The Philippines Is Playing It Safe

Confusion Roswita Szyszka

“Confusion” by Roswita Szszka

by Joseph-Ivo

It always seemed to me that Filipinos never could make up their minds who they wanted to imitate. Maybe, with a hybrid engine in mind, they tried to copy the best of the cultures they were confronted with.

But when I visited the Chinese cemetery in Manila, I finally understood:

Filipinos want to play it safe.

In most mausoleums of the cemetery one sees Crucifixes, Santo Niños, Holy Marys, but equally Buddhas, Confucius, protecting lions, and plenty of lucky charms. Why bet on one God? Eternity lasts too long, so let’s play it safe. Betting it all on only one number is too risky.

The Philippines plays it equally safe in selecting cultural, technical, political or legal systems. The welfare of a country is too important, so let’s mix up where ever possible. Let me present some examples.

Officially we use a metric system but we think in the imperial system. The metric system is extremely rational and comprehensive, the imperial system much more intuitive. So how do we promote rationality if we mainly use intuitive imperial units like inches, pounds, feet and cups, paper in letter size or legal, queen- and king-sized beds…??? Are meters or kilos and their decimal multiples too complex? Does multiplying by 10, 100 or 1,000 really requires a cell phone?

We use the European voltage of 220 volt and produce it at the American frequency of 60 Hz. Is this meant to teach us that appliance voltage or frequency is important? Or that it is irrelevant? After all, OFW’s  send us goods from all over the world. We just change a plug and try it.

The world knows two basic legal systems apart from Sharia: (1) The Civil Law was invented by the Romans and greatly standardized by Napoleon. (2) Common law had a traditional Germanic and Christian origin and was promoted by the English in all their colonies.

Civil law concentrates on the text of the laws with each judge interpreting them as well as he can. Common law concentrates on equality. All should be punished equally for the same offense; it is up to lawyers to know all previous cases and assure equal punishment. The Philippines and Scotland are the only places in the world that have mixed systems. Here the basis is the Spanish civil law, the practice is the American common law. The result is an extremely complex and slow legal system.

Philosophically, the motivation of an act is most important in continental Europe. The result of an act is most important in England and the US, and it is a black and white case if it is proven that the stone you dropped caused an avalanche. In continental Europe you will be judged on your intention, whatever the damage created. In the US you will be judged on the results, whatever your intention.

The legal system is aligned with this way of thinking. Results are easier to compare then intentions, punishing for equal results more logical than punishing for equal intentions. Facts and forensic evidence is more important in the US, testimonies and character more important in Europe (see Mariano’s examples).Playing It Safe

The Philippines “thinks” American but uses European “tools”. A European multi-party system combined with an American presidential system is a guarantee for inefficient politics. Democratic parties were set up on a national level under American guidance, but politics still perform locally on a dynasty basis.

Globalization strongly promotes the American corporate culture. This creates a mono-culture which, as in agriculture, is more vulnerable. A single disease can wipe it all out. A big cause of the 2008 financial crisis was bankers getting huge bonuses based on results regardless if the results were due to pure luck or clever investing. This promoted a “gambling” style of banking.

The Philippines is still resisting a culture where people are measured on results. Who you know and who pays you respect are more important than what you produce. This is one reason why the Philippines was not so severely hit by the financial crisis. (The main reason is that there is no middle class. It is the middle class that is hit everywhere, not the wealthy. The wealthy thrive on the crisis as the State covers their losses).

Are your intentions respectful? That is the basic question here in the Philippines, not if your actions are leading to results. The American way of thinking is only picked up by a minority. Achieving results will not guarantee election results, being respected will.  “UP journalists” are taught to be factual and double check, but they think in terms of showing respect and collecting respect (see Mariano’s ranting).

Why is Joe so clear and easy to follow? He has a single viewpoint. He thinks only in “the American” way and that makes his thoughts coherent. Philippine newspapers and blogs are confusing because you don’t know in advance what the way of thinking is and what the hierarchy of values is.

The Asian values of respect, family and “charms” are so strong, the Spanish and Catholicism mindset with an emotional or “irrational” way of thinking is so embedded, the American occupation and the globalization of the American way so dominant that I have no idea what would be better or how it will evolve.

What I know is that playing it safe is risky, adding inches and centimeters is confusing and it certainly slows us down.

But perhaps recognizing the differences is a start?

35 Responses to “The Philippines Is Playing It Safe”
  1. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    I play safe. Instead investing in Makati Stock Exchange, I buy real properties. It is the only place in the universe where Philippine real properties appreciate regardless if the economy tanks. Philippine Real Properties defies Law of Economics.

