A Portrait of the Philippines as a Young Nation

Every once in a while it is good to pause to try to pull together some of the varied thoughts dumped out day to day in these blogs. Rather pull chaos back into order, if you catch my drift. So let’s do a little of that. If it seems deja vu, relax; it is not a mental disorder, at least, not yours. It is merely a review of what has been said before.

Maybe it is helpful to start with a long distance view and then drill down. And from our eye way up in the sky, we can see that the Philippines is a young nation. Younger than the United States. Younger than you might imagine, reflecting on 500 years of Spanish Catholic influence.

The Philippines is situated smack dab in the center of the crescent of Asia that runs from Indonesia in the southeast, westward to Malaysia, Viet Nam and neighbors, northward past China and on to the northeast where Korea and Japan complete the crescent.

No nation in the world is better situated to prosper in an integrating global world. It is at the point of parabolic focus of the most dynamic region on earth.

What is a nation? I contend that it has a time-of-birth date-stamp. A nation is the community that is formed when people reach an agreement about how to govern. Or when a few powerful people definitively impose their rule. The date stamp is whacked into history when that agreement is finalized or rule is declared.
The Philippines was established as a new nation in 1987. The agreement ended the Marcos nation. A new, democratically ordered nation was formed under President Cory Aquino who began her term on the wings of prayer and ended it wrestling mightily with the forces of favor and power.
These forces of favor and power in the Philippines, and the corruption they spawn, are like a smoldering fire in the tundra. Hard to stamp out. Burning underground. Smoke suffocating everything, including good works. Occasionally flaring up and burning bright. 

