The power of @, part 3 was also published by The Manila Times on 6 September 2023.
The power of @ is a code for the sovereign to call upon their representatives to work for them and fight adversaries on their behalf. It is like the call of Agamemnon for Achilles, upon whom he entrusted the fate of his kingdom in resolving conflicts with other kingdoms. It is like the tolling of Balangiga Bells—an emergency code for the sovereign to rise up against foreign aggression. In this era of big data and computers, the power of @ is a code that tags the one among millions of constituents in a republican state to speak and seek consensus for the majority.
The power of @ trashes the lie about democracy. The almost universal belief that democracy facilitates a government for the people is a sham. Government is neither of the people or by the people because the process by which people elect their representatives does not work. The electoral process does not work because it imposes undue responsibility upon the average voter and the tech-savvy but fire-prone Commission on Elections (Comelec).
Tactless Winston Churchill speaks a painful truth when he said, “the best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”
With the average voter, the probability of electing wimps, scumbags, and clowns is high. This is a surefire formula for disaster. When conflicts mount and the pressure reaches crucial moments, these representatives (who often hype themselves up as pro-poor) drop their facade and run to the aid of their partisan patrons, leaving the sovereign constituency fending for themselves.
What the present congress does to legitimize the budgetary proposal that banners billion-peso allocations in confidential funds (which means exempted from state audit) is a fresh illustration of how useless and redundant that branch of government is. Like an appendix, congress is a visceral attachment to the executive branch of government. It can be excised with no evident harm to the rest of the body.
The power of @ proposes to supplant the dysfunctional system of representation in government with direct public policy action. Instead of delegating the power of lawmaking and enforcement to the representatives, the people themselves should legislate and oversee the implementation of laws.
How this works had been broadly discussed in previous essays of this column. I discussed the features of the People’s Congress of the Philippines where, for example, a web-based platform whose registered users consist of data supplied by the Comelec may provide a venue for anyone to propose a public policy proposal. Tagging, for example, @experts 1 to N, a proposal can harness the inputs from experts, constituting what can be the most sensible and doable roadmap to address a problem.
Thus, when farmers starve, we can call out the authentic do-something farm technologists or entrepreneurs, not an agriculture secretary who promises to make rice available to consumers at 20 pesos per kilo. We need the @one who can sort out and fix broken supply chains, establish vertical and horizontal integration for farm products, ease choke points in the delivery of support services, etc., so that farming becomes efficient and profitable on the one hand while consumers benefit from relatively lower prices of farm products on the other hand. We need experts who understand the agriculture sector, not politicians who sow money to harvest votes.
When there is foreign aggression, we call the @Balangiga Tribe, not a jetski president. When countries mock our sovereign rights over parts of our territory, we vote for @patriots, not the wimps and Manchurian candidates.
Over the long-term, the People’s Congress will likewise assume responsibility over staffing in the bureaucracy. It will adopt a procedure by which members of cabinet and key officials of government get vetted and appointed. It will establish a regime that truly fortifies the system of merit and fitness in the civil service; it recognizes the bureaucracy as the true bedrock of democracy, one that can make the country function economically and administratively even without the electoral seasons. The power of @ can push profiles to the leaderboard of performers among government officials and rank-and-file employees, courtesy of verifiable reviews by any registered user. The speed and power of computers will make no-confidence votes for appointed officials seamless and painless.
The role of Comelec, which is limited to keeping the database of users clean, will also shrink. The stink from money politics has assaulted our nostrils for so long that we have become numb from the smell of corruption. This must be a welcome and a healthy break for the national well-being. In this scenario, foregone economic growth opportunities boosted by election spending may need to be replaced by social and agriculture-related enterprises in the countryside.
In the more immediate and shorter term, we visualize a People’s Congress where the current members of both House of Representatives and the Senate will serve as facilitators. They collect all legislative proposals and farm them out to the various committees. They facilitate consensus and eventually their approval through the Delphi method, which I also discussed earlier.
Today’s Senators and Congressmen will get their usual perks and compensation. As facilitators, they deserve to be called “honorable men and women” in the same way that citizens need to be recognized for their participation in the legislative process. But now neither one nor the other may find it part of the territory to shortchange themselves—the sovereign public.