Monday, August 18, 2008

SC review imperils Mindanao peace process

The future State of Bicol per Senate Joint Resolution No.10 (SR 10) will have greater powers than the Bangsamoro Juridical Entity proposed in the MoA-AD (the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, now under scrutiny by the Philippine Supreme Court.)

The senate resolution, to begin with, expressly permits Bicol, subject to certain conditions, to secede or dismember itself from the Federal Republic contemplated in the senate scheme. Additionally, under the same initiative that was introduced by 12 senators in April 2008, Bicol, as well as 10 other proposed states, will possess, among other powers, the following: 1) Exercise powers the Federal government shall not exercise because they are reserved to the individual states; 2) Enter into trade relations with other countries; 3) Grant reprieves, commutations and pardons, remit fines and forfeitures concerning crimes committed against state legislations; 4) Enact laws relative to agriculture, agricultural lands, flora and fauna, mines, mineral resources, gas, gas-works, water, water supplies and water power; 5) Establish courts for the governance of its indigenous populations; 6) Organize and maintain civilian police forces, local prisons and reformatories; 7) Create autonomous regions consisting of provinces, cities, municipalities, and geographical areas or alter the same and be responsible for the defense and security of those regions; 8) Pursue local development in the utilization of mineral, marine and aquatic, forest and other natural resources; 9) Engage in local and international trade and commerce to attain self sufficiency and progress; and 10) Incur foreign loans to fund state or local government projects.

The main justification given in the “whereas” clauses for the move to transform the present unitary arrangement into a federal system allowing these awesome grant of powers to the states: the “lopsided arrangement has spawned a host of problems including massive nationwide poverty to runaway insurgencies and rebellions that feed on the societal inequalities in the nation.”

Still, some people are calling the SR 10 “crappy,” although thus far no one is publicly claiming that the 12 senators who introduced the resolution had conspired to commit culpable violation of the Constitution or treasonous acts. The reason, arguably, is simple: congress, of which the senate is a part, is expressly authorized by the Constitution to initiate whether inconsiderable or radical constitutional reforms of the present setup. So therefore, while SR 10 is blatantly ultra constitutional (to repeat, the resolution allows any region proposed therein to be organized as a sovereign state and secede from the republic), it is not unconstitutional. Moreover, at this stage of the senate-initiated constitutional reordering, the action of the senators is essentially political and therefore beyond the pale of judicial review.

By comparison, what is the basis of the presidential power to wage war, conclude peace or make treaties or executive agreements? Basically, it is the president’s power as commander in chief of the military.

Now, while the president shares with the senate the power to make treatise or international agreement, she (or her alter egos) alone negotiates or adopts bargaining inducements, devices or strategies that may lead to a final compact of peace.

Decades of armed conflict in Mindanao have already cost more than a hundred thousands human lives and the dislocation of more than a million. In the political give and take of the delicate and complicated Mindanao peace process, the president, and none other, is supposed to be the “sole organ” to do the communicating and negotiating and as such may rely on a large reservoir of inherent and extra-constitutional powers of the executive to serve the public interest. In so doing, she may pursue political pragmatism or go as far as push the constitutional envelope (for example, ignore Philippine claim of Sabah for peaceful co-existence and trade relations with Malaysia, or, as in the instant controversy, sit in the peace table and negotiate with armed rebel group MILF to prevent further bloodletting among brothers and pave the way for national economic progress).

In certain extraordinary situations, the president may in fact employ the classic Lockean prerogative “to act according to discretion for the public good, without the prescription of law or sometimes against it.” (Emphasis mine)

These only mean that, as in the matter of the MoA-AD that has generated raging nationwide discourse and public anxiety, even the senate (the president’s treaty-making partner under the Constitution) cannot meddle with this (negotiation) aspect of treaty making or of forging executive agreement in the same way that the court cannot interfere with the decision of congress or the senate to introduce ultra constitutional resolution it deems appropriate to institute structural or systemic change in governance.

Let me ask this question again: If we grant that the SC can prevent a peace negotiation via a temporary or permanent injunction to forestall a perceived dismemberment of the national territory, doesn’t it follow that, if the president dillydallies, the court can also order her to recover a lost ground or territory, inflict punitive action or conduct an all-out war to win peace?

