The illusion of progress in the Philippines


Filipinos choose to measure progress from a Western perspective (mainly financial wealth and capital-intensive development). Thus a “successful” Filipino individual as measured by contemporary Filipino society fits the standard Hollywood mold — big house, party lifestyle, trendy clothes, shiny car, and flashy mobile devices.

The trouble with Philippine society is that we embrace the superficial glitz of acquiring those trappings (consumerism) without internalising the deeper process of creating and accumulating the means to produce and apply them (capital expansion). This is because the West originated the tradition of real industrial development whereas hangers-on like the Philippines piggybacked on it — relied on capital imports, “foreign direct investment”, and “trade liberalisation” to create the commercial activity that gives the illusion of progress.

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One example of how this illusion of progress is burst is in the overwhelming evidence that describes the way countries that are rich in natural resources remain among the most impoverished in the world — because the means to exploit that natural wealth are external (foreign technology, methods, and equipment), whilst the ones impacted by the application of those means are internal (local communities and local cultures).

A second example of this illusion of progress is the ballooning of the population of the Philippines from just 20- to 30-odd million in the 1940’s to 100 million today. Our allowing our population to increase to that appalling number rested upon the dubious assumption that technology and commerce (as European civilisation had come to define it) can grow commensurately to support that number. Specifically, our population levels today, rely on modern health care and agriculture to sustain — both of which the Philippines has historically struggled to develop at a rate proportionate to the astounding rate of growth of its population. Perhaps being “modern” (as the West defines it), is not an ethic indigenous to Filipino culture.

The commerce that drives the tunnel-visioned metrics we use to measure “progress” today may be there (enjoyed by the minority), but the actual development (enjoyed by the majority) remains elusive.

Admittedly we lost a bit of focus on the original message of GRP — which is to take a deeper look at what our society and culture is telling us that we are and re-evaluate not only what we are but how we want to move forward based on an understanding of what we are as a people. Do we change our culture to progress in today’s world order? There is merit in that view. Do we alter our approach to development on the basis of our culture? There is merit in that view as well.

Jacob Maentz’s article, “Can Photos Help Save Our Indigenous Cultures?” while a good introduction to the plight of “indigenous people”, only scratches the surface of the issues surrounding not only our indigenous communities, but our society at large. Indigenous people (again, the way the West have defined them) are often seen to be what are necessarily subsistence cultures living in places considered “uncharted” or “untouched” by our way of life. Ironically, they represent everything that Western society aspires to today — they are communities that are in equilibrium with their immediate environments. They take only what they need from the environment and live off only on what their local environment can provide — an approach to living all of us need to learn given the challenges we face today.

And this brings us to why I qualify my previous use of “indigenous people” with the phrase “as defined by the West”. For what else would one consider to be an “indigenous” community other than one that had continuously lived off a piece of land (of whatever size), say, for a thousand years in a fundamentally self-sufficient manner? Doesn’t that make, say, the Icelandic people an indigenous community as well? In fact, Icelandic people lead a way of life that can be considered admirable by the standards we apply to “conventional” indigenous people. They rely on domestic energy sources to serve more than 80 percent of their demand and largely live off their traditional source of food — marine life native to their seas.

Indeed, much of the malaise in the economy of Iceland that has been making the news in recent years has to do with an embrace of the global “free market”. In the 1990s Iceland undertook extensive free market reforms, which initially produced strong economic growth. As a result, Iceland was rated as having one of the world’s highest levels of economic freedom as well as civil freedoms. As of 2007, Iceland topped the list of nations ranked by Human Development Index and was one of the most egalitarian, according to the calculation provided by the Gini coefficient.

From 2006 onwards, the economy faced problems of growing inflation and current account deficits. Partly in response, and partly as a result of earlier reforms, the financial system expanded rapidly before collapsing entirely in a sweeping financial crisis. Iceland had to obtain emergency funding from the International Monetary Fund and a range of European countries in November 2008.

The only reason we are less-inclined to readily classify Iceland as an indigneous community in the conventional sense is that it is a European society — one that is successful by Western standards but at the same time fundamentally anchored in society-level achievement that is underpinned by a long domestic cultural tradition. It may be a counter-intuitive notion to also espouse preservation of the Icelandic tradition (and protect it from outside influence) from the same perspective that we regard what we consider to be indigenous communities, but it is a notion that makes the same logical sense.

Stepping back from all that and looking at mainstream Philippine society today, we see a country that represents an absolute antithesis of all the principles at work in our now broadened regard for what an “indigenous community” really is. It is pathetically dependent on foreign capital, foreign employment, foreign culture, foreign armies, and foreign politics for its persistence as a viable nation. In that sense, there is a strong case for re-visiting the essence of what it means to be a community. Whether that may be one we consider “modern” or “traditional”, the standards that define what we aspire to be may need to be redrawn.

