Politics and Crisis: A discussion series by The Ateneo de Manila Department of Political Science, Last of 8 parts

May 01, 2020
Governing the New Normal
Last (part 8) of an eight-part series
 
Six weeks after the beginning of this discussion series and around six months since the beginning of the COVID 19 pandemic, we find our personal and collective worlds in a state of pause. From the initial shock and panic brought by lockdowns and other similar state measures, countries now find themselves in a holding pattern that has highlighted the variations in leadership, decision making and citizen response.  The ongoing challenge of borders and mobility also amplifies the fragility of a global system that heavily relied on hard security and economic power, but is now appraised on the strength of political institutions and the robustness of the provision of basic goods and universal health care.    
 
The realities are unimaginable. The increasing number of confirmed cases and death and the disruption of daily lives in a shared atmosphere of uncertainty weigh heavily on the collective psyche of parts of the world connected now mainly by technology.  There is no definitive when and there is no definitive how. 
 
There are, however, good models for local, national and regional responses that are indicative of the ease that countries will be able to transition to the new normal.  
 
This brings us back to the goal of this series: to frame the crisis conversation towards evidence-informed policy making; institutional over personal political agendas; and critical pedagogy as an approach to citizenship education.  


 
This crisis requires structural change at the local, regional and global levels.
 
Challenging Patronage: Local Politics
 
Patronage politics, which has grown “acceptable” over time, is the most harmful form of political discord, cutting off meaningful citizen participation (that includes regular means of articulating and aggregating interests) and replacing it with myopic partisan (or personal) interests. 
 
Problem solving will require a new political logic that cuts the unnecessary patronage-based ties between citizens and local officials, LGUs and the National Government. This requires a re-engineering of the political supply chain: redirecting decision-making, branding and allocation of goods and services with the broad goal of public interest in mind, rather than personal or political gain.  
 
LGUs who have risen to this challenge in the short time that the country has been affected by this crisis have been able to balance public health and public safety as well as socio economic and citizen well-being by innovative and evidence-informed decision making rather than outright force.   
 
Challenging Noninterference: Regional Politics
 
ASEAN will also have to recast the non-interference policy as the questions of labor migration, inter-ASEAN mobility and regional security politics (including regional level response to China). This shift may also mean more focus on the pillars of political and economic security without the usual buttress of socio-cultural exchange. 
This will also raise the question of what (or who) will be the authoritative ASEAN voice.  What will ASEAN wide mechanisms for securing the region look like? What will it collectively choose to protect and who will it choose to engage as its primary partners?  Will the future of ASEAN be governed together or apart?
 
Challenging Globalization: Global Politics
 
While the local, national and regional try to take stock of structural strengths and gains, it seems that at the global level, it is time to take stock of structural failures. Here, Walden Bello (2020) notes that this current crisis has cut off globalization’s connectivity – with air travel, technology, business and tourism serving as primary means of transmission – and now leaves an imperative to redefine globalization. Or its alternative.Acharya (2020) hopes that it be a more “humane and regulated” globalization.
 
Among the possible key global political re-awakenings include a reassessment of state capability, the role of science and technology in defining global power shifts and a new appreciation of East-West, North-South divides.
 
The key question here is what the Philippines will make of this and whether, at this juncture, she has the political will to decide her own fate. Strategic decisions must be made by policy makers to ensure that the long-term survival of a Sovereign Philippine State is ensured. International cooperation and new partnerships including economic stimulus packages, overseas development assistance in exchange for access to Philippine resources should be consistently watched and duly criticized in a free and democratic political environment, no matter what the crisis climate may be. This means that the New Normal will have to be negotiated by citizens, not dictated to them.
 
This crisis requires independent, evidence-informed policy. This is non-negotiable.
 
Leadership 
 
Most noticeable in social media is the praise for Jacinda Arden’s (New Zealand) communicative approach and Angela Merkle’s (Germany) scientific and grounded way of leading their country past the critical stage of local transmission containment.  What is admirable is not the fact alone that they are female, but the fact that their country’s political education system produced them. While their talents are uniquely their own, a political environment that nurtures future leaders secures a country’s political future.
 
Conversely, social media is rife as well with examples of poor leadership: cut-the-line and taking-a-cut public officials have been shamed online but real punishment for the abuse of power is glaringly absent and more acutely painful when ordinary people suffer in their stead.
 
On this, we have only one thing to say: the abuse of political power during times of crisis is unforgivable.  It should be remembered and paid the equivalent response in the form of informed choices on our ballot in 2022. 
 
Public Administration and Public Health
 
Universal Health Care is a right. The countries that have fared best in this crisis are those who have respected their citizens’ right to access public health and ensured their well-being both in times of collective wellness and in times of natural or human-made disasters.  
 
Universal Health Care is a comprehensive, well planned policy that considers the general population as well as vulnerable sectors in sickness and in health. 
 
This crisis is a question of both public policy and public administration.  Specifically, the need to address the uneven distribution of health resources: from hospital bed capacity to diagnostic facilities.  This also includes the need to support Philippine R&D efforts thereby lessening the need for reliance on external support and imported commodities. 
The same goes for human resources in the health sector: closing the gap and addressing Universal Health Care will also mean addressing the uneven distribution of health professionals, despite our adequate number of graduates from health-related courses, to adequately respond to the needs of the Philippines.     
 
This crisis requires a new political logic. 
 
For the Philippines, this crisis is not just a true test of leadership, it is a true test of citizenship. Both will require a new political logic that breaks with the old patronage based politics and reactive policy environment.  One that is characterized by innovative leadership that is both communicative and evidence based, a transparent and responsive governance structure that locates rather than loses the citizen in its programs and a proactive policy agenda.A redefined citizenship should likewise be supported by radical equalizing measures that incentivize civic participation, amplify citizen voice and democratize opportunities.