27 April 2015

Power is Power

I have long learned not to take ASEAN seriously. The same with the much-publicized "ASEAN Economic Community", where not much can and should be expected.

The real deal now and in the (near) future in Asia and the world is the China-led AIIB, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. What's the edge: money! The AIIB has and will lend money that creates and produces things and infrastructure; while the ASEAN is all talks, has no money, and wastes lots of money in organizing all these talking summits.

Here's a lesson in "international relations" (i.e., the so-called "game that nations play") for the Philippines: "Multilateralism" is the game of the weak, while "bilateralism" is the game of the strong. 

China is now a strong country — in economic, political, and military terms. China only uses "multilateral" organizations like ASEAN — of which it has been a part of in the ASEAN+3 formation — to play the "bilateral" game. It is doing the same "bilateral" (country-to-country) strategy within the UN multilateral system, as well as in the WTO.

With China's AIIB to implement Xi Jinping's "One Belt, One Road" strategy and its successful penetration of ASEAN, US hegemony in Asia has declined even further and rapidly being taken over by China.

The Philippines under PNoy, with its all-out consistent pro-US stance, seems to be lacking in strategic and tactical comprehension of both historical and contemporary geopolitics and the evolving global capitalism. China sees the world "black and white," and simply perceives ASEAN historically, and rightly so, as a US creation.

Malaysia, the current chair of ASEAN, is China's number one trading partner in the region and it's a country that is playing it "smart" with China, US, Japan, and the EU. All the other ASEAN countries, including the Philippines and Vietnam, have increasing and significant investment and trade relations with China.

After President Noynoy Aquino's term, there's a high probability that the next Philippine administration will be less antagonistic towards China. So this would only leave Vietnam as the only country in the ASEAN to be tough on China — understandably because Vietnam and China had a history of war against each other during the Cold War. Therefore, enough of blind focus on the ASEAN.

The Philippines is desperately making "legalistic" resorts to multilateralism in the UN and the ASEAN; but China is resorting to economic (also read: political and military) power. This reminds me of the confrontation between Queen Cersei Lannister and Lord Petyr Baelish in the Game of Thrones. Thinking that he scored in the game, Petyr (Philippines) claimed in triumphant tone "Knowledge is power." But Cersei (China) had the last laugh and words with the assertion "Power is power".

Yes, Philippines, power is power!

"Power" — economically, politically, ideologically, and militarily — in the international arena has never been, is not, and will not be attained through the Philippines' long obsession with "legalism" (legalistic minds and rule of lawyers) or its current worship of "institutionalism" (as espoused and promoted by so-called socio-economic reformers). Power in international relations has always been rooted in "industrialism".

In a word, national power is neither founded on legalism nor institutionalism, it's all about industrialism.

13 April 2015

In Defense of the Academic Profession

It is interesting to see in my Facebook's newsfeed today several colleagues in the Philippine academia — mostly from the social sciences — sharing and commenting with a seal of approval on the recent commentary in The Straits Time entitled "Prof, no one is reading you." The commentary's main argument is that "An average academic journal article is read in its entirety by about 10 people. To shape policy, professors should start penning commentaries in popular media." I would like to offer here some personal observations and reflections on this topic based on my initial years in the academic career.

A Filipino professor who has been given a privileged space in a mainstream news website is one of the most supportive of the commentary's argument. Not all academics, however, have the time, PR skills, and extrovert personality like him. Personally, I also believe in a socially-relevant, reality-based, activist, and purpose-driven academic practice; but now I have learned to respect and appreciate the life choices and career goals of colleagues in the profession. Every academic, like any other professional or human being, has her/his own career plans and sense of life's purpose. The academia is also a profession which simply contributes its share to the society and performs its specific duties and responsibilities in the society together with the specific duties and responsibilities of other professions. Recall the concept of "division of labour" as key to social progress and harmony where we each share and perform our natural talents and enhanced skills for the betterment of society.

The two main duties of academics are: "research" and "teaching". Many universities have also added the peripheral duty of "other forms of knowledge dissemination to society", which includes media coverage and public speaking engagements. Except for the Philippines' finest universities — the University of the Philippines, De La Salle University, and Ateneo de Manila University — all universities in the country are "teaching universities", rather than "research universities." In fact, compared with global best practices of world's top universities, even UP, DLSU, and ADMU are yet to be organised as "research universities" — though undoubtedly these are great "teaching universities" with very good and dedicated teachers. 

