Why is it so exceedingly difficult for the Philippines to change for the better?

Ultimately this is really the only question that really matters. There is no disputing the fact that the Philippines must change. The alternative? Well, that’s really up to Filipinos. If the Philippines does not change, it will continue along its current path. It would be a matter of being content with that course and the future it will bring.

If the alternative to not changing dooms Filipinos to a bleak future, why aren’t Filipinos readily embracing opportunities to change? The answer to this question involves simple economics. To change, you need to invest. To invest you need to be assured a return on that investment. The trouble with the prospectus of change at a national scale is that Filipinos are very skeptical that any of the benefits of macro change will ever trickle down to their dinner tables or bank accounts.

Old habits die hard: Pulling Filipinos out of their comfort zones is like pulling out teeth.
Old habits die hard: Pulling Filipinos out of their comfort zones is like pulling out teeth.
For example, much of what any one of a number of governments that have ruled the Philippines over the last several decades touts as “achievement” involves “economic growth”. Economic growth measured by a number such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) constitutes a macro change in a country’s circumstances. However, the tough thing about macro change is making it relevant to ordinary citizens. To the average Filipino eking out a living in her mnimum wage factory job or even a garden-variety white collar worker who wastes three of his precious waking hours everyday stuck in traffic, those numbers are meaningless.

And so, an investment at an individual to change at an individual level becomes an exteremely hard thing to sell. Try telling that worker to work harder and “smarter” to contribute to improving national manufacturing productivity and you’ll get a glazed look back. Try telling that office worker stuck in traffic to observe traffic rules and be more courteous on the road and you’ll likely get punched in the face.

What’s in it for me?

Why should Filipinos care about “doing their part” to contribute to the national effort? Indeed, there is no evidence of such civic ethic in Philippine society. Big walls separate the rich and middle class from the poor. Shiny cars cocoon their occupants from Manila’s corrosive atmosphere. Losts of heat removed from airconditioned homes and offices are routinely blown into the faces of Manila’s wretched sweating majority. The poor, in turn, feeling they have been left to their devices to make good use of the public areas the rich and middle class have fenced out of their enclaves and turned an apathetic eye to progressively annex vast tracts of these lands and facilities into their rapidly-expanding colonies and foul up vital transportation channels (including critical waste disposal channels) with their refuse.

Surprisingly, notwithstanding all the loud complaints about traffic, inefficiency, and corruption that are fielded all over social media from their ranks, the rich and middle class for their part have a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. This is why it has proven to be devilishly difficult to extract any kind of unified outrage and indignation out of the leisure and middle classes. They have a lot to lose if a truly disruptive change or reform process kicks off. A real taxation reform program, for example, will hit them hard — specially owners of small- to medium-sized businesses with revenues largely flying underneath the the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR’s) radar.

Another possible out-of-left-field development would be the rise to power of a politician who truly represents the Filipino masses (as opposed to the traditional ones from the current oligarchy who pay them mere lip service). A true people’s politician will institute reforms where it truly hurts if one happens to be part of the A/B classes. Indeed, the irony here is that though all the loud calls for “reform” come from the educated, so-called β€œillustrado” classes, this is really a case of rich and middle class people needing to be careful of what they wish for. How much real reform are rich and middle class people willing or able to tolerate? What if this supposedly ideal politician who truly represents the interests of the masses institutes that real taxation reform described earlier to redistribute wealth more “equitably” across society, or starts cracking down on brain-killing telenovelas, or decrees the opening up to public use of roads within private subdivisions, or cracks down on “private armies” including the private security agencies that have been vital to maintaining the peace in gated subdivisions and shopping malls.

Indeed, will the entrenched oligarchy even allow this frightening scenario to transpire? Not likely. They’ve got concessions, sweetheart deals, and other agreements amongst themselves to protect. Just getting pork barrel thieves thrown in jail, for one, has already proven to be a big monumental no-results exercise — precisely because everyone is in on the racket. A real scientific accounting of the thievery mounted will result in nothing short of a class-wide meltdown. Even ex-communists who appear to have gone “legit” and joined the democratic process to become House Representatives have, themselves, become part of the problem. So there is little hope of ever seeing a self-motivated initiative coming from the A/B classes to police their own ranks.

Meanwhile, the entire economy is propped up by the remittances of the Philippines’ vast army of overseas foreign workers (OFWs). Though reports put their contribution to the economy at a number that hovers between 10 and 12 percent of GDP, the impact on the economy may be a lot higher if the flow-on effects of these remittances in terms of the consumption these stimulate may be a lot bigger. OFW reliance is a lot easier than creating wealth — and employment — domestically, which is why OFW addiction is here to stay. It is the easy solution.

