Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Three Folding Image of Society

The State, Private Sector, and the Civil Society are three stakeholders in planning and their roles interplay with one another. To understand the dynamics between the three, let us look first at their purposes.

The State is responsible for providing social welfare. Social welfare is usually defined as the basic needs of the people such as food, shelter, clothing, education, health, etc. The State should also promote peace and order. Ideally, only the State should have coercive influence. The rise of insurgency and banditry undoubtedly creates fear in the hearts of the people. Whether the threat is real or imagined, if people do not feel safe, the State has failed in its duty.

The State must also ensure democratic governance, that democratic ideals are upheld. A democratic society is a society where people are free-- free to speak out, free to vote, free to organize themselves, and free to live a happy and comfortable life. Using military power to uphold these freedoms is a sign of weak governance.

The State must also secure justice and equity for everybody. In an ideal world, justice is supposed to be blind. In reality however, not everyone has equal access to legal services in our country. Those who are rich and powerful have the resources to thwart the justice system. This is why the State must lean towards those who are marginalized, to help the disadvantaged have the same legal options afforded by the more privileged. It was Pres. Manuel L. Quezon who first said "Those who have less in life should have more in law." and it became a recurring theme for all the other presidencies most especially during Pres. Ramon Magsaysay's term. Which is not to say that justice must turn a blind eye on those who violate the law, but rather that its eyes must remain closed amidst all the glitter of gold. The State must provide a level playing field for everyone regardless of social and economic status.

The private sector produces and distributes goods and services for a profit. The driving force behind any business enterprise is monetary gain. Everything else is secondary. There is nothing wrong with getting profit from your investment. After all, that is what free enterprise and capitalism are all about. The issue being raised especially against Big Business is how much profit is permitted. With so many people suffering from poverty and there is a very wide disparity in income distribution, it is ethical to get so much wealth?

I am in a quandary over this, as I understand that business is a profit-oriented undertaking. There are so many risks involved. For me, it seems only fair that those who take chances should be rewarded, provided that profit is not gained at the expense of other people. The businesses must also ensure that their profit goes back to the State in some other way. The money should circulate INSIDE the country and not siphoned out. In that case, the rich only gets richer, and the poor is being sucked dry.

Take for example the case of big shopping malls like Henry Sy's SM. We all lionize (to use Prof. Serote's term) Henry Sy because of his "contribution" to our country's economy. Contribute how? Having the third biggest mall in the world does not necessarily translate to prosperity. Filipinos spend the hard-earned money of their OFW relatives on buying stuff that are made outside the country. We are contributing to the economy of that country, not ours. Most of the money that we pay to SM and deposit in its bank (Banco de Oro- EPCI) is invested by Mr. Sy in China, not in the Philippines (Prof. Serote read in a PAL in-flight magazine that the taipans have a contest among themselves on who invests the heaviest in China). We are enriching China, while draining our own pockets and only so little goes back.

And what of the dollar remittances of OFWs? These are being used to pay off our international debts.

Determining allowable profit margin also depends on the nature of business. If the business involves public services like water supply and electricity generation and distribution, or basic needs like food and education, a ceiling must be set. On one hand, the private sector has means for a more efficient delivery of these services. However, it can be heartless. It has to get something in return. The services that you get is commensurate to your ability to pay. Certain restrictions must be set in place such that businesses do not cheat the people out of the services that they are entitled to anyway. But then again, we go back to the question of whether or not the performance of public services is handed over to the private sector, or is it solely a public/ State exercise.

Another role of the private sector that overlaps with the State is employment generation. This should be done in tandem with the government, as providing jobs is not a purely economic concern. Having a good job, and not just any other job, affects the psyche of a person. It brings dignity and a sense of achievement, something that is more in line with personal well-being, a part of the thrust of social welfare-- the responsibility of the State.

It is this overlapping of the roles of both private sector and State in promoting social welfare that gave birth to a new trend in business today-- corporate social responsibility, or the concept of giving back to the people. However, the private sector only gives a small percentage of what if earns. For example, the Philippine Business for Social Progress is an NGO sustained financially by big corporations (belonging to the Top 500 companies). While it may seem to be a noble undertaking, the contribution of these companies is only 1% of their net profits. Imagine a pie cut into 100 pieces. Take one piece. It didn't affect much of the appearance of the pie. You barely notice a piece missing. One percent is loose change compared to what those companies are keeping in their pockets. It seems that corporate social responsibility is just a PR tool, a marketing strategy used by business to sell itself, which again, is a self-serving act.

The third player in the field of urban planning is the civil society. It is concerned with individual development, upholding the coherence of moral values, and promoting public interest. The latter, once again, is the responsibility of the State under the Constitution.

So what is the Civil Society? And perhaps more importantly, WHO is the Civil Society?

* taken from slides and discussions of the lecture of Prof. Serote.

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