EDSA, Neoliberalism, and Globalization

Mar 23

(Delivered at Coalesce Conference, sponsored by Ateneo Lex, Ateneo de Manila, March 18, 2017.) Most of you had not yet seen the light of day when the EDSA Uprising took place in February 1986. To my generation, this event was a memorable step in the Philippines struggle for democracy. The three decades that followed were marked by the reign of liberal democracy as the country’s political regime. Those thirty years coincided with the rise and dominance of neoliberalism as an economic ideology and globalization as an economic trend. It is now clear that those three decades constituted a lost opportunity for the Filipino people, that the promise of the EDSA Republic was subverted by the neoliberal and pro-globalization policies that were adopted by the administrations that reigned between 1986 and 2016. It is also evident from the tumultuous events of the last year that what we now call Dutertismo is to a great extent an angry and resentful reaction to the EDSA Republic’s failure to live up to the promise that accompanied its birth. My focus in this talk will be on how neoliberalism and globalization combined with the continuing gross inequality in the distribution of income and wealth to subvert the promise of EDSA. I would like begin, however, by briefly discussing the failure of EDSA to deliver on the political front. Unhealthy Birthmarks There were three unhealthy birthmarks that marred the EDSA Republic: the role of the military, the intervention of the United States, and the leadership of the elite. The prominent role of the military rebels in triggering the insurrection gave them a sense of having a special role in the post-Marcos dispensation. Only after seven failed coups was civilian constitutional role stabilized. But, in retrospect, military discontent was not as damaging to the EDSA Republic as US patronage and elite hegemony. The US was not only a player; it was a decisive player. Even before the Aquino assassination in 1983, Washington sought to nudge Marcos and the elite opposition to arrive at some compromise. These pressures escalated in 1985, resulting in Marcos’ calling for the snap elections that became the vehicle for the mobilization of the middle class and some of the popular sectors against...

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Valedictory Speech

Mar 16

Valedictory Speech

Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues: I stand before you today to give some parting words on the occasion of my resigning from this august body, which will be effective on As you all probably know by now, I am resigning from the House because I can no longer support my party’s stand of supporting the president.  According to our party’s code of conduct, the representative in the House of Akbayan is tasked with promoting the official views of the party on fundamental policy issues.  When he or she can no longer support the party’s position on these issues, there remains only one way to resolve the impasse, and that is for him to resign.  I deeply respect my party’s leadership, and it is with the utmost regret that I have decided to make this move. Since the reasons for my withdrawal of support from the president are now very well known, largely because the speech I intended to deliver last Wednesday has been widely circulated on the internet, I would like to spend the next few minutes on other, though related, matters. Let me say first of all that I tried my best to remain an administration ally.  I fought side by the side with the president for the reproductive health bill, the signature legislation of the 15th Congress.  I supported increased funding for the Conditional Cash Transfer Program, which was also a presidential priority.  More recently, I have been vocal in my support for the Bangsa Moro Basic Law, and argued against those, like Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who would bring us back to the battlefield.  I have also spoken against efforts to destabilize the administration in the last few weeks, emphasizing that whatever its faults, the democratic legitimacy of the Aquino administration is unquestioned. It is unfortunate that on such vital issues as the Disbursement Acceleration Program, the retention of inept, reckless, or corrupt officials, and, of course, presidential behavior on the Mamasapano tragedy, my stands have come into conflict with Malacanang’s.  It is also unfortunate that Malacanang’s expectations of its allies are different from mine.  I feel that the best ally is one who tells the president not what he wants to hear but what he should...

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Civil Society?s Choice at the G8 Summit: The Road of Genoa or the Road of Gleneagles?

Jul 08

The G7 were not successful in coordinating their policies, with the US under Ronald Reagan aggressively pursuing a cheap dollar policy that brought on recession in Germany and Japan.  They did, however, come together in a united front against the developing countries, putting their weight behind the neoliberal structural adjustment policies imposed by the World Bank and IMF on more than 90 developing and transition (post-socialist) economies.  The structural adjustment programs rolled back the economic gains achieved by the South in the 1950’s and 1960’s.   In the 1990’s, the G7 became the main promoters of corporate-driven globalization, for which the road had been paved by the radical deregulation, radical liberalization, and radical privatization that took place in developing countries under structural adjustment.  The G7 also provided strong support for the World Trade Organization (WTO) as the main agency for the process global trade and investment liberalization demanded by their corporations.   The late 1990’s, however, brought about, not the increasing prosperity for all promised by neoliberal, pro-market policies but rising absolute poverty, increasing inequality, and the consolidation of economic stagnation in the South.  The collapse of the third ministerial of the WTO in Seattle in December 1999 marked the achievement of a critical mass by the forces of opposition created by the contradictions of globalization.   With the realities of globalization exposed, the summits of the G7—now G8 with the incorporation of Russia—became a lightning rod for the rising global opposition.  At the G8 Summit in Genoa in June 2001, three hundred thousand people came together under the uncompromising program of “No to the G8.”  The battle lines were clearly drawn, with the Italian police or carabineri contributing immensely to polarization by erupting in a riot that took the life of one activist and injured scores of others.   Elements within the G8 realized that the image of being a hegemonic directorate of globalization was not good for the future of the body.  Led by the New Labor government of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Britain, the G8 underwent a facelift.  A new discourse was forged, the key substantive elements of which were debt forgiveness for the poorest countries, the raising of aid levels to 0.7 per...