The cousin of addiction to foreign employment is addiction to foreign investment. The trouble with the Philippines is that it is not a self-sufficient society. Capability to create and grow indigenous capital (i.e. native technologies, native farming methods, native medical practice, etc.) probably could have sustained a population of a couple-odd million. Instead, the Philippines had grown to an enormous country of 100 million. Much of this population growth is fuelled by foreign capital — which means the Philippines is hopelessly hooked. When you are hopelessly irrevocably hooked on a resource you exert very little control over, you’re pretty much f-cked for life and a slave to whoever controls that resource.

In summary, any initiative to change or “reform” the Philippines will have to address all of the above systemic factors that complicate all those good intentions. Are Filipinos up to the challenge of scaling that tall smooth wall to get to that prosperous future they feel they are entitled to?

Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.

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28 Comments on “Why is it so exceedingly difficult for the Philippines to change for the better?”

  1. ..The paralysis of PHL is self inflicted, and just to add to what you already said, here are some randoms thoughts:

    1) PHL has the highest cost of energy in Asia. Any long term planning for this sector is not possible when govt are only interested in projects that could be accomplished within six years as demonstrated by the last three administrations. Every new administration ignores the feasibility studies, which are costly, done by previous ones, as amply demonstrated by the current one, only because the top honcho personally hated the previous top honcha. PHL has also limited its option by constitutionally prohibiting nuclear, ignoring the fact that with technology today safety could be improved substantially — and nuclear safety has improved dramatically. High energy cost immediately discourages investments, particularly in manufacturing.

    2) So, forget even attracting foreign direct investments. Our own investors have long recognized the paralysis. The Ayalas and Aboitises have increasingly parked their money in Europe and Singapore. Lucio Tan and Gokongwei have substantially increased their investments in China. The Tanyus, of course, are already gone; they are in Taiwan and Texas. San Miguel are playing more actively in other ASEAN countries. Alvarez, who is now considered a top investor in Vietnam, has forgotten PHL. Even MVPangilinan, who uses the money of the Salim Group in Indonesia and who has seen some loses in some of his investments here, could just pull out any time. Etc etc. PHL will be clobbered when it will see more ASEAN goods coming in as AEC starts end 2015.

    3) Rationalization of ports have also been in the back burner for the longest time. You have port congestions that is so bad, shipping companies are planning to boycott PHL. Tariff and custom duties are not alligned and crazy and encourages smuggling. No one wants to take a look at this as it would disrupt the tongpats system. As most appointments in money making GOCCs and agencies are based on “quota” system, i.e., how much money you could add to the war chest of the ruling political party or you are out, one would have to be ready to die in the most violent way if one would mount a crusade to reorganize the Customs.

    4) Urban planning and zoning controls are also a den of corruptions in municipalities and cities. Because land developers would try to maximise the return of investments, parking spaces and roads are often sacrificed, that is why the horrendous traffic. How is it possible that they could approve high rise residential apartments in narrow roads. That is increasing the amount of cars and people a hundred times in a road that was constructed not to allow such volume increase. Totally nuts.

    5) There is totally no coordination between the national govt and the local ones with regards taxes. (Well, what to do, the national govt does not have any direction or strategy) And, local govts can just impose tax depending on which direction the wind is blowing. One reason why Intel left, and 27000 good paying jobs gone, is because they were surprised by a local tax which seemed to be specifically targetted at just them.

    6) The airport, the gateway to any country…..well, no need to comment, for this will just be all F-words, and the P, C, G, and…

    7) The contractualization of half the labor force to maximum of 6 months. So, most workers have a job for 6 mos, no job for a week to one month, back to a job of just 6 months. This cycle gives half the labor no sense of stability. But, you make them permanent, the Left would organize them into a labor union, and you have strikes threatening you. What to do? Be paralyzed.

    PHL is in a quicksand, the more it moves, the more it sinks.

    1. 8) What incentives do the ruling party have in helping agriculture? Importing rice, onions, chicken etc is a big source of money for any election war chest. There is not enough in the war chest because a new opposition candidate who has more money has showed up? No problem, invent a justification to import more rice, even if the overstock in the warehouse will just rot.