    I play safe. I welcome Chinese than fight them. Self-preservation is my motto. I am nationality confused so I do not care about where I live who rules over me. Self-preservation is cowardice to others. I find self-preservation as bravery. Imagine people taunting me as coward day-in day-out not fighting against the Chinese. That is pure bravery.

    I play safe. I live in a humble gated community with armed roving guards and check points with CCTVs. Regardless, I still have my house inside the gated community gated with burglar alarm, CCTVs and iron bars for extra protection.

    I play safe. If I am a witness to a crime I do not volunteer information. No matter how many columnists tells me they will write a dedicated column for my courageous act and bravery like they wrote of Ruby’s courageous act beyond the call of duty only after she was figner-pointed. Because in the end, there are loyal dedicated hitmen that will end my life paid for by Tanduay Rum and a pack of cigarette.

    I play safe. I pay my taxes religiously even though I am not religious. I am not like Philippine Medial Association member that will not pay the right taxes until BIR clean up the pre-existing corrupt conditions. (See Inquirer today) So, therefore, PMAs are admitting without denying that they are really bunch of crooks. They are demanding the right conditions for them to pay taxes.

    I play safe. I buy my big screen LED TV and stereos from abroad thru FOREXWORLD website. One-Third of the price, top-of-the-line, auto-volt 110~220v. One to two month waiting is not bad for two-thirds savings.

    “UP Journalists” will go the way of the Dodo. Extinct. They go to newsmakers and never ask questions or rebut or ask for clarification despite looney statements from newsmakers. They are non-thinking robots. They will be replaced by faxes and e-mails. Shoot questions to newsmakers and they comeback with e-mailed or faxed answers.

    No matter how I play it safe. Philippines is still not a safe place. I’d rather the Senators and Congressmen steal money than istanbays bumming for cigarettes. I’d prefer they steal tax money without me knowing. It gives me a sense of safety.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Filipinos think in one, two, many. Or my family, my close social group (barangay, school… or fellow senators) and the rest. The rest is undifferentiated, other social class or other province or other religion, the main thing is that they are not “us”. Your way of expressing this feeling is unique.

  2. andrew lim says:

    @Joseph Ivo, @ Joe

    This gives me an idea why the halo-halo (literally “mix-mix” or mish-mash) was created here (have you tried it, Joe? a dessert made of crushed ice, milk and more than a dozen ingredients- fruits, beans, corn, all sweet).

    Maybe this also explains why so many local movies were sold to the public as “having something for everyone” e.g. action, drama, comedy, moral lesson, – an all-in-one package. As if the beauty of the movie relied on the number of elements that were packed into it.

    Levity aside. “clarity of thought” was never really a strong suit of Eastern civilization, compared to the West. While the West struggled to understand the universe scientifically, teasing out the rules till it made sense, the East was content to revel in it, and explain life away with part science, part superstition.

    The West reaped the benefits of its philiosophy – material progress. But it also brought about its own unique set of problems. The East will meander along, discovering insights intuitively, suffer needlessly but somehow still survive with a smile.

    Take your pick, or get the best of both worlds. 🙂 Me, I like standing in intersections – of East and West, science and faith, engineering and arts. (I paraphrased that from Steve Jobs)

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      The Philippines has indeed a halo-halo way of thinking, a little bit of everything will make it more appealing, crushed ice will cover every taste anyhow. The Italian mindset is making it better with less ingredients by looking for the perfect raw materials in a perfect proportion of complementarity.

    • Joe America says:

      My wife always gets the halo halo special, taking about an hour to devour that grand concoction, which is about a foot in diameter. The sweets are different than what I’m used to, and I can’t quite summon up the strength to eat much more than a jelly bean or two.

      But, indeed, it is a culturally appropriate dessert, and I shall appreciate it more now. As she eats that outlandish thing.

  3. abe galon says:

    The Philippine cemetery as you cited is a big joke . That itself defines the confused state of Filipino mentality, but I am not sure that by doing so many things to imitate is playing it safe. In my view, Filipino has a knack of making simple thing extremely complicated coupled with enormous ego.

  4. edgar lores says:

    1. Very deep thoughts.

    2. So the Filipino is an illegitimate child. He is the son of a Spanish friar, and the stepson of an American cowboy.
    2.1. From the first he learned the value of social airs, social class and social standing, and from the second he learned the value of wealth to attain and maintain social standing.
    2.2. So is this the portrait of a Filipino: a bastard by birth, a bastard by upbringing, and a bastard by behavior?
    2.3. Judging by the character of the scamming senators, the portrait is accurate. (Note that the three scamming senators are bastards in either one or two meanings of the word.)

    3. I am not familiar with the intricacies of European culture so I will limit my comments to the start-off point, a comparison between Chinese and Filipino cultural values.

