Nationalism, Development And Democracy: Foundations Of Philippine Foreign Policy

by David O.D. Wurfel

The military security and economic development of the Philippines are common goals of Philippine and American policy. It is thus appropriate that the two peoples adjust their policies to achieve these goals. Military alliances and bases agreements, trade pacts and foreign investment laws are the techniques of adjustment in these areas.

But neither of these goals can be reached without popular, stable and effective government, i.e. unless Philippine democratic institutions are broadened and strengthened to meet the increasing demands upon them. That broadening and strengthening means, at least, more dynamic efforts for social reform and a cleansing of administrative and electoral processes. In fact, the preservation of Filipino democracy is and should be the primary goal of the policies of both the American and Philippine governments. Nowhere in the world is America’s historical stake in the success of another country’s governmental system greater. Military security and economic development, then, must be seen as secondary or intermediary goals as means to this end and be evaluated in these terms. When preservation of American military or economic interest in the Philippines becomes the primary goals of U. S. policy, to which other considerations become subordinate, then Philippine democracy—and what is left of America’s image as a friend of democracy—may be doomed.

Not only should we view military and economic policy as means to a broader end, but it must be pointed out that neither military security nor economic development in the Philippines can be achieved unless major steps are taken toward a more representative and more effective democracy there. Some of the major obstacles to more rapid economic development today are political. General Moorman has pointed out (and it should not need repeating) that the causes, as well as the cures, of insurgency are predominantly political, too.

The irony for America today is that it is becoming more difficult to play a positive role in the building of Philippine democracy than it is to contribute to the subsidiary goals of military security and economic development. Trade, intergovernmental loans, and military pacts are traditionally in the realm of interstate relations. The development of political institutions, however, falls within the classic domain of “domestic jurisdiction,” now defended with renewed vigor by rising nationalism.

Mr. Marcos has pointed to another element of inconsistency between the two factors: “Even heroic national exertions may yet leave between success and failure, between poverty and prosperity, a vital margin—the economic gap which only assistance from outside can fill at this stage. [but]… foreign aid, though needed and desired, must be extended without the harsh demands that remind Asia of its past enslavement and with some sophistication, if not idealism, in ways compatible with Asian nationalism.” This is good advice, and many unnecessary irritants in foreign aid administration can be avoided if problems are approached in this spirit. But there still may be inherent conflicts between the fullest expression of nationalism and the most effective aid to economic development. For instance, if aid is to be directed at the most crucial gaps and productive of the most beneficial results, the aid giver must often be involved in the decision-making process in a way which displeases the most sensitive nationalists. Even “strings” in the best interests of the recipient will often be resisted, even if it should mean losing much needed capital for development. The new nationalism quite naturally is a jealous guard of its definition of sovereignty.

Nationalism is, in fact, both a corollary and a prerequisite of Philippine democratic development. The most important dimension of political development in the Philippines, and in other relatively new states, is nation building. A sense of national unity within and a confident national identity when facing outward are essential for democratic growth. Nationalism may also be a direct stimulus to economic progress, a spur to indigenous effort. As President Marcos put it in his address before the U. S. Congress, “Maximum self-help should be [the]watchword, dictated as much by self-respect as by sheer necessity.”

But the relationship between these two great values of modern Asia—nationalism and democratic development—is not always positive. National pride and the psychological need for recognition may entice nationalist leaders into vast expenditures which hinder, rather than assist, the development process. Sukarno’s stadiums are a classic case in point. Furthermore, nationalism may be used to justify the suppression of individual or minority group rights—a phenomena found even in recent American history.

Before 1946, of course, the United States had two generations in which to contribute to both political and economic development in the Philippines without such handicaps, and in fact, a great deal was accomplished. The best ideas in American education and administration—as well as new technology—were exported to the Philippines, often by dedicated public servants. Likewise the early introduction of the electoral process has led to a Filipino style of politics unique in Asia. Nevertheless, the U. S. failed to stimulate the diversity of economic interests or to insure the breadth of opportunity which could have averted the periodic appearance of a dangerous degree of social unrest arising from the injustices of a landlord-dominated society. Mass participation in politics has not altered a policy process effectively manipulated by the large landowners or the great commercial houses.

When the Huks pounded at the gates of Manila in 1950, social reforms, as well as greater administrative integrity, were recognized as urgent prerequisites to the preservation of Philippine democracy. This urgency was expressed in the language of the Bell Report which was compiled by a Survey Mission sent out by President Truman to assess both the need for American aid and for Filipino action~ The. Report recommended the latter as well as the former by insisting that aid be “strictly conditioned on steps being taken by the Philippine Government to carry out the Report’s recommendations,” In some fields this approach was productive. In some of the most decisive policy areas, however, legislative expressions were accepted as substitutes for fully implemented programs. But by 1956 the rise of nationalism had made even the 1950 level of American involvement in Filipino policy making unacceptable. And the political restraints on the American role in Manila today are even greater than in 1956.

