Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Culture of progress

The writer Nick Joaquin, more popularly known as Quijano de Manila, once wrote that Filipinos as a people have a heritage of smallness. To nitpick on small things is so prevalent in our tendency to spotlight shenanigans in government, the perceived or obvious inadequacies of our leaders and their plans and policies, or even to the short fuse of a Supreme Court justice in reacting to an innocent demotion of his pay-grade, or the sad state of physical disrepair of our beloved alma mater’s buildings and facilities.
Not that all these things are not the least important in themselves. But lamenting on them incrementally instead of focusing on the sum total of our displeasures and frustrations also limits our ability to frame a more rational and complete redemption from these little things.  

The Philippine Flag. Click link
to listen to Filipino poet Jess Santiago sing about the social and political realities
in the Philippines.

This heritage of smallness is almost akin to our inability to see the forest preferring to pay attention to individual trees. We could easily highlight, for instance, the problem of poor people squatting on private lands but fail to empathize with the bigger problem of unemployment or homelessness. We bring to light scandals like “sex-for-flight” offers by certain consular officials to female overseas foreign workers supposedly to get them out of harm’s way, but then resort to a knee-jerk solution of exterminating by unusual means those responsible for this wrongdoing. We understand the anger and condemnation, but what has happened to due process or is this how we dispense justice nowadays?
If we react to everything we find not in accord with our expectations, who can daresay when this is going to end? How do we manage our anger and our furies from events that seem to violate our sense of ground rules?
This is not to say that we shouldn’t react. That when it starts raining, we should be thankful for the cold spell instead of fretting about flooding. How we react to frustration is significantly determined by what we think of as normal. For example, we may be frustrated that it is raining but our familiarity with showers means we are unlikely to respond with anger. Our frustrations are essentially tempered by what we understand we can expect, by our existential experience of what it is normal to hope for.
We’re not merely into small things but as a people, Filipinos seem to gripe a lot. There’s nothing happening around us that ever escapes our loathing. We can see evil in almost everything, a positive trait if only it is used for a correct social investigation of the many problems that bedevil our nation as a whole.
Is this heritage of smallness and our infinite capacity to gripe a cultural barrier to our progress and development as a society?
Contrast that with the voluntary self-restraint by the Japanese when Fukushima was hit by a double disaster of earthquake and tsunami. In the wake of adverse circumstances beyond their control, the Japanese showed their natural predisposition to calmness and forbearance, which is called “gaman” in Japanese culture. The Japanese seldom complain about anything which ordinary people like most of us gripe about.
For the Japanese, the ability to “gaman” is a sign of maturity. They learn from childhood that it’s better to suffer in silence, to be able to bear discomfort. To most of us, on the other hand, that would be a great disincentive. If we simply keep quiet, nobody will notice our predicament. We make noise hoping someone will pay attention and do something about it.
Perhaps we will stop complaining and becoming incensed about everything that’s happening in our society—the rains and the flooding, the traffic congestion, the “sex-for-flights scheme,” public squatting, family political dynasties, the President and his men’s obsession with favourable opinion polls, or who the President is dating, etcetera—when we cease to be so hopeful. But this is not going to happen. Being cynical and optimistic at the same time goes hand in hand. It’s our yin and yang.
It is like the Stoic philosopher Seneca’s goddess Fortune inscribed on the back of many Roman coins. Fortune holds a cornucopia in one hand and the rudder in the other. The cornucopia symbolizes Fortune’s power to bestow favours, and the rudder, a symbol of her more sinister power to change destinies. Whether Fortune brings us luck or tribulation, Seneca in his Praemeditatio implores us to “reckon on everything, expect everything.”
Fatalistic as it sounds, it more or less describes who we are as a people. We tend to rely too much on the vagaries of fate. “Bahala na” as we would say in our vernacular. Or “Happen what may,” an attitude that tests the fates, that no matter how often we are besieged by natural calamities or political scandals and upheavals, as a people we will always survive and prevail.
Thus, whatever flaws there are in our culture, there are also countervailing forces that enable us to move on. Sometimes we belittle ourselves to the extent that we lose our faith in our natural capacities. We might not have gaman as the Japanese have, but we have the natural flexibility of the bamboo as frail as it is in enduring the winds and torrents of change.
