Sanctioning the police to shoot traffic violators’ cars on EDSA does not give a very encouraging message about how things are in the Philippines to the rest of the world. Most people don’t like to think that there would be no consequences should a policeman miss his target [a car tire]or that the bullet should ricochet and kill or seriously injure somebody.
There would also be consternation that the SC38 operator, Shell, is likely to initiate international arbitration over findings of the Commission on Audit that the SC38 consortium should have paid about $2.9 billion in tax in addition to the government share royalty of 60 percent of profits from natural gas production and sale.
Then there is the growing public support for Mayor Rodrigo Duterte of Davao City to run for President next year and the support appears to be based on his espoused shoot-first, ask-questions-later approach to suspected criminals or those who do not follow the rules.
(Early this week, Duterte announced that he is not contesting the presidency.)
So put aside the glowing financial statistics for a moment and look at some of the other current bits of publicity that are emanating from the Philippines.
The three examples I cite above are the sort of thing that makes international news headlines, and, no doubt if the Shell arbitration gets underway, then reporters will quickly dig up the Fraport/NAIA horror story, the cancellation of the dredging contract for Laguna de Bay and other pieces of old news of a similar type.
From the official sanctioning of random shootings will come the Philippines’ star position at No. 1 in the worldwide impunity index as well as the statistics on the number of journalists who get killed every year.
You have to wonder what sort of picture the Philippines wants to paint of itself. A star quality economy, “the” Asian Tiger in fact in which politicians pocket large amounts of government funds, the police are encouraged to take pot shots at errant drivers on a main thoroughfare, a gun-toting mayor is being encouraged by the masses to run for President and big-money foreign investors are being held liable nearly 20 years after making their investment decision for taxes that both they and their counterpart the Department of Energy considered did not apply.
It’s a rather odd and contradictory set of messages unless it is spun as “look at how well our economy is doing, clearly the weird law and order situation isn’t affecting our economic success!” It’s to be hoped that the rest of the world doesn’t see this as a recipe for the best way forward. Or perhaps I just have old-fashioned views.
But seriously, it looks to me as if a bit more attention should be given to national and international public relations. The days of the “Wild West” are no longer fashionable and even though many would agree that a bit more discipline would be of benefit (particularly in driving habits!!), the sort of “tough guy government” image–which is currently being portrayed by many random news items–is really not very helpful to the development of a society that aspires to move from a low middle-income economy. So indeed discipline is required to be demonstrated, but not “from the barrel of a gun,” nor from what appear to be rather spurious claims for long-standing tax payments of enormous amounts by those who had sufficient faith in the Philippines at the time to actually make a foreign direct investment of $2 billion.
The message should be that the Philippines is a fair and civilized place, the rules are clear and, if they are transgressed, the system will impose penalties that will be enforced in an even-handed and objective way on all regardless of to whom they may be connected. If this is not seen to be the case, then any economic miracle that can be engineered from the national finances will just become suspect and people will start to ask how that can be when the rule of law appears to be so compromised? It looks dysfunctional.
“Its More Fun in the Philippines” is a good slogan for the Department of Tourism but alas it has now been hijacked for cynical use when some of the odder happenings happen . . . and it is getting used a lot in that way these days!
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.