|home / today's asian business strategy ezine / columns / pearl of the orient seas index (business in Asia & the philippines) /|
|Nation on the Brink: Circus Circus in Manila|
The end of the first year of the new millennium is shaping up as a referendum on the viability of democracy in post-EDSA Philippines, with the soap opera playing out in living color, dirty laundry flying hither and yon, and sleaziness oozing out from the corners of TV sets around the globe. The world doesn't know quite what to make of the circus-like atmosphere and sheer irrationality.|
Foreign investment has ground to a halt, multinationals are carefully evaluating their situation and commissioning political risk studies, and local companies have hunkered down while the proceedings unfold. Yankee spooks are keeping a careful eye on things, denials to the contrary notwithstanding. The situation is getting stranger and stranger.
At least, after much rigamarole and posturing, the trial is finally underway. The city is riveted to the tube, and taxi drivers who normally listen to muzac, techno, or old Sinatra tapes are tuning in to the live broadcasts from the Senate floor. The key players spend their evenings appearing on talk shows, forked tongues abound, and nothing is quite as it seems. We're talking through-the-looking-glass city here.
Earlier rosy predictions that Erap would resign after he finally, somehow, someway, saw the light - like Saul of Taursus on the Road to Damascus, perhaps? - have gone by the wayside. It is now clear that the President's hubris, huge ego, belief in cinematic happy endings, and sheer bullheadedness are propelling this whole surreal melodrama to a slambang conclusion, one way or the other.
The prosecution team in the Senate has the benefit of massive and incriminating evidence. There's really not much doubt that the chap is guilty. So, you might ask, why don't they just throw him out? Hmmm . . . For one thing, we're not talking Marcia Clark or Perry Mason here. The Congressmen serving as prosecutors, although attorneys by trade, were generally practicing tax or business law before getting elected. The rustiness (or nonexistence?) of their courtroom skills has been evident during the first couple of days' proceedings. Let's just hope they don't foul things up so royally that evidence has to be thrown out or that administration-loyal Senators (whether out of utang na loob ("debt of the heart") or cold, hard cash) have an excuse to continue to hold out for acquittal regardless of the weight of the evidence.
The Erap team is stonewalling it, and the pressure is building day by day. Cardinal Sin is challenging Erap's manhood, trying to get his goat, hoping that reminding him of his repeated promises to answer the charges one-by-one may just do the trick and get him on the stand. Erap's defense team will continue to do all they can to restrain him, but macho tendencies may soon prevail. If so, and the Prez sits down and takes the oath, the prosecution's job should get a lot easier. Assuming they can do at least a grade B job of questioning and cross-examination, chances are the stories will start convoluting, the alibis contradicting, and the nerves unraveling. In other word, just give him a little rope and chances are he'll tie a neat little noose to do the job.
The Military? There's been lots of noise and speculation recently, as various ad hoc groups of retired generals and such have called for Erap's resignation. One need only mention the ominous presence of PNP Chief Ping Lacson and associates at press conferences, the extensive electronic bugging of anybody remotely affiliated with the opposition, attempts to intimidate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA), and the unexplained disappearance of opposition spin doctor Bubby Dacer under the most suspicious of circumstances. Muffled echoes of martial law indeed.
Bottom line, though, is that the military will probably, in the end, support the democratic process. Today's professionalized officer corps bears little resemblance to the thugs of the Marcos era. But even though a coup is unlikely at this juncture, what happens if there's an acquittal and the country goes even further to pot? One could speculate that, at a minimum, a few high-up generals would have to eventually pay a midnight visit to the Palace and ask the Principal to make a move before they make it for him.
Let's assume, for lack of a better assumption, that Erap is somehow ejected before the elections start in February. Where does that leave the country? And what's the long-term prognosis for the patient? My crystal ball is in the shop at the moment, but what the heck, all the local pundits are speculating all over the place so I might as well join the crowd...