The Philippines is trying to reconstruct democratic values but old habits, old ways of conducting business, die hard.
Let’s try to characterize the Philippines today. It is good to use the Edgar Lores method of enumerating ideas for ease of reference in the follow-up discussion. Call it a portrait by the numbers. Not artistic, perhaps. But maybe interesting to look at.
  1. The reconstruction is the building of democratic institutions and values that allows the nation to progress from being a nation of and for the empowered – Marcos culminating the failed ideology of power – to a nation of and for the people. The public institutions have been rebuilt, perhaps of rough clapboard rather than polished mahogany, but the framework is nonetheless good. The values . . . not yet.
  1. A deeply embedded dynastic, somewhat authoritarian, network of power and wealth still controls who runs things and it does not give up its grasp easily. Fortunately, these networks are under considerable pressure from a public with louder and more aggressive spokespeople demanding information and accountability. The internet is the medium of modernization. The Big Brother listening post is with the people, not the politicians.
  1. Alas, the most important institutions of accountability, the police and the judiciary, are under the influence of the empowered. Justice has not yet reached the people.
  1. The forces of the corrupt still today act as a brake on good governance. Given the intensity of opposition, President Aquino has done wonders to tip the playing field toward honest  governance.  It will take perhaps 20 more years of honorable leadership to put the people fully in charge.
  1. A Freedom of Information (FOI) bill would be a huge step forward, sealing openness and honesty into the way government works. If the people are the “boss” of government, they need information. Lacking FOI, we know the favored and powerful, the corrupt of good will if not money, are still in charge.
  1. The nation’s educational system is both fundamentally amazing, yet failing on two counts.
  1. It is amazing in that so many schools, so many teachers, and so many kids recognize how important education is. They are working broadly and steadily at building, teaching and studying to advance the knowledge and skills of young people, and to care for their nation’s future.
  1. One huge failure is the nation’s inability to keep up with the flood of babies born of Catholic tradition. A poor nation is a poor nation. It can only build a poor network of schools. The solution, of course is threefold: (1) make the nation richer, (2) allocate education as a higher priority than other expense choices, and (3) slow the birth rate. You can do one of these three things and not realize much progress over the long term. You can do two and make some headway. You can do all three and build an excellent school system. It would help to apply the power of the internet to reduce the overwhelming burden of textbook purchases, school construction and need for teachers.
  1. The second failure is the apparent inability of the Educational leadership to comprehend that memorizing information is not a kind of knowledge that goes very far. The Philippine school system teaches mandated obedience, and from that subservience. It does not teach the values that allow obedience to emerge VOLUNTARILY from a deep desire to compete for honest opportunity. If young people today develop ambition for self-improvement, it is in spite of the school system, not because of it. Democracy is a beautiful institution because it is a loud, open, ever-brainstorming collective of competitive problem-solvers. It assures both security and opportunity. It requires an educated citizenry to operate well, and when it operates well, it is an unmatched system for motivating its people with the promise of opportunity, growth and wealth.
  1. Philippine culture is much like the educational system, both good and bad. It is tremendously rich. Unique. Precious. And it is dysfunctional.
  1. The bonds of faith and family are profound in the Philippines. So is historical appreciation of the many separate islands and regions, and the native traditions, the land and sea-based traditions, the family traditions, which remain strong even today.
  1. It is unfortunate that the nation’s moral anchor, the Catholic Church, chooses to condemn knowledge-based progress, provoking a raw political clash, rather than relish the part it could play as the anchor to good values within a culture that is modern and working hard and earnestly to solve problems. Problems like education and poor homes on the mud banks and teen pregnancies and kids dining from trash piles. The prominant moral voice has become a counter-productive, complaining voice, not a voice ministering to the nation, helping it build.
  1. Filipinos are passionate people, but the passions are used poorly to denigrate and attack and tear down rather than discover and seek knowledge and build. Minds are closed quickly and defended harshly. This is a 100 percent nation. You are either 100% MY way or you are 100% my enemy. 95% is not good enough. And “if you are the President of my nation, you must be 100% right, doing it my way, or I will attack you, not just your acts or decisions, but you, personally”. It’s hard to have a unity, a harmony of unique individuals, a nation, if everyone insists their way is the only way. 
  1. President Aquino is vastly underappreciated, even by the yellow hordes who pushed him into office. Here is a man with the courage and strength of character – his father’s determination and his mother’s good will – to try to move a nation out of the darkness of cheating, poverty and poor behavior and into the light of modern, honest governance, productivity and wealth.
  1. Every institution or group that finds its opportunities constrained becomes a critic. The corrupt, the Catholic Church, Arroyo and her backers, the smugglers, people who live by skimming from contracts, DENR officials, corrupt generals, a wayward Sultan’s teammates, and any 100 percenter who finds one of his pet oxen gored. CHINA is not the main enemy. No, China is in second place to the critics with oxen gored by the President’s initiatives; their divisive cries always suggest there is a better way but they usually point to none. There is no better way. Most of the critics are simply those who cannot get outside themselves to build a patriotic community called “nation”.
  1. But get past the acrimony and we can see that the deeds being done by the national government are no longer being lined up to benefit the empowered. They are being lined up to build a nation that serves its people. The accomplishments are in plain daylight but obscured by all the dirt thrown by the miserly and small of pride, the envious, the bitter, the biased and the intellectually bankrupt. Look at agencies like the central bank and Finance and BIR and Justice and DOT and Tourism and DILG.  And the Ombudsman. And Foreign Affairs. These agencies are working diligently to build a better Philippines. To put in roads to airports, to jail the cheaters, to collect much-needed revenue, to modernize airports, to get airplane servicing up to par to re-open European flights. To improve the nation’s debt rating and attract more capital, to get peace and prosperity into Mindanao, to solve Mindanao’s electricity problem. To better prepare for storms. The amount of good works going on is flat out awesome. High rises and casinos and a real middle class and more and more tourism jewels like Palawan emerging from the corrupt fits and starts that characterized pre-Aquino Philippines.
  1. In this new nation that welcomes good governance, we see the people’s voices being raised again and again, louder and more purposefully. It was the people’s voice that got RH passed, that got a poorly structured Cybercrime Bill halted and into the Supreme Court, that got a wayward Chief Justice thrown from office, and that will determine what quality of character emerges in the 2013 elections. We see attorneys making a reputation by defending the people. We see congressmen like Sotto who betray the values that people admire driven into silence.
There is only one course for this young nation. It is toward honesty and good works. Toward decisions that benefit the people, not the empowered. Toward problem solving and wealth.
If we focus on the broader picture, rather than the many specific acts, we can see that the anti-corruption drive is not just the jailing of bad people. It is remaking a nation’s character. It is laying the foundation for good works that can, over time, ease the nation’s burdensome poverty. Attention to two other master initiatives would add to this foundation, building a framework of steel and assurance of greater prosperity and a healthy, long term future: (1) building Education to ease physical demands and teach problem-solving disciplines rather than discipline, and (2) building Justice to assure fair and firm enforcement of laws feeding a forthright, efficient, law-based judiciary. 

