Philippines: Stuck in reverse since Independence Day

A lot of Filipinos want to copy everything about the United States of America. From the form of government down to the style of music, Filipinos look to Uncle Sam for direction. For as long as everyone can remember, Filipinos have always viewed the home of our former colonizers as the land of milk and honey. Some even wish that the Philippines remained a U.S. state or territory rather than gained independence.

The U.S. is where everybody’s dreams can come true, as they say. But does that notion still apply to this day? If we are going to base it on the U.S. unemployment rate, the answer may be no. And unemployment is not the only problem facing the U.S. today. The rising unemployment rate is the result, it seems, of outdated policies mainly around key aspects of their foreign policy, economic policy and heath care policy. It looks like the America Filipinos have come to know is starting to crumble — a train wreck unfolding.

Not everyone knows that the key to longevity is to evolve. What works today or what used to work yesterday may not work tomorrow. Things change and if the society is unwilling to adapt to the changes, it will stagnate. And that is apparently what is happening to American society now. There are many Americans who are still in denial about America’s losing its grip on its influence on the rest of the world despite rising national debt and a currency in decline. And there are some Filipinos who are still under the illusion that we should emulate everything American. That thinking should be re-evaluated.

The Philippines is still an emerging society. We are in the best position to learn from other countries if only our policy makers are keen to take up this challenge. But if we are hell bent on copying the U.S., we should know which stars and which stripes we need and which ones we don’t need. To be exact, what we should do is to keep what is good and throw out what is bad about the American society we use as a role model. After all, America has been in the number one spot for a good reason. But something’s got to give with the way their policy makers are handling their situation. It seems as though the elite members of their society have sunk into a stupor.

Fareed Zakaria, in his essay in TIME magazine even blames too much democracy for putting U.S. politicians into a state of analysis paralysis. Here’s what he had to say:

It’s not that our democracy doesn’t work; it’s that it works only too well. American politics is now hyperresponsive to constituents’ interests. All those interests are dedicated to preserving the past rather than investing for the future.

I can’t help but see parallels with Philippine politics after reading that statement. Filipino politicians have always pandered to the masses. Hardly anyone wants to introduce unpopular legislation which could move the country forward but in the short-term could potentially upset the electorate. Politicians here and in the U.S. it seems cannot see beyond the next election.

How the West was won and lost

For a long time, the U.S. had been on the top spot in world ranking not just in terms of the economy but also in terms of innovation in technology, the arts and society. But globalization somehow leveled the playing field. Countries who nobody thought could rise above their dire circumstances are now playing their game.

I have read that there are five applications that other emerging countries have downloaded from America, which has helped them catch up really fast. To quote Harvard historian Niall Ferguson and author of the book, Civilization: The West and the Rest

“For 500 years the West patented six killer applications that set it apart. The first to download them was Japan. Over the last century, one Asian country after another has downloaded these killer apps–competition, modern science, the rule of law and private property rights, modern medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Those six things are the secret sauce of Western civilization.”

It is quite obvious that the Philippines had only downloaded one application from the West and that is consumerism. Consumerism has always presented a double-edged sword in any economy. While consumerism is seen to be a key ingredient in the recovery of the U.S. economy, consumerism had likewise contributed to the country’s economic decline.

Furthermore, consumers who lost their jobs in the 2008 financial crisis also lost their ability to pay for their debts. A lot of Americans are now drowning in debt along with the Federal Reserve whose quick fix is to keep pumping more dollars into circulation just to keep up appearances of everything being ok. To quote a commentator from CNBC news:

The U.S. is the largest debtor nation in the history of the world,” he said. “The debts are going through the roof. Would you keep lending money to somebody who’s spending money and not doing anything about it? No you wouldn’t.”

It would be a mistake if the Philippines tried to emulate the way the Americans had managed their economy. It has become apparent that “this too shall NOT pass” that quickly, to build upon the old saying. Americans it seems have lost their ability to pick themselves up and dust themselves off. How can the average American compete when the jobs are now offshore? There is not even a chance to showcase their so-called work ethic because they do not have any work to go to.

It was said that in the 1950s, the U.S. had a huge manufacturing base that provided jobs for millions of workers. Sadly, manufacturing is now just a small part of the economy because most of it had gone offshore. While in the Philippines, even though we never held any position of consequence as a manufacturing base in the past, our 1987 Constitution hinders us from taking one in the future because of its restriction on foreign ownership, which is why our economy has been stuck in reverse for decades.

Even in innovation, the U.S. is no longer a commanding lead in this area despite the strong sales of Apple products. Reports from two consulting firms that use hard measures such as spending on research, patents and venture funding as opposed to surveys find that the U.S. has dropped down to No. 8 and No. 6 respectively. The slide in ranking has got little to do with a lack of brilliant people and more to do with a lack of government funding. One of their biggest missteps is subsidizing consumption to pump up the economy without putting money in capability-building investments like education, science and technology. Countries like Germany, South Korea and China are doing the latter quite consciously to address their future.

U.S. form of government is unique to them

It is interesting to note that none of the countries in Asia that incorporated one form of Western approach or another into their own systems have actually applied America’s Presidential form of government — except for the Philippines. Unfortunately, when the Philippines copied the U.S. form of government, our forefathers didn’t really look into our own history, our own culture and how the electoral process will affect the outcome of the type of leaders we will likely end up with.

