“Whenever we find a late bloomer, we can’t but wonder how many others like him or her we have thwarted because we prematurely judged their talents. But we also have to accept that there’s nothing we can do about it. How can we ever know which of the failures will end up blooming?”
– Malcolm Gladwell
In the Philippines, children trooped to school this week as yet another academic year began. It seemed like any other year, with the rising cost of private education and the shortage of classrooms and teachers plaguing the public system giving concern to parents.
There was one significant difference though: the country became one of the last in the region to adopt a K-12 (kindergarten to Year 12) structure. The additional two years to secondary education and one year of kindergarten meant that the educational system in the country has finally caught up with the rest of the world.
It is hoped that with this reform, the country would be able to lift the academic test scores of its pupils which have been lagging behind that of neighbouring states. Previously it was hypothesised, educators tried to cram in too much content within the span of ten years. It is hoped that allowing more time to learn the new national curriculum would produce better results.
But apart from giving students the tools to succeed in life, there is a number of policy areas in which the Philippines has lagged behind but could now be catching up. Reproductive health and family planning is an example of where the country has remained staunchly intransigent even when there has been a near universal consensus arrived at around the world on this issue. The long-delayed reproductive health bill that has languished in Congress for over a decade may finally pass.
In the area of peace and order and social justice, the country has one of the longest running communist insurgencies in the world. Its land reform program whose implementation has taken decades longer than expected, may finally be completed with the resolution of the Hacienda Luisita case.
After a chequered history, the revised sin tax legislation may finally pass, giving government finances a boost and allowing credit rating agencies to give a positive outlook for the country, which in turn lowers the cost of borrowing for the government. Having been a net debtor nation to the rest of the world, the nation’s ability to shore up international reserves through balance of payments surpluses now make it a net creditor.
After being the consistent laggard of Southeast Asia when it comes to attracting foreign direct investments, an investment pipeline involving infrastructure projects may soon reverse its fortunes. With growth slowing in the BRIC economies, the US and the EU, a first quarter growth of 6.4% year-on-year making the average for the past two years 5.6% make the country a stand-out along with Indonesia and Turkey (see video below for an explanation).
With employment growing and inflation easing, some are beginning to wonder if the Philippines is finally getting its act together. Two thousand and twelve could be a “breakout” year for the country.
As America “pivots” towards Asia where the future economic centre of gravity of the world will be, how big or small a role will the Philippines play in this the Pacific Century?
Jim O’Neillthe manfrom Goldman Sachs responsible for the acronym BRICs (which stands for Brazil, Russia, India and China) in a forthcoming book feels all the more convinced as ever of the accuracy of his predictions ten years ago when he first coined it to describe the growth potential of emerging markets. His sense of vindication for what he now characterises as his “conservative” estimates comes from the fact that in his words,
The world economy has doubled in size since 2001, and a third of that growth has come from the BRICs. Their combined GDP increase was more than twice that of the United States and it was equivalent to the creation of another new Japan plus one Germany, or five United Kingdoms, in the space of a single decade.
At this rate, China will be on track to surpass the United States as the world’s biggest economy by 2027, according to O’Neill, beating the earlier estimate of 2035. Predicting when this will happen has become an interesting past-time of analysts of late, which is why The Economist whose own projections for a 2019 year of reckoning made available the following interactive chart where you can play around with the assumptions and do-it-yourself by entering them in the assigned fields (see below).
The Asia-Pacific has become a key driver of global politics. Stretching from the Indian subcontinent to the western shores of the Americas, the region spans two oceans — the Pacific and the Indian — that are increasingly linked by shipping and strategy. It boasts almost half the world’s population. It includes many of the key engines of the global economy, as well as the largest emitters of greenhouse gases. It is home to several of our key allies and important emerging powers like China, India, and Indonesia.
Together, I believe we can address shared challenges, such as (nuclear) proliferation and maritime security, including cooperation in the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the United States will continue our effort to build a cooperative relationship with China. …We will do this, even as we continue to speak candidly to Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people. A secure and peaceful Asia is the foundation for the second area in which America is leading again – and that’s advancing our shared prosperity.
