It's time for radical change: Inquirer columnist

Buildings stand in the Makati district of Manila, the Philippines, on Jan 26, 2016.
Buildings stand in the Makati district of Manila, the Philippines, on Jan 26, 2016. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Do we need a revolutionary government, or not? We do need something.

The Philippines has been the slowest growing member of the original Asean by a very significant degree.

Since 1970 until 2016 the GDP of Singapore grew by 15,353 per cent, Thailand by 5,637 per cent, Malaysia 500 per cent, and Indonesia 1,071 per cent.

The Philippines has struggled to get to half of Indonesia's growth: by 531 per cent. On GDP per capita it was even worse. Singapore grew 6,377 per cent, Thailand 2,973 per cent, Malaysia 453 per cent, and Indonesia 415 per cent. The Philippines barely doubled the worth of Filipinos at 119 per cent.

It's amazing to me that we can have a country at the top of the heap in the 1970s falling to near the bottom 40 years later and everyone just shrugs if off as though it were the expected, acceptable thing.

The public should be railing at the leaders who have brought the Philippines to this dismal point.

You can put it all down to leadership and the system within which they were forced to work. Albert Einstein said: "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

Almost all the latter-day economic miracles were established through strongman rule, not a smoothly working democracy. And Philippine democracy isn't even smoothly working. It is a 119-year-old system that has taken the Philippines from the top of the Asian heap to near the bottom.

Economics Nobel laureate Michael Spence, while he was chairing a commission on growth in developing economies seven years ago, said: "Achieving a higher growth equilibrium is rarely a gradual or incremental transition. It requires a discontinuous leap in expectations and policies, and a fundamental shift in the political and social consensus. When these shifts occur, leadership plays a crucial role, by providing citizens with an alternative vision, based on common values, that all stakeholders can support."

It's trite, but it's now or never.

The Philippine economy is now fundamentally strong enough (thanks to three previous presidents) to be assured of comfortable GDP growth of around 6 per cent, with the 7-per cent range possible.

But it can't get to the 8-12 per cent (yes, 12 per cent; look at China's "revolution") that a complete upheaval of the freewheeling current system could achieve.

Importantly, the 6-7 per cent leaves the poor only slowly integrated; the 8-12 per cent raises them into the middle class.

I don't quite know how to put this without being misunderstood, but let me try: We need a revolution. And no, I don't mean overthrowing the elected government, or the government imposing martial law. Nor do I mean anything unconstitutional.

Filipinos, 16 million of them, said they wanted change; they said the current system and type of leaders had let them down, so they're willing to risk putting into power someone they hardly know, but who promises radical change - a shift from endless promises to action.

The mayor of Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte, was elected president with the promise of a revolution in the government.

There's been a minor attempt already: the request for Congress to grant the president emergency powers to speed up the construction of infrastructure.

You'd think given the millions of Filipinos agonising for hours just to get to and from work that Congress would have rushed a law to streamline the building processes.

But no: Congress has sat on it for some 15 months with seemingly no sense of urgency. Add the fact that we suffer in an over-legalistic society where there's somehow an impediment introduced in everything we try to do.

It's time for radical change.

Mr Duterte came to power on the promise of change from the old trapo systems. It hasn't occurred, because the corrupted systems are too systemic and too entrenched to readily fix.

We need some sort of emergency rule, but one that is within the confines of the democratic system we now enjoy.

Emergency rule would allow Mr Duterte to ride roughshod over constricting laws and procedures. Without it, whatever change is attempted will be challenged (for years) in court or plod agonisingly slowly through Congress.

What I'm trying to get to is that we need a revolutionary change of some sort that remains within the Constitution but bucks the existing systems.

It needs intelligent discussion.