Mahathir Mohamad on why the Philippines may suffer from a case of mediocre political leadership

Mediocre political leadership. These are the words Malaysian former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad used to describe a key possible pitfall of “unbridled democracy”. This he said in a speech he delivered on the occasion of his being conferred an Honorary Professor Title by the University of Santo Tomas. Mahathir also added that free-wheeling democracy can make countries unstable and made the interesting point that, “We cannot assume majority of the people must be intelligent.” Almost as if directly alluding to the the last two and a half decades of the Philippines’ history, Mahathir also said…

“Democracy works only when the people understand the limitations of democracy. When people think only of the freedoms of democracy and know nothing of the implied responsibilities, democracy will not bring the goodness that it promises. Instead it will result only in instability and instability will not permit development to take place and the people to enjoy the benefits of freedom and the rights that democracy promises. No sooner is a Government elected when the losers would hold demonstrations and general strikes accusing the Government of malpractices.”

Indeed, Filipinos have been suckered wholesale into believing the following:

1. Democracy is all about elections.
2. Democracy is all about freedom.
3. Democracy is a pre-requisite to prosperity

We simply bought the application off-the-shelf and failed to read the small print.

Elections are not the whole point of a democracy.

Elections are expensive and a necessary evil of a democracy. The fact that our elections are, for the most part, a mockery of the concept of democracy, ironically, is therefore no laughing matter. We invest a huge amount of public funds on elections not to mention the cost associated with discontinuities in governance and policy focus, disruptions in the peace, and reduced labour productivity during the uncertain environment whenever elections are in the air among others. These elections are a national security risk as well. Imagine an imminent military threat suddenly emerging in the middle of a Philippine-style election!

In short, the costs of the practice of democracy must be justified! And for this to be done, one must first understand the true place of the freedom (of which elections are just one form of expression) we enjoy under democracy.

Freedom is not the whole point of democracy.

Democracy is not for the sake of freedom. Freedom is a priviledge of practitioners of democracy and a by-product of this system. The true essence of democracy lies in responsibility and accountability.

The Electoral Process is just one element of the democratic equation and should be put in the proper perspective of our democratic duty. It is our duty to:

(a) Select the right leaders;
(b) Use the system to hold them accountable; and,
(c) Hold ourselves accountable for the quality of the leaders we choose using the system.

It would be fair to hazard a guess that this whole “love of freedom” sloganeering associated with the practice of “democracy” is the work of a political machine averse to accountability. The point of democracy is not freedom as many of us were foolishly led to believe. The point of democracy is the practice of a system that enables us to hold our leaders to account. One can therefore understand why this, by now, puzzling obssession with “freedom” is prevalent today. Who else but our politicians are the biggest trumpeters of the “freedom” we enjoy under “democracy”?

We are, of course, a free society from the perspective of our freedom to be an unruly lot. It is an artificial freedom at best for a society that wallows in squalor is not truly free. We even use this “freedom” to run a publishing industry that capitalises on the stupidity of the masses; allowing it to scrimp on journalistic talent and integrity. Worse and most sickening of all, we use this “freedom” to define ourselves — the only true democracy in southeast Asia. Surely the international community are in on this joke on us as well.

Democracy is not necessarily a pre-requisite to prosperity.

It is the other way around. Prosperity is a pre-requisite to democracy. If we cannot make an off-the-shelf system of governance (one that took hundreds of years for its successful practitioners to perfect) work for us, then we should consider alternatives.

Economic success and wealth-surplus must exist before a truly working democratic system (and not just a sham that is a cover for oligarchic anarchy) can be put in place. Well before the establishment of the United States of America, the Protestants and Puritans (pilgrims) who first settled there already had the so-called Protestant Ethic (a term coined by Max Weber to refer to the combination of Frugality, Hard Work, Discipline, Prudence, Pragmatism, etc of those people which made them economically succeed and accumulate surplus.) This so called “Protestant Ethic”, by the way, is in essence, the same as the Confucian ethic that many Oriental East Asian societies had when they went on in their onslaught towards economic success. (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and today even China). They too possess Frugality, Hard Work, Discipline, Prudence, Pragmatism, and other similar traits. Externally, they look and act differently. But intrinsically, their attitude vis-a-vis economic (wealth accumulation) and societal development followed parallel paths.

