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By: Patrick Angelo M. Gutierrez

Far Eastern University

 

Liberty, prosperity and inclusivity

From time immemorial there is a tussle between the authority of the state and the liberties of the people. It is even recognized as the most conspicuous feature in the portions of history dating back from the ancient times.1 But during the turn of the 20th century, the world has witnessed the universalization of liberty underlying the modern liberal state. One author went so far as to declare that mankind has reached the end of the history with the advent of Western liberal democracy signaling the endpoint of humanity’s sociological evolution and the final form of human government. 2 Although the principle of liberty underlying the modern liberal state had been discovered and implemented in most part of the globe, the same has resulted to varying outcomes. Many countries have reaped economic benefits as they fully embraced the notion of liberty as an inherent right belonging to all individuals while others continue to lag behind in terms of economic growth despite limiting governmental authority in favor of granting liberties to the citizenry. With the emergence of China as an economic global power this notion of liberty as a key ingredient to achieve prosperity has hit a turn where economic growth took precedence over the liberties afforded to its people.

Both liberty and prosperity seem to occupy their own separable and exclusive domain in which one may take precedence over the other. While one may dismiss outright a condition characterized of the prevalence of civil and political freedom without economic development, that may not be the case when economic prosperity is attained even with the curtailment of certain civil and political freedoms just like what has transpired in our Chinese neighbor and the developmental state model characterized by strong state intervention, as well as extensive regulation and planning which jumpstarted the economies of the other Asian countries.

It is the object of this essay to establish that civil and political liberties must be paired with economic development consistent with the core judicial philosophy of Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban on the attainment of two loftier end goals: (1) safeguarding the liberty; and (2) nurturing the prosperity of our people under the rule of law. Liberty and prosperity being an embodiment of the twin beacons of justice.3 More specifically, this essay will discuss the concept of inclusive growth as the true incarnation of prosperity. For all talk about prosperity will remain empty talk as long as the agricultural sector is being left behind. For prosperity brought about by economic growth must create opportunities for all segments of the population.

Justice Francis Jardaleza in his concurring opinion in the case of Cadiz v. Brent Hospital and Colleges4, acknowledged the fact that while liberty is a right enshrined in the Constitution neither the Constitution itself nor our jurisprudence has attempted to define its metes and bounds. This, according to him, is a testament to the impossibility of determining what it truly means to be free. Nonetheless, he used several definitions of liberty one of which is pronounced in the earlier case of Ruby vs. Provincial Board of Mindoro5:

Civil liberty may be said to mean that measure of freedom which may be enjoyed in a civilized community, consistent with the peaceful enjoyment of like freedom in others. The right guaranteed by the Constitution includes the right to exist and the right to be free from arbitrary personal restraint or servitude. The term cannot be dwarfed into mere freedom from physical restrain of the person of the citizen, but is deemed to embrace the right of man to enjoy the faculties with which he has been endowed by his Creator, subject only to such restraints as are necessary for the common welfare.

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In general, it may be said that liberty means the opportunity to do those things which are ordinarily done by free men.

In a Constitution for a free people, there can be no doubt that the meaning of liberty must be broad indeed.6 Liberty is a right that inheres in every one of us as a member of the human family.7

While liberty seems to encompass most aspects of human life, one cannot fully enjoy the inherent rights and freedoms when certain factors impede him from attaining his full potential. This is where the other beacon of prosperity in the form of inclusive growth fills the gap through economic empowerment.

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development defines inclusive growth as an economic growth that creates opportunity for all segments of the population and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity, both in monetary and non-monetary terms, fairly across society.8

NEDA, on the other hand, has this to say on the idealism of inclusive growth and the reality in the country:

Inclusive growth means, first of all, growth that is rapid enough to matter, given the country’s large population, geographical differences, and social complexity. It is sustained growth that creates jobs, draws the majority into the economic and social mainstream, and continuously reduces mass poverty. This is an ideal which the country has perennially fallen short of, and this failure has had the most far-reaching consequences, from mass misery and marginalization, to an overseas exodus of skill and talent, to political disaffection and alienation, leading finally to threats to the constitution of the state itself.9

In simple terms, inclusive growth means the growth or progress such that each and every individual benefits. It is a growth where sectors are included in the development and that no segments are left behind. An environment conducive to equitably shared economic growth is essential to reducing poverty and enabling every person to have access to basic necessities.

Inclusive growth finds support on the Constitutional provision10 on social justice:

The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.

To this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use, and disposition of property and its increments.

