By Edgardo J. Angara
The Philippines has had the longest representative government in Asia. In 1902, the Philippine Bill established an elected unicameral national assembly. And in 1916, the Jones Act created a Senate composed of senators elected from senatorial districts. That representative system continues to this day, with the exception of four years of Japanese occupation during World War II.
How come, despite the Filipinos’ experience in electoral democracy, we never made it economically? At one point, we were even branded as the “Sick Man of Asia.”
Where did we fail? When the United States of America pulled out in July 1946, the US military created war surplus depots in several locations where trucks, jeeps, generators, and other valuable equipment were deposited. Then Senate President Jose Avelino, whose island province of Samar had one of the largest depots, sounded the prevailing mood of the time: “What are we in power for?” For there were allegations that powerful people were looting the contents of the surplus depots.
To stop rampant corruption that energized the Communist insurgency whose armed component was called Huks under Luis Taruc, Ramon Magsaysay – the then defense secretary– ran and won as President. His winning Vice President was Senator Carlos P. Garcia of Bohol. President Magsaysay died in a plane crash in March, 1957.
In the presidential election of 1961, Pampanga Rep. Diosdado Macapagal won as President. In the 1965 presidential election, Senate President Ferdinand Marcos defeated President Diosdado Macapagal.
President Marcos won reelection in 1969. And two years later, he proclaimed martial rule that shuttered Congress, the media, and the political parties.
In February, 1985, People Power overthrew the Marcos one-man regime. Competitive elections returned in 1988 for Congress and in 1989 for local government. And that system has prevailed to this date. With one exception — as the traditional political parties disappeared, the era of political butterflies began.
Forbes recently published the 10 richest Filipinos for 2018. Their combined wealth totaled US$52.8 billion. The total wealth of ten Filipinos is larger than the assets of 30 million Filipinos.
The GINI coefficient of the Philippines is 0.49 using the 2015 Family Income and Expenditure Survey (FIES), according to Dean Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government. Compared with China, India, and most of Southeast Asia, the Philippines has a higher degree of inequality. Hence, the Philippines need to rebalance its development goals.
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