ASEAN: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Ingenuity

* Address delivered by retired Chief Justice ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN during the Opening Luncheon on February 26, 2015 of the 12th General Assembly of the ASEAN Law Association (ALA) held at the Makati Shangri-la Hotel, Makati City, Philippines. The three-day ALA General Assembly was held on February 26-28, 2015, and followed by the Summit of ASEAN Chief Justices on March 1-3, 2015 in Boracay Island, Philippines.

I thank Attorney Avelino V. Cruz, incoming President of the ASEAN Law Association or ALA, for inviting me to speak during this Opening Luncheon of the 12th ALA General Assembly. Ave and I go a long way as friends and members of ALA; we participated in many activities of our organization since its founding in 1979. He asked me to talk on our General Assembly’s theme of “Sharing Prosperity at the Crossroads of ASEAN Integration – the Legal Challenges.” I think that the theme presupposes, and I agree, that before it can be shared, prosperity must first be created.


Limitless truths

Let me begin with a famous quotation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.” Let me repeat that, “If a man does not have a job or an income, he has neither life nor liberty nor the possibility for the pursuit of happiness.”

It may seem ironic that in beginning my speech before the judicial and legal greats of our ASEAN region, I should be citing an American civil rights icon, a foreigner in our 10 member countries. But I quoted him not because of his nationality, color, gender or religion. I quoted him because of the truth he said so simply but so profoundly.

I cited him because precisely of my belief that truth is eternal and limitless; that truth is not bound by sovereignty, or territory, or ideology, or legality; that what is true in America is also true in the Philippines, in the ASEAN and in the world. And that truth is this: humans need both justice and jobs; freedom and food; ethics and economics; peace and development; liberty and prosperity; these twin beacons must always go together; one is useless without the other.

My friends, many of you are aware that I have always espoused “Liberty and Prosperity” as the twin anchors of my being as a lawyer and as a jurist. Many of you attended my valedictory activity as chief justice of my country when on October 18-20, 2006, I convened a “Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity” here in this very venue of our General Assembly, the Makati Shangri-la Hotel. Thank you, indeed, for honoring me with your attendance in that global meeting of 300 jurists, legal professionals and academics.

Now, even in retirement, I still continue my advocacy for these twin beacons of liberty and prosperity. Thus in 2011, five years after my retirement from the judiciary, when I celebrated my 75th birthday, I organized the Foundation for Liberty and Prosperity, which is now honored to co-sponsor this General Assembly, together with the Philippine Supreme Court and the Philippine ALA Chapter.

To repeat, there are certain truths that transcend sovereignties, territories, ideologies and legalities. And one of those truths is this: The best way to conquer poverty, to create wealth and to share prosperity is to unleash the entrepreneurial genius of people by granting them the freedom and the tools to help themselves and society.


Saving the fisherman

Let me prove my thesis by quoting a popular adage from Confucius, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach him to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Indeed, to save a fisherman from destitution, we must help him learn how to fish more effectively. We must educate him in the skills needed to catch fish more efficiently, assist him in acquiring a boat, allow him the freedom to sail the vast oceans, and teach him the techniques to market the fish he catches.

Sometimes, some of us fear that the fisherman may get lost and die in the storms that batter the seas; or that he may become selfish and would want to own the entire ocean and its vast resources; or that he may become too rich and powerful and metamorphose into a rival, an enemy, or worse, a master. Such fears of possible misjudgements may indeed happen some of the time. Human arrogance, greed and avarice lurk in all undertakings. But they are the exceptions rather than the rule. We must never stop dreaming for fear that reality may shatter our dreams. That is part of the interesting reality of being human.

On the other hand, I respectfully believe that the goal of governance and of law is to provide guarantees and incentives to help the fisherman prosper, to create the institutions to support him, and to promulgate minimal regulations to prevent him from appropriating all the fishing grounds, from keeping all the earnings to himself and from forgetting his obligation to pay reasonable taxes to the government. Indeed, government must inspire him to share his consequential wealth with the rest of society.


Validating the truth

Let me take you briefly around the world to validate this simple truth. The United States, the most powerful country in the world and the great promoter of liberal democracy, attained affluence because of the pioneers who defied monarchical tyrannies and started a new nation that unleashed the inventive, innovative and entrepreneurial spirit of people like Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Cornelius Vanderbilt, John Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Ford and J.P. Morgan, and of great government leaders like Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower who provided them with the encouragement to attain their dreams and the good governance to contain their greed and share their wealth.

Then, let us go to China, the second most powerful economy in the world and the prime promoter of the communist system. True, Mao Zedong led the masses in a revolt that dislodged the corrupt and inefficient government born of an outdated monarchy. But it was Deng Xiaoping who led this nation to unparalleled economic prosperity by unleashing the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the Chinese under his “One-Country-Two-Systems” philosophy.

