This is the challenge being faced by some institutions which offer crash courses to newly-elected local officials and lawmakers to try to prepare them for the tasks ahead.
The University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG), for instance, recently organized a five-day course for Senator-elect Nancy Binay. Before winning her Senate seat last elections, Binay served as personal assistant to her parents, Vice President Jejomar Binay and former Makati Mayor Elenita Binay.
Maynard Matammu of the UP-NCPAG’s Center for Policy and Executive Development, one of the persons who prepared Binay’s crash course, explained that the topics tackled during Binay’s course were “customized” based on the senator-elect’s preferences.
“We drafted the course and met with the senator. We informed her about the specific topics per session and who the resource persons will be. We made sure that the course will touch on her priority areas and subjects that were in her platform,” Matammu said in an interview.
He said the center has been organizing these courses for years as part of its “extension services” to the public.
In Binay’s case, her course included introductory discussions on the Philippine administrative system, the Senate, the economy and the national budget process—all tackled in sessions that lasted for an hour and a half.
The course likewise allowed Binay to have “sessions with experts” on her priority areas, particularly social development, agriculture and tourism.
The senator-elect also had sessions on more specialized topics such as the use of social media in reaching constituents, the dynamics of the Senate majority and minority, and the priority development assistance fund (PDAF), commonly known as the “pork barrel.”
The House of Representatives has also organized a crash course for neophyte congressmen this week, also in coordination with UP-NCPAG. Based on House records, more than 60 lawmakers are set to start their first term as House members in the 16th Congress.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform, said that the existence of these crash courses highlights the fact that some candidates can win elections in the Philippines even without basic knowledge on the offices they ran for.
“Itong mga courses na ito show a bad thing. Ibig sabihin lang, kailangan ng mga ganito kasi ‘yung mga pulitiko natin hindi handa sa gagawin nila,” Casiple said in a separate phone interview.
He added that he even “doubts” that basic learning from these crash courses will be able to stick in the mind of neophyte politicians.
“’Yung isa o dalawang linggo is definitely not enough. Hindi nito naso-solve ‘yung issue of preparedness,” he said.
The political analyst likewise said that individuals who seek elective posts should have studied even before running for office, and not after winning elections.
“Kung kandidato kang may disiplina, before even dreaming of public office, dapat alam mo kung ano ang ibig sabihin ng public at office. Dapat nag-aral ka na bago ka pa tumakbo,” he said.
Matammu, for his part, said that these crash courses are only meant to give their takers an “overview,” and added that most sessions follow the “sharing” methodology to give newly-elected officials the opportunity to ask immediate questions they have in mind.
“Lahat nung mga pinag-uusapan, hangga’t pwede idiscuss, itatackle noong aming resource person… ‘Yung speakers namin, magpe-present lang sila ng 20 to 30 minutes tapos most of the time, nagtatanong na si senator,” he explained.
He added that the center also helps politicians pursue further studies on topics they want to delve deeper in.
Binay, for her part, assessed the crash course as “very helpful” in providing tips on how to handle her job as a senator. She likewise said that she has scheduled briefings on specific sectors to supplement her learnings from the course.
“For example, I am interested in children’s welfare, so I plan to talk to different groups na ang course nila ay para sa mga bata. Para I can know ‘yung mga gusto nilang i-pursue na batas pertaining to children,” the senator-elect said in a separate interview.
Casiple advised neophyte politicians to hire consultants who can guide them in their first few months in office.
“Sila ‘yung magpapatakbo muna noong opisina habang nangangapa pa ‘yung mga baguhang pulitiko. Dapat ‘yung kukunin mong consultant, kabisado na talaga ‘yung opisina mo,” he said.
He added that the lack of experience of some winning candidates also highlight the need to strengthen the political party system in the Philippines.
“Sa ibang bansa kasi na may strong political parties, the parties usually do the work of preparing these people. They select those who are qualified. Kung tatanga-tanga ka, hindi ka mapipili,” he said.
The political analyst, however, said that it is still up to the voters to decide which politicians they will choose on their ballots come election time.
“Mahalaga rin talaga ang voter education. Voters should be advised na kapag may isang kandidato na may sikat lang na apelyido at may kalaban siya na may track record, doon tayo dapat sa may track record bumoto,” he said. — BM, GMA News