The legal answer to the foregoing challenge is almost commonsensical: while the political branches of the government and the people directly may pursue political acts and decisions ultra-constitutionally, an unaccountable judiciary is always constrained to act within the constitutional box. It has to be so since in so far as the court is concerned, the Constitution is a read-only document notwithstanding judicial indulgence at times in “creative jurisprudence” (e.g., the invention of “substantive due process” by the US Supreme Court to protect corporate rights or of “constructive resignation” by the Philippine Supreme Court in the case of President Estrada’s ouster through People Power II, to pave the way for an intra-constitutional succession of governmental powers). However, even in “judicial activism,” the court is weighed upon by the very nature of its constitutional obligation to always anchor or fasten its reading of the Constitution strictly to the existing constitutional framework.

Beyond legalism, there are pragmatic reasons why the classic view that executive power is restricted to enforcing the law and that the judiciary may oversee such enforcement does not apply when it comes to military (and foreign) affairs: 1) the need for secrecy, and 2) the president has access to information that may not be available to the judiciary (or congress) such as conditions and political dynamics on the ground or details in operations that cannot be shared without jeopardizing those operations. In these areas, the political judgment of the executive may not be replaced by judicial discretion, the president being accountable only to the public as a whole.

It is therefore blatantly irregular for the judiciary (the supposedly apolitical, publicly unaccountable and the least informed of the three branches of the government) to step in at the crucial negotiation stage for the Mindanao peace settlement or, in the guise of judicial review, actively participate in such a decidedly political matter by constraining the President, temporarily or permanently.

If the public offers stiff resistance to the MoA-AD and forces the president to scrap it, so be it. The SC however may not arrogate the same prerogative without violating the Constitution or needlessly imperiling the Mindanao peace process.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

GMA lost her luster but is she a spent force?

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA) might have been swept to power by radical means but she has proven since day one to be a dyed-in-the-wool incrementalist unwilling to be a transformation agent. And quite unmistakably, if her last State of the Nation Address (SONA) is any indication, she has clung to her brand through the difficult endgame of her political career.

There were, of course, moments of Marcosian delusions as in the SONA 2005 when she painted a picture of a Philippine economy "poised for take off" or delivered the royal punch line of SONA 2007: "From where I sit, I can tell you, a President is always as strong as she wants to be." Today, imagine a diminutive Arroyo brandishing VAT in SONA 2008 as her giant accomplishment, or badge of victory, and still got 104 times of applause while a great mass of the Filipino people is either going hungry or raring to jump the ship of state at the slightest prospect.

But, the true state of the nation based on official government data, according to Dr. Ceilito Habito, former Socio-Economic Planning secretary, shows "declining school enrollment rates, more school dropouts, rising hunger, worsening health, declining peace and order, diminishing hope for the future, and more."

Backtracking momentarily will remind us that within days of the triumphant EDSA II rebellion, GMA did not equivocate to temper the mode of the time by putting everyone on notice that her "administration will resist the temptation to take adventurist initiatives and directions for the sake of appearing to be innovative."

During the formative period of the Arroyo presidency, then still ardently contested by Joseph "Erap" Estrada, the rogue kingpin ousted from Malacañang by EDSA II, she's stuck to her billing quite openly although rather coyly: "I have no grandiose ambition of being great," she pleaded. "I just want to do my work well. I don't want magic. I just want to be 100 percent right - morally right."

The convent-bred reluctant rebel has however lost her La Aunor luster and the "progressives" of the EDSA II coalition, whom she co-opted, when they realized she could neither have, indeed, the audacity to aspire as a charismatic political magician (who could bring about a sea change and make the big and tough decisions to whisk away the long-standing malaise facing the Filipino people) nor the plain moral ascendancy to govern. She naively mislaid the first one by intentional default; the other, by some buried character flaw she preferred to characterize as "lapse in judgment."

If we draw a boxing analogy, the Filipino people, while seemingly magnanimous, if not simply oblivious, of the no-magic rope-a-dope of GMA, have seen for the most part the "Hello, Garci" scandal as a mortal blow sending her flat to the canvas up to the eighth count and, because only of a biased referee obdurately adhering to sheer technicality, she was saved by the bell. Since then, she's been on the survival mode in the remaining few rounds. And as the dramatics of SONA 2008 indicates, she seems tiring but comfortably backpedaling and dancing around although no one is really actively pursuing her in the ring.

