The Tyranny of Bad History and the Unmaking of EDSA

The power of well-written and researched history, by professional historians aware of their vast responsibilities, is that provides the tools needed craft a better future for all. EDSA is one of those historical moments that can easily be abused, as we have seen. An understanding of EDSA that tries to incorporate its complexities and context can only help inform who we are as a people and how we can grow together. Read more

The Tyrrany of Cousins

Altruism towards other people of the same blood-line is widely practiced and literally embedded in our DNA. The Hamilton Rule named after the British evolutionary biologist William Hamilton states that we are pre-disposed to behave altruistically to those with with whom we share a greater proportion of genes. This biological imperative to pass on our genetic code to the next generation is quite powerful.

Hunter gatherer societies tended to exhibit a high degree of inter-locking marriages based on kinship. Alliances between tribes were sealed through bridal exchange allowing genes to be distributed across a wider area. This had implications for early rulers and states. As agricultural societies gew within a defined space, its rulers found it more and more difficult to govern independently sufferering what is called the “tyranny of cousins” which puts the needs of the tribe above the rest.

China is credited with forming the first modern state to address this problem. The Qin and Han dynasties (221 BCE-220 CE) instituted a civil service staffed based on a rigorous examinations process. It was tasked with raising taxes used to secure the populace against enemy invasion or domestic exploitation as distinct from local lords who extracted rents from their serfs. China’s political history from then on can be told on the basis of how this tension arose between the state and elite families. Following a few “bad emperors” it eventually succumbed to repatrimonialization.

Medieval Islamic rulers sought to counteract tribal rivalry by erecting a warrior caste made up of slaves. The Mamluk slave warriors and their Ottoman Janissary counterparts were responsible for the administration and protection of Islamic civilization because they acted as a coherent ruling class looking after the broader interests of society and not any one particular tribe. Just as in China, however, the integrity of this institution began to erode over time.

Altruism based on reciprocal relationships rather than kinship played an active role in the modernization of East Asia. The Japanese keiretsus were organized on the basis of inter-locking boards led by former bureaucrats who were parachuted into senior executive positions. Korean chaebols had a reciprocal relationship with state finance and grew into large corporate family-owned entities with high debt-equity ratios. The management style of these conglomerates was based on consensus between parties. Life-time employment was the norm.

In communist China, investors partnered with local Township and Village Enterprises to gain access and participation in China’s economy. Going to bed with local governments protected assets from expropriation for as long as they continued to reciprocate with profitable performance. There was no formal recognition of property rights or an independent judiciary to enforce contracts, just a tacit agreement based on reciprocity and credible commitment based on mutual interest.

Guanxi a term denoting close networks has been behind informal credit markets supplying start-up capital to Chinese entrepreneurs the world over. Again, no formal agreements eforceable through the courts operates here. Trade and credit has been made possible through closely linked networks built on family and kin relations or reciprocal relationships based on one’s honor and reputation.

From trust to contracts

The West took a very different more protracted route. After the conversion of Germanic tribes to Christianity in the sixth century, the church promoted changes to interlocking marriages based on kinship. This tended to weaken in the long-run political and economic ties based on kin selection. They moved away from trust to contracts through the centuries.

In the twelfth century the English common law administered by the king’s court to which subjects could appeal the decisions of local lords established a system known as “the rule of law” to which eventually even the monarch was made subject by the nobles who feared expropriation by the state. Contracts became enforceable and property rights made more secure without the need for personal connections or networks.

Across the English Channel, the Dutch established the first stock exchange in the early seventeenth century. This made corporate management distinct from its owners and spread risk through tradable certificates lowering their average exposure and leading firms (such as the Dutch East India Company) to be less conservative in business expansion. Capital-raising went through an impersonal market rather than through personal networks.

Management in the West tended to be more individualistic than consensual motivated by incentives rather than trust. Short-term, risk-taking behavior leading to rich rewards and bonuses became more prevalent. Maintaining reputation continued to be important, but only in terms of improving one’s value in the impersonal labor market rather than protecting one’s “word of honor” within a tightly knit community.

Where to begin?

The Philippines is obviously stuck in transition. Many formal institutions have been transplanted from the West, but they remain weak and porous to the tyranny of cousins. It has been difficult for a strong central state to emerge where one’s loyalty to the country ends where one’s loyalty to one’s family begins. The thick network of kumpadres, kamag-anak, and kaibigan (now augmented by kaklase, kabarkada and kabarilan) makes it difficulty to determine where to even begin the reform process.

