Centrist Democracy Political Institute - Items filtered by date: November 2019
Wednesday, 27 November 2019 12:30

Destined for War and PH’s peripheral role

IN 2017, I came across this fascinating book by Graham Allison, Destined for War, which described the rise of China and its impact on the world, particularly on America’s position as the architect of the international order that has prevailed for seven decades from 1945. Ingrained in this architecture are the basic tenets of Western thought: democracy and the rule of law, free enterprise and global trade — America’s instruments that propelled her to hegemony in the aftermath of World War 2. Intended or not, this role which America assumed for itself brought about an unprecedented era of peace or at least a state of non-war. And this allowed China to reappear in the world stage after an absence of more than 200 years. It may be recalled that ancient China, the Middle Kingdom, was dominant in Asia for thousands of years before it was eclipsed by the West that began during the Age of Discovery in the early 16th century.

Thucydides trap
Allison proposes that the impact of China’s rise will cause

“…discombobulation to the US and the international order.” He cited Thucydides, the Greek historian who first defined the concept of history in his History of the Peloponnesian War 2,500 years ago. In his book, he suggests that, “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this installed in Sparta that made war inevitable.” Applying this to the current status of America confronted with the rise of China, Allison conceived the “Thucydides Trap, a dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a major ruling power.” In this case China, the rising power, threatens to displace the ruling power, the United States. Will war ensue, as in Athens versus Sparta? Allison suggests that war is likely but not inevitable.

And this is the underpinning theme of this column: to divine on one hand the direction of Philippine foreign policy in the light of President Duterte’s pronouncements about aligning with China (and Russia) “against the world”; and his unilateral decision to set aside the Hague court arbitral ruling, abetting China’s moves in the South China Sea (West Philippine Sea) jeopardizing ours and other Asian countries’ claim to some islands within. On the other hand, we can’t arbitrarily negate our close and personal ties with America, forged in the crucible of battles and her tutelage for a century. It seems incongruous that upon the assumption of the Deegong to power, he pivoted us to China at the instance when the outgoing Obama pivoted to Asia.

The Philippine dynamic
At this point, Allison’s book becomes relevant to us as the Philippines is now reluctantly complacent in some ways with China’s “usurping,” developing and converting our claimed islands off Palawan and Luzon into Chinese military bases; and adding salt to the wounds, proposing joint commercial resources exploitation of areas like the Recto Bank, which are obviously not within her exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Mindful of Allison’s warning that war comes from three factors, interest (for real), fear (perception of) and honor (feeling pride and respect), the Philippines, linked to China by reason of geography and the US by reason of kinship, may now find herself in an untenable and delicate position, perhaps unwittingly by hurried personal choices of our political leadership, oblivious to the exigencies of history.

To complicate matters, one of the more compelling ideas advanced in the book is that the Thucydides trap “allows external events and actors who otherwise are inconsequential or easily manageable to trigger cascades of consequences that get you to places you don’t wanna go.”

And these cascades of possible consequences are embedded in the Philippine claim to disputed territories, including Panatag (Scarborough Shoal) in Luzon and the bigger Kalayaan Island Group in Palawan. Also called the Spratly Islands, these are within the Philippine EEZ. And these claims are in “suspended animation” pending our leaders seeing their way clear through our muddled foreign policy.

Previous regime’s incompetence
The blunders of President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s administration taunting China by breaking off an impasse and in effect abandoning Panatag to China has been well documented. (“Aquino, del Rosario begged US to use its military in Scarborough crisis,” Rigoberto Tiglao, Manila Times, Aug. 6, 2018). Be that as it may, the converted islands in the West Philippine Sea are now in effect Chinese garrisons engulfing the Philippines as part of China’s forward defense — preparing for maritime conflict. Allison has cautioned us that “Thucydides teaches us [that there]are the structural factors that lay its foundations: conditions in which otherwise manageable events can escalate with unforeseeable severity and produce unimaginable consequences.”

Some of the “unimaginable consequences” were almost triggered by the unthinking President Aquino, and the bungling of his foreign affairs secretary, del Rosario; then running off to America to invoke the PH-US Mutual Defense Treaty. This was an inane and dangerous move, exactly one of the trigger points pointed out in the Thucydides Trap.