Here’s the difficult question:

Are Filipinos collectively known to possess these qualities?

The present day Philippine style Democracy is slightly modified carbon copy of the American System. But economic and cultural realities point to the fact that our society has not yet evolved to the point that using an American-derived system would be appropriate. We have a long way to go before we can start mimicking their system. If anything, our social, economic, and cultural evolution is still at a stage that resembles the Middle Ages.

Mahathir himself had made quite clear what he believes is the fundamental issue with Indo-Malayan cultures like that of the Philippines and Malaysia. The solution does not lie in political change but in cultural change. He cites as case-in-point the challenge his own country faces

The answer lies in the culture of the Malays. They are laid-back and prone to take the easy way out. And the easy way out is to sell off whatever they get and ask for more. This is their culture. Working hard, taking risks and being patient is not a part of their culture. It should be remembered that in the past the Malays were not prepared to take up the jobs created by the colonial powers in their effort to exploit the country.

[…]

To succeed, the Malays must change their culture. They must look towards work as a reward in itself. They must regard what they achieve through work as the true reward. There should be some financial reward but this must not outweigh the satisfaction obtained from the result of their work. ….

…. Changing culture is far more difficult than changing the policies of government. It is easy enough to propose affirmative action but it is not easy to implement it. The recipients must have the right attitude if the results are going to be obtained.

Mahathir’s contemporary, Singapore Elder Statesman and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew had his own view about how the entrenched social caste system of the Philippines all but locks its society in a prison of abject wretchedness in his book From Third World to First

There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations. They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.

But even within Lee’s formidable mind, all roads still led to the cultural issue that underlies it all…

Filipino professionals whom we recruited to work in Singapore are as good as our own. Indeed, their architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than ours. Hundreds of thousands of them have left for Hawaii and for the American mainland. It is a problem the solution to which has not been made easier by the workings of a Philippine version of the American constitution.

The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial.

Does the solution to the chronic failure of the Philippines to prosper lie in politics? Most Filipinos seem to think so considering the sheer chunk of their narrow collective attention their politics seem to routinely capture. It is ironic that the Philippines fancies itself a democratic and supposedly “free” society considering it is trapped in the grip of a more odious form of tyranny — the tyranny of the popular sentiment harboured by a largely ignorant electorate.

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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123 Comments on "Mahathir Mohamad on why the Philippines may suffer from a case of mediocre political leadership"

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angel alegre
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Democracy will never mature in this country as long as the ‘masa’ will continue to adopt the Aquino mentality that freedom is absolute.

It was the so-called icon of democracy who spawned this mentality of disrespect for the rule of law. Remember Edsa 2? And the succeeding attempts to unseat Arroyo via people power? They thought democracy is all about people power.

Der Fuhrer
Guest
Very true. Freedom is not absolute. The correct view is that freedom does not grant license for anybody to do everything and anything under a rule of law. A citizen cannot abuse freedom and the rights of others. One cannot invoke freedom by stepping on the rights of others. The use and abuse of people power as an excuse to mob rule above and beyond the rule of law should no longer be tolerated in this country. Great political pretenders who know how to manipulate people always fallback on deceiving statements. Thus they say in mass media that it is… Read more »
Aegis-Judex
Guest

Freedom has but one absolute limitation: Among individuals, one’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins.

For example:

I have the freedom to acquire property of my own, but it is limited by the freedom of Der Fuhrer to choose to keep the property that I am interested in.