Getting to Denmark” is the problem to be grappled with: how to emulate Scandinavia which has the highest levels of human development and cleanest governments in the world. It almost sounds tautological. In order to gain the living standards of the West, we need to adopt their political and economic institutions including a strong state, rule of law and democratic accountability. If our society had the means to create and maintain such institutions, it wouldn’t be poor to begin with.

Earlier in a separate post, I commented on the preponderance of avowed bachelors or males with no offspring holding sensitive posts in the current government, the president being one of them. This harks back to the time of Mamluks, Jannisaries and Imperial Chinese eunuchs. This is purely coincidental and fleeting in the broad scheme of things.

Prescribing Western-style political institutions again might have its pitfalls. Public finance of parties does not necessarily weaken the influence of campaign donors even in the US where it is practiced. It might dampen but not eliminate it. And, at any rate, the need for donors features more at the national level. At the local level, political and economic dynasties are one and the same.

A majority of seats in Congress is dominated by dynasties including within the president’s Liberal Party (albeit by a smaller majority). Rather than decoupling the political from the economic classes or dismantling dynasties, shouldn’t we like Japan, Korea and Taiwan find a way to make this coupling work for our country by directing it to more productive ventures?

Yes, we can

The problem is not reform incapacity by our leaders. I would argue that under Mrs Aquino, the state exhibited a considerable degree of efficacy in achieving substantial economic reforms under difficult situations. From tax reform to foreign investments deregulation, flexible currency exchange to trade liberalization, wage decentralization to monetary independence, privatization to democratization, the list is quite impressive from a Western perspective.

The problem was that the agenda was perhaps too comprehensive instead of building one reform on the proven success of another. We shouldn’t blame Mrs Aquino for this. Her government was put in an institutional strait jacket by the IMF which today is imposing a heavy burden on some weak European countries. What EDSA-I demonstrated is that the country can achieve a consensus over a broad set of reforms and pursue it diligently.

The difficulty of governing in the shadow of one so revered as Mrs Aquino is much like the dilemma faced by the successor to Apple’s visionary CEO Steve Jobs. His mission now is not to “stuff up” the legacy. The overly cautious approach this breeds could prevent the sort of imaginative thinking that led to success in the first place.

East Asia didn’t buy into the comprehensive reform package that international donors, aid agencies and multilateral organizations were foisting on them. It opted to target areas that were more appropriate for its needs and developed its own recipe based on local ingredients. It caught up with Western living standards and then reformed some of its earlier idiosyncratic institutions which had by then become less useful.

Rather than applying the “second generation” reforms of the augmented Washington Consensus, following the “first generation” reforms tackled by Aquino I, the policymakers in advising Aquino II need to escape the poverty of ideas this represents. They should develop imaginative arrangements that will immediately unlock the productive capacity of our country. Only then can the son escape another sort of tyranny that seems to be afflicting us…the tyranny of low expectations.

Guanxi diagram courtesy of: China Australia consult

Christianity Undermines the Family

Yup, that’s right; that’s not a typo. The Catholic Church was responsible for reducing the size of families in Western Europe contrary to popular belief.

Before I get stuck in the details, a little context is needed.

The fight over the reproductive health bill in the Philippines has pitted the Catholic clergy and faithful on the one hand against secular, feminist, and humanists on the other. One of the contentions of the anti-RH camp is that the bill is anti-family and will cause a rapid decline in our population similar to what has occurred in Western Europe.

Here is Sen President Juan Ponce Enrile one of our elder statesmen opposed to the RH bill,

If you are going to contract the population, you reach a point in time where you will have less workers, less production, less consumption, less taxpayers to support the government.

And again, he goes on

The economic interest of the country will be a factor and the security of this nation for the next 100 years will be on the balance. Mind you, this bill is not really that easy. It’s a matter that will affect, will impinge on the faith of each one of us.

This popular belief which he expresses comes from the experience of Western European countries where fertility rates have dipped below replacement levels since the mid-60s. This is attributable to the rise of contraception use in those countries, the strength of the women’s movement and the legalization of abortion. Concurrent with these developments has been the collapse of the traditional family and with that the greying of the population.

The Philippines with its exposure to Western media and culture has still managed to maintain laws which reflect the predominantly Catholic nature of its population. This according to Sen Enrile is the only thing that prevents it from slipping into the demographic malaise of our European counterparts.

Modern Family

In reality, the decline of the traditional family in the West preceded the rise of modern contraceptives. In his new book The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama devotes an entire chapter the title of which I borrowed from him here to discuss this form of “European exceptionalism.” According to Fukuyama, dating the rise of the modern family is a bit tricky.

