CEM-DE inspires aspiring economists with a seminar on public policymaking

To align with the initiative of the College of Economics and Management (CEM) to address relevant and socially critical issues, the Department of Economics (DE) organized the seminar “The Role of Economists in the Making of Public Policies” on Oct. 9 at the Rural Economic Development and Renewable Energy Center. 

CEM Associate Dean Arlene Gutierrez highlighted in the program’s opening remarks that economists are at the forefront of crafting evidence-based and effective policies by providing analysis, foresight, and recommendations that guide public and private institutions toward sustainable and equitable solutions. 

The resource speaker, Dr. Cielo Magno of the UP School of Economics, is a former undersecretary of the Department of Finance, where she led its fiscal policy and monitoring group. She has more than 20 years of research and policy work in the public sector and civil society. She is also a former board member of the Philippine Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (PH-EITI). 

The seminar was divided into five policy theories to provide a guide for understanding academe’s role in public policymaking. Magno complemented the discussion with her experiences in policymaking. 

Magno began with the theory of stages heuristics, the traditional view of public policy that depicts a linear process and serves as a good foundation for understanding each policymaking level. Magno said that in the first stage of problem definition, proper framing is critical to arrive at the correct solution. 

The next step is agenda setting, where ordinary Filipinos have the most influence, according to Magno. She said that problems and advocacies need to end up on the government’s priorities through more vocal people who make others aware of issues and ultimately get the attention of policymakers.

In legitimation, the third of the stages heuristics, the key players are legislators. They champion the policy as it goes from a bill to a law in the House of Representatives. Implementation is the next stage in which government agencies and experts work hand-in-hand to ensure effectiveness. The last stage is the evaluation of whether the implemented policy achieved its goals or what changes are necessary.

The second theory Magno discussed was the multiple-stream framework, wherein the policy process comprises three streams. The problem stream defines the issues at hand and related data. The policy stream involves the different solutions and their proponents to policy problems. 

The politics stream revolves around elections and the elected government officials. When the three streams converge, a window of opportunity opens, marking the optimal time to formulate a policy. 

Magno also discussed the network approach or the advocacy coalition framework that focuses on creating a network of stakeholders based on mutual interest to become a political force. These networks are determined through transnational, national, policy-specific, or domain-specific contexts. 

The punctuated equilibrium theory was the fourth theory that Magno touched upon. She described that it is similar to a situation where a specific event led to adopting a policy in a way that its nature is reactionary. Magno used the 1986 People Power Revolution as an example of punctuation that led to significant policy changes in the country.

The last policymaking theory Magno discussed was the diffusion framework, where best practices are transferred vertically from the national to the local level or horizontally across government units on the same level. Magno highlighted the importance of providing a civil space that allows discourse, as policies are defined by the individuals championing them. A civil space permits policies to be crafted by the people for the people. 

Magno concluded her presentation by emphasizing that public policy is not limited to the government or people in power but includes everyone, especially amidst widespread disinformation. “We have the power to shape public policy as long as we play our role in the process,” she said.

Two panelists were invited to further enrich the discussion with their experience in dealing with policy research and government bureaucracy. The first panelist was Dr. Antonio Jesus Quilloy, a professor at the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics. He said that people should open their minds to alternative policymaking frameworks to be more proactive rather than just reactive. 

Quilloy said that public policies minimize the inefficiencies in the system as they affect how different social groups interact with one another. According to him, the root of conflicts comes from the differences in values or of values, and that we have to be knowledgeable on how to assign values to the impacts of policies and the nation’s resources.

The second panelist was Dean Marlo Mendoza of the College of Forestry and Natural Resources. Mendoza was also a former undersecretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), where he served as a forest management bureau director, regional director, and assistant secretary. 

Mendoza recollected that during his stint in the government, there was a framework for policy crafting, but a challenge would be the rigidity in applying the framework. He related the policy issues of the Maharlika Investment Fund to the DENR, wherein he wished that the benefits we reap from our natural resources encompass future generations. Mendoza wrapped up his reaction with a message that economists must remain vigilant in addressing challenges, such as data quality, value judgments, and political pressures, and strive for transparency, ethical conduct, and effective communication.

The open forum led to a discussion on opportunities to directly contribute to policymaking, address disinformation through policies, and express dissent despite possibly risking job security.

A recorded copy of Dr. Magno’s presentation can be found on the Department of Economics’ official Facebook page. (Antoinette Sia) 

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