What lesson should Filipinos take from the coronavirus crisis? Stop being 3rd World.

Hanjin Shipyard at Subic. So much potential, so little imagination. The facility may be sold to an American investment group, but it is not settled. [Photo source: BusinessKorea]

By Joe America

The difference between South Korea and the Philippines is First World versus Third World. How well or poorly prepared the respective nations were to handle the coronavirus threat is found in differences in capability and attitude.


The Philippines has dilapidated hospitals, haphazard technology, and managers who run things according to the rules of image, ego, and favor rather than skill. South Korea has first class hospitals and managers who run things for progress, sophistication, and results.

It’s a big difference.

Whereas South Korea focused on testing, the Philippines sat on its laurels for a month, then begged a few tests, and is still behind the curve. To compensate, it undertook the typical Third World approach of military discipline, locking people into their homes, arresting the disadvantaged (while winking at the entitled) who broke the rules. And causing chaos in supply chains.


The South Korean attitude is one of accomplishment, of getting things done. Together. The Philippine attitude is one of braggadocio, scapegoating mistakes, and blame. We see that clearly in the Department of Health’s response to the virus crisis.

The Philippine attitude has the negative of ‘face’, deflecting criticism, and not the positive, learning from mistakes.

The simple knowledge that corruption is a barrier to progress escapes most in their self-centered desire to grab a piece of the pie, if it is close enough. This attitude exists not just among government officials who live high on the pork hog, it is widespread across the nation. It is an understandable symptom of a people who have been neglected, abused, and used . . . not encouraged to grow . . . for centuries.

What has to change

The leadership has to change it’s understandings of how people are motivated to perform.

Take the widespread use of contract labor which has most of the nation working at jobs, not careers. This backward employment model must be changed.

Capable managers are paid well in private business. But not in government. Government jobs should generally be “technocratic” and paid well. Not political with salaries bloated up with pork and corruption. And performance goals should be hard and factual, not vague and stated in populist-speak.

The nation runs by six year term rather than as a continuous, planned track toward First World. President Duterte’s proclamation that no infrastructure projects should be started if they can’t be finished during his term is one of the dumbest Third World dictates imaginable. It reflects his ego, his desire for legacy, a stinginess toward his successor, and absolutely no vision of building a nation.

Other institutional models must also be changed. Small farms are backward in an era of agribusiness productivity. Buying goods from other nations rather than making them is a model that does not create the jobs the nation desperately needs. The Philippines has almost twice the population of the United Kingdom but can’t build a military ship. And its fishing fleet runs largely on two cylinder lawnmower engines. The Philippines certainly has the labor. And it has the brainpower to deploy technology.

It simply lacks the ideas, the First World concepts, and the commitment.

If a leader can get those rolling out, for example, by ending contract labor as a model, the people will start to feel a part of the nation’s progress.

That is an essential element of First World success.


45 Responses to “What lesson should Filipinos take from the coronavirus crisis? Stop being 3rd World.”
    • No ouch at all. It is a deeply rooted socio-economic model that has to be recognized and changed, explicitly. No one is to blame, really. Well, except Marcos, I suppose.

      • The country has been on the road to modernity so often:

        1890s when first train lines were built, Manila electrified and with a tram
        (MERALCO once meant Manila electric and rail company)

        *the revolution and Aguinaldo interrupted that

        1920s/30s with the introduction of a modern bureaucracy and central government
        (still the same machinery TODAY, but rusty and totally outdated)

        *NP and LP abolished divorce in the late 1940s

        1960s (MLQ3 wrote about this, mentioned Nick Joaquin about leaving the village)

        *the Beatles beaten up and thrown out for not giving Imelda a private concert

        a number of jumps and starts in the past 50 years as well.

        “The Land of Constant Beginnings” Ninotchka Rosca wrote.

  1. I am trying to compile resources for DIY masks DIY Ventilators etc.

    If you have a link to share:


  2. karlgarcia says:

    There is no problem with asking people to stay at home that is the best thing.
    Lots of things can hit make it happen like lots of homeless people.
    If not homeless no one to rely upon to buy the food and meds if you are living alone and or you are old or disabled.

    What is disheartening is making people run because it is already curfew, and since it is curfew one can not go home,this happened at the start of the lockdown, there maybe a few isolated cases at present.

    Call center agents who are not allowed to stay and work at home are trapped in their offices with no change of clothes.

    Supply chains are disrupted because the one Nanking the checkpoints does not have a list of value chains only a list of necessities and not the components that comprise those necessities.

    I do not think China has this contained, many are said to have recovered but are now tested positive, who knows that might happen in South Korea in a couple of days,
    Rapid testing shows false negatives, if they follow up and if they require checkups for other ailments it must be imperative that they be tested again and not in the rapid way.