The probing questions then are:
Why has Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gone the distance delivering her eighth SONA and not her defense (while in the dock for various misconducts in office and breaches of public trust that make Erap, her convicted predecessor, look like a petty plunderer)?

Is Arroyo really a spent force or in fact the force to be reckoned with, the sought-after "golden girl" in yet another mega bout?

She may not be a magician, but what is the secret formula of her staying power?

Saturday, June 14, 2008

A Ces-pool of Lamitan

Some profit from war or from a permanent state of war materially or ideologically.

For instance, post WW I several investigations in the US Congress were conducted in connection with the charge in a series of publications that certain bankers and merchants encouraged the US to get involved in the war so that they could make money or protect interests in loans and weapon sales to England and France.

Only recently, former White House press secretary Scott McClellan has rebuked the Bush administration in his best selling memoir What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception for using propaganda to mislead the American public and sell the Iraq War. That the war is otherwise “unnecessary” according to McClellan but for the “grandiose objective of reshaping the Middle East as a region of peaceful democracies” is no surprise to many. What seems new in McClellan’s tell-all is the claim that the (liberal) media has been easy on Bush’s decision to go to war in Iraq “that pushed (his) presidency off course.”

As an early critic of the Iraq War, I have pointed out in a commentary that the Philippine media had a better reason to gag itself on the follies of Marcos than the US media on the failings of Bush:
During the second Gulf war, dubbed as “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” CNN repeatedly maligned the UN as a “talk shop,” echoing President George W. Bush’s own belittlement of the UN as “irrelevant” or “a mere debating society” even as Bush used Iraq’s alleged violations of UN resolutions as the fig leaf for the “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq, thus the perception that the “embedded” media censored itself out of servility; on the other hand, during Marcos martial law, the tyrant simply coerced the Philippine media into muzzling itself or into extolling what Marcos wanted the Filipinos to believe about the Bagong Lipunan (The New Society).
But during President Estrada’s all-out war in Mindanao, University of the Philippines journalism professor Luis Teodoro scored Manila broadsheets for failing to provide the “contextual information” for the public to understand the Mindanao crisis, a problem that could have been exacerbated by news reports and comments “(fomenting) anti Muslim prejudices through hate articles.”

Remember Lamitan?

At mlq3’s blog, I have recalled the Lamitan fiasco (in connection with the July 2007 ambush in Basilan of a military convoy where reportedly 14 Marines looking for kidnapped Italian priest Giancarlo Bossi were killed, 10 of them beheaded) in the following:
Helsingin Sanomat and The Boston Globe produced a joint report showing that both the Philippine military and government have been involved in a cover-up over Lamitan incident that took place in June 2001. The tragedy, a web of collusion between the AFP, Abu Sayyaf, local warlord and blood money, claimed several innocent lives.

At that time the question raised was whether the AFP is even interested in getting rid of the Abu Sayyaf Group.

Eye-witnesses to the incident have recounted that ASG leaders managed to escape from the Lamitan siege by fleeing to safety from a high-walled hospital complex that was surrounded by AFP units.

Hours after the “Great Escape,” the AFP launched an attack on the complex, with only civilians inside.

A ransom of 25 million pesos was paid to secure the release of hostage Reghis Romero II and two others. According to a friend of Romero and a catholic priest, the money was split among the ASG, the military and some politicians.
Pedro, a commenter at mlq3’s site, was similarly blistering in his response to my above post:
There was a question that was asked back then, asking why US military and humanitarian assistance always come in the form of equipment and expertise instead of funding or cash. Of course the question was answered in a politically correct way so as not to offend, but everybody in the US side including the local audience knew what really was the answer. A little bird told me that ransom payments between Abu Sayyaf and the AFP during combat patrols become hard to pull off when armed US visitors are tagging along (out of shame I suppose). Information has been coming out about AFP military hardware and ammunition being sold to various groups.
Now, of late, the decibel of the Mindanao conflict, raging on and off since 1978, has reached new levels as peace negotiators from Manila and the 12,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front have expressed fears about the possible collapse of a five-year old ceasefire. The apprehension is about the expiration by the end of August this year of the mandate of the International Monitoring Team (IMT) to oversee the ceasefire. The IMT is made up of foreign facilitators that have been monitoring the peace talks since 2003 when it was signed. The team is also supposed to administer the final peace agreement if forged.