Karl Marx associated it with the rise of the bourgeois class during the Industrial Revolution of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the Communist Manifesto Marx claimed that the bourgeoisie “has torn away from the family its sentimental veil, and has reduced family relation to a mere money relation.”

For his part, Max Weber felt that the rise of individualism came about through the Protestant Reformation with its emphasis on personal salvation and the Enlightenment with its emphasis on individual rights and secular humanism. This would date the existence of modern families to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

If Weber and Marx are correct then the collapse of traditional societies, which were based on extensive ties of kinship, restrictions on market transactions and individual social mobility due to informal social norms grounded in tradition, religion, and charisma, and the transition into modern societies which are based on individualism, meritocracy, egalitarianism and rational-legal forms of authority is only but a few centuries old.

The french historian Marc Bloch however believes that the rise of feudalism in the ninth and tenth centuries was in part a way of coping with the decline of kinship based tribal societies in Europe. According to Bloch, “Neither the state nor the family any longer provided adequate protection…Everywhere the weak man felt the need to be sheltered by someone more powerful.” This dates the birth of the modern family much sooner.

But it was actually around the sixth century, when the Catholic church, confronted with the marriage practices of newly converted Germanic tribes that had toppled the Roman empire, introduced changes to them. These tribal practices included marriage to cousins or close kin, the levirate or marriage to widows of deceased relatives, adoption and divorce. The church instituted edicts that forbade concubinage and promoted marriage as an indissoluble, monogamous and lifelong bond.

The reason according to Jack Goody was not theological but material in nature. Goody labels the marriage practices banned by the church “strategies of heirship” whereby kinship groups maintained control of property. At a time when the average life expectancy was less than thirty-five, the likelihood that a couple produced a male heir who survived into adulthood was quite low.

At that time the church encouraged donations of land and property to itself. Accordingly, women were allowed to own property to prevent their deceased husbands’ inheritance from reverting back to the family group in the absence of an heir. Thus, women’s rights to own and bequeth property was an unintented consequence of this teaching which profited the church largely. By the end of the seventh century, one-third of all productive land in France fell into the hands of ecclesiastical estates.

So there you have it. The rise of individualism, women’s rights and the modern society in Western Europe which is blamed for the demise of the traditional family originated from church law back in the sixth century. If it was motivated by material interests to outlaw old forms of marriage back then, it might be similarly motivated today in seeking to discourage new forms of family planning to prevent its flock from shrinking.

Fertile Ground

Finally with regard to the argument that the promotion of modern forms of contraception will lead to an irreversible decline of population and economic stagnation, I would offer the following chart taken from a study by Mikko Mryskyla of the University of Pennsylvania published in the science journal Nature back in 2009.

It shows two snapshots of cross-country fertility rates recorded in 1975 and 2005 on the vertical axis plotted against human development scores on the horizontal. Back in the twentieth century, you could be forgiven for thinking that the downward trend would have no end as countries that grew richer exhibited lower fertility rates. This is clearly shown by the 1975 scatter plot (in blue).

Here in the twenty-first century, that pattern has clearly been reversed with countries exhibiting advanced levels of human development recording a recovery (see the red scatter plot) of their fertility rates compared to previous levels set in 1975 (HDI or the human development indicator on the horizontal axis is a composite index of health, education and income levels).

The way that these countries have reversed the downward trend and produced the J-curve observed in 2005 has been by promoting a number of family friendly policies which include generous maternity/paternity leave allowances, free or subsidized childcare and pre-schools, pre- and post-partum care to mothers and newborns, and flexible working hours, to name a few.

Myrskyla has since then studied the relationship between happiness and fertility using data from the World Values Survey and has concluded that having children is “a long-term investment in well-being.” In the short-run however the data shows that having more kids poses challenges to happiness (less time for personal needs and interests). The policies mentioned help to counter that and allow families cope better with raising kids.

With such policies in place, these countries have seen their fertility rates rising above the demographic point of no return (of around 1.5 births per woman) to near replacement levels (around 2.1 bpw). Given that this field of policy research and development is still in its “infancy” (pardon the pun), we can expect to see more countries joining them and hopefully see fertility rates in rich countries reach replacement levels in the near future.

So to the doubters out there who still feel that modern family planning is anti-family, perhaps they need to brush up on their reading of events, both past and present.

Malaria – A Ray of Hope?


A killer in our midst.

Many people are not aware, but malaria is a disease that claims over 800,000 lives a year worldwide, most of those being children and infants.

In areas where the disease is endemic, just about every family can name members whose lives were claimed by malaria. Few escape the heartbreak.

