Musings on Governance and National Security
Updated: Mar 1, 2021
After decades’ worth of government service, nothing should surprise me anymore. 2020 is proof that even a veteran such as I will have much to learn. In humility, I reflect on the two silver linings of 2020 – continuity and stability. I realized that even back then, these two were at the core of the vision I once had for the Philippines. Surprisingly, it continues and remains to be so, as the present generation of leaders have now taken the responsibility of steering our country out of this unprecedented quagmire. I am, however, hopeful.
The never ending fight for continuity and stability
Almost thirty years ago, while at the helm of the National Security Council (NSC), I spearheaded the development of Philippines 2000. It was aspirational as it is a roadmap that sought to guide the Philippines into becoming a newly industrialized country by the year 2000. More importantly, that vision embodied continuity and stability in policymaking that has been sorely missing in Philippine politics and governance. One might even say that it was a battle cry for change not only of the mindset but also of the framework used by those people charged with our country’s governance. Philippines 2000 carried the belief that development is not the task of a singular administration but should be continued like a relay of sorts – passing the baton of responsibility from one administration to the next whose task is to govern our nation forward.
Thirty years onwards, it seems that the seeds that we planted did not bear much fruit. Instead of championing the continuity of good policies, we continue to fall victim to the traps of whimsical governance that does not serve the common good. We have yet to move past partisan politics. As a result, our people continue to bear the brunt of poor policy and decision making. Every day, we are witnessing the sufferings and injustices of our people from different walks of life. More sadly, it is those who are in the fringes of the society who suffer the most while those who are economically and politically well-off can manage their losses.
This reality has once again been brought to our attention because of the COVID-19 pandemic. As the pandemic continues to ravage the entire country, we see the most vulnerable groups being hit the hardest. We witness how many of our people lost their jobs, both here and abroad. Unfortunately, the social safety nets that could have cushioned these losses are lacking. A robust social safety net would have been the first line of defense at times of social and economic uncertainty.
Moreover, we continue to witness institutional shortcomings even in a time when we need it most. We witnessed a number of fumbled responses that could have lessened the magnitude of the problem. These shortcomings highlight why there is a strong need to have effective institutions and protocols in place that will guide our actions towards stability. Recent developments showed us why it is critical to build on the progress we have made in the past so that when the need arises, our systems, institutions, and more importantly, our people are able to quickly bounce back from setbacks, no matter the severity and depth.
The tragedy remains, it seems, that the scales continue to be skewed against the ordinary Filipino; always at the expense of the ordinary Filipino.
Nevertheless, we continue to find solutions to fight the multi-faceted problems of the pandemic. This affords us with hope – the one thing, might I add, that has been quite elusive lately. We witnessed how fellow Filipinos took it upon themselves to offer helping hands to those who needed it the most. We see countless donation drives, campaigns, among other things to give the needed lifelines to our countrymen – surprisingly even from those substantially hit by the pandemic. I believe it is a testament to how and who we are as a nation. It reflects the values that we Filipinos hold to be true: that in times of dire need, our people will not shy away from assisting our fellow countrymen in more ways than one.
But the government must not bank on the Filipinos’ generosity and patriotism alone. We, the people, can only do so much with the resources we are afforded and endowed with. The government must do more and go beyond our expectations not simply because it is within the purview of their power but because we demand it so; because it is their responsibility to secure our country.
I have always stood by my premise that a strong nation is a secure nation. Our security as a nation is not only made up of strong institutions and systems but also of people whose values support and enhance these institutions. The system and the people do not work in isolation nor does the two work against the other. Rather, both work side by side to ensure that the fabrics of our society are strong enough to withstand various challenges – even the pandemic. After all, we are all rowing the same boat traversing the uncharted seas of post-2020. If our boat sinks, we all sink.
Whether we like it or not, the previous year has a very thin silver lining for all of us. 2020 has been rife with lessons and measures to translate into feasible, rational, and actionable policy into 2021 and beyond. After witnessing so much after my time in government, I have realized these principles – continuity and stability – to be the key in charting what lies ahead of us. Continuity generates the necessary trust and hope to march past the lingering challenges and hurdles of the yesteryear. In retrospect, the work I have begun almost three decades ago should open us to the quintessential principle of the stabilizing effect of continuity in governance. I am, however, quite hopeful that the firm march for continuity and stability is extraordinarily strong to this day and finds advocates inside and outside of the government.
Good governance in the Philippines must embody continuity to effect the needed stability that we so painstakingly lost in 2020. More critically, it is incumbent upon our officials, from the national government down to the local government unit, to innovatively make it so. Let us all lift one another up. The Filipinos do not deserve anything less.
BGEN Jose T. Almonte AFP RET was Director-General of the National Security Council from 1992 to 1998 and was the National Security Adviser of President Fidel V. Ramos.
Photo by Charles Buenconsejo, Esquire