    4. I think the eclectic approach to religion, to worshipping the gods of different religions to assure oneself of winning eternal salvation, is purely a Chinese one. The Filipino is invested in one of two religions, one of which he is certain.

    4.1. The motivation of both Chinese and Filipino is the same: security (or risk aversion). From this root point the behaviour of both races diverge in terms of basic character, risk strategy, attitude and aptitude, and time horizon.

    4.2. Basic character. The Chinese is a gambler; the Filipino is a segurista.
    4.2.1. Note that segurista has no English equivalent. It derives from the Spanish term “seguro” which means sure, safe, secure or insurance.
    4.2.2. This means that the Filipino will only act if he is assured of a positive outcome. As the essay underscores, the Filipino wants to play it safe.

    4.3. Risk strategy. The Chinese will hedge his bets by putting his eggs in many baskets as shown in his eclectic approach to religion. The Chinese model for business strategy is the department store; it is one of massive networking and low profit margins to build volume. The Filipino tends to put his eggs in one basket although he might change baskets in midstream. His model is the sari-sari store, one of limited networking and high profit margins to eke out a living.
    4.3.1. Both will adopt the tactic of losing to win. The Chinese will lose a battle to win the war. The Filipino will bribe to achieve greater gain, and will confess to be able to sin again.

    4.1. Attitude and aptitude. The Chinese waits for opportunity and will create one if necessary. He will take chances, and seize opportunity by the throat at great risk. The Filipino timidly waits for opportunity. He will take chances, and cheat whenever possible to ensure better outcomes, but it is very rare that he will take great risks.
    4.1.1. The Chinese has faith in his judgment and business acumen. He will bolster his faith by observing certain superstitious practices, like lucky numbers, feng shui, and sacrifices to the proper deities (including the Black Nazarene). The Filipino has little judgment and little acumen. He, too, will observe certain superstitious practices.

    4.2. Time horizon. The Chinese is patient. He looks beyond tomorrow, and will build his business empire slowly but surely. As it has been noted in this blog, the Filipino is impatient. He does not look beyond tomorrow and wants to get rich quickly. He will steal or cheat to build his empire. He will redirect pork to recover his election expenses.

    5. The top Filipino billionaire businessmen are of Chinese descent. Janet Napoles is of Chinese descent.
    5.1. Compare the behaviour and risks taken by Janet versus those of the scamming senators. In reality, she took most of the risks and the bigger risk, advancing millions of pesos to greedy and segurista hands, and gambling that the bigger payoff would eventually fall into her own grasping hands.

    6. Being a bastard, what does the Filipino seek after security? He wants legitimacy, he wants to be recognized, and he wants r-e-s-p-e-c-t.
    6.1. But the Filipino is not a member of the Society of Honor. He does not want to work honorably to earn respect. He thinks that the trappings of nobility reflect its essence, that the appearance of character can be taken for character. If he has attained high office, wears a barong tagalog or a pukey suit, and gives privilege speeches, he thinks he is deserving of respect.

    [7. Re biases and fallacies:
    7.1. Ad hominems? Not really. An ad hominem is an attack on a man rather than on his claim. I am not refuting any claim.
    7.2. Racism? Perhaps, but not really. Call it cultural differentiation. I am discerning but not discriminating. I am not inciting hatred. My motives are pure. And I don’t want to play it safe.]

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Risk avoidance is only part of it. The lack of a clear or coherent mind set in the organization of the public space is another one. May be due to the lack of “history”, the Illustrado’s only existed one generation, most the Spaniards and were adventures or failures in Spain. Most of the philosophy or philosophical solutions to basic ethical questions have a long history in China, Europe and thus the US leading to several schools of coherent thoughts.
      (thanks for your additional description of Chinese thinking.)

      Talking about the Philippines is difficult. The Filipino as a bastard child is true for the “educated” ones, looking for new solutions, new ways to live together in changed circumstances. The masses are much more traditional, pre-Spanish believes still the foundation of most social relations, even religious. The Gods have changed but the purpose of religion is not changed, to control future event for the better, the basic religious acts are still magical.

      But the American way is irresistible worldwide. For the poor: work hard so you can drink coca cola and eat hamburgers than you can become president too. For the rich: rent will make you rich if you can make the poor believe that if they work hard for us so they can drink our coca cola and eat our hamburgers so they can become president too.

  5. Dee says:

    The Philippines seems to be suffering from identity crisis. The two dimensions of identity crisis are exploration and commitment. I think Philippines is at the stage where it is high on exploration and still low on commitment. When it is ready to commit, maybe the legislators could have a sort of National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) agency that will take care of the confused measurement standards. They can write and pass a bill similar to this:

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      Exploring, yes but mainly the packaging, the content is secondary. Commitment only for me and my group, the rest bahalana.

