Thursday, August 25, 2005

If not GMA, who? And what’s the alternative?

Part I

The mother of all our problems

Former President Fidel Ramos Ramos speaking before the Makati Business Club on August 27, 2003, cited the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” between politicians and a few families, powerful, wealthy and “greedy rent-seeking,” to whom many of the former are beholden - which makes the unequal alliance and symbiosis doubly unholy and perverse - as the “mother of all our problems” throughout history.

The sad state of affairs looks more to be a present-day embodiment of the same friar system Spanish era reformists like Dr. Jose Rizal intended to dismantle: a network of entrenched power relations among the friar surrogates, mostly landowning families of Chinese descent who originally had served as stewards for the estates of the monastic orders, morphed into hispanized hacienderos, then transitioned as mutually-buttressing guilds or factions of Marxian bourgeois and cosmopolitan elites.

At the turn of the last century, oligarchy was re-imposed upon the Filipinos after the Americans, in the Madisonian tradition, had recycled the role of the ilustrados plucked out of the ancien regime upon the racist pretext that the Filipinos in general were not fit to govern themselves. The Americanized system has dominated Filipino nationhood ever since down to what it has become today.

Not too long ago, or in December 2003, Romulo Neri, the Philippine government’s chief economist, described the current form of the “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” as “booty capitalism” (a derision first coined by American Paul D. Hutchroft) practiced by a well-ingrained oligarchy that invests in politicians to curry policy favors and “capture economic power.”

Neri certainly was then apprehensive this oligarchy would again control the outcome of the May 2004 elections.

People Power Democracy instantiated

When institutions (civil society), which mediate between families and the State, assert their primacy, the result could be their collectivization into Civil Society. Whereas elitism is the rule of the privileged minority, civil society governance is the rule by minorities. Civil Society, on the other hand, is a monopoly of the legitimate use of power by the great majority. In this context, Civil Society equates with the sovereign will - supreme and absolute. Therefore, Civil Society, theoretically, no less than People Power, empirically, is the conception of the State itself.

To illustrate this, the political system instituted in the American constitution by its founding fathers was a compromise, based on distrust, between, on the one hand, the numerical majority (the masses) together with the minorities (some idealistic elites and middle-class Americans who supported the “leveling” sentiments) and, on the other, the privileged minority (the merchants, financiers, manufacturers, and certain wealthy landholders) as to who, what and when to exercise the monopoly of the powers of Civil Society. The paramount question then was whether to vest the monopoly of those powers in the many at the expense of the few or vice versa.

People Power democracy, on the other hand, is the exercise by the people - the Civil Society - of the republican principle of the last say which may result to replace (as in People Power I) or keep (as in People Power II) the existing system. It does not decide particular issues for that would notionally be direct democracy. The triumph of People Power democracy should be measured not upon its physical manifestation that successfully brought about the immediate change desired, which is an end in itself, but when the consensus formed by civil society or civil societies - those politically informed, active and diverse minorities groups such as the business sectors, political alliances, labor unions, religious organizations, and the like - is brought to be reckoned with by those formally vested with policymaking. It is thus a continuing transformative citizenship. Whenever civil societies are marginalized in the governance process, the result could either the rule by the privileged minority (or the oligarchy) or by the multitude, irrespective of the agreed upon formalities of governance.

In another breadth, the conception of people power represents a critical challenge from civil society groups who have asserted their misgivings with inefficient and ineffectual institutions in our version of democracy and with the rank subservience of those institutions to the dominant segments of our society. In such regard, people power configures an oppositional culture that has affected a broad spectrum of the civil society. The dimension of the challenge is as significant as that of the threat of a rival ideology such as communism or authoritarianism or as real as the menace of terrorism. The concomitant fear that it is a malady in the body politic rather than a curative force in a dysfunctional structure is then understandable from the standpoint of status quo defenders.

