Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pol. Ideology 35: Why Liberty

In 2007, I was invited by another free market thinker, Marc Guttman, to contribute a story, personal stories and experiences on how I became a free market thinker, or a libertarian, a classical liberal, related terms, to a book that he would edit and publish, "Why Liberty". Marc knew me through a good friend, Jo Kwong, who was the VP for Institute Relations then of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation.

Lucky me, I was the only Filipino who was invited to contribute to that project. After several revisions to my contribution, and after several glitches with his publisher, the book was finally published in 2010. See details here,

This is the book. Nice and neat, isn't it? There were 54 of us from different countries and continents who contributed a paper. Marc as Editor did not contribute a paper but he wrote the Foreword and did all the legwork to make the book a reality.

My paper is #52, on page 379 of the book. Below is the last draft that I submitted to Marc. I think there were slight revisions to it in the published book.

One can view some reviews, as well as the Foreword, Table of contents, at the book website. Interested to see the whole book, it's available at

Thanks for the opportunity to contribute to that book Marc. Cheers.

From Collective to Individual Liberty
By Bienvenido “Nonoy” Oplas

My introduction to political activism was in my college days in the early 80s at the University of the Philippines (UP), a premier tertiary institution in the country. The movement to oust the Marcos dictatorship which was in power since 1966 was very strong. The former strongman (he died in the late 80s) declared Martial Law in 1972 and ruled by personal decrees and strong police and military forces. Civil rights were drastically curtailed; business monopolies by Mr. Marcos’ friends and cronies were created; and lots of taxpayers money were used to put up hundreds of government corporations and financial institutions to be run by his other friends and political supporters, especially retired police and military personnel so that they would continue  their loyalty to him.

The most consistent and most appealing mass movement especially to student activists then was led by the Maoist-inspired Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) in the underground, and its various front and sympathetic organizations above-ground. Thus, my early political formation was molded along the Maoist, anti-dictatorship, anti-imperialism, anti-feudalism, “national democratic” (nat-dem or ND) ideology.

Then in the mid-80s, my buddies and I began discussing the anti-democratic tendencies of most ND organizations. In addition, we were reading the classic writings of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Lenin, and we interacted with similar individuals, especially some of our professors in the university who were critical not only of the dictatorial tendencies of most ND organizations, but also of the ND ideology itself. We concluded then that the ND movement was theoretically wrong because the Philippines in the 80s was already predominantly capitalist, not feudal. Hence, the call should be socialism, not “controlled capitalism” under national democracy. And the primary leaders of the struggle should be led by the workers and urban poor, not the peasantry. In addition, we felt that socialism, the social ownership of the means of production was a lofty goal to achieve growth with equity, and to help the poor empower themselves. Socialism therefore, should be openly discussed and advocated to a wider audience, at least to our fellow students in UP and other universities.

Thus, we formed our distinct and small socialist movement in UP; later on, we reached out to other allied student organizations in other universities, groups that were anti-dictatorship, open to social transformation, and not fans of the ND philosophy. We also had our own “underground” body, a small group of individuals who were theoretically grounded on Marxism and Leninism, who issued our clandestine socialist newsletter. But we were not as competent and as patient as the NDs in the art of mass organizing and in reaching out to very poor segments of society. Thus, our group failed to expand.  We did retain those whom we had recruited.

When the Marcos dictatorship was finally toppled in 1986 after 20 years in power, there was less fear of political and military harassment. Our group was among the few groups which formed the first openly socialist coalition in the Philippines in 1987, BISIG or “Bukluran sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isip at Gawa”, meaning Federation for the Development of Socialist Ideas and Practices. We felt that democratic space opened with the new Cory Aquino government which was made victorious by the first “People Power” revolution, in which we also had participated. I remained active in the socialist movement until 1990.

In 1991, I changed work and for the first time, I worked in government, at the House of Representatives’ economic think tank. Immersed in a new work environment and faced with new set of data and facts, slowly I began to embrace a limited scope of “economic liberalization.” For instance, while I was still in the activist movement, I had previously thought that the bulk of the government’s debt service payment was for foreign debts. When I worked in Congress, I saw lots of detailed data on the budget, numbers that showed that the bulk of debt service payment was from domestic borrowings. Then I got a big assignment to provide technical assistance to the Chairman of the House Committee on Economic Affairs, in a bill liberalizing the entry of foreign investment. Our work was successful with the enactment of the “Foreign Investments Act of 1991.”