      • Jon Effemey says:

        A very good account as usual from you Mr Joe. Being English, I take issue with your comment about Presidential and multi party systems. The Americans have a French Presidential system. Ultimate power lies with the President. The German President acts more like the Queen in the UK, a figure head. You find this in a number of European systems. I have never been comfortable with a Presidential system. In the UK the Prime Minister can go, out the door end of story.
        Yes broadly agree with what you say about the Filipino mind set, but I think this is changing
        I feel a country that does resemble the Philippines is India. Both are highly creative and diverse but both suffer from poor civil infrastructures. The Indian railway system has not changed much since the British Raj. There are plans to ban trucks during the day time in Manila…..where are the plans for a modern entry port with a proper road and rail links? This happened in London when the East end docks were closed down and the port was moved to the coast at Tilbury. That sad little railway line, and why huge amounts are being poured into a Sky way at Edse?
        I have read recently that this lack of civil investment is holding back international investment into the Philippines.

        I really like the crazy pragmatism of this place. Ir does remind me of England. The Pinoy are “left field” and creative by nature. Yes the American multinationals dominate. I have read of at least 3 Pinoy based cell phone manufactures…Given this country works through its demons such as the corruption, and does address infrastructure, and to this I would add further investment in education…I do like the pragmatic approach here to higher education focusing on areas such as Civil Engineering as well as nursing.

        There is nothing wrong with being a magpie when it comes to the culture….it is the nest that needs some work I feel at present!

        • Joe America says:

          Hi, Jon. Joseph-Ivo wrote this one, but I agree it is a superb characterization of both the pain and pleasure of the Philippines. “Crazy pragmatism” as you call it. And your last line is superior wisdom indeed.

  6. cha says:

    I’ve always valued your observations and insights on this common interest we have that we call the Philippines. Your comments always strike me as well thought-out attempts to understand the problem/s and find a way forward. That last line,”but perhaps recognizing the differences is a start?”, that’s a typical Joseph-ivo closing. Rather than really closing the matter, you leave the door open for anyone to venture forward and perhaps open a couple more doors.

    So yes, I agree, playing safe can slow down progress and recognizing the differences between alternatives is a step towards making choices and decisions for moving ahead. But how do we get there? And where do we start? There’s just too much useless clutter and junk lying around that keeps everyone from seeing their way through. It’s like the Philippines is one big hoarder’s hideaway, the island of both misfits and the not so perfect fits. We have held on to just about everything and anything the colonial masters have thrown our way and then picked up a few more bric-a-brac from all over the place.

    There’s a report in the papers today of the President speaking to some high school students and telling them that come 2016, they need to be able to separate those candidates with substance from the “ampaws” (rice puffs) that are mostly air on the inside. I hope he can do more of this, get people to pause and reflect, weigh their options and think things through before making their choices. I also hope he does these well beyond his term. He has the instincts of a good change agent and the credibility to go along with it. Maybe that is the next step for him after the presidency, he can be the voice that helps clear the clutter and coaxes his countrymen towards critical thinking and better decision making.

  7. This blog was a product of deep introspection. I enjoyed absorbing the message, but had to pause to give a hopefully sensible response.

    Playing it safe by mixing the good of many cultures.. Having your cake and eating it too..

    Theoretically, this confusion can be solved by uncovering the roots of Filipino identity– discovering what makes the Filipino gene unique. Yet, the last time I read a grade school history textbook, Filipinos could trace the roots of their culture and civilization to Negritos, Indones and Malays.

    There’s a chronological arrival regarding the arrival of the ancestors, but this case just shows the confusing mixture of values and norms in this country from the beginning.


    Recognizing differences is important, but after doing so, how will Filipinos define a unique and identity? Is it even possible in the first place?

    If discovering a unique identity is unattainable, what culture or mindset or philosophy should Pinoys devotedly emulate? Will imitating “that” produce surefire development and prosperity?

    • edgar lores says:


      Good questions. I’m sure Joseph will have his own answers, but I just want to inject the idea of the Filipino Dream that Dee is pursuing. If we can find and define a common aspiration, then that vision will form the foundation and narrative for growth. It’s like MLK’s “I have a dream” speech or the Jewish Promised Land. It is something that must have the dimension of myth. Something that resonates in all of us and unifies us. Something to look forward to and to strive for.

      Joseph, in his March 15, 2014 at 10:20 pm comment below, has provided his personal view of the history of the islands. This is my psychosocial interpretation of the narrative so far.