FOI is critically, critically important to seal the nation to candor and honesty. Information is the currency that replaces favor and power as the driver of deeds. Information assures that the doing of good deeds on behalf of the people becomes this nation’s cherished work ethic.

30 Responses to “A Portrait of the Philippines as a Young Nation”
  1. J says:

    The Philippine nation was not born in 1987. It was born around 1897, after Rizal identified himself as a Filipino (prior to that, Filipino refers to Philippine-born Spaniards, while locals were called indios), and the Katipuneros declared themselves cut off from the Spanish Empire. The Philippine state was born in 1898. What was born in 1987 was the post-Edsa regime.A nation refers to a group of people who agree that they share a common identity and destiny. A state is a nation that agrees to express itself in political terms. A regime is a state's political form (China is a nation/state; the People's Republic is a regime). Sorry, Joe. It's just the academic in me splitting hairs :p

  2. Split away, I have plenty of hair left.The essential point that I wanted to make is that 1987 was a fresh start. A lengthy period of disruption and colonial rule prevented democracy from getting a decent hold on the way things are run. Everyone has been in charge but the people for 500 years. The period during which the people are legitimately in charge started in 1987. So we can call it whatever we wish, but I'd like to make the point that you don't build a wholly modern democracy from scratch in a year or two, and that we can still see today the drag of power and favoritism on the "regime" today.It is rather an observation, an encouragement, a warning: the democratic track is correct, but not easy. Be aware that the past is still trying to pull the Philippines back. Be alert and don't contribute to divisiveness.If you get that message, I don't care so much about the terms.

  3. J says:

    Yes, Joe. I got the message perfectly. As I said, I was just splitting hairs. 🙂

  4. Yes, well, I was actually amused, because I had just read your latest blog, which is a superb review of recent presidencies, before pushing the "publish" button. I actually think the two blogs are partners. I refrained from commenting on yours because I might pop my verbal political cork which could be construed as trying to influence Filipinos toward one candidate or another. We foreigners must take care to avoid such untoward meddling. Readers can find your blog by going to the Blog Center and poking "The Nutbox" link.

