Monday, June 27, 2016

“Only in New York”

Whenever something out of the ordinary happens, New Yorkers would be quick to quip, “only in New York.” “Only in New York do we produce a Donald Trump.” But we Pinoys have our own version, “only in the Philippines” – where there is a need for “emergency powers” to fix a traffic mess?  “Emergency powers for traffic mess gain broad support,” Richmond Mercurio, The Philippine Star, 22nd Jun 2016.

We probably need to go in this direction given the human and economic knock-on effect of the traffic mess in our metro areas. But we can’t sweep away its inherent challenge and wash our hands – of responsibility. Freedom and democracy is not free. No one is entitled to its fruits and no one is sheltered from its demands. Developed and developing and emerging economies can all relate to this reality.

And so we would not want to again conclude that the president will need emergency powers to address energy, for example. Or to deal with our concerns in infrastructure in general, in agriculture or industry. And even good governance itself.

“Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno gave this assurance yesterday in reaction to criticism from incoming president Rodrigo Duterte that judges were selling temporary restraining orders (TROs).

“Sereno stressed that while the high court is aware of corruption in the judiciary, it has been ‘unrelenting’ in cracking its whip on erring judges, court employees and lawyers.” [‘SC doing its job to cleanse ranks,’ Edu Punay, The Philippine Star, 11th Jun 2016]

“Incoming President Rodrigo Duterte told officials on Wednesday to shun offers of money from vested interests, recalling that at one time he hid from Lucio Tan, one of the country’s wealthiest, who had chased him with cash.” [Duterte tells officials: Avoid vested interests,Allan Nawal, Inquirer Mindanao, Philippine Daily Inquirer, 23rd Jun 2016]

Where are we in human development? There are many models of human development and they would prescribe varying stages. And here is one example:

“Order: We begin with almost entirely tribal thinking, mirroring the individual journey, which starts with an egocentric need for ‘order’ and ‘self.’ 

“Disorder: This is where we need wisdom teachers to guide us through our ‘disorder.’

“Reorder: This is also what some call enlightenment.” [Order, Disorder, Reorder, Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, 23rd Feb 2016]

Enlightenment is probably asking too much. But what about figuring out how to equip ourselves for self-government? Instead of simply dispensing emergency powers to the leadership?

Half a world away we see the once powerful nations of the West going through their own state of disorder that people would trace back to the Global Financial Crisis of 2008. “Andrew Lo [Professor of Finance, MIT Sloan School of Management; Director, MIT Laboratory of Financial Engineering] believed that the crisis was about more than economic forces. In his mind, a human element was at play, most notably the emotions of greed and fear of the unknown. As Lo stated in his House Oversight Committee testimony:

“During extended periods of prosperity, market participants become complacent about the risk of loss—either through a systematic underestimation of those risks because of recent history, or a decline in their risk aversion due to increasing wealth, or both. 

“In other words, ‘we’ became greedy. As Lo put it, this greed was spurred on by ‘the profit motive, the intoxicating and anesthetic effects of success.’

“When everything began to collapse, our greed then turned into fear. What we feared, Lo argued, was the unknown—in this case, who and what we owed, what our assets were worth, and how bad things really were.” [The Global Financial Crisis of 2008: The Role of Greed, Fear, and Oligarchs, Cate Reavis, MIT Sloan Management, 16th Mar 2012]

And with globalization, the West finds itself in its post-industrialization age with technology – which demands not factory-types but knowledge workers – driving the economy. And it is best exemplified by the demise of Detroit, once the center of industrialization, if not the universe, and brought about the rise of America's middle-class. With the exception of Germany which seems to demonstrate longevity as an industrialized economy, Europe is in a worse predicament than America unable to shake the curse of unemployment. And this has made once wealthy nations turn inward as in Brexit. Question: Will the West find the path out of its own disorder? And how soon?

But back to the Philippines. Remember September 21, 1972? Martial rule is an example of emergency powers. But comparing a traffic mess to martial rule is like comparing apples and oranges? Yet, why does nation-building elude us?

Emergency powers connote disorder, chaos if not anarchy. It was chaos and/or anarchy that Marcos invoked to justify the imposition of martial rule. It is chaos and/or anarchy that would justify emergency powers for the traffic mess we’re talking about?

Indeed, human undertakings need leadership. And in our case we need a leadership that will show us the way to community and the common good. A visionary and strategic leadership.

And it explains why we’re the regional laggard – an underdeveloped economy unable to pursue nation-building? Could there be a human element at play in our case?

Consider our instincts, that is, given our impulse of populism and crab mentality – and the poverty in our midst – could the demands of progress and development figure prominently in our consciousness?

And do they spring from our sheltered upbringing, parochial bias, insular worldview and value of hierarchy – and come hand in glove with paternalism? Should we then be surprised that political patronage and dynasties and cronyism and oligarchy are very much a part of who we are?

We may not want to connect the dots, but what about the bottom line? In a democracy, we get the leadership that we deserve. That is, chaos and/or anarchy equals emergency powers and dictatorship . . .

“Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow? And that they will be such is not to be doubted, for he who submits to tyranny loves it.” [We are ruled by Rizal’s ‘tyrants of tomorrow,’ Editorial, The Manila Times, 29th Dec 2015]

“As a major component for the education and reorientation of our people, mainstream media – their reporters, writers, photographers, columnists and editors – have an obligation to this country . . .” [Era of documented irrelevance: Mainstream media, critics and protesters, Homobono A. Adaza, The Manila Times, 25th Nov 2015]

“Development [is informed by a people’s] worldview, cognitive capacity, values, moral development, self-identity, spirituality, and leadership . . .” [Frederic Laloux, Reinventing organizations, Nelson Parker, 2014]

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