Freedom has its own demands. It is paid for by vigilance, and it comes with responsibility. How can we be free if we do not understand this?

iamkevinb
Guest

I share the same sentiment as yours.

FallenAngel
Member
The quote below from an article is one of my all time favorites: “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.” I did say in one of my earlier blogs that people are so caught up in a so-called freedom yet they forget the responsibilities that go along with it. I can imagine many Pinoys who will cry butthurt after hearing what Dr. Mahathir had to say. He didn’t mince any words. And his experience as a politician amounts to more than 40 years, if i remember correctly. Are the Filipinos better off as a rigid society?… Read more »
itchyBB
Guest

Painful truth. 🙁 If other nations see this, why can’t we?

aaaaa
Guest

I’m inclined to think the people don’t want to see it. Because it involves change, and change can only start if the person wants it.

Gogs
Member

Not saying this to be funny but people rather pay attention to Willie Reviliamme and Kris Aquino and are content with that. After all those are the people with real credibility. That’s our reality .

rene
Guest

Right on. And may I add that these are the same people who vote for and put these kleptomaniac-leeches-politicians into office.

Registry
Guest

because our leaders don’t want us to see this.
they know about this and they are doing everything to cover it by blaming each other, getting the lime light and the sympathy of the poor families.

aaaaa
Guest

“We cannot assume majority of the people must be intelligent.”

Sums up the main fault of Democracy right there.

ChinoF
Member

The current administration keeps on saying, “we do what the people want.”

Here comes Mahathir: “don’t always listen to the people; most of them lack intelligence!” That’s a big rub-down on the current admin’s rhetoric.

And I like that pic of Mahathir doing the gesture of, “use your head!”

brianitus
Guest

I remember Henry Ford. He said that if he just listened and gave in to what the people wanted, he would’ve come up with a better horse.

Of course, politicians have to use rhetoric. The name of the game is staying in power.

Aegis-Judex
Guest

“Nec audiendi qui solent dicere, vox populi, vox dei, quum tumultuositas vulgi semper insaniae proxima sit.”

English translation:

“And those people should not be listened to who keep saying the voice of the people is the voice of God, since the riotousness of the crowd is akin to madness.”

–St. Alcuin of York, in a letter to Charlemagne.

Andrew
Guest

Absolutely right.

bombyxio
Guest

i like this. so true…

Hyden Toro
Guest
Prime Minister Mahatir should understand that the Philippines, is never a Democracy. It has always been a Feudal Monopolistic Oligarchy. With the Monopolistic Oligarchs, having their own, followers and private armies…Our elections are almost becoming : “Town Fiestas”…with voters looking on the physical appearances of leaders. Instead of their competence to lead. This is the reason, we have many ShowBiz personalities, who are barely educated, becoming: President, Senators, Congressmen, Governors, etc…we even have Comedians, as our political leaders…It will take a SuperHuman leader to change this situation. The Mindsets of our people are also brainwashed, by Sanitized News, from propaganda… Read more »
Gogs
Member

Freedom without discipline tends towards anarchy instead of prosperity and efficiency. Noynoy is not a creature of discipline. Then again neither are pinoys in general, full of short cuts and inconsiderate behavior.

Robert Haighton
Member

Napoleon once said, when asked to explain the lack of great statesman in the world, that to get power you need to display absolute pettiness. To exercise power, you need to show true greatness. Such pettiness and such greatness are rarely found in one person.

WantedByDreams
Guest

I’m hoping that every Filipino will read this article.Especially the President himself and his men. Please have this article translate in different dialects so that everyone can read this and reflect once and for all.

Fishball
Guest

The problem is he is not the one who is in the country and did not eight for it thats why he doesnt appreciate our democracy. He didnt felt the devastation that Gloria made by making anomalous projects that stole billions of money fro the treasury and rigging the elections last 2004. Thats why the people are exposing her lies but what did Gloria did? She silenced them.