      Currently, confusion and apathy reign because we are essentially a rootless people. We were not united before the Spaniards came. We were not united against Spain and we were not united against America. We remain disunited. Our identity is stuck at the clan and tribal level, wherein the pre-Hispanic social stratification persists down to the barangay level. We speak different dialects. We have extremes of wealth and poverty. Our main values – obedience to authority from Spain and freedom from America– form a toxic mix that results in an outward show of respect and hides a core of contempt. This doble-cara attitude can be found everywhere in religion, politics and in the social classes. The attitude is mirrored between priest and believer, between voter and politician, between rich and poor. Basically, the upper party ostensibly exists to serve the lower other but instead seeks to dominate it. The lower party ostensibly pays respect to the upper party but instead flouts his dogmas or his laws.

      As we witness nowadays, the inner contempt shows through the outer veneer of respect in the entirety of subcultures one can name – corruption, patronage, impunity, and criticism.

      Is there any man or woman who is held in deep and genuine respect? Perhaps there is limited respect shown to one archbishop and to 3 to 5 women in high public office, but each has his/her own critics. Is there anything that is held in respect? Except for the passing admiration for new and shiny consumables – and this neomania seems to be our highest value – I can hardly think of anything.

      The country is an overpopulated insane asylum. The Filipino suffers from schizophrenia and cognitive dissonances of all kinds. Many have flown abroad to escape the coop.

      In perspective, the hope is that we are a young nation. I would specify the birth of the Commonwealth in 1935 as the birth of the nation. That makes us 79 years old. We are a sniveling youngster compared to America’s 238 years (from 1776) and Australia’s 114 years (from 1900). America at that age, in 1855, was “a melting pot of cultural, religious, and moral differences. The country was in a state of unrest that would lead to the civil war in just a few short years. Countless peoples from far away countries were immigrating to the United States in search of opportunity and a better life; this influx would further complicate and diversify the countries cultural climate.” The American Civil War (1861 – 1865) was one of the defining events in the nation’s history. Compared to that our EDSA was a tempest in a teapot.

      So what is the Dream that can shatter the current nightmare of our lives?

      • Dee says:

        Someone with clout and personality, one whom the masa will listen to, need to lead the peaceful revolution to a Filipino Dream which in turn will flesh out the Filipino Identity. The upper and middle class, for the most part are already on board. We are singing to the choir here. We need a powerful and popular native Filipino to sell our brand of “prosperity for all.” I am afraid that the blogs are not the proper medium. How do you disseminate productive information to the masa? How do we reach the segment of the society who need better and progressive ideas? Their sheer number will defeat any effort without their buy in.

  8. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    Playing safe is a way of life in the Philippines. Benigno’s anti-wang-wang went pffft !!!! To this day, Benigno has not reported to me any single arrest on anti-wang-wang campaign. No policemen in their right brilliant mind would arrest a wang-wanger wang-wanging down the street. Because wang-wang is a sign of impunity by the rich, powerful and well-connected. If a policeman pulls over a wang-wanger, the following day he’ll be directing traffic in Spratleys.

    Lookit what happened to Conrado Capa not playing it safe. He arrested Delfin Lee who was on the lam for two years in full view of the public in the lobby of 5-star hotel. He is assigned in Cebu, a demotion, for a job well done. Lucky he was not sent to Scarborough Shoal staring at Chinese water cannons.

    That is why in the Philippines, Playing Safe is the norm. IF YOU SEE SOMETHING DO NOT SAY ANYTHING for your own sake as against in America IF YOU SEE SOMETHING SAY SOMETHING for everybodys sakes.

    Because in the Philippines almost everyone has skeleton in their closets and almost everyone knows that they have skeletons in the closet. THOSE WHO HAVE NOT SINNED CAST THE FIRST STONE doesn’t work in the Philippines. Lookit those PDAF characters Benigno’s name is dragged in DAP mess which maybe true for using it to buy impeachment votes.

    • Joe America says:

      Put the Capo incident along side the police guy who was relieved for estimating the body count for Yolanda wrong and you have two incidents that require a very good investigative journalist to dig into the whys and wherefores. Does Capa have real promotion opportunities in Cebu? I doubt it. Was the police guy really stressed out? No more than anyone who was a first responder to that wretched storm, I suspect. I think Capa was shown a “window office” from which to sit for the rest of his career because he arrested the wrong guy. I don’t trust Purisma, frankly, and the President backs his people (see next Wednesday’s blog). If I put them into a cultural context it does appear that the President, like all before him, succumb to the natural fit of power and favor over that of right and wrong. But I admit I am reacting to public headlines and stories, which may be a poor basis for understanding the two incidents.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      100% disagree on the wang-wang, 5 years ago they were everywhere, often in counter flow, today they disappeared completely except for the occasional ambulance here in Macati, Quezon, Alabang… . His leading by example was very effective. People understood exactly what he meant. Young Binay tried the old ways, “demanding respect” in Dasmarinas and look how it was appreciated, a similar reaction was unimaginable 5 years ago.

  9. Geng says:

    I won’t say Joseph’s analysis about the Filipino is wrong. He has the right to say what he thinks is the best description (is it discription?) of this unique race.
    Playing safe, I think, was the result of the betrayal of the trust that the natives innocently showed to the first missionaries who displayed the cross as a sign that they came in the name of God and the landgrabbers who looked like sheeps in wolf clothings. Little did they know that it was the grandest ploy to invade the coveted land and its resources which effect is very much felt to this day.
    How could a majority of people who had been landless up to this time be trustful when the towns and cities where they were born and grew up and where their parents died tilling the land do not own even a piece of land owned and titled by the descendants of the original invaders? How could any president. even this current one, be so gloating of the successes achieved by his/her administration when the status quo had not changed since those invaders first came ashore, and arrogantly expropriated for themselves what was not rightfully theirs in the first place?
    To add insult to injury, the invaders even had the temerity to sell this islands for US$20 million to the succeeding invader who saw that the galleon trade carried not spices but gold bars and other precious metals.
    Maybe I am playing it safe when I say I am not a Filipino, that I am a native of this islands because I have a valid cause to raise this issue over and over again. Those mestizos who are now running the economy are the descendants of the landed mestizos who supported Emilio Aguinaldo due to Apolinario Mabini’s insistence to dispossess them of the lands they owned through the cunning and betrayal of their ancestors of the native’s trust and distribute them equitably to every brown complexioned inhabitants.
    A relevant piece of end this comment was the canard spread by those mestizos that Mabini’s paralysis was caused by syphilis because polio was not yet discovered then as the appropriate term for the condition.
    The distrust and the playing safe will go on until nobody knows when because of the unmitigating circumstances of greed and avarice that rules the land.

    • Joe America says:

      A very passionate and pointed condemnation of the elite landgrabbers and their offspring of tax grabbers today. I’m of course reminded of the American Indians who were consigned to the worst rock pits of the land as “reservations” of absolutely zero economic potential, where they wasted away for centuries until the US developed its magnificent military industrial might and its own offspring of wealth grabbers and political players. A few Indian communities managed to turn the tables, start operating casinos, and became very rich, but, alas, became wealth grabbers of no civic clout themselves.

      The stark fact is that it is impossible to unwind what has been done. The US will never blink for Indian welfare and the Philippines will never blink for native welfare, just keep on rolling.

      Our job is to get things rolling the right way, with some opportunities being delivered to natives who got royally screwed because they did not understand owning land, and were too weak to defend themselves. I think the solution for the Philippines is in the combination of greater wealth and delivery of the opportunities better across the whole of the land.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      What about 9 out of the 10 richest people her are Chinese, many first generation? What about Aguinaldo murdering the true revolutionary Bonifatio? What about the ever changing partnerships and party jumping?

      And two contradictory statements:

      1- How long can you blame the occupiers? One generation, 100 years, 500 years? Compare Haiti and the Dominican Republic on the same island, look at Singapore, Korea… there is more than occupation alone.

      2- Things change slowly in “rural” environments. (In big cities change follows different patterns, a reason why they attract so many. A hopeful dynamism for the Philippines when also large provincial towns will get “big city” cultures)

      To change cultures takes forever. Some solutions are mainly copied only from parents such as religion and the organization of the public space… . For other things peers in teenage age are more important, fashion, relationships (they don’t discuss religion or politics)… . A main cause of the difference in European cultures is 2000 years old and due to 4 different inheritance systems at that time: all children inherit the same, all boys inherit the same, the oldest son inherit everything, the father decides freely who will inherit. The Kelts and France, the Slave and Eastern Europe, the Romans and the Mediterranean, and the Germanic peoples. The organization of the public space in the Philippines is pre-Hispanic: the strong datu and his shifting alliances, the arithmetic of respect and “utang” or “I owe you’s”… Subservience predated the Spaniards by ages.

      Edgar told that this is a strong Catholic nation, I tend to disagree. The content or purpose of religion is pre-Hispanic. Only the vertical part of Catholicism is taken over, the relation with the Gods, not the horizontal part, serving God through your neighbor. Influencing the future for the better, appeasing the wrath of the Gods, staying in contact with ancestors are the objects of religion. The practices are pre-Hispanic: having the right charms, using the right formulas… Saints are inspiring examples of religious live but their statues can have magical powers, the Black Nazarene… The ghosts still live in the trees… The only religious thing the friars achieve was changing the names of the Gods. The religion or the (truly important) believes, the (truly important) practices and the purpose of religion didn’t change.

      • Joe America says:

        That last paragraph has some dynamite insights. It makes some of the oddities fit for me, particularly rampant superstition within a so-called Catholic nation. The lack of the sideways serving of God through neighbors and doing good is indeed pronounced. No one reads the Bible it seems to me, or else the lessons of Jesus are totally . . . . ummmm . . . foreign. Thanks for that enlightenment.

