Saturday, August 6, 2016

What is the national agenda?

Among others, the Duterte administration is: (a) pursuing the drug war; (b) gearing up to fix Metro Manila traffic; (c) fast-tracking infrastructure; (d) poised to lower taxes; (d) focusing on MSMEs; (e) setting the stage to open the economy; (f) keen to move to a federal from the current unitary system; etc., etc. One needs the granting of emergency powers to the president to be able to act with dispatch; and a couple need constitutional change.

They may be the right agenda items. But where are we really? Do we know and in fact acknowledge where we are that we could figure out where we want to be, and how we will get there?

We recognize that despite being one of the fastest growing economies we remain the regional laggard and are faced with persistent poverty. But let’s dissect that.

And start with what we proudly call a consumption-driven economy. Simply, it is the outcome (or the effect) of OFW remittances (being the cause) and more recently the BPO industry. But now we know they can’t lift us to developed-country status. [On the other hand, our neighbors are well on their way if they’re not there yet because of their focus on industry/manufacturing given its greater multiplier or knock on effect on economic output than services.]

The phenomenon is not a mystery: good enough is never good enough. Except to Juan Tamad, “pwede na ‘yan”? Instead of figuring out the why, we made the assumption – and took it as valid – that our consumption-driven economy is not inclusive. Because we created more billionaires than at any time in our post-war history yet persistent poverty confronts us.

From “good enough is never good enough” . . . we jumped to . . . “it’s not inclusive.” It is not inclusive because . . . it wasn’t good enough to begin with! Did we take cause and effect for granted? Not surprisingly, we find ourselves enduring la-la land – like a ship adrift? Benchmark. Benchmark. Benchmark. 

And given poverty is more acute in the provinces, inclusion must have a bias against Metro Manila in favor of the rural areas? And we traced such neglect to poor governance that in response, the previous Aquino administration pursued “daang matuwid.”

Yet we’re still in a black hole? Where does poor governance begin? Why did we banish three presidents? But being compassionate, two, Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo, have been resurrected while the Marcos name has multiplied into a dynasty – the common denominator of all three. Ergo: ours is culture of impunity, not the rule of law.

But the rule of law doesn’t mean more laws. In fact, international institutions have challenged us to simplify our rules and regulations and laws and statutes.

Still, we enacted into law the party-list system and now want to move forward with federalism? That is, we believe that if we are to attain inclusion, what better way than “direct democracy”? Direct democracy will be the counterweight to political patronage and dynasties and cronyism and oligarchy?

But where are we really? “From 2004 to 2013, there was a 47-percent increase of Philippine dynasties. Provinces began with ‘slight’ dynasties. By 2013, the dynasties became ‘fatter.’ A dynasty is fat if there are multiple family members occupying various elected offices in the province during the same term, the ‘sabay-sabay’ variety. The fattest dynasties or those with the most number of family members in elective office are seen to be concentrated in the poorest regions of the country.

“Poverty breeds strong patron-client relationships. Voters vote according to utang na loob (debt of gratitude). It is not just meaningful choice that is taken away from the voter. Dynasties are hotbeds of corruption. They also undermine the rule of law.

[Consider]: ‘After one representative was found guilty of murdering the sons of his political rival, his seat in the House was taken over by his wife, ensuring that the family name remained relevant long enough for him to seek reelection after the appellate court cleared him of all charges.’

“Politicians regale us with political gobbledygook when arguing for dynasties.” [Con-ass will create even fatter dynasties, Antonio Montalvan IIKris-Crossing MindanaoPhilippine Daily Inquirer, 1st Aug 2016]

The bottom line: We have a problem with self-government. And that speaks volumes. What if we try character-building? Because if we don’t have the maturity for self-government, it will get worse before it gets better for Juan de la Cruz. There is no free lunch – and there’s no two ways about it. And we better get serious. Character education is what we need first and foremost.

“The measure of a man’s character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” [Thomas Babington Macauley (1800-1859), British historian and Whig politician; wrote extensively, his books on British history have been hailed as literary masterpieces; Wikipedia]

And in Rizal’s words, “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.”

And a system like federalism can be beaten and is no panacea – to the challenge of non-inclusion – in the same manner that we can’t legislate integrity? Try the rule of law – but it presupposes character?

Given ours is a state of underdevelopment that comes with persistent poverty, we better learn from our neighbors and erect a three-legged stool – of agriculture and industry beyond services.

And granted that we’ve had a decent track record in classical economic interventions, i.e., fiscal and monetary policies expressed in tax incentives, tax reforms, interest rate and money supply management, among others . . .

Still, there is the dark side to our economic and political history. Our hierarchical system and structure (best exemplified by the elite class) has captured the nation’s cockpit – which in part explains why we had to unseat three presidents? That is to say, hierarchy, political patronage and dynasties, cronyism and oligarchy weave the fabric of poor governance as we know it?

The elite class is not boneheaded. They know that power, infrastructure and industry are the building blocks of an economy. And which explains why power, infrastructure and industry have long been held hostage to the detriment of Juan de la Cruz? 

Now we find ourselves deeper in the black hole, muddling through the supposed solutions to overcome what we consider our destiny: a fast growing economy that has remained the regional laggard, dogged by persistent poverty?

What will it take for us to break away from these shackles so that we are not at the mercy of the elite class? What if the Duterte administration gets the nation’s attention and focus on power, infrastructure and industry?

But is that the national agenda? Or is it to move to a federal system? Let’s test if that is the answer – to make the economy inclusive and address persistent poverty. Consider: given our underdevelopment if there must be a bias, it must be to aggressively drive the economy – and generate wealth not the politics that is the milking cow to many. And we will have a bigger challenge – i.e., dynasties and good governance – if in fact we moved to a federal system. Because it feeds on our parochial and hierarchical and paternalistic instincts – and easily undermines the common good.

We’ve heard from “balikbayans” that have lived through the system and from what we learned we’d rather be in the Philippines where the quality of life is better. Why? The honor system, egalitarian, paddle your own canoe, the common good. Those are among the mandatories of the system – if not Western-style democracy, which we have a problem with?

For example: “Approximately 70 percent of our legislators come from political dynasties. Forty percent of them have ties to legislators as far as three Congresses prior . . . 77 percent of legislators between the ages 26 and 40 are also dynastic, indicating that the malaise has metastasized to the second and third generations of political dynasties in the Philippines. Contrast that to the last US Congress where only 6 percent of members belonged to dynasties.

“Dynasties restrict choice . . . [O]ne family fielded a staggering 80 of its family members in the 2013 elections. Nancy Binay must be reminded that in the Philippines, votes are sold to the highest bidder—the fatter the dynasty, the bigger the amount for vote-buying. When suffrage is for sale, the voice of the people is not the voice of God. No rocket scientist is needed to figure that out.

“In fact, political dynasties devalue suffrage because they work against political inclusiveness. When power is concentrated in one family, political accountability becomes the next casualty. Corruption and then impunity lie not far behind.

“The study made by the AIM Policy Center . . . shows the correlation of political dynasties and their inimical effects on social development. Dynastic politicians tend to be more affluent than non-dynastic politicians; legislators who belong to political dynasties also win by wider margins relative to those who are not clan members (more public money to steal and buy votes with?); on average they can be found on jurisdictions that have relatively higher inequality and poverty levels.” [Montalvan, op. cit.]

Until we can undo the fabric of poor governance – hierarchy, political patronage and dynasties, cronyism and oligarchy – the nation shall be hostage to the forces responsible for our stunted development.

“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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