Yellow Paper II: Splash in shallow waters
by Teodoro C. Benigno

Philippine Star 06 July 2001

Yellow Paper II. This is the magnum opus the nation�s top 30 economists and social scientists would sic on the citizenry to explain what�s wrong with the Republic and what President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should pursue as to her top priorities. The grim warning: "The potential for change made possible by EDSA Dos is close to being squandered." The cure: "Over the next six to eight years. . . Reduce poverty and provide good governance." Take heed: "Poverty must be addressed as a mainstream concern and not as a side issue or special concern." Or else.

This is all very well. But I would have expected the 30 eminentoes (largely from Ateneo, UP, La Salle) to have wielded their scalpel with more depth, more substance, more intellectual radiance, more oil from Aladdin�s Lamp.

There was a lot missing. The core was missing. Reduce poverty. Provide good governance. These are motherhood statements that glitter briefly like fireflies in the night, then disappear. Bugle blasts at reveille, that�s all. What about the Philippines� culture? Damaged as it is, can it be reformed as to realign our "values, attitudes, beliefs, orientations, and underlying assumptions" prevalent among Filipinos today? (Samuel P. Huntington, Cultures Count). And if there should be cultural reform, should it be pursued primarily at the individual rather than the societal level? Only thus can "social transformation" heed "the new populism and a demand to return power to the people" (Robert William Fogel, The Fourth Great Awakening and The Future of Egalitarianism.).

How about education as cultural capital?

As Michael Porter (Attitudes, Beliefs, Values, and The Microeconmics of Prosperity) states succinctly: "A big part of the task in economic development, then, is educational because many citizens and even their leaders lack a framework for understanding the modern economy, seeing their role in it� Lack of understanding often allows special interests to block changes that will widely benefit the nation�s prosperity." Regarding education, Fogel, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 1995, reminds us: �Nothing has done more to redistribute income in favor of the poor and middle classes over the past century than the subsidization of higher education, and given the long record of encyclicals in promoting education, at all levels, this issue offers an excellent opportunity for a successful egalitarian coalition."

Can we say the same thing for the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines? And our other churches?

And how about American democracy as our model? Is it right model for us? Everything around us today is a shipwreck � our economy, our peso, our traffic, our garbage, our national deficit, our education, our sewerage, our political system, our infrastructure, our city plumbing, our bureaucracy, our judiciary, our trade, our balance of payments. Abject and crushing poverty, graft and corruption, galloping crime led by the gorgon head of Abu Sayyaf are all over the place.

And this after more than half a century of democratic experience. We were once the "showcase of democracy" in Asia, weren�t we? Today, our democracy covers and bleats in a dark corner. Our neighbors � china, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand, Taiwan and even Vietnam � long strangers to democracy, have thrown off their crutches and are now faring well. Thank you.

Their political and economic model was Japan during the Meiji Restoration in 1868. Japan ended its isolation when the long, forbidding naval guns of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853-54 forced Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka to accept "free trade." The new rulers of Japan realized that to survive, they had to, yes, "globalize." They sent tens of thousands of their best students to America, Europe. With the return of this breveted studentry now versed in modern methods of progress, they built the New Japan. The government was the prime mover for economic, industrial and social progress � not Western-style democracy. In less than 50 years, Japan became a world power. Japan in 1905 became the first Asian country to defeat a Western country, Russia, in naval battle in the Straits of Formosa.

Japan was the model and mover of the "Asian economic miracle" which for almost 30 years saw a flight of Asian countries in "geese formation" break all records for economic progress. The interruption came in 1997 when a financial crisis exploded. But the afflicted Asian countries, not the Philippines, have recovered. David Landes (Wealth and Poverty of Nations) averred Japan was Asia�s version of Weber�s Protestant ethic � "a collective commitment to modernization." Japan, added Landes, was a "phenomenon of culturally determined human capital."

Unable to imitate or duplicate the American model, the Philippines has moved closer to the Latin-American model.

The latter is a pathetic frieze of underdeveloped countries weighed down, according to cultural experts, by the moral constraints of the Roman Catholic religion which hardly advocates modernization. Education is at a low ebb and just like us, 70-80 percent of their high school students drop out. Poverty is widespread. Ten percent of the population possess about 50-60 percent of the national wealth. Philippine figures match. Latin-American immigrants occupy the lowest layer in American society. And yet Latin-America is an extension of the West. Huntington asks: "Why after more than 50 years of independence has Latin America failed to consolidate democratic institutions?"

Like the bulk of our fiery nationalists and the extreme left, Latin America groveled at the altar of the dependency theory. This is the theory that poor countries were "bilked by the rich capitalist countries. . . whose multinational corporations earned excessive profits at the expense of the poor countries." Today, dependency is completely discredited. Four former colonies, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan, have pole-vaulted into the First World. China in 20 years should become a world economic power, rivalling the US and Japan. And yet, unlike the Philippines, it does not have a free press, lacks all the undergirdings of democracy. For a religion, China had Confucianism which extolled hard work, respect for elders and authority, the primacy of the family, striving for excellence, and mass and higher education as the catapult to national well-being.

Our top 30 economists and social scientists should have dismantled our democracy intellectually to find out why it doesn�t work for us. Why we remain poorer than before, why the gap between rich and poor is getting wider, why we Filipinos remain hostage to our elite. Why we pray to the same God as the Protestants and the Jews, and yet our religion has never played a central role in national progress. It has been a hindrance.

Our economists will probably demur. They will say it is accepted dogma that appropriate economic policy effectively implemented will produce the same results without reference to culture. Huntington disagrees and counters that culture trumps economic thinking. How explain the economic success of Chinese minorities in the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and, yes, the US? How explain the same success of Japanese minorities in Brazil and also the US? And, he concludes, "the Jews wherever they have migrated"?

And even the great guru, Alan Greenspan, has joined the culture chorus. He assumed, says Huntington, that "humans are natural capitalists and that communism�s collapse would automatically establish a free-market entrepreneurial system." Russia�s venture into capitalism after the Cold War was a disaster. It was a disaster, Greenspan said, "not nature at all, but culture." In short, Russian culture is not congenital to democracy or free market capitalism.

How about geography and culture? Do they add up? Jeffrey Sachs unhesitatingly points out that almost all advanced countries are in the temperate zones, and the large majority of the poor countries are in the tropical zone. Again exceptions. Russia is in the temperate zone. As we pointed out earlier, Singapore and Hong Kong and Taiwan are in the tropical zone.

And so we ask our 30 eminentoes as we wrap up this column, what can we Filipinos and our leadership do to fill out the skill gap, the competence gap, the wage gap, the culture gap, and, in the words of Orlando Patterson (Ordeal of Integration), get out of the "pathological social sink" into which Filipinos have fallen. Honestly, despite our having devoured tomes on the subject of culture, development and underdevelopment, we have not found the answers, not the definitive ones anyway.

Maybe we can seek refuge in historian Arnold Toynbee who said cultures and civilizations are up-and-down revolving doors, lasting only when challenges can be met, because its peoples are dynamic and remain creative, eroding and disappearing when apathy sets in, when progress disappears in a riot of dolce vita, drum-beating and decadence.

Our day will come?

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