The promise of “walang korup, walang mahirap (Without corruption, there will be no poverty)” is a false one. It was a nice campaign slogan of President Aquino, who effectively used it to distinguish himself from the unpopular former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, perceived to be highly corrupt.
I agree with the sociologist Randy David who wrote: “But, I have always wondered if ‘daang matuwid’ contains an adequate analysis of the problems and challenges that the nation faces in the modern world. Or, whether it defines a clear set of objectives and priorities against which one can objectively measure the Aquino administration’s accomplishments.
“Its accompanying slogan, ‘Kung walang korap, walang mahirap (Without corruption, there will be no poverty),’ is pleasing to the ears but is misleading, to say the least. It reduces the complex problem of poverty to an issue of corrupt governance. I doubt if enough empirical evidence can be marshalled to support this bold cause-and-effect proposition. At most, corruption might be shown to aggravate poverty, but, surely, it cannot be its principal cause.
“But, more than this, a formulation of this kind, when made to guide development strategy, tends to focus too much attention on compliance with existing indicators of good governance, and too little on the underlying structural causes of slow and uneven economic growth. It allows multilateral institutions to gloss over the deeper and broader roots of persistent underdevelopment, even as they deploy their governance experts to lecture countries like ours on the imperatives and ‘best practices’ of good governance.”
But why use it, if it’s essentially a lie?
For one thing, it plays to the mantra of the World Bank and other multilateral organizations about “good governance.” It’s another nostrum in the long list of failed nostrums coming from Western institutions.
Before, it was the Washington Consensus of “stabilize, privatize, liberalize.” Russia, Argentina, and other Latin American countries followed that nostrum and they ended up as either basket cases or stagnating economies.
For another thing, it allows the political class to paper over the politically unpopular but necessary structural reforms: liberalizing the economy, primarily by removing the foreign ownership restrictions in the Constitution (which will hurt the monopolists and protectionists); modernizing the labor code by focusing on labor productivity rather than minimum wages and labor security (which will arouse the ire of the politically noisy leftist demagogues and labor unions); dismantling the National Food Authority (NFA) monopoly and liberalizing rice importation (which would disrupt the business of the grafters in NFA and the Department of Agriculture); ending Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (which hurts the business of nongovernment organizations and the Department of Agrarian Reform); and professionalizing the bureaucracy (which would lessen the number of political appointees).
Daang Matuwid is therefore a shallow formulation or a misdirection, if you will.
It doesn’t address the real causes of poverty and underdevelopment. The governing party says it wants 20 more years of Daang Matuwid for the Philippines. If that is so, then God have mercy on the poor in the Philippines for surely they will multiply.
Besides, it’s doubtful if even the first promise of “walang korup” (no corruption) has been fulfilled. As Senator Sergio Osmena III said, “In certain areas, like his [Aquino’s] integrity, bibigyan ko siya ng A. Ngunit ang mahirap, nalalaman ng taumbayan na ang nakapaligid sa kanya ay mga corrupt. Idenedepensa pa n’ya, hindi pinalalabas ang mga kabahuan nila. (I would give Aquino an A. But it’s difficult because the people know he is surrounded by corrupt officials. He would even defend them and shield them from criticisms),”
One can even argue that since Daang Matuwid is applied asymmetrically, it is being used to eliminate the anti-yellow opposition as former President Marcos used martial law to eliminate the Ninoy Aquino-led faction. Daang Matuwid is therefore about political power, and never about eliminating poverty.
Daang Matuwid also papers over the issue of competence. It’s possible to have no corruption if an airport doesn’t get built, but does the inability to build the airport lessen poverty and create jobs?
It doesn’t mean that corruption is not an issue. It is, especially to the middle-class fixed income earners, who pay the majority of taxes in the country and who compromise the noisy netizens complaining about corruption. However, reducing corruption will not necessarily solve the problem of poverty, which is the issue important to most Filipinos.
The central challenge of our time is eradicating poverty. The Filipino people deserve something better from the next president than false nostrums on how to achieve inclusive economic growth.
[*] This article first appeared in Business World. And was written by: Calixto V. Chikiamco. Who is a board director of the Institute for Development and Econometric Analysis.