Thursday, June 19, 2014

What is Public Policy?

by Antonio C. Antonio
September 18, 2013

In my simple mind, I personally view Public Policy as a formal written form of perceived Ethical Standards.  Ethics is a branch of philosophy that involves systematizing, defining and recommending concepts of right and wrong conduct.  The term “ethics” comes from the Greek word “ethos” which means “character.”  In Philosophy, Ethics is a study of the moral behavior of humans and how they should act as they interact with society.  Ethics is defined as a set of concepts and principles that guide us in determining what behavior helps or harms us.  The general meaning of “ethics” is the rational, optimal and appropriate decision made on the basis of common sense (the feeling of right or wrong) or a set of moral principles of a particular tradition, group or individual.  Ethical Standards, however, are strongly influenced by culture, background, religion, traditional beliefs, environment and (even) economic conditions.  Human reproduction, for example, is a contentious issue in the Philippines because the population is predominantly Catholic (whose hierarchy is adverse to the idea) while population control is a mundane concern in western societies.  Public Policy in the Philippines that has something to do with reproductive health is largely influenced by religious beliefs.  Philippine Public Policy, therefore, is a simple reflection of who we are as a people, a race and a nation.

In the Philippines, the primary example of Public Policy is the Constitution… a Public Policy Statement… the Fundamental Law of the land.  This is the “bible/commandment” by which subsequent legislated laws (Bills and Republic Acts), implementing rules and regulations (IRRs), executive orders (EO), governmental agencies guidelines, orders and memoranda, agreements and other related policy statements are based and draw guidance.  On the local scene, Local Government Units (LGUs) are tasked to formulate local community-centered ordinances that fit their respective localities and constituency.  I should mention that even non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as business enterprises (corporations) and profit and non-profit foundations have their own Constitutions and By-Laws.

In our political system/structure wherein there are three branches of government, Public Policies are studied, conceptualized and drafted by the Executive Branch while the Legislature (Congress: House of Representatives and Senate) deliberate and pass them in their final form… from draft bills to laws.  The President, however, is the one who signs them into laws.  The main function of the Judiciary is to interpret the “constitutionality” of these laws and have the power to declare then “unconstitutional.”  Again, the Constitution remains to be the “mother law” by which all other laws are judged for their propriety.


A process by which Public Policy can be more responsive to the needs of the citizenry is through the adoption of this methodology:

1.     Create an atmosphere where a “bottom-up” mechanism of issues and concerns from the citizenry is institutionalized.  People Empowerment is a Public Policy encouraged by Pres. Fidel V. Ramos;
2.     Gather, classify and make a thorough and in-depth study of these issues and concerns and narrow them down to legislative proposals;
3.     Get Congress to deliberate on these issues and concerns with the aim of coming up with the appropriate legislative measure/bill to be signed into laws by the President;
4.     Cascade these laws to the appropriate government agency for the crafting of the IRR and other subsequent (but related) instruments; and,
5.     Honest-to-goodness implementation of these laws to maximize their benefits for the citizenry.

The purpose, objective and goal of Public Policy, therefore, is to be responsive to the needs and wants of the people (present and future generations) whom government is duty-bound to serve. 

Most laws or Public Policy often, through time, become irrelevant and non-applicable because of the ever-changing order of governance and needs of the citizenry.  It is also the expectation of people that their government have “oversight” functions.  This way laws could be revised, updated and upgraded to be more responsive to situational changes.


There are several stages involved in the crafting of Public Policy or the Public Policy-Making process, such as: (1) agenda setting; (2) policy formulation; (3) legitimization; (4) implementation; and (5) evaluation.  The critical participation of governmental institutions in these stages includes: (1) the manner in which problems get conceptualized and brought to the government for solution; (2) the formulation of alternatives by governmental institutions; and, (3) the selection of policy solutions.  It is also the role of government to implement, evaluate and revise such Public Policy as they become non-applicable and irrelevant.

Involved in the Public Policy-making process are agencies in the government structure… examples of which are:

1.     The National Economic Development Authority (NEDA) for socio-economic policies;
2.     The National Security Council (NSC) for national security and defense concerns;
3.     The Legislative Executive Development Advisory Council (LEDAC) for general legislative agendas; and,
4.     Local-level agencies such as the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) for concerns affecting basic services within Metro Manila.

While the last three agencies mentioned do perform certain stages of the Public Policy-making process, none of them have a more defined and extensive mandate and a more permanent structure than the NEDA.  Economics, being the backbone of Philippine society, also has influential effects on other facets of the Filipino life… culture and tradition.

NEDA is the highest policymaking body responsible for all aspects of the development program. The NEDA Board is headed by the President with a select number of Cabinet Secretaries and other executive staff officers as members.  On the other hand, the NEDA Secretariat is the research arm of the NEDA Board.  It provides technical support on matters involving policy development, policy formulation, implementation and evaluation. The NEDA Director-General heads the Secretariat, and is concurrently the Cabinet Secretary for Socio-Economic Planning.

Raw issues and concerns from the citizenry are filtered to come up with an agenda which is normally set after evaluating certain indicators and statistics fed by other government agencies such as the National Statistics Office (NSO), National Statistics and Coordination Board (NSCB), Population Commission (POPCOM), Philippine Institute for Development Studies (PIDS) and all the other departments.  This agenda would take into consideration the following: (a) the actual performance during the preceding year; (b) new developments and emerging issues in the local and international economies; and, (c) shifts in the policy emphasis of the administration.  To ensure agreement in policy formulation, the NEDA Board is assisted by six inter-agency committees, each responsible for specific areas within the development program… one of which is the Development Budget Coordination Committee (DBCC) which serves as the link between planning and budgeting to guarantee conformity of the national budget with the development plan.

In formulating the Public Policy, NEDA utilizes several methodologies classified in the following categories: (a) Econometric Models; (b) Input-Output analysis; (c) Accounting Frameworks; and Project Evaluation and prioritization techniques.  These tools have significantly increased the policy analysis and forecasting capabilities of the NEDA as policy research and analysis are the foundations in the policy formulation processes.

The policy issues covered by the NEDA are:

1.     Social development which includes education and manpower development, social welfare and community development, health and nutrition, and housing;
2.     Investment which includes evaluation and approval of public sector projects;
3.     Infrastructure development;
4.     Trade and tariff matters; and,
5.     The generation and use of official external assistance.


Public Policy implementation is the duty and responsibility of the Executive Branch of Government.  As soon as a Bill is enacted into law by the President, such Law is referred to the concerned Department for implementation.  Subsequent IRRs and other such instructional orders are then crafted on the Department-level and cascaded to regional, provincial, city and municipal agencies (including the LGUs) for detailed implementation.  The only time the implementation of a Law is stopped is when the Supreme Court (Judiciary) declares it “unconstitutional.”

The numerous political scandals and issues that have been exposed --- the Fertilizer/Jocjoc Bolante scam, the ZTE-NBN scam and PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund)/Napoles scam (to name a few) --- there has been a renewed interest in political matters and governance by Civil Society.  The almost-weekly rallies and demonstrations lately is a testament to the growing awareness of the populace.  Although the implementation of Public Policy rests squarely on the shoulders of government (the Executive Branch in particular), Civil Society has taken a more pro-active role.  This will have a significant effect in the implementation of Public Policy.  With Civil Society vigilantly watching, Government will have to “come clean” this time.  In effect… Civil Society has (somehow and somewhat) dipped its hand in the actual implementation of Public Policies.  Personally, I find this situation/condition ideal and should be encouraged.  Let’s just hope it is sustainable.

Just my little thoughts…


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