A constant theme in that speech which effectively marked the “pivot point” to the East was America’s adherence to the rule of law to govern international relations in security and economic terms, as well as its championing of open democracies and free markets in the region. In both cases, Obama was at his professorial best when he promoted the concept of rules based trading in commerce and politics.
His speech writers could be said to channel F.A. Hayek the founder of contemporary libertarianism who said that, “Only the existence of common rules makes the peaceful existence of individuals in society possible.”
This is consistent with America’s constitutional belief in universal principles. Prof Obama was also acting like Dr King, in that he was delivering a sermon. He may have seemed in Australia to be “preaching to the choir” but his real intended audience was not in Canberra, but Beijing. In Bali, he got to exchange a few constructive words with his Chinese counterpart. Much to the Philippine delegation’s dismay, the US defence posture in the region is not meant to intimidate the rising power of China into submission over the South China Sea issue.
Back home, President Aquino had another axe of sorts to grind with the placing of his predecessor Gloria Arroyo under hospital detention following her indictment for election fraud. This followed a week of controversy involving her attempted departure from the country to seek medical treatment following a Supreme Court decision to temporarily lift the Department of Justice’s hold departure order on her, a decision that was not accepted by the said department.
All of this puts into context, the question of where will the Philippines be in 2020? Will the Philippines be a prosperous democratic country governed by the rule of law? Or will it still be struggling to achieve this ideal that the US president spoke of so eloquently?
Today, the hot topic in Manila among political commentators is whether the action taken by the Aquino government to prevent Mrs Arroyo from leaving was in accordance with the rule of law. On the side of those who say yes is Randy David who believes what we have now is a “rule of justices” not a bona fide rule of law thanks to the lady at the centre of the controversy. On the side of naysayers is Solita Monsod who believes the speed with which the investigation was conducted points once again to the politicisation of the process. Both make reasoned arguments in support of their views.
The president convinced of the justness of his actions and mindful of his constituents exhorted his countrymen to “not waver.” He said that
We are all working for a new Philippines, one where there is equality, where whoever does wrong, whatever his status in life may be, is punished, a country where justice rules.
Whatever the position either camp holds in this debate, all will agree that prosecuting the Arroyos has been quite a messy undertaking, much like the way President Joseph Estrada was deposed from office. The legality of it will be questioned and the merits of it will be argued for years to come in the court of public opinion.
Incidentally, 2011 is also the tenth year since Estrada’s ouster. Back in 2001, Mr Estrada will argue, the country’s elites conspired to bring a sitting and democratically elected president down by extra-constitutional means. Today, it has been argued that one faction of the elite has manipulated the legal system to jail the head of another.
In all this time, has the country progressed towards becoming a stable more prosperous country? To the analysts, the country’s growth rate over the last ten years has proven their rosy forecasts right. They will say that we are on track both demographically and economically to be a force to reckon with by 2020 and beyond.
To the “insiders” the same old problems of social inequity still prevails. One set of rules still seems to apply to one class of people, and another applies to the rest. To the administration and its followers, the Arroyos have become totemic of this system. To them successfully prosecuting and sending her swiftly to jail would prove once and for all that only one system of justice prevails in the country.
To the realists, the application of justice over the course of the next ten years will largely depend on who sits in power. By 2020, a certain boxer-legislator who happened to be one of GMA’s strongest endorsers believes he will be a strong contender for the Palace in 2022. By then he would have tucked a few billion pesos under his belt and followed a path set before by the populist Erap Estrada.
Should the reforms espoused by the current seat warmers of Malacañang not take route in the next five years the political pendulum could swing the other way and a revival of patronage-based populism with a new face could rise to replace the torch-bearers of our current elite democracy.
Similarly, China could match the US pound-for-pound in their rivalry for regional dominance. The Beijing Consensus might by then trump the Washington version. A different model for prosperity might be in play making the need for establishing common rules seem rather (how shall we put it?…) academic.
The ProPinoy Project is a Global Community Center for all things Pinoy, to connect Filipinos at home and abroad by creating a space for ideas, trends and analyses about the Philippines and the global Pinoy community to inspire informed discussion and transformative action.