Aside from that assignment, I also worked on other policy papers on trade, agriculture, science and technology, and so on. Slowly I was convinced that the country needed some economic liberalization, not protectionism, with active regulation by the state, to attain more economic development. So starting from the early 90s, I became inactive in the socialist movement. 

Until the mid-90s, my mind was convinced of a “big but reformed, transparent government.” In 1997-98, I returned to UP to pursue a Masters program in Development Economics. My “re-introduction” to microeconomics woke me up to the beauty of markets, of the spontaneous and non-coercive nature of “price signals.” For instance, I realized once more that monopolistic or oligopolistic market structures can be minimized if not avoided if society allows a “contestable market” situation (entry and exit of entrepreneurs should be free and not restricted). That is, government regulations can be a hindrance to the development of “contestable markets” or worse, government can create monopolies through state franchising laws. Nonetheless, I still had that belief in “big but better governance”.

In 1998, I created a discussion e-group (later became yahoogroups) called “Pilipinas Forum” (PF) that started with about 3 dozen friends. The discussions and debates became frequent and lively, and friends of friends started joining. Within 2 years, the membership grew to around 300, from ND ideologues to anti-ND and socialist guys to ordinary thinkers to ultra-free marketer entrepreneurs who advocated “atomizing and vaporizing the state.” My exposure to frank, harsh and even brutal online debates in our PF yahoogroups, plus personal discussions with friends found in this network, along with my readings in some theoretical and applied economics literature, made me realized the supremacy of the free market and small government philosophy.

In early 2004, we formed “Minimal Government,” a young political movement that advocated “small government = small bureaucracy = small taxes.”  A few months after, in April 2004, I was given a very beautiful opportunity by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to train and get exposed to other free market think tanks and individuals in the US for a month. I trained in Larry Reed’s “Mackinac Leadership Conference” in Michigan, attended the 4th Atlas Liberty Forum and the Heritage Resource Bank Meeting in Chicago, met with some leaders of free marketer think tanks and institutes in other parts of the world in those 2 conferences. I also visited the offices of some free market institutes in Washington DC.

From then on, my readings and involvement in the free market movement with both libertarian and non-libertarian people in many parts of the world deepened. I maintained and expanded my network of free market-oriented individuals and leaders by attending some regional and international conferences.

In late 2004, I attended the 1st Atlas’ Asian resource bank meeting plus the Economic Freedom Network (EFN) conference in Hong Kong, the latter sponsored by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF). In June 2005, I was invited by the International Policy Network (IPN) to be one of the panel speakers in its “Global Development Summit” held in London, UK. September of that year, I participated in the 2nd Atlas meeting, a colloquium where we discussed Friedrich Hayek’s book, “The Constitution of Liberty” and its relevance to our country and regional experiences. I also attended the EFN meeting, again sponsored by the FNF. Both activities were held in Phuket, Thailand.

I was challenged and inspired very much by Hayek’s book, that I created a blog on my reflections on that book, That was one of the 3 political blogs that I created in late 2005; the other 2 were and

In September 2006, I attended the 3rd and last Atlas’ liberty forum where I was one of the panel speakers, and another EFN conference by the FNF, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The next month of that year, I attended the 2nd Asia Pacific Taxpayers Union (APTU) meeting in Seoul, Korea, sponsored by the World Taxpayers Association (WTA) and the local host, the Korea Taxpayers Association (KTA). I went there as Sec-Gen of the Philippine Taxpayers Union (PTU), a taxpayers’ alliance advocating “No tax on work, shift taxes to consumption”. I also presented a paper there on “Reducing government waste and cutting taxes”.

Last year, I attended the 1st Pacific Rim Conference held in Honolulu, Hawaii. It was a big event jointly sponsored by 6 free market-oriented institutes: the Americans for Tax Reforms (ATR), State Policy Network (SPN), Grassroot Institute Hawaii (GIH), IPN, Lion Rock Institute (LRI), and Asia Forum Japan. The paper I presented there was on “Privatization, theory and Philippine experience”.

