Saturday, August 2, 2014

An American joker in the country

As I was reading Joe America’s most recent blog, flippantly entitled, “Why discretionary authority is a good thing,” I was struck by his enormous ignorance of the difference between the public and private sectors, and in particular, of both the Philippine and American governments. This transplanted American even has the audacity to tell Filipinos how to run their government, a direct affront to our finer sensibilities. He could be declared persona non grata for abusing our hospitality, but because he made it a point in his blogs to cozy up to those in the higher ups in government, Joe America remains today a very ubiquitous blogger on Philippine social media and is constantly read by thousands of unsuspecting followers, including some influential columnists in the mainstream media.

A representational photo of Joe America from his blog, not his real image.
He started his recent blog by framing the debate about the constitutionally illegal and controversial DAP around two very flawed misconceptions of our own history and culture. If nobody stands up to this guy, he could possibly deconstruct our history as a people and let many believe he is correct.

First, he writes about Filipinos not too trusting of those in authority. Those in authority, Joe America writes, abuse their power and rule autocratically and for their personal gain. They steal money from taxpayers, so Filipinos are rightfully suspicious.

After almost five centuries under foreign colonial rule, it is but natural for Filipinos to become apprehensive of despotic or oppressive government. Filipinos waged a revolution against Spain in 1896, then fought wars of independence against the United States at the turn of the 20th century and Japan during the Second World War, and battled the dictatorial Marcos regime from the early 1970s to the EDSA Revolution of 1986.

The revolution and struggle for independence and democracy by Filipinos were not borne out of simple mistrust of authority. To say so would be to demean their heroism, and gloss over the fact that during those struggles, Filipinos were fighting for true self-determination, a no higher cause for the people to wage.

Second, Joe America blames Filipinos for being emotional by blowing up issues into sensationalist proportions instead of keeping themselves with the facts. He blames the media and the people by feeding on each other, as if the people or general public has equal access and control of newspapers, radio, and television. He fails to see that most of the news are manufactured by a press friendly with government to provide a favourable coverage of the establishment. Absolving the president of his own shortcomings and errors in decision-making, Joe America has nothing to blame but the emotions of the people in portraying the president as another corrupt leader.

Worst of all, Joe America blames dissent and criticism as the principal disruption to a stable leadership necessary to achieve sustainable growth. If the Philippines doesn’t move forward, he has only the people to blame, not President Aquino.

A troubled country like the Philippines, Joe America writes, needs a president who has significant authority and discretionary power. So he concludes that the DAP is a good tool because the president could use it to achieve his objective of sustainable and inclusive economic growth.

When someone does not understand the difference between how a government operates compared to a private corporation, this is the kind of limited thinking process you get. No matter how he prefers the corporate style of management, the government cannot be run simply along profitability lines. Leaders of government are supposed to be representatives of their electors, who by their votes have consented to be governed under a system of laws and a fundamental law called the Constitution. Besides, they are also constrained by their party affiliations, which are necessary in a representative democracy.

Joe America writes: “How does a president succeed if he must subordinate his initiatives to checks and balances from institutions that are divided, filled with political players and incompetents and hostile to change?”

He doesn’t want Congress investigating how the DAP was spent and whether the DAP met its objectives. To him, the Senate cannot substitute the personal views of its members to the decisions of the Executive who would have thought rigorously of the DAP in the first place.

Throw away the Constitution, disregard the laws, or even the ethical behaviour politicians and bureaucrats ought to follow, this seems to be Joe America’s prescription for as long as the results are good. Productivity is all that matters, and to Joe America, this is how Secretary Florencio Abad is exactly running the DBM.

The Philippines should be managed like a corporation—this is Joe America’s prescription for growth. He writes: “There is a clear structure in a corporation, and respect for that structure. There is a big boss and little bosses and a hierarchy of, if not respect, at least obedience. Free speech is tempered by prudence, or the risk of losing promotional opportunities if one offends one of the bosses. It’s not like the chaotic democratic way of open criticism that eventually generates a lack of respect for the leadership and often leads to partisan bickering, turmoil and lack of continuity.”

For all the flaws and warts in his personal views, Joe America credits his growing up in the United States, a nation he says is proud of its values and largely trusting and appreciative of its leaders. He also credits his military service where there are clear lines of authority and discipline, and his long years of experience in a large corporation. “The better part of my life has been spent acceding to the authority of others or delegating and respecting subordinates if they did something differently than I would have done it.”

Would Joe America give the same advice to President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress on how to run the nation, where adherence to political loyalties and divisions has greatly caused the current gridlock in Washington?

What would Joe America say to the US Congress when it voted recently to sue President Obama for overstepping the powers of the presidency—clearly a show of opposition against discretionary authority of the president?

In his own country, Joe America will probably be dismissed as an ignoramus and a buffoon.

Yes, Joe America is a big joke. Moving to the Philippines in 2005 to live with his Filipino wife and family in the Visayas, he thought he already knew too much about the country and its politicians that he could lecture them on governance. He makes disingenuous assumptions about Filipino culture and the history of our people as if they are correct and grounded on facts.

Listen to Joe America when he writes: “It seems to me Filipinos don’t know how to build a nation. Because they don’t know how to sacrifice. Don’t know how to trust.”

That we don’t know how to sacrifice is a boldface lie. For four hundred years the Spanish colonized us and it took great sacrifices among our revolutionary heroes to fight colonial oppression. Both ways could be interpreted as a sacrifice, that it took us so long to wake up and take arms, and in the process we gave up so many lives not only during the revolution against Spain but also during the wars of independence against the United States and Japan.

On the DAP, Joe America keeps saying it worked and President Aquino was successful in accomplishing his objectives. That “we should get our evaluations right and get rid of emotion and suspicion as a basis for making decisions.”

Infographics on DAP, courtesy of Ibon.
Assessed whether the DAP proved successful in pushing economic growth by investing on high-impact programs and accelerating public spending, one study has shown that the DAP as a whole did not significantly create jobs, nor raise incomes and stimulate local economic activity. According to Ibon Foundation, an independent think-tank organization, “the general pattern of DAP spending is not consistent with a stimulus package designed to address the country’s most urgent socioeconomic problems. If the government wanted to stimulate the economy, it could have prioritized labor-intensive rural infrastructure projects.”

In other words, the much-publicized positive impact of the DAP is not completely accurate as advertised. However, Joe America insists it was a highly successful program, notwithstanding its unconstitutionality for violating the budgetary process.

There are also glaring inconsistencies in Joe America’s points of view—he admits that sometimes he contradicts himself. In one blog, for example, he states that the Philippines is an authoritarian society, yet in his recent blog he advocates that the president be given wide discretionary authority because in his opinion a strong executive is not a dictator.

Just consider the last time a Philippine president hijacked his constitutional powers and ruled with an iron fist. Did becoming more powerful make him an effective leader or executive? Was he able to push the Philippine economy forward and sustain its growth?

Joe America is ignoring the true political situation in the Philippines and making wrong assumptions about our culture. Just to be fair with him, read his blog, Society of Honor by Joe America, and after that, you probably won’t read him anymore.

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