The following is an article I wrote way back in 2001 following the ouster of former President Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada via a multi-million-strong street revolution that would go on to be known as “EDSA 2” (or EDSA Dos). The ouster of Estrada paved the way for the ascent to power of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo who would go on to rule the Philippines for another nine years.
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So it’s all over. We no longer have a president [Joseph ‘Erap’ Estrada] that makes us shudder. We should, however, credit Erap with one achievement. He highlighted our immaturity as practitioners of the very western concept of ‘democracy’. Democracy is an ideology that, as much as providing its practitioners privileges that no other system of government extends, demands discipline, shrewdness, foresight, and community spirit in exchange. These are qualities that the Filipino people have yet a long way to go to acquire. That the Erap era had transpired at all is a confirmation of this fact.
There is nothing special about the Philippines being alone in a region where the model for economic development involved despotism and iron-fisted rule. It was merely by default as a consequence of our colonial past that democracy grew roots in our country. Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and, Malaysia, possessing much stronger national identities, deeper cultural roots, and a more productive work ethic (as well as being very lucky with their leaders) achieved their successes by first being totalitarian states.
And before we even think of pitying these countries for being subject to repressive governments (i.e. their people not being ‘free’ in our sense) we should pause to think about what being ‘free’ means to us. If to us it means being able to turn our elections into beauty pageants and variety shows then the Filipino people’s concept of freedom is severely flawed. Erap had demonstrated the damage that could be wrought by completely unleashing the mandate of the Filipino masses in their present state of education and breeding. One only needs to count the number of showbiz personalities seeking public office in the next elections to ascertain if any lessons have indeed been learned from the Erap era.
We were willing to overlook the fact that Erap kept concubines, loved to drink and gamble, and, plain and simple, was intellectually-challenged, although he already exhibited the effects of these traits early in his presidency. Later into his administration, many Filipinos criticised Erap because his brand of corruption was ‘harapan’ ‘ roughly translated, ‘in your face’. What exactly does this imply? That we are willing to tolerate criminality and incompetence as long as they are undertaken discretely (with ‘delicadeza’ or ‘hiya’)?
It is in fact, no coincidence that an ideology developed and successfully implemented in the West should require qualities of its practitioners that happen to be inherent to European cultures. We chose to put our faith in a system of governance that is inherently western and therefore should strive to adopt such western qualities that make a democracy work. There is, however, no need to abandon our Asian values and completely embrace Western values. All it takes is a mere appreciation of the qualities of Western culture that were key to their successes. We’d like to emphasise again that education is key. Access to education is not the issue (we still have one of the highest literacy rates in Asia). It is our approach to education that will be the critical success factor ‘ more emphasis on analysis and debate in contrast with our style of static instruction and rote memorisation.
The results of our current approach to human development are evident in how we deal with challenge. As many of this site’s visitors have pointed out and in what we learned from the eLagda discussion forums, Filipinos are very defensive and don’t want to be told off. When you try to point out alternative opinions or approaches, sila pa ang galit! The typical Filipino response to criticism is anger and indignation rather than reflection. Try telling a Filipino who nonchalantly steps ahead of you in a McDonalds queue to take his proper place behind you and you’ll get the picture. These little examples illustrate our lack of a capacity for inward reflection that is necessary if we are to effectively learn from experience, learn from others, and implement sustainable solutions. All of these are essential because, as a democratic society, we each have a greater role ‘ call it ‘responsibility’ ‘ in shaping our destiny than most.
The two EDSA revolutions are examples of our penchant for anger and indignation at a national level. Whenever the occasion calls for it, Filipinos are quick to the draw (a trait shared by Erap himself in his manner of conduct during ambush interviews). We sit back and allow our problems to fester then, at the eleventh hour, go all out to seek a quick fix. And, make no mistake, our quick fixes are effective ‘ in the short-term. Both EDSA revolutions demonstrated this. However, it is disturbing to note some parallelisms between this and how we manage our roads. Our roads are rotten and structurally unsound on the inside, crumbling at the slightest bout of rainfall and subject to high-profile cosmetic repair work and asphalt overlays every election time. But the core remains rotten. In the same way that we will always have an abundance of cheap labour to dig up and re-pave our roads every year, so too do we have a rich reserve of warm bodies to march into EDSA whenever our rotten institutions crumble.
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This goes to show that Filipinos back then did not really understand what they were wishing for. Fast forward to today and we find the same sort of moronic thinking continues to infest this sad society.
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