Tuesday, February 21, 2006

People Power Democracy Liberating America’s First Empire: The Essay

(This heretofore unpublished long essay was originally written about two years ago to celebrate EDSA I. Many of its contents have formed part of, and are now direct quotations from, the book Build or Perish! (UST Publishing, 2005). People Power Democracy Liberating America’s First Empire is actually the book’s subtitle. A shorter version of the essay was first posted in PCIJ at the height of “Gloriagate” and entered as a blog in Red’s Herring in August 2005. Some very relevant and more recent excerpts from entries in this Web log have been interwoven into the essay to commemorate the 20th anniversary of Filipinos’ People Power.)

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 an extant tentacular extension 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.

Partisans of procedural democracy during James Madison’s time denigrated people power democracy of the Athenian mold as “imprudence of democracy.” Madison, the architect of the U.S. Constitution, and his colleague Alexander Hamilton were among those partisans. It was in fact Madison who first spun the term democracy into “pure democracy” and “republic,” the latter being his conception of a representative government that he successfully instituted, as a matter of procedure, into the U.S. Constitution together with his contrived system of checks and balances.

Madison believed that if unchecked, the majority, that is, the uneducated and the unpropertied Americans, would tyrannize the minority—the privileged, the wellborn and the wealthy, like him. Madison and his colleagues feared People Power (of the American revolutionaries who had vanquished the British a decade before the Philadelphia convention), believing that human nature is essentially depraved by the thirst for power. By instituting procedural democracy including the legal disenfranchisement of the propertyless Americans (not to mention the native Indians, the blacks, and the women), Madison preserved the power of the few in America.

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” practiced by a well-ingrained oligarchy that invests in politicians to curry policy favors and “capture economic power.”

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

GMA’s visions

During the open season against the beleaguered President Joseph Estrada (Erap) as a result of the first juetengate, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), then the Vice-President, left the Estrada Cabinet as Social Welfare secretary to join the movement that snowballed into People Power II. GMA, an economist, educator and journalist, and who won the vice-presidency by seven million votes, one of the largest margins in Philippine history, thereafter sought to form a coalition representing various segments of Philippine society with a view to proposing a national agenda that would address the many ills afflicting the nation. For one who had long been seen as a potential presidential successor, her move though perceived by many to be quite belated was propitious. It however betrayed her lack of deep-rooted visions. And drawing a Ninoy Aquino analogy, in hindsight, while Ninoy knew that he needed as much power to transform the nation as Marcos had wielded to secure his dictatorship, Ninoy himself did not seem to have planned long enough to bequeath at least his own vision if the Marcos regime would call Ninoy’s gambit of ultimate sacrifice ala Rizal.

If GMA, then so close to the vicissitudes of power, was just about to formulate her own national agenda, it should make one wonder if she was really ready for the national leadership or she was just coasting along well within the same dismal system that has failed the nation. If she was ready for the job, shouldn’t her preparation include some serious short- and long-term strategies for pursuing radical, if not revolutionary, solutions to all the malaises long scourging the country and its people?

Marcosian formula

GMA was confronted with the challenge in the light of the analysis that Ferdinand Marcos himself had articulated as one of his primary grounds for placing the Philippines under martial law. Marcos had resorted to emergency measures upon fully appreciating that the country’s misery lies in the harsh concentration of power in the hands of the very few. Only 60 families of close to 85 million Filipinos dominate the Philippine economy and the top five families control almost 43 percent of total listed corporate assets. The business networks of these families cover a wide range of economic activities including manufacturing, retail, infrastructure supply, petrochemicals, aviation, agri-business, constructions, telecommunications, mass media, real estate, banking and services. The Philippines is an “entrenched plutocracy,” Ninoy Aquino once said. And according to Amando Doronila, one of the nation’s highly regarded political commentators, the emerging bred of this “dynastic oligarchy” is “brutal.”

What Marcos probably didn’t realize was that the continued existence of the problem has been backed up by a system whose justification has long been taken for granted by most Filipinos, including himself, a shrewd lawyer and a consummate politician. The Marcosian solution was: 1) to dismantle the structure of power of the Philippine oligarchy, and 2) relocate that power in himself and 3) leave the “system in place” intact. Marcos succeeded in 1) and 2). But with the system in place remaining intact, power became obscenely more concentrated in himself and his minions.

