Saturday, October 22, 2005

When the Wheel is Poised to Turn

[we digress a bit from our Understanding Nation Building series this is the link to part 12]

When there are too many cooks in the Kitchen, food usually doesn't turn out real well. The Philippines today has a case of too many cooks. Too many things are wrong because there are varying policies running across the board and each faction thinking they can do a better job. They haven't. They haven't for twenty years. And all these people--- “the elite” in society, the “leaders”, the “civil society”, the “clergy”, the military, the media, and just about every Tom, Ivan, Joe, Juan in the street and we bloggers have got it wrong.

The current political, economic and social crisis gripping the Philippines today is a direct result of every policy, every decision by the Filipino over the last twenty years and it reflects the moment that we must now take our game to the next level.

When the Marcos regime collapsed, it ushered in a new democracy one that is a hybrid of “freedom”, “self-interest oligarchy” and “socialism”. The very proof is the 1987 Constitution that is the foundation of our current Republic.

In the 1987 Constitution is enshrined the freedoms Filipinos sought--- the restoration of the freedom of expression, the freedom of speech, and many freedoms as eloquently worded in the Bill of Rights. All it has done is undermine the rule of law. Laws are made to be bent. This has become a land where even the law on jaywalking is but a suggestion. IT has become a land where the rights of others are not important as long as it is for a “righteous” though often self-centered reason. There is no “duty” of the citizen to the state. There is no responsibility.

In the 1987 Constitution, oligarchy was set in stone, though not by intent but as a consequence of the very principles the framers sought to avoid. They formed a government that was suppose to be freedom loving, to have an electoral system, to enable Filipinos to choose their own leaders. Yet in many parts of the country, it is the powerful whom many are guided by self-interest who remain Lords and Masters over the provinces and towns and if not them, their scion and we have made inadvertently political dynasties not because of some law, but the people allow them to be. We have fathers who are senators, sons who are congressmen, wives who are mayors and they go round and around--- nothing wrong, perfectly innocent because what if they actually are doing something positive? But so few of them actually serve their voters.

In the last twenty years, police, fire, jail management and similar functions were removed from local official hands and into the hands of the national government. This to avoid the creation of private armies that would continue to undermine the electoral process. Yet all this did was to further undermine development in the countryside, and further fortify our feudal society. Local officials, though elected became subordinate barons of the resident of the Palace.

And what of socialism? With the exception of education, which is a right of every person, Filipinos have erected a government and society hell bent in having all sorts of services, yet would not want to spend for it. For example, people want free healthcare, yet only those who are salaried pay for the national health care insurance system. Filipinos want a mass transit system, or better roads, yet refuse to pay for their use.

The irony, it is government policy to encourage the mentality that every employ of the government is a crook, hence audit laws that does not favor government. Let me tell you a story about a delivery our company made--- we delivered a brand new LCD Display, unfortunately and because it took the government more than 12 months to approve our quotation to them, we were no longer delivering CRT monitors. They wanted the CRT monitor, but the end-user was perfectly happy to use the brand new 17”+ LCD Montior. Auditors could not see it was favorable to the government that we delivered the newer models, at not additional cost . Simple logic really.

Up to this point, no one will probably contest that the last twenty years was a mistake. But it wasn't a mistake and we must delude ourselves in thinking it is such. It has been a crucible and the final test that will take this nation to the next level is yet to come and to pass it, will be a better world and to fail it, will mean the same mediocre thing for generations to come.

How can Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's recent scandal be not a mistake? How can Erap's eviction from the Palace be not a mistake? How can all those coup attempts not be a mistake? How can a country with 20% of the workforce working underemployed and with an additional 11% of the workforce unemployed?

Hypocrites! Today many of those who swept PGMA to power in EDSA 2, and who supported her during the elections have turned their back. They have been filled with righteous disgust! They have been filled with righteous anger at the blatant cheating, legally unproven during the last election. Where were the civil societies, the militant groups, and everyone else when PGMA won the elections?

When Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was elected as president, no one contested it! Sure, FPJ's and Loren's filed their petitions. There was no groundswell of sympathy, no righteous anger huge enough as we have seen in the past few days. The Civil Societies kept quiet. Many of the vehement critics of PGMA from the religious, honored the election. And the middle class breathed a sigh of relief. Don't tell me many of you didn't when you heard FPJ lost. Even if you voted for someone else other than the actor and the economist. FPJ lost, that was all that mattered.

