Happy Birthday PGMA

Posted: April 5, 2010 in GMA, Philippine politics

Even if I am critical of you as President, I wish you the best on your natal day.  I also hope that your loved ones are okay.  All these without the proverbial tongue-in-cheek.

I just realized that a measly three days separate our birthdays.

We belong to the same zodiac sign and I do recognize the attributes of a person born under the sign of Mars–determination, bravado, and hard work.  I am not sure if you are bi-polar like me.

In July 2002, you delivered your ‘Strong Republic’ State of the Nation Address (SONA) and I published a piece in the Business World in response.  Allow me to recount what I wrote then.

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Asked to comment on President GMA’s state-of-the-nation-address (SONA) last Monday, opposition senator Rodolfo Biazon quipped: “Strong words do not make a strong republic.”

Nobody will quarrel with the need to build a strong republic in the Philippines if a strong republic means good governance.  The demand for good governance at the nation-state level is almost universal.  The more relevant and interesting question is a question of supply.  How do strong states develop?  How are ‘strong republics’ built?

If one surveys the prospects for building a strong republic in the Philippines, one has to recognize that the venture will essentially be a grand political struggle.  The emergence of a strong Philippine state will benefit some elite groups and interests and the broad populace but will adversely affect other vested interests. We must take note of the political and economic forces aligned against each other in this political fight.  A new coalition composed of imperial capital (some foreign governments, multi-lateral financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, and the Asian Development Bank, and transnational corporations), the internationalist faction of the domestic elite, and the civil society groups from the middle and under-classes are for good governance, a competent and efficient public bureaucracy, an upright judiciary, police and military—in short, a strong Philippine democratic state.  This coalition is opposed by an array of domestic (including a distinct faction of the ruling elite) and international groups and interests who profit from the weakness of the Philippine state and the corruption of the bureaucracy.  They are those involved in lucrative criminal activity, massive corruption and rent seeking.

The pro-strong state coalition is a newly-formed one and civil society groups even from the under-classes (like the peasantry, workers, and the urban poor) find common ground with imperial capital to the extent that a strong state may protect property rights and ensure the enforcement of contracts, secure a market environment friendly to profit-making, ensure compliance with electoral laws and the conduct of fairly-honest elections, and provide adequate police protection to all concerned.  Imperial capital and the internationalist faction of the domestic elite (except for some technocrats) may not be too keen on property reform, an issue dear the under-classes.  The organized under-classes and some middle class intellectuals (e.g., Walden Bello) are also allergic to the neo-liberal pro-market orientation of their new coalition partners. This newly formed coalition could be strengthened and consolidated if a better understanding of the need to utilize both market and asset reform in reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth must be reached.  The experience of the East Asian states that adopted policies that reduced poverty and income inequality, such as the provision of high quality basic education and the implementation of agrarian reform, is highly instructive.

Redistributive reformers in the past often underestimated the dependence of their proposals on more robust and freer markets.  As a result, even if the poor obtained some education or land, the products and incomes from these new resources were restricted by market or price distortions.  Conversely, market reformers since the 1980s had denigrated the complementary role of state redistributive reform simply because the state has fallen in disfavor.  Free marketers have eschewed redistribution largely because states, which they see as inferior institutions.  What they overlook is the fact that states are the principal, though not the only agencies that carry out reforms, including market and asset reform.  These market reformers fail to see that people with neither adequate nutrition, education, or land are often unable to capitalize on new market opportunities.

Several problems must be confronted and overcome.  If the Philippine state is currently weak, this means that the state itself is the object of reform.  At the same time, the state (or at least, key elements of the state) is tasked with the responsibility of leading the reform effort and consolidating the reform coalition. But the state apparatus is also populated with elements, groups and interests hostile to the reform process that will result in a strong state.  These are the grafters, rent seekers, influence peddlers, and the hoodlums in robes, business suits and uniforms.  In effect, the state is both target and agent of reform.  The state itself is the arena for the political struggle to build a strong republic.

The pro-reform and anti-reform factions of the domestic elites are likewise not organized along coherent party lines.  Even within the ruling administration, some are not too keen on reform.  Within the political opposition are kindred spirits hospitable to the reform project.  Will President GMA, who is unique among the post-Marcos presidents since she can run for the presidency in 2004 after serving the un-expired term of President Estrada, be able to lead in building a broad reform coalition that will cut across party, class, religious, gender, age, and ethnic lines?

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Perhaps it’s better to leave it to history’s verdict if PGMA had been able to build a strong Philippine republic.  What I am quite sure now is that she has built a strong nautical highway for the country.

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Comments
  1. Beatriz Tangangco says:

    Mabuhay Ka Ate Glo! thank you for the stable peso, call center jobs and unprecedented continous economic growth. As they say, she is a pragmatist which sometimes can compromise her integrity pero I’d rather have her than Erap or FPJ! Galing at talino talaga!

    • bongmendoza says:

      Hello Beatriz, first thanks for reading blog on PGMA. Second, I would like to assure you and other readers that I give credit where credit is due.

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