Nonoy Oplas is an economist in the Philippines, and the President of Minimal Government Thinkers Inc. Over the past five years, he has established network and alliances with other free market-oriented think tanks in Asia and other parts of the world. Nonoy was interviewed by the International Society for Individual Liberty about liberty in the Philippines. He blogs at funwithgovernment.blogspot.com.
Joe: What does the average person in the Philippines think of government and liberty? Is there any possibility for change?
Nonoy: The average Filipino would think that government regulations, subsidies, taxation, etc. are the answer to most problems, but also think that many government officials and employees are corrupt. So they demand less corruption or “better governance”, not less governance.
However, liberty and economic freedom are accepted unconsciously. People always go for bargains and cheaper prices when they go shopping or buy groceries. They want freedom to buy and sell anywhere they want.
Joe: Are the ideas of liberty spreading in the Philippines, and if so, how?
Nonoy: Yes, even unconsciously. They want freedom of expression, no censorship in the things they read and write on the web. Conscious political liberty is still small though; people who explicitly demand less government.
Joe: Why do so many Filipinos go overseas to work?
Nonoy: Both supply push and demand pull. Supply push, many Filipinos want to try working and living abroad for higher pay, a new environment. Demand pull, many foreigners want Filipino workers than other migrant workers.
Healthcare for instance, Filipino nurses and physicians are more warm in taking care of their patients, so hospitals in Saudi, UK, US, etc. prefer Filipino health workers.
Joe: Are there other factors as well? For example, do government policies have anything to do with the many Filipinos going overseas for work?
Nonoy: Certain government policies actually limit or restrict the potentials of migration of more Filipinos. Like it imposed a ruling in Hong Kong that overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) should get this much as minimum wage there, and so on. So some Hong Kong employers stopped getting OFWs and got Indonesians, Vietnamese, or other nationals instead. I made a blog post on migration (here).
Joe: What policies are damaging to the people who are attempting to start a business in the Philippines?
Nonoy: Protectionist policies of the Constitution. Some sectors are reserved exclusively for Filipinos, and some sectors allow foreign investments — but only up to 40% of total equity. Then there are bureaucracies in national and local governments, both requiring their own set of permits. Also multiple taxes and changing policies midway.
Joe: You mentioned permits. What are some examples of permit requirements that prevent the average person from starting a business?
I wrote this two years ago but the type of bureaucracies still apply. http://funwithgovernment.blogspot.com/2013/02/business-bureaucracy-6-presentation-at.html
Joe: Is property rights abuse a problem in the Philippines, and do you have any examples?
Nonoy: Yes. A clear example are the squatters and illegal settlers in private lands. They come in droves, and many local governments do not drive them away because they are a big source of votes and political supporters.
Joe: I guess I mean, does the government ever take private property in the Philippines?
Nonoy: No, no instance of the Philippine government taking over a business or private property that I can remember. The most that government does is to stop the construction of a building, or prevent the transfer of property ownership if there are active tax and other cases involved. Or harass the owner(s) of a business if they happen to be a strong political enemy of those in power.
Joe: What other challenges do Filipinos face when it comes to individual freedom?
Nonoy: External factors, the foreign aid bodies and multilaterals (UN, WB, ADB, IMF, USAID, etc.) who think that governments should keep expanding. They hire many academics and consultants who justify big government. Internal factors — the populist belief that for many problems in society, more government regulations are the answer.