Today is the birth anniversary of Jose Rizal. See Filipiniana Blogosphere‘s tribute.
On to the present.
The President’s challenge: form a latter-day KBL. See Arroyo rallies allies behind her successor. As pols are always a suspicious lot, surely some will be mulling over whether this is a strategy to identify and then neutralize those with aspirations for the presidency (or conversely, to have them start lining up to reassure Madam she’ll be safe).
Speaking of allies… Ex-senator Mercado named RP envoy to China. How’s that for a blast from the past! Too bad Jun Urbano didn’t get the job.
My column took a cue from two blog entries. One from stuart-santiago, and the other in [email protected] who compares our situation to the story of the Emperor has no Clothes -except the kid who speaks the truth is sent to a re-education camp:
Sure, everyone knows our problems, and some people take pleasure in pointing out these problems. Some people take pleasure in pointing out that these people can only point out problems and never propose solutions. There is nothing wrong in pointing out that the emperor has no clothes, and there’s no solution to the problem of the emperor’s delusion that he is wearing the best clothes in the empire. Well, there is, but it is most unpalatable to those people who take pleasure in calling the child a fool. Their solution would be to play along.
And that’s my beef.
It has become our pastime to point out the problems; it has become our pastime to point out that it has become our pastime to point out the problems without offering solutions; it has become our pastime to point out that it has become our pastime to point out the problems without offering solutions and yet offer solutions that really do not address the problems. Yes, it is tiring to read that past sentence, because it is a tiring cycle…
…For example, most people are looking forward to 2010, and are planning ahead assuming that there will be elections in 2010, totally discounting the possibility that the current problem could derail the 2010 elections.
And forward planning assumes that the TRUE problem is known. The problem is that we can be so blind to the problem. So we think that a child who claims that the emperor is naked is the problem, not the emperor. So we deal with the education system, since it is producing people who see the emperor as naked. The solution stares us in the face, but we refuse to see.
The best way to move forward is to look at short-and long-term problems, and address them accordingly. Look at the real problems, and deal with them.
PS: The solution to the problem of the naked emperor is simple. Depose him, since he’s insane. But that would lead to instability, so the people would play along.
Thought-provoking or simply interesting articles on leadership, past and present, both in the West and closer to home.
Blogger Scriptorium suggests Rethinking Pinochet (and Franco) because of the troubling contrast between countries that went through fascist dictatorships, such as Chile and Spain, and how they’ve become not only economically progressive but also, healthy democracies, and the wastelands produced by Communist regimes in Europe:
A government that seeks to effect radical change, either forward to a progressive utopia (e.g., Communism) or backward to a lost golden age (e.g., Nazism), will be driven to use comprehensive coercion against all sectors that oppose the change. Where the change is sought by a small, Bolshevik-type cadre, the process will entail a struggle between the pro-change minority and a majority composed of groups that either oppose the proposed change or desire different changes. The minority must endeavor to force these social groups to toe the line, thereby creating a society that is more or less totall;y controlled by a single social faction. Hence totalitarianism.
On the other hand, a government that seeks to stop change, or to have limited or gradual change, will only need to use limited coercion. For unless most of society is united in desiring change justified by a widespread social myth (e.g., in 1789 France), the various social groups with their several objectives would easily reach equilibrium with a non- or limited-change government that, because it seeks no all-or-nothing agenda, can compromise with most sectors. So this government will generally let the sectors alone, reserving its ire for those with irreconcilable agendas. Hence authoritarianism.
It’s obvious, then, why the latter would more easily transition to democracy, whose very essence lies in subsidiarity, the idea that individuals and groups should be allowed to make their own choices. Subsidiarity would directly conflict with the radical-totalitarian program, for it would allow groups to opt out of the State-mandated change; and it’s inconsistent with the total social control demanded by radicalism. However, gradual-authoritarian governments would tend to preserve the relative autonomy of social groups, the continuance of which is often a part of the vague conservative/moderate stance of rightist dictators. And it is these groups that tend to lead the fight for democratic structures.
Moreover, it is usually during the gradual-authoritarian phase and because of it that groups become acclimatized to democratic power politics, because they are forced to temper other objects or their means to achieve the authoritarian equilibrium; and this enforced willingness to compromise is the vital requisite of democracy.