Nevertheless, despite the limitations which — rightfu11y — surround American policy designed to promote more democratic development, the goal itself cannot be downgraded in the roster of American priorities. Since Philippine independence certain American financed programs have made lasting contributions to the strengthening of Philippine democracy, and some have been continued until the present. Community development, for example, has been the major stimulus to the growth of barrio self-government. Elected barrio councils would, in most instances, not be functioning as well as they are today were it not for the assistance received from CD workers. There can hardly be dissent from the proposition that local self-government is an important foundation stone of national democracy. The Philippines in the last decade has developed from a condition in which there was almost no village-level autonomy to one in which barrio councils have not only changed the entire atmosphere of politics at the rice roots but are also affecting national campaigning practices. Some Filipino leaders are pressing for still further local autonomy, and eventually will probably get it. This is a movement with powerful potential. But an important stimulus at the outset was American-financed and advised Community Development. American support for CD has declined in recent years, coupled by decline in Filipino leadership of the government program. Stress on the “Food for Peace” financed se1f help projects in the recent Philippine-American joint communique is thus encouraging. Fortunately for the Philippines, the vagaries of the government program have been supplemented by a small, but steadily growing private effort, Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.

Present AID projects are concentrating on assistance at the provincial level. Certainly provincial government needs reinvigorating, and these programs will provide a boost. Insofar as economic aid concentrates exclusively on improvement of production, however, it may make little contribution to the strengthening of democracy. It may be easier politically to reach bi-nationa1 decisions on such a program, but production increases within the framework of inequality could even widen the gap between rich and poor and thus stimulate unrest. There is a real danger that American-aided projects may, in time, come to fall exclusively in this category.

It is most unlikely that the nationalistic climate in the Philippines will again permit a Quirino-Foster type agreement specifying that all aid projects be subject to “continued supervision and control” of U.S. officials. Philippine officers of PHILCUSA, (Philippine Council on U. S. Aid, the Philippine counterpart of AID) are now pressing for the elimination of much of the present tangle of AID red tape. Nor, given the rising technical competence of the Philippine bureaucracy, is American supervision-much less control—as justifiable as previously.

However, this does not mean that no conditions on the granting of aid are either feasible or proper. Conditions which are designed to enhance the effectiveness of aid and which do not impair the sovereignty of the recipient are always proper, e.g. those to stimulate maximum domestic effort. The principle of maximum self-help has been enunciated by President Marcos himself. It is embodied in the Alliance for Progress. It would be imminently appropriate, therefore, for certain standards of performance to be expected of the Philippine government before the commitment of additional U. S. aid funds for certain projects. (Though certainly the carrot must provide a credible symbol of more bushels to come if it is to provide any incentive—unlike the present situation in regard to Philippine land reform.) This was a principle perhaps spelled out too blatantly in 1950. And in retrospect there is some doubt about the saliency of the requirements made of the Filipinos in the Quirino-Foster agreement. But the principle is still good.

Today the levels of Philippine government revenue are, in relation to GNP, woefully deficient. Consequently many infrastructure projects which government should undertake are lagging. President Marcos has shown commendable determination in his attempts to reduce smuggling and raise excise and tariff revenue. But in this and other areas of revenue administration there is still much to be done. At the moment no new taxes are necessary, but stronger regulations regarding enforcement are very much needed. Land tax collection is incredibly poor in some provinces. And yet there is not even a criminal penalty on the books for the failure of a landowner to register his land for tax purposes. In practice the burden of the land tax falls on the small owner without strong political connections.

Reasonable improvement in revenue collection is thus one performance standard which might be established as a prerequisite to new American commitment in some fields. The manner in which such expectations are conveyed to Filipino leaders would be crucial, however. Cultural sensitivity is a sine qua non of a sophisticated U. S. aid policy, especially one designed to nudge Filipino leaders toward reform.

To paraphrase President Marcos, “The crux of the problem is to use American wealth effectively in Asia in terms acceptable to Asian nationalism.” It is relatively simple to use our wealth acceptably, whether or not it furthered democratic development. Nor is it difficult to draw up blueprints of superb projects which would quickly be rejected by Filipinos or other Asian nationalist leaders. For us the dilemma is that we must try to meet both requirements simultaneously. The problem is not insoluable, but the solution is not easy.

If the U. S. should be content to support programs merely because they are acceptable to Filipino leaders in power, we run the risk of reproducing tragic events in other parts of Asia or Latin America, for which we share some responsibility. The experience of American aid and its effect on the political processes of recipient governments has been that leaders in power tend to be strengthened and their responsiveness to demands upon them by underprivileged groups in the society tends to diminish. There is less of a feeling within the elite that social reform is in their interest, and the result is often social unrest. Vietnam is a case in point. Thus if the consequences of aid are to be a more progressive and representative democracy, and not less, the U. S. must urge reform on the very government is has strengthened.

