Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: January 2023
Wednesday, 01 February 2023 07:42

BBM's travels and the new bromance with China

I WILL not begrudge BBM's traveling all over with his barkada, the latest of which was to Davos with an entourage of 70, including several two-faced businessmen prominent in financing the People Power Revolution that booted the Marcos père out. But then again, it is the nature of the beast to kiss the ass of the powerful. And they are critical components in BBM's rebranding of the Marcos name to the international community, which could be the underlying purpose of these sorties.

His gallivanting — seven trips in 8 months ostensibly seeking investments from abroad — would be forgiven if he can truly get foreign direct investments (FDI) to flow in. Reportedly, he got pledges from Jakarta ($8.50billion), Singapore ($6.54 billion) and China ($23 billion). But China's pledges are suspect. We had similar ones during Duterte's presidency when he vouchsafed fealty to Xi in that famous "I simply love Xi Jinping" trip to China in 2018, conceding our negotiating advantage on the arbitral tribunal ruling that negated the nine-dash line, and the subsequent humiliation our fishermen suffered, prevented from fishing on their traditional fishing grounds in the West Philippine Sea. Our country lost its collective hymen, with nothing to show for it in return.

And now we have another president declaring a naive foreign policy — "friends to all, and enemies to none"; touting another set of pledges. We lost our virginity during Duterte's watch. This time around, it's rape.

This article hopefully reorients BBM on the political economy of his travels and the cost/benefit of his relations with China. This is not to belittle BBM's grasp of economics and foreign relations, having imbibed some sort of expertise during his stint at Oxford and Wharton.

Belt and Road

These pledges are China's come-on to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), one which likewise enticed Duterte despite some counter-voices in his cabinet. BRI was Xi Jinping's bold foreign policy scheme launched in 2013 with China underwriting billions for infrastructure development in countries along the old Silk Road or Silk Route linking Europe to Asia. This ambitious plan was China's middle-finger gesture to the United States and the West that there was a new kid in the block presaging the rise of a hegemon in the East — using its economic and financial clout. This coming out was a turnaround to the architect of modern China, Deng Xiaoping's dictum to "hide our capabilities and bide our time; never try to take the lead." This time, the BRI was Xi Jinping's attempt for China to claim global leadership as the world's second largest economy.

The Duterte-Xi Jinping bilateral cooperation produced agreements amounting to $24 billion as part of the maritime Silk Road — although the Philippines was really nowhere a part of the old Silk Road. We don't exactly know if these pledges were delivered. (For the curious, the Old Silk Road was a network of routes when China opened trading with the West in 130 BC until 1453 AD, when it was closed by the Ottoman Empire.)

Stark lessons learned

By 2019, China had 3,000 BRI projects with 68 countries. These were an easy way for China's state-owned enterprises (SOE) to secure contracts abroad. Massive capital flowed to partner countries in the form of loans. Eventually these resulted in unmanageable debts. An added enticement to BRI partners in securing loans is China's "no strings attached" model, unlike the loans from the West that were conditioned on extraneous terms — human rights, environmental concerns, pollution footprints, etc. China's loose stipulations are suited to the psyche of developing countries' corrupt bureaucracies — just like the Philippines.

A case in point is the Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka. With unethical practices, mismanagement and corruption, even the interest on the $8 billion loan remains unpaid. China converted this into a debt-for-equity swap with a 99-year lease for China to manage the port. China now has a foothold on the region — not unlike what the US had with the Philippines at Subic.

Malaysia had the audacity to cancel a $23 billion rail and pipeline deal with China after Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad in 2018 attacked it as a "new version of colonialism." Even the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), touted by both China and Pakistan as a flagship project, had to be renegotiated with a $6 billion bailout from the IMF.

PH economy under BBM

Now, seven months into his term, BBM may lay claim to some successes although many of these are derivatives of Duterte's policies. But the recent sugar crisis is solely BBM's — attributable to the hoarding and procurement scandal that resulted in the resignations of the officials of the Sugar Regulatory Administration (SRA) and the eventual firing of the executive secretary. And now another problem in the agricultural and food sector, symbolized by the shortage and inflated prices of the lowly onion, should give the footloose traveling president second thoughts about his continued tutelage of the agricultural department. As things are perceived, he is either incompetent as aggie chief or as president or both. Either way, he needs to give up the former and leave this to some real agriculture expert.