The onus has now been passed on to the Deegong. And his ability to appreciate his role will be tested. He is what is described by Allison as the “actor on top of external events, otherwise inconsequential, who could trigger cascades of consequences we don’t want to go to”; in this case, a shooting war between two giants and a nuclear holocaust in its wake. The imperatives therefore would shift to the President’s organic team. Are they armed with enough sophistication and skill in statecraft and international negotiations? So far, what has emanated from Malacañang is the President’s propensity to regard negotiations as a zero-sum game. As I intimated in my past columns, “…the President is unable to or refuses to see options other than that which a butangero in the streets is inured to, reducing the alternatives into a fistfight or flight.

Are China and US destined for war?
Back to the overarching theme of this column. Are China and the United States destined for war? Yes and no! Yes! If we are not mindful of Santayana’s dictum and history’s follies. And the historical odds are bad. Of the 16 cases of Thucydides Trap, 12 resulted in war.

No! If China and US will sidestep the Thucydides trap, internalizing the “…consequential question about our world today. Are we going to follow in the footsteps of history or can we through a combination of imagination and common sense and courage find a way to manage this rivalry without a war nobody wants everybody knows would be catastrophic?”

Perhaps America needs to understand too that China now is compelled to write its own narrative. For about 3,000 years it was dominant in Asia except for the 200 years that the West imperialized and exploited her. She may simply want to reclaim her status quo ante.

And for the Philippines’ role, a caution: “…few of these (16) wars were initiated by either the rising or ruling power but a third party’s provocation forces the one or the other to react and that sets in motion a spiral which drags the two somewhere they don’t wanna go.”

When elephants dance, the ant should give way!
Published in LML Polettiques
Tuesday, 26 November 2019 15:13

House to approve Charter changes in January

MANILA, Philippines — The House of Representatives intends to approve its proposed Charter change amendments, including the lifting of term limits and shift to federalism, in the next three months.

“By Dec. 11, we will approve the proposed amendments in our committee. Plenary approval is slated in January. By February, the approved changes will already be with the Senate,” Cagayan de Oro City Rep. Rufus Rodriguez, who chairs the committee on constitutional amendments, said yesterday.

Administration officials have said federalism is no longer a priority of Duterte.

Rodriguez, however, said based on public consultations his committee has conducted in Luzon and Mindanao, there is overwhelming support for at least four major amendments.

“Participants are for lifting restrictions on foreign investments to increase more employment in our country, and they are for shifting the nation to the federal-presidential system to develop the countryside,” he said.

Rodriguez noted that the proposed shift was a 2016 election campaign promise of President Duterte.

“The President and his congressional allies can still fulfill that promise,” he said.

He said there is also popular support for lengthening the term of office of local officials and their representatives in Congress from three years to five years “to give them more time to finish their programs and projects for their constituents, and for the election of senators by region to ensure regional representation in the Senate.”

He said the present two-chamber Congress would be retained in the envisioned federal-presidential system that would replace the present “unitary and centralized” setup.

Rodriguez pointed out that lawmakers have enough time to introduce changes in the Constitution during the remaining two-and-a-half years of the Duterte administration.
Published in News
Wednesday, 20 November 2019 07:36

Rome-Argentina-Filipinas: Lessons to be learned

THIS column concludes a three-part series on the creation of a populist welfare state as the precursor of the downfall of empires and governments. Rome is a case in point in the first half of the 1st century A.D. and Argentina from 1930 onward. Their experiences will be briefly narrated in the hope that our country’s own political and economic leadership will mull over the antecedents surrounding the circumstances that brought about their societal decay. This columnist will not attempt to provide our leadership a menu of solutions as the political-economic realities in the Philippines are as much complicated as the other two. But surely, our leadership, whose patriotism may not be questioned, can extract lessons to be learned from the fall of Rome and the decadence of contemporary Argentina; and perhaps save our country from a similar fate.

Rome as a sample is logical in that the empire had so influenced the West in its concepts which are dominant but waning, among them, the ideas of democracy and the rule of law handed down from Greece but honed at the Senatus Romani; and freedom and individual liberties, notions so ingrained and cherished by America that they propelled its drive for hegemony in the earlier part of the last century.

Argentine connection
Why Argentina? Because this country has intrigued me since I was privileged to be invited as a consultant to Industrias Metalurgica Pescarmona (Impsa) by its Harvard-trained principal, Francisco Ruben Valenti, who from the mid-1990s has been a close friend, a confidant, a confrère who provided me excellent and valuable insights into this beautiful yet complicated country’s history, it’s culture, the nuances of its politics and its contradictions.

