Impatience Rising in the Philippines

impatience getty images

[Source: Getty Images]

It was good of President Aquino to tour key transportation hubs prior to the onset of the Easter holiday rush period. However, I did not like his or Secretay Abaya’s comments regarding the NAIA Terminal 1 sweat box created by turning off the air conditioning for several months in the peak travel period, the heat of summer, to prevent the air conditioners from getting clogged by construction dust.

The President, in a preaching mode, applied the teachings of Jesus as to the importance of sacrifice in our own lives, suggesting that the traveling public should accept the heat in good spirit.

Abaya then apologized for the inconvenience and worked at rationalizing it into the beneficial perspective of getting sorely needed rehabilitation work done. This is, after all, the “world’s worst airport”.

The apology is probably correct, but the direction of the “fix” is wrong. Put together, the two leaders combined an apology with a lecture that suggested frustrated travelers should be happy to carry the weight of sacrifice for the Philippines. And to protest would be “unchristian”.

No, no, no.

  • If nothing went wrong, don’t apologize, just ask for patience.
  • If something went wrong, apologize and look inward for what went wrong. Then come up with a solution.

Don’t make the travelers the scapegoats for ineffective work. Don’t ask THEM to adjust. Make the adjustment AT WORK, ON THE RECONSTRUCTION PROJECT.

Was there a way to carry on with construction and keep the air conditioners working? I’m not a construction expert, but I’ve been through other major airport remodeling projects (Los Angeles, for instance), and the air conditioning was on. A modular approach was taken to close the parts of the building being worked on and wall them off from a (smaller or re-aligned) passenger area.

I think apology was in order, and President Aquino should have expressed impatience with the way the reconstruction was handled. Not in public, but with Abaya in private. In public, he should simply apologize and say “we need to do a better job in taking care of travelers”.

For myself, I have been wholly unimpressed with Secretary Abaya’s work. It goes back to Secretary Roxas before him, who initiated a lot of the projects Secretary Abaya is trying to get done. It seems to me that Secretary Abaya is on Filipino time for critical construction projects. “No worries! It will be done when it gets done.” Projects are bid, results are poor, so criteria are changed and it is rebid, or the bid period is extended and rebid, fought in court and rebid. There is precious little discipline to the execution, it seems to me.

But, again, maybe I am naive at how large projects typically go. Maybe it is the rule, rather than the exception, to have conflict and delay. If so, maybe the government should give up on bidding work out to private companies and just build a big-ass government construction entity and get work done without debate. Sell bonds to secure funding at promised returns.

Some how, some way, the Philippines needs to MOVE! Cleanly, not corruptly. Purposefully, not with fits and starts and delays.

I sense that I am not alone in expressing exasperation for the government’s sluggish and ineffective project work. MRT riders are becoming very outspoken about the crowded and broken conditions of the train system. The internet fairly buzzed with criticism of the Aquino/Abaya airport apology. Truckers expressed exasperation with the Manila truck ban that may be clearing the streets but is also clogging up the ports.

Too many of the “solutions” seem to create more problems, and they are not small ones. It is not a small problem if you can’t get to work to earn a living, or if you are old and feeble and faint in the heat of the airport waiting lounge. It is interesting that the government worries about their machines getting dust in their lungs, but has little concern as to the well-being of people.

The weakness in Filipino “future think” arises again and again. One tends to harken back to the British wisdom of the 7 P’s:

  • Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

We get the latter and not the former.

  • Philippine Planning and Preparation Produces Piss Poor Performance.

I think the impatience we are seeing is one of the most constructive forces I’ve seen in the Philippines for a long time. It is evident mainly across the internet, and from there it leaps to the mainstream press. And from there, to the President’s desk.

Enough of this and maybe government agencies will come to the conclusion that they need to do a lot better job of putting their solutions into play, considering timing and cross-impacts and the need to adhere to deadlines.

The judiciary seems aware that it’s performance is sluggish, too, but there has been no breakthrough solution to building a precise flow of cases, with time as an important consideration.

The nation is now moving herky jerk. Spasmodically. It is not flowing.

If we continue to express impatience, maybe it will get through the cranial roadblocks that are being put in the way of progress. Perhaps there will be dedicated attention to the drawing up of action steps that are elegant in considering cross-discipline impacts.

Planning here seems to consist of Mayor Estrada saying, “well, let’s remove the trucks and then the cars can go.”

