Among the many bizarre fixations of the writers and editors at Rappler, is a strange fixation on Russia. I found this out first hand when Rappler published seriously defamatory and damaging lies about me which falsely accused me of being associated with companies linked to the current Russian government. The reality of course is that whilst I support the pan-Asian aspirations of the Russian people, I support the political opposition in Russia, but this is beside the point in respect of this article.
The fact is that whilst there is a great deal to constructively criticise about multiple countries, including Russia, the reality of modern Russia is that the people are suffering not because of a lack of free speech but because of a lack of free markets. In this sense, the post-1987 Philippines and post-1991 Russia actually have a lot in common.
Since the beginning of the Yellow dominated period of post-Marcos Philippine politics and the end of the USSR which occurred only a few years later, neither The Philippines nor Russia have been able to secure, let alone master transparent free market practices.
Both the 1987 Philippine constitution and the 1993 Russian constitution were deeply inspired by the theories of technocratic Americans who remain fixated on the operational elements of the US constitution rather than the original letter and spirit of the early amendments to the US constitution which guaranteed limited government, free markets and free people. It is no wonder therefore that while both Russians and Filipinos have for a long while been able to say whatever they want, they have been restricted from achieving the living standards they deserve because of a supremely corrupt economic and political environment that is dictatorial in all but name.
The American technocrats of the 1980s and 1990s largely imposed their will on both The Philippines and Russia in order to create needlessly complicated political systems and accompanying bureaucracies which have been continually exploited by politicians and business oligarchs who stand to lose a great deal if a genuine anti-corruption free market environment was able to be consecrated. Make no mistake, free markets cannot function in societies with endemic corruption and this is why both The Philippines and Russia made a similar mistake in so far as both assumed the opposite to be true. While Russians in the 1990s and Filipinos in the late 1980s embraced systematic political change, they neglected economic modernisation and both countries have suffered endlessly as a result.
As a result, the Russia of the 1990s became not a free market but a country in which a small group of mainly former black marketeers pirated and plundered the national resources of the country with the devious approval of politicians and bureaucrats who received monetary kickbacks for their crimes against the Russian people. In The Philippines, the Marcos years gave way to decades of competing families of political and business oligarchs (whose mini-reigns of terror often overlapped) who have consistently conspired to prevent the people from enjoying the kind of economic openness that Singapore pioneered beginning in the 1960s and that mainland China has remained committed to ever since Deng Xiaoping’s Reform and Opening Up of 1978.
The result is that while Singapore remains a country built upon a commitment to a free market, a market whose regulations are aimed not at stifling creativity but stifling corruption and avarice, and a parliamentary political system which has been successful at maintaining both effective and efficient government, The Philippines prior to the arrival of Rodrigo Duterte remained little more than a warm water version of 1990s Russia. Sadly, Duterte’s opponents who exhibit the ‘Rappler mentality’ seek to return The Philippines to a model that mirrors that of 1990s Russia.
Rodrigo Duterte has not only realised but has articulated the nature of and solutions to all of the main problems in The Philippines that he inherited upon his election in 2016. The following is a summary of how Duterteism is currently transforming The Philippines in multiple positive ways:
–Economic modernisation and reform
–Infrastructure modernisation that will create both short and long term employment opportunities (aka Build, Build, Build)
–Tax reform and anti-bureaucratic simplification designed to increasing tax collecting efficiency among the super rich (aka the oligarchs) while easing the burden on a middle class that can expand though tax reductions and entrepreneurial incentives
–Public health in areas ranging from a universal health initiative to anti-drug programmes
–Expanding educational opportunities and securing a better income for qualified teachers
–Safe streets initiatives including a clamp down on the sale, trafficking and use of narcotics
An anti-corruption drive among elected officials, judges, police and un-elected bureaucrats
–A non-aligned foreign policy which seeks to build new partnerships while transforming old zero-sum partnerships into win-win relationships
–A commitment to disassociated The Philippines from any and all regional warfare that does not directly involve a threat to Philippine security
–De-esclation of tensions in disputed maritime regions aimed at securing peace through prosperity
–Fighting terror in Mindanao through the combination of political autonomy (Bangsamoro Organic Law) and a robust military response to both “religious” (Abu Sayyaf) and communist extremists
–Constitutional reforms including a shift to federalism, economic openness and ideally, also parliamentary reform
And yet because Duterte has remains steadfast in transforming The Philippines from a backward, broken economic system into a dynamic and modern one, those defending the old broken system have resorted to making up scandalous lies about Duterte, including the allegation that he has somehow limited free speech. This false allegation can be easily disproved by one look at major websites and newspapers which operate freely and openly in The Philippines – media outlets that are both crudely and often bizarrely critical of Duterte’s supporters and of Duterte himself.
