Do we have a learning disability?

To Take A Stand
Rafael M. Alunan III

Posted on February 18, 2014

WE WILL commemorate this weekend till early next week the 28th anniversary of the EDSA People Power Revolt that closed a dark chapter in our nation’s history. Fourteen years of rapacious authoritarian rule came to an abrupt end on Feb. 25, 1986, three days after a military-civilian revolt led by Lt. Gen Fidel V. Ramos (AFP Vice-Chief of Staff) and Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile on the one hand; and by Jaime Cardinal Sin, June Keithley and Butz Aquino on the other. Manindigan! (Take a Stand!), a group of professionals and businessmen led by Jaime Ongpin, served as a bridge to the military’s breakaway group and to “people power.”

I recall the thoughts that gripped me as I surveyed the scene during those fateful days. One was the unity and solidarity of Filipinos from all demographic segments, unmindful of their origins and status, and single-mindedly focused on ousting the dictatorship. Another flowed from the appreciation that “God helps those who help themselves” -- that divine intervention was hard at work orchestrating events that averted uncontrolled bloodshed. A third was the expectation that a golden opportunity had opened for social transformation; of society learning the lesson that its weakness fosters a government it deserves. The problem was not the dictator per se but the conditions that we, as a society, allowed to fester, which enabled a dictatorship to take root.

Twenty-eight years down the road, can we honestly say that Filipinos remain united in thought, word and deed against malgovernance and corruption? Are we helping each other struggle to rid ourselves of the cultural weaknesses that engender apathy and wrongdoing? Are we still hoping for a white knight to come along or for God to do what we should be doing collectively for national redemption? Have we learned the valuable lessons of EDSA? I think we all know the answers, which gives rise to a view that we have a serious learning disability.

When I assumed my post at the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) in 1992, one of my first chores was to speak before the leadership of the National Police Commission and Philippine National Police (PNP) that assembled to welcome me into their fold. In a way, I already was because of my prior admission into the Special Action Force and the PMA Class of 1974 that only a handful knew of. The transfer of command from the previous Secretary was followed by a parade and review. Part of my speech exhorted the PNP to faithfully carry out the orders of our commander-in-chief President Fidel Ramos to put an end to illegal gambling, illegal fishing and illegal logging.

At the end of the ceremony, the camp’s historian excitedly gave me a magazine of the Philippine Constabulary (PC) dated sometime in 1939 when my grandfather, Rafael Alunan, Sr. (whom I never met because he passed away before I was born) assumed the Interior portfolio at the time of President Manuel L. Quezon. To my astonishment, part of his speech that the historian asked me to read were the basically the same words I uttered earlier -- that President Quezon wanted the PC to stamp out illegal logging, fishing and gambling! I then remarked that the Filipino had not changed in 50 years!

Yesterday, I read about President Noynoy Aquino’s bafflement that despite the country’s glowing macroeconomics, unemployment rose based on a SWS survey that “the unemployment rate rose to 27.5%, or an estimated 12.1-million people, as 2.5-million Filipinos joined the ranks of the jobless between September and December last year.” The unemployment rate rose “even as the economy surprisingly grew by 7.2%, the second fastest after China’s, showing that the growth was not inclusive.” In a nutshell, the microeconomy was faltering while the macroeconomy was steaming at full speed.

Frankly, it isn’t difficult to understand. When the disconnect between the macro and microeconomy remains ignored, year after year, the rich will keep getting richer while the poor will keep getting poorer. When a few corner opportunities and resources and exclude the many, the inevitable consequence is poverty. Surely, that is not smart economics; yet, we’ve stuck to exclusivity. If we change our metrics from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to Gross National Wellbeing (GNW) that measures real national security -- essentially human, economic and ecological security underpinned by an inclusive society and good government -- I believe that paradigm will lead to fundamental change.

Another example is the way we’ve continually failed to put critical infrastructure in place to improve our competitiveness despite our awareness. To this day, we have not removed constitutionally mandated foreign ownership caps that deter investments, especially in manufacturing and agriculture where growth is foreseen to dent poverty the most. Drawing from the lessons of competitive economies, we would need tremendous inflows of foreign capital to operate airports, seaports, tollways, and utilities. But because of the 60-40 rule, foreign players must tie up with the same few “Philippine conglomerates” who’ve cornered the country’s choice opportunities and financial resources.

That limitation assures the dearth of quality foreign investors, attracting only those foreign investors willing to bend or circumvent the law, China included. This constraint to inclusive growth results in poor quality investors and high cost of services in strategic sectors. The country is put at great risk when unscrupulous investors take control of our strategic industries while legitimate world-class foreign investors stay away. Luring quality investors to help develop and operate critical infrastructure is a vital national security imperative. Opening up the economy will reduce corruption and exclusivity, and improve our national well-being.

Our long-playing problems point to a startling weakness that we are inattentive, negligent and fail to comprehend the stark lessons from our mistakes. These are telltale signs of a failing nation. We must regroup and take the right path. Either we stand united or fall divided. I choose to stand united. How about you?