Reflecting on Philippines 2000

The process of crafting and implementing Philippines 2000 is a good example of reform, innovation in governance and change management at the national level. Reflecting back on his 1991-1998 experiences and observations as the Assistant Director-General for Policy and Programs of the National Security Council, Office of the President, Apin describes below the elements that contributed to the successful national reform process inspired and led by then President Fidel V. Ramos, with the assistance of National Security Adviser Jose T. Almonte. 

  1. Multi-sectoral consultations (listening to the people). One year before President Ramos assumed the Presidency, many consultations were quietly held all over the country with business, government, academic and civil society groups. The question asked in these consultations was: “If Mr. Ramos is elected as President, what policies would you recommend that he adopts?” These consultations were held in 1991-1992.
  2. Organization of a Low-Profile Core Group of Reform-Minded Leaders (identify and recruit potential champions). Immediately after President Ramos assumed the Presidency on July 1, 1992, about two dozen reform-minded Undersecretaries (the highest career officers in the government bureaucracy), CEOs from the business sector and some civil society leaders were identified and convened to draft an economic reform strategy and program. Staff support consisting of about 30 policy researchers studied successful economic reforms elsewhere: Meiji Restoration in Japan, Singapore, Taiwan, etc. The results of several studies on the political economy of the Philippines conducted in 1988-1991 by the Economic Research Group of the Economic Intelligence and Investigation Bureau of the Department of Finance were important inputs.
  3. Core Group became the “Genro” (change management core team). After several iterations in August-November 1992, President Ramos approved the draft strategy. He formally announced it as “Philippines 2000” in January 1993 and it became the master reform strategy of his six-year administration. The informal core group did not disband itself; the members thereafter became an informal network of leaders which quietly but effectively advocated the reforms against opposition groups and pursued the implementation of the strategy. The group called itself “Peoples 2000” because the two key elements of the Philippines 2000 strategy were people empowerment and global competitiveness. They patterned their work from the “genros” during the Meiji Restoration in late 19th century Japan, except that they chose to work more quietly and without taking any credit. Group members pledged themselves to "Three Passions": passion for excellence, passion for the Filipino people and passion for anonymity. Because of the last, the silent but effective work of this high-level core group was barely reported in the mass media.  The group supported the ground-breaking reforms by President Fidel V. Ramos, which included de-monopolization or de-cartelization of some industries -- insurance, domestic shipping, telecommunications, airline and banking (partial) -- that leveled the playing field and freed the sectors for faster investment, competitiveness and growth. 
  4. Communicate the Benefits of Reform (communicate, communicate, communicate). The benefits of leveling the playing field and of greater competition, as well as the costs of protectionism and cartels to the majority of Filipinos were described. A simple chart was drawn to show how reforms can result in poverty alleviation.
  5. Mobilization of Pro-Reform Groups (identify and recruit support groups). Dismantling of cartels and monopolies, opening up of domestic industries to foreign competition, lowering of tariff barriers to stimulate competition and reduce incentives to smuggling, de-regulation of certain graft-prone sectors – these were strongly opposed by certain powerful business interests and government personalities who benefited from the old arrangements. Peoples 2000 members quietly worked with civil society groups and investigative media groups to recruit public opinion for the reform program. For example, leaders of various business sectors hurt by the monopoly in the airline sector were recruited, e.g. associations of travel agencies, hotel and restaurant groups, restorts and local transportations.
  6. Clear Message of Presidential Commitment (executive sponsorship). All speeches of the President consistently delivered the reform message of Philippines 2000. Preparations and staff support for policy speeches of President Ramos were solely the responsibility of the same confidential support group. President Ramos and some Cabinet Secretaries carried the message to capitals in key bilateral partners: United States, U.K., Germany, etc. and multinational corporate groups who were studying investment opportunities in the Philippines. During the first few months of his Presidency, President Ramos fired a very high-ranking government official because he made a decision that favored a narrow business interest – a clear message that he is committed to break away from the old practices.
  7. Close Working Relationship with the Legislature (changes in "rules of the game" for a more level playing field)President Ramos started and cultivated close personal and working relationships with leaders in Congress, particularly the Speaker of the House and the Senate President. Executive-legislative consultations were frequent and cordial. As a result, the laws that were needed to support the reform program were passed. For example, the banking sector was partly opened to foreign competition as a result. Other sectors were opened up to competition and the playing field was levelled through Executive Orders signed by the President such as in telecommunications, inter-island shipping, insurance and airline industries. A top-notch brilliant lawyer assisted the President in formulating the Executive Orders.
  8. Cascading the Reform to other Government Agencies (spreading the reform). Through the Undersecretaries who were members of Peoples 2000 informal group, the operationalization of Philippines 2000 and the alignment to this master strategy of sectoral policies in various other government agencies proceeded over time. To align even the security, military and police establishments to Philippines 2000, the national security paradigm was broadened to make security of the Filipino people co-equal with security of the state, and to add economic, environmental and cultural security to the traditional military and territorial concepts of national security. Subsequent derivative policy directions, such as the "Pole Vaulting Strategy" and advocacy for "ASEAN 10" were formulated and pursued.