First of three parts
Executives, journalists and government officials wore a quizzical look on their faces after weathering the Philippine government’s presentation yesterday on the theme: “Philippines: The Next Economic Miracle” at the World Economic Forum on East Asia at the Makati Shangrila Hotel.
When combined with the speeches of President Benigno Aquino 3rd and Finance Secretary Cesar Purisima, the miracle presentation was quite a punishing smorgasbord of information and propaganda.
Thankfully, the foreign guests were unfailingly polite and did not wonder aloud what was miraculous about possessing the world’s worst international airport and their navigating through Metro Manila’s hellish traffic. But as one friend wryly remarked, “Yes, we get the point—reaching one’s destination and getting a decent hotel room after the long ordeal is a miracle in itself.”
Taking a leaf from the Vatican
In examining the miracle claim, it helps to take a leaf from the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church in assessing the worthiness of claims of miracles and the worthiness of candidates for sainthood.
During the canonization process employed by the Vatican, the Promoter of the Faith (Latin: promotor fidei), popularly known as the Devil’s Advocate (Latin: advocatus diaboli), is a canon lawyer appointed by Church authorities to argue against the canonization of a candidate. It is this person’s job to take a skeptical view of the candidate’s character, to look for holes in the evidence, to argue that any miracles attributed to the candidate are fraudulent, and so on.
The Devil’s Advocate does battle with God’s Advocate (Latin: advocatus Dei; also known as the Promoter of the Cause), whose task is to make the argument in favor of canonization. This task is now performed by the Promoter of Justice (promotor iustitiae), who is in charge of examining how accurate is the inquiry on the saintliness of the candidate.
The office was established in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V. Pope John Paul II reduced the power and changed the role of the office in 1983. This reform changed the canonization process considerably, helping John Paul II to usher in an unprecedented number of elevations: nearly 500 individuals were canonized and over 1,300 were beatified during his tenure as Pope, as compared to only 98 canonizations by all his 20th-century predecessors.
In cases of controversy in recent times, the Vatican sometimes informally solicited the testimony of critics of a candidate for canonization. Aroup Chatterjee, the author of the book Mother Teresa: The Final Verdict, testified against the late nun as a devil’s advocate.
The British-American columnist and polemicist Christopher Hitchens was famously asked to testify against the beatification of Mother Teresa in 2002, a role he later described as akin to “representing the Devil pro bono.”
The case for the Philippine miracle
In laying the case for the Philippine miracle, no one has been more ardent in promoting the cause than Philippine finance secretary Cesar Purisima.
The Philippines’ hosting of the regional meeting of the World Economic Forum was his brainchild. The idea of selling the country under Aquino as the new Asian economic miracle is the expensive contribution and task of foreign and Filipino public relations consultants.
President Aquino’s demand for bankrolling the meeting in Manila and the PR effort was simple: he must be portrayed as the principal miracle worker.
They settled on the line: “Good governance is good economics” as the best way for making the case for a miracle.”
In an article by-lined by Purisima and published in newspaper advertisements and advertorials, Purisima sketched out the core argument: “Reforms have the power to alter a country’s destiny. This is why they inspire confidence from markets, businesses and citizens. The Philippines provides an example of how reforms can change perception and reality.”
Purisima contends in praise of his boss: “Since assuming office in 2010, President Aquino III has transformed the country from being “the sick man of Asia” to an economic success. He undertook reforms that economists have been urging and politicians shirking.”
Thrashing “the sick man of Asia” label is hackneyed and is as old as President Fidel V. Ramos, who thought he laid it to rest. Another problem is that no foreign journalist or analyst ever described the country as such. No one will find a publication saying that, unless it is a local paper quoting the oft-repeated refrain of President Aquino (I discussed this in an earlier column, along with the stinging charge of the Financial Times Asia editor that the Philippines is like “the mad lady in the Attic.”).
Purisima and Aquino list among the achievements and reforms under the present government the following:
1. Putting in detention (and under hospital arrest) former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and filing multiple charges against her, many of which have already been dropped.
2. The impeachment of former Chief justice Renato Corona by the House of Representatives for failing to declare all his assets, and his conviction by the Senate. Unmentioned of course is the fact that Aquino purchased the impeachment by bribing legislators.
3. The impeachment of the former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez, who fortunately resigned instead of being subjected to abuse and humiliation by the government.
4. 487 cases against Tax evaders filed by the Bureau of internal Revenue.
Significantly, Aquino did not include the ongoing investigation of the pork barrel scam as among his transformational achievements. He and his government are not prepared yet to discuss this matter at length. It’s too close to home.
Before Purisima was finished with his presentation before the WEF, my colleague Rigoberto Tiglao wrote a devastating column yesterday, calling Purisima “President Aquino’s biggest liar” (“Purisima: Aquino’s biggest liar”, May 23).
Tiglao documents in detail the fact that the big achievements being claimed by Aquino and Purisima were in fact the accomplishments of former President Gloria Arroyo, whose detention is being claimed by Aquino as his signal achievement. He cites as corroboration the official findings of the World Bank, crediting Arroyo with putting the nation and the economy on a stable and growth course forward.
If Tiglao’s column is not satisfactorily answered by Purisima, the entire WEF adventure will be all-for nothing.
The brief for the miracle, in fact, is quite abbreviated, and lacking in substance. This is a transformational event still waiting to be fleshed out.
When I wrote my column last Thursday, (“China practices statecraft, Philippines employs public relations,” May 22), my point was precisely to underscore a striking contrast:
While China uses serious statecraft in shaping its foreign policy and diplomacy, our government depends chiefly on publicity and press releases to advance its foreign policy goals. WEF is PR.
Bismarck drew the line: in statecraft, your objectives should not exceed your capabilities. In PR-driven diplomacy, you can claim colossal gains, perhaps even a miracle. But then follows the hard part, proving the miracle.
Miracle advocates hide behind the argument that to belie the miracle is unpatriotic. Really? This is the topic of the second installment of this series.