The Long View: The Philippines is OK

The Long View
The Philippines is OK
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:32:00 06/03/2010

On May 28 in Berlin, Germany, Siegfried Herzog, Mark R. Thompson and I came together under the auspices of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation to participate in a roundtable on the recently concluded elections. Herzog is the project director for the Philippines of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, a German foundation for liberal politics which has as its Philippine partner, the Liberal Party. Thompson is a professor of political science at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg and a visiting scholar at the University of California-Berkeley who has written extensively on Philippine politics.

Herzog had given another presentation to his foundation colleagues the day before, arguing that the 2010 elections featured two “Black Swan Events,” which were so surprising as to have been impossible to predict. The first was the impact of Cory Aquino’s death; the second was the campaign of Jejomar Binay and how he overtook frontrunners Loren Legarda and Mar Roxas.

Herzog’s identifying these two as “Black Swan Events” was particularly interesting because of the context in which he situated them. The outpouring of public grief also became a gigantic public demonstration because Aquino’s death was accompanied by the public scandal caused by the President’s dinner at Le Cirque. The drawn-out, highly Catholic “good death” of Aquino crystallized the contrast between the two lady presidents, one who had stubbornly continued protesting Ms Arroyo’s methods even as she was already fatally ill, while Ms Arroyo for her part showed how divorced she was from public opinion by uncorking the champagne at the precise moment the country was plunged into mourning.

On the other hand, Herzog believed that the Binay campaign was so unprecedented as to have been beyond the powers of prediction. (I was reminded of Galeazzo Ciano’s famous remark that victory has a hundred fathers while defeat is an orphan. In true Black Swan fashion, credit has been taken for the Binay campaign but only after the fact: it was, at the very least, a real nail-biter all the way down to election day itself.) On the whole, Herzog believed that the supporters of Benigno Aquino III and Joseph Estrada remained loyal to their tandems, and that what clinched matters was the mass defection of Legarda supporters to Binay instead of the poaching of Roxas supporters who remained firm in their commitment.

For the purposes of the roundtable, Herzog focused on the mixed legacy of the Arroyo administration. The Edsa Revolution in 1986, he argued, had deep repercussions in Asia, including China, and the success or failure of our democratic project since then continues to have repercussions in Asean, where until recently the democracy and human rights impetus came from three countries: the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. As for China, Herzog said it has no real interest in having successful democracies at its front door, so to speak.

The Philippine record vis-à-vis Asean and China has been downright reckless under the Arroyo administration. The country has been an unreliable ally, has thrown caution to the winds in cozying up to China, undermined the Asean position on the South China Sea, and treated otherwise friendly countries like Germany with fundamental discourtesy, whether in terms of investments (Fraport) or diplomatic relations (the humiliating replacement of Ambassador Delia Albert).

Whether the Philippines as a functioning democracy would flourish or backslide to authoritarianism depends on how the Arroyo government’s weakening of the institutional fabric would play out. Herzog identified three broad areas in which the democratic fabric was being torn: persistently toying with emergency powers; patterns of fraud in the 2004 and 2007 elections; and the Mindanao peace process ending up “instrumentalized for tactical purposes,” such as using it as a means to accomplish one of the administration’s long-standing (but frustrated) efforts, which was to change the Constitution.

These three areas were pursued along three broad lines: creating political crises in order to remain relevant; treating all criticism as “political noise”; and using the presumption of legality as a defense. These were, in turn, resisted along three broad fronts: by Senate investigations; by the Supreme Court stopping Charter change, efforts to wield extraordinary emergency powers, and putting a stop to human rights abuses, though increasingly less effective over time; and by society as a whole, and government institutions, quietly moving to ensure elections would successfully take place in May whether or not the administration liked it or not.

The result, he said, is that the Philippines is OK. The backsliding has been stopped. The public itself enthusiastically followed the presidential campaign and trooped to the polls. Institutions generally strived to make the system work, enabling a transition to take place along constitutional lines and with widespread public satisfaction that the polls rendered a verdict on who should govern. The three crises—of legitimacy, dating to 2001-2004; of credibility, dating to the time the President broke her promise not to run, and her calling “Garci”; and of morality, demonstrated by the abduction of Jonas Burgos, the presidential favor bestowed on Jovito Palparan, and the Maguindanao massacre—have been resolved by repudiating Ms Arroyo.