(The ongoing, posthumous rehabilitation of Ferdinand Marcos is a case in point, with no corresponding rehabilitation of the National Democrats taking place; indeed, even as Marcos’ once tarnished reputation is quietly being re-shined, the government of the day has effectively used anti-Communism as a justification for many of its actions).
The exception to Communism spreading misery and not much else, the People’s Republic of China, may be less due to actual Socialism but older, more durable, traditions in that country. This review of a BBC TV show, The Biggest Chinese Restaurant In The World, puts it best:
5,000 covers in all, located in a kind of Imperial Disneyland situated in the Hunanese town of Changsha. There were 300 cooks, wok burners like blast furnaces and a small army of waiters and waitresses, all identified by their separate regimental uniforms and drilled by Mrs Qin with martial songs. “Solidarity equals strength, strength is iron, strength is steel,” they sang, somewhat listlessly, while Mrs Qin enthusiastically led from the front, zealously promulgating her own version of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In a lovely image, you saw her counting the proceeds of another capacity night at the West Lake, the portraits of Mao on the banknotes flicking through her fingers at dazzling speed. Mrs Qin, naturally, was a member of good standing in the local Communist Party, along with most of Hunan’s other self-made millionaires. Eat your hearts out, Halliburton and Blackwater: when it comes to the profitable manipulation of government power, the Communist Party of China is the biggest cartel in the world, and Storyville’s fascinating film gave you a glimpse of just what it can be capable of when it gets going.
As for the Great Helmsman himself, zenpundit takes a look at his reputation for being an innovator in military doctrine and says he was most effective as a propagandist:
Mao, whose actual positive leadership contribution to Communist victory in the civil war was primarily political and strategic rather than operational and tactical ( his military command decisions were often the cause of disaster, retreat and defeat for Communist armies) had a perfect genius – I think that word would be an accurate description here – for operating at the mental and moral levels of warfare. Partly this was skillful playing of a weak hand on Mao’s part; the Communists were not a match on the battlefield for the better Nationalist divisions until the last year or so of the long civil war but Mao regularly outclassed Chiang Kai-shek in propaganda and diplomacy – turning military defeats at Chiang’s hands into moral victories and portraying Communist inaction in the face of Japanese invasion as revolutionary heroism. Yenan might have be a weird, totalitarian, nightmare fiefdom but Mao made certain that foreign journalists, emissaries and intelligence liasons reported fairy tales to the rest of the world.
Back in the West, there’s Hillary Clinton’s 5 mistakes, a sobering look at the former first lady whose presidential plans have been foiled:
Hubris was the campaign’s fatal flaw, from which the others, both strategic and tactical, derived.
And there’s The Comeback Id, an engrossing look at how Bill Clinton’s had to cope with being out of power.
Moving closer to home, the Economist takes a look at Yudhoyono’s courage and cowardice. Noteworthy here is how the Americans seem enthralled by the President of Indonesia, to whom they admiringly refer to as “SBY.” They speak of him the sort of glowing terms a previous generation of Americans must have used when talking about Magsaysay. I experienced this in a conference in Washington and it made me think how far away the Philippines has receded from the consciousness of Americans interested in our region.
But if Americans are enthralled by SBY, Filipino politicos are enthralled by Malaysia.
The history of modern Malaysia to my mind shows what would have happened to the Philippines had World War II not intervened: a Communist insurgency crushed, and two generations of one-party rule (conversely, I’ve always believed the Philippines, which had a head start, shows where Malaysia is headed once its population explodes). Certainly the instincts of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s political classes are the same as ours, and that instinct is for a cozy one-party arrangement where factions can compete but not upset the boat. The urge among many in the political class, to neutralize the monster known as a national public opinion, and reduce things to a more manageable, local, problem for individual kingpins, helps explain why the Malaysian system is so attractive to them (parliamentarism combined with federalism: it represents a hankering, for those old enough to remember, for the political security of the prewar Nacionalista Party and for those younger, for the coziness of the New Society and the KBL).