It’s a horrible and unavoidable fact of life, compounded by poverty, ignorance and the inaccessibility of clinics and medicines for those who live in the remote areas which are most affected.

While Sub-Saharan Africa is where the biggest numbers are, right here on Palawan malaria is the #1 health issue Palawanos and other upland people groups face. Everyone gets malaria. Their babies die of malaria. Their spouses die of malaria. And when old people (for Palawanos, read: over 50) die, it was often malaria that finally finished them off. And yes, missionaries, NGO workers and their children get malaria, too.

Worldwide Malaria Distribution

Malaria is no joke. Mosquito-borne parasites destroy your blood. But to help deal with the constant threat, we expats have indulged in a bit of humor noir and called it “Palawan Flu” whenever we come down with the all-too-common disease.

Burst Red Bloods Cells

Malaria is actually more common than the flu here. And milder cases do indeed have flu-like symptoms (headache, body ache, fever, chills, nausea).

But the malaria headache can often progress to a “brain-cancer” level of pain, and the chills indicate that most of the victim’s red blood cells (RBCs) have burst, which can lead to a fatal degree of anemia.

And there are always the possible complications of cerebral malaria, where husks of burst RBCs clog up the capillaries in the brain and cause dementia or death, or the equally dreaded blackwater fever, where hemoglobin from destroyed RBCs leaks into the blood and darkens the urine. Fatal kidney failure often ensues. Yes, malaria is no joke.

Life Cycle of Malaria

There has never been a vaccine for malaria. It’s difficult to create a vaccine for a parasite, especially one like malaria with multiple distinct stages in its life cycle. And sadly, on at least one occasion, an executive absconded with millions of dollars of desperately needed grant money, effectively shutting down the research program that was counting on those funds.

But now, apparently, there is a glimmer of hope. A vaccine has been tested in Africa with an initial success rate of 50% reduction in malaria cases for the children who were vaccinated. The goal is 100% effectiveness, but no one would complain too much if we were able to reduce the annual number of deaths to 400,000 from the current 800,000. GlaxoSmithKline and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have teamed up and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in producing and testing this new vaccine. Thanks to the Gates for using some of their wealth for this worthy cause.

Let’s all pray for continued success in this research endeavor.

Lives are at stake.

Questioning Heroes


Rizal Park. Image care of Wikipedia.

In our milieu it seems that heroes exist on another plane. So hallowed have they become that they are practically unreachable; their actions impossible to duplicate, their mental faculties so far beyond the norm that they exist in the realm of myth and legend. Take the case of Jose Rizal, our National Hero (even as some dispute that position). He has become so mythologized, his mental capabilities so lauded and his achievements so exaggerated, that we have lost track even of who he was, what he was trying to achieve, and why he was so important at the time. Practically every child has to study Rizal A to Z, and yet few Filipinos understand Rizal’s hopes, dreams, politics, and beliefs. That American-era phrasing of Rizal as a reformist, first and foremost, is still extant and dominant. In other words the realities of Rizal are subsumed by a remnant of colonial thought. His enduring legacy, his subversive, satirical, and revolutionarily nationalist qualities novels, are little understood; despite them being mandatory reading. Father John Schumacher once called them paths to nationalism. I wonder how many Filipinos could articulate how and why they are avenues towards independence.

Original cover of Noli Me Tangere. Image from Wikipedia.

While it may seem that I am taking aim at our understanding of Rizal, I am only using him as the first example. The same holds true for the general understanding of Andres Bonifacio. He, in his own way, has become so overly manufactured and packaged that he bears little resemblance to what is historically known about him. His heroic existence has become such that it overshadows the Katipunan, and that groups’ true composition and accomplishments. Much like how our heroic reconstruction of Rizal has practically obliterated the accomplishments and beliefs of members of the Propaganda Movement; a movement that began well before he was born. On the flip side, the method with which we have constructed our ‘heroic’ understanding of Emilio Aguinaldo undermines the importance of the Philippine Republic; though that is also intertwined with how we have created Bonifacio.

Sometimes heroes are built just on the strength of one deed or one statement. This holds true for Senator Ninoy Aquino; everything that came before in his life, his politics, his beliefs, were obscured when he was assassinated. After, he became an unassailable icon of democracy and freedom. What is known of his politics has been forgotten in the shadow of a one moment. In favor of constructing the icon of Aquino even some history has been rewritten and purposefully forgotten. How much is known about LABAN? What do we actually know about Philippine resistance during his years in jail? Or while he was in exile? Or between his assassination and the eventual overthrow of Marcos? Ah yes, but Aquino died for our sins, so that must constitute the entirety of the resistance during Martial Law. He died for the Filipino, and that is enough. But, in truth, maybe it is not. Death, like life, to have meaning has to be consecrated to a greater ideal and hope. Rizal did not just die for the Filipino of his time, he died for the Philippines that he envisioned; that he hoped and fought for. What was that Philippines?