But despite his presidency, surprisingly, things seem to be looking up. Latest multilateral pronouncements identified the Philippines as one of the 10 newly industrialized countries. It seems that our economic growth is outpacing many developed countries and are among the five Asian "risers in the coming decade," including our neighbors — Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam.

But the Philippines' $100 billion annual exports comparatively lack economic similarities with the other four with annual exports along the range of $200 to $400 billion. But one thing going for us are two distinct advantages: the OFW remittances that stabilize our balance of payments and growing our external reserves, and more importantly, the service exports — the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry. Ours has emerged to be the world's largest, competing with behemoth India.

However the multilaterals have decreed further that unless we loosen our anti-FDI provisions in our constitution, we may not be able to catch up in fulfilling our potential. A menu of reforms has been suggested. One is to ease environmental restrictions on mining. We sit atop billions of dollars of copper, nickel, cobalt, gold and iron. Another is to rethink our policies on joint ventures in the WPS for oil and gas. And encourage more competition in the domestic markets by continuing to break monopolies. We did well with opening the telecommunication industry but allowed cronies a stake in. And more importantly, reform the bureaucracy where corruption is endemic, applying the rule of law. But drastic reforms on easing constitutional limitations are a sine qua non.

Overall, we have one huge advantage in the long run over the other industrializing economies. Our education system with the biggest budget is excellent but our demographics are superior. We have the lowest median age, 24.6 years, compared to Malaysia, 28.5; Indonesia, 30.2; Vietnam, 30.5; and Thailand, 37.7.

Perhaps BBM may dwell on these points while en route to another exotic place. Or, he may just have to grow up, jettison his barkada and hunker down to business.

Published in LML Polettiques

JUST recently, one of the more qualified Cabinet members was sacked by the President. Speculations are rife as to what triggered this singular act: from appeasing the restive military in the wake of the Duterte law that fixed the tenure of senior generals to the call for courtesy resignations from 953 PNP officials, to the recent demise of Joma Sison, the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) founder, and the need to expiate the Dutertes, particularly Sara who had her eye on the defense portfolio and therefore in lieu of it, the reinstatement of the Duterte generals — all fueled by "Marites" and conspiracy theories.

But those who appreciate the workings of this government and Malacañang politics know better. For the military mindset overarching the country's security, defense and foreign affairs, and more importantly the Philippine patriarchal social system where men hold positions of dominance, Clarita Carlos is simply an outsider. And she's a strong woman, complicated further by a quick and smart mouth attached to a sharp mind, period! Such combinations are anathema to the machismos encircling BBM. Women broke the glass ceiling in a couple of departments. Not at the National Security Council (NSC). That's military turf.


Carlos, the only woman to head the NSC, advised the President on security and foreign policy issues. It is a collegial body chaired by BBM himself, with other Cabinet members, congressmen, including those invited by the President as members. Carlos as the director-general headed the secretariat providing technical support to the council proper. The members fancy themselves as alter egos of BBM, which in essence they are, except with bloated appreciation of their own.

It is unfortunate that national security, protection of the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity are deemed exclusive proprietary tasks of the military. Carlos' impeccable qualifications include a stint as president of the Philippine National Defense College, where many of these generals, admirals and colonels pass through as her students, perforce creating for her a wide network. But a stronger adhesive binds these senior uniformed men forged in the fields of the Philippine Military Academy. Carlos is simply not one of the boys.

Thus, from the very start, she was the interloper. With her enthusiasm and academic joie de vivre she hit the ground running. An independent woman of modest means and bred for 56 years in the jaded halls of the academe, she was a tyro to the arcana of political bureaucratic life with still unsharpened political talons required for the rough and tumble world of real-politique.

It did not help her cause that even before warming her seat at the NSC, she dove right into controversy at the National Task Force to end Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac), the Duterte anti-communist creation. Although Carlos was right in urging the NTF-Elcac to desist from"red-tagging" as that militaristic approach to counterinsurgency "never works" — this was a big no-no!

Her earlier off-the-cuff pronouncements redefining security to include, food, environment and incongruously "bamboo-planting," enthusiastically egged on by allies in social media, were seen as an attempt to expand her turf encroaching into other line departments' concerns. This fueled suspicions that Carlos was transplanting her perceived UP leftist-liberal mindset to the clearly rightist environment of the NSC.