The misuse of power by Marcos was met headlong by a people power of a limited goal, that is, to end the dictatorship. No blood was shed during the upheaval and People Power has become a model for other oppressed peoples of the world to emulate. But, victory was momentary, the system in place having remained in place and its reason for being unchallenged. What followed was the entrusting again of the power in the hands of the supposedly “better” Filipinos that rode upon the wave of the movement—a movement apparently ambiguous as to what whereupon it wanted to accomplish other than ousting a dictator. The entrusting was with a caveat though—that People Power is a real power, a potent power and a constructive power despite the fears of critics from different political persuasions about its “mobocratic” dimension; henceforth, People Power would watch closely how the trustees of the power behave in its exercise. That wasn’t bad at all as an accomplishment.

People Power an overwhelming phenomenon

Unquestionably, the ultimate form of People Power, those manifested in 1986 and 2001, is an overwhelming phenomenon. It has driven a cunning strongman out of power and quickly expelled another government that has lost its moral reason for being. But only a tenuous line, it must be admitted, separates People Power from “mobocracy” or, for that matter, from a bloody revolution. That’s probably what has caused key People Power practitioners like Fidel Ramos, Cory Aquino and Jaime L. Cardinal Sin to be disquieted about resorting to it as part of a systematic mode of governance. But, isn’t the clear and present danger that that line is liable to snap—whenever People Power is exercised as a sovereign act, and only as a sovereign political act, without the desire to kill or confiscate, and as one that could force an army to ride on its crest—a positive and profound stimulant to fulfill and attain political maturity as well as an equally compelling force (or otherwise a sword of Damocles of sort) to hasten the process of elite enlightenment?

The line was not crossed during the twin EDSA upheavals. That, it seems, is what has made the Filipinos so proud of what has been so far accomplished. While the Filipinos have succeeded in making it known that the ultimate power belongs to them and none other, they have also shown their strong commitment to peaceful transformation by giving the elites more opportunities and more time to render their societal obligations, make more concessions and share the power to decide in matters that really matter even within the context of the system in place, if not to advance the commonweal, for their (the elites’) own sake. The Filipinos, not the so-called “velvet revolutionists” in the former communist states of Eastern and Central Europe, had been first to recognize the difference between communicative people power and violent popular uprising.

However, the justification for the system in place taken for granted, there’s the sense that in the hands of the right people the system is just fine. But how could a system be justified if for a hundred years it has benefited only the very, very few and has ignored the plight of the vast, vast many? Isn’t it clear enough, by this standard alone, the system in place is a big joke? Those questions were not asked, or if they were, they weren’t answered.

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 be the rule by the privileged minority (or the oligarchy) or by the multitude, irrespective of the agreed upon formalities of governance.

Instantiation explained to commenter Pedro

Pedro, the formulations that you find problematic are restated here:

1. When institutions (civil society), which mediate between families and the State, assert their primacy, the result could be their collectivization into Civil Society.

2. Civil Society, People Power and the State are for the purposes used here synonymous terms. (I’ve however omitted to mention an equally identical abstraction, the Public, which will be used in the theses that follow more liberally.)

Let me try to explain the foregoing formulations in the context that you seem to prefer, i.e., the historical.

First this question: Was there an equivalent phenomenon during the Philippine Revolution to what today is referred to as civil society (the small caps)?

I believe there was. To name some key players: 1) the propagandists (possibly the equivalent today of bloggers, if you will, but at that time mostly expatriates) which produced La Solidaridad, 2) the La Liga Filipina which attempted to configure a loose Philippine bureaucracy (founded by Rizal), 3) the Cuerpo de Campromisarios, 4) the Masonic Brotherhood and 5) the Katipunan (the resurrected La Liga Filipina, founded by Bonifacio).

Doesn’t the above list look almost like the one in the top post? [I was referring to the list of civil society groups or NGOs enumerated in the main blog.]

Well, then, as now, there was however a class conflict among the players, and to simplify, I will call the conflict as only between the middle-class (or the ilustrado) and plebeians, the former preferring to just institute reforms within the existing Public, the latter being intent to form a new Public.

To create a new Public, or a State (or to upgrade to an uppercased Civil Society or People Power), Rizal provided alternatives through Noli and Fili: Reform or Revolution.

To succeed in either alternative, the key ingredients Rizal indicated were a) patriotism, and b) self-abnegation.

Ibarra was the epitome of patriotism (the building of a school house in Noli was symbolic of his passionate stewardship to liberate the primitivized indio youth, the “hope of the fatherland”) and Elias, of self-abnegation. Indeed, without both virtues, civil society would remain in lowercase, meaning inchoate and unorganized and therefore would be unable to grow or collectivize into Civil Society (the uppercase).

