The #Philippines suffers from acute intellectual bankruptcy and a lack of common sense

[The following is a piece originally published in The Manila Bulletin on the 09th April 2000 and featured in Get Real Philippines on the same year. How many of the issues mentioned here remain the same unchanged ones today? Remember, this was written back in 2000.]

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AN admired Filipino economist, based in New York, surveyed the economic situation here and dolefully intoned: ”What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt.” Take, for instance, the national debates, she pointed out.

The meaning of 'people power' has since been buried under an avalanche of misguided Filipino thinking.
The meaning of ‘people power’ has since been buried under an avalanche of misguided Filipino thinking.
“They are droll and unintelligent, focused on the trivial or the irrelevant.” When the issues are of some significance, it’s the wrong arguments that prevail, the wrong side wins. Logic and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated. There seems to be some bases for her disenchantment.

Consider the EDSA People Power TV debate during its last anniversary celebration: “Is the People Power revolution still meaningful?” The TV audience voted it was no longer meaningful! And the winning argument articulated by a former Marcos’ boy was: “Are you better off now after EDSA People Power?” as if the one magical event in the world’s struggle for freedom in which the Filipinos were the acclaimed heroes had something to do with the contour of the stomach, instead of the shaping of the soul.

No change needed

Listen to the vacuous debate on increase of fuel price and the jeepney strikes. Almost everyone wants to repeal the law of supply and demand and annul the OPEC. How untidy has been the bishops’ choice of causes to champion. They hardly know they are playing tail to the leftists’ kite. Mercifully, other uninformed crusaders had joined them in maintaining that the 13-year old Constitution is so perfect it needs no change whatsoever. They don’t know that the Constitution has never been meant to be everlasting. All Philippine Constitutions and most constitutions in the world had gone through some amendments within the first five years of its ratification. Times change. Lessons must be learned. The present Constitution was drafted in the shadow of martial law. Among others, it’s now clear, presidential election is most expensive, with no guarantees of great leaders. A parliamentary system immediately saves the country one costly election and with the parliament members electing the premier from among themselves, it prevents the less qualified from becoming head of state.

Massive queue of commuters hoping to get a ride on Manila's MRT
Massive queue of commuters hoping to get a ride on Manila’s MRT
Simple common sense tells us that if you charge MRT commuters fares they can’t afford (initially P40) they would continue to ride the buses and the traffic congestion on EDSA, sought to be solved by the MRT, remains unsolved. Smarter administrators would have charged only P10 and thus drive all the buses out of EDSA, free at last from traffic. Of course, you could later gradually hike the fare to reasonable level when the buses have gone and save the country hundreds of billions lost daily in the world’s worst traffic mess.

A weird culture

Intellectual bankruptcy includes inability of our bright boys to come up with the correct formula for solving our economic crisis for many, many years now. The bright boys of our neighbors had recaptured their tigerhood in no time at all. Here’s no center to our economic planning. For instance, our experts still have to recognize mass unemployment as the most afflicting and dehumanizing of our problems, translating into, among other things, the lack of purchasing power of the people and hence making it illogical for producers and investors to set up new factories or increase production when nobody is buying.

Nor have we researched on the latest thinking among UN planners: “The defect even in IMF development programs is the setting up of projects that enrich only a few and don’t focus on job-creation. The most effective way of fighting poverty is with jobs. Mass low-cost housing, a million a year, by Japanese firms using their surplus steel and materials, BOT, 30 years to pay, 3 years grace period addresses dramatically unemployment. Even squatters can afford P1,200 monthly amortization, 30 years term.

Disasters have become 'normal' in a society that puts little value on human life before-the-fact.
Disasters have become ‘normal’ in a society that puts little value on human life before-the-fact.
There’s a weird culture in our midst: our jocular regard for our national problems, great crimes, villainous scams and calamities. Note that Filipinos are notorious for making fun, creating a joke of their misfortunes. The cellulars are full of them now. In other countries inhabited by serious and sensitive people, they mount crusades, indignation rallies or nationwide relief campaigns to meet such crises. They would weep or stomp their feet, or explode in anger, or demand punishment for the criminals or misfits. Here we tend to laugh at scams, crimes and natural calamities, as if they are part of the usual TV noon comedy shows, the Pinoy’s daily diet.