Then the knives came out. In mid-July, a letter written by NSC employees was sent to the President containing a menu of grievances: Carlos populating the upper echelon with her former top UP students, bereft of credentials; employing one known in the intelligence community as a Chinese asset and a security risk; Carlos was accused of delegating too much to these acolytes now cloaked with authority and power, upsetting the cultural and collective personality of the organization. But BBM had her back — at least, for now.

Carlos ascendancy

BBM, who was never academically predisposed, did not know Carlos. At that notable presidential debate at SMNI. Carlos' questioning about how each presidentiable, as future architects of Philippine foreign policy, would treat Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) alliance was the turning point.

Most respondents were unfamiliar with the topic at hand. Norberto Gonzales, who could have excelled having once been NSA himself and onetime Defense secretary, mumbled with a short 50-second answer.

The rest were off-tangent, except for BBM, who was given leading follow-up questions from Claire, an excellent professor applying faultless classroom manners — inadvertently giving him some slack and a leg up.

This non-debate was forgettable but not Carlos who was impressive in her role as moderator. She ruled the roost, primed her feathers showcasing her wide knowledge and expertise and perhaps the only person who understood and grasped the concepts of foreign policy, defense and security, exposing the wannabees' illiteracy. It was a Claire Carlos show! Her subsequent post-debate presence in mass and social media invested her with star quality, setting her squarely in BBM's sights. But hubris, nonetheless.

Implications for BBM

Today she's out, a victim of presidential whim swayed by decisions taken in reaction to realities he should have been in control of but wasn't. Consider these Keystone Cops scenarios.

BBM in August 2022 fired AFP Chief of Staff Gen. Andres Centino and installed Centino's PMA '88 classmate Gen. Bartolome Vicente Bacarro. Three-star General Bacarro was slated to be given the first fixed three-year term, but couldn't due to the still active floating four-star General Centino, retiring only on Feb. 4, 2023 after Gen. Bacarro's own retirement. Instead, five months later, BBM fired Bacarro and reinstalled Centino.

The reason for this revolving chair is the Duterte-era law RA 11709 prescribing a fixed three-year term for senior military officials, discontinuing the decades-long practice allowing AFP chiefs to serve shorter terms of months, accommodating their seniority.

But the law was to take effect in April 2023 — after the retirement dates of General Bacarro, but before General Centino. The Defense department officer in charge Jose Faustino Jr. was not consulted. He resigned. BBM then appointed retired general Carlito Galvez as Defense secretary.

It is known in some quarters that Galvez was not happy with Carlos as NSC. Replacing her with retired Gen. Edurdo Año, a former Duterte AFP chief and interior secretary, was a no-brainer. Whatever the reasons, Carlos was no match for the Duterte generals back in the helm of the country's security and defense portfolio.

The cabal's alibi that all these appeased the grumblings in the ranks, including Carlos as collateral damage, is frivolous, yet BBM unsurprisingly wryly corroborated: "Secretary Carlos, I think she found that position to be a little bit political. Kasi hindi talaga siya sanay sa ganon at she is an academic, a retired academic." As a sop, she was offered to head the Congressional Policy and Budget Research Department (CPBRD), a minor post. Bruised and beaten, she was loyal to the boss, to the end.

With the Duterte generals back at the helm, the conspiracy theorists and Marites are having a field day. In social media, "revolutionary government and junta," ideas that waned during Duterte's closing years are back in fashion. Perhaps the son of a dictator, who loves to spend time abroad with his barkada, may need to hunker down and be more serious in his governance.


Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 18 January 2023 09:23

Rebellion in China!

THERE is a rebellion brewing in China. No guns, weapons and armaments of war. No actual fighting and skirmishes, and no blood flowing in the streets. There are no leadership structures; no single spokesperson articulating their demands, hopes and aspirations. There are no written manifestos and demands made on government. The rebels are China's youth.

Chinese youth is simply giving up. Their rebellion is unique as it started as gimmickry in social media, an online fad. They even have a name for it — bai lan, or let it rot! It is perceived principally as a rebellion directed at the Chinese Communist Party's (CPP) governance. It has disturbed and worried the CPP that President Xi Jinping had to make a direct and personal appeal to the youth reminding them that they are the hope of the fatherland. And the CPP came out with palliative policies that proved to be just that — ineffective.

