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Why Filipinos Should Read: ‘The Anti-Development State’ by Walden Bello

by Bryan Meniado

While there are many good reasons to be proud of being Filipino, there remain deplorable realities happening in our society. Poverty, violence, and politics, among others, continue to taint our nation and identity. Many have grown tired of the failed promises of elected officials saying they will make the country great. Some of us have even already given up, saying “wala nang pag-asa ang Pilipinas” with heavy sighs and downcast fists. We blame corruption, we blame our kababayans for their lack of discipline.

But as hopeless as it may seem, losing hope is not an option. We should never stop looking for a way out of this national impasse.

This is what Walden Bello’s The Anti-Development State: The Political Economy of Permanent Crisis in the Philippines is about. In this book published in 2004, he uses his expertise in Sociology and Public Administration, as well as his experiences as a former member of the House of Representatives, to explain the political and economic landscape of the country. Together with his colleagues, Herbert Docena, Marissa de Guzman, and Marylou Malig, they seek to find the root causes of the problems and propose a way out of the so-called permanent crisis we are in.

It’s a promising read, and is most recommended to those who have lost faith in change. Here are three reasons that should urge you to pick up a copy.

A well-researched trip down history lane

Through chapters, Bello tours the reader from the momentous point of EDSA Revolution in 1986 to the administrations that came after. He discusses the promises, priorities, and policies, and scrutinizes the things each of the administration did right and probes into the things they did wrong. He backtracks to the past years and mistakes, and explain how and why we have arrived at our present situation and troubles.

Also, the book touches on the painful history of the agrarian reform program, the unsustainable development that caused environmental degradation and the adverse effects of neoliberal policies and privatization during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis.

Seeking answers to why Filipinos are ‘poor’

One of the most pressing concerns of our society is social inequality, or the lopsided distribution of wealth and power. The gap between the rich and the poor is glaring, as manifested by the gated communities and the informal settlements in the city. This stark contrast is also evident in the provinces, as portrayed by the medieval hacienderomagsasaka relationship.

Since wealth and power is highly concentrated among the very few elite, it hampers many Filipinos from getting decent opportunities to alleviate their living conditions. Poverty has become a perpetual cycle and has been nearly impossible to resolve.

Because of that, many of us often blame corruption as the one responsible for practically every crisis. Over the years, this has formed an intrinsic distrust towards public officials because they are viewed as corrupt who steal from public funds, in turn making Filipinos ‘poor.’

Bello argues, however, that while corruption hampers our growth, it is far from the primary reason why we cannot develop as a nation. He points out that corruption and crony capitalism also plague developed countries, like, for instance, the United States. Now, if that’s the case, how come our countries seem so different from each other? Are our public officials more corrupt than their foreign counterparts?

According to Bello, the class structure is the one that deserves more blame. The ruling elite impedes any attempt for development to protect their vested interests which, in turn, undermines the government. He points out that the elite control over people and resources, plus the subordination of the state to their interests, is the real reason. In other words, the institution that should be driving us to progress is strangled by elite factions’ demands, rendering it futile in serving the interests of the majority.

Insights on moving forward

It is almost instinctive to look to our neighboring Asian countries and see how they deal with their own issues. Some people tend to propose that we should emulate developed countries like Singapore, South Korea, or Japan. It is tempting to follow their footsteps, yearning for the quality living standard the people in those countries experience.

To some extent, it is good to learn from the experiences of developed countries. However, there is a caveat: We should not assume we can fix our problems with the same solutions. Addressing the ills of society is not that simple.

What the book proposes is that for us to refrain from being swayed by outside pressures. Instead, we need to look inside every nook and cranny of our society. We must learn how to stand on our own, and understand what we need as a nation. This is a bold and grueling task, given that it requires us to go against the demands of the powerful global institutions like World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank. But according to the book, this may be necessary should we attempt to alter the global economic governance.

It is also necessary to overhaul and strengthen our institutions into what Bello calls “more state,” which means to be more of the state that regulates the private sector. In addition, we should develop the domestic market as the driver for growth. This requires establishing a genuine agrarian reform, rebuilding the agricultural industry, and achieving sustainable development, wherein collaborative efforts with our ASEAN neighbors can come in.


Admitting that our country as “not that great” does not make us unpatriotic. In fact, it is a disservice if we remain silent and oblivious about the not-so-good aspects of our motherland. If anything, it should serve as a challenge for us to realize how to move forward as a nation.




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