Instead, we can look forward to six years of stability under a government that enjoys legitimacy; there is the opportunity for corruption at the top to give way to improvements; and it seems slow but sure changes in the composition of society, ranging from a more urbanized population, market pressures, the proven determination of society to stay democratic, may lead to a more balanced society.

(To be continued)

Manuel L. Quezon III.

25 thoughts on “The Long View: The Philippines is OK

  1. The key message coming from Thompson seems to be that despite repeated and sustained attempts by the executive to weaken our democratic institutions, the checks in the system seem to have worked aided by our cultural preference for freedom.

    The geopolitical contextualisation of the country over these past few years is quite useful. It’s good to see that in some quarters abroad the Philippines is still regarded as a key player in the region particularly with the rise of China and the overtaking of us by our ASEAN peers.

    The Philippines may now have turned a corner, but I wonder what sort of advice Thompson and others would have for the development of political parties in the country. Hutchcroft regards the LP as but the “partial exception” to the overall weak party system in our country. I might add that PDP-Laban is another one of those parties that might lay claim to that title. Where to from here?

  2. The party question is a troubling one. As you can see even in coalition building, civil society, the middle class, and NGOs are allergic to parties. You have a broader demographic trend where young people are uninclined to commit to a long-standing affiliation with a party; the overall trend seems to be pure coalition politics on an issue-by-issue basis. No one, anywhere, seems to have an answer as to how to make life-long or even career-long party affiliation either attractive or relevant. I myself some years back suggested the idea of political parties poses serious problems considering these trends and the political imperative of parties being securing jobs for party members, all other ideological considerations aside: but again, most young people do not see themselves involved in climbing the ladder in any institution, public or private as a lifelong path. even in the np, you saw it run along corporate lines, with the politicians, from what i’ve heard, kept at arms’ length (somewhere down the line, there’s an interesting observation made by a colleague, concerning the aquino and villar campaigns, both of which faced the problem of declining fortunes at one point, but aquino was able to arrest it, villar, unable to stop it; colleague suggests the inherently non-political and non-democratic approach of a corporate leader is what doomed villar). the case for those who want to dispense with party politics is made by billy esposo in his most recent column.

  3. Has the morality-issue evidenced by Jonas Burgos been solved? Addressed, maybe. But solved?

    Measurable goal: Jonas Burgos being found. Measurable goal: no abduction in 2011. History awaits how to judge elections2010 and the Noynoy administration regarding Burgos-morality-issue. History waits how Pinas justice system under Noynoy administration puts conclusion to Ampatuan/Maguindanao massacre.

    Being hopeful about next 6 years is a good attitude to take. But don’t be surprised that there are many citizens who are slow about counting the chickens before the eggs have hatched.

    Being a good man and competence at governance — history waits.

  4. Have we ever had any consensus on having a good and competent president? I don’t think we ever had and never will…we’re a very demanding, high quality leadership conscoius bunch, must be because we are the smartest people on earth…better than everyone else…

  5. I certainly hope for stability. I hope for a breather from all the political acoustics and fireworks of the last few years. It is also hoped that automated elections, despite its shortcomings in this election, could pave the way for less controversial and more civil voting in the future.

    As for a “more balanced society”, I guess that depends on what aspect. If it is the balance between rich and poor, that would be a tall order. It would have to go beyond the usual “trickle down” policies and will involve making very tough decisions in order to level the playing field.

  6. I like having an outsider looking in to give a fresh eye but this Herzog guy is saying shit we already know and on some stuff he’s saying are just plain wrong (EDSA’s “deep” repercussions in Asean, defection (?) of Legarda supporters (?) to Binay)

  7. You can tell it this accent: “Ze poster on ze blog, SOP, thinks you’re an idiote. Heil tittler! Just ze joking.”

  8. I don ‘t understand your counterpoints. for the deep repercussions, you’d have to look at the democratization debates and the counter-push for “asian values” to forestall democratization jitters in the 80s and 90s, not to mention the burmese democracy movement and the fall of suharto. as for the defections, just refer to the surveys and compare roxas’ numbers and the drop in legarda’s and corresponding boost to binay’s.

