Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Jun Lozada in You

There are no saints, no sinners, only human beings.

As I write this, a Filipino who spoke truth to power has been arrested. His offense? That of implicating the powerful in the most heinous of crimes that can possibly be committed by those who are entrusted with the public trust - abuse of authority to commit theft in such unimaginable magnitude.

Graft and corruption, such vague words. What does this mean to the ordinary person? It can range from life and death situations, especially among the most vulnerable, to inconveniences of having to drive on pock-marked, barely-lit roads. Public funds are a lifeblood of a country. How and where they are spent show the priorities of our society. Ideally, public funds should be spent on the provision of public services and public goods. In simple terms, they should be spent to make life easier for all of us.

If Gloria Arroyo's husband, indeed, the President herself - the embodiment of the Filipino people's will - steal from public coffers as Jun Lozada and others like him allege, then they literally make life harder for all of us. Imagine the billions of pesos that would have been spent on the construction of new classrooms, the procurement of books, the funding of public hospitals.

Corruption is not only a public crime committed by public officials. To my mind, corruption is very private, very personal. We all pay for the privilege of being Filipino. Our taxes, automatically confiscated by the State, are a product of our own personal toil. Imagine the fruits of your hard work going to the pockets of those whom we entrust to run this country. More than a slap in the face, it is an abomination.

There are no saints, no sinners, only human beings. Jun Lozada has himself admitted to wrong-doing. A mid-level bureaucrat dabbling in mid-level theft. But there are limits to our descent into perdition, and he probably reached his when he learned he was going to be made to disappear. I remember seeing him for the first time last year, my bittersweet homecoming. I remember thinking he vaguely looked like my father. In his eyes I saw not the absence of fear. He spoke like a man with a death sentence awaiting judgment. Today mayhaps, it has come.

He said he did not want to be a hero, and a certainly not a martyr. In this country's grand narrative, we, all of us, seem insignificant gnats in the order of things. But there are limits to the 'inconveniences' we can bear. There are limits to our consenting to surrender the fruits of our labor to a giant thieving machine. There are limits to the collective deadening of our social conscience. We cannot all be ostriches, willingly burying our heads in the sand in denial of the reality we're in.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

A Hope-full Encounter with Bernard Bernardo

There he stood, a kid who couldn’t have been more than twenty. I was ready to wave him away, but the smile in his eyes held me captive. It outshone the one on his lips. The Mandaluyong skyline framed his small stature as he began the spiel he must’ve repeated countless times that day.

I struggled to make sense of what he was saying, rapid-fire sentences. I caught ‘leadership training’ and ‘fund raising.’ Quickly he whipped out a pen, inwardly I rolled my eyes. A project for student leaders. Experiential training. RTU. I asked him again what school he was from. Rizal Technical University. I’d never heard of it, but I forgot suspicion as he braced me for a silly surprise. Taraaan. A built-in calendar scrolled from the brightly-coloured pen. I couldn’t help the little laugh escaping my lips, and his was as infectious as mine. We savoured our shared mirth as he showed me more colourful pens. I asked him why he volunteered to do the fund raising and what it was for. To raise funds for an inter-university project, he said, swaying on his feet. And he was part of the student council, head bob, and he didn’t have anything to do for the summer anyway, big grin.

Intelligence shone from his eyes as I listened to him explain to me what he learned in his own recently concluded training. The difference between cognitive something something and experiential something something something. The need to cultivate not only intellectual development but service and heart.

I was going to make him earn my contribution to his little cause, so I asked him what he thought were the most pressing concerns of the nation. He laughed again, and on top of his head I saw a thought bubble – “Why is she making this hard?!?” Corruption, poverty and population, he said. Ding ding ding, sold! I didn’t like the calendar pen, a bright pink one with a flashlight seemed the thing.

I asked him what his name was. Bernard Bernardo. More roiling laughter. What a fake sounding name, I thought. He insisted his parents took extreme care in naming him, their first child. He said his profuse thanks for supporting their project. A hundred pesos seemed a cheap enough price to pay for a glimpse of youthful hope. In his eyes I saw an enthusiasm for life, something I rarely see these days. A little angel come to rescue me from my belligerence. And then another angel came, bearing calming light with his lucky ciggies. And all was right.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Country for Sale

Is this country coming apart at the seams? We cannot seem to rationally put together land, labour and capital to create anything of value the world market might want, the way other countries on the path to capitalist development have done. We export our people to import capital. And now, the highest law of the land looks set to be modified by any means possible so we can sell land to foreigners as well.

This country's history, for as long as the written word has existed here, has always been inextricably linked with the the fortunes of the global economy. We were an outpost of the Spanish empire for centuries - a source of raw materials and a strategic Asian entrepot in the Spanish global commodity chain. A change in global hegemonic fortunes then transferred Philippine sovereignty to Americans, resulting to the century-long socio-cultural, politico-military, and economic ties we maintain with this country, the heart of the capitalist world system.