Argentina’s trajectory leading towards its apex was the successful results of the application of “…consistent liberal economic policies starting from 1880 and to the opening of its borders to a wave of European immigrants” (“Argentina — an enigma,” The Manila Times, Nov.13, 2019). By 1910, Argentina was at the top of the world boasting of its honorific as “Granero del mundo,” capable of feeding many countries. But from that dominant position as the leading “European City” in Latin America, the policies introduced by subsequent populist administrations were pushing the country toward a welfare state, its economic-political and cultural flight plan plateaued circa 1930s, eventually hurling the country down looking at the gaping abyss of economic oblivion. The demands for entitlements were aggravated during the reign of the charismatic couple, Juan and Evita Peron, which personified the essence of “Peronismo,” an ideology that was masses-bred and -directed but evolved away from its roots. Its popularity driven by the ghost of its past is so compelling that even subsequent Argentinian presidents must claim the badge of a Peronista simply to entice the millions of the poor for their votes.

Argentina’s recent past
Transiting to the recent past, President Carlos Menem in the 1990s at first tried to correct the iniquities, from taming runaway inflation to disciplining the government’s parastatals. But the corruption in his administration and the persistent loss of jobs intensified the economic hemorrhage. With his term running out, the undisciplined populist compromises Menem crafted kicked in, jeopardizing his ambition for an unprecedented third term. He did not get it but in the process, Argentina’s fate was imperiled.

Argentina was in a mess, its international reputation in tatters and the bond market gave its harsh verdict, pricing their bonds at $0.30 to $1. This, even before the international financial collapse.

Argentina did not learn from its mistakes. Still continuing its welfare state-propelled social agenda, modest subsidies on monthly salaries were granted — for survival. An emergency measure at best, this was extended and become permanent during the 12-year conjugal authoritarian-nepotism of President Nestor Kirchner and later his wife Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (currently vice president). President Mauricio Macri, a liberal turned socialist, has abetted this vicious cycle.

Trying to stem the tide
Perhaps Macri’s initiative for changes may be honorable but the populist dreams and mindset for government entitlements are so ingrained as to demand immediate satisfaction now — and let the future generation fend for itself. And the leadership, including the opposition, are totally clueless as to how to balance the voters’ demands of today as against the exigencies of tomorrow.

These series of failed policies towards sustaining a welfare state and irresponsible direct subsidies toward its citizens will result in a complicated set of generational problems. As translated from Spanish “…the present crop of youth that has not witnessed and appreciated the values of hard work and diligence of their ancestors will produce the next generations, ignorant of the value of work ethics.”

Thus, Argentina’s recent past policy choices have endangered its youth today. They are fertile grounds for drugs — which is prevalent in Latin America; witness Columbia in the time of Escobar and the drug cartels in Sinaloa, Mexico. A dealer in a barrio makes more money than a worker but destroys his life and the lives of others.

Many of the frantically concerned citizens in Argentina may have the seeds of a solution — only if government, which is now seemingly detached from its people, will listen. Among the many immediate ones they propose are the reiteration of down-to-earth proposals harking back to their successful past from 1880 to circa 1925.

In lieu of direct subsidies, the private sector is ready to help government create massive jobs with investments from investors abroad, but only if corruption in government is eradicated or minimized and the bureaucracy is trimmed. For its part, the local investors having been ravaged by the economy in the recent past, may have to compromise to work with government on new politico-economic initiatives.

Special attention should be given to the banks and financial institutions by restructuring and refocusing operations to serve the interest and welfare of business and local entrepreneurs — especially in the agricultural sector, producing goods and services rather than redirecting capital to speculative markets.

A jobs-creation program is a must to cover an ample spectrum ranging from low to higher skills in order to provide ascendant mobility. The vast natural resources of the country could be developed to exploit its competitive advantage (only a population of 44 million in an area almost two-thirds the size of the US).

Hope and deliverance
Could this be achieved? Argentina may have to recapture the spirit of its salad days during President Domingo Sarmiento’s regime when free education was imposed, resulting in the best educational system in Latin America, producing five Nobel Laureates and catapulting Argentina among the best economies in the world. The seeds of Argentina’s resurgence are there. With one caveat. The political leadership and the private sector, particularly the banks and financial institutions, must begin to look inward into themselves and germinate that which is drastically needed today: Argentina and her people’s common good must prevail.

