This is a campaign poster found plastered on a wall on the side of the road somewhere in Bacolod. It shows Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, the current frontrunner for president in the Philippines election, with Andal Ampatuan Jr., perpetrator of the worst election massacre in the history of the Philippines. Above their pictures is the phrase “Patay Tayo Dyan!” – “We’re dead meat!” Of course, they are not actually running together, but it is a good campaign trick for his opponents. This is a recent addition to the campaign posters that line every inch of visible space in Bacolod and the rest of the Philippines.
The national election is a great time to be in the Philippines. It happens once every six years, and the country fires up. Tonight is the night before the official election, which means the candidates have their people in the streets handing out money – 500 pesos at a time, or $10 – in exchange for votes. When the candidate cannot buy the voters, he rents a bus, fills it with beer and pork, and sends the people to the beach for a day of drinking, partying, and non-voting. In America, we pay lobbying firms to bribe the politicians for us and use Karl Rove to divide up the electorate. In the Philippines, they cut through the fat and shoot from the hip, if you’re pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down.
Imelda Marcos, wife of the Ferdinand Marcos and owner of a lot of stolen Filipino money. Now Congresswoman Marcos.
On Monday, the Philippines will hold a national election. It is the first time the country will be using an automatic voting system, and nobody knows what is going to happen. It seems appropriate to include this post before the election is over. For more on the candidates, check out this BBC News primer.
Over the last four decades, the economic landscape in Southeast and East Asia has shifted. After World War II, the Philippines had the second largest economy in Asia (behind Japan). Years of mismanagement, corruption, and poor government policies dragged the economy down during the 70’s and 80’s. The policies of Ferdinand Marcos, a strongman who imposed martial law on the country until 1981, depressed economic growth during his years in power. Isolated incidents, including a severe recession in 1984 and the Asian financial crisis in 1997, put further downward pressure on the economy, hampering progress after reforms in the 1990’s. Even now, the period of optimistic economic growth which President Gloria Arroyo has attributed to herself is, in reality, a result of remittances from abroad, which account for 11% of GDP. All of this has led to a national poverty incidence of 40%.
Compare this with China. In the 1981 the poverty incidence in East Asia was 85%. Over the last 30 years, China has enacted economic reforms designed to drive the poverty level of the country down. As of 2005, the poverty incidence in East Asia had fallen to 16%. This decline of 600 million people is attributable almost exclusively to China. The chart to the right shows something amazing: when you remove China from the picture, the percentage of people living on $1 and $2 per day has remained essentially flat over the last 20 years. Since 1990, China has accounted for almost all of all of the poverty alleviation in the world. Why has China done such a good job of pulling its people out of poverty, while the number of poor seems to stay relatively consistent in the Philippines? The system of governance espoused by the two countries over the last 30 years is at least part of the answer. Continue reading