Will the ‘economy of need’ cost the Philippines her autonomy?

What the economy of need looks like. [Photo by AFP via The Straits Times]

By JoeAm

Please give me a little time to work up my argument here. I’m taking you along the thought process that I trekked through to get to a little piece of insight.

The Philippine economy is best characterized as one of need, not production. This can best be seen in outlying provinces where much of the economy is based on low-paying day jobs. Conventional social and law-based rules don’t apply here. Rather, things get turned inside out.

For example, there are laws requiring the registration of vehicles and helmets on motorcycles, but they are largely ignored. People are poor and have to get around town to get to their low-wage jobs, or schools several kilometers away. They can’t afford the helmets or the registration. They need gas for the bike which is often a cheap used Chinese contraption putting along smokily on one cylinder. Sometimes the kids drive themselves to school. About half the vehicles are unregistered and only about 25% of motorcycle riders wear the helmets the law says they should use.

Law enforcement officials look the other way most of the time. Oh, they run checkpoints now and then to look for registration documents, but people dodge them or wait them out, up the road a piece. Officials understand. Kids need to get to school. People need to get around. Even if they are poor.

It would be difficult to implement a school bus program for students because hundreds of low-end motorcycle jobs would be lost. I thought about setting up a van program locally until my wife explained that we would become the most hated people on the planet for taking money from motorcycle drivers.

Good deeds become bad, in an economy of need. Laws are not obeyed or even known. People are ignorant of them . . . and get along fine in that ignorance. They live this way day to day. Not just for transportation, but for everything. Ignorance is mainstreamed, accepted, ignored, and people do what they have to do . . . or want to do . . . to get along.

I imagine the underbelly of Manila to be pretty much the same but in an urban setting. Drugs seem stupid to people with jobs and knowledge. They are a delight to people who have learned to ignore the law and knowledge and just want some relief in their otherwise dismal, mundane day to day existence.

Voting is done on the most simplistic of terms in an economy of need. Style, boxing wins, propaganda, what others say, or fame on the screen, an envelope with 500 pesos in it. Logic is simple and often wrong. Yet, it is defended to the end of time.

The economy of need was the bed into which a lot of shrewd thinking and money from unknown sources planted Rodrigro Duterte. It seems more and more like he is China’s main man in the Philippines. Oh, even though President Duterte may think he is the driver of his presidency, I suspect he is more the pawn than the driver.

His marketing campaign message was perfect for the economy of need. Totally based on style, absolutely ignoring knowledge or job requirements, based on promises and dreams and common sense as flimsy as the lifespan of a jet-ski joke. He fit, and still fits, the economy of need.

His is only a six-year term, but that is long enough to get China deep into the Philippines to influence more and more policies and commercial developments. And political choices.

It is conceivable that the Philippines will develop a two-tier social system that moves toward competence, rather like the early Singaporean model, but with corruption and favoritism remaining within the system. Filipinos broadly will provide the labor and fill underclass jobs. Chinese businessmen and well-connected Filipino elite will run the overclass.

  • There won’t be much resistance to this because, in an economy of need, people will just do what they need to do. It doesn’t matter who runs government.
  • An increasingly authoritarian government will demand results. Harmony will be mandated. Critics will be considered unpatriotic and jailed.
  • Mainstream Filipinos will not have the competence or connections to stay in charge of government or the business community.
  • There will be more Bong Gos in the legislature and fewer Risa Hontiveroses.

This is the path that seems to be developing.

The highest and best of autonomous Filipino democracy was probably delivered under President Aquino. He won the seas from China . . . under international law. His agencies were fundamentally honest and worked earnestly to develop competence. He put in place the infrastructure pipeline that Duterte’s people claim as achievement.

Those in the economy of need had no idea . . . and they still don’t know.

Erosion of the nation’s autonomy since 2016 has been stunning. The seas are lost. The land is going . . .

It is hard to see what will stop the sinicization of the Philippines.

That’s a real word.

With real meaning to people’s lives.


37 Responses to “Will the ‘economy of need’ cost the Philippines her autonomy?”
  1. Kapit sa patalim – hanging on to knife’s edge. That is how the poorest Filipinos indeed live.