The tendency to blame our culture as the drawback to our social progress is nothing new. Some economists even write off the relevance of culture at all. Others like Lawrence E. Harrison, author of Underdevelopment is a State of Mind, Who Prospers?, and co-editor, with Samuel Huntington, of Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress, believes that culture is helpful in understanding economic development. In his survey of factors that identify the essential elements of cultures that promote high incomes and growth, Lawrence divides cultures into “progress-prone” and the “progress-resistant.” He explains this classification this way: “In progress-prone societies, for example, people assert ‘I can influence my destiny’. In progress-resistant societies ‘fatalism’ rules. Progress-prone societies have better economic performance.”
But is there really such a thing called “Universal Culture of Progress” as Lawrence would like to call it?
Lawrence's study suggests the existence of a universal culture of progress, the idea that there are the same economic behavior values, whatever their root, which create prosperity in widely different geographic/climate, political, institutional, and indeed cultural settings. He is so optimistic that he finds “no compelling reason why the “universal progress values” should be beyond the reach of any human society.
There are economists who are critical of Lawrence’s argument that culture influences the behaviors that in turn influence political, social, and economic performance. One of his detractors is James A. Robinson, Professor of Government at Harvard University, who argues on the contrary that it’s not culture that determines society’s development.
Responding to Lawrence with regard to why some ethnic or religious minorities do much better than majority populations in some multicultural countries, Robinson pointed out that Ghana’s Nkruma, for example, allowed ethnic minorities to prosper to counterbalance the threat of a wealthy class of Ghanian businessmen who might oppose his own political power. Nkrumah had no love of foreign capitalists but he preferred to encourage them rather than local entrepreneurs whom he wished to restrict. Thus, the Lebanese businessmen prospered and became successful not because Ghana had a “progress-prone culture, but because they received favours from politicians. Robinson also argued that this also true of Indian businessmen in Kenya under the presidency of Daniel Arap Moi and Chinese businessmen in Indonesia during the regime of President Suharto.
We could as well add to the list our very own successful Taipan business class. Chinese Filipino businessmen have done better than the majority of the Filipino population not simply because they are a skillful indigenous entrepreneurial class but because they have been cuddled by Filipino politicians. In turn, this Chinese mercantile class has always thrown its support to whoever controls political power.   
A Filipino community turns trash into cash. Photo by IPS Inter Press Service.
The extent of Chinese control of the Philippine local economy became the undercurrent that forced former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to abandon the NBN-ZTE project with Mainland China. It was not the reported widespread corruption that scuttled the proposed bilateral project but the opposition of the Makati Business Club, a powerful interest group in the Philippines, to the threat of growing investments from Mainland China. It was a severe lesson that reminded the Arroyo administration to go slow in opening up the economy to China’s foreign investment.
Whether it was a progress-prone culture that inspired the rise and prominence of the local Chinese business class or the same type of culture that hampered the influx of China’s foreign investments is not very clear. According to Lawrence, cultural factors may not provide the whole explanation, but surely they are relevant.
Alvin Rabushka in The New China argues that there is no adequate evidence to explain that culture plays a leading role in economic development. He writes that economic differences between countries cannot be explained by cultural differences but different economic institutions and public policies, such as whether these countries respect property rights, limit the scope for regulation, and practice free trade. According to Rabushka, “Economic freedom—not the cultural traditions of a people, or the geographic advantages of a country—leads to economic growth and development.”
The difficulty in Rabushka’s economic prescription is that it ignores inherent economic inequities that separate the haves from the have-nots and merely focuses on efficiency of economic institutions. A perfect regime of property rights, for instance, is only possible if ownership is universal and not based on who has access to ownership. Granting that poverty, too, is both a political and economic problem, its alleviation should be an open process and not to be trusted solely to the whims of the market and efficiency of economic institutions.
It depends on our economic planners to fully understand where cultural values and factors intersect with the objectives of progress, and not simply override long-established traditions for the sake of achieving development. Full employment, equalization of economic opportunities, and elimination of poverty are goals that cannot be achieved alone through the market mechanism or a purely private- or profit-oriented process.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Don’t shoot the messenger

The German drama film, The Lives of Others, tells the story of the secret monitoring of private individuals by Stasi, the secret police of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) at the time, or in particular, in 1984. In the movie, a Stasi officer Hauptmann Weisler bugs the home of playwright Georg Dreyman by setting up surveillance equipment in his attic and reports on the writer’s activities and intimate relations with his girlfriend, Christa-Maria Sieland.
