FOR a third time, we have the honor of having Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation‘s country representative in the Philippines, as a guest blogger. Here he shares what transpired during a recent conference on the Philippines held in Washington, D.C. where Filipino and American speakers discussed issues about the country’s economy, politics, governance, and reforms in the military. A second part coming out next week will tackle Philippine-U.S. relations and managing the country’s internal conflict.

From Washington: Examining the Future of the Philippines

On April 7 and 8, an important conference on the Philippines was held in Washington, D.C., titled “Can the Philippines Break Out of its Affliction? Prospects for Democratic Governance, Economic Development, and Philippine-U.S. Relations,” organized by Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) Southeast Asia Studies Program and The Asia Foundation, with generous support from Exxon-Mobil Corporation.

This program was a chance to focus attention in Washington on the Philippines, and it was occasioned by the visiting professorship at SAIS of Noel Morada, immediate past chair of the Political Science Department at the University of the Philippines.

The first panel was “The Philippine Economy: How Can the Philippines Sustain Economic Growth and Development.” Brett Decker, vice president of the Export-Import Bank, acknowledged the recent good macroeconomic figures in the Philippines, but noted that economic success was not diversified enough (being focused on outsourcing, semiconductors, and real estate). A consumer-led economy fueled by remittances does not seem to be having a wider impact, particularly given the fact that poverty seems to have increased from 2003 to 2006 despite growth in GDP.

Felipe Medalla, professor at the School of Economics, University of the Philippines, and former director general of the National Economic Development Authority, asserted that the GDP growth figures (7.3 percent in 2007) were probably overstated by 2 percent. He argued that the National Statistical Coordination Board was under-resourced, so that the national accounts they produce are inconsistent with other data. Medalla, for all his critical stance, advised against any “extra-constitutional” change before the end of President Arroyo’s term in 2010, and advocated a focus on education.

Both speakers stressed the importance of better governance to reassure investors, and to help economic growth reduce poverty. Panel Chair Veronique Salze-Lozac’h, regional economic director for The Asia Foundation raised the possibility that local governments could provide better governance for their local economies, and that small and medium enterprises could be the basic constituency for a better business climate at the local level.

As Chair of Panel II: “Transforming Philippine Politics: How Can the Philippines Get Democratic Good Governance?,” I began by discussing Social Weather Stations statistics about Philippine public opinion. The first chart, on the net satisfaction ratings of Presidents from Corazon Aquino to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, which showed that President Arroyo never had the “honeymoon” of high popularity that other presidents had at the beginning of their tenure in office, and that not only was she the first president with negative ratings, she has also been mired at that level since 2004. The second charts expected changes in the quality of life in the next 12 months. While the chart shows that Filipinos are generally optimistic, I said I expected this optimism to fade in the face of the current rice price and supply problems. Paul Hutchcroft, professor of political science at the University of Washington, spoke mostly from his widely circulated “Arroyo Imbroglio.”

His argument is that stronger political parties are crucial to better governance, and that relatively small changes — such as a pre-printed ballot so that voters don’t have to write in dozens of names, or having the President and Vice President run as a bloc instead of individually — would be helpful in starting the long process of reform. Alex Magno, professor of political science at the University of the Philippines, spoke from an unpublished paper, “2010: Controlling the Center of the Board.” His striking prediction was that if there is a consensus among financiers of political candidates, there would be a lopsided win for the consensus candidate, but if not we could have many candidates winning 15 to 20 percent of the vote, with resulting instability. I ended the session by quoting from Magno’s paper, “Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo remains the single most important player defining the 2010 electoral succession,” and pointed out that the entire discussion from both the panel and the audience assumed that President Arroyo would stay in power in 2010 and then step down (an assumption that is often disputed in political discourse in Manila).

The room filled up for lunch, since Ifzal Ali, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, did a briefing on the recently published Asian Development Outlook 2008. Besides discussing the overall analysis in the Outlook, he pointed out that there had been an unexpectedly rapid rise in inflation throughout Asia, due to such things as food price increases and bottlenecks caused by rapid growth. When asked from the audience about the Philippines particularly, he referred to the ADB’s new publication, Philippines: Critical Development Constraints (December 2007).

In Panel III, “Is Military Reform Possible?,” Colonel Gregorio Catapang, a well-known and sometimes controversial advocate of reforming the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and currently the Chief of the Program Development and Administrative Staff, Philippine Defense Reform Office of the Department of National Defense, outlined the current Philippine Defense Reform Program. Catapang said military reform would reduce military adventurism, and ended by saying that the institutionalization of reform would require updating the National Defense Act, which dates to 1935.

