Thursday, March 12, 2015

Catching Up

I've been very inattentive to keeping up this little communication. Some of the blame goes to my having gone off to the Philippines in late January for almost a month. I was working on an assessment of judicial reform there for the Asian Development Bank. This was a project on which I was pleased to work because I spent a total of about four months there about a decade ago involved in developing a plan to improve judicial operations.

I hadn't been in the Philippines for about eight years or so. Biggest change is that the economy is booming. They have finally caught up with the rest of Asia. Growth last year was seven percent. Still lots of political scandal in the press, at least in the half dozen or so English-language daily papers in Manila. There's a presidential election next year and of course, the current president, Benigno (P-Noy) Aquino III, cannot run again because the limit is one six-year term. There were rumors that they might try to change the constitution but by the time I left his image was not so great after a radical Muslim group in Mindinao managed to ensnare and shoot 44 Philippine National Police officers.

All the buildings in Ortigas--the part of Manila where I was working--that had been left unfinished ten years ago have been completed and other gleaming skyscrapers have gone up.  The truly prime business district--Makati--is also booming. Downtown Manila--Ermita and Malate--looks less prosperous, but it can be hard to discern how well exactly it is doing because of the crowds. Traffic is awful as it was then but not necessarily any worse. If you haven't been in traffic in Asian cities like Manila or Jakarta or Bangkok, you don't know traffic.

The day before I left was Liberation Day. This was the 70th anniversary of the day in 1945 when MacArthur led the U.S. forces to take back Manila from the Japanese. At least there they remember how bad the Japanese were: luckily, MacArthur for once got ahead of schedule and arrived in Manila before he was expected. Japanese soldiers were shooting everyone they could see and burning everything they could. This was the kind of war crime that General Yamashita was put on trial for in a ballroom I was shown on this trip in the American Embassy, which still is located at a prime spot on Manila Bay. 

Judicial reform is happening in the Philippines but it has been a slow process and much resistance remains. The Supreme Court still runs the whole system from Manila--it approves all personnel actions and all procurements for the entire country. And there is corruption at all levels. Yet progress has been made in Quezon City where cases are actually being processed efficiently. A really exciting Judicial Sector Coordination Committee made up of the top-level of the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Local Government and Interior is making change happen, too.

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