The greater part of the IMT representations is from Malaysia. The Malaysian contingent has however announced its intention to withdraw from the multilateral team apparently because of disappointment with the slow progress of the peace process. What’s bogging down the negotiation is the lack of consensus on the definition of “ancestral domain” that will affect the control of areas in southern Philippines by the Muslim group as well as the operational conception of the Bangsamoro. The trust level among the parties has taken another low when the Manila representatives have indicated supposedly being hamstrung by certain requirements under the Philippine constitution in addressing these contentious issues.

Is the media interested this time to know and inform the public whose intransigence it is that’s making the road to final peace bumpy?

“Despite the injuries, fatalities and damages done to private citizens, property, and business, the never ending cycle of ceasefires/peace talks and resuming military action has always been the norm,” Pedro has wryly concluded in our exchange.

Bear in mind again that the Senate inquiries into the Lamitan disaster have found “strong circumstantial evidence” of collusion between the AFP and the Abu Sayyaf Group. Now, about the kidnapping of the ABS-CBN news team led by TV anchor Ces Drilon (and Mindanao State University professor and peace advocate Octavio Dinampo), there’s unsettling report in that looks like Lamitan redux:
The hired driver of television reporter Ces Drilon and her crew has claimed to police that a known “military agent” and not members of the Abu Sayyaf extremist group abducted the ABS-CBN team, the Sulu police chief said . . . .
Meanwhile, Manolo Quezon’s raves on the news embargo requested by Drilon’s employer, which the government has broken, are equally chilling: “Which makes the illogical behavior of the government logical only if you assume (as I do) that there are hawks in the administration happy over any mayhem in Mindanao.”

Dosen’t this post-release recollection by Arlene de la Cruz, another journalist kidnapped in January 2002, offer precious insights?
In the next few days, they kept asking me about the ransom. The torment only subsided when they turned me over to another group around the first week of February.

The uneasy calm allowed for some conversation between me and a man named Lakandula, one of their leaders.

“When will you, reporters, stop writing stories about the fighting in Sulu? Is that all what you reporters are after?” Lakandula then wondered aloud. “You write your report and that’s it. It’s all just work for you. Is that it? Just another ‘scoop’ from Sulu?”

I remember the two of us having this exchange inside a hut, and outside we could see a group of women passing by.

“Do you see those women, their children? Every day they have to walk for several kilometers to draw water from the river. Why? Because they don’t have a source of water near their homes . . .

“Haven’t you thought of how you can help them?”
In an op-ed piece of mine that was published by on June 15, 2001, I believe to be in the same state of mind as Arlene’s (in recounting her conversation with Lakandula):
Peace is achievable in Mindanao if there is a collective change of attitudes of all the parties concerned. First of all, total victory by either side is impossible. If it were, the war would have been won or lost long, long time ago.

I personally perceive an institutionalized culture of bias by the Christian majority, whether in the region or in imperial Manila, against the Muslim minority. The attitude seems rooted in basic human relations.

Now that the peace process is being reinitiated, the Philippine government must come to the peace table with the full realization that it cannot win an ethnic war against the Moros. On the other hand, the Moros must recognize that it cannot win a war of secession against the Philippine government. Not in our lifetime.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

‘Philippines has much to teach the world’

The relevant exchange in FilipinoVoices runs thus:

ANTHONY: I think the difficulty here is that when you scratch beneath the surface, you find that the concept of a nation as a distinct and unique collective is artificial.

After all, the rise of the Nation State came hand-in-hand with the rise of industrialisation and capitalism. It was the mechanism to create artificial bonds between disparate ethnic groups, giving them a shared sense of identity. This collectivisation happened to be most efficient way of mobilising enough people to create wealth during the industrial age.