In a "research university", research is the foundation of the other academic duties of "teaching" and "policy advice" — thus, the concepts "research-based teaching", "research-based policy making", and "research-based media commentaries". Importantly, successful economies today have had at the heart of their development strategies a "national innovation system", where there are synergetic linkages between universities, industries, and government. Historically, these innovation systems are conscious policy plans and strategies initiated by governments, providing a framework for the effective interaction between universities (doing basic scientific research) and industries (applying this research, or applied science).

My point here is that, considering the urgent necessity for higher education reforms in the country to effectively address national needs and keep up with global standards, Philippine academics should be encouraged and be given the generous time and resources to do more "research", which must be a prerequisite for their other knowledge dissemination activities including writing for and speaking at popular media channels. And yes, crucial to this endeavour is for academics to go through the tough publication process in peer-reviewed journals. I also have issues and frustrations with this prevailing "publish or perish" principle as well as the business of publishing in the academia; but with hindsight, I have learned so much from the thoughtful and conscientious feedback and reviews that I received for my submissions, especially for those which have been rejected. I have realised more how important feedback and reviews from peers are in refining our ideas and in keeping with the standards of scientific research. At the same time, the peer-review process teaches us humility.

While universities have started to reach out to media outlets to mainstream their staff's findings and ongoing research, the media must also be educated about academic work and practice. A few recommendations here.
  • First, Philippine media should be aware about academic rank structure, in the same manner they are knowledgeable about military and police ranks. They should be careful who they label as "professors", which is only reserved for a few accomplished scholars in the academia. The title "professor" is akin to the rank of "general" in the military organisation. (By the way, how come the media refer to Jose Maria Sison and Nur Misuari "professors" when they are not in the academic profession?). 
  • Second, the media should learn how to read research by academics in peer-reviewed journals. If they want brevity, the abstracts of about 100-250 words only are freely available for anybody who cares to read. If they don't want to learn this, academics can do this and may as well take over the jobs of journalists.
  • Third, the media should select well who to interview as "political analyst", "sociologist", or "psychologist". Those who really deserve airtime to shape public debates are real researchers who have contributed to knowledge through publication, or at least those scholars who are well-read on the classics and state-of-the-art in a particular social issue of inquiry. Their opinions shall be based on scientific research, rather than mere speculation.   

I believe that policy-oriented research must be encouraged, but not mandated. Diversity, including freedom of thought, in the academia has to be upheld. We should accept the fact that not all publications and academic theorising in the social sciences, economics, humanities, and philosophy have implications for public policy. Like other human beings, academics have their own personal and professional life choices and sense of meaning — hence, respect so long as they do no harm.

Popular media is not the academics' cup of tea. Interestingly, many of the most influential and must-read economists in the world today, have turned to blogging. Not all academics are media savvy, neither are all good at soundbites for radio and television, nor are they necessarily good writers for newspaper columns. Yet, many of those who can write well for popular media are simply smart enough, opting not to waste time dealing with online trolls and reading opinionated-but-unfounded comments from the anonymous and nasty haters who spend time by wasting others' productive time — the type of people who need and get the energy from spreading hatred and stupid comments as defensive mechanisms for their own ignorance and insecurities.

One could easily see how nasty Filipino netizens can be and have become. In countless instances in the comments section, it pains me to see how these unkind, unhelpful, and nasty commenters make  academic authors objects of ridicule to the point that they make fun of the academics' education, work, profession, and their very humanity, particularly the opinion pieces written by people whose integrity and intelligence I can personally vouch for - my friends, friends of friends, former professors, and colleagues. And I wonder why they choose to be rude and hateful in their comments when they could write their feedback in a constructive manner, or show at least some basic courtesy, or just exercise silence if they don't have anything sensible and important to write. As much as possible, I have long avoided reading Filipino netizens' comments on news reports and commentaries if I wanted not to lose hope for the Filipinos or just to keep the day's positive vibes. 