As the global recession continues to deepen, we see a bizarre trend of hedge funds, investment houses and pension funds abandoning derivative markets to seek refuge in land. GRAIN, an NGO based in Spain, last year compiled a hundred cases of these financial institutions and key nation-states leasing or purchasing land overseas to acquire non-volatile investments, and to grow food for their populations and to manufacture biofuels.

The photo below shows the extent of this global landgrab, the Philippines, according to GRAIN, has promised 1.2 million hectares to foreigners.

The country has agreements with various Gulf States to 'outsource' agriculture - countries such as United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia. Speaker Prospero Nograles met with the Saudi Agriculture Minister early this year to discuss the oil exporter's 'food security.'

Food security also ranks high among China's priorities with its burgeoning population and arable lands being converted into industrial zones. If the amendment to allow foreign ownership of land makes it through, China may yet get the 1.24 million hectares it was promised in 2007.

The Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law may be shelved indefinitely as the compulsary acquisition mode of land transfer has been scrapped for the year. CARP beneficiaries may be more than willing to sell their land to foreign investors given the opportunity. If this trend happens in a mass scale - I don't know how we can feed 90 million Filipinos.

I am not convinced that our factors of production scattered in the four winds is the way to achieve any sort of economic development. Rep. Garcia including the word 'sustainable' in his sponsorship speech last night is rubbing salt to injury.

Just when I thought I've seen the leaders of this country sink the lowest of the low - they outdo themselves even more. The interests of the the Filipino nation and future generations are every day being sacrificed to the stupidity and blind greed of today.

Onward to Fourth World status by 2020!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sponsorship Speeches House Resolution 737

Reps. Ortega and Garcia deliver sponsorship speeches for HR 737. Cha-cha is now on the floor.

Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines

Singh, S., Juarez F., Cabigon J., Ball H. Hussain R. & Nadeau J. (2006). Unintended Pregnancy and Induced Abortion in the Philippines: Causes and Consequences. New York: Guttmacher Institute.

Radiohead - Videotape

Its almost embarassing to see an artist stripped naked in each performance.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fiction of the Lumpenbourgeoisie

We all create fiction to help ourselves sleep soundly. Amidst the squalor and abject poverty of the inhabitants of this city, the lumpenbourgeoisie have convinced themselves they have no part, and certainly no fault, in the state of things. While many profess absolute disgust for politics – that arena where the dregs of Philippine society congregate, they pay no mind to inhabiting this sorry excuse of a city. They pay no mind to paying taxes that oil the dirty machinery running this country. They pay no mind as long as they can afford luxuries of comfort denied everyone else. The luxury of education, the luxury of healthcare, the luxury of justice.

While they can afford it, they retreat to their enclaves – their little cliques, their venues of entertainment and consumption, their gated villages, their gated schools, their gated consciousness.

Most are too polite, too well-bred to air what they believe in private. Once in a while though, you come face to face with one who has the audacity to speak her mind. This weekend I had the (dis)pleasure of meeting such a creature, so bold in her socio-political and socio-economic analyses of what is wrong with this country, and why Filipinos are poor.

A powerful bourgeois myth is that of the self-made man. As if all one needs in the battle of life is one’s wits and god-given talent. If god had a hand in determining our fate, well he must be one selective son of a bitch. While this myth may hold true as our personal goals are met according to how we navigate the terrain in which we live, an individual’s own ingenuity will only yield results subject to the limits of what is called – reality. The limits of having been born of a mother who suffers from malnutrition, the limits of having to compete with 6 other siblings for meager resources, the limits of having to excel in a classroom of fifty, the limits of having to walk two hours to get to school, the limits of having no money to pay for books and school supplies, the limits of subsisting on kangkong for baon – puts a damper on the myth of the self-made man. A man sprung out of the nowhere – fully-formed, naturally endowed with skills, perhaps by the almighty, to make of this world as he wills.

It is a convenient fiction the lumpenbourgeoisie tell and re-tell, to convince themselves they have no obligation to those who do not enjoy the same standard of living as they do. God only helps those who help themselves, and this absolves this economic minority of their sins of omission. I do not understand how any of them can be so proud, so-called leaders of this basket case of a society.

Our betters, the useless bourgeoisie. What a sorry excuse for superiority.

Sen. Biazon Sponsorship Speech on the Reproductive Health Bill

He wanted statistics - he got oodles of 'em.

Senate RH Sponsorship Speech - Sen. Biazon Senate RH Sponsorship Speech - Sen. Biazon mylittlearthquakes6422

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Shaped by the finite
Pilgrims to the finish line
Some faster than most
As others take sweet time.
Aches and pains function,
Reminders of impermanence
That today’s blissful enjoyment
Will be punctuated some time.
For as many aches and pains
There exist as many cures
As they say,
We all kill ourselves a little
When we grapple with the devil
I say,
What doesn’t kill.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Simulating Governance

The House of Representatives could not be more aptly named. It is peopled with experts of re-presentation – of smoke and mirrors and manipulation of perception.

