Philippine perspectives on China's experience

Philippine perspectives on China's experience Featured

LAST week's column ended with a suggestion that democracy and its attendant principles may not be the right fit for us, considering the decades of experimentation in the Philippines, comparative to some successful Asian countries run under the opposite type of governance, if our gauge of success is to see the citizenry improve their lives immensely and provide for the present generation and the future ones. It is a valid assumption that a government must exist to provide the wherewithal for the well-lived lives of its citizenry. In its simplest terms, under the precepts of democracy, its success is measured when the great majority of its people are not hungry and are educated and safe and, in essence, poverty is alleviated. And the menu of ingredients for success is myriad when related to the dignity of each Filipino — the core values of centrist democracy, health care, decent dwelling, job creation, a living wage and social security, among others. I submit that in many of these features, our government under democracy has failed.

The American precepts we adopted gave precedence to values that may not be congruent with Filipino culture. Individual freedoms, which are products of America's historicity and political evolution — freedom of speech and the press, religious beliefs, freedom to bear arms, a bill of rights, etc. — are basically alien to our own. Adherents of democracy as practiced in the Western world argue that democracy has many defects, but its opposite, authoritarianism, is no better an alternative. But empirical evidence shows otherwise.

China's experience

I mentioned in the previous column the experiences of Singapore and Malaysia under authoritarian regimes and their rapid growth over the decades, surpassing that of the Philippines. But this column alludes to the biggest elephant in the room, China, which may surpass America in a decade. China has reduced poverty substantially and elevated millions of its citizens. With a population of 1.4 billion, or roughly 18 percent of the world's, China declared in 2021 that its government had succeeded in lifting 770 million of its people out of poverty in just four decades. Under authoritarian rule, their poverty reduction program rested on fundamental strategies and transformed the economy from a socialist closed model to a capitalist open market one. Underlying this was the reform of their system and structures of governance, resulting in a more effective implementation of policies.

China welcomed foreign investments, privatized state-owned enterprises and implemented market-oriented policies. This led to rapid economic growth, job creation and rising income levels.

The rural areas were developed by investing in infrastructure, such as roads, railways, electricity, water supply and communication systems, and providing subsidies to farmers to increase agricultural productivity.

To provide workers in developing industries, people not needed in the rural agricultural sector were relocated to urban areas and provided with job training for employment.

More importantly, China made significant investments in education, particularly in rural areas. The government has provided free compulsory education for all children and increased funding for higher education.

All these combined toward poverty reduction and placed China among the industrialized countries of the world. But these couldn't have been made possible were they not directed by a professional bureaucracy run by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

Professionalizing bureaucracy

The CCP composed the elites of China. In their authoritarian system, the CCP pervades the political life and the bureaucracy from whence the leadership is culled; for the eventual leaders, life membership starts at the lower levels of local governments and layers of the bureaucracy, climbing up the ranks over the years.

Membership in the CCP is merit-based, and applicants or recruits are accepted based on their qualifications, expertise and performance, seldom their political connections. The most capable and competent officials are appointed to understudy the running of government and, in this case, oversee poverty alleviation efforts.

Earlier in their membership, many are provided with specialized training in economics, management and social development, equipping them with the knowledge and skills to implement policies. And they undergo performance-based evaluation programs assessing their effectiveness and the success of programs on the ground for which they are held accountable. To advance in the party, they are allowed a modicum of innovation and experimentation, testing new approaches and strategies.

This professionalized bureaucracy under the tutelage of the CCP demonstrates its critical role in the success of well-designed, effectively implemented and efficiently managed poverty alleviation that unshackled the millions of Chinese from their stark and dire poverty trap, elevating them to the middle class.

Authoritarian vs democratic methods

Last week's column partly described the Philippine political development experience under almost a century of democratic experimentation in governance. And I concede that our system is pockmarked with democratic deficits that have only stunted our growth comparative to that of Singapore, Malaysia, and even South Korea and Vietnam, which by many metrics have left us in the dust. And these blemishes could even be obtrusive when compared to China. Admittedly, China's authoritarian practices produced desired results — the emancipation of its poverty-stricken populace, for one — by using methods antithetical to our American political heritage.

Foremost of these is their program of urbanization, where large segments of the population were forcibly relocated from rural and impoverished regions and provinces. This was meant to improve living conditions and concentrate limited resources in urban settings for easy access. By Western democratic precepts, these were violations of their human rights.

No, China is not a democracy. Its political leadership at the top does not exist for the sufferance of the general public. Their legitimate hold on power is decided through a process of internal selection by the established party hierarchy tasked with this burden of selection. It is slightly different at the local and regional level, where the people elect their local leaders from a list provided by the Communist Party. There are no opposing political parties with adversarial ideologies and programs of government. All follow the communist line.

Herein lies the difference from democracies. For the Philippines in particular, the political leadership comes from different segments of society, where anyone with the propensity to run for office with enough logistics can join several political parties and vie for office. Electoral politics and changes in leadership at the national or local levels are done through elections with the direct participation of the general public qualified to vote. But in the last few decades, the electoral process has been dominated by political dynasties and the oligarchy, fulfilling the observation of Alexander Tytler of the devious nature of democracy and its eventual collapse (see "Philippine perspectives on Western concepts," The Manila Times, Sept. 6, 2023).

In contrast with the CCP, our democracy inevitably led to Filipinos electing from a pre-selected list of name-recognizable candidates embedded in more than 100 political parties anointed or owned by political dynasties and the oligarchy, the reason why actors, media personalities and sports celebrities win hands down and therefore assume a flawed mantle of political leadership.

But are there alternatives between democracy on one end and authoritarianism on the other that are suitable for Philippine governance? Or are we condemned to our colonial legacy?

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Read 364 times Last modified on Thursday, 14 September 2023 06:51
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