Writing more recently about the state of affairs of the “politicized middle class” in the Philippines (, January 10, 2004), Prof. Randy David has deplored that its “activism is however weakened by the lack of sustained follow-through . . . (folding) its banners as soon as a crisis has passed, leaving the traditional politicians to mismanage the political investment they have made.” Prof. David however believes that the “politicized middle class could be the key to the transformation of the poor into a potent force for peaceful and meaningful change. And this can happen, in Randy David’s opinion, “(t)hrough popular organizing and education, and through the formation of mass-based political parties . . . (to)help the poor recover their voices and expand their participation in the nation’s life.”

Tracking the political storm

For the purpose of tracking the political storm that is perilously brewing in the Philippines, knowing the difference between the two most recent people’s movements, People Power II and EDSA Tres, is both critical and essential.

Whereas the People Power II coalition made a judgment call only after thoughtful deliberations and reflections among the various groups and individual participants, EDSA Tres was sired through manipulation and instigation by some people who had no intention of treating themselves as co-equal partners with the Lumpenproletariats in their contrivance. People Power II was an exercise of empowerment, EDSA Tres, unfortunately, was a sad shrill of powerlessness.

However, far from being unsettling, insurrections of the EDSA Tres kind are on the contrary stabilizing. It is only when repressed that such movements could become liable to boil up into dangerous intensity.

Today, the GMA regime must not be lulled into believing that a “people power” that might have fizzled out is less harmful than the eruption that was EDSA Tres. Remember that having spent its steam during the Palace siege, the EDSA Tres “hothouse” has cooled off relatively uneventfully. In fact during the assault, the EDSA Tres horde has become as rudderless as a decrepit craft and ultimately petered out. Nonetheless, now as then the state of being of the EDSA Tres “rebels” has remained within the tradition of their powerlessness, and kept within that bound, they pose no threats of exploding like Mayon any time soon.

The volcano theory

In the Philippines, the poverty or volcano theory has been often cast, and quite unwittingly, to justify the clamor for societal changes that directly affect the health, safety, property, liberty and general well-being of those who are ensnared in the “hothouse of rebellion” of PCIJ’s Sheila Coronel. At a closer look, those political and societal anxieties thus trapped are no more those of the “cultured” people’s than of the Great Unwashed. Thus, as long as the beautiful ones don’t start preaching armed revolutions, such a clamor could only be taken as earnest attempts to maintain order, not to sow anarchy, and therefore similarly tranquilizing.

It is when cultured people found themselves “at the end of (their) tether” that worries about Sheila’s hothouse would make some sense. Otherwise, there would have been nothing to deprive those, as former Manila Times editor Ms. Malou Mangahas puts it, “toothless, shoeless and shirtless” people, whose mode of survival is “scavenging through other people’s trash,” to incense them to launch a great social revolution.

Didn’t Alexis de Tocqueville warn that “generally speaking, the most perilous moment for a bad government is one when it seeks to mend its ways” and in the process creates unfulfilled promises and expectations?

Part II

The Promise

Just to revisit, the promise was that after Marcos things would be better. Cory Aquino, although given the benefit of the doubt perceived as she was by many to be just a transition leader, was not spared of coup attempts precisely due to the failure of the People Power revolution to meet the expectation. Then President Ramos began to deliver. NIChood was at hand under his leadership but the constitutional term limit prevented him from going further. The constitutional water was in fact tested possibly at the thought his most likely successor, Erap, would be unable to keep the benefits he had the best momentum to pursue. Ramos, a good soldier that he is, did not think of himself to be indispensable. Upholding the rule of law, he stepped down at the height of his achievements.

Erap promised to let market and welfare improvements go hand and hand. There was also the perception he would assume rather a rubber stamp than a “directing” role to give his team of experts a freer hand to manage the economy and continue the Ramos’ initiatives.

The loss of “moral ascendancy” of Erap’s government abbreviated GMA’s route to the presidency. But, not wanting to be a magician, the explicit promise of GMA was first to restore moral authority in governance.

After EDSA Tres, there was also engendered an implied promise on the part of GMA’s government to institute social and economic reforms for the benefit of salus populi.