From the American side, Colonel Desmond Walton began by saying that weak or failed states are a threat to American interests, and when the United States began directly providing tactical types of anti-terrorism assistance (e.g., body armor, helicopter spare parts), it became clear that the problem was more systemic than merely lack of logistics. He ended his presentation by stating that the AFP was willing to admit they needed help, whereas other armed forces in the region might be reluctant to admit their needs. Ed Ross, who now has his own consulting firm after a career in the military and the Department of Defense, likened the Philippine Defense Reform Program to “trying to fix a car going 90 miles an hour while drivers change every 2 hours.”

Audience members repeatedly raised the issue of human rights, which panel chair SAIS Professor William Wise had called part of the “software” of defense reform. Walton said there could be a connection between the large drop in extrajudicial killings between 2006 and 2007 and the training that all squad leaders in the Philippine Army received in 2007 on formal leadership training. Ross said both Defense and State view the issue of human rights abuses as threatening to undermine the U.S’s entire policy in the Philippines, and a constant refrain in interaction with the AFP is to urge them to step away from such practices (and be accountable for past abuses).

(This piece originally appeared on The Asia Foundation website.)

9 Responses to Examining the future of the Philippines



April 15th, 2008 at 2:05 am

The post says in part: “Medalla, for all his critical stance, advised against any “extra-constitutional” change before the end of President Arroyo’s term in 2010, and advocated a focus on education”.

That is true. “Extra-constitutional” change the country has undetaken in the past did not bring any economic change in the life of ordinary people. We need to focus on education: we need to educate our media practioners to bring the right information to the people; our school curriculum must be overhauled and put more subjects on civics and government ethics and science; we need to regulate the movie industry and give incentives to productions that highlight realism than productions that pander on make-believe fantasies that only develop false hope on our populace. Let us stop exploiting the poor for votes and work as one nation with one purpose, “to seek our own place under the sun and be proud of our Filipino heritage.



April 15th, 2008 at 6:36 pm

One of the reforms I myself been suggesting is to simplify the voting and pre-printing of ballots is one good example. Strong Party System where government is run by the Party in line with the party platforms and programs as laid down during the campaign and be implemented during the mandate with continuity, until justifiably terminated by the next government of the same or different party, is also one good reform to be introduced. But the most important is the reforms regarding the Election Campaign Expenses and Contributions and its Limits and Enforcements.. start with this one single reform and electing deserving officials is just a one election away…


Bob Malit

April 16th, 2008 at 9:54 am

All Filipinos must be educated on the importance of their right to vote; on how they can use their votes to change the course of their country from present day culture of graft and corruption to working together for the greatest common good of all Filipinos. The news media including PCIJ must change their course as well, from patronizing traditional politics to Filipino people advocate.


nosi balasi

April 21st, 2008 at 3:11 pm

the post say: Medalla….,and advocated to focus on education.

This is true in real sense, but they should dig more deeper…and instead focus on Agriculture and Fisheries.
They should go and observe in the countryside…and see for themselves…there are thousands of young children and young adults that has not finished primary or secondary school…one time when I went back last month in the Philippines for a vacation…I over heard a 12year old boy…”Tay, di na ako papasok sa skul…sasama na lang ako kila Mang Andoy sa pangingisda”…sabi naman ang ama ” sige anak, kung saan ka maligaya doon ako”…ganito kadali magdesisyon ang mga magulang sa probinsiya…kasi ganun din sila noong bata pa sila…at isa pa paano ang gastusin nila kung pag-aaralin nila ang mga anak nila…yung pagkain sa lamesa kulang na nga wala pang sustansya.

Education…tama po iyun…pero kung kumakalam ang sikmura…ang isang bata o kahit ang isang magulang…di na siguro makakapagisip ng tama para sa kinabukasan nila dahil mas importante ang pang-araw-araw na kakainin nila.

Marahil…kung nabago na ang bulok na sistema ng pangangalakal sa isda, bigas, at gulay…malamang aapaw ang pagkain…at doon na siguro mababawasan ang pagtanggap sa corruption…lalo na during the elections.



April 21st, 2008 at 5:55 pm

My parents were poor and I have struggled to educate myself. We can really empower ourselves through education if we have the will and the desire to be educated,our being poor notwithstanding. This fisherman boy did not see the value of education and we cannot blame him if he is so circumstanced as to see his future only within the confines of the sea and the seashore. Like his parents, he did not see the value of education, and therefore would see nothing wrong of a situation where young children are “fishing” rather than be in school. This is where the government should come in. Provide free high school education nationwide, or even college as some nations do, or criminalize the neglect of parents to put their children to primary and secondary school. That is of course if despite free education, we do not send our children to school.