    So no, not even being the most disciplined first world country has this contained, at least not yet.

    • karlgarcia says:

      Some glaring errors.

      Lot of things can not make it happen like being homeless

      …the one manning the checkpoints.
      Other mistakes….darn.

    • Pablo says:

      It is too easy to stab at China and Korea that they have not contained it. Just look at their death rates / curves and you see remarkable differences with all other countries. Of course, there are many mistakes being made, much data is unreliable, but the overall picture is clear. And in spite of all uncertainties, this is the time that we should realize that we have to manage them as a society. Manage the fake news spreaders, manage the profiteers, manage the roques, support science, support the frontline, elevate the poor…..
      Hey, just realized that I listed the failures of our society. Maybe my Chinese contractor (2nd generation Filipino) was right when he stated that Filipinos are failing miserably and need the Chinese to take over. Sad prospect, though, I like living in our village with it’s single cylinder fishingboats

  3. karlgarcia says:

    Indeed, we have several best practices to copy from all over.
    Koreas success is sort of the dream of the rest.

    On lack of ideas, as seen in the number of inventions by Filipinos not supported by the government nor the private sector and some first gain recognition abroad but pooh poohed in their homeland.

    Proposals, hmm.
    An example is our legislation, we had tons of proposed bills only to gather dust for three decades.

    Mistakes they say is the best teacher, but alas we are snobs even to those kinds of teachers.

  4. josephivo says:

    I got scared 2 weeks ago watching on TV the first images of the lockdown in Manila. A police officer wearing a face mask stepping out of a jeepney after inspecting the passengers. Then the barker passing something small folded in his hand. I assumed that the small paper was not his certificate of good health or a list with phone numbers of the passengers.

    The required change has so many layers, physical, social, political and ethical as in “The poor die anyhow, virus or no virus. So what? Let’s make this challenge an opportunity to make a personal gain”.

  5. karlgarcia says:

    Micha’s point on the Military and police being infected, it is already happening.

  6. karlgarcia says:

    Now even making camps as a tent city is being debated because if the military goes down we go down.

    Same with front liners if they all go down, game over.

  7. NHerrera says:


    History must have a list — probably not many — of countries who have learned lessons from some big crisis and then moved forward positively. I hope that the coronavirus crisis is that crisis for us in the PH.

    But today I am putting on my highly cynical hat and post the following comment if I may be allowed.

    In math, a complex dynamic system, usually framed in what is called a set of differential equations, is unsolvable or is capable of being solved. Or if solvable is [highly] unstable. The dynamic system which is the PH is, to my cynical mind, one which is unsolvable or if solvable is unstable. This is because the dynamic system is subject to boundary conditions or in simpler language, constraints. Besides the old constraints, many of which have been aired in many TSH blogs — a good part being sociological, cultural — the world and PH are confronted with rapid changes it cannot keep up.

    So better the OFW contract labor as a balm to an otherwise greater economic problem than try something else.

    The Benigno Aquino III solution which gave a glimmer of glorious days ahead, it turns out, is unstable because of the PH’s peculiar boundary conditions.

    • chemrock says:

      Well framed NH

    • Pablo says:

      Overall a brilliant summary. Thank you for this clear description.
      But if we drill deeper and split up our society in parts, then we see a remarkable resilience in many remote barangays. Especially in the current situation, we have the unique opportunity to fall back on the strength of our remote, mainly self supporting barangays. The cities are toast, ofcourse. But maybe the remote barangays do have the structure and resilience to solve their part of the equation? And if we tap their strength, part of the population can pull through relatively unharmed, even if they are generally the poorer section of society.

      • Always respect the cultural base on which you build a modern society.

        The tribal kingdoms that became Germany today are now Federal states.

        Valleys of the Alps evolved to become the cantons of Switzerland.

        Units of cohesion that have worked for ages should be building blocks.

        A lot of the Philippines’ problems are because of an over controlling central state.

        I read an article about how Germany is able to test so much.

        It is because the central Robert-Koch-Institut gives free rein to regional laboratories.

        While the Philippine DOH tries to monopolize even distribution of PPEs.

      • The barangay is indeed a strength when well run.

      • NHerrera says:

        Yes. It is PH good fortune — while acknowledging the fact that it can stand a lot of improvement — that there is this network of barangays to tap in the coronavirus crisis: to communicate and help enforce the guidelines to combat the virus spread.

    • sonny says:

      Ditto chempo’s comment, NH. I like the crossover from Joe’s socio-cultural-economic themes translated to succinct STEM terms, e.g. “… The Benigno Aquino III solution which gave a glimmer of glorious days ahead, it turns out, … is unstable because of the PH’s peculiar boundary conditions.” 🙂

  8. karlgarcia says:

    The world was impressed with how Korea handled COVID, but we’re the Koreans impressed with their government?


