By Herman Tiu Laurel

The pitfall traps to PH modernization

November 7, 2022, 3:13 am

I was recently invited to speak at the “Think Asia” global forum entitled “A dialogue amongst leading think tanks in Asia for the 21st century 2022: Asia in a Complex World” held on Nov. 2, 2022.

The introduction to the forum explained, “’Think Asia’ seeks to affect policy development and public discourse through dialogue among leading Asian think tanks. The initial dialogue will be held on Nov, 2nd 2022 in Singapore. It will be jointly organized by China Forum (CF) of Tsinghua University, Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies (ACCWS) from China, and East Asian Institute (EAI) of National University of Singapore (NUS). Many leading organizations from all over Asia will also contribute their voices to this dialogue.”

The briefer explained, “Since the turn of the century, Asia has seen some of the most dynamic economies and the strongest growth in the world. In an increasingly volatile world, Asia’s regional security and pace of development has remained generally stable; however, sustained global instability and regional divisions remain significant challenges. How can Asia navigate this situation, maintaining peace while pursuing prosperity? Think tanks have a critical role to play in developing new ideas to support decision makers, as they face new challenges.

“The initial dialogue is the first forum to occur after the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, providing a valuable opportunity to obtain early review of China’s new direction...

“Think Asia Forum
Theme: Asia in a Complex World
Venue: Tower Ball Room, Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
Time: 14:00—17:00, November 2, 2022
Language: Chinese and English (Simultaneous interpretation)

“Organizers and Supporters:
Academy of Contemporary China and World Studies (ACCWS) China Forum (CF), Tsinghua University
East Asian Institute (EAI), National University of Singapore (NUS) China Enterprises Association (Singapore)
Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry (SCCCI) Association of Small & Medium Enterprises
Singapore-China Business Association Singapore China Association”

The Forum included the following Keynote Speeches and speakers:
Yu Hongjun, Former Vice Minister of the International Liaison Department of the CPC Central Committee, Vice President of the Chinese People’s Association for Peace and Disarmament (CPAPD), China Forum Expert (Online)

Kishore Mahbubhani (TBC), Distinguished Fellow at the Asia Research Institute at the National University of Singapore (NUS), former Singapore Permanent Representative to the United Nation.

I was among 10 speakers on the theme of “Asia’s challenges on the path to modernization” and the following is my presentation:

The Philippine Case:
Asia’s challenges on the path to modernization

In the 1950s the Philippines was favored with advanced economic development from its special relationship with the United States of America, its former colonizer. As Filipinos loved to exclaim then, “the Philippines is second only to Japan”.

Today one discovers that the Philippines is lagging among the top five Asean nations with sizeable populations. A recent Southeast Asia Economic Forecast in 2036 (CEBR*) reports that the Philippines GDP at that time would be behind Vietnam and Thailand, which have smaller populations.

Between the 1970s and early 1980s, the Philippines was forging ahead of most Asean nations in modernization despite strong geopolitical and geoeconomic headwinds. The 621MW Bataan Nuclear Power Plant (BNPP) construction showcased this. Its cancellation by the succeeding governments caused the plague of energy crises that afflict the Philippines to this day.

Today, there is a clamor to revive the BNPP due to extremely high electricity cost and shortages. Over 30 years of privatization of the energy sector has not delivered on promised low prices and sufficient supply. High power costs are the main culprit in the country’s continuing investment shortage, foreign and domestic.

The Philippines’ energy debacle can be traced to the issue of sovereignty, particularly economic sovereignty. The late President Ferdinand Edralin Marcos Sr. started asserting sovereignty in all aspects of society, but this was reversed after the 1986 color revolution. President Rodrigo R. Duterte restarted sovereign governance in 2016 and engage China in cooperation for his “Build, Build, Build” program.

Power cost in the Philippines today is double that of China and Vietnam, and just about 30 percent higher than Thailand, the Philippines continues to suffer power shortages. This unsolved crux of the economic problem is due to the US-client oligarchy in the Philippines blocking progress and profiteering from regulatory capture of energy policy and the shortages.

Another basic utility privatized during the 30-years span of what Filipinos call the “Yellow Era” is the water utilities. After 30 years of privatization of water, shortages continue to plague the flood-prone country, in particular Metro Manila with its 21.3-million residents. A project called Kaliwa Dam to supply additional 600/MLD to the metropolis has been planned since the 1970s.

The Kaliwa Dam project was revived and implemented under the Duterte administration with China’s loan assistance of USD800 million. The project went through six years of obstacles put up by US-backed and funded politicians, environmental and anti-sovereign government groups in color Yellow, or Leftist groups and indigenous tribes. The project finally broke ground in June 2021 and construction set to begin.

Then the 2022 elections transpired and new senators were elected, one of whom was elected on the strength of a television talk show (in a TV network owned by a US-client electricity oligarch). The neophyte senator stopped the Kaliwa Dam project again digging up indigenous mountain peoples’ issues already resolved and interspersed it with anti-China diatribes.

Finally, the Philippines is the last holdout on the ratification of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) which another anti-China senator is blocking. It is a momentary but again a serious blow to the Philippines’ economic development and modernization. Although the passage of all these projects will eventually succeed, we can see why the Philippines’ path to modernization is delayed in many aspects and is seriously impaired.

The persistence of vintage, domestic Cold War politics continues to plague the Philippines. We still have to stamp out the last vestiges of Western neocolonialism to clear the path to Philippine modernization side-by-side other Asian nations.


Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the foregoing article are solely the author’s and do not reflect the opinions and beliefs of the Philippine News Agency (PNA) or any other office under the Office of the Press Secretary.


About the Columnist

Image of Herman Tiu Laurel

Herman Tiu Laurel is a veteran journalist and founder of think tank PHILIPPINE-BRICS Strategic Studies.