      9) The rules for private public partnership are moving targets. Ayala just won a public bidding to construct an expressway in Southern Luzon, because San Mig was late in submitting a bank document by 10 minutes. Out of curiousity, some people asked that the sealed envelop of San Mig bid be opened. It came out that with the bid of San Mig, government stand to gain p18Billion more on top of the Ayala bid. Learning this, PNoy wants a rebid and is insisting on it because he says govt needs that money. (Huh, he just gave away 100s big billions during the Corona trial) so, here we go again, PHL, which is more important, MONEY or PRINCIPLES?

      1. 10) mass transport system
        11) “bahala na”
        12) “pwede na yan”
        13 ) “bro, meron ka ba dyan, pa-utang naman.”
        14) “bro, pasensya na, kung pwede sa susunod na sweldo na lang.”
        15) Filipino Time.
        16) “Pinoy Pride”
        17) “pre, bonus na ba mamaya? …o, cge, inuman tayo, tawagin mo na rin sila Pedro, Juan, at si Mitz at Joy na rin.”
        18) “wow, noy, ganda ng wheels mo, ha, bago ba yan? …wag ka ma-ingay, lagpas kalahati ng sweldo ko monthly nyan.”
        19) “honey, bayaran mo na yun bills…… eh, eh nagastos ko kagabi, eh. Hindi, ako maka-hindi kila…..”
        20) “sakana, meron naman bukas pa.”

    2. Seriously, would YOU trust a Filipino to run a nuclear power plant? Would you want to live down the road from one built by Filipinos?

      These things are not inherently safe: they depend on smart, conscientious people all doing their jobs. One screwup or cut corner can result in disaster.

      In any case, the Phils really doesn’t need more energy – it just needs to make far better use of what it’s got.

      100% agree with you about ports, airports, customs, and taxes though.

      1. Would I trust a Pinoy to do and keep doing X? If he has all the right credentials, seems mentally and physically fit, and has no criminal record, then sure. Doesn’t really matter if X is coal, geothermal, hydroelectric, or nuclear; if he’s competent enough, the place is his.

        1. “If he has all the right credentials, seems mentally and physically fit, and has no criminal record, then sure.”

          Fair enough, but you need more than four people to build an operate a nuclear power station πŸ˜‰

          Seriously though, nuclear is NOT the same as (say) a coal-fired power station. Take a bribe on the latter and allow substitution of made-in-China safety components, and the worst that can happen is that some very expensive repairs will be required. If you’re really unlucky, a couple of people will die. Screw up a nuclear power plant, and you potentially have an entire island rendered uninhabitable for decades.

          The Philippines has done enough damage to itself with just the internal combustion engine. Supplying an immature society with potentially unlimited power would be a really, really bad move.

      1. Nah. They go abroad to work where their skills are better appreciated, and get to change their world views as they are immersed in a better environment and a working system of modernity. OFWs remittance keep the RP economy afloat. Yet, they are never appreciated here, due to its topsy turvy system, and a lot of big &petty graft & corruption. And the business elite are resigned to the system or even thrie in it. What a life for Pinoys. We just try to cope and adjust, but never transform.

  2. It’s ironic how the government boast how the GDP grew every year with the help of OFWs remittances when having to sent out workers abroad is proof how poor your country is that people have to get away to earn better or have a job (and a factory worker/production operators, clerical or house help jobs at that – one of the main contributors in the said ever-growing GDP). Also these are mostly high school, college undergrads or vocational graduates. If the government has budget and is pursuing higher education as they firmly believed, they’ve just allowed the young generation to be satisfied with working class status. Congrats to PNoy there will be no fluctuation in his GDP for this reason.

    I remember the “equal pay for equal work”. I noticed this being practiced, abroad, by OFWs and their foreign employers (the same way how they are strictly law-abiding citizens there). In our country though it is still have to be defined and taught, imprinted, to people that work requires integrity, that both worker-employer have to extend respect for each other, that someone’s good service doesn’t come cheap, that good payment does not belong to unprofessional attitude or “pwede na ‘yan” performance. When one enters a company as when a businessman hired an employee and what’s on one’s mind is just or more on personal gain not the part one plays in a larger scale, that affect not just himself but the group one belongs, the balance is lost (and the sense of responsibility and the need to utilize one’s full potential). But on most part, the company as in the society, the one who has the upper hand or is the authority/official/expert in the field has the opportunity or privilege to hone the players or participants entering the group. In the process, as the team players or members gain knowledge and skills or experienced due punishments for misbehavior, they become disciplined and proactive not simply participating or performing their duties well but also contributing ideas and volunteering work resulting of course to growth. A flock is being led not thrown to the wolves, right, so they won’t get lost and are able to serve their purpose. The fact that most Filipinos aren’t bored in that they’ve accomplished and completed their task faster and good enough or far better than what was required of them thus earning extra time to be more productive in other things or solve other problems, and instead are more preoccupied about numerous bills to pay o sa madaling salita “problema, problema, problema” amidst poor environment and little resources lose their focus to trivial stuffs. There will never be an equality in social class, it doesn’t have to be like that either but the priority is not on making the rich richer and the poor poorer and stealing from someone that the thief will have more and the people stolen to would have to do with what’s left. Again, with that the balance is lost.