To an extant, all heroes require a certain level of sanitization and myth-building. All history to an extent becomes propaganda, and heroes even more so. What differentiates is the historical evidence that is used as basis for that myth-building and to what it is consecrated. Heroes act as beacons for right action and stalwart defenders of the public national good. They are models to emulate, through their lives and deeds a people understand how a nation is built and what it means to be, in our case, a Filipino. However, at no point should the hero overshadow their time and circumstances. Heroes must be in service of something: An ideal, a vision, a nation. Else heroes exist for just for themselves. And that is the situation that exists in the Philippines today. Our heroes exist on their own; sectioned away from the period in which they lived, the men with whom they fought and died, the politics they espoused, and the vision for which they fought. We have reduced our heroes to the most superficial of meanings, and in the process, excised their national importance.

I am not a fan of consistently benchmarking and evaluating ourselves against other nations and cultures. I am, though, in favor of cross-cultural comparative analysis to help understand and clarify our local situation. In the case of heroes, the United States provides excellent examples of heroic myth-building in favor of creating a national sensibility. The United States is exceptionally adept at sanitizing their heroes, while never ignoring that they lived, and survive, in service of a greater secular faith. One example is how the Battle of the Alamo (which was for Texian Independence from Mexico) was adopted into the US national patriotic narrative, on the strength of one letter that was written during the thirteen day long battle.  Or how George Washington, which based on his contemporaries was an insufferable asshole, has become the Father of the Republic. The American Founding Fathers exist as an untouchable pantheon in their public consciousness. But their knowledge of them is built on the strength of deeds, an understanding of their writings and political beliefs, and the context of the period in which they lived. At the risk of being far too simplistic, contextualizing elements that are completely absent in our understanding of our Pantheon of Heroes. Heroes require meaning to remain relevant; meaning requires understanding.

Rizal was the intellectual force behind the Revolution, on that we all seem to basically agree (setting aside the reformist trope for a moment). But, what exactly did that mean? What was it about his ideas that were so compelling? What were his philosophical and humanist beliefs that underpinned his advocacies? Who influenced him and why? The same holds true for Andres Bonifacio. We adulate him, but what do we know about his politics and philosophies? What was he trying to build through the Philippine Revolution? How about Emilio Jacinto? Apolinario Mabini? The Philippine Republic? There are reams of surviving public essays, letters, and articles from the Reformists, Propagandists, and Revolutionaries expounding, arguing, and defining exactly what they were trying to achieve. Instead of offering a deeper understanding of our heroes and their dreams, we are fixated, for example, on the fact that Rizal was (supposedly) fluent in twenty-three languages. That does nothing to further our national understanding, or connect us to Rizal as the hero. What it does is continue to support Rizal the Mythic Hero. Lost is the post-Enlightenment Rizal; the thinker who remains quite revolutionary today. Lost is Jacinto, who argued against any form of racial or ideological bias; who wrote that ‘goodness’ and ‘nobility’ are not found in an aquiline nose, but in the rightness of action and deed.

We are desperate for heroes. At the drop of a hat we are ready to dub any and all, even for the most superficial and simplistic of accomplishments, a national hero worthy of praise and honor. We rush to their defense, we hold them close to our collective heart and proclaim this is who we are and we are proud! Damn any who disagree! And yet I cannot help but feel that rush to adulate any and all flows from our tragically weak understanding of heroism. We barely acknowledge, much less understand, the historical accomplishments and importance of our Great and Glorious Pantheon of Heroes; beyond some grotesquely reductive examples of ‘heroism.’ At the heart of our misunderstanding of our heroes is an almost perverse simplicity in action. Ignored are the intricacies and complexities of what they believed and were trying to achieve. The result, I firmly believe, negatively affects modern day interpretations of ‘Filipino’ and patriotism. Superficiality reigns and we erroneously equate mindless and romantic momentary passionate action with deep-rooted nationalism; for example, as in the case of the August 23rd Cry of Pugad Lawin (an event with little resemblance to history). Our current social and cultural construction of heroes is antithetical to fostering a sense of deep, abiding, and binding nationalism. By reducing heroism to singular moments with little context we irrevocably limit our sense of modern nationalism. Deeper and more significant engagement will be found in reconsidering their philosophies, understanding their historical circumstances, and being aware of their cultural importance. In other words we have to put our heroes to the question. That process, those answers, will uncover the realities of our heroes and inevitably lead to a greater and far more invigorating sense of Filipino nationalism. Our heroes can become what they were meant to be: Guides for the future Philippines.

