Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Breakfast with Vice President Binay

Business Mirror

BusinessMirror, and sister media outlets Philippines Graphic magazine and radio station dwIZ participated in a breakfast forum with Vice President Jejomar Binay, graciously hosted by chairman emeritus Ambassador Antonio L. Cabangon Chua and publisher T. Anthony Cabangon.

Forums like this provide an informal opportunity to question a leader like the Vice President without the time constraints and the limitation of topics of a normal press conference.

The questions are fairly standard, and the answers rarely offer any surprises. However, I always walk away from these meetings with an increased insight about the interviewee and his/her role in government.

As a long-time resident of Makati, I had met Mr. Binay on several occasions when he was the mayor of Makati and listened to him speak at a variety of functions. Mayor Binay picked up a reputation in Makati as being determined and sometimes unyielding or stubborn and sometimes inflexible, depending on whether you agreed with his viewpoint.

One disclosure that came from the meeting was the disappointment that Mr. Binay felt at the rejection of his idea for the government to establish and fund a bank for overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) that would eventually be owned by those same workers.

This is an idea that has been talked about for more than a decade. A bank that was focused on OFW financial and investment needs could fill an important niche and provide particularly unique services.

But the Department of Finance and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas believe private banks and remittance companies already provide “adequate financial and credit facilities and services to meet OFW needs.” Yes and no.

For example, Citystate Savings Bank (a public company of Ambassador Cabangon Chua) has remittance, investment and lending services geared just for overseas workers, and I am sure the other banks also do similar things. However, one of the kickers of the Binay proposal was to resurrect the idea to use the services of the Philippine Postal Corp. (with its 2,300 post offices nationwide) as minibranches for the OFW bank. Using post offices as bank branches has been hugely successful in other countries, particularly in Japan.

As the Vice President is also taking a lead role in housing, particularly affordable housing for the lower-income groups, questions regarding “informal settlers” came up.

A question was asked about what the government policy would be regarding these “settlers” who chose to live on government-owned public land, often valuable and choice property.

The Vice President gave a reasonable answer with regard to policy, but he ended his message by saying that these situations would have to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

That phrase, “case-by-case,” struck an important note with me.

A presidential system of government is divided into the legislature, which creates laws and, through those laws, government policy. The Executive branch is mandated to execute and administer the implementation of those laws.

In the last elections, the idea that the Philippines needed a “businessman” to be elected President was often voiced. That same thought is becoming a part of the United States political scene as their 2012 presidential election becomes closer.

Although I agree emotionally, the intellectual arguments for electing a “business person” seem shallow and incomplete. Why would such a person understand macroeconomic policy and effects better than a university academic? Businesses run only on the profit motive and some government functions like national and public security are not designed to turn a profit.

Legislators see their roles as creating a policy vision that is then turned into law. However, the last paragraph in most laws is that the implementing rules—the crucial details—will be written by an Executive branch department. The laws that the legislature passes are made to be all-encompassing and not for “case-by-case” examination.

And that may be the problem.

Lawmakers are not always in tune with the application of their vision. In the musical Camelot is the title song which says, “The crown has made it clear/The climate must be perfect all the year/A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. I know it gives a person pause/But in Camelot, Camelot/Those are the legal laws.”

A set of wonderful laws to pass, but not practical to implement. How many national visions are on the books now that are as unrealistic as those from mythical Camelot?

Nearly half of the US presidents were formally governors, administrators who had to deal with real life on a “case-by-case” basis. These include Teddy and Franklin Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Monroe, Madison, Wilson, Taft, Carter, Reagan, Clinton and Bush, among the 20 governors who became president.

Not all were successful but all did bring to the table the ability to administer government, not just to create a vision.

So why elect a businessman? Because a “businessman,” whether owner or employee, must take individual and practical responsibility for certain personal duties within a larger framework. Even the owner does not exclusively create the company vision and each employee must have the ability and opportunity for creative flexibility while not straying outside the corporate vision. But the vision can never come to reality without flexibility. Legislators cannot create laws loaded with flexibility.

Most would agree that Makati was and is a successfully run and administered city. Yet, Vice President Binay had little “business” experience. Early in his life, Mr. Binay was active in the Order of DeMolay. I know from my own participation as a young man in DeMolay, taking individual responsibility is a core principle. The same is true of Mr. Binay’s other youth organization he is deeply involved in, the Boy Scouts of the Philippines.

Nations around the globe are realizing that it is not necessarily a “businessman” who needs to be the head of government. Italy’s business tycoon, Prime Minister Berlusconi, for example, is a miserable failure. What is needed is someone who has strong administrative ability to lead a country in these difficult times.

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