The persona of Ibarra and Elias was merged in the martyred Rizal, and for a while effaced the class conflict between the ilustrados and the plebeians. The cultured and the unlettered saw a common enemy – the Friar system. But revolution as a means to attain a new Public failed primarily because self-interest (thirst for power) in Aguinaldo had prevailed over the greater good when he ordered the execution of Bonifacio (and later Luna) and dissipated the initial momentum of the revolution before the Americans had a chance to beguile the Filipinos.

As a leader, Aguinaldo failed to separate private interest from public interest. Also, while Aguinaldo was a patriot, he apparently lacked the self-abnegation of Elias and Rizal.

At the turn of the century, associated action powered by shared interests, born out of the patriotism, self-abnegation and a sense of the public of, and championed by, the civil society of the old was thereupon befuddled by the promise of the “enduring truths” of market and democracy peddled by the new Master. On top of it, the Friar system was in fact re-instituted to Christianize (how often could this happen?) and civilize the “half-devil and half-child” in the Hollywood but more virulent form, thereby perpetuating the indio myth. As a consequence, civil society has had to struggle painfully to arise from a damaged ego.

Meanwhile, a self-content and laggard oligarchy, under the backseat patriarchy of Big Uncle and its many instruments, has taken the initiative from a civil society entrapped and enthralled in its lowercased cast.

Arguably, the Philippine Revolution had preceded Rizal and company in the same way that EDSA I preceded the murder at the tarmac. But just as the execution of Rizal had galvanized the full conception of the real enemy and whereupon the fusion of interests across class lines, the murder of Ninoy led to the coalition of the Left and the Right, the bankers and the farmers, the teachers and the learners, and the clergy and the faithfuls against a common enemy upon the realization that under the conjugal dictatorship no one was really safe. Unfortunately, the people power “rebels” failed to form a new Public based on shared interests, not because they were not collectivized, but simply that they were collectivized only for a limited goal – to oust a dictator. It was then a short-lived break from pubescence or inchoateness. If at all, the public formed under the People Power Constitution of 1987 was based for all practical purposes on the inherited agencies of the old form.

Beyond any doubt, the struggle is far from over. It’s been a continuing one however, perhaps from way back or even before Gomburza. The nemesis remains potent and school houses are needed to be built, as Ibarra did, to uncover in Gramscian formulation the conspiracy of the unliberated mind.

The immediate challenge for civil society today, it seems, is how to internalize the true embodiment of the real enemy. Today, to make GMA face justice is an immediate goal. But the vision for the Civil Society has yet to be fully instantiated. To do so, civil society must be able to assert its primacy and thereupon form a new Public based upon Rizal’s recipe: a mix of patriotism and self-abnegation. If successful, the process has to be kept experimental. It has to be so, because the making and re-making of the Public ought not to be inflexible.

How easy it is to do?

If GMA resigns now, she could still be perceived to have imbibed the virtues of patriotism and self-abnegation, possibly enough to trigger a national catharsis. Would you agree that should that happen, it could be easier for the small letter to become a capital letter? If confidence is soon and thereby gained, it could be less difficult to experiment with other fonts of many sizes and forms, to stretch a bit more the alphabet metaphor.

Pedro, there is no Enlightenment philosophy involved here, no Prince, Leviathan or social contract construct, just the simple politics of the lower case and the upper case which, well, your curiosity could have given birth to.

People Power, a curative force

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 (inq7.net, 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.”

Analysis of EDSA Tres insurrection

The difference between the two most recent people’s movements, People Power II and EDSA Tres, is 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 in their contrivance. Thus, while People Power II was an exercise of empowerment, EDSA Tres, on the other hand, 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 precarious level.

Today, the GMA regime must not be lulled into believing that a “people power” that has 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 delusional at best, sometimes cast 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. And as long as the beautiful ones don’t start preaching armed revolution, 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 we start worrying about Sheila’s hothouse 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.

Alexis de Tocqueville warned 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.

The Promise

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 FVR began to deliver. NIChood was at hand under his leadership but the constitutional term limit prevented him from going further. The water was in fact tested possibly at the thought his most likely successor 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.

Not wanting to be a magician, GMA’s promise was to restore moral authority in governance.