    Also, Filipino pride or being “Proud to be Pinoy” must root on collective achievement, not a single or a group of Pinoy’s achievement dedicating it to his kababayan and his country. And unless one can escape his own skin, being a Filipino of a forsaken third-world poverty-and-corruption-stricken Philippines will stick to you no matter how successful, popular, and wealthy you are. The stink won’t go unless you clear the garbage.

    Another irony is how Filipinos value education so much yet high education is not the main tool used in running the country but traditional oligarchy and pork barrel politics. I doubt if we lack professionals and specialists in necessary field. ‘Can’t be sure though.

    1. Pretty much this.

      Even if individual Filipinos can escape the Philippines and become tremendously successful, they are forever marred by the shadow that is their dysfunctional country.

      Our country is like having an embarrassing relative – like a drunk uncle. Who loves being lazy, will continue to get drunk, keeps asking you for money, do stupid things embarrassing himself and you by proxy.

      Now we have two choices, either we continue to let our drunk uncle do what he does, or find a way to make him stop.

  3. You got the intellectuals in their best progressive dress shouting down the poor and unwashed for not doing as they say — you got the poor and unwashed too burdened by life and altogether too conscious of the fact that the intellectuals will not try and understand them, and will instead condescend and demean — you got both parties and the rich taking advantage and grabbing every scrap that is not tacked on fast — and precious lack of dialogue for all affected due to decades of suppressed ill-will and suspicion and banal stereotyping — and you get total dysfunction.

    1. Yep, classism in a nutshell is this country’s main roadblock from moving forward. Not to mention thinly veiled racism with lightly skinned Eurasians mostly at the top echelon of politics, business and entertainment while the dark indios are left scrounging the earth working menial jobs in piss poor conditions.

  4. Divide and conquer, disinformation on a massive scale,plain ignorance, and many more ingenious devices of mass manipulation are at work in the Philippines.

    as a society, and for all its citizens not part of the 1%,there is no future for you. Yep, just like ALMOST everywhere else !

  5. Filipinos can change, if they want to…it takes great effort and will power to change. We are still a Feudalistic country. We allow the political leaders, to control us. We are numerous. They are only few…it seems the “tail of the dog” is wagging the whole body of the “dog”…

    Why are family political dynasties there? Because , we elected them.

    Why are Pork Barrel Thieves, rule us, and steal us blind? Because, we allow them and do nothing on them. We just let them steal.

    Why do we have an incompetent and corrupt President? Because, we allow him to be incompetent; and allow him to be corrupt.

    Take for example, the Purisima corruption case. Everybody now is silent. The case is sidelined. While the Thief, enjoys his loot.

  6. Spot on analysis. yup ofws and their padala keep the social volcano from exploding. Opportunities to create wholesale change in a nation come by only so often. Edsa 1 could have been that chance but we tragically blew it and let the elite dictate the outcome. The second one was a farce. Doesn’t look like an opportunity for change is coming up anytime soon. I hope I’m wrong. BInay in 2016 seems like a confirmation that the country is resigned to its fate.

    1. Why is it the ‘President’ is looked at as some sort of ‘agent of change’? It represents the established order of the way ife is, so why look at it as its going to chnage anything?
      This is another illusion Filipino’s are endowed with.

  7. Admittedly a leader’s role in change can be overrated but leadership is also a factor in societal change. Especially in an Asian setting…Korea’s park, Singapore’s yew, Malaysia’s mahathir, and even Marcos were all for good or ill leaders who were agents of change or at least the face of change.

    Also because leaders hold power (the government apparatuses) they can enact policies that could directly lead to or stimulate change.

  8. Because Tangalogista Fliptard media/survey corporations are mind-numbing garbage.
    Because there are many Fliptards who operate brothels and cybersex dens in the Failippines.
    Because many Fliptards [regardless of socioeconomic status] are very lustful/promiscuous, always making many babies due to teenage or unintended pregnancies, and too lazy to close their own legs.
    Because many Peenoise Pridists are still lying that the Failippines’ red-light districts are still “fewer” than other [nearer or farther] countries’ red-light districts.

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