But bai lan is basically the youth saying "no" to the system. On a personal level, they are saying, "I will not cooperate. I don't like to try my best. My personal interest and happiness come first." The rest — let it rot — bai lan!

From Mao to Deng

The antecedent is decades in the making, going back to post-World War 2 China: its founder Mao Zedong and his insane idea of catching up with the developed world. He and the CPP fashioned an elaborate tool to forcibly exploit the agricultural and industrial sectors to catapult China to economic growth from 1958 to 1962 with the touted Great Leap Forward. Instead, this resulted in the bankrupting of China, mass starvation and famine. This was followed by his Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, from 1966-1976, a 10-year campaign to re-instill revolutionary fervor in the younger generation, purging the CPP of bourgeois elements and capitalist leanings. The rural areas suffered the brunt of this debacle.

Not until the demise of Mao and the emergence of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 did China institute the open-door policy allowing FDIs and launched a series of market reforms transforming China from an isolated impoverished state to what is currently the world's second biggest economy. From 1978 to 2013, the economy grew by an astounding annual rate of 9.5 percent. During these salad days, Deng let loose the Chinese entrepreneurial drive that would later compete with the world's number one — America.

These reforms saw millions of its citizens lifted from poverty and elevated to middle-class status. China became the globe's manufacturing hub. Within the context of a socialist system, an injection of capitalist principles, anathema to Mao's original precepts, China opened to the world and its economy exploded. Deng Xiaoping on the use of capitalist principles within a socialist universe was encapsulated in his quote: "No matter if it is a white cat or a black cat; as long as it can catch mice, it is a good cat."

Around this time too was the start of the great migration of the youth from the rural areas to the cities in search of good education, higher-paying jobs, and better living conditions, concentrating on the megalopolises of Shanghai, in the eastern coast; Beijing, in the northeastern part; Guangzhou, in southern China; Shenzhen, another port city; and Chongqing in Central China on the Yangtze River, among others.

Policies that backfired

Before the start of China's economic resurgence in 1979, faced with an exploding population — a poor country with 400 million annual births — the CPP instituted drastic measures which could now be seen as a knee-jerk reaction. The One Child Policy in 1980 distorted on a massive scale China's demographics resulting in the population getting older and less productive while birth rates have dangerously plummeted. The average replacement of less than 2.1 kids per family was untenable. "Elders who witness China's exponential growth expect children to continue their high expectation to get good education, high paying jobs and continue building a better life for family and country."

This policy ran counter to the cultural predisposition — Chinese parents preferred boys, thus a mismatch in male to female ensued, producing 70 more men than women. Culturally too, the Chinese dream has always been burdened by the three mountains — education, health care and housing. The third component is critical for making a man more suitable for marriage. Chinese demographics distorted all these.

Real estate prices, a substantial component of marriage desirability, skyrocketed, going beyond individuals' salaries, making it impossible for the youth to buy in. The past years saw a Chinese real estate bubble. Behemoth developer Evergrande Group, the poster child for China's economic calamities, went on a debt frenzy, building more apartments and using unfinished properties as collateral for yet more debt and more empty apartments — in a Ponzi scheme that is just about to fall on itself.

As the situation deteriorated, the CPP didn't do substantially anything to salvage the economy. Chinese youths couldn't get good high-paying jobs and couldn't' afford real estate. A pall of uncertainty has descended. Even among the highly educated youth, where additional income is earned through private online tutoring — the CPP crackdowns in August of 2021 eliminated 3 million tutoring jobs creating a black market in tutoring. These tutoring job options for highly educated graduates benefit wealthy families, giving their children a leg up in Chinese society, pricing out the poor.

Lockdowns, zero Covid protocols

Then the second phase of Covid hits. The CPP instituted a zero-Covid policy. In 2020, when Wuhan occurred, China did well, ahead of the curve in lockdowns and virus-spread mitigations, incurring only less than 150,000 deaths (China's figures are suspect), compared to the US and the world's millions. But 2022 was different. The spike in Covid mutation resurgence and CPP's declaration of a utopian zero-Covid protocol with its brutal lockdowns killed businesses and stifled any economic bounce-back. Reportedly, China's slumps since May 2020 in imports/exports contraction cost $45 billion in GDP monthly.