There are, of course, difficult personalities who are such a pain to deal with in the academia. There are selfish, megalomaniac, and arrogant people with all their respective eccentricities and fetishisms. But we can also find nice, generous and decent academics out there who are simply amazing human beings who are sympathetic, emphatic and supportive of colleagues, especially young scholars. The academia has somehow moderated the usually critical me and taught me an important lesson in human relationship - that one may disagree with an author's ideology, article, or book; but s/he may be good, nice, and wonderful as a person. 

Furthermore, just like other professions, the academia has its own language, vocabulary, terminologies, theories, methodologies, rules, norms, and practices. More and more academic journals, however, have been encouraging article submissions free of jargons with a view to being publicly understood. In other words, the goal is to be understood, rather than overwhelm general readers with academic jargons. An academic research may not be relevant or suitable for popular media's orientation at this moment, but it can and may be in the future.

I can understand from the point of view of serious academics and scholars why many opinion pieces in Philippine popular media nowadays would be rejected in academia's rigorous peer-review process. Media's trend has long been incompatible with the way academics have been trained. I identify and sketch out here some prevailing practices of the authors and essays that editors of popular media prefer as shown in many opinion pieces that won't be considered "academic enough" worthy of publication in the academia, notably:
  • [a] authors who are good at "telling", rather than "showing";
  • [b] authors who are engaged in "polemics", rather than "analysis";
  • [c] authors who write "poetically" and "lyrically", rather than "academically";
  • [d] authors who make sensational and provocative "assertions", rather than "analyses" based on empirical evidence, established theory, or sound logic;
  • [e] essays written by naturally "good writers", rather than "good academics" who mostly need help from professional editors and colleagues to edit, proofread, and comment on their drafts;
  • [f] essays that are very "descriptive", rather than "explanatory";
  • [g] essays replete with "assertions", rather than "explanations"; 
  • [h] essays that do not have a single, coherent, and unifying argument, thesis statement, or storyline;  
  • [i] essays that lack structure in presenting their arguments or main points in a consistent and coherent manner; and 
  • [j] essays without novelty, or those which do not give substantial — let alone, original — contribution to knowledge production or policy debate.   

Apparently, academic argumentation and writing practices can be beneficial to popular media and the objective of educating their target public audience and readership so as to stimulate the making of informed opinions, decisions, and discussions.  Media must indeed learn from good research and analytical practices in the academia. And academics must also learn to mainstream and popularise their research findings and theoretical appreciation by observing brevity, writing short sentences, communicating with simple words, and learning the art of public relations. In doing so, all academics will have to realise more deeply that academic research and teaching, indeed the profession itself, is a social endeavour that implicate the society and must carry a public responsibility.

06 April 2015

Surveys and the Poor-Blaming Syndrome in Philippine Elections

Reflection on the commentary "Similar dream, different lives" 
by Joel Ruiz Butuyan at Inquirer.net 

Joel Ruiz Butuyan offers an interesting commentary on the rich-poor divide in Philippine voting preference.

However, let's remember the facts, lest we gloss over the particularities of the Philippine electoral puzzle and uncritically join the prevailing “poor-blaming” syndrome sentiments and arguments from opinionated citizens, especially coming from so-called “netizens.”

In the recent Pulse Asia polls, note that Jojo Binay is not only the choice of the poor (classes D and E) for president in 2016, but he is also the leading choice of the upper and middle classes ABC in the national capital region, in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The question is why this is so. There's, of course, no single explanation for this since political and electoral issues are complex and convoluted.

If we looked into the electoral successes of Cory Aquino (which is actually an exception), Fidel Ramos, Erap Estrada, Gloria Arroyo, and Noynoy Aquino III, we could not really determine a single, unifying pattern that explains their respective victories since each has her/own specific electoral histories that cannot be reduced to mere “blame-the-poor” explanation. Besides, all these presidents were popularly elected across classes — particularly the funding and strategic campaign support from ABC, and the considerable votes and active street campaigning from DE.

What remain constant, however, in the Philippine context are:

  • [a] “money politics” (i.e., the use of and need for “money” to make electoral decisions and in winning elections); and
  • [b] “political dynasty” (in particular, the “resources” that political families have amassed over time and their “name-recall” advantage).

