Jesus Estanislao, former secretary of finance of the Philippines
PEDRO DANIEL OLIVEIRA
In Manila, Philippines
In an interview with O CLARIM, the former secretary of Finance during Corazon Aquino’s presidency addresses the reality of the Philippines in a spirit of mission, by emphasizing that the way his country tackles corruption diverts from the Chinese model. Dr Jesus Estanislao also says that the gaming industry like we see in Macau or Singapore is not suitable for Manila. As for relations with Beijing, he admits that reasonable people are needed on both sides to deal with territorial disputes in the South China Sea.
You were secretary of Finance during Corazon Aquino’s presidency. What were the challenges back then?
The big challenge was how to survive as a Government, because we were a democracy installed after a dictatorship and there were problems about the military trying to take over. So we had to stand firm. This was the security standpoint. We also inherited an economy that was bankrupt and we had to work just to make sure we could get back to the international financial markets, from which where we were cut off. Society was very fractured, very divided and there had to be a way of bringing people together. Until now we still face problems of secession in the south.
How do you see the Philippines nowadays?
There is no question about how solid democratic institutions are. No one is beginning to think of destroying or throwing away democracy. The economy has transformed in many ways into a fast-growing one. Now we are investment grade and we have gotten back to international financial markets since 1992.
Countries in Asia are often cited for rampant corruption. President Xi Jinping of People’s Republic of China is taking strong measures to tackle corruption. Is this approach the best way?
His approach might work in China, but it is slightly a different approach that we have to take here [in the Philippines] because we have our own culture, legal and judicial system, among other mechanisms. But let me put it this way: How serious are we? We sent to jail two former presidents (Joseph Estrada and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), impeached a chief justice and have put under detention three actual sitting senators. I don’t think we can find many countries that could do what we did…
Especially in Asia…
Especially in Asia!
Is the Philippines on the right track?
It is. I am not saying it’s easy, but at least we are making some progress.
After your term in the Government finished in 1992 you decided to go to corporate governance.
First I needed to convert this small Center (for Research and Communication) into the University (of Asia and the Pacific). After my term I decided to pick up an appointment with ADB (Asian Development Bank) to set up their institute in Tokyo. Then I asked myself: “What would I do?” The answer I found was: “Well, you have to address the common problems that you find.” So I said corporate governance was going to be the key.
Why did you choose this field?
Because corruption is there [in the country], and we can’t forget that after the East Asian financial crisis in 1997-98 corruption became a big issue and corporate governance also became a big issue. That’s why I said: “This is something I have to start in the Philippines.”
How well do you know Macau?
I’ve visited twice and I knew it as a Portuguese territory before the handover to China. I haven’t been to Macau since then.
It’s a territory where the gaming industry is really strong. How do you think about this in Manila?
Quite frankly I am not very happy with it; I am not happy with gaming industry in Singapore either. I think there are alternative ways to earn a lot of money. I know Macau developed itself hugely because of the gaming industry, but maybe that is not our strength.
Is your choice of being in corporate governance got anything to do with your faith as a Catholic?
Yes and no, because the faith tells us to be fair to everybody, to be of service to as many people as possible, therefore to be honest. So this is an application of the faith, but at the same time it has got a lot of management science within, and the motivations of what we have done are coming from faith. The actual practical tools that we used came from management science. Motivation, of course, is social responsibility.
How did you see the Pope’s visiting to your country?
It was fantastic. The message that he gave to the government officials was very spot on. He called for integrity and for anti-corruption. Any corruption practise is somehow stealing from the poor. That is something our politicians came to hear and that is something we are working on to make sure we’ve got a moral voice.
Pope Francis also mentioned “the oft-neglected yet real contribution of Filipinos of the diaspora to the life and welfare of the societies in which they live.” How do you see this issue?
It’s a challenge. It has many good points, but also many bad ones. In a sense that Filipinos are capable to do so much good, but they also have families that are divided, which entails quite a lot of sacrifices. We hope to be able to increase job and economic opportunities in our country so that fewer people would actually have to go (abroad). So what we have to do is to look for ways and means, by which we can take care of people who are out there and living in many different cultures and economical environments.
Back to People’s Republic of China, how do you analyze the territorial disputes between both countries in the South China Sea?
It is an irritant and it is something that stands between us, but it is not the only aspect of our relationship. There are many other aspects where we could cooperate as friends. For example, on the economic side we are good. What we need to do is to bring reasonable people on both sides and look for points of coalition and common interest.