Bai lan inexorably gained traction among the youth. The CPP understood social immobility and lack of opportunities as causes for a despondent attitude of bai lan. Back in August 2021, Xi launched his "common prosperity campaign," purportedly to level the playing field. Its main objective was to narrow the wealth gap between the rich and poor, making China's progress inclusive.

China should have opened its economy more with policies to attract high-tech foreign companies, to absorb China's highly educated youth with high-paying tech labor. Instead of opening the economy further, it did the opposite. It went into a pissing game with the West for an expanded global trade and looked inward into its inequities. Xi Jinping in an attempt to reel in Chinese billionaires, elites and majority of the tax sector, cracked down on big tech and large companies and monopolies; destroyed Jack Ma as an example and humbled billionaires; putting fear in hordes of foreign companies. Overnight millions more jobs disappeared — feeding into the youths' conception of bai lan.

The perfect ingredients now haunt China, particularly its youth; massive 20 percent unemployment; real estate bubble; disparity in the sexes; a bleak future and overall despair.

So, bai lan! Let it rot!

Published in LML Polettiques

THE year 2022 is not done with us yet. It is continuing to spill over and influence the course of events in 2023. I don't see any silver lining. I see only a bleak landscape. But Filipino resilience as always will kick in. We really don't have any choice except to live through what 2023 has to offer. And we will survive! Or at least some of us will. For many of our people hope springs eternal. 2022 and the two previous years saw the double whammy of a catastrophe. The first was the pandemic that killed millions in its wake striking fear among the world's population, locking down their economies. The second is the continuing war in Ukraine exacerbating the lockdowns wreaking havoc on global markets.

Ukraine war

What many pundits predicted to be a short war of a few weeks after the Russian invasion of its neighbor, is now dragging toward its first anniversary on February 24. In my column of March 16, 2022, I said: "Today marks the 20th day of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In the coming days Putin will unveil his endgame. Thousands will be dead and those that fled the cities are the lucky ones. Kyiv, Kharkiv, Lviv and Odessa will be reduced to rubble, proverbially comparable to when Tokyo and Japanese cities were firebombed, systematically killing civilians toward the end of World War 2."

I was totally wrong in my forecast! I understated Zelenskyy and the Ukraine people's resolve and overstated Putin's strength. But I was right about one thing:

"America will not shed blood for Ukraine. No 'boots on the ground'! With its NATO allies, the US will simply arm Ukraine, encourage it to resist, and Russian and Ukraine boys will die. Victims all for a surrogate war for democracy. Not a drop of American blood spilled. But this act by America and NATO using Eastern Europeans to butcher each other is pushing Putin into a corner. Putin will not allow Russian boys to die in hordes in a protracted war with Ukraine... America, true to its democratic principles and concepts of freedom, will allow the blood of Ukraine and Russia to flow for the very concepts America holds dear."

Putin has hinted on his nuclear option, but I doubt that he could put this in play, knowing full well the capabilities of the US and NATO allies, their second-strike capabilities and the unthinkable Armageddon that will ensue. But the military strategic doctrine of mutual assured destruction (MAD) is the deterrent. But who knows what madmen will do to survive. Totalitarian regimes in the past have proven to possess an insane mindset and act within these parameters. Putin's saber-rattling is designed to force the West and Ukraine to negotiate. Negotiations will allow Putin to "hold forces in place" giving him a deceptive advantage, having occupied Ukraine's eastern territories as a buffer that Russia could barely hold on to, let alone govern.

But no matter what happens to this war, the US military-industrial-congressional complex (MICC) has already won. To date, America has infused weapons, war equipment, security assistance and training, and financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine to the tune of $50 billion, presumably insulating the US arms industry from recession. But for the rest of the world, global prices for oil, gas and coal will continue to skyrocket, sending inflation to unprecedented levels and impeding the post-pandemic economic recovery.

Blame the culprit

And in times of great tragedy, the default excuse that gives pseudo-comfort to the afflicted is to put the blame for the pandemic on the culprit, China!

Since the breakout of the virus from an exotic meat market in Wuhan in 2019 and China's efforts to obscure the truth that only an authoritarian government is capable of doing, conspiracy theories have flourished. Foremost of these is the laboratory leakage of a weaponized virus for biological warfare, from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, partly clandestinely financed presumably by some US entity.