Our Philippine leadership could look at as an exemplar of what not to do after its heyday in the 1910-1930s, from whence it nosedived when the welfare state was put in place. Filipinas is at this crossroad. Where do we go from here?
Published in LML Polettiques
Wednesday, 13 November 2019 14:16

Argentina, an enigma

I HAVE been to some Latin American countries since the 1980s and have found a certain affinity with their people. It is perhaps because we were all once colonies of Spain: Mexico, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Paraguay and Argentina. The Spanish language was the glue tying these countries together — except Brazil, a colony of Portugal — but still imbued with the Latin temperament — which at best is an accepted but nebulous concept nevertheless.

My previous trips to Argentina were all work-related. But my umpteenth trip — this time with my wife Sylvia, her first — was purely for pleasure, renewing ties with good and true friends of almost three decades. I am seeing the country therefore in a more intimate light, overwhelmed by its vastness, the richness of its culture, the range of its climate, from the tropical north to the arid and temperate middle to the cold south polar regions and, more importantly, the resilience and contradictions of its people. It is said among the Argentinians that “when God created the world, he made Argentina what it is, vast, beautiful, resource-rich and diverse. Others were envious, upon which God to appease those resentful ones decided to populate it with an appropriate race — Argentinians.” Perhaps to level the playing field with His other creations.

Freedom from Spain
Argentina was a colony of Spain for 294 years from 1516, ending with the revolution of May of 1810, and eventual declaration of independence on July 9, 1816. The Federal Republic of Argentina was formed 45 years later. It has come out from under Spain’s skirts to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Being exempted from the ravages of the First and Second World Wars, the new republic thrived and, beginning circa 1910, became known not only as a European city in Latin America but behaved like one.

The rise of Argentina as a world economy was propelled by consistent liberal economic policies starting from 1880 and to the opening of its borders to a wave of European immigrants, this fresh blood catapulting the economy to new economic heights. Infrastructure was developed, railroads and subways were built, and public parks, museums and amphitheaters were established — all these are still evident today. Its growth, by current standards was phenomenal and, by 1908, it ranked seventh among the wealthiest developed nations, after Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Belgium.

Cultural flowering
It was during this period, too, that a cultural flowering occurred, nurtured by a then-radical concept of a public, free and compulsory secular education, prompting an increase in literacy rates and influencing other Latin American countries. This was perhaps the golden age of Argentina. For one, the emergence of the passionate yet erotic tango came into the scene, with the poetry and songs of Carlos Gardel accompanied by the eerie cries and lamentations of Anibal Troilo and Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneon. The charming complexity of the tango defined Argentina’s character.

In Buenos Aires, the capital, one can see traces of Paris, London and Rome in its architecture. Their main boulevard, Nueve de Julio could be compared to the Champs-Élysées of Paris, a broad avenue with shops on both sides with its own equivalent to the Arc de Triomphe or the La Place de l’Étoile. The Obelisk of Buenos Aires was erected at the Plaza de la Republica in 1936, commemorating the 400 years of the city’s first foundation.

But all good things must end, it seems. As in a similar piece I wrote on this column last week on the decline of the Roman Empire, its actual rise was nebulous, but its end certain. Argentina’s ascent in Latin America and among the world’s first economies could not be sustained, and this trend from the 1880 was reversed, beginning in the late 1920s. The seeds of populism began to germinate and at a time when the Great Depression was coming to a head, Argentina’s government accelerated its march towards a populist-propelled welfare state. Government enacted social and economic reforms extending assistance and subsidies to small farmers and businesses — policies the government could ill-afford.

A series of coups d’état by the military divided the nation, precipitating an economic and social decline that put the country virtually back to square one —this while the world was wracked by the Great Depression of the 1930s.

At this point, a charismatic leader emerged — Juan Domingo Peron, a former minister of welfare who was popular with the workers and the poor. With his equally popular wife, the enigmatic Evita, the tandem embarked on the creation of a political movement that would serve the interests of this motley clientele. As in the beginning of any welfare state, government policies are directed toward the immediate gratification of populist demands — not minding the cost — postponing the inevitable consequences of political acts. Thus, wages and working conditions were improved, nationalizing and putting under control strategic industries and services by Peron’s cronies, the better to control the dispensing of government largesse. Standing by Peron’s side, Evita persuaded Congress to give the vote to the womenfolk and was extremely generous with government funds for the poor and needy. She was projected as an angel to the downtrodden and he could do no wrong. But she died early of cancer, and he did things wrong indeed.