Which is why the unraveling of UNMO’s grip on power in Malaysia must be galling and horrifying for these people. As Malaysia’s Badawi Faces More Pressure, you can see many of the “let’s emulate our neighbors” argument going down the drain:
Badawi has offered to step aside “in good time” to allow his deputy, Najib Tun Razak, to take over. But the chances of the perennial challenger Tenku Razaleigh Hamzah may well have been strengthened by the current turmoil and concerns about Najib’s viability in the wake of a series of scandals. Nonetheless, the SAPP statement is regarded as an ultimatum before the party potentially defects to the People’s Alliance, or Pakatan Rakyat, the coalition led by onetime Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
In recent weeks, the SAPP’s criticism of the Barisan has become louder and more frequent. Before, given the Barisan’s previous power, such a move would likely have led to expulsion from the coalition. But since March 8 national elections in which the Barisan lost its two-thirds majority in the parliament for the first time in the country’s history, disgruntled and previously sidelined politicians are discovering their potential marketability both to the Barisan and the opposition.
To wrest federal power from the Barisan, Pakatan needs another 30 lawmakers. Now, it has 80 against Barisan’s 142. With SAPP’s two joining its fray, the number required is down to 28. In Sabah, Barisan holds 24 out of the 25 federal seats. Over the past few months, speculation has been rife that lawmakers from this state would be among the first to defect. But Tengku Razaleigh, the 70-year-old perpetual prime minister-wannabe, told reporters that the state would back him in his challenge to be prime minister.
Moreover in recent weeks, Pakatan has suggested that even those in the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) - the largest ethnic party, which leads the Barisan — and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second largest ethnic party in the coalition, might be induced to cross party lines. Both parties have vehemently denied the possibility.
Certainly, Badawi has been assiduous in attempting to shore up his Sabahan base. He visited the state earlier this month to distribute more goodies including abolishment of the Sabah Federal Development Department, which oversees federal funds allocated for development. To control illegal immigration from Indonesia an the Philippines, a decades-old irritation for both Sabah and Sarawak, he has established a high-powered Cabinet committee under Deputy Prime Minister Najib.
But the assault on the Barisan has been relentless. On Wednesday the Election Court nullified the victory of a state lawmaker in the state of Perlis, possibly encouraging more to dispute election results. Opposition parties have perennially charged that the electoral process is fraudulent, often pointing to the dead who are still on the Election Commission’s registry of voters and accusing the Barisan of buying votes with cash.
This all seems like Malaysia’s version of our 1953, the year Magsaysay came to power. (Incidentally, see Mahathir’s blog.)
This story, How Much is That Steel Mill in the Window? , looks at prestige-driven big business acquisitions:
The paper finds that “Everything else remaining the same, the premium associated with national pride bids is almost twice that of the premium associated with non-national pride bids.” Using the authors’ conclusion one could put the cost of national pride to Tata shareholders at at least US$3 billion and that to Hindalco ones at around $1 billion.
The paper however notes that there may be offsetting gains. Governments may appreciate the nationalistic spirit and grant the acquirer favors such as tax advantages, or contract preferences. In many cases, in developing countries there are also links between bidders and politicians. There are also gains in goodwill among national audiences, and lower capital costs in international markets if larger size leads to better foreign recognition. There may be gains in acquisition of technology which would otherwise be unavailable. National prestige is thought to have its own rewards.
The paper does not however address the issue of the macroeconomic consequences of expensive acquisitions. As noted in an earlier article (Asiansentinel February 7,, 2007) India is a capital-short nation with a steel output one ninth that of China. Should it have paid over-the-odds for a company based in low-growth Europe when India’s own record of investment both in manufacturing and steel-using infrastructure was so weak? The record of 100-year-old Tata which was expanding by costly acquisition was a contrast to Korea’s Posco, which was less than half its age and had become the world’s number three producer and a technology leader, without having to make huge and costly bids. Indian media seem to have totally missed this apt comparison.
And it makes me wonder how the foreign expansion of Filipino big business overseas compares, in terms of prudence. San Miguel, established in Hong Kong since the 1940s, has expanded into China while its expansion in Australia follows the lead of the personal investments of Eduardo Cojuangco. Lucio Tan, John Gokongwei have expanded into China and I understand Henry Sy has been looking at setting up malls in India.
Incidentally, conspiracy theorists who are convinced Uncle Sam wants to set up bases in Mindanao, will find Fortress Guam Gets More Crowded grist for their convictions. But one thing’s sure: Filipinos will be lining up to fill the jobs the planned expansion of military facilities in that island will provide.