      • edgar lores says:


        Agree with your comments on Catholicism. If I gave the impression that this is a strong Catholic nation, it is in terms of numbers (> 80%). It is also that in terms of forms and rituals. Beyond that, there is hardly any spirituality in the practice of the faith in daily life. Francis is trying to convert the faithful to the faith, and he may succeed temporarily but in the end he will fail. Too many people have come to realize that the paradigm of salvation is not an authentic way of living. Not that it is necessarily a false promise but that it is not a catholic one.

      • Joseph-Ivo says:

        While at it, a personal view of Filipino history.

        If the two of us work together, we can beat number three. This was longtime the favorite way of expanding a fiefdom in the absence of a strong state with a strong king. In such a culture it is more important to get respect from your people and from other barons than to have strong principles. One should have the flexibility to change principles when switching partners becomes opportune.

        Where it the Hindu chiefs who brought or perfected these principles in the Philippines during their glorious times around the year 1000? Times when parts of the Philippines were a center of gravity for world trade, masterly crafted gold ornaments traded for Chinese silk and pottery, spices, even African Ivory. Wood was the preferred building material so no Angkor’s or Borobudur’s left, but enough evidence of the prominent role of these islands was found recently. The evolution to a strong nation state prevented because logistically difficult with the many different islands.

        The powerful Filipinos on their islands continued to play these games with the Arabs and later the Spanish, sometimes loosing but often winning importance. Covering so now and then a poorer mestizo lady with gold and getting some paler offspring helped to boost respect. Having to change their names and the names of their gods in the process, no problem at all.

        The illustrados with their free mason thoughts and their romantic European ideas of a nation state were a threat, luckily the Americans came so the wealthy could continue their favorite games and collaborate with them. However the Americans liked more the industrious Chinese they knew better. Jumping to protestant churches no problem, inventing a national church, no problem for many.

        After independence the rulers could focus on their old ways but the Chinese managed to use their trading and bribing skills to buy away the economy, no more fear for pogroms by Spanish. Today the ruling class only has politics left to play their thousand year old games, only Chinese bribes in exchange for rent and public money is left to keep up their living standards and to buy respect. Will they survive in an urban culture too?

        • Joe America says:

          Again, you have a masterful way of pulling things into perspective. I think we are bearing witness to the ridding of the Philippine body of cheats. Like upchucking, it is no fun, but necessary to get rid of the germs. Repair is greatly aided by modern methods of communication. Unfortunately, those modern methods also promote the spread of new diseases, like the angers we see dominating US politics and social discourse. And on we go, writing into the wind . . . gadzooks . . .

  10. Dee says:

    I think the way to go about adding numbers to the Filipino middle class is through bottom-up management. The country is already conveniently divided into districts. We need to ask what each district has in abundance and create value added products from those resources. Have the pork barrel money earmarked for the most important resources and develop them to their fullest potential. That way, people in the districts will have livelihood and they’ll stay away from metropolitan areas as illegal settlers. It is also the first step to income inequality as it will push those motivated and determined district dwellers to the middle class. Just a thought.

  11. lucia says:

    A few thoughts here. Some are a little garbled and shallow, I think, please bear with me.
    Now, when I started writing all these I found myself typing something along the lines of “Please don’t pick on me too much, I’m only on my 4th week in university studying subjects relevant to this” and realized that I just tried to play myself down here and be ‘safe’ in case I might poke someone. I don’t know if that’s my personal anxiety at work, or there’s something about Filipino upbringing/culture about developing a fear of speaking up, else they be judged, ridiculed or berated by others for having the ‘wrong/ignorant answer’ (I may just be rehashing some of that previous blog post about crab mentality)… In my childhood experiences, education in the Philippines ran a rather black-or-white system.

    ► People are playing it safe because the society they are in allows little leeway to make mistakes. There’s too much to lose that they are not confident enough to commit to anything too strong. It’s just become a matter of eventually landing onto the winning side, regardless of the values they might stand up for… If they had such values anyway. Outward appearances and keeping face seems to be something so important that it leads to malleability of the individual. Wishy-washy people reflect in a wishy-washy society. (Or is it the other way around? Blah. It’s a cycle.)

    ► On getting everyone to stick to one thing: It’s difficult to get to a significant degree of unity and standardisation when there are 7000 islands to think about. Infrastructure is one thing but confidence for people to move around and mix up with everyone else and homogenize* (instead of just having clumps and clumps of people) is another (?)… I don’t know where this train of thought is going or if it’s even relevant… There’s no reason or incentive for anyone to move around. Families tend to just stay in one area. I think I’m getting more into geopolitics here…
    * actually, this might not be the right word, diversity is good, it just feels like everyone is too distant and self-contained

    ► Local communities seem to be all fun and friends but I wonder, when the going gets tough, will the community disperse into atoms with the individuals trying to save their own hides rather than working together for the collective..? Do people have the loyalty to the community to do that? Or do they not have it in the first place because the community isn’t loyal to them anyway?