From this single incident, the virus spread from China to the world, forcing economic lockdowns. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated the cost to the global economy at a staggering $12.5 trillion. Economists had hopes of some type of recovery by 2023, but the World Bank and other multilaterals have run out of superlatives describing the harm to the world economy, with IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva declaring that supply chain disruptions, inflation and tighter monetary policy were "throwing cold water on the recovery everywhere." All leading economists have different and contradictory views on the world economy. What most agree on is the greater widening gap between the have and have-not countries; and more tragically, the disparity within the countries themselves of their own poor and the rich populace not unlike the Philippines And more importantly, the two biggest world economies that are meant to be the world's main engines of economic growth are mired in their own roles in this pandemic.

Sequel to pandemic

Just recently, from Singapore a new deadly variant of the Covid-19 mutating to Omicron in early 2022 has now metamorphosed further into the Omicron XBB1.5. Reportedly, this is harder to detect, and far deadlier than the Delta variant which has killed millions. China was the last country to get out of lockdown not because they have conquered the pandemic, but the political offshoot was simply too much for Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to accept — the widespread protests erupting in major Chinese cities. Scientists have advanced the idea that China with its zero-Covid policy with its harsh continuing lockdowns, has not achieved herd immunity unlike other countries, particularly those in Northern Europe. Apparently, these countries that lifted lockdowns earlier, and have allowed subsequent milder variance have attained herd immunity. But other world scientists have other theories, unsure about how to fight the closing days of the virus — if indeed the virus is dissipating. Our experts seem to be all merely speculating and playing the guessing game like the parable of the blind men describing an elephant, allowed only to touch and feel a different part, the trunk, the tusk, the ears, etc., all arriving at the wrong conclusions.

But most of the experts agree that we have not seen the end of the pandemic — and experts in Singapore, where the Covid-Omicron XBB variant was first detected, have proclaimed that this mutation displays symptoms mimicking other infirmities like joint pain, headaches, neck pain, upper back pain, pneumonia and general loss of appetite. But the XBB is five times more deadly than the Delta variant which has already claimed millions of lives, they said.

And toward the end of 2022, the populace has started to discard the World Health Organization's protocols: wearing of masks, avoiding crowded places, maintaining a 1.5-meter distance and frequent washing of hands. This simple spillover from 2022 may spell the difference between the resurgence of the new mutated virus, the death of millions more and the devastation of our economies.

Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 04 January 2023 08:02

No more New Year's resolution!

I WRITE my first column for 2023 at Heavenly Village in Lake Tahoe while on Christmas skiing holiday with my six grandchildren, ages 3 to 10, two pairs of parents, and a pair of grandparents. While Lolo and Momsie (Lola) are ambulant and don't require wheelchairs, we will ride the downhill runs — where Lolo is known as the "killer of the kiddie slopes," not risking our osteoporotic bones to serious fractures.

As tradition dictates, one uses the year-end to review one's failures and successes against last year's resolutions, embarking on a new list for the coming year. As I wrote in 2021, toward the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, "I claim expertise at crafting beautiful and well-thought-out year-end resolutions — on weight loss, smoking, alcohol intake and diet — that I adopt seriously for a day or two and promptly discard. Thus, I save myself from undergoing similar experiences of friends who forge their own lists, religiously sticking to them for weeks and even months while putting themselves under tremendous stress, anxiety and panic attacks, before surrendering to the inevitable. A lesson well learned every year is to avoid the same mistake. Do a list, if you must, but give them up after a day."

This year, I do away with personal resolutions. But still I intend to accumulate more wonderful experiences with the little ones and deposit them into my memory banks later to be retrieved at leisure, maybe withdraw them in trickles, during my years of dementia and onslaught of the dreaded Alzheimer's, God forbid!

Approaching my life's four-fifths of a century, while my grandchildren's are just in their first decade, I will instead indulge in the usual preoccupation of retired seniors of my generation and examine the carcasses of my past yearly resolutions with regrets but convert these into reflections of my wishes, hopes and aspirations for my own grandchildren and their generation. Using my modest experience in business, government and civil society, overarched by my education and training in political technocracy, I am drawn to musings of the type of society they will be growing in, given the country's being stuck in the policies and methods of governance shaped by a dysfunctional system.