  9. Korea was POORER than the Philippines in the early 1950s.

    Manila had fancier cars than Singapore in the roaring 60s.

    The attitude is what makes a difference.

    Politicians asking for DOH home testing are what is called “Pashas” in Germany.

    Essentially like Saudi monarchs who want modern comfort but no modern society.

    Vietnam is probably still poorer than the Philippines but handled Covid better.

    Indonesia though it tested politicians first also is buying kits to mass test quickly.

    And they built their own ships, thanks to the late Dr. Habibie, a Suharto appointee.

    • mel says:

      Noong una ang crisis ay away ng dalawang tao. kung di mresolva,,.manomano ang labanan.
      Tapos nauwi sa patalim ang sandata, tapos sibat at pana, tapos gunpowder, tapos chemical, nuclear, ngayon kaya ay bioweapons na!??
      noong una, tao ang ngdedeliver ng weapons system. Tapos tao na lang ang nangoncontrol ng delivery systems drone eroplano dala ang bomba nuclear, bomba chemical, bomba pulbora…delivery of mass destruction…pero mahal at talagang napakmahal.
      Tapos nauwi uli sa tao ang pagdeliver ng destruction…suicide bombers…vehicle drivers inararo ang mga tao..terrorista na nagplanta ng bomba sa lugar of gatherings…ito ang delivery system ng mga walang kwartang magdirigma. Objectibo mass destruction pa rin.
      Ngayon malakas ang inggitan…guerra o chaos ba…delivery of mass chaos…droga, contaminated import products with bioweps (test kits, PPEs, fake meds, food ay suspects)… e di produce your own para may security at may kita pa ang mga mamayan mo…ah globalization ito, gumawa ng produkto kung saan mura ayon sa mayayamang bansa para mas laki kita…sa di mayamang bansa ibenta natin ang di best natin para mas malaki ang kwarta at sa atin nalang ang di maibenta,,basura ni mayaman ibinigay kay mahirap. Bulok ni mayaman inayos ni mahirap para sa kanyang gamit. Localization produce tayo ng atin ang sobra ibenta natin, tayo muna bago sila.
      Dalawang mayaman nagkakaingitan…sino ang dapat maghari at mamuno. Magkaroon kaya ng labanan na di nakikita ang kalaban..bioweps ba ata dahil may simpleng pamamaraan at mahirap ang pruweba.
      Well enough with that, let us just pray and pray pa more that God heals us from our present predicament. With God’s help we shall overcome..pero justiis muna pa rin tayo sa lockdown, GOD FORGIVE OUR SINS AND HAVE MERCY ON US. WE ASK YOU ALSO CLEAN OUR SOULS. MAKE US WHOLE AGAIN. GOD IS GREAT. AMEN.

    • That is powerfully said. And also gives hope that there can be a turnaround.

  10. Micha says:

    Since Joe has been pushing for agribusiness productivity, a sector that is now dominated by San Miguel, RFM, and Purefoods in the Philippines, it might interest him that there is a direct connection between industrial scale agricultural production and the emergence of deadly corona viruses.

    “Starting in the 1990s, as part of its economic transformation, China ramped up its food production systems to industrial scale. One side effect of this was that smallholding farmers were undercut and pushed out of the livestock industry. Searching for a new way to earn a living, some of them turned to farming “wild” species that had previously been eaten for subsistence only. Wild food was formalised as a sector, and was increasingly branded as a luxury product. But the smallholders weren’t only pushed out economically. As industrial farming concerns took up more and more land, these small-scale farmers were pushed out geographically too – closer to uncultivable zones. Closer to the edge of the forest, that is, where bats and the viruses that infect them lurk. The density and frequency of contacts at that first interface increased, and hence, so did the risk of a spillover.”

    “It’s true, in other words, that an expanding human population pushing into previously undisturbed ecosystems has contributed to the increasing number of zoonoses – human infections of animal origin – in recent decades. That has been documented for Ebola and HIV, for example. But behind that shift has been another, in the way food is produced. Modern models of agribusiness are contributing to the emergence of zoonoses.”


      • karlgarcia says:

        Before I thought if they get butchered eventually what is the use of being kind to them? But that is so twisted and I should not go on with that thinking.

    • Also, people would not get the disease if so many babies weren’t born, so sex is the reason for the spread of coronavirus.

      Big business feeds big populations. The foodstreams are amazing thanks to San Mig and other suppliers. So we don’t starve or fight each other for food. I think you are stretching the argument.

