Philippine Golf:
Welcome to the jungle!

31 December 2008



Once exclusive playgrounds of the colonial and mercantile classes, today's golf clubs in Manila no longer afford their members a sanitised environment free from in-your-face reminders about the reality that the Philippines remains a feudal Third World society after more than half a century of independence.

Why can't we go back to the good old days when being in an enclave usually meant one could putter around manicured lawns in blissful ignorance of some, shall we say, inconvenient truths about what a Third World society is all about?

Lately the worst of these truths hit close to home for Manila's upper to upper-middle classes. The public was first made aware through a blog account of a certain Bambee Dela Paz narrating how Nasser Pangandaman, Jr., mayor of a small town in southern Philippines, his father, Secretary Nasser Pangandaman of the Philippine Department of Agrarian Reform and their entourage beat up a 56 year old man and his teenage son over a golf etiquette altercation at the tony Valley Golf Club in Manila.

That quintessential mantra of the Filipino government official was reported to have been uttered in the middle of the melee:

Do you know who I am?

In the Philippines, "who you are" matters. The application of The Law follows a sliding scale of strictness that depends on "who" you are.

Considering that 90% of Filipinos are routinely at the losing end of their politicians' abuse of power, their arrogance, their influence peddling, their corruption, and other improprieties, one can't be blamed if this latest episode of "injustice" can evoke nothing more than a sense of bemusement. Much of the institutionalised thuggery and thievery in the Philippines goes unreported and unsensationalised -- forever lost in the jungles of a society still scarred by centuries of feudal governance. It usually takes a case that violates the gated communities of Manila's elite to highlight a characteristic of Philippine society that to most ordinary Filipinos is a daily in-your-face reality.

This is one of those cases.

Since the incident was brought to the public awareness, the Philippine blogosphere has been abuzz with chatter. Most of the wired community took up the mantra of "that arrogant politician" and proceeded to throw the proverbial First Stone. A few small voices pointed out the possibility that the victims -- possibly for their part exhibiting a similar arrogance -- could have provoked the attack. To many ordinary Filipinos looking in from outside of Manila's gated community, it may be a mere case of "they are all the same"; they deserve each other. There are some who dared tread the let's-not-even-go-there path -- that a bunch of Mindanao (southern Philippine island) Muslim folk would have the audacity to make trouble in Imperial Catholic Manila.

Either way, like most "injustices" that capture the public awareness in the Philippines, this one will be discussed to death and undergo the token trial-by-media-with-hearsay-evidence process as it navigates (or rather slogs through) the Philippine criminal justice system. But then a society such as the Philippines', one crawling with lawyers at that, stands in stark contrast with a relatively harmonious and prosperous society such as Japan's:

"In Japan there are very few lawyers and the codes are mostly unwritten, but they are binding, nonetheless." - Greg Sheridan, Asian Values Western Dreams

In a society where trust is in such short supply, where "policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise" (Jaime Licauco, Inquirer, 22 May 2001), and where things working are more the exception than the rule, there is a bigger dependence on credentialism, connections and "financial lubricants" to get around -- or bulldoze through -- needlessly convoluted systems and processes. It is in such an environment that a culture of excessive display of power, wealth, and influence thrives; and where who you are in the scheme of things matters a lot.

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