Why PH lags behind | Inquirer Opinion

Why PH lags behind

/ 10:09 PM January 31, 2014

As the Philippines is increasingly being viewed as a failed state—world center of online child pornography, human and drug trafficking, international criminal syndicates, testing ground for unlicensed medicines and genetic engineering, international refuge for fugitives from justice, major source of labor migrants, and host to two festering insurgencies—it is imperative that concerned citizens and responsible leaders reexamine why we have come to this sorry pass.

Scott Ryan


Charney, who holds a master’s degree in US foreign policy from American University, has written an essay in Asia Times in the Internet (Jan. 20) titled “Why Taiwan has Outpaced the Philippines.”  While the article focuses on a single example, it opens a window for understanding the cause or causes of our lingering malaise.

Both Taiwan and the Philippines are allies of the United States, and both obtained their independence within years of each other, the Philippines in 1946 and Taiwan in 1949. The island was occupied and renamed the Republic of China by President Chiang Kai-Shek after he was ousted from mainland China by his nemesis, Mao Zedong, following a lethal civil war.


After about a decade of receiving hundreds of millions of dollars in rehabilitation aid from the United States, and war reparations from Japan, the Philippines was clearly ahead of its Asian neighbors in economic development—including China and Taiwan—in the early post-World War II period.  But beginning in the 1960s, after abandoning the government protectionist strategy followed by the Magsaysay-Garcia administrations, the Philippines rapidly fell behind to become the fabled “sick man” of Asia.

Different story

“What a different story in nearby Taiwan!” Charney writes. “…Taiwan is far wealthier and fairly economically egalitarian, with most of its infrastructure much more capable of withstanding and responding to typhoons and other natural disasters.”

From the moment “Chiang and his successors guided Taiwan’s path to prosperity, conspicuously beginning with a highly successful land reform program, Taiwan’s government gradually evolved into a developmental state that played an active role in marshaling the island’s natural and human resources towards a more prosperous future. This same chain of events played out successfully in all of the ‘Asian Tigers,’” Charney declares.

Nigel Harris, a professor at University College London, writes about one of these Asian tigers, notably Singapore, in his 1986 book, “The End of the Third World, Newly Industrializing Countries and the Decline of an Ideology,” as follows:

“The [Singapore] government is active in all the same activities as other [Tiger] governments, as well as owning strategic sectors of all the main industries—trading, airlines, shipping, shipbuilding, radio and television, electronics and engineering, munitions and aircraft, steel and petrochemicals. Through its holdings, it has guided the economy through successive transformations.”

Asks Charney: “How did Taiwan et al. [including Singapore]… avoid the miserable fate” of the Philippines?


“[T]his path to prosperity was only possible because nobody forcibly stopped it from happening. In other words, land reform, resource-financed social spending, and other deviations from neoliberal orthodoxy (or even the potential thereof) usually elicited an aggressive response, covertly or overtly, from the United States, European countries, and their local satraps (like those who ruled the Philippines),” says this US foreign policy expert.

In effect, according to Charney, the United States stopped the Philippines from following the same path taken by Taiwan—that of an active state development role—all in the name of anticommunism. Because of their having fiercely fought Mao Zedong’s communists, Chiang and his cohorts could not be suspected of being “soft” on communism and therefore were allowed to deviate from the path of neoliberalism or the “Washington consensus” preached by the West for former colonies and developing countries under its control and influence.

Charney compares Chiang to then US President Richard Nixon who was able to travel to China at the height of the Cold War to forge formal diplomatic relations with the communist behemoth because of his unquestioned anticommunist credentials. “Similarly, it was impossible to credibly Red-bait anti-Communist warriors like Chiang and the leaders of the other Tigers-to-be, even when they did things that, when they happened in other countries, set off alarms in Washington.”

He adds: “The Cold Warriors of yesteryear might have argued that the interventions that plagued the Philippines and so much of the developing world—but from which Taiwan was mercifully spared—were justified as a means to check the Soviet Union. But that raises the question for Cold War hawks—and advocates of the Obama administration today—which country makes a better ally? The prosperous, well-armed Taiwan … or the militarily weak Philippines, beset by poverty and insurgencies fueled by the country’s perennial inequality?”

Learning from experience

After being ousted from mainland China because of incompetence and corruption, Chiang and his officials learned quickly from experience, and reversed and reformed the neocolonial policies they once imposed in China. Their legacy in Taiwan is now a prosperous, dynamic and technologically savvy society that can stand up independently to China, now the world’s second biggest economy.

We must apply the dictum of our national hero, Jose Rizal, who in his novel “El Filibusterismo” advised through its principal character, the revolutionary Simoun, that to prosper a poor country must study what the successful nations have done, and follow them.

The doctrine of “Salus populi suprema lex esto” (the welfare of the people shall be the supreme law) has been the fundamental objective of democratic government since it was founded by the Greek states. The neoconservative theory that government should stay out of business and economics goes against the letter and spirit of this underlying democratic precept.

The public-private-partnership economic strategy is perhaps an ideal program. But it is still struggling to make a significant impact on the Philippine economy. Despite several years of the program, a recent poll shows that 55 percent of our people feel that their lives deteriorated in the past year.

Certainly, the program should not relieve our government of primary responsibility for the economic and social wellbeing of the people as a whole. This is a responsibility shouldered by the Asian tigers. We can learn from them.

Manuel F. Almario ([email protected]) is a veteran, semiretired journalist. He is also spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History, Rizal’s Moth.

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