an average GDP of P100, 000 per capita. In the hypothetical and admittedly unrealistic situation of an even distribution of funds, this would cause poverty to be eliminated altogether. (Though the rich would be poorer!)

Decentralization

A vast proportion of central government employees work in the National Capital Region. We believe that it is now feasible for many administrative tasks associated with these employees to be decentralized around the country.

An active Senate, with its members being elected or a regional basis could make persuasive arguments to enable this desirable process to be implemented.

Recent technological advances have made decentralization much more feasible. Billions of emails are sent by civil servants each year. The respective locations of the sender and receiver have become irrelevant.

Decentralization would create much employment around the country and would help boost the economics of the regions. Poverty would be reduced.

Even within regions, there is an imbalance as to how government offices are located. For example, Iloilo is substantially the de facto capital of Region 6. For many government offices, Bacolod has only subordinate satellite offices. Senators representing Region 6, hopefully, would also support evenly allocated government offices.

Iloilo is enjoying much greater economic development than Bacolod. Comparisons between the old airports are sad. The 54 hectares comprising Iloilo’s old airport at Mandurriao were soon sold to Metroworld for P1.09 billion. Metroworld has since developed the site into a successful development project. Bacolod’s old airport is languishing. There was a “retain Bacolod airport movement.” What for? SM Prime Holdings Inc. is still trying to block the potentially highly useful project in which the province reached agreement with Ayala Land Inc. in July 2011. We believe that Senators representing Region 6 would be able to positively influence development projects in Bacolod City which is now, despite our successes in generating call center employment, is slipping behind Iloilo.

Governor Marañon also suggests that the current three year term for elected officials on the local level should also be extended to at least five years. I beg to differ. We have had a number of one term three-year elected officials who did not deliver on the expectations of the electorate. It would be regrettable if voters did not have the opportunity to elect an alternative after three years.

“Vote for the man who promises least; he’ll be the least disappointing" -Bernard Baruch (1870-1965)

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 24, 2014.

Opinion

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