[NB: This article was inspired by a comment posted on the article “Can Photos Help Save Our Indigenous Cultures?”. Portions of this article were lifted from the article “Economy if Iceland” in a manner compliant to the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License which governs the use of the content of this site.]

32 Replies to “The illusion of progress in the Philippines”

  1. Ang may kasalanan ng magulong sitwasyon ng bansa ay dhl kay Gloria na nagsimula kay Marcos. Puro pangungurakot ang inatupag. Tapos ngayon nandyan si Corona, isang protektor ni Gloria. Buti na lang nandyan si Tita Cory at Tito Noy na nagbigay sa atin ng kalayaan.

    1. Wala pa rin ang kalayaan na sinasabi mo. Mas talamak ang corruption noong panahon ni Cory.

      Stop being so delusional and think: the Philippines got worse after Marcos left. It’s been 20 years and still, NO PROGRESS.

      Sige, mag-TSISMIS ka pa. 😛

      1. Kung lumaki man, ksalanan pa dn nila ang nasirang Pilipinas dhl sila ang nanguna dito. Dhl dito, nhhrapan si Tita Cory at Tito Noy na maayos agad ito at dapat ay dumaan tayo sa ilang taon.

        1. Nah. She just benefitted on it. In order to hide her faults, she continuously blamed Marcos and use the media (mostly ABS-CBN)to cover up her faults; she’s paying them to make things look good in her term it was just as tumultuous so asshats like you will believe everything that comes from the Cory Hype machine. And try sound intelligent trying to defend her family name.

        2. Sorry guys for the way vincenzo comments here, he has ran out of medicine for his mental illness and he needs to be convicted to the local mental hospital.

    2. Walang natulong na maganda si Tita Cory mo dahil maraming loopholes ang constitution na ginawa nung panahon nya. Nagkakaroon tuloy ng maraming opportunity to continue with corruption ang mga public servants hanggang ngayon. Mag-isip ka na Vincenzo.

      1. Dpat yata magpacheckup ka ng utak. Wlang pgkakamali na gnawa, bkit noong nagkaroon ng ConAss hnd pnayagan? Ayan, nkakulong ngayon ang may pakana.

        1. Sorry guys for the way vincenzo comments here, he has ran out of medicine for his mental illness and he needs to be convicted to the local mental hospital and probably SHOT TO DEATH FOR THE GOOD OF ALL OF US

        2. OK lang naman kung minsan ka lang maloko nila Cory. Maraming tulad ko na sya ang aking gustong iboto nuon. Pero sa tagal ng panahon ay dapat naman mamulat na ang ating mga mata sa pagkakamali nila Cory at pagsira nila sa bayan at sa kanilang mga pangako. Wag naman dapat na tuluyan kang magpaloko kela Cory o mga Aquino-Cojuangco. Noon-araw ay meron kapang dahilan, pero ngayon, kasalanan mo na bakit nagpapaloko ka pa rin sa mga iyan.

          Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on Vincenzio.

    3. Sir, Can you speak with facts? Marcos, during his term made the following projects:
      16,000 kms. of feeder roads
      30,000 meters of bridges
      1,000,000 KW of generating power,
      water services to 8 regions,
      a nuke plant in bataan, just to name a few

      LRT-1 modernization (purchase of new fleet of trains)
      Ave. economic growth of 4.5% (this surpassed averages of previous administrations from Cory to Erap)
      Economy did not falter in the 2008 global economic crisis, just to name a few.

      Did Noynoy, nor his mother even made the Busiest eskinita in the philippines? Is there any development when they assumed responsibility? The only remarkable thing that Cory did was to create a power crisis by not opening BNPP, and his son Noynoy? he only underspent in 2011, leaving the country with halved economic growth (even less) form targets of 7% to less than 3.5…If faltering and going back to stone age is development to you, then why not buy an island and go with the stupid yellow supporters and live there with no development.

    4. Lest you forget, the Spaniards and American colonizers were corrupt as were the Philippine presidents we have had after the 1946 declaration of independence. We are talking of a looonngg drawn history of corruption here. And we should not just blame the presidents for this. Remember that if you choose not to do anything about a crime, you are also party to that crime. 🙂

      1. I’m not sure what you mean. From BenK’s comment, I thought, the program, not exactly what Free Market kosher, but tagged “Free Market” nonetheless for convenient purposes is still on.

    1. That’s another thing that Pinoys have illusions about: That most ideas can be pulled off a shelf in a neatly-marked package. Like “free market,” or “social media,” or “democracy.”