As one enters the North gate, one is subjected to the ceremonial car inspection, where outsourced security guards, armed with that huge dentist-like stick with the mirror at the end, make-believe inspect the underside of your vehicle. In their gold-rimmed shades, they give the driver and the inside of the vehicle a cursory, if stern, once-over. Content that they have played their part, they wave you along and you enter, fed with a simulated sense of security.

At the Northwing lobby there stands a serious-looking metal detector, coupled with an x-ray machine. The sleepy-eyed man manning the machine presses a button to move the belt and your cargo forward, as yet more outsourced security wave you through and greet you good morning. Your only consolation is that they do a good job of appearing to mean it every day. Behind the visitor’s ID counter, two, at times three security employees chitchat idly, as they go through the motions of handing out visitor’s passes. In way the machine-like way these people go about their troubles, they give you the appropriate floor for whichever representative you’re paying tribute to.

In the dilapidated halls of a floor, a number of windows are broken. There was money to renovate the visible parts of the House complex, but not enough to fix these. Here one conveniently takes a smoke, as the ‘no smoking’ sign stands for little less than a suggestion. On this floor are a few party lists who are said to represent only their patrons. Not much of an advocate then, this one party for ‘Life.’ But then their three seats count when life-threatening bills are put to vote.

The bills and index section perfectly mirrors all others in the House, lots of tables of lower-rung bureaucrats to whom we pay tribute through our taxes. The inactivity can only be explained by redundancy. If one wants anything done quickly, one must play accordingly. Younger men will be eager to please, younger women not so, older men will leave one feeling soiled and older women must be avoided.

The state of the nation is not only well-represented when the President pays visit to her lackeys. The Session Hall is witness to a lot of simulation. It is never full, as many seats remain vacant. Often though, there is a quorum, 120 being the magic number. Through the spectacle of privilege speeches or the monotone drone of countless titles of bills read, representatives occupy their seats, filling space. Friends chit-chat and socialize. Many females like to parade the latest in fashion, pointy-toed red heels, a bright orange leather bag, an excellent job done on a hair extension.

The stacks of papers, bills waiting to be read, lay on each table, for the most part untouched. At the sidelines clients await a chance to signal to the pages, to call on representative so and so for a short audience. Between the socializing and preening, the parading and client-soothing, it is a wonder whether anyone ever really hears the arguments put forth by those who take to the podium and simulate debate.

Next year the nation will engage in an orgasm of a simulation, as we choose the next people to occupy spaces in the Session Hall, Malacañang, the Senate, our barangay halls. A most elaborate and expensive exercise, a mass hallucination of the citizenry going through the motions of this Pretend-Democracy.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Birth Mules?

Here's a picture of what a woman's life is worth in this country. Gosh, and look at these heathen Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus!!!!

Click the image to enlarge.

My Parents' Daughter

An important lesson one learns from parents of humble beginnings, is to believe that anything that can be thought of can be willed to come true. It is the stuff of fairytale and fiction, but for those who have made do with very little growing up, it is the only reason for being and the only motivation to do anything. Dream big, they said. Anything is possible.

Time is a limited commodity, because the future could never wait. The leisure of the present is irrational. One keeps moving, looking over to the horizon to see whether the actions of now bear fruit. Focus, they said. Focus. Of more single-minded people, I do not know. When one has little control over his circumstances, one learns quickly that self-mastery is the only thing that would keep anyone going. No fairy-god mother will come to the rescue. No magic solutions will present. No abundance of choices are available. Stay your course and keep your eyes trained at the point where you expect, expect to see your results. Peristence, and fortitude are essentials along with hard work. Passive hope is inutile and fragile.

One does not bother with trifles. My parents, while easygoing as the occasion called for, were serious people. I suppose it comes with thinking you were always on a mission.

Because the future doesn’t wait, you learn there isn’t any sense in putting anything off to be dealt with later. Because the future doesn’t wait and there isn’t anything to lose, then one learns that to gain anything one must take risks. And in gambling, you win some, you lose some. In losing you accept that nothing can be accomplished by dwelling on what cannot be undone. You can only do so content in the notion that you have done all you can.

And finally, the solution to anything is to keep moving.

These things they never said explicitly. But in their doing I learned what no amount of sermons would ever have accomplished.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Credibility and Authority

I do not pretend to know the history behind Reyna Elena’s tirade against Filipino Voices, but I hope the blogger appreciates the fact that writers for this blog aggregation do not see eye to eye on many things. I do not think it is fair to lump all writers together when Reyna Elena specifically targets only one or some of the contributors.

