The real democracy

The commemoration of the 34th EDSA People Power Revolution. Among the attendees were NHCP and EPPC chair Rene Escalante and SOEF commissioner Christopher Carrion.

Last Tuesday, I was invited as the guest of honor to the annual commemoration of the historical 1986 People Power EDSA Revolution. The celebration was spearheaded by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP), in coordination with the EDSA People Power Commission (EPPC), Spirit of EDSA Foundation Inc. (SOEF), and other national and local government agencies.

Following is an excerpt of my interview with Pia Hontiveros of CNN Philippines.

Pia: Since the 1986 People Power Revolution, do you think we have achieved the goal of democracy?

Joey: I was sharing with the group earlier that the real fight for democracy doesn’t end with the 1986 (march). The real fight for democracy continues. For as long as the Philippines has one of the highest poverty levels in the world, we have to continue to find solutions. Democracy is one way to achieve greater prosperity because we now have a more inclusive economy. But how do we now help those who are at the bottom of the pyramid? This has been a problem for so many years.

Pia: Right. Because (Edsa) wasn’t just (about) removing Ferdinand Marcos, but well, uplifting people’s lives.

Joey: Getting rid of a dictatorship should change our lives, but it doesn’t (happen) by just changing the leadership. The reforms have to take place and many other things. Today, we have a leader who’s quite different, a very strong leader. His focus is to help the poor, the Filipino people who are not part of the real economy. And that’s what he is passionate about. And that’s where our (Go Negosyo and Office of the Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship) programs are, trying to help the micro and small entrepreneurs.

Pia: You were part of the anti-Marcos rallies and your father, Joe Concepcion, headed NAMFREL in the dark days of Martial Law. Everybody remembers that. But for you, there are other things (you believe) that you need to do (in order to achieve true democracy).

Joey: Well, we have to transform that energy into an energy that helps the people at the bottom of the pyramid. If poverty remains where it is, then what was democracy all about? Just freedom of speech?

So the programs really of this administration is towards creating greater connectivity through the (building of) basic infrastructures which allow people to participate (in nation-building). By building airports, bridges, railways, and all of that, we can connect the market to the people. The President is really passionate in trying to see that the big businesses help the smaller guys.

Pia: And that’s why you have your Go Negosyo program, MSME Mentor ME, as well as the other efforts of your office.

Joey: Together with the DTI, DA, and DOT, these programs are aligned with the public sector and the private sector. It’s a real partnership to bring about greater inclusivity within the economy. I explained to the President, agriculture, tourism and digitalization are the key factors in bringing greater inclusivity.

Yes, our President is very strong. I guess in the private sector, as CEOs, we are somehow (we need to be) very strong leaders or else our corporations will not grow. Sometimes you have to have an honest, strong leader to change things.

Pia: You are the Edsa People Power Commission vice-chairman, presidential adviser on entrepreneurship and one of the big businessmen who is close to President Duterte, and you were also part of the anti-Marcos rallies and Edsa 1986, with your father, heading NAMFREL in ’84 and ’86. That gives you a really good perspective of how people view things today. It’s interesting that you describe President Duterte as a strong leader. Others who don’t like him use stronger, very colorful words. You have the benefit of seeing both sides in a way. Can you talk to us about that?

Joey: Well, I mean, in the case of President Duterte, he has his style and mannerism in talking and some people are offended by it. But in the office, many CEOs have their own style as well and they can be rough. I can be rough, especially when something goes wrong. When you have a vision of helping the poor, you have to have a plan and you have to be passionate about it. I guess the President is extremely passionate about getting this country to move forward. His frustration on drugs, on corruption is there  and that is because of his passion. The same manner when we (CEOs) don’t grow our sales, I ball out at the entire sales organization. The President is (like a) CEO. He sets the direction and (with his two years left in his term), he wants to achieve as much as he can to really bring up the lives of Filipino people.

Pia: The reason why I said that you have the benefit of seeing both sides is because I want to know your take regarding the (ABS-CBN franchise renewal and other matters) and whether these pose as challenges to democracy?

Joey: I think that the President is maybe mad at what happened to him in the past. I’m glad that ABS-CBN apologized for that. I think in the end, all of this will blow over. I believe we still have a democracy; we have the lower and upper house that will discuss the whole thing. You can see a lot of clarity today at the Senate hearing.

Similar to what happened with the water concessionaires. I think that there is an earnest desire on the part of the government today and the private sector to make sure that everything is going to be favorable towards the Filipino people.

Pia: Some are saying that what’s happening today is just like pre-martial law. What do you think of that?

Joey: In our own family, we’re divided, some of my siblings feel that we are moving back to Marcos time. I tell them we’re not moving in that direction. At the end of the day, I think the President knows what’s best for that matter and you have a strong Congress.

On my end, (as presidential adviser), my objective is to really help alleviate poverty by working with the public sector to come out with real programs that can hit the poorest of the poor people. Many of them are micro entrepreneurs. You can see a lot of people want to succeed in life, but their access to money and market is sometimes the challenge.

Pia: So you are saying in very short and simple language that the fight for democracy isn’t just on the streets; it’s not for or against a political cause but for people.

Joey: Was democracy the solution to improving the lives of the people? If there’s no improvement in the lives of the Filipino people, then maybe we made a mistake. (As I see it), we need to see a follow-through. I believe that the celebration of Edsa People Power is a great reminder, but we can’t be over-focused on it because we have to move on from that.

Real change has to happen wherein we see the lives of people improve (and take part in making sure that happens). In the end, if the lives of people in this country don’t improve, then (we have to ask ourselves) – what was the point of Edsa?