“Cheating” was considered an explanatory factor in the victories of Ramos and Arroyo. “Wealth” did not beat Ramos and Aquino III (cf. Danding Cojuangco and Manny Villar). “Popularity” did not beat Ramos and Arroyo (cf. Miriam Defensor Santiago and Fernando Poe). And, “machinery” did not beat Aquino, Ramos, Estrada, and Aquino III (cf. Ferdinand Marcos, Ramon Mitra, Jose de Venecia, and Gilbert Teodoro).

Yet, and because of the foregoing, we need to go deeper and beyond the simplistic rich-poor, or poor-nonpoor, binary class analysis which is already becoming trite, and insufficient in the argument to support the cause for political education and electoral reforms.

A different survey question than what we have become accustomed to can be useful to help contribute to an explanation of the current Binay puzzle and most importantly to understanding and raising people’s political consciousness. This will be a kind of survey that asks the qualities of candidates (i.e., the character, competencies, principles, and priority programs) and critical issues, rather than the names of candidates, that voters prefer.

If I had my way, and if we lived in ideal conditions, I'd prefer having this kind of surveys which will also prove helpful to our socio-political reform and nation-building processes. It will be like horse-racing ("karera ng kabayo") where competing horses do not know who is "llamado" and "dehado" in the bets so the horses just run and perform their best in the race.

Time and again, we know who benefits most, who the clients are, and whose interests personality-based surveys serve in the context of Philippine politics, specifically: the politicians themselves, political parties, political strategists, political funders, political investors, and religious blocs who are “llamadistas” or “siguristas”. But then the business of personality-based surveys is an institutionalized fixture of Philippine realpolitik and deeply ingrained on Filipino political culture.

Source: GMANews TV
Anyhow, the political-electoral problematique at this time is: Why, despite politically-deadly corruption charges and media campaigns against him and his family, Filipino voters still prefer Binay?  One explanation could be that we are doomed to choose in a bad list, namely: the allegedly corrupt Jojo Binay, the political neophyte Grace Poe, the convicted plunderer Erap Estrada, the accused human rights violator Rody Duterte, the political has-been Miriam Defensor Santiago, the trying-hard Mar Roxas, the dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos, or the Senaterror/ist Alan Peter Cayetano.

But there may also be something left unsaid in understanding Filipino voting preference emerging after decades of frustration in the post-Marcos, restoration-of-elite-democracy era. What intrigues me most as a student of “democratization processes and the political economy of development is whether Filipinos now have a different perspective and sensibility towards issues of “human rights” and “corruption”.

Filipino voters nowadays seem not to be interested in human rights despite the country’s dark history of dictatorship and its enduring features in the society.

But how about corruption? Do Filipinos now consider corruption as highly contextualized and culturally defined” — which is a perspective unpopular with the Good Governance” framework of multilateral organisations such as the World Bank, the OECD, and regional development banks, but well argued to be integral to the economic development history of the now-rich countries in the last 500 years from England and continental Europe to the US and East Asia recently? That it’s ok for elected state leaders to do some corruption (including the commissions, bribery, and rent-seeking that come with it) so long as they do something for infrastructure development and social welfare?

Would a Binay election be considered a failure of Aquino III’s “good governance” reform agenda? Or, will Binay be the greatest beneficiary of Aquino III’s “good governance” reform agenda?

The answer, I believe, lies on the extent of the Filipinos’ learning from history and the socio-economy we want for the future.

01 April 2015

Xi Jinping and China-Philippine Relations

Comment on Bloomberg News report: 

Henry Kissinger's advice on the South China Sea dispute: “Deng Xiaoping dealt with some of his problems by saying not every problem needs to be solved in the existing generation. Let’s perhaps wait for another generation but let’s not make it worse.”

For the Filipinos, we should perhaps follow this line: Let's hope and vote for the next administration that will be more diplomatic, strategic, and creative in relating with China.

With Xi Jinping's Chinese Dream of a 'one belt, one road' initiative for a new land and maritime silk road now taking off through the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), may the Philippines not miss out Chinese capital this time around in the same way we didn't benefit much from Japanese capital during the Plaza Accord in the mid-1980s.

It is better for the Philippines to be pragmatic about China's rise and understand well how global capitalism is unfolding now and in the (near) future. As usual for me, it's must be healthy mix of optimism and pessimism.