  5. Edgar Lores says:

    1. This overview is 97.42% accurate. And being accurate, it is positive. And being positive, it is good. 2. I could not find a sentence I disagree with. What do I find particularly accurate?2.1 Item 1.a about the controlling oligarchy.2.2 Item 2.b about overpopulation and the possible solutions.2.3 Item 3.c about the 100 percenters.2.4 Item 4.a about the nay-sayers.3. Hey, this method of numbering statements and referencing them is nifty!4. According to Wikipedia the literacy rate of the Philippines is 92.6% (2000 census). That’s lower than Indonesia’s 92.81 (2011) but higher than Thailand’s 92.6% (2000), Singapore’s 92.5% (2000), China’s 92.2% (2007) and Malaysia’s 92.1% (2009). 4.1 So majority of Filipinos have the Three R’s of education (reading, writing, and arithmetic).4.2 What might be lacking is what I have just invented as the Three R’s of ethics (respect, rules, and responsibility).5. This essay has identified some progressive factors and some non-progressive factors. Some of the non-progressives are: the oligarchy, the dynasties, the corrupt, the Church, education as rote learning and discipline. Some of the progressives are: PNoy, the family, the Internet, education as problem-solving disciplines, some government agencies, the FOI. And some of the in-betweens are: police and judiciary. 5.1 I have said before that the Philippines as a young nation falls predominantly within the first 3 levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Indeed the poor are stuck at the first level. As a people, we have not attained the levels of Esteem and Self-actualization. Note that problem-solving is at the top level.6. I have also observed that Filipino thinking is at the level of superstition, just above Africa’s witchcraft. In a certain sense, religion is superstition, in particular the 100% kind that is blind discipline, the controlling and the controlled. If I had to rate the heads of the three branches of government with respect to reason and faith, I would say:6.1 PNoy has conforming Faith, but uses non-conforming Reason to overcome the limitations of his Faith. A 50-50 percenter.6.2 Sereno has non-conforming Reason, and uses conforming Faith to buttress her Reason. Another 50-50 percenter.6.3 Enrile has conforming Faith and conforming Reason. A 100 percenter.

  6. Enumerating allows one to cut to the chase without a lot of cutting or chasing.4.2 The three rules of ethics should be a required course in high school. You ought to find someone in cirriculum development at DepEd and offer up a proposal. Beats chasing dingos across the outback. 6. is very good.

  7. p.s. I'm looking for the 2.58% and will edit up. I aspire to be a 100 percenter.

  8. Amy R says:

    “Younger than you might imagine, reflecting on 500 years of Spanish Catholic influence.” I was confused at first. I was thinking of Spanish rule per se, not Spanish Catholic. Then I remembered CBCP and Filipino telenovelas. It’s like Spain never really left. 🙂 I am not Catholic. I find the opinions of the CBCP sometimes offensive (being a non-member of their church) but oftentimes amusing, though I attribute it to them being really old. I’ve listened to the homilies of a few young Catholic priests before and I find them to be very realistic. Maybe it’s an age thing. After all, the old ones cannot walk the slums as the young ones do. Whenever the old lady next door (who happens to be a devout Catholic) complains about a certain priest for behaving in an “un-priestly manner,” I make it a point to look that priest up. “The Philippine school system teaches mandated obedience, and from that subservience.”The Philippine school system knows how to enforce discipline so well – to a point that students have come to expect to be regulated by something or somebody outside the self. We have parents to implement rules when we were young; we have teachers for the next fourteen or so years of our lives; and we have bosses if and when we get employed. We fault our fellow Filipinos for lacking self-discipline – that capacity for self-regulation that would tell one to wait for one’s turn, to fall in line, to stop at the red light, to come on time, to play fair, to do one’s job well even when no one is looking. And maybe to stop having unprotected sex when one already has seven mouths to feed.The idea that restraint is necessary in the exercise of freedom seems inconceivable to most. “President Aquino is vastly underappreciated, even by the yellow hordes who pushed him into office.”It boils down to educational and cultural factors I guess. Filipinos are trained to expect instant gratification. I always think about the marshmallow test. We want the candy NOW. We want the promised “tuwid na daan” NOW. Fifteen minutes is much too long a time to wait for the promised reward of an extra candy. Six years might as well be six centuries. I hear people around me grumbling about the poor economy, the cowardice of the President etc. etc. They joke about wanting to vote for another President. Ironically, you hear a different opinion from the workers – the market vendors, the jeepney drivers, the farmers. The people who know that selling a single ware entails one to sit under the sun for long hours, that earning a hundred pesos can take several trips back and forth a few kilometers, or that it takes time to harvest a crop one has sown – maybe they are more equipped to understand the complexity of running a nation. And yet, these are mostly the people who have not gone to college. So in fourteen years (or more) of education, what exactly have we learned? What distinguishes us from people who have not had any schooling? Speaks volumes for the inadequacy of the Philippine educational system, doesn’t it?