He was eventually ousted, but his and Evita’s concern for the poor, however questionable, metamorphosed into a ghost that propelled the growth of the Peronistas, a populist movement. But the poor were not the exclusive domain of the Peronistas. There were other claimants vying for political power that eventually drove the right-wing dictatorship to employ state terrorism now labeled as the “Guerra Sucia,” or the Dirty War. An estimated 15,000 to 30,000 left-wing activists and militants, students, trade unionists and Peronistas were killed.

This was part of the military-led National Reorganization Process (Proceso), a euphemism for succeeding juntas that further condemned the economy to stagnation. The last military dictator, Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri blundered into invading the Malvinas (Falkland Islands) simply to divert the Argentinians from the economic crisis and regain his waning popularity. The British crushed the invasion. Argentina surrendered. Rioting in Buenos Aires ensued, the military was humiliated and Galtieri resigned.

Argentina, purported to be a federal republic with independent and autonomous states, was always run as a unitary government with powers controlled from the center — Buenos Aires. Perhaps this is the root problem of the country — the traditional politicians have captured the tools and institutions of the state and have gone rogue. Corruption in the highest levels of government flourished.

The subsequent economic blunders by President Carlos Menem pegging the Argentinian peso to one-on-one with the American dollar was political hubris. Today, hawkers at the pedestrian Florida street in Buenos Aires will exchange your $1 for P62; and interest rates charged by banks to businesses could reach 70 percent annually. You could, of course, invest in the money market at 54 percent per annum return. But would you?

And if this is not resolved, Argentina will continue in its slide. And, I’m afraid — Argentinians will cry for Argentina.
Published in LML Polettiques
Thursday, 07 November 2019 13:20

Shake a rattle

“Then I fall to my knees, shake a rattle at the skies and I’m afraid that I’ll be taken, abandoned, forsaken in her cold coffee eyes.” – A quote from the song, “She moves on” by Paul Simon, singer/songwriter

THE recent tremors affecting the central provinces of Mindanao caused by a series of seismic waves radiating to the northern and southern parts of the island, were like nature shaking a rattle, emitting sharp sounds and unnerving motions from the underground, both frightening and bewildering as to the intensity and confusion they generated.

The successive earthquakes and aftershocks were rattling the nerves not only of residents close to the epicenter but also those living along the active fault planes who were not used to strong earth movements. Some reported dizziness, anxiety, depression and other post-traumatic stress symptoms after experiencing continuous shaking and periodic vibrations.

As this article was written, less frequent but perceptible tremors were felt on the affected areas although everyone is reportedly bracing for aftershocks which many hope and pray, would not turn out to be the dreaded “big one,” as some irresponsible persons are falsely posting on social media. Shake a rattle drum to this latter blokes.

According to Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology (Phivolcs), since the 1900s, Mindanao has been rocked by at least 35 earthquakes, three of which, felt at “Intensity 7” or worse, were deemed destructive: the 1976 Moro Gulf earthquake which caused a tsunami reaching up to nine meters that killed about 8,000 people including the unaccounted ones; the 1999 series of earthquakes in Agusan del Sur damaging roads, and poorly constructed schools and infrastructure; and the Sultan Kudarat earthquake in 2002, killing eight people with 41 others injured and affecting over seven thousand families in the provinces of Sarangani, North and South Cotabato (Rappler 2019). Shake a rattle of prayers for all who perished in these tragedies.

The series of earthquakes in October of this year, just weeks apart, with magnitudes of over 6 hitting many provinces, again, in Cotabato and southern parts of Davao accounted for the death toll of 22, damaging homes, school buildings and many infrastructure, shaking and sending chills to many residents who have to deal with continuing albeit smaller tremors which can be felt as far up the city of Cagayan de Oro and down the southern province of Sarangani.

Some local officials reported residents having developed “earthquake phobia” keeping watch on their clock hanging inside their tents in evacuation sites, losing sleep with anxiety awaiting when the next tremor would be coming. With frayed nerves, some would panic over even slight ground shakings.

But this is not about the temblor as much as the response of people and the country’s leaders and responsible officials. Except for the government of China which donated P22 million in aid and support for relief efforts in Mindanao, hurray for China, other foreign countries just expressed condolences and messages of sympathy to families of victims. No pledges, no assistance. Perhaps, they can’t trust our government agencies to do the job for them anymore. To them, a shake of the baby rattle.

To the initial bunch of donors who immediately come with their financial assistance such as Yorme Isko Moreno of Manila with his P5 million personal money, Mayor Vico Sotto with relief goods and P14 million coming from the people of Pasig City, Mayor Marcy Teodoro of Marikina with 100 modular tents, movie star Angel Locsin who moved about sans fanfare for her charity work offering food and other assistance to victims in Davao and North Cotabato, to Mayor Inday Duterte for relief distribution, Cebu provincial government for disaster relief campaign and to the many nameless others who came with their relief aids, shake a rattle of joy and thankfulness for their kindness and generosity.

To our government officials and politicians goes our appeal to set aside politics, distribute the relief items according to the wishes of their donors and not allow goods to rot because of political colors as was shown in the previous administration’s handling of donated goods. To them, shake a rattle of enlightenment and peace.

In whatever disaster or crisis that befalls the country, trust Filipinos’ resiliency and coping mechanisms such as resorting to prayers and humor to come to their succor.

Social media become a natural venue for memes, practical jokes and bantering such as the ones which came after Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy reportedly claimed that he caused to stop the earthquakes so they can no longer create damage. To everyone, shake a rattle of laughter and fun while we help provide for the needs of our less fortunate brethren in Cotabato and Davao provinces.
Published in Fellows Hub
Wednesday, 06 November 2019 11:37

Collapse of empire and the welfare state

HISTORICALLY the rise and fall of empire is measured in millennia. The former is often imperceptible, while the latter could be abrupt, immediate and deadly. Such was the fate of the Roman Empire. Its rise is covered in the mists of time and suffused with myth, making it almost impossible to separate the chaff from the grain. Legend has it that the brothers Romulus and Remus founded Rome. They were the offspring of gods and a mortal. Because of some prophecy that the twins would cause the downfall of a family member, they were abandoned at birth on the Tiber River. Rescued and suckled by a she-wolf, the twins were later adopted by a shepherd. The prophecy of course came to pass. Both eventually founded Rome. In a bizarre twist, Romulus killed Remus, thus the birth of the Roman Empire midwifed in blood augured its downfall.

Final sacking of Rome
Rome’s destruction has been accurately pinpointed in 467 AD, when the last Roman Emperor, ironically named Romulus, was deposed by a Germanic chieftain Odoacer, who subsequently sacked Rome and became its first barbarian ruler. This was simply the culmination and the exclamation mark of the city’s end. The classical causes of an empire’s demise are often attributed to invasion by other empires out to expand their influence while extracting the victim’s resources, or conquest by hordes of “barbarian tribes” — Goths, Vandals, Visigoths, etc.

But the fall of Rome as an empire began imperceptibly several centuries earlier as the seeds of its destruction were planted, in episodes either as uneventful ones or distinct milestones, which germinated pushing Rome inexorably towards its decay and death. It is said that Rome did not simply fall. “It committed moral and economic suicide. Romans first lost their character. Then, as a consequence, they lost their liberties — and ultimately their civilization.” (“We Are Rome” by Lawrence W. Reed, director, Foundation for Economic Education.)

This column is an attempt to extract lessons from Rome’s internal decay and lay it against contemporary events, the better to understand with clarity the forces arrayed against us, mindful of Santayana’s dictum about faulty memories. Despite Santayana, we never learn, perforce we are condemned to repeat history’s follies. And the sceptics’ definition prevails, that history’s essence is simply its repetitive character, just like a broken vinyl record.

We will draw heavily from Reed’s thesis laid down in his excellent essay on Rome’s decay that started when it lost its soul as a republic with its attendant belief in personal responsibility. In short, the economic components are closely intertwined with concepts of freedom and liberty. You lose one, you lose all. In the span of a thousand years, roughly the first 500 years, Rome as a republic emerged as the center of the known world then. Romans regarded themselves as their chief source of personal income and livelihood, which they could acquire voluntarily in the interplay of the marketplace, the precursor of the modern concept of free enterprise.

This propelled Rome’s economic ascendancy and subsequent military dominance establishing its might in the known “Western” world, outside of which was the domain of the barbarians.

Rome as a welfare state
Reed proposes that Rome’s initial decline began when the people discovered another source of income, the political process — the state. Over the next five centuries, self-responsibility and self-reliance began to erode. Romans voted themselves benefits to use the state to extract from other people’s pockets to “…rob Peter to pay Paul.” Thus, the concept of the welfare state came into being, defined then as the “legalized plunder of the Roman State sanctioned by people who wished to do good.” This populist notion pervaded Roman life, and even its judicious and more circumspect citizens who opposed a welfare state, still clinging to the old Roman virtues of work, thrift and self-reliance, “began to drink at the public trough” as it were, with the justification that if “they didn’t get it, somebody else would.”