Weisler eventually learns that the Minister of Culture Bruno Hempf covets Dreyman’s girlfriend and wants to eliminate him. The tools of the trade used were surprisingly rudimentary compared to today’s cyber-hacking and wiretapping gadgetry. All the surveillance required were bugs placed in the apartment and a smuggled miniature typewriter that Dreyman used in preparing his articles which were then published anonymously in Der Spiegel. At that time all East German typewriters were registered so it was easy for Stasi to catch someone using a typewriter for articles that were disparaging to state authorities.  
Oscar 2006 Best Foreign Language Film, The Lives of Others.
Click link to
view movie trailer.
State surveillance has indeed become more intricate and much more invasive today, but the notion of a state apparatus monitoring private individuals remains the same, that of a repressive, vindictive and vicious Orwellian Big Brother constantly watching over us and listening to our personal conversations.
The latest and biggest leak of the moment by Edward Snowden, a low-level contract employee for the US government’s National Security Agency (NSA), has exposed that millions of Americans could have been possibly eavesdropped as they personally engaged in conversations on their telephones. Snowden revealed a secret court order that compelled Verizon to give the phone records of millions of Americans to the NSA, as well as a highly classified program, PRISM, under which the NSA pulls data from major Internet companies like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
According to Snowden, the NSA monitors Americans “even if you’re not doing anything wrong. From just sitting at my desk I had the authority to wiretap anyone. If I wanted to see your e-mails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your e-mails, passwords, phone records, credit cards.”
What is frightening is the revelation that Booz-Allen, Snowden’s employer, and other private and powerful intelligence-gathering organizations are engaged on behalf of America’s highest levels of government in activities that might be considered unconstitutional and dangerous. Writing for The Nation, Lee Fang likens the combination of private army of intelligence contractors and the huge federal intelligence bureaucracy to the East German secret police Stasi. “Except this is state surveillance plus capitalism: spying for profit,” Fang adds.  
Click link to view NSA
whistleblower Edward Snowden: "I don't want to live in a society that does
this sort of things."
American journalist Tim Shorrock reported that some 70 percent of the nation’s intelligence gathering budget is spent on private contractors. Shorrock wrote in his blog: “Could any of these firms, which number in the hundreds, use their terrorist-seeking espionage weapons against their fellow Americans?”
A movie which we recently saw, The East, exactly dramatizes this happy marriage of private intel companies and government intelligence agencies like the FBI, CIA and NSA. The film involves a former FBI agent who now works with an elite private intelligence firm and goes undercover to infiltrate an elusive and anarchist environmental terrorist group. One wonders after watching the film where the public purpose merges or intersects with private capital, and if ever there was synergy at all, whether it was for a higher public good.
Snowden’s exposé about state surveillance confirms much of the terrifying stuff that has been revealed by earlier whistleblowers like Julian Assange of WikiLeaks, Pfc. Bradley Manning, Tom Drake and Kirk Wiebe. At the forefront of state surveillance and whistleblowing is their legality, or if they have legal basis at all, whether they conform to constitutional protection of individual privacy and civil liberties.
When does the authority of the state to monitor private individuals become a matter of state security and can the state ensure that individual freedoms and rights guaranteed under the Constitution are respected?
After 9/11, the Bush administration used the cover of state security in mining information from all sources in order to ferret out possible future acts of terrorism. It enacted the Patriot Act and amended the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which enhanced the powers of US law enforcement agencies to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, including giving these agencies a wide array of investigatory tools such as warrantless wireless tapping into telephones and computers. The current administration under Obama continued the Bush surveillance but with a twist, more transparency and less secrecy this time. But with the controversy surrounding the Snowden leaks, all Obama could do was simply to offer vague assurances that the present state surveillance ends where the government is not supposed to intrude.
While whistleblowing is protected in the United States, one has to navigate a patchwork of contradictory federal and state laws to be able to launch an effective defence when the strong arm of the government comes bearing down on a whistleblower. Sometimes the government resorts to the Espionage Act to prosecute a whistleblower. Generally speaking, the government has virtually all the authority it needs to conduct surveillance for purposes of state security, even to the point of simply declassifying information that has been leaked to the public, thus rendering the disclosure meaningless.
