New PH think tank to promote policy debate

The Angara Center for Law and Economics wants to promote debate and raise the standard of policy research and debate in the Philippines

NEW THINK TANK. Rappler's Carlos Santamaria, Dr. John Nye and Senator Edgardo Angara discuss the upcoming think tank that aims to promote debates thru policy research work. Photo by Boy Garcia

MANILA, Philippines – Why does the Philippines lack an independent think tank like the Brookings Institution in the United States, where top experts conduct policy research that promote debates on key issues in the country?

A handful of low-key institutions do exist, such as the UP-linked Institute for Strategic and Development Studies or the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, both with limited funds and resources.

However, these centers are unable to attract foreign scholars and fail to make an impact outside of a small circle of academics, so their work is rarely noticed by lawmakers and the general public.

The Philippines needs a powerful, independent think tank for academics and lawmakers to engage in a dialogue about the many issues that affect the development of the nation and should concern citizens, according to Filipino-born US economist John Nye 

Nye is a highly-respected expert in the field of institutional economics and current Frederic Bastiat Chair in Political Economy of George Mason University’s Mercatus Center.

First of its kind in PH

Nye is the new Executive Director of the Angara Center for Law and Economics, the first of its kind in the country and named after Senator Edgardo Angara.

The new institution, formally launched with a series of conferences at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati on Friday, August 3, aims to raise the standard of academic research and policy studies by attracting the best Filipino scholars and a network of international experts with an interest in the nation.

“In general, people seldom talk about the Philippines in the academic world, except for very specific issues,” such as why the country has gone from economic leader to laggard in Asia, said Nye during an interview with Rappler.

The scholar explained that the Angara Center will bring in foreign experts not just because they are well known but who can contribute their research on topics that are of interest to Filipino academics and policymakers.

At the same time, local researchers will be able to apply for fellowship positions so they can contrast their findings with the visiting professors and establish a dialogue between both sides.

From left to right: Rappler's Carlos Santamaria, Dr. John Nye and Senator Edgardo Angara. Photo by Boy Garcia

Need for structural reform

Angara, due to retire in 2013 after over 3 decades in politics, believes this project is what the country needs as President Benigno Aquino III — a high school classmate of Nye — is building the necessary momentum for deep reforms.

Policymaking, the Senator said, “needs to be explained in the simplest terms possible so it can be understood by the guy on the street” and debated not only in Congress and by the media but by citizens themselves.

Without open discussion about the country’s problems, “it will be impossible for the Philippines to develop,” he told Rappler.

The Angara Center, according to the Senator, will promote such debate in an institution independent from politicians, universities and corporate interests. No issue will be off the table, not even Charter change.

“We have to look at the fundamental structure of our political system, which is the root cause of our underdevelopment. We are held back by key provisions in our Constitution which are a throwback to colonial times,” noted Angara.

Best practices to change PH mindset

Angara said the center will bring in foreign experts for them to share “best practices” from abroad with the ultimate goal of changing the complacent mindset of many Filipinos and their refusal to engage in a serious debate about the state and future of the country.

“I think our main problem in the country is really [because] we built a Berlin Wall in our minds,” he said, adding that this prevents meaningful research and development.

The Philippines has many structural problems that Filipinos need to address, said Angara. But it cannot do so without making tough choices and analyzing what has gone wrong and why the country went from economic powerhouse in the 1950s to the third world nation it is today.

Nye explained that one of the challenges is to go beyond the local “polite culture” of never being criticized by an ally or friend and stressed the center will encourage “disagreement and debate” among colleagues.

“In the US, it is a standard that your friends are often harsher than your critics, but i don’t see that often here. It is a very different culture and a very polite culture.” – Rappler.com