    “Drugs seem stupid to people with jobs and knowledge. They are a delight to people who have learned to ignore the law and knowledge and just want some relief in their otherwise dismal, mundane day to day existence.” Yes. There was a report on DW Voice of Germany recently about fruit plantations in Spain with underpaid migrant workers.. some said they take drugs to imagine living the dreams they will never realize, if for a short while. Very sad.

    “It is conceivable that the Philippines will develop a two-tier social system that moves toward competence, rather like the early Singaporean model, but with corruption and favoritism remaining within the system. Filipinos broadly will provide the labor and fill underclass jobs. Chinese businessmen and well-connected Filipino elite will run the overclass.” Very likely. It will be a crassly materialistic place with very little soul left.

    • Yes, it is difficult to imagine what it would be like, say, here in the provinces. Perhaps provinces will retain the local fiesta spirit, apart from the Chinese landlords moving in to take over the big properties and businesses. But Manila indeed risks becoming a place of little soul.

    • karlgarcia says:

      Spain is where the Venzuelans go, if qe knew some Spanish that would be our go to destination.

    • edgar lores says:

      1. I like the innovative dwelling in the picture. It’s modular, tubular, open-plan, and open-air. The concrete walls are almost a foot thick.

      2. There are two modules. The right module is the bedroom and the dining room. The left module is the storage room and wardrobe. Both have raised flooring, with the right module offering a higher platform for comfort.

      3. The open-air garage is just behind the dwelling.

      4. The entrance to the bedroom-cum-dining has a Japanese touch. It features a single-step where you leave your footwear and provides a cloth with which to wipe the feet. You do not have to walk far to reach the bedroom. In fact, the moment you step in, you are in the bedroom.

      5. The sleeping quarter is cozy. It sleeps four, but Dad is off to work. There are just Mom and baby and the little boy. As Mom rests, she can put her feet up, which is good for circulation.

      6. The dining table is conveniently beside the sleeping quarter. If you are hungry, it is easy to reach out for something to eat or drink.

      7. The storage-cum-wardrobe holds all your precious possessions. It is partly secured by a white tarpaulin The red-and-white blouse reserved for special occasions such as the next fiesta is displayed prominently. The multi-colored buckets in front are for washing and ablutions.

      8. The roof is studded with sheets, clothes, toys, a rock, and a large wooden board to hold things down. I can see the legs of a baby doll at dead center. At least, I hope it’s a doll.

      9. To us as viewers, this may be a picture of utter misery. But for life to thrive and reproduce in such circumstances… there surely must be moments of unstilled excitement… and even of existential joy.

  2. Wilfredo G. Villanueva says:

    Sinicization calls to mind cessation.

    Will we cease to be, or will we seize the day?

  3. jun says:

    Will this shorten the realization of the DEBT TRAP?….Because of this NEEDS mentality, the BUILD propaganda of this admin is hypnotizing those who survive on a TODAY not knowing the consequences of the Tomorrow. With the midterm elections coming in, and pros had the MONEY to spend and entice the populace to vote for these clowns. A faster way for the Philippines down the drain.

  4. NHerrera says:


    We discussed Jeff Bezos in a previous blog. How he — observing the business-social- technological environment — used his creative genius to create the amazing Amazon.

    Now we have the similar case of Duterte — who observed the social-political-economic environment, and yes the continuing “culture of need” of the mass of Filipinos, and created the similarly amazing PH of today and the consequential enslaved-Filipino future [shudder].

    But with a big difference: the real genius behind the creation of today’s PH were/ are the largely unseen hands, stated in the blog, one of which is— no need to be a rocket scientist to divine — China and its local supporting politicians/ oligarchs. The driver and the pawn, and the culture of need — a perfect fit to the creation. One Bezos would envy.

    • Absolutely perfect description of the power and roles. Driver, pawn, and culture of need. Truly, China is impressive.

      • NHerrera says:

        Off topic (not quite)

        CNN reports on the concern raised by the PH on being dragged into the shooting war between US and China because of US’ Freedom of Navigation Operations.

        I quote relevant paragraphs of the CNN article:

        Under Duterte however, Manila has moved closer to Beijing, even as the President continued to voice occasional concerns about China’s territorial ambitions. In November, the two countries agreed to cooperate on oil and gas exploration in the sea, which Duterte said Beijing was “already in possession” of.

        “It’s now in their hands. So why do we have to create frictions (and undertake) strong military activity that will prompt response from China?” the President said.

