COMMENTARY

A nation-state in search of an identity

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JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

JOSE V. ROMERO JR., PHD.

THE goals of development, economists agree, are freedom, satisfaction of basic needs, equitable distribution of wealth, participation and access. The means to development have historically been traceable to economic growth, self-reliance, endogenous development, structural transformation and environmental transformation.

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According to Myrdal, the pursuit of development is reflected in the following activities: development planning, productivity increases, rising levels of living, income distribution, attitudinal changes, national integration, political independence, political maturity (participative democracy) and social discipline.

To achieve some of the goals of development outlined above, structural changes have to be made in economic activities as well as in the power hierarchy within a given society. Commitment to these goals must be measured not only by legislation or the protection of individual rights but also by structural changes in society. This requires an in-depth analysis of the structures existing and the implication of these changes from the criteria of participation and self-management in the affairs of the State.

The vision thing

Every nation needs a long-term view – a vision of total development if you like. Some countries have tried to do so—Mahathir developed a 2020 vision for Malaysia. A country with the 12th biggest population in the world and the third biggest Catholic nation that now enjoys a demographic dividend or sweetspot and considered the fastest growing economy in this part of the world must perforce think ahead and plan for the optimum deployment of its assets – plentiful raw materials, the longest coastline in the globe given its archipelagic configuration. Its strategic geopolitical advantage given its position in the China Sea—now the bone of contention of two superpowers vying to control a maritime highway through which flows trillions of products—is to be treasured.

Sad to say, the conventional wisdom is that we do not have a perspective plan to cope with the dynamism of the interplay of geopolitics and geo-economics.

To start with we don’t even have a national security plan that is proactive and not merely defensive. We are still wrestling with rebalancing our foreign relations without a deep insight on the impact and ramifications of the same. We have developed a mendicant policy in the military because of over-reliance on a treaty partner which up to this day has not provided a credible defense force for this nation.

In the matter of governance we are still debating on whether we should keep a centralized government or balkanize the nation into federated autonomous states. We have experimented with unitary rather than bicameralism, with no national consensus on the matter. The same thing with the issue of whether to socialize or privatise public utilities. There is even talk of privatizing customs collections.

Curse of Sisyphus

As we continue to debate on foreign policy and military alliances, and protectionism versus liberal economics, we continue to inherit the curse of Sisyphus where a new administration tears down the achievements of the previous one in an exercise of partisan politics and try to reinvent the wheel—the result is that for every step forward we take two backwards.

We continue to search for development paradigms that do not rely on semi-slave labor of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) or a graveyard shift for our sleep-deprived millennials in BPO operations.

Perhaps the reason is that we are still a tribal nation where family and extended families are the center of attention leaving the common good behind. This has created political dynasties and partisan politics with gains in narrow sectoral interest becoming the endgame.

The bigger picture is that we have not developed the notion of nationhood even if one administration after another may project the feeling that we are one nation under one God.

The politically entrenched economic elite minority speaks for the nation and drowns out the muted voices of the marginalized and alienated majority—a sure recipe for fascism and socialism once the “descamisados,” or proletariat, find a charismatic leadership which can challenge the entrenched bourgeoisie.

To be sure this country is not lacking in idealism. How many of the youth—the flower of the land spent jail time during the dictatorship or sacrificed their lives in the battlefields fighting foreign ideologies. Unfortunately, those who have escaped the poverty trap through higher education have been co-opted by the system once bitten by the political bug and dazzled by the possibility of dramatically changing their quality of life through quick if not dirty money. Once this happens, idealism flies out the window and they quickly join the ranks of the rentier class.

Tale of 2 cities

And so we have a tale of two cities, the glittering urban centers flooded with neon lights inhabited by the rich and famous and the up and coming middle class, and the other, the neglected rural areas with people left behind by the march of development and never the twain. Unless we experience a drastic change in attitudes and mindset in the pursuit of our trickle-down approach to development, this dichotomy will persist.

In a couple of years, we will have another electoral exercise which in other countries afford the opportunity for change, but this takes a competitive party system which is a form of checks and balance and a platform for progressive ideas. If this election is hijacked by druglords, family dynasties and the economic elite with their narrow vested interests, God save this nation.

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