After EDSA Tres, the implied promise of the GMA government was to institute social and economic reforms for the benefit of salus populi; failing in that would likely constitute relative deprivation not on the part of those whose violent expression of powerlessness the GMA government had easily quashed but of those who would continue to see others being forever rendered powerless.

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.

As the specter of the jueteng controversy (confounded by the more serious charges of tampering with the electoral will) begins to be cast upon the doorsteps of the First Family of GMA, 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.

Revolutions happen because 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 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; but the Lower House dismissed the complaint at the committee level for “insufficiency of substance”), 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 in defense of Chief Justice Davide.

Bad habit or not, People Power democracy is not as ready now as when it was summoned to help Davide preserve his seat as the Chief Justice. On the contrary, 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 system in place itself. 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 Final Arbiter to weigh in the facts by itself and pronounce its judgment 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 such 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.

One of the ultimate goals of the impeachment process 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 have been carried out to its fullest measure.

The test of Sin (what’s sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose)

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

More specifically now: 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 rather evidentiary matters that GMA can easily refute if she is squarely standing on the side of truth.

Once, again, in the pursuit of the impeachment process, the members of Congress must remember that the Great Beast enters the public arena when procedural democracy fails.

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 Supreme Court, Congress or the President herself.

In search of a national philosophy

First of all, if people, any people, have instincts for growth, then poor but essentially modern nations like the Philippines cannot possibly remain a basket case forever. They’ve got to grow. Or hope to grow somehow.

To be the author of its own destiny and begin realizing what is hoped, a nation, at least philosophically, 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 against internal and external forces; 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 community or the public, or, in other words, how his self-seeking and private wants may be made to serve other-regarding and shared ends.

Despite a people’s impulse for survival and progressive transformation, 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.

The flash floods and landslides that claimed more than a thousand lives in the Philippines in late 2004 owing to indiscriminate logging are particular consequences of such a failure of accountability. The illegal loggers, and their cohorts in the officialdom, only saw short-term gains and their selfish interests at the expense of others, the public and the generations yet to come. So is any reckless use of state violence against an ostensible exercise of the right to petition for the redress of grievance at the Hacienda Luisita. What should have been an “official” action resulted in bloodshed in the Hacienda and in the longer-run effects of undermining the faith of the less fortunate Filipinos in the personification of the state as their Parens Patriae, reinforcing in the process the perception that the government is nothing more than the lengthened daemon of the Big Businessman.

The decision of the Philippine Supreme Court reversing itself and, by some tortuous reasoning, authorizing the extraction of the nation’s patrimony by foreign exploiters who are least expected to care for it and hence could potentially just drain it with impunity (given the deplorable track record of the regulatory mechanism in place) is yet another shortsighted but willful use of the powers of the public placing at great risk the preservation, and the equitable and sustainable sharing of the common wealth. When lapses in governance of this nature or others of similar or larger dimensions threaten the political life or the very existence of a nation, it is often instinctive for some well-meaning citizens to rise to the occasion and raise fundamental issues directly defying the underlying assumptions of the established political and economic order.

The threshold question on personal leadership

Now, on the matter of personal leadership the threshold question is: Who among the contending aspirants for 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 tragedy that is seen as threatening to explode in the face of the Philippines today, or perhaps in the near future, 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 wisdom of the good but a few men supposedly of the best minds 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.

The alternatives to GMA’s business-as-usual approach: a look at leading best practices

If any leader fits into the foregoing standard, what’s the alternative to GMA’s business-as-usual approach?

Referencing historical economic experiences, besides the ruthless economic order under which the American robber barons operated (fueling in the process the second industrial revolution), the case of the Japanese zaibatsu and the South Korean chaebol models are relatively well-known and real economic alternatives for late-industrialization. But another neighbor, the Taiwanese, who just as the Koreans used to lag behind the Filipinos as late as the early 1970s, did it likewise because they too believed in themselves and in the wisdom of the bold economic decisions they chose to act upon.

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.

The challenge to the Philippines’ governing elites

The challenge therefore to the governing elites is not really about how to wrestler with “little algebra” but how to summon up the will and marshal the skills to overcome those oppositions and disagreements through negotiations and compromises among the workers, private business and the government with a view to working out a national consensus, in a Bayanihan pact of sort, for some grand economic arrangement better than the alternative that either leads to the domestic wealth holders exporting their financial assets (the gargantuan value of which is estimated, at least anecdotally, to approximate the national debt today) or to their own financial crisis because of debt defaults, or both.