    2. I guess what Benigno is trying to point out is that, though the free-market principle is the accepted framework in which we can all work with, the Philippines, for all its trappings of uniqueness, deserves a unique treatment.

      Free-market principles (this is to exclude corporatism and the pseudo free-market principles that leech into the free-market school and make it disreputable and hated) require a society that respects the rule of law, have no qualms with the uncertainty of risk-taking, and rewards (instead of playing down) innovation. The advanced economies usually have those attitudes toward things, which is also why free-market principles are compatible with them.

      On the other hand, the Philippines, like what Phil Manila described below, is a hazy concoction of cultural influences dating back to the people who spoke Sanskrit. Kinship ties are more (sometimes) preferred over the rule of law. Ownership is usually collective and kinship-based as well.

      So the key maybe in the social sciences. What we need in this country now are good social scientists (usually not the Red ones, sorry for the bias 🙂 ) who can realistically explain the myriad and interweaving paradoxes of the Filipino society. In that way, policy-makers and economists can prescribe solutions more apt to our case, not the sort of WB-IMF backed aid programs incompatible with intricacies of our society.

  2. Nice one, benig’s!

    But as we’ve previously discussed over at MLQ3 and FV, it will take many years, even centuries, to re-engineer the Philippine’s’ economic DNA. Meanwhile, we have to try our best and move forward with what we’ve got.

    Not to be historical deterministic, but the long colonial era, three foreign occupations, the ‘mestizo’ leadership of post-colony times, the cacique semi-feudal politics, the hacienda structure, the Filipinos’ openness to foreign culture, etc. have evolved a unique Filipino system.

    How does the saying go? The Filipino speaks like an American, prays like a European (Spaniard), eats like a Chinese, but acts like Juan Dela Cruz.
    It’s more fun in the Philippines!!!

  3. ang nakakalungkot lang ay
    ang karamihan na Filipino ay laging nakatingala sa mga foreigner, inaalam ang mga kultura at pinupuri pa, samantalang pagdating sa kapwa nila, sa sarili nilang kultura, isnab ang sagot nila…
    nakakainggit lang sa mga foreigner yung pagEmbrace nila sa kultura nila, sa sarili nilang lahi samantalang tayo pinipilit maging katulad nila….

  4. That’s what Filipinos are these days: a lot of “flash” but very devoid of “bang”.

    Filipinos would complain about having little electricity, yet would act like sobbing natives over “nature” when someone sets up a power plant.

    The same Filipinos would terrorize a corporate miner trying to introduce modern industry standards to a site, but turn a blind eye to very destructive pocket miners.

    These Filipinos would also complain about not having a job, when they go on strike every time a foreign investor actually invests in the country. But they would decry English as “colonialist” and then take pride in being “Filipino”, because they would rather be jobless and patriotic (while relying on OFW remittances) than actually working.

    1. “The same Filipinos would terrorize a corporate miner trying to introduce modern industry standards to a site, but turn a blind eye to very destructive pocket miners.”

      Haha, exactly. Demonizing mining companies that keep mine trailing on containment ponds while sympathizing for the plight Juan-the-average-Joe miner refining gold ore on riverbed streams with mercury!

  5. From a certain perspective when you think about it, most people that work for the government, applied as “Illusionists” instead of “Public Servants”.


    Di tayo robot na naghihintay ng command. We have freewill and freedom. We have democracy and yet we don’t believe in the concept of responsibility.

  6. Countries that have remained true to their indigenous traditions and developed from them are the strongest. Many Filipinos laugh at the people of the Mountain Province, yet they have a living tradition of quality, as evidenced by their handicrafts, and a practical engineering tradition, evidenced by their rice terraces. And for centuries they managed to defend themselves against the Spanish, and I believe if they were left to themselves, they would be like the Swiss, mountain people whom nobody dares to invade.

    In Manila, they concentrate on building new malls while letting the airport terminal rot. The rich crowd think they are modern because they sit in Starbucks cafes, when in fact they would not survive just a few days in New York without their katulong to take care of things for them. Call centre agents think they are modern because they are taught to speak in different American accents, but are so sensitive that they break down when an American customer tells them “shut up bitch”.

    Progress is only stable and lasting if it has its foundations in old cultural traditions. German engineering, for example, is based on proud and old traditions of quality worksmanship dating back to the Middle Ages. Filipino “progress” is on the other hand based on being lackeys of others, whether as guest workers abroad or BPO employees at home.

  7. I think every body’s got a point here. I really idolize Marcos for the Philippines’ wealth during his “regime”. Yun nga lang, military reigned. Cory gave us freedom, a good thing, but then killed our wealth. Half of the world is dark, half is bright.

  8. If we will stop the blame game and unite to create a transformed Philippines, I guess our country will be a better place to live in.

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