Watching the Watchers

Dindo Manhit, President of the Stratbase ADR Institute

Watching the watchers is just another way of philosophizing with a philosopher king, arguing justice with a judge, and engineering political actions and policies vis-à-vis the powers that are.

During the recent Pilipinas Conference 2018, launched by the Stratbase ADRi and attended by the country’s prime business groups and conglomerates, speakers talked about the predicaments and challenges that the country faces as well as opportunities for growth and development. There were also overtures to the Duterte administration, in particular on how to manage and steer the country toward meaningful change.

The Philippine government is confronted by several conditions that are critical to political and economic development. As we head into concluding half of President Duterte’s third year in office, it seems that the government is caught in between the delicate balance of statism and society-centered policies.

In the economic front, a balance between strategic engagement and strategic retreat is imperative for managing the economy and steering the country’s development. In short, state-market synergy is key to address the primordial concern of a developing nation like the Philippines. For Amb. Del Rosario, this pertains to “the promotion of inclusive growth, expansion of decent employment, improvement of technological capabilities and elevate the general standard of living of the people. This can best be done through improving the country’s competitiveness in the context of a policy of economic openness and regional integration.”

In the political front, affecting radical change seems to have been entangled with statist approaches. The prolonged martial law in Mindanao may just be another superficial reform as the unrelenting persecution of drug-related elements is just a temporary solution to address social ills.

Instead, poverty reduction and labor expansion should be prioritized to demonstrate the presence of inclusive growth. The volatile growth of the manufacturing sector in relation with the service sector reveals an indeterminate improvement for labor. In turn, poverty reduction cannot simply be addressed through dole-outs. Reducing poverty undeniably necessitates both political and economic reforms.

Meanwhile, economic growth needs to be sustained amidst external conditions, such as the US-China trade war. Nonetheless, the translation of growth into economic development, as Dudley Seers has put a spot-on emphasis, must have impact on the reduction of poverty, inequality, and unemployment. If these have declined from high levels, then beyond doubt “this” has been a period of development for our country.

Another imminent threat to the country’s welfare is the countervailing territorial claims in the South China Sea and the continuous militarization perpetrated by China. The responsible management of this conflict lies in many factors.

The immediate international community composed of the US, Japan, Australia, and India plays in important role in harnessing international opinion and organizations to promote a diplomatic resolution. Secondly, the ASEAN, especially members who are real parties in interest, is enjoined to make a unified stand against a violent solution. Third, the real parties in interest must among themselves thresh out a consolidated stand against China’s aggression. Lastly, the Philippines must also be able to demonstrate an independent nationalist stand vis-à-vis the growing presence and influence of China in President Duterte’s infrastructure agenda.

Governments, as the pinnacle of power in society, do not operate in a social vacuum. As such, in order to operate and deliver services to the general population, a two-tiered participation is imperative—for the people to engage in political and economic activities and for the people to guard their leaders.

In turn, the elected leaders should be held responsible and accountable for all actions. As rightful rulers, more so, their leadership and actions should not presuppose a blanket authority that is accountable to “nobody.” They directly answer to the people and institutions they represent and to existing supranational political entities.

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