The second half of Pax Romana paradoxically ushered in political factions trying to control the state apparatus and access to public loot leading to corruption. The ever-expanding demand of the populace for free benefits laid a heavy burden on the taxing powers of the state. Private enterprises were squeezed dry by burdensome regulations and high taxes, driving many to bankruptcy and outright takeover by the state. The state had to resort to this to seek new sources of income — creating new money. The minting of the Roman denarius debased its coinage from 94-percent silver content to eventually .02-percent silver by 268 AD, rendering money practically worthless.

This inflationary scheme of flooding the economy with cheap money, fueled by populist demands, resulted in the state running huge deficits, high prices, savings erosion and political turmoil. The markets subsequently collapsed as goods and services were no longer fairly priced. From then on, the empire’s downfall was guaranteed.

Although Reed’s article was meant as a warning to America in its profligate ways mirroring Rome towards its decay, it is well worth noting that the Philippines too could extract lessons from the causes that impelled Rome’s disintegration. Not that our country has delusions of empire building, despite Duterte’s invitation to China and Russia for a “triumvirate against the world.” But, like America, we are in some ways mimicking Rome’s lead in her early centuries of development. For one, being the first colony of America, we were her guinea pig practicing its tentative first attempt at hegemony and empire building, bequeathing to us a government, which was a perverted version of her own. America’s mistakes are replicated in ours. The lessons from the two empires, Rome’s and America’s are thus relevant to us.

History’s stubborn lessons
Reed offers what he calls “three most stubborn lessons”: 1) No people who lost their character kept their liberties; 2) power that is shackled and dispersed is preferable to power that is unrestrained and centralized; and 3) the here and now is rarely as important as tomorrow — plan accordingly.

The second one is a timely reminder, especially in our march towards the dispersal of political power towards the periphery in President Duterte’s aborted march toward federalism. The third lesson could be self-evident and a reiteration of what we already know, but not practiced. But none is as important and as critical as the first one.

Liberty, a universal idea, is equated with concepts of “rule of law, respect for and protection of the lives, property rights and contracts of others.” Reed’s caveat is that this is the only “social arrangement that requires character.”

And what is important is character! Rome’s decay and ultimate downfall could be traced to its erosion and loss. When self-responsibility, self-discipline and self-reliance went down the drain, so did Rome.

And for the Deegong, my two cents worth: The absence of character produces, chaos and tyranny; its presence makes liberty possible.

And his survival, too!
Published in LML Polettiques
Tuesday, 05 November 2019 13:19

First responder and land use in a federal PH

THERE is not enough time left to get federalism out of the legislative maze. Despite the presence of several versions of the federalism proposal, the 18th Congress will not move in the direction of federalism. The Cabinet’s economic cluster is against it, with even the Bangko Sentral governor saying federalism is a risk that the country should not be taking at this time. On the legislative side, a senator is against it because he believes that expenses would double because there will be a doubling of agencies at the state/regional level. This again is not true since it depends on what model is adopted. There is after all the Puno draft, Pimentel draft, PDP- Laban version, around four versions in the House of Representatives and the People’s Draft. The key remains the transition so that the system won’t break.

Even the lifting of economic provisions is being held captive in a very dangerous time frame which can be torpedoed immediately once extension of terms is considered. Then there is the former House speaker who has started floating a people’s initiative to get things done.

There is no consensus on the many drafts as there is no agreement on the time frame, so many of the federalists are reconsolidating, most especially with the death of its champion, Nene Pimentel. He stood tall because he was a former mayor; he was from Mindanao and the father of the Local Government Code (LGC). He had seen how hard it was to get a local autonomy code passed and doubly hard to get the mandatory review and amendments enacted. Pimentel often said, “if we open the LGC to the process of review and amendment, we might end up centralizing what has been devolved.”

In a unitary government, the farther one is from the center, the less developed an area is. Consequently, in case of disasters, rescue and relief operations suffer because everything emanates from the center. Rehabilitation is delayed because of the gridlock at the national. Thus, the houses destroyed by Yolanda have not been fully completed; Marawi’s rehabilitation remains pending and very much delayed; and we see from the series of earthquakes how Mindanao is not central to the country, even while PPRD is from the area. It takes time for everything to move. Thus, when the politics of hate comes to the fray, Mindanao is scorched by the sharpest tongue which others would justify as mere sarcasm. It is as if Mindanao is of no value.