The breach of the promise

While not as severely damaged by the Asian crisis as Thailand, Malaysia, and South Korea, Philippines was slower to recover. Even politically torn Indonesia was not far behind. Meanwhile, the ghost of Marcos was back in Eduardo Cojuanco, Lucio Tan and company.

Erap also foolishly courted a near shooting war with China, cheapened the nation’s morale with jueteng and other indignities, allowed his official family to stab each other in the back, and “Binabalaan ko sila” became a part of the Erap jokes. Erap paid dearly for the breach.

As the specter of the jueteng controversy (confounded by the more serious charges of tampering with the electoral will) is cast upon the doorsteps of the First Family of GMA, a direct breach of GMA’s express promise is inescapably perceived to have taken place. On the other hand, four years of peripheral economic and poverty alleviation programs from a leader who professes to know her economics has been clearly emerging as constituting relative deprivation not on the part of those whose violent expression of powerlessness the GMA government had easily quashed during EDSA Tres but of those who would continue to see others being forever rendered powerless.

More and more the country looks like a laughingstock again.

Under the theory of “accelerated relative deprivation,” both expectation and capabilities increase at a steady course, but the former outpaces the latter. A breach of the promise is thus implied from the relative deprivation.

Upheavals happen as a result of relative deprivation.

The Jury is out

Just as reciprocal checks and balances within government are required in a procedural democracy, so also are social checks and balances (upon governmental decisions) within the larger society in People Power democracy. Hence, “manufacture of consent” by the power of suggestion, sinister or otherwise, through television and media politics or through “legal gobbledygook” can claim success only when society acquiesces in it as a rational one.

Therefore, in the current crisis, it is not enough for GMA to tell the people that her opponents are engaged in “dirty politics.” The allegations of her regime’s wrongdoings or “betrayal of trust” in the constitutional sense are very specific. She must in turn disprove them in specific terms. The accusations unanswered, the legitimacy of her government - just as that of the regime of Marcos’ notwithstanding the attempt to legitimize it by the Philippine Supreme Court and the U.S. support - will remain badly tainted to say the very least.

It should be remembered that as the process of legitimization of Macapagal’s ascension to power had taken its course (eventually, it became the subject of the first impeachment against Chief Justice Davide and seven other Supreme Court justices for allegedly conspiring at the height of the EDSA II uprising to put the first legitimizing imprimatur by swearing in Macapagal as Estrada’s successor), people power practitioners like Cory Aquino and Jaime Cardinal Sin began to warn against the habit of resorting to people power. Aquino and Sin conveniently reversed themselves and invoked people power in defense of Chief Justice Davide.

Bad habit or not, people power is intently watchful, impatient and alive.

To preserve the Constitution and to spare People Power from being sullied unnecessarily, GMA either must seriously consider the still patriotic option of resignation (if not out of sheer Filipino delicadeza) or like Estrada (but unlike Davide) she must submit herself to the constitutional process of impeachment in deference to procedural democracy. However, unlike Estrada, GMA must complete the task of proving her innocence in such a process that also puts on trial the very system in place.

All participants in the constitutional process are called upon to exercise no less than their Solomonic wisdom. If recent experience is any measure, a reasonable perception of failure of the process is likely to oblige the Ultimate Arbiter to weigh in the facts by itself and render its verdict accordingly.

A constitutional coup d’etat

The purpose of impeaching a president is to override his election. It therefore assumes a political dimension beyond mere legality. As a legal process, the procedure and the grounds for impeachment as provided in the Constitution must be complied with. Otherwise, an impeachment is no more than a coup d’etat, albeit a constitutional one.

The political legitimacy of an impeachment process thus rests in the justification of what in effect would be the annulment of the election of the impeached president. Hence, in order for an impeachment to be both legitimate and politically correct, not only that the legal grounds for the impeachment must be proved, it must also be shown that the president no longer deserves the election she is supposed to have won.