It’s very hard to be intellectual if you aren’t serious. And so far the clear evidence is that we are not a serious people. Worse, we don’t like to think.

US sailors’ case

Recently there was the incident of US Visiting Forces Agreement soldiers mauling a taxi driver. This time most of the columnists huffed and puffed against the Americans and the VFA. They demanded full application of Philippine laws including a sojourn in our dirty jails (which the American soldiers fear more than anything under the laws). To give up jurisdiction is to give up sovereignty, was their battlecry. A popular columnist TV-host titled his column: “No Settlement in Sailors’ Case!” barking his order like a master sergeant.

Never mind that the VFA exempts minor cases from Philippine jurisdiction. Lawyers know that everyday criminal cases are settled through the process of affidavit of desistance, among other ways. And precisely, when the parties submit to that kind of settlement, they submit to the jurisdiction of our court or the fiscal office that makes the final ruling on it. Little knowledge of law is quite dangerous. In fact, to forbid the US soldier to enter into the usual procedures of settlement is to offend due process. It’s one rule for the rest of the population and another for the VFA US soldiers.

The more Filipino activists wave clenched fists, the more Philippine sovereignty slips through their fingers.
The more Filipino activists wave clenched fists, the more Philippine sovereignty slips through their fingers.
The larger issue missed by the noisy denouncers is national interest. What’s good for our country. Those who would make foes of the Philippines and the US, our oldest democratic ally, are correct. There’s a link between the US military bases and the VFA. But we seem unable to learn the lesson of the past. Our macho decision, or the macho decision of 12 senators to boot out instantly the bases was the costliest decision ever made in the post war era here: 80,000 Filipino workers in the bases immediately lost their jobs; billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment and ordinance, anything not nailed down, were shipped back to the States, even if not needed by them. (The US could also respond boorishly and pettily when treated boorishly).

Negotiating

Also, there’s the $500 million yearly from US military bases budget specifically to buy locally-produced goods; billions in dollars of military weapons, including planes and ships, under the military assistance program; the millions of dollars’ worth of scholarships in top US universities for Filipino soldiers. Apart from these, the closure of US Consulate in Cebu City forcing thousands from Visayas and Mindanao to spend millions to come to Manila for their visas; stricter requirements for issuance of US visas. We also witnessed the massive economic dislocation in Central Luzon. There was no softening of the shock or a leeway for the 80,000 terminated workers to look for another means of livelihood. The term of the “magnificent” senators was for the US bases to move out immediately, rejecting the US plea for a three year phaseout. A sensible procedure.

The Philippines, despite its nationalist rhetoric, remains pathetically dependent on the United States.
The Philippines, despite its nationalist rhetoric, remains pathetically dependent on the United States.
Up to this day we lose money daily needlessly from the decision to oust the bases: Everyday we spend millions for years now to patrol China Sea near Spratlys. The US Fleet, partly based in Subic, used to do it for us for free. Now we are negotiating to get billions’ worth of naval ships and helicopters and planes to convince the Chinese we mean business in Spratlys. In the first place, the Chinese would never have thought of loitering to the Spratlys if the US military bases were still here.

Such goodwill

The judge in Cebu has more brains than all those pundits crying for the pound of flesh from the US. She dismissed the case after the US soldiers made an open court apology to the mulcting taxi-driver. She refused to place ideology above national interest. She would not join those who would want to be the last communists in the world. What is the most important item in the VFA exercises is re-establishing the goodwill between the Philippines and the superpower old friend. Many good things for the country could be gotten from such goodwill. As there were from the US military bases.

With the benefit of hindsight, the anti-bases crusaders would probably know the answer to these questions: How come the smarter countries in the world like Japan, Germany, Singapore, Australia, Taiwan, etc. have never asked the US to remove their military bases from their countries and in fact had asked them to stay put? What do they get from the bases? How many billions of dollars did they save in their national defense budgets. How come none of these smarter people think they are diminished because of the presence of US bases or the VFA, and only the Filipinos feel reduced?

Oh, the Filipinos are a special people, would be the answer of their fellow-simpletons.

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