When will the Philippines reach a Tipping Point?
A lot of things have been happening in the Philippines recently. Even more, a lot of Filipinos in the country abroad, as well as foreigners interested in the country, have been adding to a groundswell of discussion on the Internet. What is interesting is that in spite of a lot of negativity and partisan opinions around, there are many voices that show genuine concern for the future of the country AND a broader understanding of the issues involved.
The Tipping Point
I personally believe that the Philippines may soon, that is in 10-20 years, reach a Tipping Point. Malcolm Gladwell defines it this way http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Tipping_Point:
“the moment of critical mass, the threshold, the boiling point” and says that
“Ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do”
There are those who have lost confidence in the Philippines, including some who originally started out trying to make a difference. I actually belonged to this group, even if I kept quiet, unlike some who vented their sheer frustration in blogs and elsewhere.
WHAT might lead to the Tipping Point
But what I observe now are several dynamics that can cause change as soon as a critical mass is reached:
1) upper middle class Filipinos increasingly have the resources and connections to travel, work and study abroad, not only in the United States but elsewhere. I have met a few Filipino businessmen and managers who were doing business and/or working in Europe, for example, in the past few years. Also I have observed that there are more students doing their masteral or doctoral thesis at European universities now. Also there are more upper middle class Filipinos who actually go on vacation to Europe now. Used to be that most Filipinos in Europe were overseas foreign workers – nurses, seamen, maids, Embassy drivers. Same thing for other Asian countries, there are a lot of highly educated Filipinos going there. These people get exposure and a feel for how things can work in other countries.
2) Middle class Filipinos are increasingly working in the growing Business Process Outsourcing industries. Not only call centers, a lot of companies set up programming or accounting centers in the Philippines. These people not only get to improve their English, they also get a better feel for the inner workings of global business. Used to be that good English meant you were part of the upper class, and knowledge of the global business world was something that the upper and upper-middle class kept to themselves to remain as intermediaries and profit alone from global business connections. Not anymore today.
3) Lower middle class Filipinos – the really poor do not usually manage to leave – are those who become overseas foreign workers. Used to be that they were looked down upon by those educated in “better” schools because in the Philippines, getting into certain schools depended on having enough money. Know of lower middle class children who were not able to pass entrance exams for certain schools because they lacked the money to buy books – but they were not stupid, one guy I know is now an engineer for an international company.
But I see two things making a difference here – first of all, overseas foreign workers often manage to send their children to school and give THEM more possibilities. Of course there are the “palamunin”, the parasitical families that just spend the hard earned money of their relatives working abroad in the mall. But these are not the only ones.
Second, there is the Internet. True, much of the discussion there is what is called “bakya”. Via the Internet, not only forums but Facebook and more, these “bakya” are in the process of getting themselves better informed. True, a lot get caught in cheering for Pacquiao and reading about Filipino showbiz. But some are starting to think, those who really think just read and do not write on the Internet, I have talked to some. They understand a lot. The old feudal system in the Philippines tried to keep people ignorant. This does not work anymore.
WHY the Tipping Point may come
I have just outlined the three classes of Filipinos that are increasingly gaining experience in different ways. Why do I see them possibly leading to a tipping point?
A) These people either do not leave the Philippines or leave in order to come back. Those that leave in order to stay in other countries usually either get completely integrated into the host society, especially if they go to America, Canada or Australia, or are frustrated at not being truly integrated and compensate by looking down on Filipinos with less qualified jobs or those back home. Those who leave to come back are stakeholders in the future of the Philippines, they want to come back to a country were they and their family can live. Also, it is not that easy anymore to migrate permanently to another country since the economic crisis. That is in my opinion a major factor, a game-changer.
B) These people gradually lose their awe regarding Western things. The English colonialists once said that “our superiority is merely a matter of bluff”. Spanish and American colonialists did it similarly, even though especially the Americans did try to educate their subjects. But what added to the problem was that the Filipino upper class acted as a mediator between the colonial masters and regular folks.
They kept a lot of knowledge to themselves, imitated the rituals of the colonial masters – Catholicism, democracy, English language mastery – and controlled the institutions the masters put in place. When the colonial masters left, the Filipino elite became the new masters. Members of the elite who did not manage to get a piece of the action often became “nationalists” or “leftists”, blaming the former colonial masters for everything, but I know of enough women who were once “leftists” now married to Americans or Europeans.
In the end these people are no longer that easily manipulated by the post-colonial masters of the Philippines. They may not be able to change the structures when they come back, but they see what is wrong with the picture. They are no longer ignorant.
C) These people learn not only new skills. They learn a new way of seeing the world. Other ways of doing things. They apply these skills when they are back in the Philippines. The upper middle class is able to use these skills best. But also the middle class and lower middle class are able to send their kids to better schools, start businesses. Even if in the beginning, it is just about survival or keeping what one has gained.
How it Might Come
It might come as soon as a critical mass of people from upper middle class, middle class and lower middle class have gone through the learning curve that I have as a hypothesis.
Lots of them will be in the Philippines or will have come back and will be very frustrated with the stuff they have to deal with. They will see how many things are not going well in the Philippines, but they will remember how they saw it work, somewhere else. They will run against walls, even their relatives will not really want to understand what they are talking about. Those in power may want to hear it even less. So many of them will just silently work on securing the future that they have started building – in small steps.
But when these silent people notice, through small but encouraging events, that there are after all some people who think like them, they could become bolder and bolder. If enough people who have worked truly hard to build a future for themselves and their kids, and who know what is possible in other countries, want to protect that future without having to migrate and thereby lose there home, get together – then things could change.
Leftists and “nationalists” – who are elite and wanted to use massive poverty for a revolution that would benefit only them – have called these people “greedy” for wanting to work abroad or for multinationals. In truth there is nothing wrong with wanting a good life. The feudal elite wanted to keep these people in ignorance and limit their opportunities and had the upper middle class as their allies – but from my old contacts that are almost all from this class, I sense that that alliance is crumbling. The upper middle class is too modern now.
Politicians that sense these changes are already up and coming. Alan Peter Cayetano I see as trying to represent the new upper middle class mentality. Duterte could be popular among many lower middle class folks because of his focus on economic growth and low crime – his brutal methods appear down to earth to that social group, he speaks their language and their fear of sliding back into poverty is large. But from within these groups themselves, those that were abroad or exposed to the world through the BPO industries, a new breed of politician may arise. This is why I think it will take 10-20 years until the tipping point comes.
IF it does not come
There is another, very negative scenario – a waking nightmare in contrast to my waking dream of the tipping point. A bit exaggerated but it COULD go in that direction:
Most of Luzon is under Chinese control, run from Hacienda Luisita by one of the corrupt Cojuangcos. The Ilocos region and the Cordillera area fighting for independence, helped by their traditional US allies. The Visayas are nominally indepent but under Japanese protection, helping their linguistically and culturally close Bicolano brothers by secretly supporting the Bicol Liberation Army that is hiding in the jungle. Mindanao is a Malaysian protectorate under Sharia law, fighting for control of Palawan with the Chinese. The Ilagas are making their last stand, supported by the Visayan federation. Brunei is secretly helping the Tausugs gain their independence against the Islamic Republic of Mindanao because the Malaysians are now their enemies, trying to take them over like Saddam did to Kuwait.
The Asian region is becoming more important every year because of its economic growth. There is a Russian saying that wherever there is a lot of gold, there is a lot of blood. Wealth is something that nations fight over, war is always about business opportunities.
If the Philippines does not manage to get its act together it will be partitioned, in my opinion. Getting its act together depends not only on institutions – which are like the operating systems of computers. It also depends on a culture that supports those institutions and is compatible with them – something like the BIOS of a computer.
Philippine culture could become strong to support the institutions and secure the future of the nation if the tipping point is reached. Strong enough not to even care that it gets some help from the USA, which IS a superpower and therefore not always pleasant to deal with, but the best choice considering other options. But no longer as the little brown brothers they once were during colonial times, but as real partners and allies that are taken seriously.