ABE: I agree that the state is neither universal nor natural, but an ideological construct for the most part; what’s even more apparent is that the power that has personified (or fabricated) the state is the same power that is attempting to demystify, delegitimize or deconstruct it, again, as you said, in the service of wealth. Now, would it help the disempowered individual to resist the reverse process? If not, why should the individual simply go with the flow (or get equipped for the paradigm shift, if you will)?

ANTHONY: For centuries, we have learned to equate culture and identity with the Nation. Now, in a world of the multinational corporation and supranationalism, we’re forced to reassess what this means. As Chuck’s post displays, people still draw comfort in the permanence of their Nation. In reality, Nation States are struggling to remain relevant as their powers are being rapidly eroded by global corporations and supranational bodies. For example, just last month European Union laws drafted in Brussels affected how loud traditional bagpipes can be played in Scotland.

Abe asks if the disempowered individual should resist. We cannot. There are such huge forces in play that resisting will only lead to the annihilation of one’s values. What we must do, as all successful cultures have done, is adapt. In nature, the species that resists environmental change becomes extinct; cultures are no different.

However, culture and traditions cross national boundaries; they transcend the Nation State and need not die with it. Ironically for the Philippines, our disadvantages and failures as a nation has given us a head-start in this new landscape. The Filipino ‘OFW global workforce’ is a sign of things to come as more people leave their countries in search for jobs. The Philippines has much to teach the world about this new style of living.

We must also learn quickly to capitalise on this ‘first mover advantage’. While we spend our time with insular bickering about governmental failures, others are catching up. To put things in context, approximately 90k to 100k Filipinos have settled in the UK over the last three decades. During that time, we have stayed largely underground, our groups mirroring the same divisive squabbling as can be seen in the Philippines. On the other hand, in the 5 years since Poland’s accession to the European Union, around 1 million Poles have moved to the UK. They are making their presence felt and once again Filipinos risk being relegated as insignificant.

What in effect I am postulating is that both nation-state and a “world of the multinational corporation and supranationalism” are not something given, but constructed by those with the power to do so for a reason and therefore the concept (or process) could be deconstructed or reconstructed also for a reason either by the self-same power to further their interests or by those whose ends are not thereby served or in fact jeopardized in the wake of it.

On the juristic (legal) level, a parallel could be drawn between the conception of the state and that of the (private) corporation, an artificial being no less bestowed by law with certain attributes of a person than a state personified by being invested with a mind and a will of its own. So, if the legal rationale fades out or lapses (e.g., the law is abrogated), what actually break the surface are real people socially relating to each other, or working and collaborating together (and I agree with BenignO that they may not be forged as one identity by some hollow symbolisms like Manny Pacquiao; commonality of purpose may be enough).

The artificial entity, it is well to note, is not just legitimized by a statute or by some agreed upon international legal arrangement, it is also reinforced by a belief system. If we look back at history, the myth of the territorialized nation-state has supplanted another myth, the open and frontier-less kingdom of the absolute monarch. The belief system then was that the king was supposed to have unchallenged authority (sovereignty) because his power was derived directly from God. The Devine Right of Kings was however undone when the struggle for parliamentary democracy was won by once disempowered individuals.

It needs to be underscored too that while we are certain the tectonic transformation of the global village is happening, its consequences are still very problematic. For one, are the winners so far outnumbering the losers? What are the negatives in terms of plain ethics: Does supranationalism value life the same way irrespective of nationalities? Or, supranationalism notwithstanding, to what extent the interests of “our” nationals should be promoted or protected at the expense of “their” nationals? How serious is the concern at this point to reconsider the locus, indivisibility or indispensability of sovereignty, or, just like Divine Right of Kings, consign it to oblivion (forget about it)?

The question then is not that “we cannot” resist as inevitable the paradigm shift but more appropriately whether we are unwilling or not to exercise the choice to tame or undo it. For if there is emerging a so-called “network of Empire” (of powerful nation-states in combination with supranational institutions and transnational corporations) poised to rule over a new global order, there is also a “movement of peoples” that is materializing as a countervailing force. In the Philippines, we also call the latter phenomenon as People Power.

Come to think of it, if the Blacks in the United States, together with certain enlightened members of the White establishment, dared not struggle to end slavery and the slave economy but simply gave in to “adapting” to their realities, would there be a Barack Obama today?