  9. The Spanish influence is another fire burning in the tundra, ever there, popping up as smoke bombs out of the mouths of CBCP priests. Or maybe that's direct from Rome these days and the Spanish are just here in the names and looks.Interesting observation, that uneducated workers have more appreciation that President Aquino is actually doing work himself, and it is to tippy toe through the tulips. But give a guy a book and he becomes an expert. Give him a blog and he becomes an obnoxious expert. heeeeee"The idea that restraint is necessary in the exercise of freedom seems inconceivable to most." That's a plain brilliant observation.The educational system needs some work, you betcha. Fix that and the judiciary and it will be a very different place.

  10. erratum: "is no tippy toe through the tulips"

  11. Edgar Lores says:

    Just want to clarify one thing and puzzle about another. 1. Amy talks about discipline and you talk of discipline and I talk about respect and rules. The difference is between externally imposed discipline and self-discipline or what Amy calls self-regulation.2. Amy raises a deep question about the validity of education, and points out that "uneducated" folk are seemingly wiser than Mariano's Ateneo, La Salle and UP graduates. This issue is somewhat to the question of discipline.2.1 Students are taught what to think rather than how to think. And they are taught to respect authority rather than respect dissent. A course in Scepticism 101 is a must.2.2 Even when taught a problem-solving discipline, students view the world from the narrow confines of their chosen profession. They become so conditioned by education and society that they lose the natural, unfettered intuition of the uneducated. And they become so arrogant with their little learning. I think grounding in arts and humanities is also a must.2.3 Speaking of arrogance, if you read the commentary on social and news media, everyone is a know-it-all. And, as you have pointed out, they are out to win rather than to discover the truth. They are on a crusade not a quest. They have lost wonder. So apart from skepticism, arts and humanities, I would recommend a course in quantum mechanics.

  12. Edgar Lores says:

    Erratum: "…somewhat related to the question of discipline."

  13. Have you considered stand up comedy? I rolled at the punch line.What you say is true. It is amazing that people know so much about how OTHER PEOPLE should do things. Most have been nowhere, done nothing, and use about 3% of their mental faculties.At least we've been places and done things and use upwards of 18.76%.

  14. Cha says:

    Whoa! You've covered so much ground in this essay. So many different threads of discussion worth pursuing, each one equally interesting.I'll take on education first, which both Edgar and Amy have also already commented on. I share their concerns and apprehensions about the system and perhaps even the cynicism as to the its actual value and contribution in building a better nation.1.As it is, the Department of Education has its hand full just trying to provide for the basic infrastructure needed to get every Filipino child in school. Tens of thousands of classrooms need to be built, even more chairs and desks need to be provided. Even toilets. In the meantime, the country's legislators are feasting on pork and MOOE savings aka christmas bonuses. So yes, the educational system needs a lot of work; so then why is the money still being spent on pork?2. On Edgar's 4.2, i.e. teaching the 3 Rs of ethics : Respect, Rules, ResponsibilityI agree. There's a values education component in the new K-12 curriculum, so maybe that's being addressed. I don't really know for sure.But what I'd like to point out is that as far as those 3 Rs are concerned, everyone can actually be a teacher and everywhere can be a classroom. Just last week, someone's posting about two taxi drivers did the rounds on Facebook. One was telling his passenger about the importance of paying our taxes while the other one lectured another passenger about following road rules.(Like Amy has pointed out, they seem to have more wisdom in them, the ordinary folks) The passenger apparently asked the second driver to drop him off at a No Loading and Unloading Zone, which the taxi driver refused to do. The passenger insisted it's alright, he is a bank officer, the driver needn't worry. The taxi driver then asked if that means that bank officers are exempt from following the law? That shut up the passenger. I suppose he learned an important lesson that day.

