The Philippines: A Gem in Tattered Clothes

Well, I suppose “Gem in Tattered Clothes” is a mixed metaphor. Maybe it should be a “gem caked in mud”, or “a hunka-hunka body in tattered clothes”.  The point either way is that we should not let the problems and poverty of the Philippines mask the promise and progress that is here, too. For sure, we should look beneath the mud and tattered clothes and recognize what is really going on.

I’ve been beating around a lot of bushes for several months, examining this aspect and that of Philippine culture and politics, and maybe it’s time to take a break and try to put some overall order to things. Lacking a paint-brush that is able to present accurately the overlapping complexities of the Philippine social/economic/political spectrum, I shall start with a few bullet points, then elaborate on a one or two of them.
This is the Philippines as I understand it, in no particular order other than how it came off the keyboard:
  1. The Philippines has an excellent President. He has established a stability and focus on good, earnest government, not for his personal ambitions, but for the Nation. He looks for integrity and competency in his appointments. He has a lot going on. The Nation’s new course, and its stability, is being internationally recognized as different, and good.
  1. The forces against change are mighty and include the rich power-pushers who back politicians and manage the few big businesses in the Philippines; they are interested in themselves more than the national good. Also the Catholic Church which adheres like Mighty Bond to 15th century values, no matter the wisdom Man has compiled since then. One wonders as to oligarch and church understandings of patriotism. These are the same intransigent powers that Rizal wrote about, and died about.
  1. The economy is sound but thin and comparatively poor. The Nation’s poverty is a benefit (a competitive advantage) in the sense that it impels OFW’s to go out and send back a lot of money, and it attracts businesses like call centers to the Philippines where they can operate at low cost. But poverty is also the biggest problem because so many Filipinos live in unhealthy or even dangerous conditions, and they have no future.
Oil Exploration Areas Out for Bid: Source DOE
  1. The economy is developing some solid roots that are spinning off a bigger middle-class. Call centers, construction, agribusiness and fisheries, a sound and professional tourism push, and new casinos coming to town. Oil exploration. The Nation’s finances are stable, stocks are roaring, debt ratings have been upgraded, and investors frequently mention the Philippines as a potential new star of Asia.
  1. Certain foundational government institutions are in extraordinarily poor shape, suffering from too much demand or not enough funding, corruption, and incompetence. The most dramatic of these are the courts and the education system. Also in poor shape are agencies like DENR and Customs (both with deeply engrained corruption) and the police (fractionalized, poorly trained and corrupt). Newly appointed Chief Justice Sereno is a flash of hope for change in the courts.
  1. The nation’s defense capability is weak. It has no air force or navy to speak of, and the army is consumed with fighting Filipinos (NPA and Muslim extremists), not national enemies. The upper ranks of the Army are swelled by fat and happy generals who are more political animals than fighting machines.
  1. International relations are dicey but overall strengthened from what they have been in the past. Frictions and jealousies about the United States have been set aside in favor of a needed backstopping alliance. China is the bully and the Philippines has not rolled over; nor has the Nation picked a fight. Alliances are being strengthened with Australia, Japan and South Korea, and Mr. Aquino has visited with leaders of other nations to open good lines of communication. China is the main fly in the international ointment as she behaves belligerently and unreasonably.
  1. The nation’s social values are not conducive to building a progressive, productive state. Poverty means that subsistence is more important than obeying laws (resulting in over-fishing, cheating, rudeness and a great deal of self-interest over community interest). Education teaches rudimentary and fairly useless things (memorization of irrelevant information) versus socially useful disciplines (obeying laws, competing fairly, responsibility, aspiration). Many parents don’t exercise good discipline in nurturing kids. Patriotism is based on pride, not sacrificing for the community or nation.
  1. Congressional leaders are not particularly productive, being influenced by social values of self-interest and excuse-making, the moneyed few, and the Catholic Church. There is a lot of pomp, as if they were royalty above the common man (e.g., Santiago rants and Sotto rationalization of plagiarism). Positive: some productive bills have at least gotten attention: RH, FOI, Party Development. Negative: the more meaningful, socially impactful bills struggle to get enacted. We . . . just . . . can’t . . . get . . . un . . . stuck . . .
  1. The Nation is rather like Manny Pacquiao, rolling from the punches thrown by typhoons and floods. Disaster resources have been built up. Most of the effort is still reactive, however, rather than long-lasting and founded on strong defenses (flood channels that work). It’s like that when you are against the ropes every three weeks.
  1.  There is a new aspiring sheriff in town. He is represented by a combination of mass media with social media and internet communicators. Although there are not a lot of players in this media arena, it is an amalgam of articulate opinion-makers that can come down heavy on those who would abuse the Philippines. Senator Sotto will unhappily bear witness. The people’s voice, as an important check and balance in democratic governance, has never been stronger.
  1. The broadly held reputation of a shoddy, shabby Philippines is wrong (a common view held in the United States). The Philippines has an amazing depth of first class people and facilities, from its financial managers to its executive officers under President Aquino, from its tourism sites to its call center and construction dynamos, from its agribusiness powerhouses (fruits and oils and fishies) to its gorgeous landscapes. This nation is emerging as first class, but it still dresses in rags.
I’ve been in the Philippines seven years now, and the future has never looked better.
The main reason is the flood of public passion that put President Aquino in charge. Many think this was a form of idol worship, but I think it was deeper than that. I think it represents an educated public largely tired of getting conned and ripped off. President Aquino was the beneficiary of this outpouring of frustration and hope, and he is striving to fulfill his mandate for good, non-corrupt, economically sound governance.
The forces against him are heady, namely those who resent, hate, detest change. The Catholic Church. Oligarchs. Corrupt people feeling the pinch of non-corrupt authorities watching what they do.
I think the President’s true, deeper capabilities are largely masked by the “shine” he gets from arresting Arroyo and getting Corona tossed. Looking deeper, we can confirm he is focused on a vision of the future and works actively toward it, like a corporate executive would. He hires good, capable people to head important agencies, not slugs who suck off the public peso. He displays the determination to install new social disciplines: backing responsible parenthood in the face of Church condemnation, introducing performance bonuses to government workers for productive work, pressing for accountability for results (firing 31 DENR officials for failing to implement a Presidential Order). His government is a beehive of constructive activity.
The Legislature does not seem to be able to keep pace. It is bogged down in the partisan bickering that is particularly dense in the Philippines, where any imagined sick tree is reason enough not to plant a forest. So things get stuck easily.
The courts are in ICU. What a mess. There seems to be no understanding that speedy hearings are fair, or facts are fair. The grease that runs the courts is money. Judges are wasting time doing annulment hearings while legitimate damages to people are not addressed. And attorneys are in cahoots with the sloppy, negligent, unprofessional way things are done.
So one of three branches of government is up to the task.
The Political Party Development Bill may change the workings of the Legislature. But it will be after 2016 before that settles in. I think it falls to the media, social and internet, to hold the Legislature to higher and more productive standards. Legislators themselves seem to have little interest in raising the bar (witness the silence about Sotto transgressions).
The courts? If prayer would work, I’d pray for a good and powerful improvements from CJ Sereno. But I tend to think God gives us the free will to make our beds and the kind of justice system we get depends on how smart and hard we work. In this case, how smart and hard the Honorable Sereno works. Not how diligently she prays.
The Philippines needs a rallying cry.
“Remember the Alamo!” won’t work. Nor “Remember Ninoy!”. Not even “Remember Jesse!”
It ought to be something that means: “We’re in! We accept the challenge! We’re dedicated to competing globally as a first class and responsible Philippines!”
Can we get that into five or six powerful words?
Put Mr. Jimenez on it.
Maybe he can come up with something short and sweet.
Comments
21 Responses to “The Philippines: A Gem in Tattered Clothes”
  1. andrew lim says:

    After consulting Clint Eastwood's imaginary friend, I am borrowing his old slogan : Yes we can! har har har

  2. Ha. Yes, that's a good one. Clint Eastwood is one of my all-time favorite people, but I wish he had not rambled like an ancient drunken lunatic to an empty chair.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If only corruption can be eliminated and people can eat three times a day and go to school…the Philippines would have long attained First World status already.

  4. Yes, the foundations of privilege go all the way back to the Spanish era. It will take discipline to get rid of that beast, which steals both the gold and the spirit of the nation.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I remember cops who were murder suspects fled and laid low. When Manila Mayor Lim ordered shoot-to-kill upon these rogues, lo and behold, they appeared. But some say we are civilized, that order should never be condoned blah, blah. Sometimes, we are so naive…DocB

  6. "Discipline is required to teach the chronically disobedient new manners." JoeAm

  7. Actually Clint Eastwood is the perfect analogy for the GOP, old rich white man, angry and incoherent lashing against imaginary enemies, without vision to lead it into a brave new era.

  8. You should send a note to the Obama campaign, although I think they are already working actively to flip that act the other way. One shows the back of the President's head in a cabinet meeting with the caption "this chair is taken". The Romney campaign is a little miffed that Clint stole the show and Romney's speech was lost in the hubbub.