And the reform most urgent in the Philippines today is agrarian.

Expanded civic action programs by the military might appear to some as a commendable effort to head off unrest. Yet any increase in the role of the military will increase the sense of security of the elite and reduce the likelihood of basic reform which could solve long-term social problems. Furthermore, this is precisely the kind of program which draws the military more and more into the political process, which could be disastrous if it led to the frustration of military leaders by civilian incompetence.

A revival of agrarian unrest in the Philippines is now a fact—the inevitable consequence of much propaganda about reform and little implementation. The ambush slaying of a Pampanga mayor by a Huk band in July confirmed earlier suspicions. Greater social justice must become a reality if the 1950’s are not to be relived. Communist subversion is not primarily the product of an international grand design but a skillful reaction to local conditions.

The counterpoint of nationalism, democracy and economic development also pose a dilemma for the Philippines and her emerging Asian role. An apparently vigorous democracy is the most attractive asset which the Philippines has as she attempts to step into a position of leadership in Asia. It is an asset which cannot be preserved without sacrifice by those in power. Perhaps U. S. aid and encouragement may provide the margin which needs to be added to that sacrifice to achieve success. But if the Filipino elite seek too much American assistance in order to speed economic development, they will have lost the image necessary for Asian leadership!

The image which the Philippines must establish among her neighbors is that of complete independence of the U. S. That the U. S. S. R. should have a different view—and thus withhold recognition—is of no significance. But what is significant is that there are many non-Communist Asian leaders, much more subtle in their manner of expression, who are not above similar suspicions. I have had the fascinating opportunity of viewing the Philippines through Indian, Japanese, Malaysian and Vietnamese eyes. The view is often uninformed and usually quite critical. It is assumed by many that Filipino initiative counter to American policy is not possible. Though we know this view is wrong, the more important the donor-recipient relationship between the U. S. and the Philippines, the more difficult it is to correct. This is by no means an argument for ending U. S. aid, but contributes to the setting of optimal limits.

After a successful bid to increase U. S. aid to the Philippines—and after calling a conference which so exquisitely suits the needs of the Johnson administration—it is not surprising that the Marcos administration feels strong pressure to do something startling and innovative at their own conference.

While Filipino leaders have not yet been able to “see ‘emselves as others see ‘em,” they are learning.

If the furbishing of an Asian image should become of primary importance to Filipino leaders, however, as it already has to some Filipino intellectuals, they might resist the pressures or refuse the assistance from the U. S. which could be crucial for the future of Filipino democratic institutions. A few Filipino nationalists would probably not regret the establishment of a more centralized and authoritarian regime, but most of this group would not admit that such a development might result from an exclusive obeisance to nationalist pride. A nationalism which truly inspires the leadership to new dedication and effort, especially social and administrative reform, could largely compensate for a loss of foreign economic and technical assistance. But a number of those nationalists who reject reform if proposed by Americans are not so inspired.

Philippine democracy cannot only enhance her Asian role, however, it too may provide handicaps to effective diplomacy. The rough and tumble competition of Philippine politics—in one sense an indication of health in the system—the open policy process, and the tendency to use foreign policy to play to domestic audiences—not unheard of in the U. S.—all conspire to make rational formulation and skillful execution of foreign policy difficult. These are not peculiar problems for the Philippines, of course, but are common to young democracies. Political considerations intrude on all levels of diplomatic appointments, lowering the average competence and preventing the growth of diplomatic esprit de corps. In fact, the excellent work that some of the outstanding Filipino diplomatic representatives abroad are able to do is especially remarkable, in view of the constant interference they have from politicians.

The extent of corruption in some segments of Philippine bureaucracy, which is related to the highly competitive elections, also helps to damage the Philippines’ international reputation. The situation at the Manila piers disgusts those engaged in world trade, Asian as well as American. The Japanese people have had their image of the Philippines molded in large part by irregularities in the Reparations Mission in Tokyo. The Filipino handling of the Borneo claim has likewise shaped the attitudes of many Malaysians.

Yet these problems can only be solved in the context of a general maturing of the Philippine democratic system. And this can only be gradual. Abandonment of democracy might solve some of these problems, but it would be a terrible price to pay for their solution.

In sum, nationalism has improved the chances for success of Philippine nation building and thus of democratic development. It may, however, in some respects be a handicap. Nationalism impedes the ability of the U. S. to assist that development. And democracy itself may not be entirely beneficial to the Filipinos’ efforts to play a more prominent diplomatic role.

But our commitment to Philippine democracy, and that of Filipino leaders, should be no less firm. Nor should we be any less willing to recognize the essential validity of Filipino nationalism. Incumbent upon us is the obligation to use all of our ingenuity and resources to devise methods of transferring our best experience, utilizing our power, so as to support stable, democratic growth—and still have our policy acceptable to Asian nationalism.

Categories Philippines, Foreign policy