  9. Alas, it isn’t that the analysis wasn’t insightful. (It may not be unique, but the way in which different elements were put together makes it refreshing.) The problem is that no meaningful policy prescriptions immediately flow from it.

    Should it be the policy of the state for instance to reform political parties? If so how? By providing counterpart funds for instance? If it does, can it mandate the conduct of primary like processes to ensure greater contestibility of public office so that incumbents do not gain automatic nomination from their parties? Stuff like that.

    I’m looking for a blueprint. Something that could be the subject of new legislation. JDV had a bill at some point dealing only with campaign finance. We probably need a more comprehensive reform package.

  10. I’m OK, you’re OK. Parang feel-good session to help erase self-doubts and to raise our self-esteem. Even if the truth is, that there was never any doubt about the capability of Filipinos as individuals. The millions of OFW’s, and the proven competence of Filipino students and professionals in different parts of the world, attest to that.

    I think that we feel pretty good about ourselves as a people.

    What doubts we have, and what we don’t feel so good about, regard the governance of our country and the social, economic, political and cultural structures that appear to hinder economic progress and the equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities.

  11. There were no people power events in Indo and Thailand.

    From my recollection, what happened in Indo during the Asian crisis saga and Suharto’s fall was riots, burning of Chinese businesses, raping of Chinese women. That’s hardly peaceful nor people power-inspired. The military stepped in to force Suharto out. He resigned and wasn’t chased out like Marcos.

    Thailand is astroturfing Thaksin-paid loyalists inciting riots.

    Tiannamen may have been a people-power event, but that led to nowhere and is forgotten. That’s not a “deep” effect at all.

  12. Whatever currency or perceived wage advantages had by OFWs are being eroded by inflation.

    The bulk of our maids and seamen are finding out that their foreign adventures are not so wise after all.

    After all the bulk of their hard currency are spent on children and repaying the agencies, there’s nothing left at all.

    And it would take years for them to repay the hundreds of thousand or millions spent going abroad.

    Add the fact that working hours or wages are being reduced because of global crisis.

    If we discount the nurses and professionals (which form a small %), most OFWs are having it hard because of the incompetence of the government (this or Noynoy’s I believe) to manage the monetary and fiscal situation.

    So things are not ok.

    This is a fact of life that won’t be apparent to an outsider like Herzog.

  13. And what the fuck, even house prices in the Philippines are catching up with house prices in Western economies.

    If you’re a highly paid nurse or mid-level professional or highly paid IT person and you compare what you would pay for a mortgage in your adopted country and buying a house in the Philippines, the difference is not that big.

    Plus, you get to have the benefits of a peaceful, crime-free Western society and lifelong job security compared to saving money and moving back to messy Philippines.

    It’s issues like inflation that Noynoy has to take care of if he wants to bring back the brain drain and the OFW dollar infusion.

  14. SOP’s points about Indonesia and Thailand are well-taken.

    Indonesia already went into a rampage in the 1960’s, before Suharto took over. Millions were said to have died then. The events happened before Suharto was deposed were already part 2.

    In Thailand, it’s always been the military, in collusion with the elite, wagging the dog. We may be flattering ourselves too much by trying to establish links. The unrest of the Reds may be closer to EDSA 3 than to EDSA. It’s more of the rural and the downtrodden rebelling against the inequality of the system and the perks of the elite. It has metamorphosed into something deeper than just personalities like Thaksin, even if he may provide inspiration and support.

    On the issue of Tiananmen, the Western World’s attitude is one of duality and hypocrisy. They suck up to China’s economic might, while paying lip service to the activists. They want to get the best of both worlds. They borrow money and try to sell products to China, while they try to keep the Chinese government off balance by paying tribute to the activists. I would describe this more as a power play between the West and China. Again, we may only be flattering ourselves by injecting EDSA into the equation.

    We should, however, take heart from what is presently happening in Indonesia. It only took better governance, and a little help from the commodities boom, for the mood to change. From a desperate and bloody situation, filled with religious and racist overtones, the prognosis is now definitely upbeat.

    And regarding the situation of OFW’s, there is no doubt that the present high inflation, coupled with the strengthening of the Peso, has affected the purchasing power of OFW’s. The fact that the West and the Gulf states have economic problems of their own, also affects any pay adjustments now and in the future. They presently seem to be caught in a vise. However, it does not diminish the fact that they have proven, to their countrymen and to the rest of the world, that they can work and compete on a global basis.

