Too efficient

It might be counterintuitive, but there are times when the government becomes too efficient. When that happens, it is usually not the fault of the government, but of people—both those who form the government and those who are a part of the undifferentiated mass of the governed. When an idea comes along that captures the imagination of the people, the focus tends to be on the outcome, rather than the process of achieving the outcome.

The desired result assumes the character of an unquestionable good—the wisdom of which no one in their right mind would publicly doubt, lest their commitment to all things right and just be called into question and—let’s be honest—lest they look stupid.

Getting to the desired result in the shortest possible time then quickly becomes more important than how you get there. The postponement of the scheduled 2013 Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections comes to mind.

Back then, there was a general consensus that the SK had all but lost its way; there was a mounting call for its outright abolition, and the Commission on Elections uncharacteristically took a definitive stand to strike an electoral exercise from the books. As a consequence of this overwhelming confluence of circumstances, the postponement of the polls steamed through Congress with such efficiency that many who had planned to oppose it were left scratching their heads. To this day, I actually cannot recall any significant public debate—let alone Congressional hearings—that preceded the postponement, and I can only assume those were actually held.

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Luckily, things worked out eventually. The SK Reform Act that resulted from that remarkably red tape-free episode is actually better than the old version of the SK system, and—on paper at least—seems to have a better than even chance of actually doing some good for the youth. But, more and more, I’ve been asking myself—what if the same thing happens again, but this time, we’re not so fortunate with the outcome? Take the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union, for example.

Heeding the call of an activated population, Brexiteers—including those who were actually in government—thought nothing of putting themselves through all manner of intellectual—and even moral—contortions, all in the name of the “vox populi.”  Well, the populi did get what they thought they wanted, but now all sorts of nasty implications are popping up that no one, not even the most vocal Brexiteers, can suggest solutions for. As a consequence of the efficiency with which the desired outcome was accomplished, it seems now that an entire nation might be in for some really rough times.

Which brings me to federalism.

Just to make it very clear, I’ve no opposition to the idea of breaking up the unitary Philippines into a handful of federal states. What I am concerned about is that, in all the excitement over the proposed transformation, very little has actually been said about how elections will be handled in a Federal Philippines. And since I am assuming that even federal countries hold elections, that seems to be a significant omission.

The most comprehensive set of recommendations I’ve read so far —and there have been quite a few—doesn’t even mention the fate of the Commission on Elections, let alone the treatment for the hundreds of other government agencies that currently exist and are—invisible though they may be—indispensable to the proper functioning of the government. And yet, the efficiency of the process, pushing the nation closer and closer to the point of decision, is staggering.

With the 2018 barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan elections all over but for the shouting, perhaps it is time to return to this pressing topic. The drive toward federalism certainly hasn’t lost any steam in the two months that the nation has been preoccupied with the village polls; now seems to be the perfect time to slow the efficiency of the transformational engines and take some time to discuss exactly how elections in the envisioned Federal Philippines are going to be managed.

I have some ideas.

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The longest serving Spokesperson of the Commission on Elections, James Jimenez is the Director of that institution's Education and Information Department. He used to be the Chairperson of the student COMELEC of the University of Santo Tomas. He is a firm believer in the ability of social media to empower voters, and in the capacity of empowered voters to shape a better future.