“Many (of our laws) are obsolete, and must be amended to keep up with the times. Others need to be tweaked to make use of technology and digitalization”
It was the American sociologist Robert K. Merton who observed in 1936 that “often unanticipated consequences or unforeseen consequences are outcomes not intended by a purposeful action”.
In other words, what was intended to achieve something good sometimes produce unintended negative results.
There are many examples of legislation which are perfect examples of Merton’s “law”.
Recently we learned from no less than our agriculture undersecretary that the country imports 93 percent of its total salt requirements.
Expectedly, everyone raised a howl at the incredulity of it all. For an archipelagic country with one of the longest coastlines in the world surrounded by so much salt water, it seemed so unthinkable.
Present and previous salt makers reason that aside from conversion of their land into subdivisions, RA 8172, enacted under Pres. FVR in 1995, and initiated by the DOH under Sec. Juan Flavier, later senator of the land, is the culprit.
The Act for Salt Iodization Nationwide Law of ASIN Law imposed the requirement of adding iodine to salt to eliminate micronutrient malnutrition among Filipinos. Such lack of iodine results in thyroid problems, such as goiter which Tagalogs refer to as “bosyo”.
The ASIN Law created an unintended consequence: patis and bagoong makers, big consumers of sea salt, would not use iodized salt; food exports could not be ascertained as organic; and small farmers could not afford to follow the required iodization.
I learned more than 20 years ago that we were importing salt from Australia, as told to me by a salt farmer in Pasuquin, Ilocos Norte. But I did not expect the volume of imports to be as large as 93 percent.
When I became NFA Administrator in July 2010, I inherited a mountain of debt —178 billion pesos, well above our credit limit.
Moreover, I inherited mountains and mountains of rice imported from Vietnam, good for 59 days of the entire national consumption (around 13 million tons or 260 million 50-kilo bags), double the maximum amount of inventory NFA needs for the lean months, requiring us to rent twice the number of warehouses the corporation owned.
Apart from the over-importation of rice in the previous two years, our sales were very sluggish, even if retail prices were as low as 25 pesos per kilo.
Our retailers were complaining that customers did not like our rice because of the ugly yellow grains of fortified rice which when cooked resulted in a grayish color to the cooked rice.
I found out that the yellow colored fortificants, added at a ratio of 50 grams to 1 kilo, was in compliance with RA 8976 of the Food Fortification Act of 2000 intended to address the micronutrient deficiency in the Filipino diet.
Because we were part of government, my predecessor complied even if private producers of sugar, cooking oil, flour and rice were not complying.
As to why they ordered a yellow ochre-colored rice fortificant instead of white, they said it was to make sure there was no adulteration of NFA rice by the privates.
As Filipinos were quite picky about the quality of the rice they eat, and NFA rice imports were actually 25 percent broken (25 percent binlid or pounded rice) to be able to sell low, add to that the ugly yellow grains, and our sales plummeted.
Again, an unintended consequence of an otherwise well-intentioned piece of legislation.
But perhaps one quite egregious example of the law of unintended consequences happened in the Local Government Code of 1991, hailed as a landmark piece of legislation intended by its authors to enhance local autonomy.
The downloading of more resources by way of the internal revenue allotments (IRA) came with a concomitant devolution of certain hitherto national government responsibilities, such as those pertaining to health, agriculture, social welfare and tourism, among others.
The health and agriculture sectors were the most affected. But for exceptional governors like those of Isabela and Camarines Sur, for instance, most neglected giving extension services to their farmers. This is one of the reasons why our food security is now in extremis.
The Department of Health was relegated to providing technical support and assistance to local health units, eventually resulting in a deterioration of public health, especially in the provinces, where despite the IRA, LGU’s kept complaining about their inability to provide quality health services.
Let me conclude this piece with an unsolicited advice to the administration, particularly to the leadership of both houses of Congress.
It may be appropriate at this point to review our laws, whether they are acts dating back to the Commonwealth or the early days of the Republic, or presidential decrees promulgated during the martial law period, or even legislation passed from the re-birth of our present democracy operating under the 1987 Constitution.
Many are obsolete, and must be amended to keep up with the times. Others need to be tweaked to make use of technology and digitalization.
Still and all, many have resulted in unintended consequences which, when weighed against intent, have actually become problems.
Perhaps Speaker Martin Romualdez and Senate President Juan Miguel Zubiri could create a special joint committee with a strong technical working group to undertake this task.