PHILIPPINE Independence Day has come and gone, and it was as if we never had one.
No less than the country’s chief magistrate, Reynato Puno, said that we still don’t have real independence more than a hundred years since our leaders proclaimed it in Kawit, Cavite. A country that continues to suffer hunger, fear and ignorance, he said, could never be free. Many among us assail the lack of nationalism among Filipinos as the reason why we can’t seem to free many from want and misery. And yet, there’s a different way of viewing this matter.
We do believe we have had many “nationalistic” policies, except that they were not inclusive. Many were of a perverted type manifested in higher tariff walls for infant industries that never matured, of monopolies that penalized consumers and the poor through high-priced and shoddy products, fiscal incentives for “pioneer industries” that subsidized expensive machines so factory owners could hire only a few workers, and grandiose programs like the “11 major industrial projects” that ended up as milking cows for the conjugal dictatorship and its cronies. For several decades under Marcos, we had that kind of exclusive nationalism that really traumatized the poorer segments of society.
In those days, not many could afford a TV set, even just black-and-white, because, shielded from foreign competition, our domestic industry was charging monopoly prices. An air conditioner then was a status symbol because the ones who could afford them should really have lots of cash.
Naturally, the economy was in shambles so the poor didn’t really have the chance to earn enough for these amenities. And because of high tariff walls, smuggled goods, including apples and oranges, occasionally trickled in. The people who patronized them were despised for their “colonial mentality.”
Culturally, “nationalism” then surfaced as simple hostility to foreign direct investments and multinationals, and utter disdain for entrepreneurship. Foreign direct investments and MNCs then were “big business controlling the commanding heights of the Philippine economy.” Entrepreneurs were considered “capitalists in primitive accumulation” who are out to exploit the working class. Intellectuals—people from the academe who advice politicians, policymakers and interest groups— kept on telling us that we should be wary of the flows of capital, goods and services across the borders because some guy from Berlin named Andre Gunder Frank thought these linkages would impoverish us even more while making the rich world even richer. And we are told we should disdain English for being an elitist language of the imperialists. Never mind that many of these intellectuals themselves had fellowships from Harvard, Stanford and Yale.
Those were the days, of course, and no one but a few fanatics in Utrecht believe these pernicious ideas anymore. When the Philippine economy started reforming the country’s tariff system, most of us Filipinos discovered that under a liberalized trading environment, most of us could actually afford TV sets, air conditioners and refrigerators. In fact, they are actually cheaper than the ubiquitous cellular phones! And the people have lots of choices.
But the ghosts of the exclusivist policies of the past continue to haunt us until now. Not that our policymakers believe in those policies; it’s because they remain a convenient excuse to protect certain vested and oligopolistic interests that continue to shackle the prospects of the Philippine economy. And sometimes, we continue to maintain them simply because we really haven’t realized we are hurting ourselves and missing a lot of opportunities to achieve broad-based economic growth.
For an archipelagic country comprising more than 7,000 islands, we need a robust and competitive shipping and ports industry. But we hold on to our one-port, one-operator policy that encourages oligopoly because of some “cabotage law” that dates back to World War II.
We refuse to open our skies even when we know that the flood of tourists to our beaches, hotels, restaurants, resorts and hospitals (for medical tourists) is one fast way to create jobs. We refuse to open the country’s telecommunications industry for greater foreign participation despite the fact that we suffer from very high call charges. And we are reluctant to put back the prominence of the English language in our schools despite the fact that the mongrelized Filipino being imposed on an archipelago with diverse languages and dialects doesn’t land young graduates jobs.
Yes, we need nationalism and we need it more than ever. But we need an inclusive kind of nationalism. And in this day and age, that kind of nationalism should be a global one that takes what the world could offer and not reject. It’s a kind of nationalism that is open and enthusiastic about foreign direct investments, technologies and knowledge. It’s a kind of inclusive nationalism that maximizes the gains of global engagements for the broader segment of the population. And we could start by reforming the old exclusivist policies while moving fast-forward toward greater global economic engagements.
But is there really such a “globalized nationalism?” Christopher Hughes from the London School of Economics says there is. He is talking about China. And we know how China is opening itself to the world, collaborating with all nations in science and technology, learning from everybody, while, at the same time, investing in its own people, in its universities, in research and development, and in innovative technologies.
It is constantly watching the world for new ideas, new things, new processes and new opportunities and is calibrating its domestic policies promptly. It is sending its young to America and Europe in droves to master the sciences while providing incentives to those who have “marinated” for decades in the world’s centers of innovation to come home and share their talents to the Chinese nation.
And yes, the Chinese are learning the English language en masse like crazy—in schools and stadiums!
But at the end of the day, are the Chinese being seen as being less nationalistic than their neighbors? Definitely not. They simply seem to have stumbled on the realization early enough that one does not need to fear venturing into a globalized world. One can ride it, embrace it, and come out stronger and more self-assured after having drawn the best from such exposure.
Filipinos, now the third-largest labor-exporting country in the world, have every opportunity to do the same because having about a third of the labor force exposed to the global economy is the best stimulus for a strategic, deliberate engagement that’s meant to win for them what the Chinese have known all this time.
If only a stultified concept of “nationalism” didn’t get in the way.
Note: I wrote this piece as Editorial for BusinessMirror, 14 June 2007.