Wednesday, December 27, 2006

What the Opposition opposes and proposes

Anonie, commenting on my last blog entry, has taunted the Opposition:
The Opposition opposes . . . but has no "proposes."

. . . my discomfort with "lack of proposals" (in contrast to statement of complaints) is in regards the opposition-organizations and the mayors, congressmen, senators (the personalities that attract the voters) that belong to the opposition . . .
I agree that there are no substantive wedge issues markedly differentiating the party in power in the Philippines from the various mainstream opposition parties. But I'm not sure either whether GMA prior to being plunged into the presidency by EDSA Dos had been known to espouse any particular ideology other than the Washington Consensus (i.e., the development program of liberalization, privatization and globalization, advocated by the IMF, World Bank and WTO).

Within days after the uprising, GMA announced: "During my administration democracy and the market will be the guiding principles of my domestic and foreign policies."

This is what I have in part written as a reaction:
The pressure for radical transformation notwithstanding, and just two days after the upheaval of People Power II that swept her to power, GMA did not equivocate, in her first chance to articulate her vision, to say her "administration will resist the temptation to take (adventuristic) initiatives and directions for the sake of appearing to be innovative."

That was unfortunate, we thought.

The real political, social and economic challenges of GMA's administration, we contended, would be how to balance the market prescriptions (freedom from state interference) with social justice (freedom to self-realization) on the one hand, and, on the other, how to marshal and factor democracy, expressed in people power through consultation and consensus, in bureaucratic efficiency. We feared that GMA was about to lose 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, a situation her predecessor ousted by the revolt has continued to exploit. Thus we urged her to welcome and take the path of adventure, of being a visionary and a revolutionary, not just a "good president."

But GMA has insisted: "I have no grandiose ambition of being great. I just want to do my work well. I don't want magic. I just want to be 100 percent right-morally right."
The general perception in the country today is to the effect that the still unexplained Garci tapes (not to speak of other notorious scandals that have haunted the government of GMA) have also taken away her claim to moral uprightness.

Now, if you count the Catholic Church as an organized opposition in the Philippines, I believe the church hierarchy has posed a serious challenge to GMA's "guiding principles."

Please note in this regard one significant portion of CBCP's pastoral letter of July 10, 2005, which reads:
"3. At the center of the crisis is the issue of moral value, particularly the issue of trust. The people mistrust our economic institutions which place them under the tyranny of market forces whose lack of moral compass produces for our people a life of grinding dehumanizing poverty. They also mistrust yet another key institution - our political system. This mistrust is not recent. For a long time now, while reveling in political exercises, our people have shown a lack of trust in political personalities, practices, and processes. Elections are often presumed tainted rather than honest. Congressional and senate hearings are sometimes narrowly confined to procedural matters and often run along party lines. Politics has not effectively responded to the needs of the poor and marginalized."
My reading of disquisition 3 of the CBCP letter is the following:
Mistrust of the political system is trite (we hear the same grievance everyday from everyone), but bishops collectively calling the market a TYRANT that "produces for our people a life of grinding dehumanizing poverty," is not a "voice of moderation or temperance" but, while unsaid, a clear allusion to "Christian socialism" or at the very least to plain Thomism that calls for the achievement of Christian goals by social and political means. Going beyond the text, the true message of the pastoral letter, despite professing fealty to constitutional process, is the tacit reassertion of Pope Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum against market democracy (as well as Marxism) as a preponderant influence in the lives of the Filipino poor. The same message was articulated in the July 1, 2005 letter issued by Manila Archbishop Gaudencio B. Rosales specifically demanding that "Political systems that are prone to corruption must be swiftly and decisively reformed, and institutions built that can effectively respond to the aspirations of our people for a better life." . . .

More than just a break from traditional conservatism, Rerum Novarum's emphasis on social justice has been antithetical to the ideology of free market that follows, first and foremost, the dictates of rational greed.
On the other hand, please check here to see how Senator Mar Roxas, now in the Opposition, has, I believe, entered the great debate about attaining the elusive Filipino good society, or, specifically, on whether the vehicle to rely upon on that pursuit would be the government or the market.

I expounded in this manner:
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.
In response to DJB's comment on the same blog, I have posted the following:
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.
Arguably, the foregoing are not mere "statements of complaints" but, although yet on a macro level, are real alternatives.

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonie said...

Abe,
I read Mar Roxas differently from you:
"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."
-- To me, Mar was referring to "social security (in one's old age)". Of course, Mar does not say "privatize social security (as dubya Bush does)" nor did he say "minimum level of social security benefits (as John Edwards or Hillary Clinton would)" in terms medical services and even burial services. Mar also did not say how to fund any improvements in social security benefits (no mention of raising social security contributions by the employee nor by the employer).
"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."
-- Mar seems to be a politician. He shares in the angst by repeating the line : "the classes-B-C-D work really hard, but they don't seem to get ahead at all" sentiment, while being able to tell the class-A that their property-rights will remain respected. [He'll be "my expectation from a better politician" if he'll say in a different venue that he will increase by P10Billion a year the amount to be allocated to job-training- and Grameen-type loan programs for classes A and B (and that he chose P10B per year versus P200B because the yearly budget can't support the higher number.) Mar did not say "raise taxes", either.
=================
Three topics I hope the opposition leaders address are :
-- country debts, the options being (a) continue with Cory-FVR-Estrada-GMA policies (efforts to renegotiate the loan terms but follow world-banking procedures); (b) the Philippines to declare it will stop payments on the Marcos-"Nuclear-plant"-loans.
-- Farming. I want to see a more thorough policy that addresses infrastructure (roads, irrigation); confiscation of large privately owned-lands (continue with or stop the program); opening new government-owned lands in Mindanao for distribution to landless farmers; continue with (or stop the practice of) importation of low-cost rice/corn; which Philippine farming sectors will be protected (as allowed by WTO guidelines and procedures)
--- Appointments to cabinet-positions (and other government positions), in particular whether the candidate will or will NOT continue with the GMA practice of appointing newly-retired generals to civil service positions.

December 28, 2006 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonie said...

Mar Roxas words are well-crafted:
"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."
*But what is this "..common objective that we can all rally behind"? Is Mar Roxas waiting for the CBCP to define it for him? What's the plan .. the program of attack to realize the objective? Can he accomplish the goal in one term, or does he need to be in power an extra term?
========
I wish that opposition-leaders articulate their proposed policies/programs for:
-- public education (raise pub-teachers' salaries? additional billions to build more schools?);
-- public health (anybody out there have better ideas than importation-from-India?)
-- law-and-order (even GMA echoes the goal of "investigate the murders" and "protect the media"... Is anyone proposing more-billions to-hire-more-cops? Is any opposition-leader proposing "..to raise the quality of the justice system" by raising the salaries of judges and/or instituting a (better) program to find/fire crooked judges? What about crooked PNP officials... or are PNP officials off-limits?)

December 28, 2006 10:04 PM  

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