Recollection on the First One Million People March: 4 Clues (4 P’s) as to Whether or Not We Are Actually Going Anywhere.

Political blogs are usually out of place within these corporate websites but also with an exception where it is meant to teach a valuable lesson in planning. Having worked with the Overseas Development Agencies (ODA) and in Economic Development planning for the past twelve years, I am no stranger to lofty ideals and Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAD) as the private sector would call them. In the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, a declaration of Eight Goals aptly called the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), was stated and has become somewhat of a Magna Carta for all development work worldwide. These goals included: Eradicating Extreme Poverty, Achieving Universal Primary Education, Promote Gender Equality and Empowerment among seven others that I am short of mentioning in keeping this article brief. Lofty and ambitious as they may be, and though we may still be ways in achieving them, there is evidence of the work being implemented.

“Matuwid na Daan” likewise is one of those principal statements that also sound very ambitious. However it was one of those statements that we all bought into. Who doesn’t want the eradication of corruption once and for all? I even I took a vote to see that we get rid of it in our generation. However, last August 26, 2013 I found myself in Luneta to join the first One Million People March. I even wrote a blog about it entitled: “Pork Paybacks and Picnics”, with a follow-through entitled: “The Pork Ball from Different Angles”.

We are on another pork rally again. This one in Ayala and my constant question starting from the 1st one would be: “OK, where are we now? Are we moving somewhere?” Even with varying agendas from the moderates to those that want an ouster, I believe that everyone is in agreement for the abolition of the Pork Barrel. This agenda however doesn’t look like it is progressing. With a multitude of issues such as Zamboanga and even that of Napoles, how far are we in terms of getting the pork out of our system?

Going back to my Development Economist days, where I worked firstly in Programme Management, Design and later on to Policy, I developed this mental model called the 4Ps. 4Ps have nothing to do with marketing but does put a tracker on many of those audacious goals we often work with. 4Ps stand for Principle, Policy, Process and Procedure (in that order). It is something I developed for myself in terms of how these goals can be broken down from something that is seemingly ethereal into something real, tangible and we could all benefit from. Looking at the 4Ps gives many of us working in the private sector, a role in how we achieve the Vision of our organizations. Let’s look at Pork Barrel under the 4Ps perspective in its ordered steps.

  1. Principle: “Matuwid na Daan” is about eliminating corruption. If there is no corruption, there is no poverty. Corruption is evil and all its forms and its instruments should be eradicated.
  2. Policy: The Pork Barrel is a proven instrument for corruption. Therefore it must be abolished. We need to make a policy statement that it will be abolished within a specific timeline. A policy is a declaration of commitment that we will not stray away from the conclusion that we do not want this flawed practice to exist any longer.
  3. Process: We must identify a fair process that states the rules of engagement and identify the key stakeholders for seeing that the policy takes effect. There needs to be visible signs that the process for abolishment is taking place, starting with transparent debates on how the policy will be implemented by whom and by when. Processes need to have an endpoint or deadline for implementation.
  4. Procedure: The last step is execution or implementation. At this point orders need to be dispensed and all actors are taking part in the phase out of the Pork Barrel under the scrutiny of the public and policy makers.

With this we could see that we are not even in step number One (Principle). Therefore we still have ways to go before we could actually realize the idea or “principle” of “Matuwid na Daan”. With step One, the responsibility often lies with the leader who is often the looked upon as the custodian of national principle. He is responsible for setting things in motion and pushing the larger agenda down the steps towards tangible realization.

The same goes for any organization that aspires to achieve lofty ambitions. Certainly, people do need to roll up their sleeves and leaders need to stick to their principles through action rather than words with short expiration dates. Sincerity is measured by action, not by promises. For now I am standing between the moderates and those who demand an ouster. However I do believe that if a leader cannot live with his espoused principles, then he ought not to be leader anymore.

Pork is Cheap in Bahana Republic

I seem to be part of the lucky few in my city where 15 out of 18 barangays are submerged in water after a continuous downpour of ‘Maring’. The great revelation in all of this is that floodwaters always have a way of bringing all things to the surface. It is a trite simile of our country’s real condition that always seems to be swept under the rug of glaring reports and soaring economic highlights. The brilliant lights of rising credit ratings caused by the showing of a faux veneer of good governance is now being washed away by the tides of reality. Our fellow Filipinos are literally waist deep in it as we speak. We are wading through the trash that we are forced to live with, a bitter reminder of who the ultimate victims are. Has the past three years all been a show or does the administration rather have us swallow the trash that’s being dished out at us everyday?

It is easy to surmise that the better of us are high and dry in their air-conditioned rooms overlooking the submerged neighborhoods where they do not live. They probably have the means to go grocery shopping with the kids and their yayas and bodyguards in their gas guzzling convoy of SUVs. They casually walk up to the VIP lanes in checkout counter paying for their carts loads not by cash nor by credit card, but by personal check! I’ve personally witnessed a former actress turned congresswoman (married to an actor turned senator) do this impressive stunt in plain sight not too long ago. No “wang-wangs” needed here! The simple wafting of their entourage splits the crowd as they are gracefully escorted with two rows of umbrellas back into their SUVs. This is the promised “Daan na Matuwid”, a leveling of paths for those in power, a presidential cladding for those who are closest to Malacañang. Three floods and three years later, not much has changed, people have just gotten angrier and we’re still waist-deep in floodwater! The poor and unemployed have gotten poorer, the filthy rich get even filthier and our politicians are getting even more enriched with pork around their bellies! Apparently it’s not only their bellies and wallets that are getting thicker, but their faces as well. They do it so well that perhaps they should have an accreditation for acting too! Pork is certainly cheap in the Philippines. P10B of it is just floating around in what my colleague Paul Farol calls: “The Bahana Republic”.

Beyond the obvious puns, the condition in the Philippines is no laughing matter especially to the President. His leadership and credibility is now seriously at the stakes! The specter of cronyism is being brought to light. The KKK, the oligopolies and the vested interests that seem to have a strong grip of influence upon our dear president are now being exposed. The credit ratings that we have tried to gain over the years is now in danger of slipping due to realizations of old oligopolistic structures at the economy’s core. The beneficiaries of PDAF who are seen close to the President and the bloating of its budget are showing the “Daan na Matuwid” as a charade! “Kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”. Mr. President I believed you! Now is the time to rise up to the plate or else you have another flood coming on August 26 in Luneta!

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.