Because of the scandals that have rocked Mrs. Arroyo and her family, and because this economy has been on autopilot for too much time, we are seeing a mediocre GDP of 4.7%, inflation standing at 7.9% (12% VAT not yet factored) and non performing loans to total loans ratio of 11.2% and a year-to-date (12 October 2005) deficit of -80.8 Billion (see NEDA).

The Vatican had already chosen not to interfere with politics in the Philippines, but there are small factions showing individual discontent and have chosen to remain to protest, to fight injustice not in places of worship, but in the streets like friars from a world thought forgotten, but exist today. Perhaps the greatest injustice is in a country where even the lowest ranked official of the government is corrupt, abusive of power and position, is it not through ethics and through religion we become better persons?

When former leaders of the Philippines take an active part in protests, there begs to be a reason. When a former President asks the sitting president, to consider cutting her term short, we too must consider their motives and hidden agendas. When Senators, admittedly from the same coalition oppose their recognized leader, it too begs for further analysis. They each have their own secret motives and hidden agendas.

When rallies are held weekly--- to disrupt classes in schools, to force business to close, to make roads more congested with traffic and when they who want to express grievance at the government do so, they trample also on the right of those students to learn, the right of their parents to get their money's worth, for people working to get to their places of business on time and not to waste precious, expensive fuel stuck in traffic. Grievance doesn't sound so high on importance, doesn't it?

Clearly, our nation is nearing a crossroad! The seeds are in place, yet much of the future remains a clouded mystery. Every faction is seeking a way out. Every faction wishes to take matters into their own hands--- a coup just like EDSA 2, a military junta, more street protests and many back-room negotiations for money, power and position.

It is clear that the nation the 1987 Constitution sought to make is our society today, but it is ill fit to define the Filipino for tomorrow and many of our tomorrows yet to come.

The Filipino has come to the point in his national life, to grow up, to mature. To shape our destiny, we must come to accept our past. It is a horrid, stormy one but we must accept it. We must begin to accept ourselves and believe in the Filipino, not just in word, not just in song but in daily life.

There must be a Congress of Minds and Hearts. It must ask itself: what does the Filipino want for the future? It must create a hardworking society. It must create a Filipino able to take his destiny in his hands, and make something out of it. He must let go of the premise, without explicitly stating so in the fundamental document the favoring of socialist-leaning ideas and instead work for sustainable development in all aspects of its policy.

We must encourage our strengths--- the development of our countryside through a true, powerful local government. We must devolve our government and put what little resources we have where it can count--- out there in the barrios and bundoks.

We must learn the folly of too many cooks, that the road to success is making our one big problem into many small but manageable ones and that Bill Clinton had already so eloquently solved our problem: “Its the economy, stupid.” We must therefor provide for every means to make 90% of our economy made up of small businesses survive. Bring that bad loan ratio down, make it lower risk for banks to lend businesses money, or encourage them to do so. It also translates to every school must turn out graduates that think, not just read and write. That every church and household make it every effort to teach ethics and goodwill (as all religions do).

Milton once wrote, “They also serve those who stand and wait”, in our case, every Filipino must be made to realize that only when we ask what we can do for our country and not what our country can do for us is that the pathway towards a vibrant economy in which we all do our fair share of labour, no matter how mediocre it may seem, every bit counts.”

When one looks at 12 October 2005 NEDA update, it is not a very encouraging picture. Though it is without doubt, Mrs. Arroyo can hold her ground for at least the next six months and murky, into the next twelve and beyond. However, unless the pressure surrounding her is relieved it is highly doubtful that without extreme action on her part she will not be able to complete her term and exist the Palace in 2010.

When PGMA goes away violently or forced out--- that will be a sad day for the rule of law and of democracy in the Philippines. Should the other factions take power--- it would translate to more trouble because the story isn't finished. It isn't over. A precedent has already been made and what is to stop the next opposition to topple another government? What is to stop the next set of rules to be cheaters, liars, thieves? What is to stop the same vicious cycle to continue?

All we need is the resolve to forge a better nation, a more powerful, responsible democracy, and a nation that uses its heart as much as it uses its head. In twenty years, when we have strengthened our resolved here at home, we can become leaders in our little backyard and move ASEAN towards what it really can become--- stronger economic partnership, even a single currency just like Europe, strengthened political and military presence in the region.

The only way to ensure a better future is to engage in discussion about a new Republic, because it is beyond obvious that the current Constitution is up to bringing about the future. It is high time anyway, that as a people poised to mature, we can begin forming a society that is equal, that doesn't reflect our current way of life but looks towards the future and a people driven to work, to strive to achieve. Twenty years is a long time to learn. The wheel is poised to turn. Time to grow up and our moment to begin engaging our friends, allies and competitors in the world stage as equals.