The Long View: Hopelessly devoted


Hopelessly devoted

 / 05:13 AM February 14, 2024

When the Public Service Act was amended back in 2022, I remarked at the time that it was tantamount to a constitutional amendment because it abolished prohibitions dating back to the Commonwealth, on foreign ownership of certain types of business.

Former senior associate justice Antonio Carpio said as much during his recent appearance before the Senate. Others who testified pointed out that even if the economic provisions of the Constitution were relaxed (making restrictions simply a matter for legislation), the real obstacles to foreign investments have nothing to do with the Constitution and everything to do with officialdom: they have to be far less corrupt, and far less fickle, for foreign investors to take the Philippines seriously.

Which is not to say, various foreign chambers of commerce chimed in, that restrictions shouldn’t be removed. Because, what if officials suddenly became less corrupt and less capricious? Then there might be opportunities. Just as there’d be opportunities even if things remained as crooked and subject to policy changes as they are at present, simply by relaxing the rules.

How often have we heard it said that a statesman thinks of the next generation, while a politician merely thinks of the next election. Though what passes for statesmanship, perhaps, is that the Speaker is thinking of two elections from now (the midterms next year and the 2028 presidential derby) while today’s senators are merely thinking of the midterms.

How else to explain the appeal, over a week ago, by congressmen who bleated for senators to accomplish Charter change before the midterms? After all, if the deal isn’t done before the midterms, everyone, congresspeople and senators alike, not to mention local candidates, have to bet on a side to support for the midterms—and it’s a hop, skip, and jump to the reconfiguration of all alliances for 2028.

To be sure, there is a problem that won’t go away, and that’s the increasingly colossal cost of campaigns, and a looming catastrophe for all candidates: with the collapse of mainstream media and the shrinking reach of entertainment, it’s getting more and more difficult to achieve the stature (or merely recognition) required to successfully seek national office. This leaves more and more of the local barons at the mercy of the fewer and fewer who have the recognition required to be viable candidates for the Senate or the presidency. Though the local barons have perfected being part of a permanent majority engaged in the extortion of every new administration, it invites the constant escalation of risk, as neither competence nor common sense are fostered by the current system of stature being achievable only by means of celebrity or money.

Back in the days of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, it became clear that whatever domestic policies were pursued by our presidents, Filipinos overseas would always provide a constant infusion of cash to keep the economy going. The logical conclusion of this solvency without responsibility became the Duterte administration, which basically projected itself as a national bouncer pledged to keep the nightmares of a new middle class at bay. The Marcoses in turn provide a Hello! magazine gloss on things, one part nostalgia trip, and one part aspirational upward-mobile. But in either case, the constant complaining of governors and the governed alike, about the deadbeat, dead-end nature of our society and politics, is only a disguise for everyone actually being comfortable with a system they have managed to game, and which they really don’t want changed—unless someone can guarantee only those who have gamed it will continue to gain.

At the Senate hearing, the chicken-or-egg arguments were merely the latest rehash in an argument that has been going on for over 30 years. “Why change the rules,” goes one argument, “when we haven’t even learned to obey the rules?” “How can we change,” goes another, “when the rules are so bad?” Someone should just put up a sign: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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