CPC at 90 / Whatever happened to PKP and CPP?

I was shopping yesterday nearby SM China when I saw a box on the shopper’s hallway full of free 90th Founding Anniversary of the Communist Party of China souvenirs up for grabs. I picked 5 pieces of [email protected] stickers for posterity’s sake. Going home I thought about how far CPC has come a long way from a small group of idealists in Shanghai to the world’s biggest political party and helmsmen of one the world’s superpower. At the same time, I thought about whatever happened to the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) and its splinter-group and more known Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

CPP was founded on July 1, 1921 in Shanghai by Chen Duxiu and Li Dazhao with USSR’s help. At that time Russians were exporting their ideology and they’ve found willing recipients among Chinese intellectuals and students foremost of which is the young Mao Zedong. According to some Chinese historians the original purpose of the Russians in co-organizing CPC was to infiltrate the ruling Koumintang (KMT) government and to reform the party from within. The Russians were at that time had access to KMT given the cordiality and open-mindedness that KMT founder Sun Yat-sen had given to communists. Hence, for the Russians it was but practical and more efficient to just be part of KMT. Regardless of several oppositions to this move, CPC was incorporated into KMT and the Chinese United Front Party with KMT spearheading was formed.

With the death of Sun Yat Sen in 1925 came the split of the United Front. Sun was replaced by Chiang Kai-shek, an ardent anti-communist military man. 2 years later, in 1927, the CPC and KMT fought in a bloody civil war. The young Mao Zedong and his peasant fighters gained prominence among CPC members as he successfully waged battles against KMT.

It was at this time of disunity and strife in China that the Empire of Japan launched its deadly attack in 1937. With China and its people fighting and killing one another, the Japanese saw a perfect time to start its brutal Greater East Asia colonization campaign. To the surprise of Japanese Imperial Army, KMT and CPP re-united and successfully won over them in 1945. Soon after, KMT and CPP continued on their war. KMT was backed by US while CPP was backed by USSR. CPP now led by Mao Zedong emerged as the victors in 1949. KMT fled to Taiwan. The People’s Republic of China was born.

From 1949 to Mao’s death in 1976, China has experienced painful experiences on their course of finding solutions to social problems and challenges using Marxism-Lennism-Maoism as guiding principles. Foremost of this experience is the Cultural Revolution which many Chinese now consider as their nation’s lost decade. With the death of the Mao came Deng Xiaoping and his Reform and Opening-up Program. From that time on until the present time, China zoomed from a backward, ideologically-driven country to a progressive and ever-prospering state.

With the rich history of CPC and with its share of great failures and overwhelming successes, CPC under Hu Jintao has a lot to celebrate and be proud of. But it would do well for CPC not to rest on its laurel and be complacent. The 90th anniversary is a perfect time not just for celebration but for them to make a sincere reflection on whether they are really living up to its ideal on giving the Chinese people a better, happy, and peaceful life. CPC ought to reflect on their recent actions on the Spratlys, on curtailing civil rights, and most importantly, on the deep disenchantment of the Chinese people on government corruption. I suppose Hu Jintao is very well aware of this. On his speech on CPC @ 90 celebrations he emphatically mentioned that corruption is the number 1 enemy of CPC and China. How true, after all, the old generation CPC leaders gained the trust and support of the Chinese people because of the corruption and decadence of KMT.

Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas (PKP) was founded 9 years after CPC was formed. PKP was established during the American colonial era in November 7, 1930 by Crisanto Evangelista and by members of various labor groups. PKP like CPC has links with Moscow and the Comintern. Banned by the Commonwealth government, PKP made the Socialist Party of Pedro Abad Santos as its legal front. Pedro is the brother of former Chief Justice Jose Abad Santos and grand uncle of former Sen. Jamby Madrigal’s granduncle. This history kind of explains Jamby’s soft-heart and association with the Philippine Left.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, PKP with its armed group HUKBALAHAP (HUKS) was at the fighting front against the Japanese Imperial Army. At the end of the war in 1945 PKP enjoyed increasing support from the Filipino people most especially from the ranks of peasants and workers. During the 1946 elections, PKP allied with Sergio Osmena’s Nacionalista Party and the Democratic Alliance as against to Manuel Roxas newly-formed Liberal Party. Osmena lost to Roxas on a very tight race. PKP on the other hand, gained 6 seats in the Congress but were not allowed to exercise their functions and duties because of some unscrupulous accusations. Frustrated by government harassment and repression and worsening inequality in the society, PKP and HUKS now led by the Lava Brothers and Luis Taruc went underground in late 40’s and launched bloody campaign against the Manila government. By mid-50’s the PKP and HUKS were neutralized by the hard and charm offensive of the Manila government.