        Similar concerns seemed to be on Lorenzana’s mind Monday, when he said, “it is not the lack of reassurance that worries me. It is being involved in a war that we do not seek and do not want.”

        Okay, the attribution to the talking heads are clear enough in article. But I see the ventriloquist behind the talking heads.


        • Rappler reported a “clash” between DFA Sec Locsin and Lorenzana, the former liking the Mutual Defense Treaty vague, Lorenzana wanting specific clarification that would not obligate the Philippines to come to the defense of the US in a shooting war. I don’t think they were clashing, just discussing. I don’t think it makes much difference as either state would probably require an act of Congress to join the shooting. Even if US Def. Sec Pompeo said the US would come to the aid of the Philippines if attacked. Nobody will know anything until shooting happens, which I’d guess will not happen, as China is doing just fine without shooting.

          • Or maybe I’m wrong. Here’s Sec Locsin’s tweet of 17 minutes ago:

            A MUTUAL defense treaty means neither side will see itself as dragged into a war because an attack on one is taken as an attack on the other—two sides of one coin. Either side will rush to the defense of the other like real men not siokis. We seek not wardship but mutual defense.

      • Chinese think long-term, and large-scale.

        Filipinos act short-term and small-scale – even “leaders”, with few exceptions.

  5. Andres 2018. says:

    Speaking of the Chinese workers in the Philippines, what would be the best approach? According to the government, if Philippines will deport the Chinese workers China will in turn deport the OFWs in China. Then comes the resolution, legalize those Chinese workers who entered illegally. Well, i think that solves it, China is holding the Philippines on the neck though. Realization is, hard power is above all the laws and rules. Same case applies to the arbitration case on the West Philippine Sea.

  6. Pablo says:

    The economy of need?
    Let’s look at your example of the motorbikes.
    When you buy a new motorbike (normally on monthly payments so you face a huge interest rate, but that’s another issue), then you get 2 helmets with the bike. Yet, here in the province, a quick count showed that less than 5% used helmets while at least 1/3 was “new” (temp registration plates). Which shows that a substantial part of the people DO have helmets.but don’t bother to use them. Yes, your arguments for the use of the bikes is very valid. Sometimes 4 people on a bike. So.etimes one or 2. And these people SHOULD have helmets, but don’t.bother.
    And when you had to scrape the brains.off the road and see the devastation if family.members (like I had to do several times in a previous job), then the carelessness makes me mad. Very mad. Stupid people.
    But then, I think back to the seatbelts in Europe and how.much effort it cost to get all people to use them and I realize that indeed, it is stupid of these people, but stupid as in: uneducated.
    The real carelessness is in the government. Those are the people who know. They go to seminars and get the same training as European officials. And still.
    So, this example makes me consider that it is.not an economy of need, but of “I don’t care, as long as I am OK today, the rest can go and eat shit”( for lack of a single word).

    The rest of your piece is spot-on like usual. Thanks for the insight.

    • An economy of need does not use our logic. It uses convenience, and even cheating, and avoiding hot plastic on your head and looking goofy rather than macho. We can’t use our standards. Americans slaughter 40,000 people a year on their highways and don’t blink an eye. We don’t consider them stupid for driving so fast or drunk.

      Or maybe we do. But it is just collateral damage to the chosen lifestyle.

      • karlgarcia says:

        Like umbrellas, no macho wannabes want to hold one. They think they are invincible to the flu, cough and cold virus.

        • Well, sickness is just another day of labor not feeling so hot. If they don’t show up, they don’t get paid. So they shrug it off. I’ve watched construction workers labor under the miserable cold rain and blazing hot sun, just being wet or hot, doing what needs to be done. All for P200 to P400 a day. It is the opposite of indolence to me. And Duterte rewards them by giving better paying construction jobs to Chinese workers. He’s indolent of values.

  7. karlgarcia says:

    On a related note.

    Hog farmers are asking for leniency.
    They will be shutdown if they wont stop polluting.

    Rather than remove the livelihoods of the while agri sector, why noy find ways to make farming cleaner.

    Our poorest amongst the working are farmers and fishers.
    Farmers lose money to middlemen and landlords.
    Fishers lose money to big fishers.
    I will not blame the rich for being rich, but if it means the poor staying poor, not good.

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