Gogs
Member

Good morning Kris. Looking forward to what dumb thing your Kuya will do or say today. Thank you for getting him elected. He gives meaning to my life . He is a true inspiration .

Anonymous
Guest

@Retard FishCRAP

Again, you are completely ignoring the FACT that gloria was cleared of any wrong doing in the 2004 elections. You must be some kind of freakin idiot if you keep insisting that complete and utter LIE.

DaSuperSolder
Guest
You know, Mahathir would call that stupidity. If he talks to you, then he’ll say “You need to grow up. That comment is from an 8-year old child.” On rigging the 2004 elections, do you have evidence to back up your claims? Oh yeah, as of now, it was all base on hearsays and the evidence is weak. So Gogs, has a point after all: all you want is a Showbiz Government. Mahathir have no interests on trivial things. Ok, he started his tenure as Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1981 to 2004. Heck, he had done much compared to… Read more »
Der Fuhrer
Guest

@Nutzi Fishball

Are you saying you and your pretender prez are more brilliant and discerning than Mahathir? Our democracy is abused and manipulated by dark politicians. These manipulators have no scruples. You are validating the fact that you yourself are a puppet on a string.

Miaw Ming
Guest

The country it’s people felt no difference between presidencies of Cory Aquino, Ramos, Erap, GMA and PNoy.

Except that the prices and brouwnouts are increased on both Aquino presidency.

DaSuperSolder
Guest
From a friend: ‘Mahathir is right. I would highlight the point about accountability. There is nothing in Philippine society or culture that demands accountability. The reason that the various levels of government do not achieve results is that voters do not demand results nor are politicians punished by voters when they screw up (or when a president like BS fails to keep a single campaign promise two years into his term of office). I always use Imelda Marcos as an example – as Lee Kuan Yew is quoted as also doing in the article – because no other country would… Read more »
Domingo Arong
Guest
BenignO: But this guy Mahathir is also known in his own place as “the Marcos of Malaysia” http://www.malaysia-chronicle.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=33125:the-corruption-of-mahathir&Itemid=2 And note that, the population in Mahathir’s Malaysia is only a little over 28 million (2010) which is only about 30% or less than a third of the Philippines’ 92 million or so (2010). Then, there’s Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore with a population of only 5.1 million, of which only 3.2 million claim to be its citizens. Comparatively, Singapore’s population is only 3.5% of the Philippines’ over 92 million and less than one-half (44%) of that of Metro Manila’s 11.5 million (2010)!… Read more »
FallenAngel
Member
Domingo, May I offer a dissenting opinion? Doesn’t the concept of a national hero seem overrated? While there is no national hero that Malaysia and Singapore are known to foreigners for, for now, the fact that they’ve accomplished much more than we have tells us that perhaps quiet achievement is more important than finding a hero to claim greatness with. I’m guessing you will agree with me that there’s no such thing as an incorruptible society. What makes each one different is the way they contain it to a minimum. Lee Kuan Yew had visited more than a few neighbors… Read more »
Domingo Arong
Guest
Fallen Angel: And that’s the precisely the reason behind why I cited the stark differences in the population of Singapore and the Philippines for that matter. For how would Lee Kuan Yew have handled Singapore even if it only had HALF our population, with different regional dialects at that? So, is it really, as Lee Kuan Yew claims, the “culture of the Filipino people” or is it perhaps the wide difference in the population between these two countries that may have mattered? BTW both are not the RIGHT guys to criticize us, since both now have their own dynasties in… Read more »
FallenAngel
Member
Then perhaps both population and culture made a difference. As a population grows bigger, so does the proportion of it that is unruly and uncontrollable. Couple that with a culture whose idea of democracy is running amok (namely ours), and it’s a surefire recipe for disaster as we see today. I don’t know though, if we would have ever had a leader who would have done the same as Lee did with the Stop at Two campaign that promoted family planning. Given the Filipinos’ religious fervor something like that would have never taken off here. It still won’t. Since you… Read more »
Mila Vicente
Guest

Yeah what happened to you Philippines, those countries including Thailand just learned everything agriculture wise in the Philippines during the 60s from planting rice and fruits and look at Thailand now they are now supplying the whole world with rice and fruits, fresh and canned fruits are all over the stores here in the States. And they are really good compared to the products of the Philippines, and much cheaper too. What went wrong.