But while there is free speech in The Philippines, like there is in Singapore, patriotic Filipinos ought to learn from Singapore that an atmosphere in which the media can tell specific lies about individuals or organisations and get away with it, simply cannot be tolerated.
Last year, Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong sued an author called Leong Sze Hian for libel. The case is ongoing in Singapore’s justice system and therefore Eurasia Future will refrain from commenting on the merits of the case until the matter is settled. However, the very fact that Singapore’s Prime Minister sought to hold Leong to account over the matter of defending his honest reputation, indicates that in Singapore, truth regarding individuals and their public reputations is taken very seriously.
In The Philippines, honesty among journalists had not been taken as seriously in the past as it has been in Singapore, even though today, that may be changing. This week, the Philippine Department of Justice indicted Rappler’s CEO and one of her former colleagues on libel charges relating to a defamatory publication dating back to 2012 which attacked the reputation businessman Wilfredo D. Keng.
This move by the Department of Justice will hopefully establish a new trend in which the free speech of journalists in respect of voicing their opinions and presenting the facts will be balanced by a tough crack down on those who tell harmful lies about alleged activities of innocent people and institutions.
Singapore’s founder Lee Kuan Yew famously warned of the dangers inherent in the confrontational attitude of the Philippine media and political landscape in the 1980s, saying that such an atmosphere is not conducive to the kinds of problem solving techniques required to build a modern Asian economy. He further cautioned against an overtly Americanised model that may just about work in already wealthy developed nations, but which do not serve the needs of the developing world where cooperative problem solving in the service of national economic development is far more crucial than a confrontational political atmosphere which favours competing interests over finding workable solutions to universal problems which effect all citizens.
Lee was well aware of the difference between a free and healthy exchange of information within the framework of an open market of ideas and a hostile media landscape in which liars are praised whilst those damaged by lies can be perpetually victimised and have their lives destroyed by vicious individuals in the media.
Thus, Duterte’s Philippines seems to be getting the balance right, although there is far more work to be done. If people like myself can still have malicious lies published about them in anti-Duterte media outlets operating in The Philippines, it is clear that not only does speech remain free in The Philippines, but that in respect of policing defamatory lies, the country still is lagging behind some other ASEAN members, including Singapore.
Overall, the main challenge for The Philippines remains one of economic modernisation and this means transitioning to a new constitution that forsakes harmful restrictions to Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), whilst simultaneously doing away with a corruption prone and deadlock prone presidential system in order to replace it with a more smooth running and more straight forward parliamentary system. Finally, by federalising The Philippines, the wealth of the country can be more fairly distributed, thus ending the tyranny of ‘Imperial Manila’.
The Rappler mentality is one which not only opposes Duterte and Duterte’s supporters, but it is wholly opposed to Duterteism and the kinds of reform advocated by the forward thinking CoRRECT Movement. As the political antithesis to Duterteism is the all too Russian political and economic system that developed in The Philippines since 1987, it seems the only real Philippine connection to Russia among commentators on Philippine politics, lies among those who want The Philippines to perpetually remain as backward as Russia became in the 1990s.