That said, I think it is an absolute shame that words like credibility and authority are being bandied about as if they were magic talismans to ward away evil. This statement is particularly grating:

This is not to say that only people with credentials make sense, but given the experience and education, they become far more likely to be trusted by readers and opinions respected. Now, those are the ones who are more than likely to be effective lecturers. Sure, people with no credentials could still make sense. There are good writers after all. Agree?
I am afraid this is a telling sign of the disproportionate regard we Filipinos have for appearances rather than substance. If denizens of the blogosphere wanted to hear the expert opinions of decorated academics and practitioners of whatever discipline, then they might care to go to public lectures of universities – institutions of higher learning and diploma mills alike. That or read the latest issue of the Philippine Political Science Journal.

Credibility is nothing more than believability. Again, this is something any writer has no control over, it is something you gain irrespective of your credentials – who you are, what you do, etc. We can name some public figures who have letters after their name and who have been dabbling in politics all their lives. How many of them are ‘credible?’ Gloria Arroyo went to an American ivy league school and is a PhD of the University of the Philippines. Her ‘credentials,’ to uncritical observers, are impressive. Do you believe her? The same question may be asked about the credentialed, be-lettered, experienced political experts running this country. How many of you believe them?

To mine delicate ears, Authority screams top-down imposition of behavior, norms and ways of thinking. The beauty of the internet is its democratic nature. It eliminates the monopoly of knowledge by ‘gate-keeping’ hierarchies and institutions. True, there are many Filipinos who to this day have no running water and electricity, let alone internet connection. And the blogosphere, so far, is peopled by the blogging middle class. But this is our dialogue. Our discourse. To my mind, the blogosphere should be free of ‘who.’ It should be filled with ‘whats’, ‘hows’ and ‘whys.’

Blogging at Pulitika

Isang sagot kay Reyna Elena.

Ang blogging ay ‘di iba sa pagtitipon-tipon ng mga mamayan sa mga kapulungan noong mga panahong wala pang mass media at lalo na ang internet. Sa aking wari, isa itong paraan upang maipahayag ng kahit sino’ng kabilang ng isang komunidad ang kaniyang saloobin ukol sa pamamamaraan ng pamamalakad ng kaniyang pamahalaan.

‘Di dapat gawing sukatan ang antas ng edukasyon o karanasan sa ‘pulitika’ ang karapatang mag-blog ukol sa pulitika. Kung lahat tayo’y nagbabayad ng buwis, mula sa mga CEO ng mga kumpanya hanggang sa mga nagtitinda na taho sa kalye (na nagbabayad din ng VAT), lahat ay dapat bigyan daan upang mag-hayag ng hinaing o pagsang-ayon sa ating buhay pulitikal. Ang kayod nating lahat ay sinsamsam ng estado, sa gusto man natin o hindi. Lahat tayo ay napapailalim sa mga batas na nililikha ng estado, sa gusto man natin o hindi.

Isang mahalagang elemento ng demokrasiya na pakinggan ang mga haka-haka at kuro-kuro ng lahat. Kakabit nito ang pagtanggap na lahat ay may kakayanang mag-isip para sa kaniyang sarili patungkol sa mga nilalaman ng balita halimbawa o sa mga desisyong ipinatutupad ng Malacañang. Dahil ang Pilipinas ay isang mahirap na bansa, at karamihan sa mga mamayan nito ay salat sa pormal na edukasyon, ang ibig ba’ng sabihin nito ay dapat na isawalang-bahala ang boses ng nakararami? Para ano pa kung gano’n ang eleksyon? Para ano pa kung sa gano’n ang pagbibigay ng mga baseng karapatan sa bawat Pilipino, lalo na ang karapatan ng malalayang pamamahayag o free speech?

Sa pamamahayag ng ating iba’t-iba at madalas ay nagbabanggaang opinyon, nalalaman ng madla ang mga sala-salawing panig. Sa gayon ang madla ay maaaring makapagpasya kung anumang panig ang kanilang kikilingan o hindi.

Ang pagiging ‘intelketwal’ ay isang pang-uring ‘di saklaw ng kung ilan lamang. Lahat tayo ay nag-iisip. Maaaring iba’t-iba ang ating pagtingin ukol sa pulitika, at sa gayon ay iba’t-iba rin ang ating mga hinahangad ukol sa pagpapatakbo ng mga bagay-bagay at kung sa’ang direksyon patutunguhin ang bayan. Ang mga hinaing at kuro-kuro halimbawa ng isang accountant sa Makati ay iba sa mga hinaing at kuro-kuro ng nagtitinda ng samalamig. Hindi dapat na bigyang higit na timbang ang isa sa isa dahil tayong lahat ay nabibilang sa isang pampulitikong komunidad.

Ang kredibilidad sa pamamahayag sa media ay inaani mula sa iba, hindi ibinibigay sa sarili. Sa kauna-unahang pagkakataon – lahat ng mga mamayang Pilipino na may kakayanang magsulat at mag-access ng internet ay maaaring mag-blog at maghayag ng kanilang saloobin ukol sa Pilipinas, sa gobiyerno, sa kapwa Pilipino. Sa kauna-unahang panahon, maaari tayong gumawa ng diskurso at pakikipagtalastasan bilang mga mamayan sa labas ng saklaw ng organisadong mass media at ng kung anumang opisyal na pagtingin ng mga makapangyarihan.

Ang mahalaga siguro ay ang makinig sa isa’t-isa, kumalap ng makabuluhang impormasyon at magpasiya sa ikabubuti ng lahat. Ang impormayson ay maaaring manggaling sa napakaraming panig. Mas mabuti na sigurong mas maraming panig kaysa sa nag-iisang panig. Ang pagtiyak kung ano ang malaman o hindi, ang may bias o hindi, ang kapaki-pakinabang o hindi, ay nakasalalay sa ating sariling kunsensya at pag-iisip.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Strategies for Late-late-late Capitalist Development Part One

0. Introduction

The banking system is a crucial instrument in China’s strategic choice to pursue capitalist development. Since the opening-up policies of the late 1970s until today, banks have experienced significant reforms, from decentralisation in the 80s to recentralisation in the 90s. While these changes may have restructured China’s financial institutions in the past decades, they have not deviated from their original intent.

The country’s financial system, which is still dominated by the state, serves to disburse capital accumulated from the most successful non-state sector of the economy – hand-picked ‘winners’ plugged into China’s greater export-led growth strategy – to the state sector, i.e. the state-owned enterprises (SOEs). The ‘developmental’ character of the Chinese state has also used the predominantly state-owned financial institutions to redistribute available capital resources across regions.

The non-commercial function of the banking system, financing SOEs and incurring staggering losses on non-performing loans, is an institutional fix of the Chinese state’s management of its transition to what it calls a ‘socialist market economy.’ The SOEs serve as the powerbase of the Party leadership, as well as the State’s source of continuing legitimacy among its constituency – the working class. For this reason, successive governments from Deng Xiaoping to today were willing to shoulder these costs. Since Deng’s Open Door policy however, there have been successive attempts to overhaul the financial system so that it may operate on a more commercial basis.

Increasingly the impetus for further reform become more urgent as China prepares to open its domestic financial markets to the world. Other than domestic concerns, there is a growing consensus on the need for reform as China becomes an increasingly important player in the global economy.

The following discussion aims to characterise the strategies employed by the Chinese state as it has chosen to ‘transition’ into a more market-based economy, with an emphasis on the problematic and even contradictory roles played by its financial system – as a political resource and a commercial resource.

Deng Xiao Ping’s gradualist, ‘piecemeal social engineering’ has triggered the country’s transition to what it names ‘socialist market economy.’ Consequent congresses and leaderships have built on the policies of the late 1970s, and have explicitly put ‘development’ as top priority.

The Chinese state’s “developmental” character is examined in comparison to East Asian models. In which ways does it adhere to the model and in which ways is it different? And how do these differences translate into the State’s ability to regulate the economic reforms of the past three decades? And more importantly, how have economic adjustments made an impact on politics and vice versa?

1. The Great ‘Fall’ of China: A Synthesis

The 1960s were tortuous times in Chinese history, as they were for many countries around the world. The ideological zeal of Mao Ze Dong’s Cultural Revolution left in its wake not only a leadership deeply divided but a dilution of that which before underpinned the unfolding of its modern history. The certainty of victory in revolutionary movements (as in the Stalinist case) gave politics and history an engine with which to move forward. The fact that Mao conceded to the open-endedness of the revolution, even its defeat, generated a “pall” on the political machine.

Nevertheless, the victors of the Chinese leadership’s internal struggle put aside the momentary ‘hiccup’ of the Cultural Revolution and have not looked back since. Deng's principles of adhering to socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat, the philosophy of Marxist-Leninist and Maoist thought, all co-opted and absorbed the ideological fragmentation within the Chinese Communist Party's re-invigorated and re-legitimised role as the ultimate embodiment of the state. The continuing process of assuring the Party’s continued legitimacy and the state’s re-calibration as a result of its enmeshment in the global economy will be further discussed in the second section.

Under Deng’s leadership, China began its tentative embrace of what was once its antithesis – capitalism. The Dengist regime’s open-door policy on the level of industrial policy-making and the espousal that “To get rich is glorious” were signals to the international community that China had taken a more pragmatic view of the world than its Soviet comrades. The short-comings of the Soviet Union’s centrally planned economy had become evident by the late 1970s vis-à-vis the capitalist sphere. Growth hit negative levels in the eve of the eventual Soviet collapse (White 2000). These stresses, coupled with the sudden political reforms of the Gorbachëv era, finally led to the demise of Capitalism’s ideological foe.

Without going into the nitty-gritty of how the reformist under Deng were able to seize state power, from a systemic level it is apparent that China chose to play the capitalist game given the geopolitical and geoeconomic context of the ‘winding down of history’ in the late 1970s to the final ‘end of history’ in the late 1980s.