ChinoF
Member

“National Heroes” are not the reason for a country’s progress. These are in fact more of a placebo for a people. I still think Mahathir and Lee are the right people to comment on the problems of the Philippines because our country is still similar to theirs (as part of SE Asia), and they did things right. The Filipinos, as usual, do things wrong, first of all by depending on “heroes.”

Domingo Arong
Guest

ChinoF
I never claimed, of course, that “National Heroes” are the reason for a country’s progress. I’m think I’m not that naive.
Rather, I cited heroes in my reply in the context of Lee Kuan Yews belittling of “the culture of the Filipino people.” And I countered, fully aware that Lee Kuan Yew during WWII worked for the Japanese occupation forces as a transcriber, which to my reading is treason, and a person who commits that crime is a traitor.

And since I’m one of those who happen to value loyalty and patriotism highly, I prefer not to be lectured by a traitor.

ChinoF
Member

I see. But in the end, the “traitor” was one of the people who made his country successful after the war.

Ace
Guest

Unlike the grandson of the real TRAITOR who brought us misfortunes in this country than economic development what a laugh.

ChinoF
Member

I don’t think Lee is a traitor by merely working as a transliterator for the Japanese. Unlike Benigno Aquino Sr., who I heard helped the Japanese hunt down resistance elements. That’s the real traitor for me.

Der Fuhrer
Guest

Don’t we have fake heroes and saints in the Republic of the Philippines? Aren’t these fakes being used as a placebo for the people? Political expediency and opportunism may be negative to others but hey it seems to work in this country. “Heroes” and “saints” are needed to portray an image of false greatness.

Domingo Arong
Guest

ChinoF

Well, as I said, I have different view of people like Lee, and I’ll stick with it.

ChinoF
Member

As I will with mine. No problem.

Domingo Arong
Guest

Fallen Angel

Owing to a rapidly AGEING population in Singapore, what used to be the “stop at two” policy in 1969 is now: “three or more, if you can afford.”
http://voices.yahoo.com/singapores-aging-population-stop-two-three-2993157.html

You ask: “Was our population boom a consequence of some fatal flaw in our culture?” Frankly, I don’t know. I haven’t really studied that line; but for possible answers, try reading the latest 2009 U.N. report on WORLD POPULATION AGEING:

http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/WPA2009/WPA2009_WorkingPaper.pdf

ChinoF
Member

And the bare facts should just stare us in the eye. Malaysia and Singapore are still in better condition than our country.

Domingo Arong
Guest
ChinoF: Read the rather grim “bare facts” in the UN Report I cited in an earlier reply, particularly page 65: TABLE A.III.5. COUNTRY RANKING BY MEDIAN AGE, 2009 Singapore – 40.1 rank 18 Malaysia – 25.9 rank 101 Philippines – 22.9 rank 125 The UN Report defines “median age of a population” as “the age that divides a population into two groups of the same size, such that half the total population is younger than this age, and the other half older.” In other words, in Singapore (ranked 18), for instance, where the median age of the population (both sexes)… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

I think the age of the people is not the real issue. I think our poverty level remains much worse than in the two countries mentioned. Even Indonesia seems better, I guess.

And even if one may dislike Mahathir, I think what he said in his UST speech is really something to listen to, despite his being the “Marcos of Malaysia” or anything like that. I wouldn’t shoot the messenger, I just love his message.