In Calalang vs. Williams11, Justice Laurer elaborately declared as follows:

Social justice is neither communism, nor despotism, nor atomism, nor anarchy,” but the humanization of laws and the equalization of social and economic forces by the State so that justice in its rational and objectively secular conception may at least be approximated. Social justice means the promotion of the welfare of all the people, the adoption by the Government of measures calculated to insure economic stability of all the competent elements of society, through the maintenance of a proper economic and social equilibrium in the interrelations of the members of the community, constitutionally, through the adoption of measures legally justifiable, or extra-constitutionally, through the exercise of powers underlying the existence of all governments on the time-honored principle of salus populi est suprema lex. Social justice, therefore, must be founded on the recognition of the necessity of interdependence among divers and diverse units of a society and of the protection that should be equally and evenly extended to all groups as a combined force in our social and economic life, consistent with the fundamental and paramount objective of the state of promoting the health, comfort, and quiet of all persons, and of bringing about “the greatest good to the greatest number.

In essence, inclusivity is a form of social justice as it prescribes equality of people, rich or poor, before the law. While the distribution of wealth and income need not be equal, it must be to everyone’s advantage, and at the same time, positions of authority and offices of command must be accessible to all.12

 

The case of the dying agricultural sector

Last year the Philippines was among the top three growth performers in the region surpassed only by China and Vietnam, according to the World Bank Report.13 The Philippine economy grew from 6.9 percent year-on-year in 2016 to 6.7 percent year-on-year in 2017.14 It concluded that sustained economic growth is likely to continue to contribute to poverty reduction as the economy is projected to continue on its expansionary path and grow at an annual rate of 6.7 percent in both 2018 and 2019.15

While the country has been growing economically in the past years, this has not translated to an inclusive growth as the agricultural sector continues to being left behind.

Once considered as the backbone of our nation, agriculture used to be a way of life.

Of the 40.89 million persons in the labor force recorded on April 2018, about 23.9 percent were engaged in agriculture.16 Despite accounting for a fourth of the country’s workforce the sector contributes less than 15 percent of the total economic output17 resulting to a much higher poverty incidence among persons engaged in agriculture than the national average.

According to the 2015 report of the Philippine Statistics Authority, 5 of the 9 basic sectors have higher poverty incidence than the general population which includes the farmers and fishermen.18 In particular, PSA data showed that poverty was around 34.3 percent among farmers and about 34 percent among fishermen.19. It further held that these sectors consistently registered as the three sectors with the highest poverty incidence in 2006, 2009 and 2012.20 It is quite height of injustice that those who are providing most of the nation’s food are also among the most food insecure.

This could probably be one the reasons why agriculture appears to be an unattractive sector to invest in many potential second- or third-generation farmers pursue better opportunities in other industries led by the booming Business Process Outsourcing often found in urban areas or look for high paying jobs overseas.

But headlines last September 12 on the Philippines’ inflation rate reaching a whopping 6.4% in August, the highest in almost ten years as the prices of rice, fish, and other food products soared in markets all over the country once again brings to the fore the lowly status of the agricultural sector. This is something we’ve already felt as the price of rice, considered a staple in most Filipino households, had been steadily increasing in the past months making it harder for Filipinos to afford but the news still came as a shock for many of our countrymen.

While this may be attributed to several factors such as the cost of oil in the world market continuing to impact on transport and oil prices, the peso being adversely affected by emerging market uncertainties and a strong US dollar and strong domestic demand making it too convenient for producers and traders to pass on higher costs and possibly more to consumers21, it is inevitable to conclude that the exorbitant cost of agricultural products is partly due to the fact that the agricultural sector has been neglected for many years. The notion of agriculture being the cornerstone of our economy is a thing of the past. Nonetheless, we should not fall into belief that the emergence of other industries justifies the neglect and disregard toward the agricultural sector.

No less than the Constitution22 provides that:

The State shall recognize the right of farmers, farmworkers, and landowners, as well as cooperatives, and other independent farmers’ organizations to participate in the planning, organization, and management of the program, and shall provide support to agriculture through appropriate technology and research, and adequate financial, production, marketing, and other support services.

Our government officials ought to know that majority of the poor live in the rural areas; hence the best way of addressing poverty is to prioritize activities that create opportunities for them such as the initiation of projects catering to the needs of the farm-workers. While we try to solve the unending woes in the metropolis due to inadequate and outdated infrastructures, we should not forget that most of the poor live outside the Metro Manila which require the same attention and priority.

Despite being an agricultural country, the country has begun to develop an untenable reliance on imported rice to meet our supply needs over the years. With the very issue on food security right before our eyes, it is no-brainer that agricultural development is the solution to food security. When agricultural development progresses though proper and good governance, we don’t need to rely anymore on the importation of agricultural products which just like the oil depends on their prices in the world market. We can then begin to have food resources that is accessible to everyone.

As previously discussed there is much higher poverty incidence among persons engaged in agriculture than the national average due to the sheer number of workers in the industry. By allocating resources to empower those engaged in the agricultural sector, we could actually address the very issue of poverty.

The United Nations Development Programme sums it up when it said that while the country is abundant in natural resources, environmental assets remain unavailable to poor groups owing to exclusion, insecure land tenure, lack of access to technologies; or the resources are degraded.23

Even if the country has plenty of arable lands and the climate is conducive for agricultural activities, the country will never be self-sufficient unless we shift back the resources that the agricultural sector deserves. All talk about strong economic growth will remain empty talk as long as agriculture lags behind.