Viewed from the lenses of history, the changes of the past few decades seem nothing but revolutionary. However closer scrutiny will show the prudence of ‘feeling the stones’ as China entered into heretofore unknown territory. This prudence continues to be exhibited today.

The 14th CCP Congress in 1992 finally gave the ongoing reforms a name - a “socialist market economy with Chinese characteristics.” Communist China has well and truly embraced its capitalist foe. In thirty short years it has become the ‘world’s workshop’ in this new century. The illustration below neatly summarises China’s centrality in today’s global commodity chains.

Thus began the meteoric ‘rise’ of China’s economic growth. Between 1979 and 2005 average, it maintained an unprecedented average growth rate of 9.6 percent. Post-WTO membership, its economy is 70 percent bigger from 2001.

China now openly espouses that ‘development’ in a peaceful context is its ‘strategic choice’. This development is now understood as capitalist development, being played in Chinese terms.

Historically, the modern State has played key roles in capitalist accumulation in the Western experience. It is also observable that “the later a country embarks on the path of capitalist development, the stronger is the need for state intervention to make capitalist accumulation successful.” This has been demonstrated by the experience of ‘late’ capitalist developers of the 19th century – the United States, Japan and Germany and the ‘late, late’ developers of the 1960s – South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Its transition into what can be characterised as ‘capitalism’ has been managed and regulated by the CCP. The Chinese state is now being tagged as the latest incarnation of the Asian developmental state model.

2. East Asian Developmental State…with Chinese characteristics

Chinese scholars also recognise three models of development - namely the Anglo-Saxon mode, the continental European mode, and the Asian mode. The last has been judged “the most suitable” to Chinese needs, and this was predominant in the thoughts of Chinese reform strategists from the very beginning. Among the Chinese intelligentsia, there were defenders of the first two models. However in the end it was recognised that the experience of Western Europe and the United States could not be copied. These countries accomplished industrialisation under different historical circumstances.

The scholarship on the East Asian developmental state charted initially the rise of Japan and later the newly-industrialising countries (NICs) of Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. The developmental state approach, in the scholarship of the 1980s, was essentially a theory of economic growth.

Observers claim it this same path that has inspired China in its transition away from the Soviet-style centrally-planned economy which was failing not only externally in terms of competition with capitalism but domestically in terms of a working provision of even the most basic of commodities. This ‘inspiration’ is perhaps best illustrated by Chinese authorities in the 1990s expressing that they wanted to create firms in the mould of the South Korean chaebols. These firms were envisioned to be listed on Fortune magazine’s largest enterprises by the year 2000.

The Chinese state exhibits the characteristics of the archetypal developmental state. Not unlike the imperial period’s bureaucracy of mandarins, it is manned by technocrats. The State itself, being an autarky, enjoys relative autonomy from society. Since Deng’s regime, it has put development as the top priority. And lastly, it is ‘dirigiste’ in character, intervening in the planning and implementation of economic policies, the orchestration of preferential loans with target industries, the creation of monopolistic enterprises and the selection and protection of market winners.

Some of the characteristics shared by China with other East Asian developmental states include, having the US become a major export market, strong control of fiscal and monetary policies, state control over key industries and a high savings rate. Japan and Korea also picked industry winners and lent them support through banks. While China shares similarities to Southeast Asia's FDI-led export strategy, the key difference is in China's SOEs dynamism in the economy. China effectively practiced a dual economy – the SOEs and the non-state sector.

But the Chinese developmental state differs from the Asian model in a number of ways. Unlike the development strategy of Japan which sought to protect domestic markets while promoting exports, China’s industrialisation was largely externally-driven. It has been willing to exploit the opportunities presented by economic globalisation, while shielding selected key industries - the machinery, electronics, petrochemicals, automobile, and construction sectors. It is thus qualitatively different from the classic Asian export-led model of development, as its main engine is FDI.

The Chinese developmental state has also had to adjust to a different geopolitical and geoeconomic context compared to the other East Asian states. It is engineering its take-off in an environment of highly-regulated and rules-based global trade regime. South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong industrialised and completed their integration into the global economy prior to the existence of the World Trade Organisation.

Adhering to the rules of the current global trading regime has qualitatively changed the Chinese state’s regulatory framework. Because China lobbied for fifteen years to join the WTO, this means it was willing to pay the institutional costs needed to join, as it were, the club. For example, a restructuring of the government was initiated in 1998, shrinking the bureaucracy from eighty ministries to less than thirty. This reform shrank and centralised industry ministries to just one – the State Economic and Trade Commission (SETC). Further, this institution was scrapped later on and merged with Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation to form a new Ministry of Commerce. There have also been proposals to scrap the constitutional definition of China as a “people’s democratic dictatorship” as this “contradicts the spirit of the World Trade Organization and the requirements of globalization.” The reasons behind China’s institutional concessions will be explored in further detail in the fourth section.

Lastly, the Chinese developmental state, unlike the others, has to manage the ‘duality’ of its economic system. It exhibits both two seemingly opposed strategies - it follows the market-oriented structures of neoclassical economics, the same model lauded and promoted by the World Bank. At the same time it has followed the developmental state model - i.e. heavy public involvement in the economy.

As a result China has built a dual economy - the SOEs supported by government funding, and the dynamic FIEs and emerging private sector. The re-calibration of the state’s institutional capabilities is difficult in the financial system because this would entail, first and foremost, a reform of the SOEs. Up to 80 percent of total bank loans and up three-fourths of all bank loans are absorbed by these SOEs.

The non-state sector has been outperforming the state sector in the past decade. But why has China subsidised this sector through loans?

In Reforming China’s State-Owned Enterprises and Banks, authors Chiu and Lewis propose the following factors (2006: 9-12):

1. While SOEs have had a decreasing proportion of total industry output since 1980, they still posted strong economic growth.

2. SOEs still account for 32 percent of employment in urban centres. The provinces of Liaoning, Jilin and Heilongjiang (China’s version of the rust belt) derive 70 percent of GDP from local SOEs. Heavy industry and technology are still largely state-owned. All other sectors rely on these SOEs for basic productive inputs.

3. While the number of SOEs have officially shrunk, many other non-SOE are in fact “mutations” of the former. 80 percent of the 1,300 largest companies listed in the stock market were once SOEs or offshoots of SOE holding companies, and remain majority government owned. A good percentage of foreign-invested firms (FIEs) are joint or cooperative ventures with SOEs.

4. SOEs’ reforms are also dependent on SOEs’ reforms.

5. Foreign firms funded by FDI contributed 30 percent of gross output in. FDI from overseas Chinese was a response to the lack of domestic financing for mainland Chinese non-state enterprises.

6. SOEs are politicised – they serve more than just commercial functions but a combination of socio-economic and political ones. SOEs continue to provide housing, health and other social welfare benefits to current and past workers. Similar to the PLA, which has a military as well as political leader, SOEs have a CCP party committee attached and is headed by a Secretary who has equal rank as a CEO.

A reform of the SOEs – owned by central ministries and local governments - would entail counterbalancing the interests of the Chinese state’s domestic constituencies, essentially its powerbase, with the interests (and discipline) of global capital. On the one hand are the workers and local government administrators of the state-sector and on the other are nascent domestic and foreign capitalists of the private sector. As Minxin Pei argues in his seminal work China’s Trapped Transition: the Limits of Developmental Autocracy, eliminating loan losses means eliminating the existing system on which politicians and their constituents rely (2006).

SOEs are the economic basis of the State’s power. Thus, Chinese leaders often remark that the development of SOEs is related to the future of the CCP. Also, factors including the scale of SOEs, their importance in the national economy and the role of social stability, determine that SOEs relate closely with the political future of the CCP. So, the State devotes great attention to SOEs because of the considerations of the political ruling group. Although traditional SOEs are inefficient, they could not be allowed to become bankrupt (Yang 2006: 54).
This counterbalancing is further reflected in the institutional fix of “Three Represents” which enable the State to legitimately harness the non-state sector’s productive capacities on behalf of the ‘majority.’ Amendments to the Consitution were made in 1993, 1997, 1999 and 2004 to legitimise the non-public sector and indeed the market economy, with the State. To accommodate the increasingly influential non-public sector, they have been incorporated into the state by becoming members of the CCP. The percentage of private enterprise owners who are also Party officials rose from 13.1 percent in 1993 to 19.8 in 2000. For the first time, eight Party officials from the private sector were present in the 9th Guangdong Provincial Congress convened in 2002.

“Three Represents” neatly sums within the CCP, on behalf of the State, the most ‘advanced social productive forces (economic production), the ‘progressive course of China’s advanced culture’ (cultural production) and the ‘fundamental interests of the majority’ (political consensus) (Zemin 2002). While China may seem unchanging to the causal observer, headed as it is by an ‘outmoded’ authoritarian regime, the ongoing internal changes and ‘experimentation’ in governance has been a fascinating study of modern statecraft.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Temporal, Spatial

A useful measure of one’s ‘nationalist’ fervour is the degree to which one can imagine a future in this country. To imagine one building a career, making investments in solid purchases – such as a house, giving birth and raising children in this locality. Imagining a future here, and making a living here, gives one a stake in wrestling the order of things to hew closer to what an imagined good life would be. To commit to the future of this country, one will logically take pains to question why the existing order is as it is – dysfunctional at best, mercenary at worst.

Recently a former student of mine asked for my counsel, having passed the initial phase of the Foreign Service Exam and offered a place to study in a uni in Australia. I asked him what he thought would make him happy. Either choice will land him overseas anyway. If he does make it to become part of the diplomatic corps, they will probably send him to a hardship post in the Middle East, after serving the requisite first four years in the country. I asked him if he would return to the Philippines after his studies in Melbourne. I didn’t get a definitive answer. I have countless friends now either working or studying overseas. Some are quite adamant about returning home eventually. Yet time tends to tick past without us noticing, and eventually will be deferred according to the exigencies of the present.

My friends and peers (as with countless relatives who have long uprooted), share something in common. They can no longer imagine a future in this spatiality. It is a given that they see a paucity in opportunities – economic, self-advancement, growth, security. They would come home every so often to visit – much as one would to parents after having flown the coop. They do so to catch up with old friends and pay homage to the Philippine sun and scenery. One friend, who must make a spectacular living as a pharmacist in Canada, is here very four, five months. To my mind, her homeland has become a Disneyland of sorts – a theme park to while time away for some rest and relaxation. Her Facebook account is full of photos of her travels – a one-woman walking tourist catalogue. Her adoration for her country of birth is without question. But as they say, one cannot live on love alone.

I once taught in a university in Intramuros. The student body, one might say, reflect the mind set of the Filipino Every Person. Many of my students have either one or both parents working overseas. My salary literally came from the blood and sweat of migrant labour. All they want, it seemed, was to earn a degree so they could up and leave. Of the tens of thousands churned out by our tertiary education mills, how many imagine a future here? How many bide their time so they can have a chance at realising a model life they imagine over the horizon? How many grapple with feelings of doom as everyone they know leave ahead of them?

Marocharim has expressed a need for narrative to fully describe the Filipino’s migrant experience. Whatever the motive word might be, it should be book-ended by two kinds of crisis – one of temporality and one of spatiality. All polities (i.e. political communities) share two things in common - an uninterrupted timeline to connect past, present and future – all to unfold in a single space. What we may be experiencing is a disintegration of both. Here the archipelago floats, bits and pieces eaten away by the Pacific.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Yann Tiersen - Déjà Loin

I recently downloaded all of Yann Tiersen’s albums. You might remember him for the Amélie OST. This song does funny things to my chest. :-)

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Order, Politesse

We are experts at manipulating symbols, assuring humanity's dominance over the planet and all other species. Not only do we communicate with the visible formal code of language - letters, words, sentences, grammar - we manipulate and are manipulated by non-visible codes.

While words, and the meaning they carry, are by no means value-neutral, the agreement to or the dissent they pose to the existing order of things are explicit and easily corroborated or contested.

The kind of communication we should interrogate then, is that which largely goes unnoticed first because it is factual - i.e. matter of fact, and second because the message is delivered, not through language, but through the unconscious use of symbols.

Symbols are not only images but also objects and even ways of doing. Much as we produce that which constitutes our material life - food, clothes, houses - so too do we produce that which underpins and reproduces our ways of doing, our culture. Like it or not, we are unwitting participants in this process of cultural production. The trick then is to become conscious of the non-visible codes with which we communicate, especially so when they serve to cloak that which must be exposed.

In a society obsessed with appearances such as ours, behaviour, the outward manifestation of intent, not only mirrors the realm of production and how we fit in the system, but also serves to reinforce the current order and the extant hierarchies within. I find that appearances are especially important in a society empty of substance. Where form takes precedence over content, then you know appearances must be meticulously kept.

The labels ‘polite’ and ‘vulgar’ carry in themselves connotations of a positive and a negative way to behave. Certain behaviours are deemed acceptable and admirable while others deserve chastisement, even punishment. One must behave accordingly in certain situations. This signals who belongs to what socio-economic class and who doesn’t. What are ‘proper’ and ‘improper’ conversation topics? We use the term ‘class’ denoting someone of ‘good’ and proper taste. If we see society being divided into subgroups called classes, then why does having ‘class’ pertain only to those who belong in the elite bracket? Modes of behaviour and the production of culture of those who ‘have class’ solidify into norms and trickle down the social strata. Their culture, their ‘refined’ ways of doing things are then emulated by those who wish to be in their position vis-à-vis the rest of society. By emulating the form, the underclasses hope to aspire to substance.

In other ‘flat’ societies, those which have reached a measure of affluence and equality, ‘class’ ceased to mean anything. So too have notions of ‘distinction’ and ‘taste’ – markers and ways of doing which serve to emphasise difference.

Politeness is never more obvious between two persons of unequal power or socio-economic standing. ‘Vulgarity’ occurs when that which emphasises the power distance is transgressed. One communicates deference by verbal cues, ‘po’ and ‘opo’ being obvious markers. Other verbal cues include ‘ma’am’ and ‘sir.’ I have taken the habit of a journalist friend of mine, to address people in the tertiary sector – especially waiters and security guards as ‘boss’ in a tone of voice that confers deference to an expert, in the waiter’s case over his dominion in the kitchen and serving food, and the guard his dominion over giving directions or directing traffic on the parking lot.