      • Micha says:

        The Guardian article is making the case that there’s a downside to industrial level food production, chief among which is this current viral outbreak originating in China which threatens socio-economic systems in countries around the world.

        That’s the argument.

        • Any article that cites neoliberalism as a cause is not into science, I think. There is no alternative way cited to feed the world without industrialized food production. Starvation and riots. Or an occasional disease. Tough choices.

          • Micha says:

            Yeah right, as if neoliberalism itself is rigidly science-based, instead of a poverty promoting, environment destroying voodoo.

            Epidemiologists have clearly established the Wuhan bat origins of the virus infecting humans through an intermediate host, most likely the pangolin.

            One alternative to NEO-LIBERAL industrial scale food production is a REGULATED industrial scale food production.

            Another is government subsidies for small and medium scale farming.

            An occasional deadly pandemic arising from NEO-LIBERAL voodoo threatens global stability and human survival.

            • Well, the problem is, life is very practical, and day-to-day decisions aren’t typically made on the basis of socio-political theory. So Hormel has (or was planning to build) a Spam production plant in the Philippines. If you are the Department of Trade, do you accept or reject the plant?

              • Micha says:

                Well yeah, life is practical until it isn’t; until your pragmatic day-to-day decisions could actually cause a deadly pandemic.

                A Hormel spam factory is food processing, not food production; unless it also intends to set up its own hog farm. Not aware of the details. Maybe it will just partner with Purefoods and outsource its raw meat from an existing hog farm somewhere in Laguna or Batangas.

                Would I approve a Hormel spam factory if I were a DOT representative?

                Short answer, no.

                We already have existing local companies (Purefoods, Swift et.al.) which make similar, if not better, products.

                Stop being third world. Improve, subsidize, support locally owned businesses. Help promote their products to gain access in international markets.

                Develop nascent food processing enterprises like the tocino and longganisa factory in Pampanga and elsewhere. Outsource raw materials from local farmers. Give those local farmers access to technology and proper farming guidelines.

              • Okay. I think Hormel is a first class operator, would provide jobs and food under strict quality controls, and would ship throughout Asia. Exactly what the Philippines needs. So on to the next issue.

  11. Micha says:

    The Industrial and Neoliberal Origins of COVID-19


    • karlgarcia says:

      The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the toxic effects of a system that has for far too long dominated every aspect of our societies. Neoliberalism, as an economic ideology of capitalism, has depleted our public services, turned our education and healthcare into profit-driven businesses, hoarded profits at the expense of undervalued and underpaid workers, favoured profitability of a militarised world over human security and well-being, and aggravated inequalities between people and countries.
      In the midst of the pandemic, the full scope of the effects of neoliberalism is being revealed. Not all countries and regions will be affected the same. Not all people will be affected the same. The ability to isolate, work from home, homeschool your children, stockpile your shelves, access healthcare, and financially (and psychologically) put your life back together after the pandemic is class, gender, race, age, and geography dependent.

      • Micha says:

        Excellent link, excellent article karl – today’s must read to complement Joe’s lesson learning.

        • karlgarcia says:


          • karlgarcia says:

            Aside from class divide we have a wider digital divide.
            No longer can one just rent a slot in the internet cafe or go out to get free wifi
            (probably no online acct to be wiped out by cyber criminals too )
            That is the reason why work ftom home, e learning , ecommerce, ebanking are not for everyone.

            We see the importance of local manufacturing and vertical integration.
            Just in the testing kits, ppes even food and meds manufacturing.

            When this is all over, we will see that we need not import. Everything can be found in the landfills and dumps if they are not yet in the ocean, but we need to disinfect them of course.(excluding food)

            • karlgarcia says:

              Even the food from air needs a moneyed group to make ot happen.
              NASA experimented on it since the 60s yet whst are discoverie, inventins and innovations for without support.

              Private support in the form of investment
              Public support in the form ofof subsidies.

              If ppp is unacceptable then call it by any other name

  12. karlgarcia says:

    I rather drop this here because food was discussed.
    In the previous blog articles we question who is running the Philippines.
    Now LGUS are blocking commerce because trucks that bring food and value chain goods can hit move because the LGUs would not let them enter.

    Artificial shortage may job longer be artificial because food ends up as fertilizer.


  13. Francis says:

    I don’t think it is a problem of first world vs third world. If it was the case the US, most of Europe (except Holland and Sweden) would be part of the third world, like the Philippines. In fact it is a question of being well prepared towards the epidemics and take the lessons from past pandemics like the SRAS etc. South Korea, Japan or Taiwan had been highly hit by the SRAS and so organized well their health system. I hope the Philippines will take the lessons of the covid-19 after everything will be finished

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