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There’s The Rub

Huffing and puffing

FIDEL RAMOS has a piece of advice to give P-Noy: Stop the witch-hunt against the Arroyo regime.

“These investigations,” he says, “are not (creating) a pretty picture for us. It is not very attractive to those who want to invest and travel to the Philippines. They end up going somewhere else.”

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I don’t know where to begin to show how batty this advice is. But I can try.

One, at the very least, why so? Why should foreign investors or tourists be turned off by a government wanting to make its country honest? For which reason it is trying to ferret out wrongdoing, for which reason it is trying to punish wrongdoers. So far the world has yet to show a better alternative to putting the fear of God in public officials than exposing wrongdoing and punishing its authors. And so far the world has yet to show a better way to lure tourists and investors than a government determined to put its house in order.

Two, Ramos’ advice in fact is a variation of shooting the messenger, and a far worse one. I remember how many years ago some Filipinos in Hong Kong called on the Philippine government to stop Probe from airing there because its stories about pedophilia, criminality, and the mountain of trash in Payatas and elsewhere were giving Filipinos a bad image.

I said maybe so, but in the first place you don’t solve the problem by burying the truth. In this day and age of social networks and satellite communications, the truth has a way of surfacing far faster and more surely than the sun does at dawn. The effort to hide an ugly truth can only burnish it to a staggering shine. You solve the problem by stopping pedophilia and criminality and bringing down the mountain of trash in Payatas and elsewhere.

In the second place, why should the airing of the bad news be bad for the image of Filipinos abroad? When they can always take pride in the fact that their country, quite unlike many other Asian ones, enjoys freedom of the press?

Ramos’ version of shooting the messenger is worse because while the airing of pedophilia, etc. exposes the stench of the present, the investigations into the Arroyo regime merely expose the stink of the past. How in God’s name can investigating the corruption of that regime possibly paint us as a modern-day version of the Ladrones Islands? The opposite in fact is true.  Not investigating the mind-boggling corruption of the Arroyo regime paints us as coddlers of the corrupt and ungodly. Not investigating the breath-taking corruption of the Arroyo regime paints us as a land hospitable to thieves and plunderers. Not investigating the Arroyo regime’s penchant for retaining cutthroats like the Ampatuans and hammering bukols in foreign deals will encourage neither tourists nor investors to come over.

Three, Ramos has a curious view of foreign investors. Namely, that the very people who have the means to plunk a fortune into this country do not have the means to gather the most accurate information about it and can be duped into believing there’s nothing wrong with it by a new government refraining from delving into the past. I grant there’s a type of foreign investor that likes despots better than libertarians because of the incentives they grant, chief of them not asking too many questions in exchange for not being asked too many questions in turn. That is not the kind of investor we need, or want.

Four, Ramos’ advice is a variation of yet another Filipino pastime, which is to postulate that economic performance is the only way to measure a government’s accomplishments. The opposition specifically puts it thus: P-Noy is trying to cover for his lack of economic performance by blaming everything on the Arroyo regime. Running after that regime is the surest sign he is goofing off.

Leaving aside for the moment the P-Noy administration’s repeated hikes in credit rating from Moody’s and Fitch—a no mean feat when you look at what’s happening in the world today from the United States suffering a downgrade there; the P-Noy government clearly enjoys the financial world’s confidence—how can anyone imagine that seeking justice is not a heroic undertaking and finding it not a heroic accomplishment? Exposing those who stole and plundered to make sure crooks do not rise again and flourish like mushrooms in the bureaucratic dark is “doing nothing?” Punishing those who stole votes and lives to make sure tyranny doesn’t come roaring back—all it took was nine years for Arroyo to follow in Marcos’ footsteps, roughly the duration of martial law—is “doing nothing?” Levelling the playing field, restoring public confidence in government, and giving everyone—foreign investor and ordinary folk alike—an even break is “doing nothing?”

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Which brings me to five.

The economy is not above all about foreign investors. The patrimony is not above all about foreign investors. The country is not above all about foreign investors. They are above all about the people, they are above all about Filipinos. The point of governance is not to make this country hospitable to foreign investors, it is to make this country hospitable to its people. The point of governance is not to find ways to lure in tourists and foreign investors, it is to find ways to give its own citizens a stake in their own country, a reason to stay in their own country. The point of governance is not to give foreign investors the confidence to invest in this country, it is to give the Filipinos a reason to believe they can chart their own destiny.

Forget Tabako. What government should do is hound the plunderers and murderers of the past with even more zeal, with even more energy. The sins of the past are visited upon the present—unless you undo them. Forget Tabako, he may huff and he may puff:

But he won’t blow the house down.

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TAGS: foreign investment, Government, hospitality, justice, law, public relations, punishment, Tourism, truth, witch-hunt
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