I often agree with critics of the Philippines on the failure of the nation to be modern and productive and treat its citizens better, and occasionally with critics of President Aquino, on specific acts. I have never agreed with those who panned the President because he had an undistinguished senatorial career, or is a part of the family and big-money cliques that run the Philippines, or has a flighty sister named Kris. And I have argued for a little consideration and latitude for the President to be who he is, in a very difficult job. I call it the patriotic thing to do, but I understand that patriots are free to criticize, so that’s all right, too. It is just my attitude, shaped by my childhood citing the Pledge of Allegiance, and three years in the Army, one of them in Viet Nam. In the Army, you subjugate yourself to the greater need, and I carry that forward in wanting my President to be strong. If I support him, he is just a wee bit stronger than if I do not.
So I don’t run around looking for flaws, looking for things to criticize. I don’t want to undermine my President unless by undermining him, I strengthen the US. (Nixon was well worth undermining; Clinton was not.)
Indeed, if I step back, away from the howling critics, I see some good things happening in Philippine governance. Here is what I see:
1. I see a government trying to modernize its treatment of women by passing a Reproductive Health Bill and a Divorce Bill. I don’t say these efforts are perfect, but I see a nation that is coming to the realization that it is behind the times, and a government that wants to catch up. When you see the screaming and foot-dragging of the Catholic Church, you have a crystal clear understanding of why the nation is behind the times. But President Aquino is doing what President Arroyo (a woman, fer chrissake) did not do, what President Estrada did not do, what the prior President Aquino did do, and what no Philippine president has done until now.
2. President Aquino has not gotten tagged by any fertilizer, ZTE, or other multi-million dollar scandals or scams while in office. This is a marked improvement over Arroyo and Estrada. President Aquino is fundamentally an honest president, for all the naïve mistakes he makes and the attachments to power-people, something that no president can avoid. He is delivering on an expectation of those who elected him. Be fundamentally a good person.
3. The President’s administration is grinding away at corrupt behavior and values, pressuring the Ombudsman out of office, investigating Congressman Mike Arroyo for tax evasion, putting the head of Customs on a short string for not stopping unrelenting smuggling, undertaking multiple inquiries as to how certain people got rich so fast when their salaries would not generate such wealth, and advancing inquiries into prior President Arroyo’s assorted scandals. It is changing the tenor of things. Now you sense that whistle blowers are being listened to. When a prison official gives favored treatment to a convict, you hear about it. When a governor is caught with his fist in the public cookie jar, he gets discovered. The cumulative pressure in favor of good behavior has escalated noticeably. It is exactly the kind of pressure that can change values if it is sustained.
4. Efforts to anticipate and protect against typhoons and other natural disasters are real. Forecast information is now readily available on the web and recovery people are standing by in advance of typhoons. Intense pressure is being put on the DENR to perform, to stop the clear-cutting and illegal harvesting of trees that lead to flash floods and mudslides. The standard for all typhoons is “zero fatalities”. Those of us with careers in planning recognize how critically important such benchmarks are at motivating actions to achieve them.
5. The Philippines finally has a foreign engagement effort that represents something other than begging or chasing President Obama for photo ops and fine dining in New York. President Aquino has been both pragmatic and proactive in establishing direct lines of communication with leaders of countries that matter.
I think it is fair to ride the president for things like a light work schedule, or a botched bus massacre, or poor coordination and responses among his communication team, or other nits worth picking.
But for myself, I see real change happening, from a perspective above the trees. The forest is developing, and it is developing in the right direction.
Yes, yes, a lot more has to happen, mainly in economic and industrial arenas. How can farming become agribusiness? How can mining capture value in the Philippines instead of shipping it to Korea? How can tourism thrive when the coral is bombed, the waters are polluted, and the mountains are full of killer gangs (I refuse to apply the tag “rebels” to this destructive bunch of protection-racket thugs)? How can trade become the heart of the Philippines again (like, uh, make Customs a service unit instead of taxing arm)?
Those of you with yellow burrs under your saddles, keep on riding and writing. It can only speed the process, for I think something else is different about President Aquino. He listens. Perhaps he tries to hard to justify his botchings, but at least he is not tone deaf or stone deaf, as his predecessors were.
It would be helpful to give him an assist now and then. Like when the leaders of the Catholic Church insist that women be stoned with guilt, and bound and tied to deadbeat dads and abusive men. Climb all over that one. Or when teens are shamed into getting coat hanger abortions rather than benefitting from an education about sex and parental responsibilities. Strive mightily for more dignified laws.
It would be good to pile onto the miscreants in public office who still use the public coffers for personal glory and wealth, rather than taking care of the nation and the citizens they say under oath they will represent well.
And it would be good to agitate for more productive economic activities.
We can help build the societal pressures that push toward a changing, more productive, kinder, wealthier Philippines.