ALL political/economic systems are imperfect in one way or another. To find a utopian solution is impossible, therefore nations have to make the best of it in their own way. For sure, government is needed in order to ensure a fair and properly prioritized distribution of the national wealth. For many reasons and in many places, this distribution appears unfair and improperly prioritized, leading to massive disparities in income and welfare. Whilst the Philippines is a case in point, it is certainly not alone amongst nations.
That said, some South and Central American nations have managed to sort themselves out onto trajectories of more socially responsible economically developing nations—Uruguay, Bolivia, Ecuador and even Brazil, for example—usually at the cost of the private sector, which often includes multinationals, by the nationalization of major profit-earning industries to the benefit of the less advantaged. The responsibility for distribution of the proceeds then moves from private sector to shareholder to public sector to citizens in the shape of health care and housing projects (obviously the profits do not have to stick to the hands of the members of government!). I am quite sure that the Philippines’ problems of corruption and crony capitalism were just as prevalent in those nations as they are here.
The South American nations, however, do not appear to have the same level of dependency which exists and which has been much written about in the Philippines as exemplified in the bayanihan culture and the strong loyalties which it fosters.
To paraphrase the late Benigno Aquino; “Here is a land in which a few are spectacularly rich while the masses remain abjectly poor . . . Here is a land consecrated to democracy but run by an entrenched plutocracy. Here, too, are a people whose ambitions run high, but whose fulfillment is low and mainly restricted to the self-perpetuating elite.” Those words are as are as true today as they were when they were voiced, and indeed are also relevant but being forced to be less so in much of South America.
Given the above, if it is accepted, can the Philippines grow as it deserves under a laissez faire neoliberal system (and I use the word neoliberal in its pejorative sense!)? It could be argued that to give the private sector free rein, subject only to imperfect regulation which itself is further prejudiced by bayanihan-type relationships, is exactly counter-productive to inclusive economic progress and development. Current policy appears to be pushing to devolve more and more responsibility away from central government to local LGU [local government unit]supervision, which often does not have the expertise to efficiently take such responsibility—to leave the Yolanda aftermath to the LGUs is simply irresponsible, as is taking a completely hands-off policy towards the private sector. To shift control from the center to the LGUs also removes the ability to nationalize essential public services. As for the distribution of land and agrarian reform, well, that just seems to be stuck going nowhere, like it has been for years.
Of course the Philippines is coerced by the multilaterals toward free market policies, loan and assistance conditions that require greater private sector involvement and empowerment and do not recognize the weakness of the regulatory regime in the Philippines. They continue to sustain their “one-size-fits-all” approach, against which certain nations like Malaysia and Egypt have pushed back, objecting to the privatization, social spending cuts and trade union emasculation mantra, and improved their own economic development by doing so.
It seems to this observer that the Philippines which, in truth, has so much to offer towards national wealth creation—a skilled and educated workforce, natural resources and geographically well positioned albeit spread over 7,000 odd islands—really should be able to succeed in truth rather than just in a PR sense, if only government were to act in order to fulfill its democratic mandate.
It is obvious, I am sure, to all that there is far too much politicking, tiresomely so. But to encourage a virtually unconstrained free market allowing central government to think it can dodge responsibility by doing so and, just in case it doesn’t totally succeed in dodging responsibility, can blame failure on the LGUs to which it has devolved, may on the one hand allow yet more time for tedious and vengeful politicking, but will assuredly not spur the sort of inclusive economic development that the nation so desperately needs.
A strong, responsible and professional central government apparatus is what is required, which will fairly manage the state and its assets in the best interest of the citizens. Neoliberal economics and inadequate regulation will only sustain the hold of the “self-perpetuating elite” at the cost of the vast majority of Filipinos. It is very difficult to change the bayanihan culture—and anyway, would you want to?—but government needs to be firmly in control and ensure that cultural characteristics do not impede the achievement of what is better for all—a strong sense of nationhood (rather than nationalism which can be seen as negative) and a valid belief that distribution is fairly done even if it has to be forced, and for sure it would have to be! The legacies of past crony capitalism as well as any “unfair” contracts with multinationals need to be tackled with a strong will by an administration that will not cave in under the strain of the challenge.
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com.