Like any democratically elected president (assuming arguendo now that GMA has been democratically elected), GMA (as Erap then) is charged to lead the nation and serve as a symbol of national unity and stability. As such a symbol, the Filipino people look up to her as the national embodiment to inspire confidence in the authority and legitimacy of the political system; she is also expected to marshal her influence within the system in order to initiate the public policies she promised she would do when elected president; and as chief executive, the people conferred in her the trust that he has the competence to supervise the conduct of the government and the economy, and in time of crisis, to reassure and calm the citizenry.

The political goal of a potential impeachment proceeding is also to answer whether the President, given the seriousness of the allegations involving her government and her family, can still effectively discharge the high office of the presidency? If not, then un-election through impeachment must carry on.

What’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose

The test given by Jaime Cardinal Sin was simpler: Had President Estrada lost the moral ascendancy to govern?

Even more specifically: Was GMA involved, directly or indirectly, in fixing the results of last presidential elections? Did her family receive jueteng payoffs in a manner reasonably knowable by her? These are matters that GMA can easily refute if she is squarely standing on the side of truth. Wiretapping is technically illegal, but are the contents in the tapes substantively true?

Once again, if the impeachment process is pursued, the members of Congress must remember that the Great Beast enters the public arena when procedural democracy fails. Hence, permitting legal technicalities to derail the search for truth is likely to trigger a constitutional breakdown potentially similar, as many now appreciate, to the Dirty 11’s refusal to open the infamous envelope during Erap’s impeachment trial.

It goes without saying that when it comes to the exercise of People Power, the people has the last and final say, not the media, the military, Congress, the President or the Supreme Court.

Part III

Beyond a business-as-usual approach to change process

The Philippines is essentially a modern nation and by sheer instinct for growth, it cannot possibly remain a basket case forever.

However, to author its own destiny, the nation has to look into the inner structure of its being: as a community, by rediscovering the public realm that informs it and the strands of solidarity that hold it together; and the individual member, by defining the tasks he assigns to himself, his goals he aspires for, and the values his life rests on, and then determining how his tasks, goals and values are identified with the public.

Historical accounts abound about how societies perished or self-destructed when those in a position to exercise the power of governance, by deliberate intent or sheer imprudence, had failed to act, or if they had acted, to account for the consequences of their actions.

Well-meaning citizens normally rise to the occasion and raise fundamental issues directly challenging the underlying assumptions of the established political and economic order when lapses in governance threaten the very existence of a nation. These citizens, sometimes operating inconspicuously, are often perceived as change-agents.

The threshold question on personal leadership and the power of consensus

On the matter of personal leadership the threshold question is: Who among those eagerly waiting in the wings to assume the national leadership has the singular qualification of the power of the will to break up the long-standing “unholy alliance” and “perverse symbiosis” of the wealthy and powerful without breaking the nation apart?

The crossroad issue is not so much about the potential of another transition political leader of a third-rate caliber as the lack of will of any leader to confront the continuing crisis of citizenship among those whose decisions really matter to take the risk of transforming the nation into an economic powerhouse, thereby allowing the country’s full potential to compete with neighbors in the region and in the other regions of the world. If the Philippines needed such a leader at all, she must be one of nearly mythical character and empowered by the people’s faith in her to whip up the wealth producers of the nation; and reining them away from unproductive rent-seeking economic activities, to get all the needed capacities they could muster dedicated faithfully to an economic development plan, strategy and ambition upon being so forged in a broad national consensus.

On the other hand, unquestioning reliance upon the “directing class” has muffled any such an idea of attempting to reach a national consensus (in which the voiceless, through their genuine representative, should be granted a voice) as to what the country really needs to accomplish in order to compete.

In the context of communicative people power, one possible alternative proposition is: Whether the gateway to equitable accumulation and ultimately national development could also be accessed by way of the power of consensus of people power democracy that’s willing to learn from the best practices that work and, based on ongoing experience and rising above ideologies, eschew things that don’t, or change even established notions and practices when concrete realities and the complex necessities for change in the service of the common good require.

