Thursday, November 02, 2006

Generational Gap in leadership

Compelling reading today, even more so than usual, from MLQ3 with his Inquirer column entitled Four Points for Discussion. One of the points is positive regionalism, something of interest to me because of where I'm situated (as I'm sure is the case with Willy and Oli).

However, it was the first point that caught my eye: the generational gap in leadership that occured during Marcos' extended rule from 1972 to 1984.

From his article:
1969 to 1973 were watershed years, when the generation that reached maturity under the Japanese occupation was due to bow out. There should have been further transitions in 1973 and in 1977...1981 and 1985.... But the transition was postponed from 1972 to 1986. Since then, we have been 20 years behind in terms of leadership.

MLQ3 provides strong examples for each of the cases above (ellipsis mine for brevity).

Where I have questions is in the comparative exercise when looking at our situation in relation to other neighboring countries. A twenty year vacuum of potential leadership material is a serious thing indeed. However, dictators and military rule seem to have been the norm more than the exception during those years.

  • Since 1973, Thailand has been marked by a series of coup d'etats. Thai elections did not produce any credible leader, and the military installed their own premier. Not until Prem Tinsulanonda in the mid-1980s did the transition to democracy begin to happen.

  • Some years earlier, Malaysia had just come from a state of national emergency sparked by the May 13, 1969 riots. After parliament reconvened in 1971, UMNO has largely been the single dominant party in the country. Mahathir held power for 22 years since taking over the reins of government in 1976.

  • Suharto, during his New Order era, controlled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, a reign far longer than Marcos'. Suharto was a former army general who took control in the wake of predecessor Sukarno's left-leaning policies.

  • In Singapore, the People's Action Party held a 15-year monopoly on parliament from 1966 to 1981. Lee Kuan Yew himself was prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Since 2004, BG Lee, his son, has been prime minister.

    A look at the recent history of many other Asian countries would probably show the same environment that might breed gaps in transitions of leadership within the same period.

    Granted, Marcos did severe damage to the growth of potential leaders in the country; but I think his 20-year rule simply put us on par with our other neighbors. Therefore, we probably need to look at other contributing factors to this dearth of leaders than the dictatorship.

    MLQ3 continues:
    A frustrated generation went abroad, depriving the country of an entire generation of intellectuals; those who stayed retreated to academe and engaged in an embittered effort to discredit everything that came before them, the result being a complete breakdown in a sense of identity and idealism.

    True enough, but why didn't the exodus happen in the same degree in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia?


    1. I would say Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore had a healthier economy so people were willing to stay. Not being comfortable in English would be a factor in limiting migrations from Indonesia and Thailand to a certain extent.

    2. Hi, Preetam,

      Thanks for the comment. But isn't it the other way around, instead? That Thailand, Malaysia, and Singapore had healthier economies because people were willing to stay? The economy of the Philippines from the 1950s up until the early 1970s was quite strong, "second only to Japan" as people liked to say.

      My theory is that the idea of "the Philippines" as motherland isn't nearly so strong as we would have liked. The pull of the local hometown is actually much stronger than the pull of the idea of the country, but unfortunately, this sentiment had not been fully appreciated. Instead, we got an artificial construct called "the Philippines" which did not really have that emotional resonance. Hence, it was easier for people to leave it.

    3. hi dominique. granted that our region went through a phase where the shock of the 60s led to dictatorship. marcos and suharto handled it worst. perhaps singapore has handled it best.

      with a bankrupt economy and a messy political system, i don't know if love of country has much to do with it. i always say, look at ireland which practically had a non-stop exodus from the great potato famine until recently. and how they turned things around.

      india also has had massive emigration and of course, china.

      i think in any country love of your region and home town will be your primary love -even the americans had to fight a civil war over it. spain was torn apart by it, the uk has devolution and france has had regional conflict. for many similar reasons: the need to work out the national versus the local, and how just as we went through a dictatorial period, for a long time nation-states were built on the assumption concentration at the top was required. but now there's a better appreciation that the national is enhanced if respect for regional culture, language, and political autonomy is shown and defended.

      let's look at who has been leaving. from the 70s to what, the 90s it was mainly a middle class without a sense of being adequately represented and protected in the national and local scheme of things. they're being joined by citizens from the masses for the same reasons. yet they replicate some of our worst national defects when overseas -bickering, lack of unity, etc. but they are also in many cases, coming home to retire and rebuild.

      but it's just a beginning that we have yet to come to grips with.

    4. Hi, Manolo, thanks so much for taking time for a reply.

      To the emigration question, I would add a couple more things:

      1) As I recall, it was Marcosian policy to send out overseas contract workers; that, too, started the trend in the exodus.

      2) It became a matter of vogue to have a relative working abroad. Not so much a question of poverty anymore as it was a status symbol.

      At over a billion people each, India and China can afford a percentage of emigration without adversely affecting their local economies. On the other hand, Indians have a reputation for attachment to their homeland; and the Chinese have had the werewithal to squeeze concessions from the Western markets so as to create an environment for their skilled managers and scientists to return.

      I have always felt that our local identities have been subordinated to the national identity. Case in point is the dearth of local history in favor of a grand national view, sometimes written with much artifice. That's the impression that I recall, anyway, from my history lessons in high school; I probably need to talk to some younger people again to get a feel for what they are taught.

      (And I might ask a little facetiously, discounting any religious motives, WHY haven't we had any regional conflicts borne out of culture?)

      I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of respect for regional culture, etc. My only worry is that it's not being taken far enough or quickly enough.

      Anyway, more food for thought. Thanks again.