 

Promoting the Philosophy

As they say, everything starts from within. I think that promoting this philosophy requires first believing in what it espouses. It is about accepting it as one part of one’s principles in life.

I have always this what I call non-negotiables in life – principles and belief I value the most. Certainly, liberty and prosperity belong to the list.

Like what I did when I served as a student leader who participated and volunteered in several activities with the aim of empowering the marginalized and the least privilege sectors through knowledge dissemination, I see volunteerism as the key in promoting the philosophy as a student. It is not enough that we commit to the philosophy’s core principles, there is a need to go beyond that.

Promoting liberty and prosperity must not be confined within the four corners of the classroom, as student we need to take part in giving our fair share toward social cause, that is, by volunteering in activities which directly cater to the needs of the least privileged.

As someone who grew up in Nueva Ecija, considered as the rice granary of the country, I have developed a sense of pride with the agricultural products the province supplies to different parts of the country. While Nueva Ecija remains dependent on its strong agricultural economy up to this day , I can’t help but notice that many farmlands have been transformed into industrial and residential areas. According to PSA, farmlands were registered at 223,853 hectares in 1991 but come 2015 it was down to 196,390 hectares.24

Every time I go back to my home province, I will always make it a point to spend some of my time with my neighboring farm-workers to apprise them of the programs offered by the national or the local government since my mother work in the municipal office.

 

Applying the Philosophy in my Legal Career

This year I had the privilege to work as legal intern for the Office of the Solicitor General. There I had the opportunity to handle mostly criminal cases. From then on I promised to go back to the government and serve the not just the Republic but most importantly the Filipino people.

I want to serve in the government. I want to take part in the initiatives toward the betterment of the lives of every Filipino. By the time I become a lawyer I can be of more help to the poorest of the poor who barely eat thrice a day, to the innocent individuals wrongfully accused who are fighting for their liberty, to those victims of enforced disappearances who are desperately wanting to secure their liberty.

For someone who aspires to be part of the legal profession, the twin beacons of liberty and prosperity is certainly a guiding principle toward the uncertainties brought about by present condition in our beloved country.

 

1JOHN STUART MILL, ON LIBERTY (1859)

2FRANCIS FUKUYAMA, THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN (1992)

3Artemio V. Panganiban, Visionary Leadership By Example, 9th National Ayala Young Leaders Congress, the San Miguel Corporation Management Training Center, Alfonso, Cavite, February 7, 2007, available at https://cjpanganiban.com/2007/02/07/visionary-leadership-by-example-2/.

4G.R. No. 187417, February 24, 2006.

5G.R. No. L-14078, March 7, 1919.

6City of Manila vs. Laguio, G.R. No. 118127. April 12, 2005 citing Roth v. Board of Regents, 408 US 564,1972

7Ordoñez v. Director of Prisons, G.R. No. 115576, 4 August 1994, 235 SCRA 152.

8http://www.oecd.org/inclusive-growth/ (assessed September 15, 2018)

9In pursuit of Inclusive growth. NEDA. http://www.neda.gov.ph/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/CHAPTER-pdf. (Accessed September 15, 2018)

10PHIL. CONST. art. XIII, Section 1.

11Calalang vs. Williams,R. No. 47800. December 2, 1940.

12Cesario Alvero Azucena, Jr. The Labor Code with Comments and Cases (2016) citing A Theory of Justice by John Rawls, Oxford University Press, 1976, p.61)

13Philippines Economic Update: Investing in the Future. https://www.worldbank.org/en/country/philippines/publication/philippines-economic-update-investing-in-the- (Accessed September 15, 2018)

14Id.

15Id.

16PH employment rate slightly up in April. CNN Philippines. June 5, 2018. (accessed September 15, 2018)

17PSA Report. https://psa.gov.ph/regional-accounts/grdp/highlights (accessed September 15, 2018)

18The War on Poverty. Henry J. Schumacher. October 8, 2017. (accessed September 15, 2018)

19PSA: Farmers, fishermen remain poorest in PHL. Business Mirror. https://businessmirror.com.ph/psa-farmers-fishermen-remain-poorest-in-phl/. (accessed September 15, 2018)

20Id.

21Look real hard to find ways to stop rising prices. Manila Bulletin. https://news.mb.com.ph/2018/09/10/look-real-hard-to-find-ways-to-stop-rising-prices/. September 10, 2018. (accessed September 15, 2018)

22PHIL. CONST. art. XIII, Section 5.

23http://www.ph.undp.org/content/philippines/en/home/countryinfo.html. (accessed September 15, 2018)

24Philippines ‘rice granary’ region heading toward industrialization. Sunstar Philippines. March 24, 2017. https://www.sunstar.com.ph/article/132887. (accessed September 16, 2018)