In 1964, Jose Ma. Sison, a young member of PKP, founded Kabataang Makabayan (KM) in an attempt to reinvigorate Philippine communism. Sison later on moved out of PKP after several of its leaders became pro-government. Sison, together with his KM stalwarts formed the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in 1968. CPP with its armed group New People’s Army (NPA) were at the forefront of the anti-Marcos dictatorship in the 70’s and early 80’s but was eclipsed by mainstream political personalities during the 1986 EDSA Revolution. After the restoration of democratic process in mid-80’s, Sison decided for CPP not  to participate in the 1987 elections despite strong clamor from among its members to take chance in the new democratic space. It was only in the 90’s after CPP produced splinter-groups and bloody in-fighting that it decided to field and support candidates (irony is several party-lists denies association with CPP, what’s the truth?) while at the same time maintaining NPA to carry on their armed struggle. Meanwhile, the weakened PKP re-organized itself, changed its name to PKP-1930, and is currently being led by Pedro Baguisa.

It is worthy to mention that both PKP and CPP had access to Beijing prior to China’s Reform and Opening-up Program. The pro-Soviet PKP enjoyed affiliations with CPC before the Sino-Soviet split. The CPP with its ideology anchored on Maoism replaced PKP’s seat in Beijing. One persistent rumor is that the infamous 1971 Plaza Miranda Bombing was plotted in Beijing by young Filipino communists.

In reviewing the history and current news on CPC, PKP, and CPP one can easily notice one sharp contrast between the Chinese Communist Party and the communist parties and left-leaning parties in the Philippines. While CPC maintained unity in purpose and vision and was flexible and innovative enough to adapt to the changes in time, its Philippine counterparts were not. Filipino political scientist Mon Casiple on his analysis of Philippine Left said that as long as the Left is fragmented it would be incapable of going mainstream and it will never become a strong force in Philippine politics.

Clearly, Philippine Left leaderships’ penchant for ideological purity and the “correct line”, political radicalism, and organizational sectarianism are its stumbling blocks to fully and effectively “serve the people”. CPP and the Philippine Left ought to have sense of urgency to shape-up and innovate as most people in the Philippines (correct me if I’m wrong) are now feeling alienated and disenchanted, with many of them accusing CPP and the Philippine Left as one of the nation’s stumbling blocks to peace and progress.


Image credit: UK Telegraph







Why all this talk of ‘institutions’ is rubbish

The Philippines is a place where development theories come to die.

This was the case in the 1950s when import substituting industrial policy or ‘picking winners’ was all the rage among development experts. The country was held up as a model of correct development planning and policy. It did not take long for us to prove that there was a flaw in this method which was that infant industries never grow up without a competent and powerful bureaucracy to direct and monitor them.

In the 1960s we flirted with liberalization, but it was a constant battle between the nationalists and internationalists that never seemed to go anywhere. Then in the 1970s the debt fuelled growth bubble came to town. The notion that underdevelopment was caused primarily by a lack of savings or capital would be fixed by borrowing externally. We also decided to emulate our ASEAN neighbors by imposing a more authoritarian model but to no avail.

In the 1980’s the bubble burst, and the country went into a steep recession followed by political upheaval. From the mid-80s we sought to steer away from the cronyism that came with authoritarian rule with varying success. We tried a Western liberal formula of economic stabilization, deregulation and privatization. It seemed to work in Eastern Europe but failed miserably in chaotic Russia. Our own experiment with it tended to emulate the latter.

The 1990s saw a rapid acceleration of trade openess with tarrifs going down faster than our external commitments to the world body, the WTO, required. We began to see more stable growth and saw poverty decline somewhat, but the growth was not fast enough to lift millions out of poverty in contrast to our rapidly developing neighbors in East Asia. These nations adopted a different formula, the BeST consensus (BEST stands for Beijing, Seoul, Taipei) which used a combination of liberalization and government intervention to strengthen their export industries.

