Corporate Watch

Shut out Mexico, US President Donald Trump insists. It had been his campaign promise from back in 2016 to “Build that wall” along the 1,954 miles (3,145 km) US border with Mexico to keep out illegal entrants into the US. We’ll make Mexico pay for it, Trump boasted then (BBC, Jan. 26, 2016). How could he have ever expected Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto to happily say “Si!” to a wall pre-paid by Mexico to shut out Mexico from the US? “Mexico doesn’t believe in walls,” Nieto expectedly said on national television, and of course he would not spend up to $25 billion to shut Mexico out (BBC, Jan. 26, 2017).
Then shut in the US, Trump said. “Our country is under siege,” he said. For Trump, the border situation amounts to an invasion by criminals that can only be solved by more walls (AFP News, Jan 11, 2019). And so Trump had included an initial $5.7 billion in the national budget for his obsession to build The Wall. “Ninety percent of the heroin sold in America floods across from our southern border, he warned (, Jan. 10, 2019). True or not true? Media fact-checkers reported that Customs and Border Protection data show virtually all drugs confiscated by border security happen at legal ports of entry, rather than at open border spaces where a wall might be built (Ibid.).
But Trump’s budget inclusion was stopped in Congress. “I am proud to shut down the government for border security,” Trump told House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in a televised message (Ibid.). And the US government has been shut down since Dec. 20 — 24 days now — the longest shutdown in US history since the 21-day stretch in 1995-1996, under President Bill Clinton, whose Medicare program met Republican objections (AFP News, Jan. 11, 2019).
“Shut down the government” sounds chilling. A government shutdown physically closes the nonessential offices of the government like national parks and national museums, and halts work for federal employees except in “essential” areas like the military, health, the Federal Reserve, Post Office, etc. According to a fact sheet released by the Democratic staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, “more than 420,000 federal employees were expected to work without pay” and “more than 280,000 federal employees would be placed on furlough, effectively on leave without pay” (, Jan. 12, 2019). Disrupted government services and increased costs to the government due to lost labor during the 16-day 2013 shutdown over Obamacare had “taken $993 billion out of the economy and shaved at least 0.6% off annualized fourth-quarter 2013 GDP growth, according to Standard and Poor’s (ABC News, Sept. 12, 2017).
In the US, a government shutdown occurs when Congress fails to pass sufficient appropriation bills or continuing resolutions to fund federal government operations and agencies, or when the President refuses to sign into law such bills or resolutions. In European parliamentary systems, the executive must maintain the approval of the legislature to remain in power and typically an election is triggered if a budget fails to pass. In other presidential systems, the executive branch typically has the authority to keep the government functioning even without an approved budget (Zurcher, Anthony “US Shutdown Has Other Nations Confused and Concerned,” BBC News, Oct. 3, 2013).
And that is how it is, in the Philippines, that the separation of powers between the executive and the legislative is blurry, with regards to the approval of the budget and its appropriations. Same as in the US, Congress has the sole power of the purse and responsibility for appropriating government funds. An appropriations bill must be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate and then go to the President for approval. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law. In the US, if the President vetoes it, it can go back to Congress for a two-thirds vote or the President can stand pat and declare a shutdown. But in the Philippines, if instead the President vetoes it and the fiscal year commences, the previous year’s budget is “reenacted,” or disbursements follow the last year’s allocations, inclusive of savings. Quietly, the executive always wins.
One can say that in our country, there is no shutdown, only “Shut up,” when it comes to conflicts between the President and Congress over where our (tax) money is to be spent.
And in our politics and culture, a shutdown would perhaps be only redundant and superfluous to the tacit acceptance of the “Shut up” that settles apprehensions and conflicts between and among the distinct and independent executive, legislative and judicial powers of government on the one hand, and the common good, on the other hand. Trump declared early in the new year that he could “continue the shutdown for months or even years” to force funding of the border wall and is considering declaring a national emergency to build the wall without congressional approval, but softened later in the week when he started “grasping the consequences of an extended shutdown, including sharp reductions in SNAP payments and delays of $140 billion in tax refunds” (, Jan 11, 2019). Would our President Rodrigo Duterte hesitate to declare a national emergency and use his emergency powers, anyway? Shut up!
The US government shutdown has two main teaching points for us, small democratic economies. First and most important is the separation of powers between the executive and legislative (and judicial) branches of government that ensures the common good by the ingrained system of checks and balances ruled by the Constitution. In the US, the allocation of $5.7 billion for the Mexico-US border wall goes beyond the political egos of Trump and the Republicans, vis-s-vis the Democrats. It would not even be fair to compare the cost of the shutdown versus the cost to the economy, caused by this difference in opinions about spending the people’s money on building a border wall. But it clearly shows the conflict in the American soul between two groups of political leaders: those in the level of principles, who believe in and push for the openness to human rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness — above and beyond race and nationality; and those who are focused on the tactical details of legal and illegal immigration, which anyway and by the way, also show opposing views on those universal human rights.
Would that the “opposition” in current Philippine politics rise to their sworn duty to analyze conflicts in governance, and act as true check-and-balance, in behalf of the common people, to the acknowledged and accepted “strong-man rule” that seems to have surreptitiously accustomed society to the “New Now” of “Shut up” as the final settlement of differences.
And connected to that is the second teaching point from the US government shutdown experience(s): the US two-party system is very strong — a political model efficient to protect the common good. From observation, the Democrats are flexibly more socially-oriented (outward, e.g., accept the “Dreamers”) and the Republicans more strict in their nationalism (inward, hence “Build that Wall”). Here in the Philippines, there is practically no party-system. The elections for Congress/Senate and local government are coming in May, and the people effectively do not vote for party stands and principles. Our elected officials can switch party affiliations so easily.
Is “Shut up” the only option?
Amelia H. C. Ylagan is a Doctor of Business Administration from the University of the Philippines.