Mercer is a retired executive of the Competition Bureau of Canada ( (“The Competition Bureau, as an independent law enforcement agency, ensures that Canadian businesses and consumers prosper in a competitive and innovative marketplace.”) This piece was published in the March 5, 2012 edition of the BusinessWorld, pages S1/4 to S1/5.

My wife (a balikbayan), recently brought me to the Philippines for two months plus, to show me her country of birth. My perspective is that of an industrial organization economist with extensive investigative training and practice, a retired Canadian public service executive whose career focused on competition/anti-monopoly law with some limited experience in border issues, and a keen observer of politics. To me the Philippines is not yet a fully independent country.  Why do I say this?

An independent county:

–          controls its borders: the Philippine border is porous; I note the lack of control by Customs and Border agents as mentioned in the press and a lack of naval presence— in our coastal travel from Manila to Pangasinan Province and Lingayen Gulf through to the north and Gabu Sur to Palawan to Cebu to Boracay, Kalibo and Bohol.  Certainly not at all like the naval presence on the west coast of Canada;

–          is not dependent on other countries – as in financing vital military hardware such as fighter jets and ships for its air force and navy – for its security, and can hold its own in mutual security with fellow allies;

–          can operate an independent foreign policy because it is not dependent on other nations for security;

–          has a seamless, integrated economy to  which it controls access and inspects products for compliance to national health, safety, quality and labelling laws.  The Philippines has at least three economies: the very few wealthy who control most of the local economy, the one fuelled by Balikbayans and OFWs (overseas Filipino workers) that are the fragile middle class existing in the Philippines, and the vast one of desperately poor people;

–          has control over tax collection at all levels, including at its borders so that it can fund programs and protect its citizens, education and health care – millions of Filipinos are not able to access even elementary education nor minimum health care;

–          has a full-fledged competition policy with vigorous enforcement of modern competition law to combat bid-rigging fraud and abuses of market power.  Competition policy is international in scope and in its need for cross-border investigative collaboration; other countries’ authorities will not trust any Filipino agency if it is seen to be corruptible;

–          has a fully professional, honest and competent civil service that can deliver on government programs and provide the continuity in program delivery so essential to an independent and First World state.

The common underlying problem for the Philippines is corruption, which permeates the society and is encountered even upon initial entry into the Philippines (in our case at Clark).  Corruption degrades individuals, sucks the lifeblood out of institutions and has directly contributed to a lack of border controls, a lack of proper military equipment, and a lack of education and health care and even, from reports in the press I have seen, to a vast uncertainty in private property ownership.

Yet, the Philippines is a wonderful country with a great and resilient people who succeed everywhere abroad and certainly in Canada, where they are unleashed from the bonds of degrading corruption and dependency.  There are innumerable positives, to name but a few of many, in select first-class industries (which smuggling has not destroyed, at least not yet), in an amazing mix of architecture from the edifices of desperate poverty to award-winning homes, offices towers and public buildings, a deep and fascinating history to explore, in glorious tourist locations, in a fascinating and vibrant cultural, culinary and night life, and a fully operational and effective privately operated public transportation system and a growing paved national road system with amazing engineering accomplishments.

The scuttlebutt on the streets and among the many Filipinos I have been privileged to meet from all walks of life through my wife’s high school and university batch mates and some relatives is that the current government may yet make it in its battle to eliminate corruption and there is so much hope that cancerous corruption will be finally beaten to the ground.

So, here is my prayer for the Philippines:

That the current and future governments end the yoke of corruption and prevent it from ever rising again, so that the Philippines can achieve her full potential as an independent state whose institutions are trusted internally and throughout the globe and which can accordingly be part of the building of a truly prosperous and poverty-free Philippines.