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

Fixation to fiscal crisis not enough

Arguably, fixation today, at the expert level, on marginal coping like simply getting to the bottom of the current fiscal crisis won’t be enough if the nation were at a terminally critical juncture. But any open advocacy of extreme and potentially violent measures as an answer to the excitements of an afflicted body politic—in place of the process of thinking through critically and experimentally an orderly transformation in deliberative exchanges—confuses the public sense and emaciates the public realm. When coming from people of persuasion, it certainly takes on some odd delicacy; and if not so impassioned or informed by deep-rooted and long-standing beliefs and values, it could be as impetuous, undiscerning and possibly as irresponsible as the callous profiteering of illegal loggers, the vain hubris of practitioners of state aggression, or the intellectual myopia of latter-day shamans in black robes, and hence as life-threatening to the survival and growth of the nation.

Why not a revolutionary government?

I still remember the excited exchange we had at the moribund Pinoy-rin.net about the search for a way out of the Erap standoff. At the height of People Power II, the presidential toughie was holed up in Malacañang clinging to his formal power even as his armed forces chief of staff, Angelo Reyes, was also secretly plotting to break the chain of command.

As speculations mounted about President Estrada’s eventual capitulation, suggestions were bruited about as to how the country should be run post Estrada. The one idea I was personally turned on was for FVR, GMA and Angara representing the military, the civil society groups and Erap’s supporters, respectively, to form a triumvirate to govern the country during the unexpired term of Erap subject to the condition that the three of them should commit to disqualify themselves from running for president in the next national elections in 2004. Apparently, Erap, like Marcos, didn’t see his ouster coming, and coming so abruptly. He possibly never had thought too of the foregoing or similar scenarios before his bargaining position dissipated or when ultimately a breakaway crowd of protesters sent him scurrying to a waiting barge in the Pasig river.

The civilian/military conspiracy to remove a duly elected president (and Erap was duly elected), as anyone now realized, was not treated as a criminal offense, not even as “inciting to sedition” (what Manuel L. Quezon III considers as a colonial crime), the easiest one to prosecute among the crimes of its category in the penal code. Free speech it was, the Supreme Court ruled, obviously to allow a constitutional, rather than a revolutionary, presidential succession for then Vice President Arroyo.

When many saw President Arroyo to be at the end of her tether, a transition government or a provisionary council of varied composition was also proposed. More than anything, the revolutionary nature of that proposal is what won me over to it as against “snap elections” as the immediate alternative for a post Arroyo government.

Why would my own instinct go against my entrenched belief in People Power democracy? Well, the self-contradiction was merely more apparent than real.

Firstly, I thought and wrote that GMA without declaring a revolutionary government “(lost) one great window of opportunity by balking to fully legitimize People Power II and to venture into a fresh start, preferring to look backwards to the status quo ante . . . .” Indeed, as quickly as she was swept to power, GMA lost no time recoiling to employ extraordinary powers to put the house of the state in order the way she is determined today to avail of similar methods to ensure her political survival. It was a great disappointment.

Secondly, I believe a revolutionary route is the best imperfect solution to the long-standing scourge of the nation and that a piecemeal, painful, slow and deadly approach to the monstrosity of the problem would fail as any other incremental attempts before. Think about it again, do not the extreme destitution, desperation, and powerlessness of tens of millions of Filipinos deserve the use of extreme measures? But against whom should extraordinary powers be exercised? The state employs coercive actions against street marchers or labor strikers. Should the same strong-arm tactics be used against senseless and heartless capital strikers and fly-by-night operators? Whose liberty it is that is protected when the rights of others to seek redress for grievances are trampled upon in the name of commerce, for instance?

Thirdly, I draw certain philosophical parallelism BETWEEN the belief of some in the value of limited (versus universal) suffrage, that is, limited only to those who have a stake in the system (the stakeholders so-called) to the exclusion of the uneducated and the unpropertied until the latter earn and learn enough to become stakeholders themselves AND the idea of political sovereignty being withheld, albeit temporarily (hence, the preference for the establishment of a revolutionary government to the holding of status-quo-preserving snap elections), if only to hasten and secure direly needed political, social and economic reforms.

When political, social and economic resources are distributed, the attainment of true political capacity for fully qualified citizens cannot be far behind.