Please don’t get me wrong, though. An older commentary below about our town in Bikol, a portion of an op-ed piece of mine published by about six years ago, perhaps shows my concurrence with, rather than divergence from, Anthony’s discourse:
In a microcosmic sense, Iriga (etymologically, y raga, meaning “upland” or figuratively, “there’s opportunity”) was a land of promise to the folks of an older settlement. Apparently goaded by some appreciation of economic topography, the more adventurous settlers of the lowland saw the opportunity to trek up and form a new community. Historically, therefore, Iriga was a land of émigrés, a town built upon the pioneering spirit of its forebears, driven by the hope for greater autonomy. Little wonder then contemporary Irigueños, probably still motivated by such a sovereign zeal, are strong believers in equalitarian values exhibited in a manifold of ways that many would often take for granted.

The Iriga of my childhood welcomed anybody who would want to intermingle with the descendants of the town’s forerunners and its indigenous people. The ever present Chinese and the mestizos, some of Russian, German, Japanese, even Jewish ancestries, and the scions of the “Castilians,” not to mention, of course, the travelers and adventurers from neighboring towns. Nonetheless, the “centro” people called each other “guy” irrespective of status. The pervading communal conception was thus one of inclusiveness and mutual respect in the face of a healthy climate of competition.

In my view, the foregoing enlightenment, so to speak, allowed the fruition of multifaceted talents and abilities, and spawned a wellspring of aspirations and ambitions among the growing cosmopolitanized Irigueños, which, unfortunately, the town’s resources could not accommodate or absorb. Like their founding ancestors, the unsinkable Irigueños had to look for another y raga, or a land of superior opportunities, first in the megapolis of Manila and suburbs, and then even in more distant climes.

The irony is that North America, the favored expatriation of many, as well as Australia, was once a place of banishment where European labor, who couldn’t sell their skills in the market during the early phase of industrial revolution, had been ostracized to go, the better skilled craftsmen having been forced into the burgeoning factories principally in England. In recent years in Iriga, however, a reverse phenomenon—which is quite endemic in the Archipelago—has been taking place. More and more of the “best and the brightest” are lured to leave for the beckoning “upland” in an exodus of some kind because there are no factories, offices or hospitals in town to tap their craftsmanship and expertise with commensurate remuneration. Like other countries whose endowments are natural resources and the human constituents, the adventurism (or, perhaps, abnegation) of the latter would prove to be heroically significant in a lot ways, more particularly in keeping the struggling ship of the nation afloat. The Diaspora of Irigueños, and many other Filipinos for that matter, in different regions of the world, is therefore both a blessing and disguise.

Today, one of the challenges in our rapidly transforming global village could be how to create new meanings and purpose from such our state of affairs. Or, how to avail of the scientific and technological advances that are continuing to shrink both time and space, and turn our situation of physical dispersion to our favor.

In retrospect, Filipinos in exile during Rizal’s times, had taken advantage of the liberal ideas in Spain to hone their cosmopolitanism and proved that given the opportunity they could rise easily to be equals with their “masters.” It was also during this period when the conversation about which course to pursue to attain “emancipation”—either through reforms within the existing colonial relationship with Spain or by social upheaval of the French paradigm—was deepened and polarized. There are lingering questions today whether the Filipino Diaspora, generally speaking, is a reaction to some insurmountable obstacles to reaching rising expectations, such obstacles as anachronistic societal relationship, population growth, technological divide, blighted discipline, geographic fractiousness, prolonged experience of dependency and marginalization, or the ineptitude of self-seeking elites, to cite only those already recognized by some scholars, self-serving or otherwise.

As expatriates ourselves, we have the practical edge of critically looking at certain things that are occurring in our adopted countries from the perspective of our native culture and sub-cultures vis-à-vis our economic, political and demographic structures. Now, which ones do we choose to let go, or intend to preserve, capitalize on and impart? In an age of connectivity and information as wealth, there is an excellent window of opportunities to enrich our exchanges or share our social, cultural and other experiences with one another, and with our compatriots from a geographically distant town we still love to call home.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Man does not live by rice alone

True, man does not live by rice alone, but democracy can really get problematic when the great mass of sovereign particles cannot get past subsistence level to be free from want. So when the needy bargain with their votes or go blindly by the bidding of their political lords (because power over basic needs is power over will) the free expression of the sovereign will is violated.