We must have a proactive social service ageny and statistics bureau who must take note of the number of children of school age and find out if they are in school or not and if not, find the reason why.


nosi balasi

April 22nd, 2008 at 1:56 pm

yun nga po…i said they should dig deeper…for those people living in the countryside most of them tends to ignore many things…basta maibsan lang ang kumakalam na sikmura…they dont bother the cause and effect of all their actions, specially sa mga di nakapagaral…if the govt do really have the passion to uplift the lives of the Filipino people they should feed them with the right food. Mabuti pa nga sa probinsya namin, yung mga bata they have the passion to help their parents sa hanap buhay nila, isasakripisyo nila ang libreng edukasyon para kumita ng kakarampot para pang-dagdag sa pambili nila ng pagkain…hindi ba nahihiya ang gobyerno sa mga batang yun? yeah libre ang edukasyon, pero libre din ba pagkain? di sigurado ang mga kabataan sa kanayunan kung makakakuha ba sila ng maayos na trabaho pag natapos nila ag kanilang pag-aaral. Sa mga syudad o kahit na sa metro manila…daming gardweyts pero walang trabaho…nasaan na ang reward ng edukasyon ng gobyerno?…kaya nga halos ng mga kabataan sa probinsya namin ay nagsasaka o nangigisda na lang at least doon sigurado may kita sila at mayroon silang masustansyang pagkain….ngayon JCC gusto mo pa i-suggest sa Gobyerno na ipakulong yung mga magulang na hindi papasukin ang kanilang mga anak sa eskwela (joke)…kunsabagay alam naman ng mga pulitiko lalo na nasa Gobyerno, para makakuha ng simpatiya ( sa eleksyon man o kung anong pabor na kailangan nila)…may libreng food na may cash pa para sa mga tao…ika nga…busugin mo nang busugin ang mga sundalo mo para pagdating ng oras ng kagipitan kahit buhay ng sundalo ay itataya niya para sa ikalulugod ng kanilang pinuno. Kaya para sa akin, masyadong malayo pa maabot ng Pilipinas ang inaasam ng bawat Pilipino sa buong mundo na maging isang malakas at matatag na bansa…at lalo pang lalayo kung sa edukasyon ang pagtutuunan ng pansin…kunsabagay lalong dadami ang mga Professional and Skilled workers ng Pilipinas na mag-migrate sa ibang bansa at para doon na manirahan…at ayun na naman ang Pilipinas wala pa rin. Pero, kung sa Agrikultura ang focus ng Gobyerno…darami ang resources ng Pinas, at pag marami ang resources, ang bilihin mura na masustansya pa, at dahil sa mga resources na ito, dadami ang malilikhang trabaho, at syempre marami nang kabataan na mag-aaral na sa skul kasi nga daming pagkain at umaapaw pa.



April 22nd, 2008 at 9:56 pm

i think there is already a high school night program being undertaken by the department of education to address the issue of working teenagers (high school students). they go to work during the day to help out their parents and attend a night school after work.

as to the issue of work, there are plenty of opportunities, but you must be qualified first by having the right skill sets. you may find it strange but our country is the best exporters of human resource. nothing to be ashamed of about this situation. the collective remittances of our workers abroad make our economy afloat, as of now.

education makes the citizens very intelligent and when we have an intelligent citizenry, our politicians will refrain from treating us with one hilarious ride after another.


nosi balasi

April 23rd, 2008 at 12:26 pm

yes that is strange…the govt would rather see their people get separated from their families, either temporary or permanently…yes…manpower is the resources…but they should not forget the basic needs are also the resources which is food, clothing, and shelter…that’s why many youths are not in the school, many college graduates has no work, many skilled workers are working abroad…only because… our country has a very weak resources… or i would say the resources are already corrupted.



April 23rd, 2008 at 3:29 pm

i’m from the province and i think what nossi balasi said is the same in our place. sobrang daming youth at mga bata ang hind na nag-aaral sa amin.. it’ either nalululong sila sa masamang bisyo or nag-aasawa sila ng maaga.. nakakalungkot kasi parang gumagwa lang sla ng decisions na hindi naman nila pinag-iisipan,.. ang parents naman nila, walang ginagwa para sawayin sila. oo lang sila ng oo sa sinasabi ng anak nila. mas nalulungkot ako pag naaalala ko ang narinig ko sa kapit bahay namin. may store kasi kami. laging hinihingi ng pambili ngpagkain ang mga anak niya. kahitpiso lang daw. pinapalo niya sila dahil nakukulitan na siya. tapos pag umuwi na ang mga anak niya, bumbili siya ng soft drinks dahil nauuuhaw siya, at talagang tinatago niya sa mga anak niya. pag naaalala ko ito, ma slalo kong naaapreciate ang parents ko. i think i’mlucky enough that even thoough we are not rich, my parents did everything to send me to college. hey supported all my decisions, even when i decided to take up public administration instead of accountancy or engineering whivh are basically high-earning professions.

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