  9. The RNC is a joke, it was more of Ron Paul 2016 than Romney, well I guess the GOP is dying, more beholden to extremist faction than the Democrats

  10. Edgar Lores says:

    This is an accurate overview of where we are and what we face. Seven years of impressions impressively compressed on a page.If there is any omission at all, it might be the role of the press – the so-called fourth estate – to sift and analyze national issues.Rappler is doing a good job in investigative journalism, but the mainstream media hardly is, relying on often times biased columnists (not pundits) to reflect on important issues. The social media on the web has partly made up for this lack.Structurally, the Executive at the national level is doing its job, the Judiciary is hopefully beginning to, and that leaves the Legislature which, as you point out, is held at ransom by self-greed, the rich and the Church. Locally, some provincial and town governments are still the bailiwick of political dynasties and private armies.The economy holds promise. The quality of education is haphazard. Social values and norms – the culture, ah, the culture! – are at best being redefined and reconditioned by new awareness on the web. We do not know how deep the new awareness goes.The rallying cry, the slogan must be in Pilipino. PNoy's campaign slogan serves for the moment. We need something positive, like Andrew's "Kung kaya natin,kakayanin natin". (If we can, we endure.) On the other hand, it might be something anchored on a historic event, something in the living and collective memory of the nation. That event may be EDSA 1, the overthrow of a dictatorship. It may also be a series of slogans, not just one.

  11. Anonymous says:

    A question I have been asking is-can a politician like Binay change and redeem him self once he occupies that post? In other words, can you betray the people that gave you money and opened doors for you? I look at President Ramos one time squeezing the corporate fat cats to break the PLDT monopoly.

  12. Yes, the Fourth Estate, a good addition. Fundamentally weak and commercial and star-struck and not doing a good job on issues that require intelligence. Clue "The Buzz" is not really news.You'll have to stand as my translator if the slogans are Pilipino. I don't like the "If" in "If we can, we endure", but I may be picking something up in translation that ought not to be there. I'm reading a history of Rizal and I like him a lot; not much has changed from his day so his thinking still applies. He has some superbly quotable material.

  13. Yes, Binay in the background as VP has not had the opportunity to prove that he has been able to change his leopard spots, from the days he was mayor and cutting deals that benefited him personally. He has proved that he is smart and ambitious. I would not have trusted him as head of DILG because I think he would have been busy cutting personal deals instead of doing the government's work. I don't know how he goes about establishing a wholesome reputation.

  14. Regarding the undying "culture of corruption", I have an interesting observation on why it is so ingrained at an early age into a Filipino child's mind. However I am quite lazy to explain it and if possible it is better if you can observe it first hand. Try to attend beauty pageants hosted by a public elementary school and from there you can right a new blog 🙂

  15. Absolutely not. No way. Not gonna happen. You write the blog. I detest the use of kids to portray adult values. If you want, I'll let you know how I REALLY feel about it.But thanks for the suggestion! I do appreciate you wanting me to get a first hand look at things. But my blood curdles.

  16. Well I respect your stance about it and I even rarely attend said pageants. Even I myself do not understand why adults are very liberal and off-hand regarding beauty pageants for the young ones and then question society how their children grow up.And sorry for the my tone, I am not compelling you, it is just it is better if the situation is observed first hand 🙂 I'll give you a clue, TICKETS!! If you want you can ask others what I am talking about.

  17. Your tone was fine, no problema. Let me guess, if I buy lots of tickets, my daughter somehow becomes very beautiful.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Binay + UNA leaders = traposBinay, Erap, Enrile, Maceda = Untrustworthy, wheeler-dealers, opportunists, corrupt minds!Not saying they are senior citizens with questionable past, yet could not be ignored.Are the Filipinos too pathetic and impotent that young visionaries could not emerge as new leaders?History does not lie!

  19. I see that President Aquino has released P200 million to Binay for his expenses. Binay expects to be doing a lot of traveling. Like, probably following behind Roxas to the various provinces and cities to make sure he speaks in the right ear after Roxas has spoken in the left.

  20. Subject A says:

    The fact that you started your first assessment complementing our current President, PNOY, as an "excellent" president just invalidated whatever point you were trying to make.PNOY is the most ignorant, undiplomatic, un-mannered, lazy, and immoral President the Philippines has ever known. If Sotto is stupid, PNOY would do best in the "stupidity" score.I still think you are a commie. You reveal yourself more and more. I don't believe you care about the Philippines or that you "honestly" want our country to improve its economy. I'd say you are threatened because fewer people are bowing down to this kind of "elitist" manipulation. We are finding our voices and I'm telling you – it's getting stronger and wider. You can try to manipulate it but more and more people are gaining more independence.You can continue using this blog as a social experiment – many of us we'll be fighting back and will refuse to succumb to such manipulation. You don't have the advantage anymore. Thank you WWW. Whatever your arguments and claims are, we can verify. No more BS.If the Filipino wise up (including)your wife, you'd realize, you'd have to go back to LA since you can't find a country, whose citizens you can boss your way around.FYI: Perhaps JFK was your friend (if I understood correctly) but I don't think you are a friend to him because your words are bullish and manipulative. He was not commie. But I still think you are.

  21. There is little I can do about fantasy. You are entitled to your illusions and angers. Even to speak them. The blog is not a social experiment. It is an exercise, in writing, in learning, in trying to figure out a culture that is very different than American, and doing something that may or not be useful. That's a judgment for others.You will have to excuse me, but you seem a little out of touch with civility.

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