Does Federalism in the Philippines Make Sense?

Manila Bulletin, February 5, 2018 | Go to article overview

Does Federalism in the Philippines Make Sense?


By Richard Javad Heydarian

(Part II)

As Nobel Laureate Economist Joseph Stiglitz once remarked, sometimes our fundamental problem is that we focus on the wrong problems.

In many ways, this seems to be the case in countries like the Philippines, where pundits and politicians often highlight all sorts of problems and offer corresponding solutions; yet, what's often lacking is a fundamental understanding and sensible diagnostic of systematic deficiencies.

This is why it's first important to grasp what is the problem that we are trying to solve in our country. And how charter change per se could pave a path forward for national redemption and transformation.

As I discussed in part I of my federalism essay series, our primary challenge as a nation - above everything else - is our oligarchic political system.

Yet, nowadays, one often hears the argument that what lies at the root of our national failure is our societal culture. Thus, as the argument goes, no matter what form of government we adopt, we are destined to fall into the same trap of national mediocrity or worse.

The policy implication, of course, is that discussions over charter change and shift to a federal-parliamentary system are nothing short of a futile exercise in self-delusion. But is culture our problem? Let's first dispense with incorrect theories.

American writer James Fallows' essay 'A Damaged Culture' is definitely a frustrating and well-written essay on how supposedly culture of dependence and corruption should be held responsible for the despairing conditions of America's (former and sole) Asian colony, the Philippines.

However, what the essay fails to explain is how that supposed 'Filipino culture' has continued to persist, or even worsen, in recent history -- as if culture is something eternal and static.

As Edward Said trenchantly notes in his groundbreaking book Orientalism, the tendency among Western observers (and even modern social sciences) is to view non-Western races as static peoples with ahistorical, defined characteristics or "essence."

In his seminal book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), Max Weber, widely known as the father of modern sociology, provided arguments on the relationship (or correlation) between "culture" and "economic productivity."

As an established economic analyst, Weber was interested in understanding why protestant nations of the West -- with the United States figuring on the top of his mind -- emerged as not only the harbinger of capitalism -- the epochal transformation in the means and scale of material production -- but also the forerunners of industrial expansion and growth.

The thrift, sheer hard work, communitarian values, and (religiously-grounded) appreciation for material prosperity among Protestants, Weber argued, explained their central role in pushing the boundaries of capitalism towards ever-greater strides in industrial output and financial success. …

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