The following are the five key pillars that form the foundation of what could make Filipinos’ aspirations to build not just a better Philippines but a great Philippines a reality. No amount of nebulous campaign slogans and promises delivered in flowery speeches will replace the need for solid foundations for development and progress. Here is where it really is at…
(1) Strong military
Nothing makes a citizen well up with pride for her country and government more than the sight of a military parade showcasing awesome personnel force and weaponry — more so when this awesome capability is on show in times of crisis.
The humanitarian crisis in the aftermath of super-typhoon Haiyan hitting central Philippines in November 2013 and the ongoing military face-off with China provide a stage on which the Philippines and her government could have exhibited its secure embrace. Instead, that role was and is being filled by foreign powers. Nothing beat the big supply- and equipment-laden C-class transport planes and dozens of navy ships and their crews of well-trained military personnel being sent by the United States and Great Britain when it came to tangible hope for relief for the typhoon victims. At the same time, that show of force reassured observers that the US and her allies have more than adequate ability to deploy and mobilise forces in the region for other purposes.
For now, the Philippines can only rely on diplomacy and a re-invigorating of its frayed military relationship with its former colonial master to secure its interests. But it seems the need for greater self-sufficiency in its ability to defend its sovereign territories is become more relevant. More importantly, there is much that self-sufficiency when it comes to national security can contribute to building real national pride in a society that for so long has been beaten down by its own victim mentality.
(2) Economic independence
Much of the ordinary Filipino’s prospects for prosperity lies outside of the Philippines’ shores. The Philippines depends on a foreign market for much of its products and to employ its enormous but largely underemployed workforce.
Despite the Philippines being host to abundant natural resources, and now, an enormous supply of people, the society as a whole lacks a collective ability to apply this enormous number of people to the task of turning these resources into any sort of valuable economic output of consequence. Instead, natural resources are harvested raw and sold raw — mineral ore, logs, overseas foreign workers. Overseas, these then get turned into iPhones, karaoke machines, those shirts with the Philippine islands embroidered onto their left breasts, Honda Civics, Havaianas, and Starbucks tumblers after which they are shipped back to the Philippines to be purchased using OFW cash.
Indeed, there is no world-class Filipino product or global brand that owes its existence to any semblance of a truly homegrown industrial prowess or technological innovation.
The Philippines needs to develop a strong tradition of scientific achievement and technical acumen. This comes hand-in-hand with the embrace of disciplines and habits that form the foundation of these capabilities — vision, imagination, foresight, consistency, persistence, and conviction. None of these currently characterise the archetypical Filipino. But that does not mean it cannot be developed. Efforts surrounding the providing of the proper input, application of the right stimuli, and the inculcation of the appropriate attitudes through the society’s key institutions need to be stepped up.
(3) Strong government
Like the success stories in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Malaysia, the Philippine Government needs to take a strong leadership role in building a strong Philippines. Rather than palm off important development initiatives (like building sufficient infrastructure, investing in education, and encouraging cultural expression) to the private sector, the government should be at the forefront of these initiatives which form the backbone of sustainable development.
Unfortunately, the Philippine government is seen more as a hindrance to development than a guiding beacon. It is currently suffering from a crisis of credibility, crushed under the weight of unimaginably vast corruption scandals and appalling ineptitude in responding to the challenge of addressing these and many other problems. The Philippine government’s lack of ability to present itself as a well of public resource, moral authority, and coherent guidance is what is turning Philippine society into an insecure, distrustful, and anarchic morass of failure and hopelessness.
In such an environment, no amount of “freedom” and “democracy” will cure the deep malaise of mediocrity and banal criminality. The Philippine government needs to be cleaned up, streamlined, and built into a lean governance machine — no easy task in a regime where every initiative is questioned by a chamber of hundreds of popularly-elected “representatives” and where only the ability to read and write qualifies people for election to the highest office in the land.
(4) Just society
Philippine society is inherently unjust. The best that the land and economy has to offer is reaped by a small handful of feudal clans, crime routinely pays handsomely, and rules and laws are archaic, convoluted, and largely irrelevant.
The Philippines has become renowned for its chaos, inefficiency, and opaqueness. Because of a blanket lack of a sense of justice that permeates daily life, Filipinos routinely fail to coalesce into orderly systems, apply modern thinking in the interests of operating optimally, and withhold critical information in order to secure vested interests, protect the status quo, and further outdated and often counter-productive traditions.
The challenge at hand needs to be defined and framed in a way that neatly explains a lot of paradoxes about Philippine society, among which is the famous paradox of our high Church services attendance back dropped against the virtually institutionalised corruption and passive-aggressive “immorality” that prevails. Only when we face stark and long-festered realities about the underbelly of the national psyche will the real solutions that need to be implemented emerge.
(5) Better Filipinos
Ultimately, the Philippines is made up of Filipinos. Unfortunately, there is much about the Filipino that needs to be changed and improved. Foremost amongst the qualities that Filipinos need to develop is a desire to win, and win big.
Do we chase the win or merely follow the “winners”? It takes guts, vision, and imagination to do the earlier while it takes no more than a subscription to a tabloid or celebrity magazine to do the latter. We go for the easier way to feel like a winner. But then feeling like one and being one are two vastly different things. Take the song “My Way” by Frank Sinatra. It is a Filipino karaoke favourite. That’s because it is the easiest of songs to sing and you have got to be a real toad not to get that song right. The popularity of that song in the Pinoy karaoke circuit lies in its appeal as a safe bet. But in its title lies the biggest irony about us that most likely simply flies over the vacuous minds of the Filipino.
Filipinos need to want to win badly. Where that motivation — to win big and not just merely survive — will come from is likely to be one of the biggest puzzles that Filipinos need to solve. If Filipinos choose to content themselves with just muddling along in mediocrity, well, that’s exactly what they will get. It is the easier path.
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