Our systems must change

Published June 5, 2021, 8:00 AM

by Manila Bulletin

A Moro IT software engineer’s view

By Zainal Limpao

I am a Moro, a member of the Maranao tribe, one of the 13 identified ethnolinguistic groups of Muslim Filipinos from Mindanao. I come from an academic family, my parents having been former university professors. These all made me realize that the Moro people had several independent but allied states some centuries back, until our ancestors were violently subdued by the American occupiers of the early 20th century. We continued to fight on for decades because we know our people deserve to exercise our right to self-determination. But being a realist and pragmatist myself, the closest and most viable approach is regional autonomy through the Bangsamoro Organic Law and later, with hope, full-fledged Federalism.

I was also once an activist, a national council member of the National Union of Students of the Philippines, which we all know is one of the many legal fronts of the Maoist-led National Democratic Movement of the Philippines. They wanted National Industrialization, a highly non-viable economic strategy in which the government would be tasked with setting up and managing manufacturing industries and their workers—the same government these “National Democrats” blatantly tag as “inefficient,” “corrupt,” and being “imperialist puppets.” Such an irony. They wanted to restrict the influx of foreign goods, services, and investments based on the ridiculously xenophobic premise that our local industry would die out because of unfair competition, something that has long been proven to be false by the experiences of poorer countries that later became more successful than ours. The society they envision for the Philippines is not the one I want, and their vision has been proven to be a total failure.

I can fairly say that I am a well-traveled person as a result of my job as an IT professional. The advantage in traveling for work is that one gets to immerse oneself within the respective working cultures of the countries one visits. Such experiences have overall proved to be in contrast with my experiences here in the Philippines. I have personally seen the wonders of the Three Point Agenda espoused by the CoRRECT Movement: Openness to FDI, the Parliamentary System, and Federalism.

If you’re familiar with the “Filipino First Policy” and look into it in detail, what it really means is “Rich Filipinos First Policy” because such a policy favors the wealthy business-capable Filipinos and not the ordinary workers such as myself. Let’s give a hypothetical scenario: Jesper Brodin, the CEO of Ingka Group, owner of IKEA, wants to start a mega IKEA franchise in the Philippines. But before he can establish and operate his business here, he needs to find a natural-born citizen of the Philippines or a group of Filipinos willing to shell out technically at least 50 percent more than what Brodin intends to invest. But if there are no interested rich Filipinos, there will be no IKEA in the Philippines at all and there would be no jobs created by an IKEA in the Philippines. How can this restrictive policy be of any good to our compatriots?

I worked and lived in Switzerland briefly as an IT consultant, and saw firsthand how an open economy can make wonders for its people. They have one of the best government policies when it comes to investments and trade. In the canton of Zug, for instance, there are more registered businesses than the number of actual residents. In return, this canton has one of the highest paying median salaries in the world, currently at $93,771 per year. Take note that I am referring to median salaries, so this includes construction workers, cleaning ladies, bus conductors, up to the rich Swiss residents of Zug. The country does not have natural resources capable of providing them an ample amount of money, unlike the Middle East and the Philippines. They purely rely on the inflows of local and foreign investments through their superb government policies, and the free trade treaties they engaged in before and after the two world wars. The quality of life of people is topnotch. Education is almost free from kindergarten to college, and healthcare is at par with Germany. They are so damn rich that their nannies and blue-collar workers are mostly citizens of other first world countries. Some naysayers might say that the ill-gotten wealth of crooks around the world, which they keep in their private banks, made the country rich, but Bermuda and Panama among others also are known for such, but are not as wealthy as Switzerland.

Then there are so many advantages for why parliamentary systems are superior to presidential systems and I could easily list a few. One is its being cost-effective. In order to become a President, you need to spend a lot. You need to pay media to air your electoral ads, pay your campaign managers and their teams from Batanes to Jolo (and Tawi-Tawi), roam around the country to become well known, dance along the way if necessary, make impossible promises to the people and, to some extent, buy votes. According to PCIJ, presidential candidates of 2016 spent a total of nearly one billion pesos on political ads alone between February and end of March 2016. 

In a parliamentary democracy setting, on the other hand, in order to lead the country, the process involved is extremely meritocratic and party-centric. Party voting is no different from our current party-list system, except that the Philippine party-list system has a three-seat cap. We all know that there have been many party-list members of Congress who didn’t spend that much during the campaign because their party-list has enough “name recall” among the people, as it is cheaper to popularize a party-list than to popularize individual candidates. 

DUAL FEDERALISM A layered cake of divided powers

Finally, with federalism, regions will be given the opportunity to design and shape their own fiscal policies. Again, I have personally witnessed this in Switzerland and in the US. One canton/state may decide to impose less taxes or offer more incentives for certain groups of people like senior citizens, or citizens with specific skills beneficial for the canton/state. Such schemes would attract the kinds of people they so desire to live and work in their respective region, and help their community to advance further. Subsequently, it will also attract not just workers but also businesses and investors to regions that provide them better motivations to do so. 

As it’s turning out, the Bangsamoro Region, with its parliamentary system and its higher level of autonomy set up through the Bangsamoro Organic Law, is making the region shine in many performance indices. This is indicative of the advantages that the adoption of a federal-parliamentary system will bring to all other regions when Federalism finally becomes a reality.

According to PCIJ, presidential candidates of 2016 spent a total of nearly one billion pesos for political ads alone between February and end of March 2016. 

We know that these three reforms: (1) Openness to Foreign Direct Investments, (2) Federalism, and (3) the Parliamentary System aren’t magic pills that would instantly make the Philippines a First World country. But historical facts and the experiences of other countries prove that these three systems, when working side by side with each other, will give our country a better fighting chance at improving. We need the true “Filipino First Policy” in the most pragmatic sense, by placing more and better opportunities in the hands of Filipinos, instead of making things hard for them because we read and interpret the “Filipino First Policy” in a wrong and selfish way.

If naysayers will continue to say “there is no guarantee for the Three Point Agenda to succeed,” then I say to them that we have had 75 years of bad experiences, 34 of the 75 being much worse, so why not try solutions that have caused other countries to become successful?

Zainal Limpao is a Maranao IT Consultant and Software Engineer who grew up in General Santos City. He speaks Cebuano, Ilonggo, Tagalog, and English. He has closely observed Federalism in his regular work travels to Switzerland, the US, and other countries which are using the systems he advocates.