Going Right: The need for a conservative movement in the Philippines

my Trade Tripper column in the 6-7 May 2016 issue of BusinessWorld:

In three days, this country votes for its next president. Whatever the results (which could only be “change” of idiotically disastrous proportions or a continuation of our present incompetent course or perhaps -- miracle of miracles -- one of a steadier tone of government), there is a need for our politics to be reasoned, less hysterical, and more fact-based. A good start would be to promote the counter-balancing thought of “conservatism.”

I say “counter-balancing” because this country, by culture and by law and policy, have leaned towards the “Left” ever since the Third Republic was born.

Reared and suckled by the “New Deal”, “Camelot”, and the “Great Society”, our country’s compass oriented towards the “parens patriae”, of government being the benevolent father taking care of the “children” (i.e., us citizens).

One sees the foregoing in our labor laws, welfare policies, the incredibly bloated budget and bureaucracy, the patriarchal local government, the monarchical office of the president, and even with regard to business and the economy, as well as defense.

The irony here is that while our politics and governance may have veered towards the Left, with our government institutions, media, and the academe dominated by its thought and attitude, our Constitution is intrinsically conservative at its core.

The concept of rights (found primarily in the Bill of Rights), the need to uphold the “common good”, and the principle of “subsidiarity” (most ostensibly found in the local government provisions) are fundamental conservative principles.

Conservatism has been derided as the “stupid party” (a comment attributed to John Stuart Mill). However, the statement’s credibility goes not against the label’s target but rather on those using it.

For the Left has always resorted to name-calling to hide its shallowness, degenerating with their repeated failures disguised by the mere trick of changing their nomenclatures: abortion is never abortion, it is pro-choice; global warming morphed into climate change; and changing its branding from communism to radical activists to socialists to liberals and now “progressives.”

But it is conservatism that has always seen the richest of thought come into play, starting from the 1950’s onwards, with intellectual godfathers such as Friedrich Hayek, William F. Buckley, Jr., Ludwig von Mises, Russel Kirk, Whittaker Chambers, and James Burnham.

Conservatism’s beliefs can be distilled to certain clear logical ideas, many succinctly expressed in the 1960 Sharon Statement (made by a group of young conservatives, led by William F. Buckley, Jr.).

Additionally, through the years, social issues (particularly on sexual ethics) grabbed national attention and thus the relevance of the ideas expressed by John Finnis, Robert George, and Antonin Scalia on legal philosophy and political thought.

Adopting all the foregoing, expanding it, and revising to apply directly to the Philippines, conservatism makes the point that government’s main rationale is to promote the common good through the principle of subsidiarity, with the aim that the Filipino takes personal responsibility for his flourishing. Thus, the Philippine conservative tenets:

• Taxation and governmental regulation must be kept to a minimum to encourage free enterprise and innovation;
• The free enterprise and market economy, by which resources are allocated through the democratic choice of the people themselves, must be upheld over central planning, socialism, or other similar systems which diminishes Filipino motivation, liberty, and personal accountability;
• Governmental powers must be kept to a minimum to always secure individual liberty and responsibility;
• Welfare assistance to the poor and marginalized are best done voluntarily, through religious organizations and civil society, rather than coercively through taxes;
• Government programs must always revolve around the idea of personal responsibility, not encouraging self-entitlement mentality;
• The primary duty of the government must be national security and the upholding of the rule of law;
• Foreign policy must be consistent with our domestic policy, which in turn arises from our people’s values, traditions, and history;
• The sole purpose of foreign policy is to serve national interest;
• The traditional family and marriage must be protected as human goods in themselves and in recognition that such are best for the proper formation of the youth;
• Religious freedom must be protected;
• The Constitution was authored by the people, internalizing the Judeo-Christian philosophy to our political system,
• The people’s intent and understanding of the Constitution at the time it was written must be respected; and
• Ours is a government of delegated and limited powers, thus all government officials must respect the limits of their authority.

The bottom line for conservatives is freedom with self-responsibility: the rational ability of each individual Filipino to decide and act for himself/herself towards fulfilling his/her utmost potential.

Conservatives believe that what’s best for the Filipino is not a self-entitlement culture, not dependency on governments (Philippine or foreign), not a nanny State. Rather, it is to respect our personal responsibility and individual human dignity.

The Philippines needs a conservative movement, if only to counteract the progressive mind-set that proven so utterly damaging to our country.