I think that the more China is demonised, the more it will be antagonistic in its thinking and action. I see it as 'a learning government', but still with so much entrenched political-business vested interests within the state and the domestic economy, as well as the felt and observed tendencies of its people towards having a superiority complex and immoderate sense of patriotism (if not, nationalism). No doubt that China means money on these initiatives with a view to what it perceives to its domestic or 'national interests'. Perhaps, to a great extent, China will become what the world makes it to become — thus, its neighbours have the considerable impact on how its future will be shaped.


Just by looking at the current structure of China's stage of development, whose high-tech industrialisation is in progress and still establishing itself as a regional power (arguably, not yet a global superpower), and Xi Jinping's resort to a proactive 'do something' foreign policy, I don't see it going to war in the South China Sea. China will only go to war as a defensive reaction response to any external threat and aggression (which could be instigated by the US). 

But then, we should also be wary of the importance of leadership in China, especially with Xi Jinping at the helm who's regarded as very powerful and influential in the same stature as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping. It seems that Xi Jinping is his own man, neither appointed by Deng nor any of his predecessors, who would like to chart his own legacy, who now governs a rich economy with strong military capabilities and the political clout that comes with these, and who enjoys the solid sources of power and authority coming from the party, government, and military combined. 

Henry Kissinger might have understood Deng Xiaoping well, but Xi Jinping is or may be a different character.

Thus, it may not be that easy to predict China's behaviour in the current context under Xi Jinping — though, thus far, I also see much more continuity than change in China's foreign policy from Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu Jintao. However, the Philippines can do very good in, and rely on the strategic importance and usefulness of, diplomacy.

Yet, more than anything else, the peoples of China and the Philippines should realise that the existing conflicts in the South China / West Philippine Sea is too important to be left to governments and their politicians. I am hopeful that with the travels and more exposure of the younger generation with each other, our relationships will be much more understanding, generous and harmonious. 

People-to-people interaction and cooperation is the best way to a sustainable peace and civilisational progress.

31 March 2015

Podemos and Left Politics in Europe

Comment on Giles Tremlett's article at The Guardian
Source: The Guardian

Viva Podemos!

Podemos, launched on my birthday 17th of January last year, will make history in Spain and Europe this year. It's a daring political experiment of the left, radical yet practical.

"Politics was like sex: you start off doing it badly, but learn with experience.” 

I just hope that we/Podemos are learning much from the recent and ongoing experience of Greece's Syriza in the plan to break away from austerity. The lesson, I think, is: The left should never underestimate the power of the Troika (the IMF, EU, and European Central Bank), the EU political-business elites, and Germany to enforce and sustain the status quo. Thus, there's a need for much more sophisticated strategy, organization and solidarity.

Longish, but a very good read for people interested in social movements, European politics, and how left activist-academics (inspired by Gramsci, Laclau and Mouffe) are putting ideas into practice....

27 March 2015

Finland's Dynamic Education System

Reflection on Pasi Sahlberg's essay at The Converssation

This is one of the many things that I am liking in the Finnish education system. Aside from putting high regard and social status to teachers, the country treats teaching as a 'dynamic' (rather than static) learning process. Now, Finland is again hitting international headlines with their new 'decentralised' experiment of 'phenomenon-based' learning and teaching through an 'interdisciplinary' approach.

It has now been a year since I've been given an opportunity to teach here in Finland. Though I teach at the higher/university education level (which is a different ballgame from the much appreciated basic/school education system in Finland), I always remind myself that the current generation of Finnish students enrolled in our master's programme have been products of the successful education reform process that Finland undertook since the 1990s — an education system and process that is substantially different in method and principle from what I had undergone. Moreover, our master's programme, where I am part of the core staff, at the University of Jyväskylä is an inter-faculty initiative that includes students and faculty members from the Faculty of Education, which is recognised as Finland's leading expert in teacher education and adult education, as well as a major exporter of education. 

Mindful of this dynamism in the teaching profession in Finland, during the last year I have audited many lectures on how teaching is done by colleagues and availed of the university's privilege for academic staff to allot some of our work hours for professional improvement by enrolling myself in several trainings as well as in some courses learning with students themselves in the same classroom. It's demanding for a fresh post-doctoral academic due to the very competitive condition of the profession these days especially for a foreigner in Europe's academia. But on second thought this is good — indeed, much better and desirable than being complacent, stale, sterile, or bored. 