Progress through the power of consensus of People Power

What our communities and the country need today is to act decisively upon certain arrangements on the basis of a national consensus that is motivated not by any sense of defeatism and despondency but out of the awareness that the possibilities are great precisely when together we adhere to the spirit of Bayanihan and the practical realities of interdependence. And the promises of accomplishing what’s hoped could not be any more immense than by going forward with the alternative of mobilizing the great Filipino common sense and trusting the resources and harmony of many minds.

In the context of a socially energizing force that’s distinctively Filipino, one possible alternative proposition, as already suggested, to the robber baron, the zaibatsu, the chaebol or the countryside industrialization model 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.

A source of renewal

At the Second Vatican Council, among the progressive documents enacted by the fathers is the “Dogmatic Constitution of the Church” which, inter alia, called the lay people to share the missionary vocation of the church and described the church as the people of God. Another Council document, the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy,” promulgated the principle of greater participation of the laity in the celebration of the mass. The Council also enunciated the apostolate of the laity. In the whole, the deliberations of the Second Vatican Council exceeded its original goals.

The monarchical underpinnings of the First Vatican Council which had bestowed the prerogative of papal infallibility, somehow deferred, following the Second Council, to the increasing role of the bishops even as the textual modification of the Canon Law paved the way for the recognition of the expanding role of the laity.

The notion of “shared responsibility,” “co-responsible leadership,” and “decision-making by consensus,” became intertwined with the progressive construction of the Canon Law provisions, as modified by the Second Council, on “pastoral (parish) councils” long before those terminologies became fashionable in the world of business, management and political discourse.

Pope John Paul II in Sources of Renewal, a book he wrote about his experience at the Second Vatican Council, articulated the following:
. . . A parish needs a council in order to insure that it is truly faithful to God’s call. Catholics have always cherished the idea of obedience and fidelity to God’s word spoken in and through the Church. It is that same Church that is calling its people now to listen for God’s words spoken not only through the leadership, but through fellow Christians as well. But to hear that word spoken through the people requires a new structure, a new way. A council united with the pastor provides by design that way, because its representative nature insures that every voice is heard, not just those that are the loudest, or the most powerful or the most traditional. (Italics mine.)
Expounding on the same vein in his book, Co-responsibility in the Church, Cardinal Leo Suenens wrote:
. . . The role of the one in charge is not that of making a “personal” decision after taking the advice of others into account. For in that case it would still be “his” decision. His role is rather to make it possible, in so far as this depends upon him, for there is to be a common decision, which commits each member to the decision, in such a way that they are solidly behind it and willing to accept all the consequences of what has been decided together.
Juggling out messiahs and misfortunes

There’s the sense that one of the many balls that a besieged GMA is delicately juggling at the moment is still the matter of that guy whom Filipinos fondly call Erap, not to accomplish her projects, but simply to avoid a misfortune. Another tossed up is the usual marching song that U.S. wants every terror coalition choir member to be attuned to. For now, the Philippines while not playing a different music, has tuned out, ultimately to save GMA from political decapitation.

Certainly up in the air is how to grate the surface of the slippery road to economic recovery with resources from wary foreign investors. The investors could be assuaged if only there’s some semblance of peace and order at least in the capital region. Otherwise, continued sluggish investment would translate into less meaningful poverty alleviation and other welfare initiatives for the increasingly agitated lumpenproletariat. A hopeless sense of further neglect on the part of the Great Unwashed could again precipitate a peace-and-order-breaching EDSA upheaval with the slightest stirring by demagogues or political opportunists, thus potentially jeopardizing even short-term economic recovery strategies. The situation, although not revolutionary, could become combustible, with even greater likelihood if Erap loyalists join the mix.

Present threats of instability from other firebrands not necessarily loyal to Erap could not be totally discounted as one of the balls that could be trifled with. The threat could come from the likes of the once fugitive, now senator and one-time presidential candidate, Panfilo Lacson who has not been coy about his high ambition. Not lightly to be ignored are similar dangers that could come from some messianic colonels waiting in the barracks for the propitious time to perform their self-appointive roles or, on the darker side of fiendish chamber, from the polity-crippling tentacles of narco-politics.

As a matter of expediency and possibly humanitarian grounds, the proposition to allow Erap a graceful exit should therefore be seriously mulled over in the light of this juggling act that GMA is apparently performing on a tight rope. To leave the matter in the hands of a supposedly apolitical and unaccountable judiciary, the course the GMA government has adopted, is to ignore the reality that the resolution of the Erap cases has graver political, economic and other consequences than merely legal.

