Saturday, October 29, 2005

The Mar who would be the Man

If someone is looking for certain specific actionable programs of governance in “A Fresh Start on the Filipino Dream,” he is likely to be disappointed.

What appears to be a policy speech that bears the upbeat title above was delivered “during this continuing crisis” by Senator Manuel (“Mar”) A. Roxas on the occasion of the “Fourth Jaime V. Ongpin Annual Memorial Lecture On Public Service in Business and Government” at Ateneo de Manila University on October 12, 2005.

The rhetoric on leadership was aplenty in the speech, no doubt. But we hear them too every so often from run-of-the-mill Filipinos who do not have any ambition for high office, as some political junkies or bloggers like us, for instance, or even from the high-flying student who graduated at the top of the class during commencement exercises. And Mar Roxas is none of them not only that he is a top-notch senator of the Republic (the total votes he garnered during the last senatorial elections were unprecedented), but also because many believe he is the one Filipino who is most likely to win the next Philippine presidential elections.

Hence, despite the notion, obviously thematic in the speech, of leadership as “all about taking personal responsibility,” it is fair for his countrymen to expect from him as a leader to tell something more concrete about how “to deliver us out of this quagmire” and achieve the elusive Filipino dream.

Exclusive of the variable of individual hard work, self-sacrifice or initiative that Senator Roxas has thoroughly touched upon in his message, the great debate on how to attain the Filipino good society is also focused, as the Wharton-educated politician is certainly supposed to be familiar with, on whether the vehicle to rely upon on the whole would be the government or the market.

Recall that President Arroyo had been straightforward on this issue at the very outset of her presidential career. “During my administration,” she announced at her first Vin D’Honor on January 21, 2001, “democracy and the market will be the guiding principles of my domestic and foreign policies” (although two years later, Arroyo flip-flopped in a dramatic way saying that “unbridled globalization is no longer in vogue,” globalization being meant, it would seem, as the agency that will carry the ball towards the utopia of the good society built around a free market).

On the other hand, presidential timber Mar Roxas showed his state-interventionist bent as a congressman at least as regards one critical piece of legislation, the Retail Trade Liberalization law: he was accused of inserting protectionist clauses in the law.

As Trade and Industry Secretary, Mar Roxas allowed another glimpse of where he could be on the ideological divide during a brush with then Finance Secretary Alberto Romulo on the question of giving government incentives to investors. Roxas saw “jobs generated,” as well as “foreign exchange” and “technology transfer” created by the incentives whereas Romulo decried the “foregone revenues.” And when Roxas perceived that the Philippine tuna has been subjected to tariff discrimination (by the US) in favor of the Latin American package, still as DTI Secretary he threatened (indeed a gutsy move by a former Wall Street investment banker) to withdraw Philippine membership from WTO.

Is there something more discernible about Mar Roxas’ predilections from his Jaime Ongpin memorial lecture? Let’s vet closer what he said:
Our social compact is premised on the basic idea is (sic) that if people put something into their life, they should get something reasonably gainful out of it. We all “bought” into this bargain and we look to the government as the chief implementer of the same. This is a simple but basic bargain that seems to work in meritocracies like the US and Singapore, but here in the Philippines, the gap between effort and output has steadily widened.
The first sentence I believe is a nuanced manifesto of economic liberalism (which argues that since men are the best judge of their own limits and capacities, it follows that the most rational use of the resources available to them will happen if they are allowed to follow their pursuits under conditions of free competition). This also dovetails with Mar Roxas’ conception of “leader and leadership (being) within us.” The second sentence which “look(s) to the government as the chief implementer of the (bargain)” is therefore a non sequitur (italics mine); it smacks of protectionism (or the old policy of mercantilism, the granting of special privileges to merchants and manufacturers to encourage the development of commerce and industry).

Shouldn’t the suggestion that the meritocratic system in the US and Singapore are normative bother us too? (In the US government subsidies to wealthy farmers or aircraft manufacturers are mind-boggling and Singapore, as is well-known, is a single-party government.)

What else did we learn from and about Mar?
Everywhere else in the world today, governments are gearing up to meet the challenges of the 21st century: the challenges of globalization, of integration, of achieving economies of scale. Nations are identifying and building up their comparative advantages—whether these be in agriculture, in manufacturing, or in high technology or science.