That’s it.

Related impacts did not even enter the picture until after the commitment was made. I mean, in the jumble of cities that is the greater Manila metropolitan area, what does the city of Manila care about the problems it foists upon other cities?

I personally get very impatient  with the gross self-involved method – a blindness toward the needs of others –  that seems to drive a lot of activities hereabouts.

We are one nation, are we not?

The well-being of the people does matter, does it not?

I believe impatience is a good force and I hope it generates a greater emphasis on competency across all government agencies.

25 Responses to “Impatience Rising in the Philippines”
  1. Joseph-Ivo says:

    No,no,no. You got it wrong. The people are there to serve the airport and all its personnel, not the other way around. You respect your host, not the other way around. Do not suggest a revolution. A Philippine organization to serve its customers? Or even worse, to exceed the ever rising expectations of its customers?

    You are the boss, so we say sorry, ok? But that doesn’t mean that you have any rights. Be happy you can fly, all the rest is anti-yellow propaganda.

  2. Tomas Gomez III says:

    The patent absence of foresight in most government projects reflects a near irreversible insensivity on the part of the levels of responsibility and leadership in this country. The menagerie of mediocrities masquerading as public servants.
    The NAIA instance was certainly not unforeseen, to cite just one glaring example.
    Maybe a biting and potent mass action of impatience is indeed called for. But as one blog participant here has said recently…….”organization.” I have always thought and do believe that the Filipino diaspora and the OFWs being exposed to and experiencing better endowed civilized societies, wherever they are, could be the source of such impetus…..urging, nagging, demanding effective and acceptable standards of life and living, through loved ones and dependents left behind.

    • Joe America says:

      What I find interesting is that there seems to be a bit of a deaf quality among the homebound to a lot of the insights brought back by OFW’s, rather the inverse of the crab phenomenon where people drag successful people down. OFW’s are deemed “unqualified” to judge the Philippines because they have “abandoned” her by going abroad. In that regard, OFW’s are put in the same bucket as foreigners. But I agree, the new social forces are the most likely source of different attitudes about customer service and organizing projects to treat Filipinos respectfully. OFW’s. Social media. The middle class rising. And foreigners engaged in redesigning business practices. They make it difficult for the trapos to continue conducting their business with impunity.

      I read where the Ayalas are starting a host of new schools with the curriculum designed specifically to teach those skills needed in call centers, including, presumably, customer sensitivity. I think that is absolutely great and we need that kind of purposeful solution to the business of competing. Oligarchs are not all bad, I think. Or not always bad.

      Here’s the relevant link:

  3. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Or more serious, risk management is concept difficult to sell in the Philippines. Filipinos live in the “now”. Their strength, their weakness. Planning and risks are about tomorrow.

    In Trompenaars research how different cultures experience time, Filipinos are a real out-layer. The past is this morning, breakfast is eaten, you can only eat it once, it’s definitely the past. The future is dinner this evening. For Chinese the past is a few generations ago. You still can talk with your parents, grandparents, you still can establish all the facts, the reasons, the circumstances, so it is still present. The future is generations down the road, when I can’t explain anymore. Of course the circles of past, present and future overlap, but where they do is very different, the Philippine present circle is one day, the Chinese years. (Is it language related too?)

    Filipinos solve problems now. Dust? Redirect inlets, extra coarse filters, dusk reduction programs, compartmentalization… it all takes time. Risk management requires that you analyze the risks in advance, set priorities, plan and implement mitigation. It is easier to solve problems when they arise. What can go wrong? We’ll see. The aircon filters get dirty! Priorities? Today delays are unreasonable, politicians want speed. Speed is more important than the small inconvenience of comfort. Mitigation? The easy solution is switching off. Everybody (who really matters) happy. What’s the next problem?

    Their strength is that Filipinos can solve 100 problems in the most simple way while Americans are still meeting, analyzing legal consequences and other potential risks. But Americans can think ahead and solving a problem before it arises always leads to better solutions.

    Also the criteria to set priorities are very different. In the US, ultimately the customer pays the bills so he is very important, in the Philippines for the top a lower class customer is just a necessary nuisance. Aircon increases productivity versus aircon provides comfort…

    Cultural change is faster in flat organizations. The Philippines has tycoons, bishops and dynasties as light beacons high above the landscape, making it very vertical and changing more slowly.

    • Joe America says:

      Another jaw-dropping pack of insights. The thing I like about your analyses is that you don’t just tear things down, you break them apart but also put them on display so that we see how they interact, and can see the rationale behind the whys and ways things are done here. The matter of how priorities are set in the Philippines, versus the U.S., is an example.

      Read my comment to Tomas, above. It applies here, too.

  4. wjarko says:

    Metro Manila is like the medieval Europe, feudal system still prevails. Each city/kingdom has its own king which is oblivious and insensitive to its neighbors. Nothing really gets done with the fragmented management and planning. Although there are moves to make it a province and assimilate the MMDA, with a governor at its head who will take care of intercity affairs like transport and solid waste management, etc.; however, for the bill to pass, it will need the signatures of all the mayors which is quite unlike to happen.

    Somehow Local Government Code is to blame as it gave too much power to Local chief executives that they can disrupt processes/services vital to other LGUs. Malacanang and DOTC cant even meddle in the Manila ban on trucks.

    As for the NAIA terminal and MRT, the problem is they lack the skill for planning and forecasting. Exacerbating the problems is the rampant graft in the system and the fact that ‘crises’ push desperate people to swallow unreasonable prices if they want to get things done; thus, the saying ‘Di bale ng mahal basta meron’.

    • Joe America says:

      Gadzooks, and I thought my blog was depressing. 🙂

      I rather think the entire nation is medieval, with princes in the legislature and dukes in the cities. Duke Duterte, for example. Duke Ampatuan. Prince Estrada and his father the Duke of Manila. Interesting how that happened. They all for sure believe they are a privileged class. It is our duty to inform them of the error of their thinking as often as we can.

  5. andrew lim says:


    This piece and the comments of Joseph-Ivo and wjarko are highly relevant to me,as I will be going on a trip, too in a few weeks to the Old World. As prep, I have browsed through a few art and history books, and I’ve formed a few theories which I will get to test once I get there.

    An amazing facet of these Old World countries is that a large project like a Duomo takes more than a hundred years to finish. Which means the original architect, the original funding source, the first batch of workers will have likely died by the time it is completed. And yet the succeeding generations continue the work, appreciating its value to them and the future.

    One of my theories is that in very generalized terms, the capacity of Filipinos to do large-scale, long term, multi-year, multi-budget undertakings is very limited. There seems to be a lack of ability to think in longer terms – beyond an administration, beyond one’s lifetime, beyond one’s generation.

    Perhaps Filipinos live in the here and now, like Zen Buddhists, and cannot grasp centuries or millenia well. They do not learn much from the past, and do not care about the future much. This may be the secret to the much-ballyhooed “resiliency”! If you do not worry about the past or the future, you only live in the present! ha ha ha

    Yours and others’ comments on comparisons to medieval Europe makes me wonder if our relative youth indicates that we haven’t really marched on far enough in the evolutionary path…. I mean, we never really got to mastering global circumnavigation or construction using steel and cement until the colonizers brought these technologies to us….

    • Joe America says:

      Filipinos populated other islands but ruled none. There is a calculation involved in conquest, I suppose, and too much subsistence and oppression tends to focus one on the here and now and narrow. I argue that the Philippines should develop its own military industrial complex, or work on producing the finished technology product, not just parts for Samsung or whomever. There MUST, in today’s age, be at least a small cadre of engineers and designers and production specialists who could pull that off. I mean, launch a satellite, build some drones, whatever is needed to make the statement that productivity is king in a competitive world. Subsistence is not. And Filipinos can do productivity. And do as the Ayalas are doing, build schools to really work the needed disciplines. Teach anticipation and deduction. Drills and more drills. Filipinos are smart, for sure. But application of the smarts is weak.

      I also think travel is a great eye-opener and brain expander, and it is good to see Filipinos who do travel a lot. I look forward to your report on the “Old World” when you return. I shall depart for the “New World” next week and will bring back some impressions, I am sure. Have a blast, explore well.

    • Adrian says:

      Nick Joaquin wrote an essay about this. Google “Heritage of Smallness”. 3 different settlements along Manila Bay and we call these kingdoms.

      I think the grandest project would be the Banaue Rice Terraces. It may have taken generations to build. But according to Nick Joaquin, these are just patchworks. I don’t know how accurate his description is but we should learn how generations of Filipinos was at least able to undertake such a huge project.

      • Joe America says:

        Interesting description of the terraces. We have rice terraces near our home in Biliran. They are made of ordinary mud, each small-plot crafted by the landowner or grower working the mud to make his growing field level and good for circulation of water that flows from the top of the hill down through paddie after paddie to the bottom. The plots of land together form a beautiful, broad expanse covering the mountainside, as if by design, but they are really just patches put together by people figuring out how to make their own little piece of the hill productive.

    • Joseph-Ivo says:

      It helps if you have to prepare for the winter, food, firewood, clothing… If you fail doing so, you freeze to dead. In the summer you work as crazy on the land, in the winter you work as crazy preparing tools, clearing new lands, dredging creeks, restoring hedges… Larger ships, for strength, needed special shapes of trunk-branches. Oak trees need a 50 years to mature. You plant and shape the young trees for the next generation. Being a big man on a small island is easy, being a big man in a land with no natural borders needs more planning.

      A Flemish friar on Magellan’s ships wrote in his diary that the Indios (Filipinos) had no large ships, no castles or large places of worship, but they had excellent roast pork and were partying the whole day. Enjoying live is a skill, surviving in the rat race is a different skill.

  6. edgar lores says:

    1. Many years ago, I read Pierre Lecomte du Nouy “Human Destiny”. What I remember is his differentiation of “static thinking” versus “process thinking”.
    1.1. Both are cause-and-effect thinking, but the first is usually just one or two levels deep, while the second goes into level after level until the entire process is revealed.
    1.2. Example of static thinking is: “Rains are caused by clouds.”
    1.3. Example of process thinking: the cycle of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and collection of water that produces rain.

    2. Process thinking is sometimes called system thinking, which can become very complex indeed. As Wiki says, “Systems thinking focuses on cyclical rather than linear cause and effect.”
    2.1. Filipinos are not fully yet into systems thinking, which I put at the doorstep of the Catholic Church with its simplistic – I typed that as “sinplistic” – superstitious thinking, e.g. catastrophes are Godly punishment for sinfulness.
    2.2. Filipinos know that buildings need air-conditioning, but beyond the immediate need, they have no provision for mean-time-between failures, part-replacement, maintenance cycles, full-unit replacement cycles, and the methods and costs of doing these.

    3. The thing is this work should not require the attendance of Abaya much less PNoy. This is part of airport building air-conditioning maintenance, which is a subpart of airport building maintenance, which is a subpart of airport building management, which is a subpart of airport management. It could be off-loaded entirely to a third-party.
    3.1. Like the Cudia-PMA controversy, it does not merit the President’s attention. It does not require soul-searching. And it certainly does not require the intervention of Jesus.

    4. Where exactly is the problem? Was it an architectural oversight? Was it because the wrong air-conditioning units were purchased and installed because someone stole the money? Is it because roles and functions are not well defined? Is it because power is not delegated? Is it because delegation works in the upward direction? Is it because of lack of trust? Is it a money problem? A budget problem? Well, pinpoint responsibility and let heads roll. Use part of the travel tax or recover all of the PDAF stolen funds.
    4.1. Sheesh.

    • Joe America says:

      Well, yours is fine process thinking and “Sheesh” is an apt description of the piles of static thinking done by Mr. Aquino’s airport fixer-uppers, each decision independent from any other element such that no one could put together aircon off + summer = really sweaty travel. And CARE!!! It’s like the Edsa roadwork crew had no sense of urgency to get their assigned work done before the Monday morning traffic crush. They did not CARE!!! And no supervisor evidently cared.

      What is God’s grand green earth are the priests teaching, anyway, and is anyone listening? I thought Jesus was all about caring. Maybe my Bible was the wrong version from the Filipino one.

      • edgar lores says:

        Sorry, Sonny, I put my foot into my big mouth again.

        • Joe America says:

          If the foot fits, chew it.

          I think Sonny’s faith is deep and wide and unlikely to be rubbed wrongly by honest intellectual debate.

        • sonny says:

          Ha Ha… read my mind, Edgar. my first reaction is an onion-skinned one … gander is touched but not to worry – I will get over it, and RCC is 2000 yrs old and will be around till the end of time. You are kind, Joe.

          I love the interlocution going on, nonetheless. Carry on, men!

  7. Filipinos have been impatient for a very long time. It just happened that the internet is there to provide a venue for frustration. It’s just that this culture is not into problem-solving and forward-thinking.

    Borrowing Andrew’s idea, “the capacity of Filipinos to do large-scale, long term, multi-year, multi-budget undertakings is very limited. There seems to be a lack of ability to think in longer terms – beyond an administration”

    I guess it’s a chronic problem for Filipinos to lack forward-thinking. This is a nation who hates to save money compared to other Asian countries. I remember econ stats showing this. Based on personal experience, Pinoys will tell you that you’re not crafty enough if you plan in advance.

    “Bahala na” (Whatever will be, will be), “Diskarte na lang sa huli” (Last-minute solution).
    I don’t know an exact English translation of those words coz i find those very Filipino.

    2ND– citing edgar’s “Filipinos are not fully yet into systems thinking”– Pinoys love complaining but aren’t good at thinking about solutions. I guess it’s due to the rote memory-oriented education. If the best-educated leaders today (from prestigious schools here and abroad) are failing at problem-solving, is there any hope left?

    No wonder many Pinoys suck at Math and Science. Those are disciplines w/c involved highly systematic and logical thinking.

    • Joe America says:

      “Pinoys love complaining but aren’t good at thinking about solutions.” I had to laugh at that one because I had just completed a blog (Friday’s) that rants about political priests who are very good at condemnation but never come up with any constructive solutions to intransigent poverty hereabouts. They just blame government, as if the Church’s great presence across the Philippines has absolutely no bearing on it at all.

      I think the brain is a marvelous instrument, wholly under-ultilized by most of us. The problem in the Philippines is that no one is aware, or will accept, that his thinking is in any way short of what it could be. “If I think it, it is right.” There is a wall to enlightenment.

      That said, I’m confident that the disciplines of process thinking are teachable, and learnable, through exercises and case studies. Alas, the Department of Education is not a process thinking department, so they can’t teach it if they don’t grasp it, and if they also hold onto the view that “we do it this way, so it must be right”. So change is unlikely to occur, outside of what happens on line and at a few corporations that do get it.

  8. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Of topic, Michael Porter’s Social Progress Index (Amazing how the US is lagging on many criteria)

    • Joe America says:

      It is interesting. I was surprised at the comparatively low “tolerance and inclusion” rating, occasioned mainly by weakness at respecting women (not equal treatment in the job market) and lack of a community safety net (I suppose all the homeless living in the streets). I also noted that the comparatives are with other countries having a similar GDP/person, or specifically Norway; Kuwait; Switzerland; Ireland; Netherlands; United Arab Emirates; Austria; Canada; Australia; Sweden; Germany; Iceland; United Kingdom; Belgium; Denmark. To grasp why the differences exist some places and not in others has a lot to do with culture, history, and religion. If American white collar thieves had their hands chopped off, there would be a lot of one-armed investment bankers.

  9. Joe America says:

    Pertinent example of impatience rising in this April 22 opinion piece by Cielito F. Habito in the Inquirer:

  10. Dee says:

    I wonder if the Philippines’ government people use Project Management. It is a process oriented discipline where there is a deliverable and timeline involved. There is even an app for it (Project Management Software). It is a flexible discipline that could be tailored to any project in any field. It might work to counter the “it will get done when it is done” attitude of Filipinos.

    I read that even Bishop Tagle incorporated good citizenship in his sermon for Easter this year. He encouraged people to “get into politics if you want to change it.”

    I remember going to Catholic school and our priests and nuns were very active in “demonstrating” and rallying the parishioners to fight government oppression.

    I think the church has a responsibility to teach people REAL values. The priests could use the pulpit to affect a paradigm shift.

    • Joe America says:

      Yes, it is a teachable routine, for sure. The systems development people at the bank I worked for were absolute wizards at drawing up and articulating all the timelines and decision points. DOTC needs to hire a few of those people to work right at the top under Abaya. They should have maps of every project, timelines, decision points, crossing points where progress is dependent on another unit. Then relentlessly follow up on the chart and make sure everything is flowing well.

      I was reading yesterday about Ford’s management process under outgoing CEO Alan Mulally. He enabled Ford to survive the crash that sent GM and Chrysler into bankruptcy. Man, bring Mulally over as senior process adviser to the whole of government. He’ll get it cracking.

      The Church could indeed help redefine the Philippines, but somehow has to get across the notion of accountability, not forgiveness of sins.

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