Revisiting the market construct

Despite the market rhetoric, state-capitalism (as opposed to market-capitalism) has been adopted by powerful nations—such as France, Great Britain and Germany. Britain then had emerged as the world’s most advanced “developmental state” (ironically, a label the West pejoratively ascribes to Japan), a model that has become endemic in the industrial world and certainly the United States being among its earnest adherents up to the present.

The United States has employed market-distorting schemes such as tariffs, quotas, tax breaks and abatements, loan subsidies, bailouts, and regulatory rollbacks to protect its industries. One recent and obvious instance of market mutation in America is the 2002 $15 billion corporate dole-out ($5 billion grants, $10 billion loans) to the airline industry post 9/11 for the industry’s pre-9/11 failures. Today, non-military aircraft production is concentrated in only two firms, Boeing-McDonald and Airbus, a European consortium, both being recipients of enormous state subsidy.4 This mutant form of the market permeates in agriculture with the mind-boggling $180 billion farm subsidy over ten years benefiting mainly wealthy US farmers.

According to Senator and former Agriculture Secretary Angara, “The protectionist trade policies in rich economies cost poor countries 100 Billion US Dollars annually—twice the amount they receive in aid.” In seeming resignation Angara fretted about the particular situation of the Philippines. “Our agricultural products,” he complained, “will always be more expensive since we cannot afford to give any substantial support to our farmers.”

The realities of the market paradigm of the pure variety are one of those that need to be revisited. The market construct could become fair if struggling but willing and ready nations are given a decent chance to build and accumulate just as exactly as the leading economic powers of today did during their own growing pains and struggles; and enabled to be on similar footing, then and only then should latecomers like the Philippines be made to face up to the challenge of competition. On an individual level, they call this “affirmative action” in America. Even nations are entitled to equal opportunity. This axiom, possibly more legitimating than “economic liberalism,” requires that adjustments to transformation of this sort relative to the prevailing international economic order should demand more of the stronger states than the weaker ones, not the other way around.

Building a strong republic: goals and vision

With an abiding commitment, a modicum of sincerity and a bit of luck, the spirit of solidarity engendered by the spirit of ’86 promises to endure, although much more could be desired such as the long-overdue moratorium on excessive politicking, hard-line partisanship, intellectual faintheartedness or plain dishonesty particularly on the part of those entrusted with public duty such as the media. Or, more critically, a pause on capital strikes against productive investments, a reprieve from rent-seeking, and the abandonment of the illogic of “slow growth” or what the UP 11 referred as “moderate levels of output growth.”

To build a strong republic, the entrepreneurial spirit must lead the pursuit of aggressive growth-oriented strategic goals by: 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. These goals and vision, once again, demand vigorous entrepreneurship with a sense of national purpose first and foremost.

More specifically, this would only mean that past the crisis and beyond some short-run government bureaucratic measures (such as new tax schemes and pork barrel curtailments), the wealth creators at the firm level must lead the march toward competitiveness and productivity growth, the intuition of the now famous “UP 11” that it would be “no more than whistling in the dark” notwithstanding. Therefore, rather than despair, perish or self-destruct, Filipinos must take the course that remains wide open for them—build and produce to earn enough to pay debts, provide basic needs, keep an efficient bureaucracy and build even more. When government capital expenditures are at a minimum, the private sector must take up the slack in investment to boost employment and enable the citizens to pull through a sense of confidence in the future.

A serious look at Rostovian model

President Arroyo claims that the country is “on the threshold of economic takeoff” after the Supreme Court had paved the way for the implementation of the expanded value-added tax (e-VAT). The new tax system is Arroyo’s central and rating agencies-sensitive fiscal reform strategy to tame the budget deficit and forestall a fiscal crisis.

The opening up of the mining industry to foreign investors, another Supreme Court-abetted economic measure, is also touted by the Arroyo government as a ground-breaking opportunity for the country’s economic development.

Can we trust that the economist in Arroyo is for real or is she simply pulling a fast one on the non-economist in many of us? What are the facts and the scholarship on the matter?

Many parts of the country still retain the basic features of the so-called traditional society. A traditional society is one whose structure has limited production functions because of its incapacity to manipulate the environment through science and technology. To break from the conditions of a traditional society that put a ceiling on its attainable output, new types of enterprising men willing to take risks in pursuit of profit or modernization must come forward. The risk-taking must happen in conjunction with the appearance of institutions for mobilizing capital like banks, the investment in transport, communications, and in raw materials in which other societies may have an economic interest, and the setting up of manufacturing enterprises using modern methods. These are the “preconditions for take-off,” the stage that the Philippines notwithstanding has already reached.

