By Jarius Bondoc
"Vigilantes and cops are killing for thrill. Communist and Islamist rebels kidnap at will. Life is cheapened, as thousands of murders stay unsolved and half-a-million firearms loose. Many more suffer hunger and homelessness, in recurrent natural and man-made disasters. State services are declining, most palpably in poor transportation, consumer price spikes, drug addiction, pollution, and overcrowded jails. Simple driver’s license cards are in short supply; more so vaccines, vehicle registration plates, and passports. Bureaucrats are busy plundering. Citizens are left prey to official extortion and abuse. Court rulings are for sale. A supermajority controls Congress, yet has passed no law; the opposition is inept if not coopted. Only a hundred families control 40 percent of the national wealth. Ten million educated folk are forced to work abroad, mostly as house servants. Youths face bleak futures. It's been this way for years.
The Philippines is lost. It used to be the second briskest democracy in East Asia. Now it is third from bottom of the 10 ASEAN countries, in the Fragile States Index 2016. Only slightly better than Myanmar and Cambodia, it is in the same class as Laos. It is even among the 67 most unstable in the world.
In that listing of failing states, Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Rep., Sudan, and Yemen are worst off socially, economically, and politically. Following closely are Syria, Chad, Congo, Afghanistan, and Haiti. The lower the ranking, the higher the likelihood of failure.
Myanmar, No. 26, is on “Alert” status. Cambodia, 46, Philippines, 54, and Laos, 55, are on “High Warning” for failure.
Thailand, 74, is only on “Elevated Warning,” along with Indonesia, 86, and Vietnam, 106. Malaysia, 115, and Brunei, 123, are on “Warning.” Among ASEAN members, only Singapore, 161, is listed as “Most Stable,”alongside South Korea, Japan, the United States, Slovenia, and Britain.
Notably, ASEAN observer Timor Leste, 35, is not far below the Philippines, which had helped build its government after independence from Indonesia.
Every year for 12 years running, the US-based Fund for Peace lists the wobbliest to sturdiest states. Twelve indicators of a failing state are used:
• Social – mounting demographic pressures; massive displacement of refugees, creating severe humanitarian emergencies; widespread vengeance-seeking group grievance; chronic and sustained human flight;
• Economic – uneven development along group lines; severe decline;
• Political – Criminalization and/or de-legitimization of the state; deterioration of public services; suspension or arbitrary application of law, widespread human rights abuses; security apparatus operating as a “state within a state”; rise of factionalized elites; and intervention of external political agents.
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Is there a way out of the sinkhole?
First step is to admit that the Philippines is in a mess not because of geography, climate, or culture – but politics. Through the years it has built wrong systems. Elections and government forms do not prod but retard progress. The same clans get to hold national and local government posts. They use power further to enrich and entrench themselves. The poorest of their constituents subsist on food aid.
Filipinos need to build good government. The best and brightest leave the godforsaken land to the political elite and their diehards. Still, more opt to stay and practice noble professions and run clean businesses. As taxpayers they must make their leaders want change – or else face a tax revolt. With no tax collections, there would be nothing to steal.
Filipinos must discard bad officials. New technologies and social media can help expose them. If there’s a potent way to punish the corrupt and abusive, it’s public shaming. Crowd sourcing can bare kickbacks and pork barrels, vested interests and sold court decisions. Ostracism of perpetrators can follow.
There is much talk of federal-parliamentary shift. Solutions lie in new political set-ups. But citizens cannot leave the switching to the old politicos. Left to themselves the elite will only mangle reforms. Through concerted action, citizens can make them transparent and answerable.
Filipinos have gambled on a dictatorial type President. Problem is, he tends to forget or easily tire of the people's many expectations. He can’t tell off appointee-pals who are moneymakers and non-performers. He listens only to his small circle of Palace courtiers. Of late he has said it is not his style to dwell on the mistakes of past administrations – meaning, there would be no justice and solution to onerous anti-people state contracts. His friends who decently avoided political appointments would do well to remind him of their original ideals.
After the political reforms must come jobs, education, and justice. Loose firearms must be put under control once and for all. Rule of law must be made to take root. The state must invest in training the youth and labor force for gainful employment in the age of high tech and automation, not remain as servants, fixers, and unskilled peons. The administration sees massive employment via infrastructure building. It is an excellent way to employ people here and now. But Filipinos must watch closely so that the state contracts and foreign loans do not get padded with the usual kickbacks. For that matter, if Congress must be let to restore the death penalty, then the first offense in the list should be plunder, with narco-trafficking only second."