Domingo Arong
Guest
ChinoF I’m certainly not aiming to shoot at any messenger here. It’s the UN Report that’s the one conveying the rather grim conclusion (at least for “ageing” Singapore) that the median AGE of the Human Resource in a country matters after all. In the case of Singapore, the median age of 40.1 as of 2009 will probably zoom up to a high of 50 while the Philippines is steadily going down from 22.9 to perhaps as low as 18. As regards Mahathir’s Malaysia, the median age as of 2009 is within the same level as the Philippines, although a little… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

And another thing on the age issue… if it means Singapore and Malaysia will be hiring younger workers from the Philippines, it’s likely the Filipinos will be willing, since the jobs there are sure to pay better. And this will mean the younger people will be separated from their families. In the end, the Philippines still loses this way.

Domingo Arong
Guest

I wouldn’t bet on that. For there was a time when Europeans wished to have a SWISS Nanny (Sound of Music) to care for their children. Rich Filipinos, in fact, pre-war, wanted to have JAPANESE gardeners to trim their lawns.

So, let’s just hope that, very soon, we may be hiring Malaysians to shine our shoes and Singaporeans to trim our hair.

Domingo Arong
Guest

BenignO: I used “hope” in the sense that I cannot foretell the future; and to be asked or required to “substantiate” that feeling of “hope” would mean, of course, that I would have to present concrete evidence for something I merely speculated would occur in the future.

But note that I “substantiated” my use of the word “hope,” NOT on documents that an anonymous “little lady” handed to me in a hush, but on internet-available data concerning “median age” that the cited UN Report refers to and its consequences on a “future” event.

ChinoF
Member

Either way, it’s still best for people to stay in their own country. Even I do not like the idea of the Philippines becoming an imperial power.

ChinoF
Member

But then again, being able to afford foreign talent is a good sign indeed. And pooling much foreign and local talent together is a good thing.

Frank
Guest

I’m reminded of Adlai Stevenson’s(?) reply when told he had “the thinking man’s vote” when running against Eisenhower:

“That’s nice, but I need the majority to win.”

a fan of GRP
Guest

love it! hahahaha

robert carino
Guest

wow! to take advice from someone who was at the forefront of constitutionalizing racism in his country, forcing the minority race into nothing more than cash generators for the bumiputras. wow! such enlightenment.

yourargumentisinvalid
Guest
yourargumentisinvalid

“We cannot assume majority of the people must be intelligent.” And neither are the posters here.

Miguel
Guest
benign0, I admire quite a lot the points you have raised in your article. However, if you don’t mind, there are things, theoretically, that I have to raise critically as well. As much as I can, I will try to provide the evidences needed in support of my contentions. First, I will agree that democracy does not necessarily lead to economic prosperity. However, it is a pre-requisite: inclusive political institutions are needed in order to foster inclusive economic institutions. Genuine democratic, or to be very specific, pluralistic institutions actually have fostered the development of their economies. Let me direct you… Read more »
jaks
Guest

mahathir is the champion of corruption and also moved to curtail civil liberties. this is your idol?

domo
Guest

Everyone is corrupt even you.

Daido Katsumi
Guest

You’re not even making sense, are you? 😛

Vergil
Guest

“If we can CHANGE, we can be successful.”

Si Mahathir ang nagsabi nun, hindi si Noynoy. Gets?

Ang BOBO mo. 😀

Di Marunong MgIngles
Guest

champion sa corruption pero bakit maunlad ang bansang pinamunuan nya?

shannie
Guest
Is the Philippines suffering from mediocre political leadership? Why? Who is to be blamed? I can say it’s a yes. The reason lies in Mahathir’s statement: “We cannot assume majority of the people must be intelligent.” And because of such, people elect representatives to do ways that would be satisfying for us and best for our country as a whole. Our problem is that there is somehow a silent unbridled abuse happening. Our elected leaders during election are all pro-people but once they are in position, some forgot why they should be there for. And we people just accept these,… Read more »
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