Regard for sport mirrors society. And nowhere is this more evident than in the Philippines. Last night, Gilas Pilipinas was handily beaten by Puerto Rico in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain after literally dropping the ball — losing an early lead it enjoyed over the first half of the game. The game was a brilliant metaphorical summary of the Philippines’ history since being granted Independence by the United States on the 4th of July, 1946.
In the years following Independence, and over much of the 1950s, the Philippines led the region in terms of military, economic, and political might. Back then the Koreas, Singapore, the Malay Federation and Indonesia were mosquito-infested basket cases. The Philippines, on the other hand, was the poster girl of American-styled democracy. Inspiring speeches were delivered by true statesmen in its Senate. Metro Manila showed so much promise as it looked to grow along the lines of a brilliant urban development plan that envisioned major thoroughfares reaching out to the suburbs from the port area complemented by circumferential roads connecting these along arcs radiating from the city centre. The population of the Philippines in the late 1940s and early 1950’s was yet to hit 20 million.
Back then the achievement and global standing of the Philippines was absolute along world-recognised metrics — economic output, fighting ability, and political influence. There was no need for puso — no need for nebulous notions of what it means to be a winner.
Just monitoring one’s Twitter timeline last night, one can readily observe the way the standard of success changes with the score of the game. In the first half when Gilas led, the cheers were around the numbers. In the second half as Puerto Rico regrouped, the cheers were around the effort. When time ran out, Filipinos were quick to give Gilas Pilipinas an “A” for effort and an “A+” for “heart”. The score? No need to talk about that. It’s all about the feeling.
Of course people need to go on with life even when they keep losing. Indeed, many successful entrepeneurs today will have racked up an astounding scorecard of loss before they hit it big. If they hadn’t kept trying even after losing so many times, they wouldn’t have succeeded in the end.
When will the Philippines succeed then? Suffice to say, it has suffered enough loss to be entitled to a bit of success. But, see, therein that sentence lies the whole trouble with Filipinos’ regard for what it means to succeed. Success is not an entitlement. Success is earned.
How does one earn success? By doing something exceptional. How does one overcome consistent and crushing loss over a protracted period? By doing something differently.
What is the Philippines doing differently to break its decades-long losing streak?
That is the billion-peso challenge. Filipinos need to do something different if they want to see different results. The Philippine economy needs to grow by orders of magnitude annually to make headway over the Philippines’ galloping population growth. It needs a drastic overhaul of how it runs its biggest cities to arrest their degeneration into squalid oblivion. It needs to take decisive action against its criminally-insane senators and House Representatives in order to cure its political paralysis and refocus governance to development.
When will Filipinos unite, not around a two-bit basketball team for an hour or two, but around what really matters over many years?
Until we answer this question, our society will remain what it has been for the last 70 years — a failed nation that is a consistent loser.
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