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Managing the Oil Crisis

Jun 18

We ought not to be completely helpless, however. What is so shocking about the current state of affairs is that our capacity to influence developments in oil has deteriorated from 25 years ago.  Then we had a proactive energy strategy, we had a government energy complex working to diversify our energy sources, and we had mechanisms to influence the domestic price of oil.  Today, in the era of oil deregulation, we are 100 per cent at the mercy of Chevron-Caltex, Shell, and Aramco, which controls Petron.  The OPEC countries that dominate the production of crude are often cast as the villains of the piece, yet the last few years have been years of record profits for the oil majors.  In just the first three months of this year the five largest US oil companies made a record $36 billion in profits, prompting the Democrats in Congress to push a bill to impose a 25 per cent tax on “unreasonable profits.” In the Philippines, the subsidiaries of the majors have been doing very well.  In 2007, Shell’s net profit rose 54 per cent over 2006, from P4.12 billion to P6.36 billion.  Petron’s net profits rose 6.3 per cent, from P6.02 billion to P6.4 billion.  Mind you, these are reported, not necessarily real profits, which are most likely higher, what with transfer pricing and all that.  The majors act as a cartel and pretty much set whatever price they agree on, with no government intervention and little government monitoring..  All our officials can do is to exercise what economists call “moral suasion,” but we still have to find an oil company that will allowed itself to be swayed by morality. In the US, it takes 4 to 6 weeks before a rise in the price of crude is reflected in the pump price.  Here in the Philippines, with the rapid succession of pump price rises, the truth is we no longer know how prices are being determined.  We don’t know if prices are being determined in response to actual past rises in crude prices or in anticipation of future price rises.  Non-transparency is the rule in the oil industry. Marcos was guilty of many crimes, but, as they say, we must...

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Challenges and Dilemmas of the Public Intellectual

Apr 07

Thinking over Barry’s assignment last night, I would say that there are three key lessons I have learned:       – The first is that truths only become true through action.       – The second is that to get at the truth, one must sometimes resort to unorthodox research methods.         – And the third is that one must accept that there is an inevitable and permanent tension between theory and practice, between thought and action, between truth and power, and thinking that this tension can be eliminated is one of the worst illusions a public intellectual can fall into. Truths only Become True through Action Let us take up the first, that truths need action to become true. This was perhaps brought home decisively to me by the events in Seattle in late November and early December 1999.  In the decade prior to Seattle, there were a lot of studies, including UN reports, that questioned the claim that globalization and free market policies were leading to sustained growth and prosperity.  Instead, the data showed that globalization and pro-market policies were promoting more inequality and more poverty and consolidating economic stagnation, especially in the global South. However, these figures remained “factoids” rather than facts in the eyes of academics, the press, and policymakers, who dutifully repeated the neoliberal mantra that economic liberalization promoted growth and prosperity.  The orthodox view, repeated ad nauseam in the classroom, the media, and policy circles were that the critics of globalization were Luddites or, as Thomas Friedman disdainfully called us, believers in a flat earth. Then we had the massive anti-globalization demonstrations in Seattle that led to the collapse of the Third Ministerial of the World Trade Organization.  It was not just a ministerial that collapsed but a creed that had been believed to be true. After Seattle, the press began to talk about the “dark side of globalization,” about the inequalities and poverty being created by globalization.  After that, we had the spectacular defections from the globalist camp, such as those of the financier George Soros, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, the star economist Jeffery Sachs.  Then came the widely publicized findings a year and a half ago of two independent sources—a study...

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Selected Economic, Political, and Social Trends in Asia in a Global Context

Mar 29

– Rise of China and, to a less extent, India as central event in Asia over the last 20 years. – China’s relation to the United States: China as manufacturer of world and US as key buyer of Chinese products; China has provided credit from its trillion dollar reserves to keep US middle class consumption up; much of US debt is debt incurred from China; estimates that US owes China one trillion dollars; what happens when China calls in its debt so it no longer suffers from falling dollar. – China has also become the driver of growth in Korea, Japan, and Southeast Asia since 2002; Chinese demand is main factor for their recovery from Asian financial crisis; they produce components for China that China then puts together for export to the US and Europe, so that a recession in US will have knock-on effects in China and Southeast Asia. – While China has acquired reputation of being manufacturer of the world, India has built up its strength on software development and providing backroom offices services—that is, providing office services at cut-rate prices for US-based corporations.  However, India’s growth stems more from domestic demand, compared to China’s export-led growth.  Having seen the environmentally and socially destabilizing consequences of China’s growth, there is rising resistance in India in influential circles to following in China’s export-led footsteps. – China’s rise has led to the question of what is happening to the second biggest economic power in the world, meaning Japan.  Japan has only gotten over its 15-years of recession, partly owing to demand from China.  However, its recovery is slowing down, and there is fear in many circles that it has not really recovered from its long stagnation after the real estate and bank crashes of the early 1990’s.  China’s rise has had major geopolitical consequences for Japan.  With its population growth dipping below replacement levels and with an aging population, Japan has increasingly felt threatened by China’s economic rise and military strength, although Japan’s Self Defense forces are among the strongest in the world.  This has led Japan to strengthen its political ties with the United States.  – The US itself has an ambivalent relationship with China.  On the one...

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