Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cornerstone of a true democracy

Democratic jargon saturates our national news but very little is discussed about its principle’s very foundations. All those talk about the Edsa “people power” revolutions, the 2010 elections, as well as, who will be the best candidate for president are all meaningless unless the cornerstone of a truly democratic edifice is present--economic democracy.

Economic democracy, or the power of the people over “the production, development and management of their own material wealth,” is the sine qua non for genuine political democracy. In a society such as ours where the economy is directly controlled by a dozen families, there is no hope for genuine democracy; only an oligarchy or plutocracy by a super-wealthy few.

While it is true that a plutocracy under neo-colonial subjugation has always been the prevailing political-economic reality in the Philippines after World War II, there have been ebbs and flows in our economic democracy--or in efforts toward it.

The two relatively fundamental facets of economic democracy--national economic sovereignty and popular economic independence--have seen meager successes in RP’s modern history.

During the period of President Carlos P. Garcia’s “Filipino First Policy,” national economic sovereignty was purposefully asserted--an effort which could have made us the first Asean “Tiger economy.” This was later aborted when the US and the American Manufacturers Association succeeded in their $200,000-support for Garcia’s rival, Diosdado Macapagal.

Macapagal then brought Philippine economic democracy to its lowest point with his “Decontrol” program that removed currency and capital controls on the nation’s money, paving the way for luxury importations to quadruple RP’s national debt to a high of $360 million from Garcia’s $80 million while leading to the “deconstruction” of our budding manufacturing sector.

Marcos beat Macapagal alright, and later, Sergio OsmeƱa Jr., in very expensive elections. And it appears that he planned to govern in two phases: the first, with an economic program based on a combination of Japanese war reparations for construction of transport and other infrastructure, and IMF-WB funded programs for tourism facilities, upon which he piggybacked the second phase, which was to be his national development program for economic self-sufficiency.

This supposed second phase still held out the best prospects since Garcia’s “Filipino first Policy” for the nation to keep pace with the rising tiger cubs in the region-- Taiwan , South Korea , and Singapore --while we were still ahead of Malaysia and Thailand .

A national oil company was established; a diversified energy program stressing indigenous and alternative sources was initiated (geothermal energy started under Marcos, as were thousands of mini-hydros); cotton and ramie were being grown in Mindanao; synthetic textile fibers were spun by Filsyn; grapes were being grown in Cebu and Ilocos; integrated aluminum, copper and steel mills were commissioned; and in the economic crunch of 1983 after the Ninoy Aquino assassination, Marcos even instituted informal currency and capital controls through the so-called “Binondo Central Bank.”

Marcos’ fall meant the scuttling of the foundation of our economic sovereignty, and the privatization regimes of Aquino, Ramos and Arroyo gave away the state’s established strategic industries and public utilities--in oil, energy, power, telecommunications and water; in steel and copper; in shipbuilding--all toward the radical erosion of public ownership and control of the economy, to increase the concentration of economic power to the western-backed old economic elite, with familiar mestizo names like Lopez, Aboitiz, Alcantara, Razon, and the almighty Ayalas.

The Tsinoy tycoons who had equal footing with the rest during Marcos’ time, lost ground when he fell; but resilient as they are, they were later restored equal footing with the traditional elite.

The 2010 elections will be influenced as never before by the economic oligarchs. Among the front-runners are two puppets of a consumer products magnate, a real estate billionaire, a scion of another old real estate family, a talking head of a media conglomerate, with the rest controlled by a combination of two or more of the oligarchs.

Only President Estrada stands out as a truly independent candidate because, as veteran politician and former Ambassador Ernie Maceda says, he doesn’t have to spend billions to win. At the same time, since the middle class and the masses are never as dependent on government “stimulus” spending as before because of the collapsed economy, the sway of money will be even more powerful than ever.

Popular economic independence, meanwhile, can be best realized in smaller scales, down to the community and personal level. Striving toward one’s individual sovereignty and independence, and maintaining a degree of political independence, is an achievement in itself.

Thus, I maintain a diversified source of livelihood for my family--from a small business to a few consultancies, some media projects, and a farm where I am beginning to grow crops.

Anticipating a worst case scenario the next five years, I am also moving to a smaller residence near work to cut down on the costs of living, particularly, power and fuel. Such a frugal lifestyle may not be easily accepted by my older children who’ve lived in the best of times, but the younger ones adapt more easily.

As a media practitioner, I have maintained my political and journalistic independence because of my comparative economic independence.

With economic skills and the right leadership, the Filipino people can fast become sovereign and enjoy genuine democracy. In certain cases, a slow evolution through collective empowerment also works.

Ralph Nader, for instance, reports that despite the financial crash, the remaining American financial institutions that are doing well are the credit unions. He says in February 26, 2009’s CounterPunch: 85 million Americans belong to credit unions which are not-for-profit cooperatives owned by their members who are depositors and borrowers… 91 percent of the 8,000 credit unions are reporting greater overall growth… They are well-capitalized because of regulation and because they do not have an incentive to go for high-risk, highly leveraged speculation to increase stock values and the value of the bosses.”

Taking all these together, a personal and community drive for economic independence will best ensure a better, genuine, and politically democratic society for our nation.

(Tune in to 1098AM: Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. / Monday, Wednesday, Friday, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. / Saturday, 10 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Destiny Cable, Channel 3, Tuesday, 8:45 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.; also visit http://hermantiulaurel.blogspot.com)