The constant challenges of creativity, innovation, and change keep us on our toes. 

An interesting note here from Pasi Sahlberg: 
"You may wonder why Finland’s education authorities now insist that all schools must spend time on integration and phenomenon-based teaching when Finnish students’ test scores have been declining in the most recent international tests. The answer is that educators in Finland think, quite correctly, that schools should teach what young people need in their lives rather than try to bring national test scores back to where they were."

25 March 2015

Lee Kuan Yew and Lessons from Singapore's Development Experience

Comment on The Straits Times article:
'Mr. Lee Kuan Yew's Red Box' by Heng Swee Keat

The article is an interesting personal story of how the late authoritarian — 'benevolent dictator' to some, 'human rights violator' to others — Lee Kuan Yew had governed one of the most boring and repressive, yet economically successful, city-states in the world - Singapore....

Source: http://www.lee-kuan-yew.com
It isn't surprising why many Filipinos would rather have an authoritarian figure, even a dictator, again like LKY in the Philippines. This is an obvious indication of Filipinos' sheer frustration of the current state of affairs. After thirty years since the end of Marcos dictatorship, the promises of democratization have been hollow. Others, perhaps, are just ignorant of the particularities of Singapore's historical, political, and socio-economic dynamics and circumstances. 

Ironically, many Filipinos want to have disciplinarian leaders, but we do not even (want to) discipline ourselves. 

The development history of Singapore cannot be solely attributed to LKY's leadership. Workers have contributed tremendously to its development -- the impressive infrastructure of Singapore have been built by migrant workers, and many of the city's skilled workers and their children have been taken good care of household workers, many of whom from the Philippines and Indonesia. 

It's also important to note that the 'Chinese' population were already thriving on commerce, business, education, culture, and politics in colonial and post-independence Malaya. This, among other reasons, compelled Malay political elites to strategically expel Singapore from Malaysia to secure the dominance, and advance the interests, of ethnic Malays. Thus, it is not right to say that LKY built Singapore from scratch. 

The Singapore development experience cannot be replicated anymore. Not in or by the Philippines at this juncture. It has had its own historical specificities. 

  • One, Singapore has had, as what economists would call, a 'minimum efficient size', which has roughly the same land area as Metro Manila and only twice the population size of Quezon City.
  • Two, it pursued industrialization with a strong manufacturing sector at the time when Keynesian economics ruled the ethos of development strategy in the postwar era -- a favourable catching-up period to industrialise which Marcos and the Filipino elites failed to capture.
  • And many more....

However, there are some important lessons that the Philippines can draw from Singapore's economic development experience. 
  • First, do some serious planning for industrialization. Critical components of this strategy are: policy coordination; specialization in manufacturing, while designing the synergy between manufacturing, agriculture, services, and SMEs; and the prerequisite completion of land reform. NEDA and Philippine economic planners and managers since the 1960s would appear amateurs when compared to the serious planners and managers of Singapore, and even Malaysia.
  • Second, having a large public enterprise can be efficient and can be a national asset. Contrary to the claims by neoliberals and free marketeers, Singapore has large public enterprises which has been key to the country's economic success. Governments are not necessarily inefficient, and government intervention in the economy are not always bad.
  • Third, encourage the existence and organization of labour unions. At the level of Singapore's economic development, high wages have been realised not out of the benevolence of LKY's government or the generosity of businesses, but due to active negotiations and duly recognised activities of labour unions (even if these unions are state-orchestrated in the case of Singapore).
  • Fourth, FDIs and MNCs can and must be disciplined by the state. There are good and bad FDIs. Distinguish between greenfield and brownfield investments. Thus, the strategy of the state is to attract the good ones, and make them work towards the realization of the country's national and social goals. 

In short, here's my explanation to Singapore's successful "economic" development which may be emulated by developing economies like the Philippines: 'good' people + good institutions + good policies + good governance + good timing + good luck!

Yes, I must add, remember Philippines: 'development' and 'democracy' can be together! 
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