Or we can decide to truly make the domestic industry competitive: this will mean overhauling our thinking and premises on our economy. This will also mean adjusting our tariff policy, our energy policy, and our agriculture policy, among others.
Now, we are getting the point: government must meet the challenge of globalization in order “to truly make the domestic industry competitive ….”

If we haven not realized it yet, the phenomenon of globalization is the engine of turbocapitalism that is running over the traditional role of government in domestic affairs by the ascendancy of transnational forces erected around free market. Globalization sees the “withering away” of nation-states that surrender their powers to non-elected technocrats and rationalistic global actors like the IMF, WB, WTO and multinational players such as the TNCs. Globalization is therefore the antithesis of Rostovian developmentalism which relies upon governmental intervention “to provide the enabling, nurturing and invigorating environment within which private initiative and industry, meaning people taking responsibility for their lives, can grow and be properly rewarded,” to borrow the language of Senator Roxas.

But with Mar’s belief in government as chief implementer of the bargain, doesn’t this one rather sound contextually oxymoronic just as the first quotation above?
Let government heed and respond to the people’s natural willingness to do the best and the right things for themselves and their children. Instead of telling people what to do and what not to do, the national leadership has to listen—to suffer criticism, if need be—if only to repair the floor upon which we all stand as a nation.
Or maybe just a safe political rhetoric from the Mar who would be the Man.


Blogger Rizalist said...

Hi Abe! I think the significance of Mar is merely that he exists and is a POSSIBLE replacement for GMA. As is Jun Magsaysay, FVR, even JDV, and certainly Frank Drilon.

I think it is important to prove the GENE POOL has not run out and that GMA is not INDISPENSABLE, a subtle and powerful argument the Palace has successfully been using.

October 30, 2005 10:06 AM  
Blogger Abe N. Margallo said...

Hi Dean,

I guess unstated in the above piece is my perception of Mar Roxas as possessing the tribalism of a leader as shown by his outburst against the WTO during the tuna controversy and the cosmopolitanism of a manager when he saw government perks to investors as net gains instead of “revenues foregone.”

Also, Mar took his time seeking a senate seat and he was the first in the cabinet to abandon the Estrada ship. These rare behaviors (rare among political hacks in Philippine politics) make me think he can distinguish power (the ability to attain goals) from domination.

A Wharton education could be as disarming (to Big Uncle) as a West Point attendance, hence that places him at par with FVR. And if I remember correctly, Mar was one of the few senatorial candidates who looked at People Power with reverence (and that too is disarming to the activists).

Here’s what I think places him ahead of the whole pack (which means including FVR). He recognizes that incrementalism “during this continuing crisis” is not enough. And if US thinks extreme poverty among Filipinos is as bad to RP as to US, then Mar is the Man. Here’s what Mar on this score said in his speech:

“But here in the Philippines, we remain hobbled by an incrementalist, piecemeal frame of mind that will have spent more than P4 trillion over the last 5 years and will spend a trillion pesos next year without making any appreciable impact on society. We have amassed more than 4 trillion pesos of public debt for all kinds of programs and projects, and yet we hardly feel like a country striding forward into a bright new future.

“Beyond the politics of the moment, we need a common objective that we can all rally behind as a matter of national survival and as our strategy for leaping forward in this century.”

Against the above standard, FVR, GMA and other presidential wannabes are incrementalists.

It is up to US too to meet Mar’s challenge, because like GMA, Mar could turn to the awaking giant in the neighborhood to partner with for his country’s sake, with one big difference between the two: the China card would be an economic decision for him, not a gambit for sheer political survival.

October 30, 2005 10:27 PM  
Blogger Rizalist said...

keep up the good work Abe. I appreciate your thoughts. i really want to do some of work next on terrorism and democracy. Hope we cross swords as well as come to's the subject MOST Pinoy political bloggers have yet to approach fearlessly.

November 02, 2005 6:49 PM  
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November 03, 2005 6:48 AM  
Blogger Rizalist said...

Hi Abe, I notice the digitalfilipino (janette toral in real life) has a kind of fan site up for mar roxas at marroxas dot blogspot dot com. thought you might wanna check her out!

November 04, 2005 1:19 AM  
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