Takeoff however may not occur if the transition is proceeding at a limited stride in an economy still primarily typified by “traditional low-productivity methods,” by dated societal institutions and values, and by parochial political institutions.

The key to economic progress is somehow attitudinal too and this happens when economic men and political animals judge such progress to be good not only for the material comfort it brings forth for their pioneering spirit but also for national identity and dignity, the welfare of the next generation and the common good.

Historically, the decisive ingredient during the transition is the building of an “effective centralized national state” imbued with a “new nationalism” versus regional interests, the colonial power (if any), or both. When growth becomes steady and normal and institutionalized into habits and social structure and dominates the society, takeoff is said to occur.

To economist Walt W. Rostow (his two seminal books are: The process of Economic Growth [1952] and The Stages of Economic Growth [1960]), from whose insights the above ideas are mainly culled, the takeoff is spurred not only by the investment in “social overhead capital” (such as in railways, ports and roads) and the expansion of technological development in industry and agriculture, but also by the rise to political power of a group dedicated to the proposition that the modernization of the economy is a national goal of paramount order. Guided by the wisdom and knowledge of this group who trust each other, takeoff happens (parsing or interpreting Rostow anew) when:
1) Heavy investment in “social overhead capital” takes place;
2) The rate of investment and savings rises to about 10% of the national income;
3) Imports of capital goods form a high proportion of total investment;
4) There is rapid expansion in new industries, generating profits a sizeable proportion of which are reinvested in new plants;
5) The new industries, in turn, spur (through their rapidly expanding requirement for workers, support personnel, and for other value-added goods and services) a further expansion in urban areas and in other modern industrial plants;
6) Expansion in the advance sector yields returns in the hands of those not content with rent-seeking but who place their savings at the disposal of those engaged in modern sector activities;
7) The new breed of entrepreneurs emerges and expands; and it places and directs the increasing flows of investment in the private sector;
8) The economy exploits untapped natural resources and discovers new methods of production;
9) Agriculture is commercialized, and more farmers are educated to accept and apply the new methods and the transformative changes brought forth;
10) The economic, social and political structures of the society are transformed to allow for a steady and sustainable growth.
While many scholars and policymakers have also criticized Rostow, I find his ideas very sound and relevant to the Philippine situation today.

If we follow the logic of Rostow, how can the Philippines pass the condition that demands heavy investment in “social overhead capital” in the first place given the gargantuan national debt that we have as well as an economy that is subject to external dictation through “structural adjustment,” for instance? Today, our self-content wealth holders would play rather safe with their money in the finance economy (half of the national debt belongs to them). What would induce them to venture into vigorous entrepreneurship in the real economy of the nation? Again, two quick prescriptions: First, a sense of “new nationalism,” as Rostow requires (or a “sense of country” in the language of columnist Condrado de Quiros) at least among the group (of the economic men and political animals) who is supposed to guide the country toward the attainment of its national visions; and second, simply “grow out of (this debt)” (meaning, I suppose, the economic growth should outgrow the debt) according to political blogger Dean Jorge Bocobo, a proposition that still seems to echo the Rostovian modernization model.

On the other hand, what TV journalist Ricky Carandang has expressively remonstrated about the need to thaw the iceberg of mistrust cannot possibly be gainsaid as another precondition for takeoff. The sense of mutual social trust is also called social capital (the attitude and willingness of people to engage in collective and civic actions, or the Bayanihan spirit, if you will). But how can this happen if the President herself is perceived to be suffering from political (as well as perhaps, as many Filipinos also believe, moral) deficit? Thus handicapped, can she step up to the plate to lead the process of rebuilding the indispensable bridges of trust? And is there time before total distrust begins to overwhelm everyone?

Not us, but the next generation

Today, the high spirit of EDSA is beckoning anew. And whether we answer to flesh it out—and answer we all must—as Tsinoy, Tisoy, Pinoy or Amboy, and as Taipan or Mang Pandoy is really of no moment, if we believe we are all Pinoy-rin.

We know this as the liberating instruction of People Power. So, every Filipino, and anyone committed to the deeper tides of democracy, must keep on deferring to its wisdom, well beyond and into the next and more arduous chapters of nation building.

We alone, and none other, can make it happen, if not for ourselves, for the next generation.


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