Erle Frayne D. Argonza
Good day to you fellow global citizens!
We just celebrated the 25th EDSA People Power Revolution in PH last Feb 25. A full twenty-five (25) years after EDSA, the country remains mired in the gargantuan problem of bad governance. Graft & corruption continues to be a scourge to this country, ditto for other countries.
Patrimonial interest groups of every shade continue to pillage the national coffers and the business sector. Business and politics are as intertwined as ever, thus barring efforts to bring down patron-client relations in the public and private spheres. No wonder that corruption remains high and could be, in fact, scaling up the heights in exponential fashion.
For as long as bad governance (‘bureaucrat capitalism’ is the Maoists’ term for it) remains in a vicious circle pattern, poverty will loom large in the near future. People’s incomes will be relatively stagnant, resulting to a stagnant if not declining middle income class. The high growth figure of 7% annual growth will therefore be meaningless, as the growth benefits largely those who are already very rich.
It doesn’t matter if the Philippines has already been urbanized, with as large as 68% of the population and/or the labor force residing in cities and big towns. Urban it is alright, yet replete with narratives of burgeoning urban poor populations.
So that brings us back to square 1, which is the self-perpetuating bad governance cycle. Whether the vicious cycle can be broken during the incumbency of the Aquino regime is doubtful. This government is being run by mediocre bureaucrats who are predominantly Jesuit-schooled boys and girls, who as a whole administer the public sector like “running a student council” as Sen. Joker Arroyo aptly described them.
Sadly for the country and other emerging markets, it is this governance side of the equation that cancels out the very positive outlook resulting from high growth. To note, it is this same scourge that had angered youthful Arabs in Tunisia and Egypt who watched their national leaders plunder the coffers like they were lusciously consuming personal candies, and the scourge is now driving many other Arabs to the streets to overthrow their corrupt leaders.
Good governance, strong institutions, and right policies are getting to be appreciated all the more by the youthful working peoples of the day, such as those in the Arab states. They are values that strongly appeal to the middle class of developing countries, while they resonate well for the young generation of Arabs. Amusing observations!
If the middle class of emerging markets can inspire the young generations of Arabs and countries with authoritarian regimes at the helm, well and good. But let the ‘regime change’ agents be reminded that overthrowing corrupt authoritarian and/or autocratic regimes do not an incorruptible government make.
Examine the history of the Philippines and other countries that are similarly situated, where bad governance perpetually churns itself out long after dictatorships were overthrown. Our neighbor Indonesia is similarly situated, and so are couples of countries in Latin America. The more so for African countries where the problem of racial integration complicates the scourge of corruption.
It seems like we badly hit a quagmire in PH and other developing countries, in regard to graft & corruption. Whether we shall all jettison efficaciously out of the quagmire in the short run is a delusion. And maybe never will there be hope in reforming governance institutions that would enable eradication of poverty and attendant problems.
As to the reason behind the scourge, I am reminded of the explanation of the pioneer sociologist Emile Durkheim. The noblesse gentleman cogitated that there will always be deviants in society, unless that society is populated by saints. Deviance, such as corruption, will always prevail at levels beyond the residual, to follow Durkheim’s logic.
Economists would have it that ‘rent seeking’ will assert itself in diverse circumstances, inclusive of the public sector. Rent seeking, or reaping profits beyond opportunity costs, explicates corrupt practices and no less. The UP School of Economics professor Emmanuel De Dios had already writ informative articles about the matter, so please try to search for his articles in university libraries and online.
I do perceive corruption as a scourge, even as I remain optimistic that in the very long run it will be minimized. Humans will gradually evolve across time, and I guess the conscience of future humans will work the greater to make values work in daily life. But it seems my concluding note is only wishful thinking, so I’d leave it up to you to form your opinions on the subject matter.
[Philippines, 27 February 2011]
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