Finally, let me bring you to Korea. As a result of World War II, this country was divided into North and South, which unfortunately could not accept their division and engaged in a terrible war that ruined their economies and impoverished their people. Rising from the ruins, South Korea relied on the entrepreneurial spirit of the Korean people and built on their private initiative as well as on the notion that innovation, creativity, freedom and hard work would enable them to conquer their poverty, provide for their family’s well-being and attain affluence.

In contrast, North Korea – despite its technological and military bravado – wallow in abject poverty as a result of its tight grip on creativity and inordinate fear of the entrepreneurship, education, freedom and prosperity of its people.


Entrepreneurship in ASEAN

Let us now examine ASEAN. Our region as a whole is the focus – yes, the darling – of the world. Some of its members, like Singapore, have attained first world status. Malaysia and Thailand are exemplars on how to propel economies. And during the past few years, the VIPs of the world – Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines – have exhibited enviable records of GDP growths.

Why? Because our peoples’ entrepreneurial spirit had been unleashed even if inadequately in some places; because our permanent institutions are being strengthened and relied upon, instead of upon the apron strings of our temporary leaders; because our educational standards have been uplifted and have released the spirit of the fisherman in us; because our governments are learning that the best way of governing is to govern the least and to allow people to freely use their innovation and initiative, interfering only to check avarice and to level the playing field. Indeed, the primary role of government is to create just societies; to focus on improving access to the basic necessities of food, clean water, education, infrastructures (roads, bridges, airports, etc.), health care, decent incomes and jobs, to honor commitments made in good faith, and to protect property rights.

The peoples of the world and of ASEAN have different histories, traditions, cultures, ideologies and mindsets. But I dare say, all of them need liberty and prosperity. Some countries, taking into account their unique backgrounds, start with improving their people’s economic lives first and restrict temporarily in measured stages their political liberty. Some others begin with political liberty thinking that their economy would flourish as a necessary consequence. Still some others rise with a combination of both liberty and prosperity at the very beginning. I think that such differing starts and focus are necessary in the growth of nations. But, I also firmly believe that eventually and inevitably, all the peoples of the world need and deserve liberty and prosperity in equal measure.


Conquering poverty

In his speech before a convocation at Howard University in Washington, D.C., World Bank President Jim Yong Kim, an American of Korean descent whom I met during a reception hosted by our President Benigno Aquino III, grimly said that “the world/s richest 85 people have as much combined wealth as the poorest 3.6 billion.”

The 2014 “Key Indicators” of the Asian Development Bank show that this glaring disparity in wealth distribution is not as grotesque in the ASEAN region. Indeed, ASEAN as a whole is fortunate to suffer less poverty and to enjoy more affluence than many parts of the world. Still I say that we cannot ignore the injustice of wealth inequality and the need to share prosperity.

Let me illustrate why. Let us say that our next door neighbor in our village contracts the deadly dengue disease. Would we not help him fumigate his house and drain the idle water in his yard because the culprit mosquito is capable of flying into our homes, without respecting our fence and our legal certificate of home ownership?

Of course, we will – out of self protection, if not out of love for him. In the same manner, if a bird flu epidemic breaks out in Cambodia, the neighboring countries, if not the entire ASEAN community, would surely come out and help eradicate the disease, remembering that the birds causing the disease will not respect or care about the sovereignty and territorial limits of states.

The above examples are simple. But from simplicity really comes the wisdom of sharing and caring for the less fortunate, for the poor, for the least, lost and last.


Eliminating impediments

Indeed, our General Assembly’s theme of “Sharing Prosperity” and specifically our desire to solve the legal challenges that impede our altruistic goal should be foremost in our minds when we tackle, in full session or in separate workshops, the various topics we have drawn to meet these challenges, namely, the “Legal Profession, Alternative Dispute Resolution, International Law, Trade and Investment, and Legal Education.”

Some legal impediments to the ASEAN integration of trade, investments, services and skilled labor may be formidable, like constitutional restrictions on ownership of land, media, public utilities, natural resources and the like. Consequently, they may take some time to resolve. But some are really simple, like facilitating the opening of new businesses.

Karl Kendrick Chua, Senior Country Economist of the World Bank, in a speech before the American Chamber of Commerce on January 29, 2015, said that “in the Philippines, it takes 34 days and 16 steps to start a business, and it costs 17 percent of per capita income, compared to 6 days, 3 steps, and 7 percent of per capita income in Malaysia.” Certainly, the lawyers of ASEAN can easily help solve this simple problem by tapping Malaysia as the model. Indeed, we can solve many legal impediments by simply sharing the solutions already formulated by our ASEAN brothers.

I am sure that this afternoon and during the next two days of our General Assembly, the simple problems can be resolved immediately while the formidable ones can be planned more intensely in future meetings.

Today, at the start of our General Assembly, I see happy and optimistic faces among you my dear colleagues. And on our last day, as reports of our workshops are read, discussed and approved during our closing session, I expect to see even happier faces for, by then, we would have accomplished our mission.

Thank you. Maraming salamat po.


First published via: Unleashing Entrepreneurial Ingenuity
(Official Website of Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban)