Tragedy of the Commons in the Philippines

By Chemrock

Juan has a few cows which graze daily in the small field outside the village, together with scores of other cows that belong to fellow villagers. He makes a decent living from milk production. An opportunity came for Juan to double his herd. He knows nothing about optimum herd size, but he has the sense that the village cattle population is getting bigger through the years and their impact on the grass in the field is getting visible. Over-grazing was not on his mind, and neither was it his responsibility alone. He proceeded to increase his stock and, truly, his income increased. Soon the inevitable happened. The village field was depleted of grass and could no longer support cattle breeding.

This is a recurrent economic problem where individuals try to reap as much short-term personal gain from some shared or common resource at the expense of long-term cost to the whole community. Garrett Hardin coined the term ‘tragedy of the commons’ in 1968 to describe this. ‘Commons’ refer to any shared resource which may be public open access, or shared within a community. It describes a situation where, lacking co-operation, individuals act selfishly and eventually destroy the resource.

In the example of Juan’s village, each villager thought everyone else in the village should exercise restraint. Then the grass would be sufficient for all and he can introduce more cows. Of course, everyone wants to be the free rider and have more cows.

Games theory enthusiasts would have easily seen through my presentation of a ‘prisoners’ dilemma’ situation in the example of Juan’s village.

Two prisoners, A and B, were each given a choice which would decide their penalty.

  1. Betray each other — and both will be jailed for 2 years;
  2. A betrays B and B remains silent – A goes free, B jailed for 3 years (and vice versa);
  3. Both remain silent — Both jailed for 1 year.

Co-operation would have given the best payout for both (3), but personal interest overrides and both prisoners will tend to take option (2). Thus Juan and the other villagers continue to increase the number of cows. It’s easy to see the problems of ‘tragedy of commons’ in relation to scarce resources, such as grazing grounds, fishing grounds, mineral resources, forestry, arable land, fresh water etc. Non-cooperation and unfettered exploitation leads to collapse of the resource. These are economic realities, and seeing from the perspective of game theories, perhaps add to our understanding.

The prisoners’ dilemma’ is a 2-party game. Hardin extended the game to a multitude of players which he called the CC-PP game (Commonize Cost – Privatize Profit). All players obtain utility from the commons and hence they will not defect. Some players amass the profits to themselves and spread whatever costs arising from the use of the commons to the overall community. A good example is electricity. All members of the community makes use of electricity and will not defect — i.e., give up the utility they enjoy. The coal generators obtain their fuel from coal mines and keep all the profits of their plants. The environmental and health costs of the communities living in coal mining areas are ‘commonized’. Another term that this game goes by and which Socialists love to hate, is ‘privatizing profits and socializing costs’.

Yet another way to look at it is to understand the economic term ‘externalities’. This is a cost that affects a party that did not choose to the incur the cost. In the above example, the power generator choose to use coal and the social and environmental costs of the coal mining are their externalities. If you are a car-owning driver, you have many externalities — pollution, carbon emissions, traffic jams, accidents etc. In the CC-PP game, externalities are passed on to the wider community. This game is played daily in all economic spheres – the wealthy are overgrazing.  Semirara Mining Corporation is over-mining, lumber companies are overharvesting. the big dogs of Philippines agribusiness  are overplanting, SM Prime Holdings, Ayala Land, Megaworld are overdeveloping suburban communities, etc.

‘The tragedy of commons’ is easily explained in the use of scarce resources. In reality, ‘commons’ can be extended to a wide open field where Filipinos are all players. Examples of deeply entrenched problems in the Philippines:

  • Population growth. All Filipinos are players and the ‘commons’ is the food basket of the Philippines to support a huge population. From 30 million in 1950s the population has exploded to 105 million currently. The externalities for each and every Filipino born are in things like infrastructures — schools, hospitals, transportation, and jobs, food resources, etc.
  • Litter.  The ‘commons’ is national well-being, the externalities are huge. Each plastic bag, cigarette butt, bottle, food wrapper etc., that is thrown wantonly on the streets, has externalities not just in municipal costs but untold miseries on the community and economic losses. It leads to flotsam-choked dead rivers, perennial street floodings, unsightly and smelly environment.
  • Vandalism in public spaces such as parks, recreation areas, and public restrooms. The externalities are increased repairs and maintenance and unquantifiable cost of loss of use.
  • Skills acquisition and training. Parties involved pass the buck on implementation and neglect to transfer knowledge. The commons is the knowledge pool, internalities are the opportunity costs of unrealized projects.
  • Election. The electorate votes irresponsibly, such as selling votes or voting without regard or concern as to the competency or moral character of the candidates, such as giving votes to their ‘fab’ celebrities, or on silly basis such as relatives, skin colour,  dynasties, etc. The commons is the constitution, the externalities is the national well-being.
  • Corruption – At official level, the commons is the taxpayers’ money, the externalities is the loss of public service. At other levels, the commons is always someone else’s money or property, the externalities are pecuniary losses.

The recalcitrants hide behind the excuse that one man’s litter, and so too one man’s vote, doesn’t count. Juan was walking across the street when he decided to throw his food wrappings on the pavement. He certainly wasn’t thinking his thrash would be capable of causing a street flood. When a couple does not bother about responsible parenthood and has their 10th child, they certainly didn’t think they were responsible for the social and economic consequences of over-population. It is the aggregate of the individuals’ little actions that impact the commons. The sum total of these small little decisions that individuals make culminates in the deterioration of the commons. Economist Thomas Schelling called this the “tyranny of small decisions”.

It is very clear the ‘tragedy of commons’ is a problem of a conflict of individuals’ short term selfish interests against the collective’s long-term common good. This is the terrible dilemma that has gripped the Philippines in the jaws of mediocrity and from which it must break free before this country can fly.

One way or another, most of the ills of Philippines can be narrowed down to a ‘tragedy of commons’. The solution to lifting the commons is by :

(1) Internalizing externalities:

This means the shifting of the burdens, or social costs, to the party whose choices of action caused those costs. This is normally done by the government through taxes, property rights, tolls, etc. The recent increase in excise duties on new vehicles in Philippines is an example. You want to minimize littering? Impose a fine. Where externalities are not internalized, gamers play the system.

The internalization of externalities is a means of incentivizing, or dis-incentivizing, with the objective of making people consider behavior changes, so that the external effects of their actions lead to less harm to the commons.

Singapore government is King when it comes to internalizing externalities. Portable water and electricity tariffs are sky-high, the vehicles in the island are the most expensive in the world. There is a fine for almost any perceived anti-social behavior. Singapore is now known as a ‘fine’ country. Amazingly, it works.

(2) Regulation:

All sorts of regulations to support the commons can be imposed by governments and various other relevant parties. The Makati City regulation of ‘no plastic bags’, individual condos requiring proper trash collection, etc. Regulation means law and order that comes with penalties.

(3) Privatization:

This is not in the sense of privatization vs competition as discussed in previous blogs. ‘Commons’ are often abstracts or subject to open public excess. It thus offers certain legal impediments to schemes designed to protect it. Privatizing them is a manner of creating some means of legal ownership whereupon an entity has a better foundation for protective initiatives. Take Juan’s village field. If there is a co-operative that ‘owns’ the field, then it is easier for some means of scheme to preserve the field.

(4) War against ‘tyranny of small decisions’:

(A note to PNP – Please note this is not a cry for EJK against individuals who make these small decisions.)

The objective is to get the individuals to exercise ‘restraint’, or in games theory parlance, to ‘defect’. Unfortunately, this is not a one-move game and the future matters. The individual’s decision is affected by his perception of the next moves of other individuals. Juan thinks that even if he stops increasing his herd, another villager may not. The litterbug thinks his nonchalant random act of throwing food-wrapping on the side-walk is so insignificant, and even if he keeps his trash, millions of others will continue to litter. Senator Revilla thinks that even if he decides to be saintly and refuses to accept the 280 million pesos generously credited into his bank accounts by good Samaritans, others like Enrile, Estrada or many distinguished personalities in government will continue to take. So the dominant strategy to obtain ‘co-operation’ or ‘defection’ is bound to fail.

Two other anti-social attitudes stand in the way :

  • NIMBY attitude – which was discussed in Joe’s old blog Not in my backyard.
  • Old leopard’s spots – Good habits are tough to stick, and old habits die hard. Old leopards don’t change their spots. Moral persuasion is useless. Some people will do the right thing because they are wired that way. The majority will not heed moral appeals.

It’s far from being a hopeless case. There are ways and means to approach the problem. Such as :

  • Dis-incentivize the bad and incentivize good behavior. Litter- fined. Vehicle in junction box and blocking traffic – fined. Late in tax submission – fined. Repeat offense – fine doubled. Third time offense – fine tripled. Those individuals will get the idea. So polluters pay fines, clean buildings get rewards. One year no-offense drivers earn credit.
  • Line up individual interests with collective interest. Take population control. Do it the Singapore way — implement lots of monetary incentives for small families – tax breaks, ease of entry to schools of choice, etc. Individuals can choose not to exercise restraint, but at a price – no tax breaks, no child allowances, etc. Or do it the China way – tough no nonsense, rather inhumane, one-child policy.
  • Cascading effect. All is not lost for one singular act. An individual’s decision to dispose his trash properly matters if there is a cascading effect and thousands follow. Imagine Mocha decides to be decent in her arguments toward someone who does not share her views and 4 million Facebook followers imitate her. That is why good acts must be singled out and cheered on in schools and pulpits and discussed in homes with our kids over diner. These are wonderful topics for cheering, and for social influencers to act on. That is why celebrities have a social responsibility that unfortunately many either refuse to carry the Cross, or worse still, themselves add to the problem. A chest thumping Robin Padilla turning up at the Senate to cheer on the attempt at unlawful arrest of Senator Trillanes was a horrendous payback of some God given personal blessings.
  • Psychic numbing. Draw attention to a future threat in a disturbing manner as to prompt individualist and/or collectivist action. I suggest posters like below be put up all over the place. May these haunt people into action.

Of all the games in town, the election is of course of over-riding importance. The ‘tyranny of small decisions’ of the voters determines the future of the ‘commons’ of the country. As responsible voters, the game is to promote the candidates one supports, as well as to influence voters on the other side of the fence to defect. Is dialogue impossible? Is there stalemate? Is the country now so irretrievably traumatized by political polarization?  It is a sad day indeed if a Nash Equilibrium has been reached. Nash Equilibrium is a games theory term that mirrors a national stasis where each player, knowing the others’ strategies, knows there is nothing to gain by changing his own strategy. And so the prisoners’ dilemma game is played to the death of the commons of Philippines.


77 Responses to “Tragedy of the Commons in the Philippines”
  1. karlgarcia says:


  2. karlgarcia says:

    Psychic numbing

    Not helping someone bleeding to death in the street because of fear that it maybe a deadly trick.
    Not stopping a beating you witness.

    Is it really numbing or fear?

  3. Micha says:

    Chempo, a self-confessed (retired?) banker, could dish out dozen examples of tragedy of the commons but chose to ignore the most consequential predatory criminal behavior of private international bankers which led to the collapse of world economy and which until today millions have yet to recover and continue to suffer from the austerity measures taken by governments around the world.

    This parasitic behavior led to their devising of toxic instruments and their bottomless greed led to destructive over-grazing seemingly confident that in case of another hollowing crash out, public money will come to their rescue once more.

    • If there is a point to be made, make it. Stop the personalization of issues. Investment banking is rarely cited as a problem in the Philippines so there is no wonder it was not included in the commentary. I have no patience left for hostile commentary that detracts from real issues in the interest of picking personal fights.

    • chemrock says:

      I set out to explain Tragedy of the commons in scenarios best understood.

      If you have a way to put the banking industry in the same setting, that would be a great contribution to everyone’s understanding here. The reason I did not write on this is because I could’nt find a way to frame it.

      The way I see it, the problems of your big fat bankers ugly is one of enticement. They put stuff out there, and people choose to gobble them up.

      I have never been up close and personal with any of these over-grazing bankers that you seem to see behind every door. To my knowledge, bankers I know help people to buy homes and finance businesses to prosper, look after people’s excess cash and pay them a return for use of their deposits, invest in millions to have automated TCM for our convenience, help people move funds throughout the world, etc etc… a list of their their utility can fill up a few pages . If there are many of these bankers in Philippines, perhaps the govt has no need to go to China for loans. I remember helping to fund lots of Philippines projects during Marcos’ time, including the Bataan Nuclear plant. It’s the borrower who mess up most of the times, not the bankers. Rogue bankers do exist of course, but such rogues exist in every sphere of humanity.

      In financial crashes if govts choose to prop up the financial institutions and let the fat cats go away, blame the govt, not the system.

      • Micha responded with a personal aspersion aimed at me, intimating that I was defending bankers rather than the integrity of the blog in my response to his last comment. The personalized argument is a violation of the principles upon which the blog is built. I won’t publish the remark. His/her issues-objection is to “the private international bankers, the CEO’s and their top predatory honchos and apologists that are in a mix of their toxic design”, but I’m not sure how it pertains to the tragedy of the commons in the Philippines.

        I will do a blog article that restates the rules for contributions to blog discussions and publish it next week.

        • Micha says:

          By censoring opposing views, this site could degenerate into just one of those propaganda machines such as those being employed by the current administration.

          I am not making personal attack on anyone here. I am not alleging that chempo has a mistress or that he abuses his maid or any of those sort.

          I am challenging his perspective based on the economic and political ideology that he espouse shaped by where he is coming from, ie, as a former banker who defends the capitalist order.

          • You impugn motive when you suggest Chemrock is writing to defend the bankers you detest. No. He is writing to discuss a problem in the Philippines, the tragedy of the commons. You double down on the personalization when you suggest I am ‘censoring’ because I was a banker. No. I am censoring because I hate this denegration bullshit that is common to our era as it distorts and distracts and otherwise confuses what is otherwise a helpful discussion. YOU choose not to abide by the editorial rules. I merely enforce them to avoid the blog becoming a trash heap of dysfunctional debate.

            • The blog is one of the best, least trash-laden and troll infested forums around, dealing with Filipino issues. If you think it is dealing propaganda, just stop reading. It is simple. Everything is simple. Only you make it complicated.

  4. In the old days of 20-30 million people and suman (rice cakes) sold wrapped in leaves, didn’t matter where you threw the wrapping.

    In 1910 most Filipinos still lived in bahay kubo. Thinking has not kept pace with progress.

  5. edgar lores says:

    1. Chemrock, you’re on a roll. From electrification to philosophy to economics.

    2. The classic concept of the tragedy of the commons applies to individuals overexploiting a common natural resource. The concept of the commons has been extended to the global commons of the earth’s shared natural resources, such as the oceans, the atmosphere, the polar regions, and outer space. The exploitation is not done by individual persons but individual nations, and the results are not yet tragic but may soon be.

    2.1. The oceans are being overfished. China has grabbed a huge swath of the global commons known as the South China Sea and the fishing grounds of local fisherman have been severely limited.

    2.2. The atmosphere is subject to pollution and its temperature is being raised to an uncomfortable degree by climate change. The country has been struck by strong typhoons more often and more severely.

    2.3. The calving of icebergs in the polar regions is causing the sea level to rise and it is projected that parts of Manila and 7 other cities – Taguig, Caloocan, Davao, Butuan, Malabon, and Iloilo — will be affected.

    2.4. The exploration of outer space began in the 1950s and fortunately so far no country has dominated the domain. I have read of orbital missile stations and orbital death rays. China is reported to have been successful in planting and growing something on the moon and perhaps this is a good thing. The moon is made of cheese and now there will be more than cheese to enjoy for moon explorers.

    2.5. Three bad news and one good news – not bad.

    3. There is another extension of the concept of the tragedy of the commons that strikes me. What if the common natural resource being exploited is the… common tao?

    3.1. Well, in the Philippines, the common folk are being expertly exploited by politicians and priests alike.

    3.2. Strange as it may seem though, although this common resource is overexploited endlessly, it is never exhausted. It is a self-propagating resource.

    • chemrock says:

      Trust Edgar to extend the idea of commons to the global level…. and beyond into the universe….. and even the spiritual sphere.

      Good of you to end on an encouraging note of self-propagating resource. I find the optimist in me is being severely squeezed by the existentialism that will be the foundation of the next generation. And whilst I want to be cheered, I’m reminded Malampaya reserves will run dry by 2024.

      • edgar lores says:

        1. I want to explore my lateral extension of the tragedy to the exploitation of the common folk.

        2. The question is: What are the externalities of (the negative results) of the exploitation?

        2.1. The result of exploitation by politicians is the continuing cycle of the culture of patronage. There is a symbiosis (parasitism) between the politician and the citizenry that bodes ill for the country.

        2.2. The result of exploitation by priests/pastors is the continuing cycle of the culture of religious ritualism. There is a parallel symbiosis (parasitism) between the priests/pastors and the faithful that bodes ill for the country.

        3. In the secular political arena, there is created a political elite, dynastic families that win and maintain a variety of public offices for generations.

        3.1. In the sacred religious arena, dominant denominations preside over the rites of passage (birth, coming of age, marriage, funerals).

        4. In both arenas, the pattern of life is foreordained and there is a reliance on external authority. As such, there is psychic security. And certainly, there are joys to be found in such confinement.

        4.1. Self-reliance is not encouraged and not developed.

        4.2. People tend to escape from such confinement by going abroad, marrying foreigners, defecting to the CPP/NPA or the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HNP), or joining the INC. At times, they escape lightly; at times, they escape to tighter bondage.

        • chemrock says:

          Nice extension of the theme.
          On a much higher plane, perhaps you are going into the Ouroboros of humanity – an eternal struggle to move from aboriginal consciousness to the next level of consciousness. It is humanity’s attempt and travails to return to the Garden of Eden, which is the idylic existence where there is absolute freedom from toil and malice.

  6. Pablo says:

    The prisoners dilemma is one view of the story. But there are others.
    The bedouins have learned over many centuries not to deplete the soil, they moved-on and you would not be able to see where they had been, no pollution was left behind.
    The Pacific Islanders knew about the capacity of their islands. If the population grew too much, people were put on a boat and they had to sail away to find a new island (many perished of course, but some found new islands, developing marvelous knowledge of navigation).
    Many farmers who stayed organic throughout this chemical age know that you can cultivate the soil without depleting it and produce enough to have a good life.
    The bees swarm when their colony gets too big.
    Myxomatosis depletes the rabbit warrens when there are too many of them and reduce the population to a manageable size.
    A remote village in Philippines does not need police, the social structure takes care of its people and ensures that respect and health is taken care of (to a certain extend..)

    What ths shows, is that there are many systems capable of regulating our life and we should not need extensive artificial systems for control. Or, at least, make the systems as “natural as possible”
    so they become sustainable. Most of the Singapore-type systems will collapse once the going gets tough, they are too artificial.

    Your examples of mining and agriculture (….) are a sign of a sick system where people don’t give a s..t about the bigger community and the bigger community is not prepared to take control. All systems have broken down, it’s a free-for-all.

    The small section of the community who see the problem is below the critical mass to change the direction, the truck is thundering down the mountain road without brakes. Scary.

    Would a “Gina-type” person be able to reverse the vested interests?

    • isk says:

      Would a “Gina-type” person be able to reverse the vested interests?
      We have laws/regulations that cover these problems. I think “compliance” is the keyword.

      • I suspect a “Gina-type” person has a better shot at gaining compliance from an emotional people than a diplomatic person does.

      • edgar lores says:

        Excellent point. We should be aware of, and avoid, “savior-type” solutions.

        • My reading of “Gina-type” is not savior, but a politician with a peculiar charisma and ability to communicate with voters. John F. Kennedy was perhaps the best in the US. President Reagan as well. At the other end of the spectrum are the dullards like Gerald Ford and Jimmah Carter. Good, earnest public servants all, but regular people lack the pulpit strength to get the people behind their initiatives. The Philippines could use a well-principled communicator to inspire new ideas.

          • I would add that the opposition’s campaign approach is very dull and I think ineffectual. Rather people preaching to the choir whereas the congregation is across the street.

            • Gina, from Urban Dictionary: “Gina is a universal name from all continents representing one who is absolutely gorgeous (but doesn’t seem to know it), is extremely charitable (but doesn’t necessarily admit it), would do anything for a family member or a friend, loves to travel and go camping, but underneath that nature enthusiast also lies the heart of one who loves to be pampered at 5-star hotels. They generally go with the flow and can be equally hyper or shy depending on the situation at hand. She can be fiercely protective of loved ones and due to this, she shies away from mentioning them until you really get to know her. Based on numerology, Gina’s make great actors or singers, while a small few with this name favor writing, just never ask them to play a sport as they will fail miserably. Their eyes are often very deep, showing their emotions without meaning to, so pay attention to that feature if you really want to know what a Gina is thinking.”

              • edgar lores says:

                Nice. I don’t know enough of Gina Lopez — as yet — to classify her as a Gina. I read and see good things about her, her national and international awards, and the Pasig Rehabilitation Commission. Judging by her enemies — Cayetano, the mining companies, and eventually Duterte — I would say she has heart, maybe immense heart. Maybe she is a Gina.

              • Either definition of Gina-type works, interestingly enough, Lopez or Urban Dictionary. But I personally think Gina is a Gina.

          • Sup says:

            Trump communicates through hamberders…. 🙂

    • What ths shows, is that there are many systems capable of regulating our life and we should not need extensive artificial systems for control. Or, at least, make the systems as “natural as possible”

      There are two examples of this:

      1) the Swiss system based on cantons, basically areas that have the same dialect, often just a few connected mountain valleys. Federal is for common needs.

      2) the Byzantine empire survived the Western Roman Empire by a thousand years because it consisted mainly of self-supporting villages running themselves. Tribes and clans.

      Subsidiarity is the name of the game, meaning you let things be taken care of at the lowest level possible.

      Most of the Singapore-type systems will collapse once the going gets tough, they are too artificial.

      Two example again:

      a) Cologne, formerly Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippina, along the Rhine, stopped using the Roman aqueducts and even the canal system as soon as the colognizers left.

      b) there is evidence of substantial “reforestation” after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, meaning large parts of Western European agriculture were abandoned for a while.

      Weirdly, both old Inca irrigation canals in the Andes and 6+ century old Portuguese canals on Madeira are still in operation, but that is because people USED and MAINTAINED them.

      • the bigger community is not prepared to take control

        Again, two examples:

        i) Italy was pretty much under control of the Visigoths after Roman rule ended. In fact it was simply Gothic chieftains with Roman technocrats that kept the system running. One Gothic chieftain even said that “rich Goths try to be Romans, poor Romans try to be Goths”.

        ii) other places had to fully reconstitute. Finally the unlikely alliance of lords and priests saved post-Roman Europe from completely going dark – a bit like a “Mad Max” movie where biker gangs (lords) and geeks (priests) cooperate with their respective skills for a new order.

        The Philippines now is that it has too much people and too little arable land left for the people – at least to go back to old forms of agriculture and fishing from 1898 or 1521.

      • chemrock says:

        “….. old Inca irrigation canals…. are still in operation, but that is because people USED and MAINTAINED them.”

        Irineo — absolutely this is what it’s all about. It’s the people, not the system. Where systems prove useless, we can remodel. But we can’t change people, or can we?

        “Solidiarity” is a support for Federalism. It works in Switzerland, but unlikely in Philippines, which I’m sure you agree all along. So it’s once again, the people, not the system. You see the cool-headedness of the Swiss, and the shrill emotionalism of Filipinos (enshrined in POA Sec Persida’s followers), the kind of emotionalism we see in most Latin American countries. A Filipino is unlikely to have the cool head of a William Tell to hit the apple on his son’s head.

    • chemrock says:

      Interesting illustrations from Pablo, and often from Irineo, of situations where humans have been better organised and fared pretty well. But I think these are mostly removed in time and size.

      Smaller sized communities are easier to organise themselves. Less complexities, less regulations. Ancient communities also has the advantage of lesser needs, lesser demands. It is a matter of scalability. What those communities had simply cannot be ported into today’s communities of millions, with tremendous needs and demands.

      The gist of this blog is the contradiction between homo economicus and homo reciprocans. On the one side stands the homo economicus, or the economic man, one who seeks to maximize utility as a consumer and profit as a producer. The me-me-me society. The perfect rationalist. On the other side stands the homo reciprocans, or the reciprocating man, one who seeks inclusiveness, whose actions are co-operative to the lot of the community.

      It is not the system, but the behaviourial expectencies of the human species that is at the cross-roads.

      • edgar lores says:

        The contradiction is not inherent?

        Bill Gates used to be a homo economicus. Now he is a homo reciprocans.

        There are many other examples of the businessman-philanthropist.

        Then there are the Kardashians — who are economicus non-reciprocans much like our local celebrities.

        • chemrock says:

          It is hoped that as one moves up the Maslow hierachy, one’s concerns extend to the external world. It is never researched, but I’m sure people like Bill Gate, and many other larger than life personalities who has gone into philantrophy in a big way, influences a new generation of thought about sustainable investment philosophy.

          Kardashians are great contradictions. They like to appear about town in million $ wearables, and nothing to wear in front of cameras.

    • chemrock says:

      “Most of the Singapore-type systems will collapse once the going gets tough, they are too artificial.”

      All rules and regulations that bind communities together in all countries in the world are artificial. In modern history, the communities that collapsed and disappeared have all been due to military interference. Those that collapsed due to internal political and economic malaise (the rules and regulations that afflict the commons) suffers and re-invents themselves — Russia, China, etc with many other going through the throes of change — Argentina, Columbia, Mozambique etc.

      I would not subscribe to the Singapore model as artificial. Tightly regulated – yes. Like all countries, Singapore govt faces the challenge of a population facing a generational change — different ideals, different worldview. The rise of populism has not reached its shore. But a western educated society that’s swayed considerably by western ideals of liberism is at odds with the older generation of Confucianist thoughts. But even these undercurrents are not the greatest challenge. Without a hinterland, Singapore is mindful of the experience of Grecian and Italian city states which did’nt turn out well in the long term. The greatest challenge for Singapore is to be able to remain relevant to the international community. Without this relevance, Singapore, as we know it today, will be no more.

      • sonny says:

        Begs for continuous examination of a community’s sense of its human geography – thus also continuous adaptation; the human condition.

  7. Sup says:

    About corruption read this.
    Ex-military comptroller, wife acquitted in P400-M tax evasion case
    The couple has been accused of making multi-million bank deposits, investments as well as purchasing properties in the Philippines and abroad.

    However, the Tax Court disallowed documentary and testimonial pieces of evidence by the prosecution for violating the Bank Secrecy Law as well as the Foreign Currency Deposit Act.

    Read more:
    If this government was serious about anti corruption there would be no more bank secrecy law.

    • chemrock says:

      All countries in the world has a banking secrecy law. But there is no country in the world that interpretes banking secrecy law the way Philippines does.

      Philippines court goes into the ‘dots’ of the ‘i’ and lost the way to justice.

      • Sup says:

        The Philippines is one of the three countries that still have a bank secrecy law, with Lebanon and Switzerland being the other two. We want to be fully compliant with all laws and also be consistent with international best practice.

        • Switzerland is no longer that secret due to EU/OECD pressure, see also FATF.

          About the Philippines I once wrote a follow-on to chem’s article on the Bangladesh bank heist.

        • chemrock says:

          Banking secrecy is practiced everywhere in the world. Because a fiduciary relationship exists between a bank and its customer. Such as between a lawyer and his client, or a doctor and his patient.

          Where banking secrecy is a problem is when the law chose to protect the bank and their customers and work against investigatory authorities.

          Philippines banking secrecy law provides for exceptions to the general rule of non-disclosure. If looks nice on paper, but in reality, these rules for exeption are very onerous and investigators are often defeated in their application for access to info.

        • chemrock says:

          It’s not correct that only 3 countries have banking secrecy laws. Maybe by that the author meant a law that specifically mentions “Banking Secrecy”. All countries in the world have a banking law enacted. Embeded in this act will be regulations relating to banking secrecy, 100% dead sure. Some countries feel there is a need to be more ‘pure’ than others and need a specific ‘secrecy’ act.

          A critical real issue in the banking secrecy law is NEVER about disclosure of info. This confidentiality requirement or relationship exist everywhere — various website subscriptions, various govt bodies — motor licencing, hospital records, tv licencing, etc. Banking secrecy is about banks not allowed to operate un-identified accounts. Swiss banks used to allow numbered accounts — there are no names, just an account number. Banking secrecy is about banks needing to make sure the accounts are opened in actual names — no Jose Velarde for Joseph Estrada, no William Saunders and Jane Ryan for Mr & Mrs Marcos.

          If you wish to see where Philippines stand in terms of banking secrecy, check out this link below. However, the basis of the scores are misleading. You need to know what they are measuring. IMHO this index meant nothing.

          Click to access 1-Banking-Secrecy.pdf

          • Sup says:

            My main point was that as long as the ”thieves” know that the money they steal is protected by all kind of hocus pocus they will continue to steal….Just check the results lately about cases filed and lost by ”the people” is our money after all. (Mickey Arroyo, GMA, Garcia, Revilla just to name a few….)

            • chemrock says:

              That is what I’m saying all along. Philippines has twisted a law meant to go after crooks and instead cynically applied it to protect them. There is a difference between Law and Justice and it takes extraordinary judicial mind to stand up in cases like this to expound on the sheer absurdity of the legislation pertaining to the reality of the case. Such a time was when CJ Sereno threw the Aguilnado Doctrine out of the courtrooms.

  8. edgar lores says:

    1. I find psychic numbing interesting.

    2. As defined in the article, it is a means of drawing “attention to a future threat in a disturbing manner as to prompt individualist and/or collectivist action.”

    3. On reading about it further, I get a different and opposite meaning. Rather than prompting action, psychic numbing produces apathy. It is a reaction to mass atrocity – like Duterte’s drug war and EJKs – and it desensitizes us, numbs us, to further suffering. It is the equivalent of PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder.

    3.1. According to Wikipedia, the original concept was argued by Robert Jay Lifton who focused on the Hiroshima bombing as the text for the phenomenon.

    4. Filipinos are now psychically numb. The shock of tape-wrapped corpses lying in the streets has inured people to suffering. It has prevented them from responding with outrage to new abuses. The campaign excesses of Bong Go. Marawi. Rising prices. Chacha. Blasphemy.

    5 It is true that Lifton has made a call to awareness as the antidote to psychic numbing. People must regain a sense of control to understand what is happening and to work out ways to overcome threats. This would be consistent with putting up posters to draw people’s attention.

    6. In a way, although we are hardly aware of it, the drug war is an implementation of the evolutionary process of natural selection. Nature has programmed us to get the best of our genes into the next generation. The survival of the fittest. Drug addicts have recessive qualities and should thus be eliminated. This instinctive biological-evolutionary perspective will partly explain how easily we accept the amorality of EJKs.

    6.1. The irony — and paradox — is that natural selection has chosen the least of our genes to implement the strategy. At a certain point, natural selection defeats itself.

    6.2. The Buddhist prescription of open inquiry and mindfulness is a prescription to overcome psychic numbing. Man has the intelligence and the means to alter natural processes.

    • karlgarcia says:

      I guess psychic numbing is the reason why Duterte gets high ratings.(still)

    • chemrock says:

      Ah yes, Edgar. Normalising the horrors.
      On the other hand, if we display photos of Juan picking his trash and keeping his place clean, would this normalise the social responsibility?

      • edgar lores says:

        I think it has to be a combination of methods like the ones you mention. Not only posters but fines and incentives. And amenities.

        In Oz, all packaging are labeled with pictograms to indicate whether they are general waste or recyclables. There are separate bins for each in the home and in malls. Don’t know if this is true in Manila and other cities.

  9. NHerrera says:


    While we should rightfully be concerned with the Tragedy of the Commons in the Philippines, the international TOTC from all countries use of the Earth’s Space Commons through the use of fossil fuels, especially by the major Economic Powers, is likely to overtake in scale the internal PH TOTC.

    We recently had a blog in TSH which emphasized the disastrous effects of Climate Change in 10 to 20 years time. Even Singapore which has been successful in combatting the TOTC within its border will not be immune to the international TOTC.

    • chemrock says:

      One small step for man, one big step for humanity.

      TOTC at personal level.
      TOTC within family
      TOTC at Barangays
      TOTC in cities
      TOTC in provinces
      TOTC in Philippines
      TOTC in Asean
      TOTC in the world
      TOTC in the universe.

      I’m thinking the first 3 are within reach of ordinary Filipinos.

      • Philippine society is growing a bit to grasp Levels 4-5, the level of rajahnate that already existed in 1521/1571.

        Level 6 is too abstract for most, or why does hardly anyone care about Marawi?

        Or the fatal landslides in Bicol (Usman)?

      • NHerrera says:

        The socioeconomic class is the other dimension which along with the listed levels of concerns forms the big picture — nice enumeration of the nine there, chemrock, and complete, too: your not missing the part that our “Martian” counterpart should similarly be concerned. 🙂

        The TOTC concerns must somehow come to one’s notice in the news online and in the broadsheets, however passing the eye sweeps past those items. Biggest of all, of course, is the weekly barrage, if not daily, of items about Climate Change. I am wondering how many minutes of the month the average rich, middle class, and the poor spend on pondering these concerns. Take away the ones who do not have a smartphone: still I cannot bet with confidence on the rich being more concerned than the other classes.

        But in the case of Pacquiao, I can bet he is concerned about climate change — that is, whether his exercise for the day together with his entourage preparing for his next fight is affected by the cold or hot weather of the day: the climate of the day, that is.

    • sonny says:

      NH, as we talk & discuss TOTC (all levels) I get more convinced that our affairs of complexity are just people obeying/realizing the imperatives of the laws of nature, e.g. 2nd Law of Thermodynamics: every system tends to increasing entropy (chaos & disorder). If we use this law as axiomatic then we know other laws follow that we end up following anyway.

      • edgar lores says:

        The distinguishing attribute of homo sapiens is that we are self-programmable.

        • sonny says:

          Yet to my mind, seems like we still end up following the 2nd Law.

        • Pablo says:

          That we learn and correct our behaviour is a.nice idea, but research over the past decades indicate that this is true for only a few % of the people. The rest just ignores evidence and insist on their opinion, whatever the evidence. Just a search on “TED talk” and “Majority always wrong” is entertaining, very recognisable and also scary. Maybe that is why I like this forum, people have opinions, for sure, but the majority is willing to learn and change their opinion upon evidence. Pity that most participants have similar background, resulting in few tough discussions, but when they happen, it stays mostly in a polite atmosphere. Good to be here

  10. karlgarcia says:

    The commoners need a land use law, but the real estate sector presented arguments that made them the underdogs, like being under represented, etc.

    they are correct in saying that there are too many existing laws, but why not combine these laws to have a common law?

  11. caliphman says:

    The TOTC model and it’s applications to diverse settings from the Philippine as well as other more micro or global situations focus on the reality that in any society what is good for the individual can diverge from what is good for that society as a whole. The latter is often referred to as the public good. That individual persons or states will tend to act in their own self interest is a given. That they can perceive and agree on what is in the public good is not a given. That even if they can perceive and agree on what is in the public good is no assurance that their behavior will serve the public good if that behavior is driven more by their perceived individual gain. That there can be a fundamental difference and sometimes contradiction between what benefits the individual and what is in the common and public good is a given. Serving the public good is the rationale underlying the need for laws that regulate behavior of individuals in any society, the government that assures and enforces such laws and policies do achieve the common good, and finally levies the taxes and public finance so that there will be resources available to achieve the common good.

    The sordid predicament the Philippines faces that as a whole and individually there is little importance given to whatever is in the common good. Individually, this is reflected in their choice and selection of government leaders by being guided by choosing who would benefit themselves most.

    Less prevalent is a lack of awareness,agreement, education, or sophistication in perceiving what choice or behavior would serve the public or common good most. I believe most of Duterte’s continued high ratings are driven by well-intentioned Filipinos who continue to believe and trust in his personality and type of leadership is what the Philippines needs and less his policies and the priorities and achievements of his administration.

    How does one change a society where behavior is driven primarily by self-interest? Where adherence to laws, policies and goals intended to promote and attain what is in the public good is replaced by corruption by the very organizations and officials chosen to develop and enforce them. Things seem pretty grim I think.

    In closing, it is very difficult to hope for a systemic change in the values and attitudes of Filipinos so that they place more importance on the public or common good and less on individual self interest. What I would hope for is that there will be an orderly transition from Duterte to another leader who has a better perception of what is in the common good and whose policies and behavior is guided by it.

    • Pablo says:

      This tallies with my assessment. Your statement was that things look pretty grim, but you also hope for a next leader with a higher moral standard. Here, I think you have taken a shortcut.
      Because first you mention that Duterte still has a lot of followers. Ergo, our next guy needs to be a tough guy as well, otherwise you loose those followers.
      So, the profile of the next person must include a higher moral standard and a ruthless implementation of the law. A potential explosive mixture and probably a contradiction anyway. I feel not competent enough to discuss the various local options, but it would certainly an interesting topic: “what should the profile of our next president look like in order to be elected and drain the swamp thereafter”.

    • chemrock says:

      Good points. We are basically in agreement in all aspects. I agree it is in the laws that one can expect the coercion of individuals’ actions to be in line with the common good. The difficulties in the Philippines is the crafters and the executors of the laws themselves have interests that are also divergent with common good.

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  1. […] hope you had the opportunity to read Chemrock’s article entitled Tragedy of the Commons in the Philippines. It gets right to the heart of the personal and social malaise that infests the country leading to […]

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