Politics and the élites: In the what-else-is-new category, politics in the Philippines will continue to be dominated by the resilient and powerful élite classes. Always have been, always (probably) will be. As outlined in other Pearls, their base is solid economically and politically, and of course no longer limited to the haciendas. Their huge empires extend into industry, finance, telecommunications, utilities, commerce, and entertainment (see Cronies and Booty Capitalism - Sept 1999 - and A Sociopolitical Digression - Nov 2000).
However, the good news is that today's élites have undergone fundamental changes as compared to the bad old days. Unlike in Marcos' time, the élites are no longer throwing their lot in with a corrupt dictator, having seriously re-appraised their role. The Ramos' administration breakthroughs (see Globalization Part 1 and Globalization Part 2) in telecommunications, shipping, airlines, and other sectors redounded to their benefit. Why should they throw in their lot with a petty despot who is destroying such hard-fought gains?
Indeed, the current opposition is being orchestrated by the Makati Business Club, the Management Association of the Philippines, and the like. Last week's symbolic breaking of bread on Ayala Avenue tells the tale. The fare was primarily chicken adobo, the Filipino national dish, whose vinegary odor conjures up visions of people power (it was the preferred food on the barricades at EDSA). The grub was cooked up mostly in Forbes Park kitchens, as society matrons instructed their help to make adobo and had their drivers deliver it to the streets, where it was eagerly consumed by thousands of the masa from flimsy paper plates with plastic forks and spoons.
The carefully posed publicity shots of businessmen seated across from street vendors was, of course, a transparent attempt to show that Erap's beloved masa were no longer with him. While of course the supposed communion did absolutely nothing to lessen the incredible economic polarization of the country nor to close the great economic divide between rich and poor, symbols are symbols. And this was a potentially powerful one.
The 21st century Filipino élites, led by the Ayalas, are firmly into globalization. They know full well that the country's future is inextricably linked to the Global Village, and that the viability of their own economic empires is fundamentally threatened by Erap's unabashed cronyism and lousy leadership. The last thing they want is to continue the slide into the primordial ooze.
In the longer term, then, the country's future hinges on certain key (and hoped for events). To put a positive spin on things (and keeping my fingers crossed), I would point out that this whole thing may turn out to be a blessing in disguise if the new administration cleans house and puts a few of these jokers in jail. Or at least implements some meaningful reforms towards transparency.
At the same time, political and economic reform are long overdue. There's a realistic chance that a GMA administration would feature a new and solid economic team that will work toward long term, sustainable growth and development through sound macroeconomic management. The Philippines does have some advantages in the global environment (see Clouds and Silver Linings), and it's about time they were properly taken advantage of. At the same time, institution and state building are essential. Ever hear of transparency? And although the removal of the US bases led to less American hegemony, presumably a good thing, the country has not yet created a coherent vision to replace its role as US satellite.
So... the bottom line? Your guess is as good as mine. My own gut feeling is that the Philippines is long overdue for a few breaks. Being a gambler at heart (see Blackjack Filipino Style), I'd say the odds are about 50-50 that things will work out one way or the other . . .
|...from Clarence Henderson's Pearl of the Orient Seas|
|Clarence Henderson Henderson Consulting International Manila Philippines|
|Clarence has had over 20 years of consulting experience in New York, Los Angeles, and the Philippines. He brings to the forum many years of experience in the Philippines and his monthly column integrates the experience of working in the Philippines with business tips earned the hard way! You can learn more about Clarence by clicking on his photo.||
About Clarence -
Other Columnists |
|See also Clarence Henderson's Philippines Capsule and Prospect Reviews at Asia Market Research dot Com|
Asia Pacific Management Forum Asia Market Research dot com Branding Asia dot com
asia's only dedicated daily ezine for the asian business, management, strategy & marketing professional
research articles news independent columnists business strategy market & street intelligence
© APMF and Clarence Henderson 2000
|email updates | email this page | discuss | search | today's asian business strategy news | advertise | about|
|daily asian news, research & commentary for the international business strategy, market research & strategic management professional|