April of this year, I was invited again by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation to attend the (8th) Atlas Liberty Forum, held in Atlanta, Georgia, USA. It was a big event with 270+ participants from 50 countries. A short paper I wrote about that forum and some social issues in the Philippines, “Liberty and choice vs. Dictation and extortion”, was published by Atlas in its “Freedom Matters” monograph.  

This year (2008), I asked the PTU President that I will be inactive there so that I can concentrate on our think tank, Minimal Government Thinkers, Inc. ( It has four core advocacies: small government, small taxes, free market, and individual responsibility. These ideals and advocacies are very important in order to assert individual freedom. And for such freedom to be optimized, there should be more individual responsibility, less “government responsibility”, which can translate to lesser government taxation, regulation and intervention.

For instance, with big government intervention, entrepreneurship and job creation can become a crime and “illegal” activity if the entrepreneur/s will not go through a maze of regulations and secure business permit from various government bureaucracies first, before starting and resuming a business. These bureaucracies include the barangay or village permit, city mayor’s permit (before getting this, permits from fire department, health and sanitation department, building and electrical inspection department, etc.), Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR). In addition, an employer is required to register the firm and its personnel with the Social Security System (SSS), Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), housing fund (Pag-IBIG), and many other agencies, depending on the sector or industry that the firm is doing business. The cost of taxes, fees, time and effort to comply and wait (can take several months to finish everything) can be huge.

The campaign for a low, flat income tax, if not abolition of income tax altogether and to shift government revenues to consumption-based taxes, is a difficult and very challenging task. More than discussing the logistics of the campaign, the big battle is influencing the minds of many people that work and performance should not be penalized and taxed. Rather, laziness and personal irresponsibility should be penalized with very limited if not zero subsidies.

Currently, the Philippine government confiscates up to 32 percent of productive people’s personal income if their annual income, net of small exemptions, reaches US$11,500 or more. That annual income was “big” when they made that law in 1997. It is now 2008 and with the past and current inflationary pressure, that annual income is not big for middle class families. After the state has taken away nearly 1/3 of that in personal income tax alone, a middle class family can easily slip below poverty line. So it is the state, by virtue of its confiscatory income tax policy, that pushes many middle class families down the poverty threshold.

There are plenty of consumption-based taxes that the government, both national and local government units, currently collects: value added tax (VAT), import tax, excise tax, vehicle registration tax, documentary stamp tax, real property tax, travel tax, amusement tax, community residence tax, etc. There are plenty fees too: driver’s license fee, police clearance fee, business permit fee, passport fee, airport/seaport terminal fee, and so on. And there are other forms of income taxes too: corporate income tax, franchise tax, percentage tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, bank savings income tax, and so on.

Our think tank is a member-institute of some international coalitions of free-market oriented institutes. These include the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change (CSCCC,, and International Property Rights Index report ( I am also the founder and moderator of sort of an Asian Liberty Forum (ALF) yahoogroups, a discussion list on liberty and economic issues. This list is composed of many friends and leaders of free market institutes and individuals in Asia, as well as some friends in Europe and the US.

The road to winning new and more friends through advocacies of free market and individual liberty is wide and open. Individual freedom is a value that is treasured by many people, a value that respects productivity, performance and hard work. Individual freedom comes with individual and parental responsibilities, including volunteer work to help other less-privileged people. A day should come when people who value individual freedom will be much plentier than those who are afraid of it --  those  who advocate more taxes, more government responsibility and forced collectivism. Forcing collectivism and social equality, instead of encouraging voluntary cooperation and respecting inequality, is one formula to encourage envy and foment mediocrity in society.


See also:
Pol. Ideology 30: Federalism, Debt and Civil Society, May 21, 2012
Pol. Ideology 31: Quotes on Liberty and Government, May 29, 2012
Pol. Ideology 32: On Shrinking Government, June 19, 2012
Pol. Ideology 33: Anarchy or Minarchy, July 13, 2012
Pol. Ideology 34: More on Anarchy or Minarchy, July 17, 2012

1 comment:

GabbyD said...

"I realized once more that monopolistic or oligopolistic market structures can be minimized if not avoided if society allows a “contestable market” situation"

do you believe that all markets are contestable as to eliminate imperfect competition?