There appears unanimity among the branches of the US government that surveillance in the name of state security is a necessary evil in the fight against terrorism, particularly if there is an appearance also of congressional and judicial oversight, a compromise that President Obama has willingly embraced. But amid all this talk about the possibility of a constitutional infringement, the government with all the powers under its disposal seems to have won the debate on whether the whistleblower needs to be brought to justice.
Shooting the messenger has become the most effective option for government to shut down any opposition to its powers of surveillance under the rubric of state security. The wisdom of the Bush administration in pursuing terrorism by all means necessary has also become a hallmark of Obama’s policy, contrary to Obama’s earlier discomfort about the way the Bush government ran its course.
The messenger of bad information, whether it is about abuses of unnecessary privacy intrusion by the state or acts of corruption in the government, has never been a historically sympathetic figure. Look at Assange of Wikileaks. He continues to be holed out in a small room in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, fearful that anytime a European Arrest Warrant could be enforced against him in relation to a sexual assault investigation in Sweden. Of if he leaves the embassy, Assange could be subsequently extradited to the United States to face charges over the release of diplomatic cables.
Jeremy Hammond successfully hacked into Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor), a private intelligence firm, and released approximately five million emails which gave a frightening glimpse into how the private security and intelligence companies view themselves vis-à-vis government security agencies like the CIA. The leaked emails revealed Stratfor’s surveillance activities to monitor the Occupy movement protesters, the Deep Green Resistance, the Bhopal Medical Appeal that was seeking reparations for the victims of the chemical plant disaster in Bhopal, India, and the Coca-Cola company inquiry about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Hammond eventually pled guilty to the Stratfor hack after realizing that the Department of Justice could make him a defendant for life by prosecuting him in eight different districts. He had no choice but to plea to a deal in which he may be sentenced to 10 years in prison. But even as he made the plea he issued a statement, saying, “I did this because I believe people have a right to know what governments and corporations are doing behind closed doors. I did what I believe is right.”
In a video interview conducted by Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian with Edward Snowden in Hong Kong, Snowden expressed a similar ethical stance regarding his actions. Whether he could be eventually prosecuted by US authorities would hinge on the cooperation of Hong Kong to extradite him, or perhaps after China is able to extract any more vital information from him.
In the Philippines, the most notorious whistleblower that recently comes to mind is Rodolfo “Jun” Lozada whose testimony in the Philippine National Broadband Network controversy almost brought down the Arroyo government. The scandal also known as the NBN/ZTE deal or NBN/ZTE mess involved allegations of corruption in the awarding of a US$329 million construction contract to Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE for the proposed government-managed National Broadband Network (NBN). After allegations of massive pay-offs had been uncovered, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo eventually cancelled the National Broadband Network project.
Whatever happened to Jun Lozada?  
NBN-ZTE whistleblower Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada loses faith in President Noynoy
Aquino's daang matuwid.
Lozada has lost his faith in President Noynoy Aquino’s “daang matuwid” for Aquino’s failure to protect a whistleblower like him. Lozada himself had to face graft charges before the Sandiganbayan during his stint as president of the Philippine Forest Corp. He complained that he had been forgotten and abandoned by the Aquino administration.
Fr. Marlon Lacal, executive director of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP) who has been supporting Lozada, told a press conference: “Our question to this government (Noynoy Aquino) is why they treat truth-tellers this way, specifically Jun Lozada? Why doesn’t it extend all possible help that the government can give to a truth-teller? Is this government just pretending to be anticorruption but, on the other hand, it is coddling corrupt men and women?”
Whether subjected to criminal prosecution or reprisal by their employers or condescension by others, whistleblowers have generally been the victim of “shoot-the-messenger” mentality. A rare breed, whistleblowers are putting their lives on the line by willing to act as the buffer to state intervention of privacy or the messenger of truth whenever they spot manifestations of evils in government.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Marcos redux

Noted Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo once wrote that the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during World War II caused a big spike in crimes. Due to the harshness of the economic conditions, many Filipinos were driven to criminal activities, which continued even with the restoration of the Commonwealth government and the inauguration of the Republic in 1946.
Agoncillo observed that “morality had gone down since many people did not care whether they violated the laws of the country provided they earned enough money. Also, relatives and friends of unscrupulous politicians were not afraid to commit crimes because they knew their political-friends would protect them.”
When Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law on September 21, 1972, it was the same lame excuse that he used to justify his decision – rise in criminality including crimes of rebellion and insurrection. The promise of the New Society that Marcos peddled around, however, did not solve or mitigate the upswing in criminality. Instead, criminal behaviour was accelerated by his own dictatorship and crimes against the people. He sheltered and protected his business cronies from prosecution of the law so they prospered at the same time that his family amassed their stolen wealth.
Philippine Independence Day as traditionally celebrated on June 12.
Modern-day Philippine independence should be celebrated from the day the Marcos dictatorship ended, which seems to offer a better and clearer perspective of national freedom. Never mind the 1898 declaration of Philippine Independence that was outlived by American colonization at the turn of the 20th century. Besides being a mere aspirational quest for self-determination, the Philippines never really became independent after the Philippine-American War nor during the brief Japanese occupation from 1942 to 1945.
Ferdinand Marcos disturbed the peace of the independence years from 1946 to 1972 with his dictatorial rule, which, as a matter of historical fact, was merely a period of nominal independence from American colonial rule.
To reckon our independence from the time Marcos was forced out of Malacañang is indeed a more significant celebration of the triumph of people power. It also sends a strong message to the Marcos loyalists that their political era is just a sad chapter in Philippine history, a miserable interregnum that brought large-scale oppression of civil liberties and gave almost a license for those involved with the dictatorship to ransack the country of its wealth with impunity.
If history is to be taught so that important lessons can be learned, we should start teaching our children that modern-day Philippine independence commenced from the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship until democracy was restored in 1987. It may not be the ideal democracy the people wanted, but it was the stepping stone of our country’s struggle for genuine political and economic rights.
The former enemies of Philippine society are now resurrecting the bankrupt ideals of the new society under Marcos. They are attempting to rewrite history to portray Marcos as a benevolent dictator who cared for the Filipino masses, who built more roads and bridges, hospitals, schools, and centres of culture and entertainment than any of his predecessors and successors combined. As if his achievements in concrete are the best measure of his greatness, when the truth is, these infrastructure projects bound our people with debts so enormous that people wallowed in poverty not only during his presidency and continue to do so to this day.
They are spreading the big lie that Marcos instilled discipline and a genuine respect for the law when the honest truth is that his cronies and friends ignored the law for their own personal benefit without fear of apprehension. Those who opposed his government became victims of repression.
They crow about his oratorical skills and decisiveness compared to the bungling incumbent in Malacañang who could not even stand up against his fellow leaders in the region. That he would never have allowed our neighbours to bully us just because we are a smaller nation.
The biggest enemy our country has faced in its struggle for independence was not its colonizers, whether it was Spain, the United States or Japan. Its biggest enemy was within and one of its own.
A caricature of former president Ferdinand E. Marcos, first and only
dictator of the Philippines, 1973 to 1986.
An American writer visiting the Philippines during the early period of struggle against martial law in 1984 interviewed a plantation owner in Mindanao who happened to be a former supporter of Marcos. The plantation owner said: “The most humiliating thing about dictatorship is not the repression; it is that you wind up a collaborator yourself. It all seems so easy at first. You smile; you say nothing; you give money when they ask for it. Then something happens that makes you see the truth. I realized three things: that the whole Marcos system was rotten, that I was as much a part of the system as any soldier or spy, and that enough was enough. I had to do something.”
Many others have suffered their private humiliation at the hands of Marcos and his agents and turned their fear into loathing the government. That kind of outrage was enough to galvanize an entire nation, to transform the private humiliations of millions into a national upheaval of defiance and pride. That moment happened when millions marched on EDSA to demand Marcos to step down, braving a convoy of soldiers and tanks and aircraft hovering above. That should be the day we should commemorate our independence.
But instead, we choose to continue to celebrate our independence from Spain, reducing the rite into a symbol without substance and meaning. We stage marches and parades, hold festivities like fiestas and beauty pageants, which do not give full meaning and significance to our celebration.
To many of us, our independence day celebration has become shallow and empty. The declaration of independence by our revolutionary heroes in Kawit was not the culmination of our national struggle for self-determination. American colonization made it impossible for us to be a free nation. Japan gave us “independence” when its army drove the Americans to win the sympathy of Filipinos, to show that they were better than the Americans. When the Americans finally granted our independence in 1946, they tied us to a string of dependency that allowed them full rights to exploit our natural resources and used our waters for their military bases.
