Foreign and local experts in their studies of government and economy have confirmed what some of us have been saying all along: that President Benigno Simeon Aquino is part of Philippine society’s problem. In the gathering of intellectuals held recently, participants have agreed that the country’s weak institutions combined with public servants who act like warlords are to blame for why the country remains one of the world’s basketcases:
In a forum, experts on Wednesday said the answer lay in the country’s weak institutions, which were put up in reaction to Martial Law.
So if it were to become an economic powerhouse like South Korea, which went through a civil war, then the Philippines should strengthen its institutions first so that development doesn’t depend on whoever is president, the experts said.
During the forum, James Robinson, a professor of government at Harvard University, said nations fail because of “extractive” institutions, which place power and resources or opportunities in the hands of the elite.
He said nations fail because leaders were unable to transition to “inclusive” institutions that are supposed to spread wealth and power to the greater society.
Robinson, who is in Manila for several days, said some of these nations have centralized power in the hands of weak states that “comfortably cohabit” with warlords, which can be seen in African countries and Columbia.
Yes, being part of the status quo and without initiating real reforms, President BS Aquino will likely not accomplish anything significant when he steps down from power in 2016. Experts have noted that the real social and economic decline started with the hastily crafted and ill-thought out 1987 Cory Aquino constitution, which some say was written out of spite in response to the Marcos regime.
Gerardo Sicat, another UP economics professor who served as economic minister during the Marcos regime, said the blame can be heaped on mistakes made during the transition from Marcos to Corazon Aquino, the late mother of President Benigno Aquino III.
Aggravating this, Sicat said, was the lack in continuity of reforms and limitations on foreign investments prescribed by the 1987 Constitution, which the first Aquino administration put in place of Marcos’ 1973 Constitution.
Even before he was voted into power in 2010, TIME magazine already noted BS Aquino’s awkward and un-statesman like figure and in particular, the fact that he is a member of the oligarchy or the “wealthy class” — those who more often than not come across as uncaring and out of touch with reality. Like what I said before in one of my previous articles:
It is crystal clear that Noynoy’s win does not guarantee a complete change unless he completely cuts off ties with his family just to implement the necessary changes in the system. We all know this is not going to happen. We all know that out of respect for his late mother and their family’s allies, the policies that were implemented by members of the inner circle, will remain untouched. It is going to be business as usual for the landowners in Hacienda Luisita and the rest of the oligarchies (and their personal empires — e.g. PLDT, Globe Telecom, ABS-CBN).
The irony of what Noynoy promises — to change the problem that he is part of — escapes him and his followers. From the same article, I quote Greg Rushford, a Washington-based expert on trade who has monitored the Philippines for over 30 years, “The basics for success are here, at least in terms of human capital. But there is a lack of seriousness in the political leadership — institutions are dominated by an uncaring wealthy class.” To which I add: Isn’t Noynoy Aquino part of that wealthy class? He might care but we have to ask, was he actually actively participating in advocating real change before he was asked to run for the presidency? I don’t think so. Why are we only hearing him now and how come he hasn’t been vocal about it before? Could it be because he remained in the shadow of his late mother until she passed away? Forced to come out now, I wonder how Noynoy is going to address this problem:
“There are ties of clan, family and region that are stronger than the nation,” says Ramon Casiple, a leading political commentator in Manila. “To this day, it’s all about patronage.”
From Day One, President BS Aquino already showed signs that he is into patronage politics. A lot of Filipinos have noticed that he is predisposed to assigning a lot of his friends to sensitive posts in his government. After successfully removing former Chief Justice Renato Corona from the Supreme Court, he filled up the vacated post with his college friend Lourdes Sereno who is also a member of a law firm hired by his family’s estate Hacienda Luisita. Having been a corporate lawyer for most of her career, Sereno doesn’t even have any experience handling a criminal case in the past. That fact didn’t stop the President from assigning her to the Supreme Court to handle criminal cases.
Unfortunately, all is not well in the Supreme Court under Sereno’s watch. While Corona brought unity in the SC during his stint, Sereno has brought in division among the members of the SC particularly with some associate judges alleging that she recently issued a fake resolution without their knowledge. What kind of “reform” did President BS Aquino expect to happen in the judiciary with an allegedly fraudulent Chief Justice like Sereno at its helm?
Yes, there hasn’t been much progress since democracy was “restored” in 1986. Some would argue that we are even worse off now. This last statement can be true in the sense that, today, Filipinos already have freedom but still don’t know what to do with it. As early as 1992, Singapore’s former leader Lee Kuan Yew said that “Filipinos have too much democracy but too little discipline” — a very astute observation that remains relevant today.
The Harvard professor, James Robinson could not help but compare the status of the Philippines to that of South Korea. After all, both South Korea and the Philippines were under dictatorship for decades but South Korea is now an “economic powerhouse”. Just to reiterate what I wrote before:
The Philippines’ political history has a lot in common with Korea’s. For one, both countries have a Presidential system; two, similar to Korea, the Philippines was under a dictatorship for decades. From 1972 the Philippines was under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’s regime until he was toppled and exiled in 1986 while Korea was under Military dictatorship since the 1950s until they switched to more democratic governance in the 1980s. Third, Korea’s political system even after switching to democracy always got bad international press as late as the 1990s because it was riddled with corruption and nepotism which is something that the Philippines is unfortunately still experiencing until now.
The situation with the Koreans in the 1990s was so similar to what is happening to Filipinos now. There were massive election frauds committed with public servants spending public funds and television was totally under the control of the State.
To be sure, Philippine elections in the past and even the recent one in May 2010 were mired by allegations of fraud in the form of vote buying and rigging of election results, the latter not prevented even by new electronic voting systems. Sadly, the powerful elite who exert a strong influence on the electorate controls the media.
However, despite the turmoil in the political scene in South Korea back in the 1990s, strong institutions backed by an ancient Confucian culture provided a check and balance that eventually resulted in a stable Korean economy. The sense of nationalism in Korea is unmatched even by the Japanese. Part of this strong sense of nationalism has a lot to do with the draconian laws and decrees introduced during the period when they were still under dictatorship. To quote an excerpt from an article written by the late Teddy Benigno:
In the 1950s former General Park Chung-hee set-up a dictatorship which first decreed land reform. He then got the leading capitalists, entrepreneurs, economists; policy planners together win to something like a ruling national council. He drove them to excel, meet or exceed targets. Or else. The story goes that a prominent businessman complained, said he couldn’t meet his target. Park Chung-hee simply replied he would be executed at dawn. The businessman relented and met his target.
That was iron discipline. But it was that discipline that forged the new South Korea and today it is the 12th biggest economy in the world.
What was Korea’s secret then? The average Korean is ambitious and works furiously hard and long hours. There is even a saying that “Korea is the one society in the world in which the Chinese go broke and the Japanese look lazy”. They instill this discipline to the younger generation. The average Korean child goes to a coaching school three times a week and it is standard for them to learn English because they recognize the importance of being proficient in the English language.
There is one thing that the experts in the recently held forum failed to mention. While weak institutions combined with weak leadership contribute to the failure of nations, the culture of the people is likewise to blame for allowing it to happen – each individual’s contribution to society whether good or bad affects everyone else and this includes voting for the wrong leader.
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- Maria Ressa’s criminal conviction is a victory for the Filipino people - June 16, 2020
- ABS-CBN shutdown will strengthen Philippine institutions and compel Filipinos to follow the law - May 8, 2020