Like in my previous blog, what I’m trying to say is this: Western nations have a totally different culture. What works for them may not necessarily work for others. The American Presidential system, which the Philippines adopted, is one classic example of a system that simply does not work for our country and our culture because of our personality-based politics. Unfortunately, the electorate in the Philippines is too dumb to realize this, which is why we have been stuck with it since gaining our independence from the Americans.

Blogger Dindo Donato explained it well in his article, American Presidentialism is not applicable to the Philippines:

The presidential system of the United States is not applicable to the Philippines, because it arose out of a different setting and served a different purpose.

The American presidentialism arose out of the perception and judgment of their founding fathers that the colonies suffered from an abuse of the broad legislative and executive powers of the monarchy. Accordingly, upon the establishment of the United States of America independent of Britain, they purposely limited the power of the federal government, by separating the President from Congress, among other measures taken.

In the Philippines, the problem was never about a strong and aggressive government. Rather, the problem has always been about a weak and timid government, unable or unwilling to promote the common good, whenever the people’s interests conflict with the vested interests of the entrenched oligarchy. It is observed that the oligarchy, comprised of a few closely knit and immensely affluent families, has managed to exert strong influence over the politics and economy of the country over the past seventy-five (75) years (since the 1935 Constitution). Thus, the premise and purpose of American presidentialism does not apply to the Philippines.

The blind and adulterated adoption of American presidentialism has only perpetuated the stranglehold of the oligarchy. Firstly, it weakens the capability of the government to enact and implement law reforms, because the President is separated from Congress, turning them against each other. Secondly, it weakens the capability of the common people to exercise representative democracy, because direct national elections (for President and the Senators) is inherently biased in favor of “rich” and “famous” candidates.

The revolutionaries who led the American Revolution in the 18th century were actually Americans rejecting the oligarchies common in aristocratic Europe at the time. Ironically, modern-day oligarchs are now controlling the U.S. economy today. U.S. mainstream media have been highly criticized for feeding the average American with propaganda in an effort to further mass-scale mind control. It could be that the reason why U.S. politicians are forced to pander too much to the electorate is because of the media, which chronicles and speculates on their every move. Unfortunately, the same thing is happening in the Philippines.

We don’t have to be stuck with a form of government that doesn’t work just because this is what our forefathers wanted us to have during their time. We need to look at what will work for us as a people and be open to the possibility of changing something even if it is too daunting a task. We need to constantly evolve otherwise our society will not grow.

Individuals need the government too

In my previous article, I discussed how Americans are proud individualists who want less government and more independent thought and action. They are of the belief that individualism is what made America great. However, it is my opinion that those who advocate for less government intervention like the members of the Tea Party movement are somewhat misguided. Of course they have a right to demonstrate against erroneous government policies but not all state intervention is wrong.

Indeed, the freedom to experiment and innovate is exactly what everyone needs. Unfortunately, the development of technological breakthroughs need huge amounts of government funding. Historically, every large-scale technological innovation in the U.S. received large-scale government assistance.

In his article about innovation, Fareed Zakaria emphasized the importance of government funding:

The ecosystem that encourages technological breakthroughs and their application does not develop in a vacuum. It requires great universities, vibrant companies that devote time and energy to research and — yes — large amounts of government funding. The latter may be a controversial topic in theory, but in practice, the rise of technology was clearly fueled by government. A multitude of technological innovations have been associated with the government, often with the military. Forget the steam engine (developed using cannon designs and technology) and take something as modern as the microchip. After it was invented in 1958 by Texas Instruments, the federal government bought virtually every microchip that firms could produce. [boldface added for emphasis]

The Breakthrough Institute reports in a paper that “NASA bought so many microchips that manufacturers were able to achieve huge improvements in the production process — so much so, in fact, that the price of the Apollo microchip fell from $1,000 per unit to between $20 and $30 per unit in the span of a couple years.” And then there is DARPA, the Defense Department’s venture-capital arm, which has had an astonishing string of successes, helping fund stealth technology, the beginnings of the global-positioning system and, most famously, the Internet.

In the rest of the world, the role of the state is not controversial. While Americans continue to debate whether government should have any role in fostering innovation, the fastest-growing economies are all busy using government policy to establish commanding leads in one industry after another. Google’s Schmidt points out that “the fact of the matter is, other countries are putting a lot more money into nurturing new industries than we are, and we are not going to win unless we do something like what they’re doing. South Korea is a classic example. Who would have thought that South Korea could become a major iron and steel and shipbuilding country in the world? But some 40 years ago, in their organized way, they decided those are the industries they were going to go after. And there is now increasing evidence that Chinese companies are beginning to do things that are innovative — often with government assistance.”

In other words, the proponents of less government wouldn’t even be complaining if the state intervention went to the right stuff. What they need to do is to rally the government to invest in their future.

In summary, the Philippines can learn a lot from the success and the failures of the U.S. The most important aspects of the U.S., which we as a people need to emulate, are the following:

1. Professional work ethic.
2. Abiding by the rule of law.
3. Investing in education, science, technology and infrastructure.
4. Opening up the economy.
5. Applying a form of government that will work.

It is the duty of every individual to demand change from our government where it is needed. We need to look beyond the U.S. to other countries and other societies that might offer alternative approaches to nation-building.


Post Author: Ilda

In life, things are not always what they seem.