Then Ferdinand Marcos took our freedoms away in 1972. He was worse than a colonial ruler or a modern-day monarch. When the people drove him away to the islands of Hawaii in 1986, it marked the first time that we were free again to restore our democratic rights. But the nature of politics that we inherited from the colonial past and the tight control of the economy by our oligarchic elite remain the biggest stumbling blocks to the full realization of our democracy.
We may not be totally free as what a genuinely free society should be. But at least, we should be free to choose a date when to celebrate this freedom, a time to remind us that our freedoms are still fragile, that we cannot be complacent in the face of a significant threat from collaborators of the Marcos dictatorship in our midst to attempt a comeback.
Our history has been hitherto a history of one oppression after the other. Rizal’s death transformed him into a national hero and triggered a rebellion against the Spanish autocracy. Two years after Rizal's execution, the Spanish-American War broke out, and U.S. forces quickly ended more than 300 years of Spanish rule in the islands.
The Americans proclaimed themselves liberators; they turned out to be oppressors. After having conquered the Philippines, the United States decided it had no stomach for empire. In 1935, the islands were granted commonwealth status, and the United States promised the Filipinos independence within ten years. The Japanese, too, said they came as liberators when they invaded the Philippines in 1941. Finally, we became an independent republic in 1946, only to be shattered once again in 1972.
Ferdinand Marcos destroyed the country’s democratic institutions. But then Marcos was repeating an old Philippine pattern. Proven or not as to his complicity with the assassination of Benigno Aquino, he made possible the rise of another nationalist icon like Rizal that would be responsible for inspiring mass demonstrations and protests leading to his downfall in 1986.
Now the stirrings of a comeback of the Marcos era are just beginning. Our national independence is being threatened again.
Never again, we should say to this cabal of Marcos loyalists. What better time is there to express our collective will as a nation but during this independence day celebration.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Measuring greatness

In his book, King of the Mountain: The Nature of Political Leadership, University of Kentucky emeritus professor Arnold M. Ludwig studied virtually all the rulers in the world during the previous century who had a major impact on their countries, as well as those who had not. Ludwig observed that whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship, people eventually want one person at the helm whom they can identify as their leader.
There is nothing fanciful in putting so much importance to a single leader. Ludwig, who is a psychiatrist by profession, asserts that this seems biologically and psychologically rooted in our being. “It is part of the genetic blueprint that governs our lives,” Ludwig writes.
Professor Arnold M. Ludwig in his book, King of the Mountain, writes that leaders
of nations tend to act like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern,
and rule.
We probably inherit the desire for a single ruler or leader from the apes who could be man’s closest relative in his evolution. In his classical study of mountain gorillas, G. B. Schaller has demonstrated the central role of the leader in the gorilla community, and the importance of a leader to mountain gorillas also applies to humans.
We have just gone through another election in the Philippines and, by the looks of it, people are already speculating who would possibly run for president in 2016 when President Noynoy Aquino steps down. At this early stage, a rematch is shaping up between the frontrunners, incumbent vice-president Jejomar “Jojo” Binay against President Aquino’s anointed heir apparent and losing running mate in the 2011 presidential elections, Mar Roxas.
But another big name from the past looms large in the horizon. Bongbong Marcos, now a senator of the Republic and the only son of the previous dictator and his namesake, has also been the subject of speculations on presidential wannabes. Whether Ferdinand Marcos, the son, also rises on the political chain has already aroused some serious and emotional debate on the legacy of his father’s presidency.
Ferdinand Marcos, the senior, was president of the Philippines from 1965 until 1986, when the first so-called EDSA People Power Revolution toppled him and forced him to go on exile in the United States. The older Marcos ruled with an iron fist, declared martial law when he could not legally run for a third term as president until he could install what he conveniently called a regime of “constitutional authoritarianism” under the auspices of a New Society.
It appeared to be the trend that had swept the region during his time that Ferdinand Marcos took advantage in establishing a government based on authoritarian rule. Other countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand were all being governed by one-man rule.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s prime minister for thirty-one years and whom many have considered a great leader and a paragon for others to emulate, had been successful in overseeing its separation from Malaysia in 1965. Lee was able to transform the new nation from an underdeveloped colonial outpost of the British Empire despite its lack of natural resources into a “First World” Asian Tiger. Compared with the older Marcos, Lee’s dictatorial methods appeared benign and less contemptible because of his ability and success in tending to the economic welfare of his subjects.