This is where we're stuck today: The Philippine economy is not growing enough to create surplus not only to provide and hold economic safety nets but also pay for certain essential infrastructure, physical and social, such as a meaningful program for a high-quality universal education in order to produce a large population geared up for a modern economy and an enlightened citizenry, the essential ingredient for a working democracy.

Creating the good society that democracy aims to pull off often involves a decision to conserve long-held beliefs, values, traditions and institutions, or, otherwise, revolutionize them. Whether to undergo transformation or not, it could be driven either by fear of a change for the worse or by hope for the better. Those with something or so much to lose will most likely lean toward conservatism and those with little or nothing to lose but their blighted station will veer toward radicalism. There are however well-intentioned individuals from across the political and social spectrum who will not shun adventurism to experiment on other pathways to progress.

At this stage of nation-building however, the burden of resolving, sans violent upheaval, the economic scarcity the country is facing is upon the laps of those with effective power or those who have access to various institutional sources of power. These powerholders are essentially the society's elites, who may have experienced some sort of Pauline conversion in secular sense, the way Filipinos in diaspora have been to some extent remade attitudinally, having been uprooted into new ways of doing things.

The change agents could in fact be new breed of productive men who must feel relatively deprived, not materially but morally, because they are challenged (or humiliated) out of individual and national pride for being elites in an economic basket case. Once this self-importance or sense of country is stirred, the decision to attain modernity will come easier such as on what approach to take in employing the country's resources to attain economic growth and development or how to allocate the economic surplus if and when created, depending on what ways of thinking they are willing to keep or unsettle. Even more specifically, on whether goods and services should be produced according to the autonomous decision of the individual wealth producers and entrepreneurs or government bureaucrats and specialists drawn in into those decisions in the context of public/private sectors coordination or partnership?

The looming "rice crisis" in the Philippines that threatens to destabilize the Arroyo government anew if it spins out of control is one such instance where the critical choice should have been decisively made long time ago. Today, the continuing breakdown of imagination is a telling reminder of failure to marry proven traditional practices with science in order to transition to modernity. We need not fall for or completely write off some doomsday "conspiracy theories" about giant corporate seed breeders controlling the food chain. Still a successful strategy for sustained agricultural surpluses in the area of rice production (possibly in conjunction with the development of the extractive sector) can be understood to pick up a good portion of the bill for the transition (e.g., foreign exchange from rice exports and similar agricultural supplies would help meet the need for imported capital goods necessary for industrialization).

If the political and entrepreneurial will on the part of those with effective power and resources held sway, there ought to be no excuse, given our equivalent natural and human resources, not to be competitive with rice exporting countries like our peers Thailand and Vietnam. But as it is, we are faced today with the humiliating reality of having botched big time to achieve and maintain food security for our growing population if only, at minimum, to keep their human dignity, or beyond which, for rational and free citizens of a surplus society to be actively involved in dealing with the many human problems that impact the system.

On the other hand, when only a handful of people perpetually hold power over the necessities of the many, our democracy, any democracy, is gravely imperiled.

The Hitlerian misadventures of Ferdinand Marcos that have turned upside down what's left of our democratic experiment and whose profligacy has vastly contributed to the morass we are in today will continue to haunt many Filipinos. Interestingly, however, it was during Marcos that the highest productivity level in agriculture has been observed. Since then, we have yet to see any substantive agenda to revolutionize our agriculture in terms of productivity-enhancing investments, such as research and development and infrastructure buildup. Any such policy redirection has apparently been eclipsed by the strategic focus on labor export and ultimately blindsided by the lure of OFW remittances of enormous worth. Now, in response even to this phenomenal stimulus, what novel ways of doing things have so far been agreed upon and pursued with a view to generating internally economic surpluses?

In the face of tendentiousness in favor of the old rent-collectors and money capitalists, real estate-based entrepreneurs and shopping mall taipans, without creating an adequate manufacturing base, general economic abundance and positive liberty for individuals in the service of democracy are unlikely to come about in the immediate future. Certainly, not when the legitimacy of the present political leadership remains in question.