Fair Process and the Myth of Inclusive Growth

A friend recently passed an Industry article to me that quotes the Fraser Institute in stating in a rather succinct statement:

“And the places you should avoid at all costs are Indonesia, Vietnam, Venezuela, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Kyrgyzstan, Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Guatemala, Philippines, and Greece, concludes the survey.”
In a December 31, 2012 article by the Inquirer, the Mining Industry has estimated a Two Billion Dollar loss in mining investments for the Philippines. Beyond the obvious numbers we have to ask why industry investors would mention the Philippines as “one of the places you should avoid at all costs”? As a country that seems to be poised as the next emerging tiger of Asia, it is funny to note industry reports that signal a stink that drives them away.

The answers sometimes lie in the way we treat big business and foreign investment. Ironically these are the same people that we tend to court for the much needed capital infusion for economic development. Some of the more obvious reasons, which make it difficult for business are: Restrictive and Protective ownership policies that perpetuate the control of the ruling class, Extreme levels of activism against development and a general sense of apathy from government. While the administration touts “Inclusive Growth”, many especially the poor continue to get left out. The administration continues to fail in providing an atmosphere of fairness for all.
The argument takes us all the way to Sabah that now serves as a current and highest example of apathy. Wrong or right, the Sultan and his followers are Filipino citizens who now face the perils of Malaysia’s force. The recent reported conflict that ended in casualties (most of which from the Philippine side) is a foretaste to massacre, if it already isn’t. To do nothing is to consent to it!

The state has a responsibility to protect the interest and the lives of its citizenry and to ensure that a “fair-process” is observed. I firmly believe that the Sultan is only pressing for what he believes is his right and interest. While we might be able prove him wrong, it is the responsibility of our state to protect Filipino lives abroad and to ensure that her citizens are treated fairly under due process. To make pronouncements that a citizen is “hard-headed” and fighting a “hopeless-cause” makes the citizen indeed hopeless as his country obviously abandoned him. If the state cannot advocate for the lives and safety of its own citizens, what more if it were others?

Fair Process or Procedural Justice is lacking in this country. Decisions and regulations are enforced without the consultation of all parties involved and affected. Industry regulations are repealed at the drop of a hat sometimes using the highest office. Lobbies are usually weighed in favor of those who speak loudest and closest while others are subjected to apathetic delays. There is a general sense of antagonism towards certain industries; the worst victims of which have already invested in this country under a promise of fair-regulation from years ago. It is costly for them to stay; it is costly for them to leave. Nobody advocates for them or at least makes sure that fair-process takes place to protect everyone’s interest. How inclusive can growth be when others are excluded from the benefitting fold? If it’s not justice for all, then I’m afraid there is no justice at all!
The very government that we rely upon in upholding transparency, good-governance and fair play cannot provide an atmosphere of certainty. Therefore it cannot deliver the promise it intends to make for foreign investment.

While the economy seems to rally upwards, the richest get even richer while the poor gets poorer. The heavily taxed middle-class that has little or no charge to government services only progress in small financial increments where they are. Meanwhile there are no new high quality jobs being created. The promise of Inclusive Growth remains to be an elusive Myth to be sold; but nobody seems to be buying it. Perhaps you need to be an extremely wealthy Filipino to afford it.

Getting over the “Yellow Fever”

The Philippines tends to pride itself in being able to topple the 20-year dictatorship of then President Marcos through a bloodless revolt headed by the widowed housewife Corazon C. Aquino. Exactly twenty-seven years have passed and we still try to recapture the romance of EDSA and our love affair with democracy. Freedom songs are being chanted in front of the shrine replete with romantic visions of tanks, rosaries and flowers. The EDSA that was still very much remains the Icon of democracy. Yellow fever has enthralled and captured our nation’s emotions over and over again.

Perhaps I was too young to be at EDSA twenty-seven years ago but I also caught the “Yellow Fever” back in 2009. It started when I was gassing up along Commerce Avenue in Alabang when a small motorcade passed through. I saw an old acquaintance who stopped to chat. At that point I actually had no plans on voting at all. That was a pivotal moment in my life where I turned from apathy to active voting. I identified with them, as I saw them primarily as middle-class volunteers who believed in what they are doing. I was convinced. Without so much discussion I found myself with a deck of yellow car stickers and an official Yellow Baller I.D. around my wrist. I was quick to debate on the idea of democracy, equity and the “Matuwid na Daan” and the new democratic renaissance that would propel our nation back into idealistic significance.

Where are we now? I have long scraped that yellow decal from the back of my car. Twenty-Seven years from EDSA 1 what has truly changed? I have to say. “Not much to what matters most”. I’m afraid the idealism that I had three years ago has since dissipated like a yellow puff of smoke.
Allow me to make a few pointed (pun intended) observations:

On “inclusive-growth”: While many are lauding up the economic rallies of the country such as the stock market and growth rates, I couldn’t find the sense of these numbered improvements in the lives for the common Juan.
According to a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey published by the Philippine Star in Nov. 16, 2012 unemployment rates stands at 29.4%. The throngs of the unemployed seem to be left out of this inclusion.
While the stock market rallies, most of the biggest winners seem to be the Property, Services and Financial sectors. The Industrial and the Mining and Oil sector seem to be missing out on the boom.

Are these simple economic facts and realities that have nothing to do with the administration? I beg to differ! I’m not just talking about the economy either. Keeping things status quo is a social injustice in itself. The promises of EDSA 1 continue to be undelivered. Economic policy reforms remain flaccid and ironically non-inclusive. All this window-dressing has not resulted in decent jobs being created, nor has it paved the way for foreign investment. Despite the window-dressing we are still behind the likes of Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam. The Philippines still has the highest energy rates in Asia: a cost that bears heavily upon the backs of every common Juan.

Are we building the economy based on pure consumption or do we actually have plans to develop our natural endowments? In the process of ignoring the latter aren’t we committing a grave mistake in our efforts for sustainable economic development? Are we ensuring an environment of Fair Process across all sectors or are we favoring some of which whisper closest into our President’s ear?

It has been 27 years since EDSA 1 and the balance of power has not changed a bit. The same protective policies exist to keep the oligopolies in place. Where then is the promise of democracy and its empowerment for the common Juan? The dream of EDSA still remains to be just that, the Yellow Fever that once bit this author had since become a passing infection. In today’s language: “I am so over it!” EDSA is not about him after all.