  15. Cha says:

    By the way, the President lecturing the Filipino Chinese businessmen the other day to pay their taxes cracked me up. I think the President makes a good teacher, too. But now we know who will no longer be invited to speak to this group next year. 🙂

  16. Cha says:

    … A good ethics teacher, that is.

  17. His calendar is clearing up. He can also mark "free" for the next ABS-CBN birthday party, or just about any media gathering. He used the last occasion to lecture on media responsibility. Heh.

  18. So many topics . . . because the blog is meant to be a kind of wrap-up for now. I'm pondering where to go from here, as continuing to write in circles doesn't move forward much. I'll blog it later in the week.

  19. Cha says:

    Aah, I see. Will wait for that blog then.

  20. Edgar Lores says:

    Suggested Topic: "The Mass Filipino Phenomenon of the Dunning-Kruger Effect as Displayed by Bishops, Bloggers and a Boxer and its Retrogressive Effects on the Nation's Posterity"

  21. Ah, my, no. I'm thinking more like "Chasing Dingos and Five Other Ways to Keep Your Sanity"Wiki: "The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias in which unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly rating their ability much higher than average. This bias is attributed to a metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their mistakes."Been there, done that.

  22. Education by Memorization !!! I like that. Goot description of Philippine Education. Totally absolutely Group B style of teaching. But … isn't it what the church wanted and their style of teaching that the world is flat and the sun revolves around the moon ? If anyone question that that anyone would be ex-communicated, polite way of saying "de-headed".That is why Filipinos are not curious people. They are afraid to ask or God brings havoc to their selves.

  23. Like what I told you folks so many zillion times …WHATEVER IS WRONG WITH FILIPINOS is by virtue of religion.

  24. Ella Tovara says:

    Instant gratification. yes I agree Filipinos look for that a lot of times. I salute the President when he vetoed the law Magna Carta for the Poor, this will make him unpopular but he looked at the reality that Government can't even provide a semblance of quality classroom … why sign a law that will make his ratings go up but in the end can't be implemented because of lack of funds. Oh, maybe the savings of congress can be used for this … if the members of congress allows it … but they would rather put it in their pockets and never mind the poor.

  25. Attila says:

    Filipinos are not curious people.My wife tells me that Filipinos are the curious type but that is almost always about chismis. That is a basic part of the culture.To my surprise she told me that some of the Filipinos that I know to be very shy and the silent type are very much involved in chismis.

  26. Attila says:

    "It would help to apply the power of the internet to reduce the overwhelming burden of textbook purchases, school construction and need for teachers."My wife tells me that there are enough teachers out there but they are not employed. The classrooms are overcrowded but still there is a waiting list for teachers. She told me that in some daycare centers young teachers are working temporary for 3000php until they are hired.

  27. Aha ha ha ha …Silent Filipinos run deep. Chismis is prevalent in the Philippines where entertainment is hard to get by for free.They mostly derived their happiness thru the miseries of others.

  28. Who'd want to be a teacher in the Philippines? It is 24/7 workload! When they are home, they have to have lessonplans for tomorrows class. They buy their own chalks and erasers. Sometimes they buy for classroom projects, etcetera without ever reimbursed. If they asked for reimbursement, it goes round and round till the end of the world.MOST OF ALL Philippine teachers do not get married. They are mostly single till death. Being a teacher in the Philippines is not sexy. Their pockets full of chalk dusts. They look like mothers with 50 children. To be a teacher in the Philippines is HEROIC ACT!!!

  29. Uplifting the poor is the last on the minds of politicians.The poor are only remembered during election.

  30. Attila says:

    Heroic and depressing.The average salary for a teacher (after tax) is 15,000php or $375. She most likely supporting her extended family on that salary. That is very low but higher than what most people are making. Above that there is a huge vacuum gap in salaries. For most that is the most they can earn.

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