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February 7, 2008

WITH the present political system, it is hard to reach, or even achieve, national development.

First, what is needed is to arrive at national recovery by engaging in moral reform and moral recovery, and by bringing the entire government at the altar of the rule of law. National development will just remain a patriotic rubric without absorbing the lessons of the past.

What have we learned? This must be the focal query that should be put on top of our struggle, the beacon that should guide this nation through national prosperity. But first, development should mean maturity, politically and historically.

Any attempt to bring this country at the shore of opulence is futile without the sheer cooperation and conscious effort of the people who are considered the base of the nation. This concept springs from that republican principle upon which this nation is built: “Sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them.” To go beyond this democratic parameter would result in either tyranny or anarchy. Is this the whole picture of our society today? Do we have a government acting on behalf of and for the people? Do we have a strong republic characterized by sovereign people?

The Arroyo administration’s desperate effort to counter poverty and hunger by means of feeding programs and by means of raising [value added and sin] taxes, etc., unleashes the very system that reigns today. We are now in the era of collectivism under the rule of the so-called ‘majority’, otherwise known as the ‘tyranny of majority.’ The neutralization of the Left and the identification of the purported enemies of the state seek to realize one purpose: to unify all political and social structures in favor of the ruling collective. This way, the ruling collective will be able to perpetuate its grip on power through the force of majority in Congress, through the overwhelming support of local executives, and through the assured protection of the military. What is functioning under this system is no longer the rule of law— but the rule of men.The passage of Republic Act 9372 (or an Act to Secure the State and Protect our People from Terrorism) put in place the roadmap of this political goal. The controversial law seeks to sort out the ‘enemies of the state’ and gives tremendous authority to that powerful collective unit called the Anti-Terrorism Council.Ayn Rand, Russian-born American philosopher who conceptualized Objectivism, once said that collectivism is the subjugation of the individual to a group— whether to a race, class or state does not matter. According to her, “Collectivism holds that man must be chained to collective action and collective thought for the sake of what is called `the common good.’ Throughout history, no tyrant ever rose to power except on the claim of representing the common good.” Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said there’s nothing wrong with the dole out so long as they are intended for good cause. “Common good” was the argument Bunye tried to adduce in coming up with that concave statement. The government’s answer to hunger and poverty is also misplaced: throw money at the problem. Officials also defended the controversial NBN deal by saying that the contract was entered into for the “common good” and national interest.

To explain this theory, F.A. Hayek also pointed out the flaws in collectivism. Hayek said that “any collectivist system necessarily depends on one individual (or small group) to make key social and economic decisions.” The first casualty of this collectivist trend is none other than the rule of law, because under this system the whims and caprices of the people in power form part the law of the land more than the will of the people. To wit, Hayek said: “The great aim of the struggle for liberty has been equality before the law.” That no one— the even the highest official of the land— is above the law.

But how can we attain national development with bribery as the rule of the game in both political and corporate arena?— with extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances as the ultimate procedures to avoid investigation and possible conviction? As to the extralegal killings and rising cases of desaparecidos— what is the accountability of the President being the commander-in-chief? And as to the alleged bribery in Malacanang— what did the President know, and when?

Trading is done nowadays, not by consent and fair competition, but by compulsion and bribery. Money is now flowing to those who deal and broker, not in goods, but in favors. Men now get richer by graft and corruption and by pull than by work, and the law is silent as to the perpetrators but harsh as to the innocent. We have a system where corruption and dishonesty were being rewarded and honesty becoming self-sacrifice— this scheme will certainly not permit a country to survive as half-property, half-loot.

In his Republic, Plato says tyranny “is not a matter of minor theft and violence, but of wholesale plunder…” He says that “when a man succeeds in robbing the whole body of citizens and reducing them to slavery, they forget these ugly names and call him happy and fortunate, as do all others who hear of his unmitigated wrongdoing.”

By the face of it, the current administration appears to be so serious in dealing with anyone who stands in the way of what it calls “national development.” The only governmental institutions left unfazed are the Senate and the Judiciary, the latter being more credible than the former. The Senate stubbornly goes on with its investigation, while the Judiciary made several developments in protecting the rights of the people. To understand the depth and ill effects of extrajudicial killing and enforced disappearances, the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno held a historic summit devoted to the two nagging issues. It was then followed by the creation of the Court’s new ally in the protection of human rights – the writ of amparo, which “will bar military officers in judicial proceedings to issue denial answers regarding petitions on disappearances or extrajudicial executions, which were legally permitted in Habeas corpus proceedings.” There are now more than 800 cases of extrajudicial killings documented by Karapatan and several cases of enforced disappearances, which include that of Jonas Burgos and two University of the Philippines students.

Asian Human Rights Commission once pointed out that in most Southeast Asian nations, the basic rule of law mechanisms such as proper policing, impartial prosecution and an independent judiciary do not exist or do not function well. This is because the rule of law mechanisms “have been deliberately manipulated, abused, subverted in such a way as to prevent those whose rights have been violated from attaining any justice or misused by those in power, in order to protect those who have violated the rights of others.”

From the outset, the government’s portfolio of economic prosperity consists of higher taxes and their efficient collection, more dollar remittances, more foreign investment and more exports.

But what is the real wealth of nations? This query literally moved the motor of the world when answered by a group of World Bank environmental economists. In their extraordinary but widely underappreciated report, Where Is The Wealth Of Nations: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century, Kirk Hamilton and his team found that “human capital and the value of institutions (as measured by rule of law) constitute the largest share of wealth in virtually all countries.” Their study concludes that there are three kinds of capital: (1) the natural capital (e.g. cropland, pastureland, etc.); (2) the produced capital (e.g. capital, machinery, etc.); and (3) the intangible capital, which “encompasses raw labor; human capital, which includes the sum of a population’s knowledge and skills; and the level of trust in a society and the quality of its formal and informal institutions.”

Hamilton said that the shares of intangible capital across income classes go about 60 percent in low-income countries to 80 percent in high-income countries. “That accords very much with that notion that what really makes countries wealthy is not the bits and pieces, it’s the brainpower and the institutions that harness that brainpower.” The study also found that “an economy with a very efficient judicial system, clear and enforceable property rights, and an effective and uncorrupt government will produce higher total wealth.” He opined that the rule of law is “partly a question” of efficient legal system, lack of corruption and a degree of transparency.

It is therefore safe to conclude that the economic barometers being used by the Arroyo economic planners are already obsolete and out-of-date. What the government needs is a keen eye to know the real demand of the country and the true will of the people. The system of education must be anchored on what this country really needs and focused on what the Filipino does best. A sincere moral revolution is what is needed more than charter change masquerading as political reforms. But the most important of all is the protection of the rule of law which is the fountainhead of all national wealth. As what Hayek pointed out, “a law should not grant a privilege to a group or person nor should a law discriminate against a group or person.”

National development is only possible if the rule of law is observed, that is, when legislation is passed using the rule of law test; when trades, transactions and contracts are done in good faith and obtained only by consent and not by favors and bribery; when justice and education system pertain to the interest of both the nation and the people; when the government sustains free-trade and fair competition without favoring any business entity over another.

Respect for the rule of law, a philosophical foundation on which a free society is based, is the only key to national development. Poverty—the product of this disrespect— is not to be pointed only to our “heartless” politicians, but to the heartless aim of this nation as well.

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