What others didn’t know, however, as Ludwig described in King of the Mountain, was Lee believed that governing a nation was too important to be left to the uninformed and ignorant populace. Lee didn’t buy into the conventional notion that too much powers corrupted leaders. Instead, he subscribed to the reverse notion that ordinary people could not be entrusted with powers because it corrupted their judgment as voters.
Despite ushering Singapore to prosperity in three decades, Lee’s legacy has been tainted by authoritarian rule and intolerance of dissent. He would sue political opponents and newspapers who expressed an unfavourable opinion of his government. One of Lee's abiding beliefs has been in the effectiveness of corporal punishment in the form of caning which he has utilized in a range of crimes. Lee also introduced caning in the Singapore Armed Forces, and Singapore is one of the few countries in the world where corporal punishment is an official penalty in military discipline.
While Lee succeeded as an authoritarian ruler, Ferdinand Marcos was a dismal failure, not due to his lack of stomach for dictatorship but because of runaway crony capitalism, wanton government corruption, and widespread human rights abuses that reached a tipping point in the EDSA People Power Revolution in 1986. It’s true that Marcos built more infrastructure like highways, hospitals and schools than his predecessors and successors combined, but that is not a true measure of greatness. We cannot certainly ascribe the genuine greatness of leaders like Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi to the number of construction projects or lack of it that they pursued and forget the lofty and noble ideals they fought for.
To finance his grandiose economic development projects, Marcos mortgaged the country for large amounts of loans from international lenders. The country’s external debt ballooned from $360 million (US) in 1962 to more than $28 billion in 1986, with a sizable amount going to the Marcos family and his business cronies. These loans were assumed by the government and are still being serviced by taxpayers up to today and several generations into the future.
Known as the conjugal dictatorship, Ferdinand Marcos and his wife, Imelda,
ruled over the Philippines from 1965 to 1986.
In the 2004 Global Transparency Report, Marcos appeared in the list of the World's Most Corrupt Leaders, ranking second behind the late President of Indonesia, Suharto. Marcos was said to have amassed between $5 billion to $10 billion in his 21 years as president of the Philippines.
In the face of an imminent candidacy of Ferdinand Marcos, the son, for the presidency of the Philippines in either 2016 or 2022, there are now attempts toward a revisionist interpretation of the Marcos years in power and the impact of his vision of a New Society. All this talk about how great the presidency of Ferdinand the elder is obviously aimed in rehabilitating the Marcos name and portraying him as a benevolent autocrat who made the country great again. This would pave the way for the popular election of Ferdinand the younger when his time comes up in 3 or 6 years.
There is still a legion of Marcos followers who are in awe and greatly impressed by the so-called achievements of the Marcos presidency, especially when they compare him to his mediocre and middling successors. These Marcos diehard loyalists, however, refuse to accept that the damage Marcos had inflicted on the country is still very much with us.
Ludwig wrote that the problem in judging the political genius of rulers is knowing what they should get credit for. It is very difficult to judge the merits of one’s presidency even if we can identify the achievements that bear their personal stamp – laws, construction projects, executive decisions, or economic policies, for example.
Unlike the creative works of artists, we can evaluate them by their originality, compositional structure, narrative quality, usefulness, beauty or universal appeal. The validity of scientific theories can be tested through experiments. Or we can measure the performance of athletes by their times, distances or scores, or the skill of surgeons in mortality rates.
There are no universally agreed-upon ways to assess the accomplishments of rulers. People of different political persuasions often interpret the results of these policies differently. Even if they agree at one point, they may disagree at another, which has been the crux of debate among intelligent members of a social and political forum that I know. Up till now they are still debating whether Ferdinand Marcos is the greatest president the Philippines has ever had. Edifices vs. democratic governance: which is a full measure of success?
According to Professor Ludwig, people may choose to ignore their animal heritage by believing their behaviour is rational and socially purposeful, all of which they would account to the fact of being human. But people also masticate, fornicate, and procreate, much as chimps do. Thus, there is no cause for people to get upset if “they learn that they act like other primates when they politically agitate, debate, abdicate, placate, and administrate, too,” says Ludwig.
If there’s any consolation, the results of Ludwig's eighteen-year study suggest that leaders of nations tend to act remarkably like monkeys and apes in the way they come to power, govern, and rule. That perhaps would explain in full what the legacy of Ferdinand Marcos is all about.