    ► On Catholicism (brought up a few comments up): Since most people are born into it, the rituals have just become a given — became too much of a routine that its core values have just flown over people’s heads.

    My head doesn’t feel any less clearer after writing all this, haha. If anything, it’s like I have more questions and knowledge gaps than when I started…

    • Joe America says:

      Superb points, lucia. There is indeed little leeway to make mistakes, and kids learn this early by way of ridicule from their peers if they do anything out of the ordinary, or acceptable.

      The point of diversity being a weakness rather than strength is an important one. People don’t have a lot of tolerance for different ideas.

      Your skepticism if the funloving Filipines can get tough is worth debating. I see a lot of toughness in response to Yolanda, but also a lot of bickering and political gameplaying. I can’t help but reflect that Filipinos dropped from the Iraq coalition when the shooting started. Would they stand up to China? Many fought bravely during WWII. Where is the modern Filipino, sacrifice-wise? Excellent question.

      Rituals vs. Values. So nicely said.

      Your head may not be clearer, but mine is. Thanks. Knowledge comes by leaping from one question to another, so keep it up. You are welcome to opine here any time.

  12. sonny says:

    Joe, again this is a catching-up reply to an interesting topic. You have once again managed to hit a hot-button topic and piqued many deeply held ideas and opinions and make them percolate to the surface for every and any one to ruminate, masticate, digest, reflect, etc. All the points can by themselves be good for many more rounds of thesis, anti-thesis and synthesis. Reading them does create an angst/anxiety begging for some resolution or catharses. Do we have some kind method to take this all in and change into some brain-friendly, nutritive take-away?

    • Joe America says:

      Ahahaha, now THAT is a sterling idea, rather like Cocoa Puffs, the advertisements of which assure my kids of healthy growth, and milk to make him a champion learner in school. We shall package the wisdoms in bran flakes and get really rich.

      Indeed, going from concept to a different attitude and decision tree takes some kind of mysterious chemical reaction I have not yet discovered. I think Edgar is getting close, though.

      I need to write about ambition, I think. Is it good, to generate wealth? Or is it bad, to generate anxieties and lack of self-esteem? Maybe the Philippines is happy because its peoples sit in their homes doing a unique, somewhat sophisticated style of “ohmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm . . .”

      Glad you got something from the article. Joseph-Ivo penned it and it was for sure thought provoking.

  13. ikalwewe says:

    Hana! So I’m not the only one noticing the mixed metric and imperial units. I found it weird that people would use kg whe nbuying food and use pounds when measuring one’s weight and when you decide to use one for the other people are thrown off balance as if they’ve never heard it before (I weigh 40 KGS.- Oh yeah? What’s that in pounds? -well, why don’t you imagine i’m a sack of rice weighing 40 kgs?)
    I guess the Philippines hasn’t made up its mind yet . We’re relatively young and indecisive,undergoing our teen years.all around us we’re surrounded by countries with civilizations stretching to thousands of years. Oh yes, but what about the us? I know that was a lame excuse. I hope we make up our minds soon, we can’t afford not “growing”up anymore.

    • Joe America says:

      Sack of rice, eh? I’m a couple of bags full myself . . . ahahaha

      The Philippines took some grown-up steps this past week, with the Bangsmoro agreement and ITLOS filing. I’m hoping this becomes a string of important, good deeds. Like with FOI soon . . .

    • ivyemaye says:

      I am English, all those crazy systems were English, evolving out of the middle ages. A foot was a foot for example. Go French and metric, they are a logic lot and invented these systems I think..
      When I was in the UK we had a bit of a hybrid system too……miles along with Kilos, (Thank god stones and pounds went). Centigrade, the business, 0 = freezing, logical, Fahrenheit (German by the way) , was used in the UK now we are centigrade.
      Nothing wrong in being a hybrid culture. We Brits re invented rock and roll in the 60’s because all those bored teenagers in grim British Towns listened to the Blues on Chess Records. I love the cultural vibe here, crazy crazt, happy happy, strong primary colours and OTT designs great, pity the rest of the world doesn’t know about it.
      As a country I feel the Philippines suffers from a massive inferiority complex, simply not true. The potential here is awesome.

  14. I’m very pleased to uncover this site. I wanted to thank you for ones time due to this fantastic read!!

    I definitely loved every bit of it and I have you saved to fav to see
    new stuff on your web site.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: