Big Business versus President Duterte
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - January 27, 2020 - 12:00am

By the mid-1960s, as information officer of the Colombo Plan Bureau, I had already travelled extensively in the Asian region, and being an old journalist interested in history and modernization, I had seen many of these Asian countries  strive to break away from the barnacled attitudes nurtured by tradition. 

The Philippines was far ahead of almost all these countries and had most of the comforts and privileges that were taken for granted in western countries – comforts were, of course, available mainly to the middle classes and the rich in this period, and poverty was already a way of life for many Filipinos particularly the landless in the rural areas.

Filipino economists were, however, very optimistic, and I remember the late Amado Castro proudly proclaiming that we were in the takeoff stage.

It was at this time that the groundwork for the building of the Asian Institute of Management was being laid.  I had an occasion to discuss this project with two of its founders, the late Washington Sycip and Dr. Puey Ungphakorn, the Central Bank Governor of Thailand, who was introduced to me by the Siamese writer, Sulak Sivaraksa. Dr. Puey was an economist trained in London, and like most Asian intellectuals who studied in London, he was basically influenced by Fabian socialist ideas. I voiced my apprehension then that an institution like the Asian Institute of Management (AIM) might not end up alleviating poverty but worsen it instead, and make the rich even richer. It was important what I said for such an institution, if it was going to train managers, and if it was going to have its syllabus: social goals that must be promoted with an emphasis on nationalism as well.

Dr. Puey agreed with me. In a region that has yet to be free from the stultifying shackles of colonialism, such motives should be the foundation of economic development, crucial components in the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills. Soon after, I also published a book on business, case studies titled: The Management of Men; (the book was reprinted, in toto, by a military officer without my permission – one of the injustices committed during the martial law years). It was a fitting guide for business managers.

The other month, I was in the Institute to attend its annual graduation ceremonies and the conferment of an honorary doctorate on former Ombudsman and current chairman of Akademyang Filipino, Conchita Carpio Morales. Her address was, I am happy to say, almost an elaboration of what I had discussed decades ago with Wash Sycip and Dr. Puey.  In her usual erudite and candid exposition, Dr. Morales presented a litany of abuses committed by big business in the country, and she traced our dysfunctional institutions to the pervasive corruption and absence of social responsibility in big business.  Our experience, however, is not unique.

Through much of history, governments (the state) and big business had a symbiotic relationship. The Kings of Europe depended on the rich and the banks to finance their wars with one another and their compulsive reach for empire. In more recent times Hitler’s power was enhanced by his partnership with German industrialists who built his war machine and also the people’s car – the Volkswagen that became popular all over the world. Japan’s MITI (Ministry of Trade and Industry) was created precisely to promote and monitor Japan’s economic surge after World War II, and President Eisenhower warned Americans about the powerful military industrial complex. As always, big business profited from war. Business, alone, and commerce have never produced an egalitarian society. It was up to the people and their longing for justice and the state to create this.

In that famous novel, The Leopard by Giuseppe, Lampedusa, Tancredi tells his Prince, to be where we are, we have to change. The law of life is change. To remain as elites, the elites must change or they will vanish. This is obvious in our recent history – the old sugar elite that manipulated our politics is gone. They did not train their heirs to change themselves as time itself changes.

It is seldom that our businessmen are confronted with their sins which impact and afflict the entire society itself. We must now appraise our highest institutions of learning, not only AIM which offer courses to economics and business. Have they promoted social justice and nationalism? This is not difficult to quantify. The sorry evidence is all around us.

We look back and may even conclude that virtue is not all that important. The men who built the American empire exploited the workers and raped their lands; but they also built railroads, factories, and established great universities and philanthropic foundations.

Change is demanded not only by social responsibility. We know only too well that corporations are not duty-bound to be loyal to society or a nation because their primary loyalty is to their stockholders. It is therefore the duty of the state or government to protect society from marauding corporate leaders and bankers who abuse their economic power to gain more power. Their greed must be contained.

In confronting the oligarchy, President Duterte must now be more determined and aggressive in this confrontation for the benefit of the Filipino people. The records are there, and he must now examine the unpaid loans given to the wealthy by government lending institutions and re-examine how contracts were taken over by the favorites of politicians. I would like to see the tax base in this country enlarged so that the wealthy do not become richer. 

I propose that the churches and all religious institutions should also be taxed. I would like to see sanctions against tax evaders enacted and tax evaders prosecuted. To my knowledge there has never been a billionaire who has been punished for tax evasion. President Duterte has three more years to make these changes and justify his popularity.

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