Why political will is a waste of brain cells

By: Reyshimar Arguelles

“ACTIONS speak louder than words,” and nowhere is this mantra being peddled like roasted peanuts quite like in the Philippines. In this country where the slightest inconvenience can make you run to the nearest pharmacy and ask for a Clonidine tablet, we want things delivered on the double. What you say doesn’t matter, so long as you do the thing as quickly as possible. There’s nothing wrong with being too impatient. After all, we’re a culture that values our time, so much so that we don’t mind attending a wedding ceremony 30 minutes after it started.

There are also numerous cases in which this hankering for convenience is profoundly expressed. Jaywalking signs? Cars have brakes, so what should stop me from crossing the road at rush hour? And why should I stand on the right side of the escalator? Moving myself to the right is already asking too much. Those trying to get through will have to suck it!

We can witness the very same daily situations play out on a macro level. The difference is that they take the form of a bootless concept known as “political will.” To put it simply, political will is the “my way or the highway” approach to governance. If you want to get things done, you will have to bend the rules, even if your defiance results in lackluster survey rankings or convinces allies to jump ship.

To have political will gives people the impression that you’re hard as steel for not letting bureaucratic processes interfere with your function as a lawmaker or the chief executive. It takes iron balls to be able to pass a piece of anti-mining legislation, or put a premiere tourist spot to sleep, or curb terrorism by way of Martial Law, or assert our rights over our claims in the West Philippine Sea and other contested waters.

But political will is great only if it is complemented by insight. What we’re doing now is bereft of any of that. We are putting too much focus on implementation rather than implication. Seeing the government at work is enough, so we won’t mind what’s happening inside the machine itself. And yet this dangerous logic, instead of being helpful, has actually done more damage than it can possibly repair.

For instance, the Duterte administration’s plan for the Social Security System to raise pensions, although popular as one of the President’s humanitarian high-points during his campaign, has placed the agency on life support as it struggles to raise money and keep the fund alive for this generation’s pensioners. In the United States, President Donald Trump has placed the federal government on a partial shutdown that could last “years” if the Democrats continue to turn down funding allocations for a border wall along Mexico. His exercise in political will has affected about 800,000 federal workers, some of whom were furloughed while some are working without pay.

Indeed, political will is nothing but a show of one’s clout without so much as a vestige of substance. It’s partly theatrics, and to throw it around as the main solution to the country’s problems is a complete waste of time. If we’re going to talk about issues concerning the environment, poverty, national security, and peace and order, raising the need for political will is just a waste of brain cells that could have been better spent on careful planning where every possible loophole is adequately addressed.

We all want strong leaders who can stand up to corporate overlords and secure the conditions needed to elevate human life, and not leaders who treat the country as a broken piece of hardware that requires superglue and not much else. Convenient, fast, and simplistic solutions are useless in the face of problems that are simply too big and complex to solve. This is the reality that next year’s candidates will have to tackle.