What is Mindanao to the Philippines? It is the food basket of the country, “producing 40 percent of the country’s food needs and the source of more than 30 percent of national food trade. Landlocked Mindanao is the second largest island in the country at 97,530 square kilometers and is the eighth most populous island in the world. One-third of its land area is devoted to agriculture. Mindanao is larger than 125 countries worldwide. The island is mountainous, and is home to Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the country. It is surrounded by four seas: the Sulu Sea to the west, the Philippine Sea to the east, the Celebes Sea to the south, and the Mindanao Sea to the north. Of all the islands of the country, Mindanao shows the greatest variety of physiographic development. “High, rugged, faulted mountains; almost isolated volcanic peaks; high rolling plateaus; and broad, level, swampy plains are found there.” It is said that Mindanao is a catchment area of rich oil deposits along the Sulu Sea.

The first responder concept will not take root if we remain under a unitary system. Everything is seen from the lens of the center, including mainstream media’s agenda- setting function. First responders cannot act fast because the budgets are with the central government. Pre-positioning becomes a logistical nightmare, especially in a scenario where aftershocks are not really any lesser in degree. First responders are often the primary line of defense for communities, responding to an evolving spectrum of natural and man-made threats.

First responder disciplines — law enforcement, fire services, emergency medical services and emergency management officials, as well as innovators and industry — need to develop capabilities that make first responders safer; improve communication tools, security and effectiveness; enhance data- and information-sharing during daily, emergency or joint operations; promote and sustain partnerships with responders and responder organizations across the nation at all levels; help investigate cybercrime and cases involving digital evidence and secure a national hotline for emergency call systems from cyberattacks.

With 21 dead and 28,224 structures damaged in Mindanao, per the weekend reports, and the recurring aftershocks across the island, we need a whole-of-nation approach and not a central government that takes time to reach the ground. The mobilization has to be massive to ensure lives are saved and temporary shelters are set up without delay. Imagine Mindanao is still under martial law yet the national government is more concerned about ingress and egress of people in evacuation centers. The towns of Makilala and Magsaysay had to declare states of calamity in order to use their calamity funds and we know that these budgets need to be augmented by national releases. Imagine if the country was under a federal system, things would move fast, with local governments as the hubs efficiently responding to the crisis.

The same is true with the land use code which has been pending in the 8th Congress and today is being held up by a single senator who has vast landholdings due to the family’s real estate interests. Without a national land use law, it is deemed easier to dictate things but without a comprehensive land use law, chaos rules at the local government level.

Land use planning refers to the “process by which land is allocated between competing and sometimes conflicting uses in order to secure the rational and orderly development of land in an environmentally sound manner to ensure the creation of sustainable human settlements.” The process of land use planning consists of “two twin functions of development/land use planning and development control. Of necessity, these two functions must be supported by relevant research and mapping which are also major components of the land use planning process.”

Local government units are mandated to submit to the Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board their Comprehensive Land Use Plans (CLUP) pursuant to the following rules: Executive Order 72 providing for the preparation and implementation of the CLUPs of local government units pursuant to the Local Government Code of 1991 and other pertinent laws; Memorandum Circular 54, prescribing the guidelines of Sec. 20, Republic Act 7160, authorizing cities/municipalities to reclassify lands into non-agricultural uses; and Executive Order 124, establishing priorities and procedures in evaluating areas for land conversion in regional agricultural/industrial centers, tourism development areas and sites for socialized housing. In the case of the City of Manila, its CLUP was vintage 2006 and it stopped there because there is no national law on land use.

The absence of such a law has resulted in confusion due to inconsistent laws on land utilization; continued negative environmental effect on land; and unabated conflicts among different sectors due to competing land use, among others. When a critical law is held captive by a senator flexing economic power to control legislation, we lose our competitive edge. Imagine if we were under a federal system and states/regions are able to attract investors because of differing land use regimes.

Who said shifting to federal is easy? It can’t be done overnight but we need to imbibe the mindset that allows reforms to be pursued. Federalism will allow the growth of resilient states/regions. Bringing government and funds down to the state/regional levels will develop a cadre of local officials who can be empowered first responders, ensure area management and good governance. Transitioning to federalism should be pursued.
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