Thursday, August 10, 2006

Reaping the whirlwind

The message is loud and clear: 41 percent of Filipinos feels their destiny is controlled by an oligarchic few; 29 percent fears the mobs may rise in violent action after losing faith in democracy; 21 percent fees that the “country is hopeless”; and 30 percent would rather migrate to other countries if they had the chance.

That’s the findings of the latest survey by the private polling agency Pulse Asia. And it’s an indictment of the country’s political and economic elite. The leaders of this country should better listen.

Imagine 30 percent of the country’s population leaving the country should they have an opportunity. Given the resources needed for migration, it follows that those who are going to leave are from the country’s professional class, people who have the skills needed by the country in nation building. And this phenomenon is happening right now. Many of our professional class are leaving as domestic helpers, engineers, nurses, teachers, and caregivers. It’s unfortunate that this trend is happening in such a time that certain sectors like electronics, outsourcing, mining, aviation, and other sectors of the service economy are growing.

Another disturbing aspect of the Pulse Asia survey result is the growing percentage of the undecided. The survey says that 41 percent is undecided on the issue on the oligarchy; 41 percent undecided on the prospect of Philippine democracy; 32 percent undecided on martial law; 30 percent undecided on whether or not “the country is hopeless; and another 30 percent undecided on whether or not they would migrate.

What do these numbers mean? It could mean that a significant number are getting sick and tired of the country’s political institutions and prospects as well as the capability of its leaders to put their acts together. A growing number of people simply don’t care about anything anymore.

Perhaps an equally important message that the people want to send to the country’s political and economic masters lies in historical trend in those who disagree with the questions raised in the survey. In July 2002, Pulse Asia said 68 percent of adult Filipinos disagreed to the statement “this country is hopeless.” Since then it has been on the downtrend to reach 49 percent in July 2006.

What all the figures seem to indicate is that the country’s leadership has lost its capacity to inspire hope about the country’s future. This is bad; what this country needs is a strong citizenry, willing and able to participate in its political process.

Certainly, the spin doctors in MalacaƱang may have felt these dark foreboding sentiments from the people. That should be one of the major reasons for the upbeat back-to-the-future state of the nation address of President Gloria Arroyo about the humungous infrastructure projects, “super regions,” and super public spending. Certainly, the level of public investments envisioned in the Sona would surely perk up the country’s economy, assuming they were indeed invested in the right sets of programs and projects.

Higher growth from such huge investment projects, however, would probably not stanch the bleeding of professionals to foreign shores. As shown in our special reports last week, while the main reason for the diaspora of professionals are economic, the main trigger for the decision to migrate is essentially political: the current political standoff, the continuing legitimacy question, the continuing impunity of murderers and malefactors in high places. Next year, the country is going to have a mid-term election; the least that the current occupiers in MalacaƱang could do is make it thoroughly credible. It should start with cleaning up the pigsty called the Comelec and computerizing the electoral process. Sad to say, we didn’t hear much from that during the Sona.

Apparently, the country’s oligarchy is one reason for the country’s sense of drift as indicated in the Pulse Asia survey. Every day, the middle class, the professionals, and aspiring middle class are distressed by high telecommunications charges, inefficient banks offering very low savings rate, poor transportation system, low wages, skewed distribution of income and wealth, low economic growth that constrains the creation of job and investment opportunities, and lack of appreciation of their talents. And yet, the Sona hardly mentioned anything about addressing oligopolies and rent-seekers that continue to hobble the country’s development prospects.

The worst thing could be that the super promises of the Sona were simply just promises intended to be fulfilled on “best efforts” basis. We fear that scenario considering the utter lack of financial planning that came with it. That would be tragic because it would only heighten people’s cynicism, bitterness, and sense of hopelessness. We could only imagine the consequences but as the Scripture says in Hosea 8:7: “For they have sown the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.…”

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