My articles and pronouncements over the years have always reflected my public position on the type of government we Centrist Democrats have advocated passionately for decades: to shift our government from the unitary-presidential form to a parliamentary-federal structure.

These ponderings are prompted by two related occasions this month, the Harvard-KSG Alumni celebrating their 33rd year in the Philippines; and the other, the prodding of an alumni stalwart, Willy Villarama, who sent me video clips of Singapore's founder Lee Kuan Yew's (LKY) pronouncements about how he has elevated Singapore from a backward state — less developed than the Philippines — to emerge among the best economies in Southeast Asia in four decades.

LKY and parliamentary govt

Contemporary accounts attribute Singapore's rise to what LKY himself declared was his basic credo: good governance! In the 31 years as prime minister under a parliamentary system, this is what LKY, and his government delivered. Primarily, anti-corruption policies were instituted, where government dealings are transparent and aboveboard, and the rule of law reigns supreme. A system of meritocracy was put in place governing the choice of people taken into the bureaucracy where bureaucrats are hired and promoted regardless of race, language, or religion. This resulted in the establishment of a superb civil service comparable to that of the United Kingdom's original.

All these are underpinned by political pragmatism where the three cultural components of Singapore's society — Malays, Chinese and Indians — have a fair share of responsibilities and duties and fruits of good governance. He disdained short-term populist policies designed to serve only a segment of Singapore society, opting for long-term socioeconomic planning. His government embraced globalized trade transforming the island of Singapore into a developed country, with high income and sustainably high growth. Though influenced by Western democratic concepts, he was an advocate of Asian values where his three decades of leadership were described as authoritarian with some elements of freedom allowed within some democratic space. His champions characterized his regime as a hybrid or a guided democracy. His critics, mostly advocates of westernized values, censured him for "...curtailing press freedoms, imposing narrow limits on public protests, restricting labor movements from industrial or strike action through anti-union legislation and co-option." (Wikipedia)


Perhaps Willy Villarama was giving a not-so-subtle hint that somehow, the KSG alumni must look up to LKY as a model for the Harvard alumni community to emulate. There is, in fact, a certain logic to this as LKY is an alumnus of some of the best universities; London School of Economics, Cambridge (Fitzwilliam College) and the National University of Singapore — reputedly the Harvard of Asia. But the comparison ends here. I don't assert that one needs to be an alumnus of these venerable institutions or similar ones to be a great political leader.

No educational institution guarantees a pathway to the highest leadership of any country, not Harvard, not Yale or for that matter our own UP, Ateneo, La Salle or UST — just a few of many great educational institutions in the Philippines. What a great university guarantees is to simply provide a venue and an atmosphere where undergraduate students are allowed to get a glimpse of their full potential in whatever profession they so choose. It is unfortunate that this system for many generations has imprinted in the minds of our people that university education is a sine qua non for advancement, top employment, and the highest echelons for all professions. This mindset has resulted in an elitist view of higher education.

Thus, graduates of these local universities seek higher learning in postgraduate fellowships abroad not so much to gain more knowledge — which could be incremental and marginal — but to acquire a patina of prestige conferred by a diploma as evidence of an expensive training from venerable institutions. Harvard's post-graduate professional schools, undoubtedly the premier academic institution with world-class credentials, are coveted. Kennedy School (HKSG), Business (HBS), Law (HLS), Medicine (HMS) and its other professional schools, are Harvard's legitimate offspring; sharing and dispensing a fragile modicum of its reputation for excellence, that Harvard so painstakingly accumulated over the centuries as a great institution. And a synergy is thus created as these Harvard disciples who have been recruited already competent, accomplished, skilled and overqualified, are stamped with its aura, sent forth to the world and called Harvard's own. Thus, this symbiosis could enhance the reputation of both. But Harvard does not guarantee good performance. They just have to prove themselves better.

My final wish, therefore, having thus imbibed from this great institution myself, is for my colleagues in the KSG and the Harvard community, especially those currently in sensitive and responsible positions in government and in the private sector, to explore alternatives to this dysfunctional system we've had for generations. On this, we Harvard people should initiate this conversation and help shape the debate.

Happy New Year!

Published in LML Polettiques