The Taiwan example

The Taiwan model is an excellent case in point. At the time Marcos placed the Philippines under martial law supposedly to address what the dictator declared was a national emergency and to create a New Society, Taiwan was also struggling to exorcise the twin demons of imminent international eschewal (having lost its seat to the UN) and the crippling energy crisis, and appeared on the way to economic catastrophe. Taiwan emerged triumphantly after both government and private business intensified efforts to implement on schedule economic grand designs first by launching development projects aimed at energy production and creating an efficient transportation infrastructure network, while continuing to stimulate the growth of SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). Specifically, the projects were for: the development of an integrated steel mill, a shipyard and a petrochemical complex; the building of highways, railways, waterways, airports and harbors; and the construction of nuclear power plants. On the other hand, Taiwan Industrial Technology Research Institute was established in the same period as a non-profit R&D outfit for the purpose of handing down its data and findings for commercial use by private enterprisers.

What’s more, both the government and the family in Taiwan have always believed in investing a great deal in education. Taiwanese are among the best educated people in Asia second only to the Japanese, with only about five percent of the population being considered illiterate, mostly the elderly. The persistent pursuit of universal education and the adoption of flexible and continuing educational policies to meet changing requirements accounted for much of Taiwan’s economic growth.

The elites of Taiwan opted to take enormous risks and bring on ambitious projects because of their will to develop driven in large measure by the exigency to showcase the Nationalist regime’s nation-building ability in the midst of the Communist specter from the mainland.

Accelerating the economic development efforts in the following decade, Taiwan targeted the machinery, equipment and information sectors as strategic industries. And through the Industrial Development Bureau, substantial R&D subsidies were directly provided to selected firms while others that did not allot and invest on R&D a prescribed percentage of their annual earnings were penalized. The elites offered real opportunities to the Taiwanese.

What had been earlier treaded as a re-distributional path through broad distribution of land ownership and via the so-called decentralized industrialization approach (the latter, as a late-industrialization strategy, being in stark contrast to the high aggregate concentration of the South Korean chaebol model), providing high returns to labor (and consequently household savings and capital accumulation) initially in agriculture and then in countryside export-oriented industries and by what’s now known as singular, solid and sustained efforts in the direction of technology-intensive industry, proved to be the major reasons for the “miraculous” transformation of Taiwan into an economic powerhouse. Even so, Taiwan’s trajectory to pursue “accumulation” ahead of (political) “participation” was essentially in line with the course taken by the other tiger economies in the region.

Other neighborhood paradigms

It seems that the problem today in the Philippines is rather behavioral (especially on the part of private business) than fiscal, bureaucratic or anything.

The Japanese, to cite another neighborhood paradigm, have clearly defined national purpose. Economic growth ranks high as a national goal in Japan to which labor and business are expected to subordinate their private interests. Japan’s MITI is the agency primarily responsible for this coordinated arrangement to ensure the attainment of the industrial development objectives vis-à-vis other economic and social goals.

The South Koreans have the same high sense of national purpose. While business conglomerates were allowed by the State to thrive in protected domestic markets, they also strived to produce for the export market so that during the giant stride by South Korea toward industrialization, which was heavily bankrolled by foreign loans, the ratio of foreign debt to GNP remained virtually the same.

Building a strong republic through entrepreneurship

To build a strong republic the atavism of the political class must be consigned to their caves to make way for the entrepreneurial zeal to take the lead in the pursuit of aggressive growth-oriented strategic goals. Specifically, such goals are: aspiring not only for the short-run objective of a domestic market patronizing Pinoy products but for such products with fewer export components to attain the competitive edge for the export market; taking the risk to explore the nation’s great potential for sustainable alternative sources of energy to produce those products without undue reliance upon imported sources; investing enough in our human capital, through quality training and education, as part of the goods of the future; or essentially, producing the right goods the right way doing the best with what we have or potentially should have so that the national vision informed by the consensus upon such societal aspirations as decent standard of living for the greatest number, supported by high-income employments that keep our “best and brightest” home, could come into fruition.

Once again, the goals and vision afore-cited demand high levels of capital, human, social and cultural investments and vigorous entrepreneurship with a great sense of national purpose on the part of the economic elites, first and foremost.

(NOTE: For a lengthier disquisition on the subject, please check out WANTED: Empire builders .


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