  15. Well a roundtable to brief people abroad about what occured in the philippines will by necessity not be about policy. as for party policies, we go back to the question: all over the world political parties are in crisis, unable to attract new blood and losing membership, people’s behavior is changing. so you have to either examine partyless democracy or see what is functionally taking the place of parties.

  16. Totally agree with Ireneo. This transition period from PGMA to Noynoy is apt time to have a “feel good session to help erase self-doubts and to raise our self-esteem”. Yes, we have two options actually of how to feel about it, this is a democratictic country, :), but I’d rather have it Ireneo’s way than SoP’s way.

  17. I take your point, Manolo. I wasn’t aware of the context of the conference in which we were appraising them of what happened not receiving advice from them on what to do next. Thanks for the clarification.

  18. The antipathy towards political parties may stem from the ordinary citizen’s sense of having been betrayed by the political and business leadership over the course of several years. There is a pervasive feeling that political parties are only looking out for themselves, not necessarily for the public good. In the U.S., recent surveys show that the American public feels disgusted with both the Democratic and Republican parties. Informal tea parties and spontaneous gatherings are the “in” thing.

    In Japan, the long-time ruling LDP was booted out, but the DPJ, which took over, is facing a crisis of confidence after less than a year. The Japanese people’s faith in their institutions has been shattered, along with their trust in the concept of “lifetime employment”.

    In Europe, fallout from the economic crises of 2008 and 2009 will be felt for years to come. Mistrust of financial and governmental institutions is pervasive. The recent elections in the U.K., which almost resulted in a hung parliament, only show that the public trusts no single party.

    And it isn’t only political parties that are in crisis. Labor unions have been facing this crisis of confidence for years. People would rather take matters directly into their own hands, instead of entrusting their fate to an organization run by a few privileged leaders and a bunch of bureaucrats.

    So many assumptions have been shattered in recent years, that it is difficult to trust any institution. Wall Street, the credit ratings agencies, government agencies, once-sacred safety nets, banks and lending institutions, all seemed to have failed the public at some point. Nothing seems to be sacrosanct anymore. Are political parties any different?

    Now, political parties in the Philippines are a totally different animal from the normal political parties. They are unabashedly just vehicles for winning elections and not delivering on promises. Ideology? It’s a joke. Long term programs? Short-term convenience is more like it. PDP-Laban was affiliated with the Konrad Adenauer Foundation which provided it some funding for projects. But nothing much came out of it. Lakas-NUCD was affiliated with Germany’s Christian Democratic Union and the European Christian Democrats. Again, all just blah-blah.

  19. Hear hear. Add to that list of broken institutions the CPP-NPA, which is just a money making scam for JoMa to maintain his cushy living in the Netherlands.

  20. But with unions, I would have to disagree slightly.

    Unions lost their steam during the roaring 80’s and 90’s, when wages and jobs were aplenty and employees had the slight upper hand to negotiate salary and work-life balance conditions, given that labor demand is high and supply is low on most sectors.

    Now that unemployment is high and the power is tipped to capital, which continue to casualize labor and reduce working hours and wages, expect labor unions to make a big come back.

  21. The Domino Theory is one of the premises of Noynoy campaign.
    Noynoy promised that two or three dominoes will fall — before November 2010, jail for three or more smugglers and tax evaders from Noynoy’s LIST.

    The rest of the dominoes then fall. And then, “… walang korap, walang mahirap”. And then, “no new taxes”.

  22. To Conrado deQuiros and a number of Pinoys in and outside of Pilipinas, “Guilty!” is the only acceptable court-decision from “People versus GMA on charge of garcification”; Conrado deQuiros and other Pinoys can be screaming that it is FAILURE of immense proportions if the Noynoy administration does not get conviction when a court case is filed.

    However, a verdict of “not guilty” is a possibility. This supports arguments that for Noynoy, it is safer to delay “People-versus-GMA: garcification”. The media airwaves can still be abuzz by having the “garficiation”-trials remain in the court of public opinion; and to wait until late 2015 or early 2016 before an actual court-case gets filed.

    What will Noynoy do?

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