In Latin America a resurgence of anti-capitalist regimes in country after country resulted due to the epic failure of neoliberal policies instituted earlier. The Washington elite that had peddled their development theory of open markets began to revise this paradigm. The new Washington Consensus tried to explain its earlier failures by declaring that markets needed the right set of institutions to function properly. Getting institutions right was required for markets to get prices right.

So we went down that road. Since the early 2000’s our business and political leaders have been spouting words like “rule of law”, “good governance” and “property rights” in keeping with the new consensus. It was all talk of course, but despite the fact that we suffered from weak institutions, the economy seemed to grow at a faster clip during the decade just as countries like China and Vietnam seemed to do without adopting Western legal and political institutions.

Where it began

During my undergraduate days at university in the late 80s and early 90s, there was not a single instance that I can recall when an economics professor uttered the word “institution” in class in relation to development. It was only when I entered grad school in the early 2000’s that the topic became vogue.

It became vogue because of “new evidence” that revealed its value. I remember reading “the evidence” found by a group of economists that wherever European explorers had dropped anchor and settled permanent communities on exotic shores, those communities developed into more vibrant economies many decades and centuries later compared to those that did not have that “privilege”.

The assumption made by the authors (who made names for themselves in the field and subsequently advised multilateral institutions like the World Bank) was that where these colonizers settled, they brought with them habits, practices and customs from the old world. These rules or “institutions” persisted even when they departed.

Unfortunately, I do not buy that idea. Let me tell you why:

First of all, there are good habits, and there are bad ones. Take for example Spain and its colonies. Many of the “institutions” exported by the Iberian power have not been supportive of development in the Hispanic world. Many studies have shown that former colonies who inherited the legal system of Spain and France have not progressed as much as those influenced by Anglo-Saxxon common law.

Ok, so you say, well, let us take the case of England. Its former colonies seem to be doing well. Think of the United States, Canada, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Even India which despite languishing economically for decades since independence still managed to keep its railway lines functioning throughout the subcontinent following the habits of the Brits who count on their trains running on time. Doesn’t this prove the thesis, you ask.

Well, that’s my second point. In the case of the British Empire, it was not so much that they brought sound rules and practices with them. It was the fact that the Crown invested heavily in its colonies, nearly as much or even more than it had taken from them. You might take the establishment of a port or a walled city as a proxy for institutions, or you might see them for what they really are–public investment.

Lord Clive the baron who helped establish colonial rule over India and ran the East India Company, the world’s first multinational company put it succinctly, that it was “absurd to give men power, and to require them to live in penury.” The effective governance and riches of former British colonies are due to their willingness to devote an appropriate amount to the public purse.

This leads me to my third point, you cannot expect to have rule of law without the requisite investment. It does not occur out of “a re-awakened sense of right and wrong” or by appointing close relatives and bossom buddies to sensitive posts. We can already see where that is heading as dysfunctionalism within the PNoy Palace has claimed its first major scalp.


The current thrust of the Aquino government is to bring about Western styled institutions ‘on the cheap’ by not looking at new revenues to boost its capacity to operationalize them. In its first year, it hopes to achieve better governance while simultaneously shrinking the size and capability of the state. Instead of funding its own development by raising revenue, it relies on donor funding from external agencies and foreign governments.

That is fine if you want to wait for manna from heaven, but as the saying goes ‘heaven helps those that help themselves.’ So as a result of the unsustainability of its current model of development, it is faced with three distinct options:

  1. give up on good governance altogether in the short term, focus on growth, and then return to this down the track when it can afford to do so,
  2. go for good governance full throttle but with the accompanying investment (and by implication, raising taxes), or
  3. take a more pragmatic and targeted approach in moving the good governance agenda forward.

What I mean by the third option of using a targeted approach is that it will have to identify the forms of corruption that are tolerable (benign), and others that are not (malignant) and focus on getting rid of the latter. This is where it gets tricky. For those that take a “purist” moralistic stand on the issue and cannot countenance a return to the inglorious ways of the diminutive one, the choices are even more constrained.

So in answer to those that keep spouting words like “good governance” and “rule of law” on the one hand without factoring in the cost and accepting the need for higher taxes on the other, I say “hogwash: either put up, or shut up.” Institutions aren’t built simply out of an altruistic sense or moral revival. They are built with common sense pragmatism. The kind exhibited by Lord Clive all those years ago.

To use the RH debate as an analogy: you cannot expect people to have less children through abstinence alone; government needs to invest in reproductive health to provide better options. Just as in that debate, this one is about our willingness to produce other options aside from relying on “a few good men.”

So until we get our fiscal priorities right, I am afraid that all this talk of building institutions is just plain rubbish.