is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:
The World Trade Organization issued its findings, long awaited, on the Airbus dispute. While your Trade Tripper would normally leap at the opportunity to write about the intricacies of that case, nevertheless, quite frankly, his interest lies in the matter involving the Philippines, Thailand, and cigarettes. So, in the meantime, while the ruling for that case is still not out, let’s talk about a word that people seem to be bandying about nowadays: unity.
Of course, since the elections are over, the winners are evoking (nay, demanding) unity from everybody. There is nothing wrong with unity, mind you. If people can all work together then the better. This country needs every help it can get. If this new government of ours would widen its bench and get the very best people in the service of our country, regardless of family or social background, that would be quite historic in itself and would go a long way toward our being a better country.
However, unity can only go so far. And it shouldn’t be at the expense of compromising on one’s beliefs. While supposed political sophisticates tell us to take campaign promises with a grain of salt; I, on the other hand, would still like to think that words matter. That when a man says something, he should take responsibility for his words, mean what he says, and do what he said. A person who would compromise on his beliefs can absolutely be relied upon, sooner or later, to betray his friends, government, or country. We’ve long had too many people in government and business whose words have less value than cow poop.
Abraham Lincoln’s "team of rivals" concept got a big amount of airplay last year. The idea behind it was to tap the deepest possible talent available for public office. However, note that it did not require those chosen to compromise on their beliefs. In fact, they were precisely chosen because they had taken positions contrary to Lincoln and were thus expected to create tension, more profound discussions, and creativity in the making of positions or policy while in government. This, of course, presupposes that those appointed are not only people of strong character but, equally important, of strong beliefs. The problem with any government, particularly for this new government of ours, is to fashion a team out of like-minded individuals, chosen more for their political savvy or loyalty, and -- definitely disastrously -- without any strong belief in anything whatsoever except their own personal interests.
The other concept of unity that should be considered is unity in beliefs, which then translate to unity in policies and programs. For far so long we have been making laws or measures that are the national government’s version of the little Dutch boy and the dam. They are just stopgap measures looking no further than the near term, without any view whatsoever to the overall cohesion of the laws, and without considering if such laws be actually reflective of our values, culture, history, and aspirations.
Thus, we find our government coffers empty and so we impose a new tax. Our trading partners get interested in trade agreements, so we have to join them as well. Some NGO gets fresh foreign funding to advocate for something about the environment, we make laws on the environment. A human rights lawyers group wants to make a name for themselves, some pointless human rights law is legislated. All this without determining what the consequences are, how such laws are to be implemented or enforced, and how they actually serve overall national interests.
This is not how a responsible government should work and definitely not how a mature country acts. We, our leaders and ordinary citizens, should have a clear idea of what kind of country we want to be. Are we a country that holds family values dear or do we adhere to the values of more liberal societies? Do we believe that a stronger country would result from our local communities being enhanced or do we think that national institutions are to be developed? Do we go for a more welfare, patristic society, or one that encourages individual merit or talent? We have to act like a country rather than the bi-polar schizo group of islands we’ve been for decades.
To do this, our laws must have cohesion: our tax laws are related to education which in turn is related to trade policy which in turn is related to our criminal laws and which in turn is related to health policy which in turn is related to national defense and security. They are connected. And they must be cohesive, unified. And we can do that if we are not confused with what we want, with what kind of country we want to be.
That’s the kind of unity I want. And that, I believe, is what will lead to the change we need.