Security, empowerment, and access: Why the lack of these hobbles progress in the Philippines

Oftentimes it is the most mundane of things going on around us — things we take for granted as business-as-usual that, when regarded from the point of view from a lateral thinker so effectively highlight some the most disturbing aspects of our society.

Picture these scenes, for example:

– The ubiquity of heavily armed uniformed private security personnel detailed at every other corner shop, bank branch, and entrance to residential enclaves.

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– Stonewalling automaton-like sales clerks and bank tellers trained in a narrowly-defined transactional scope; police officers fearful of applying the law to what may turn out to be a high-ranking politician or government official.

– Homeowners — from the wealthiest down to even lower-middle-class families — cloistered in gated communities that require specially issued passes for outsiders to enter.

empowermentThese are but a small subset of a vast landscape of what are mere symptoms of the underlying deeply-entrenched rot in Philippine society.

Fear not though, because there is always an underlying simplicity in most things that leave average-minded folk scratching their heads. Like every big mis-understood monster, we just need to up our thinking faculties and acquire the ability to deeply understand what motivates said monster.

If we look closely at the above examples, they each illustrate issues around three key enablers to developing a cohesive and productive society:

– Security
– Empowerment
– Access

A society where people have come to depend on privately-employed armed forces to assure their security, have been rendered powerless by draconian controls and bureaucratic complexity, and are faced with institutionalised curtailment of access is indeed a sick one.

Quite simply:

– Without security there can be no openness.

– Without empowerment, there can be no efficiency.

– Without access there can be no simplicity.

So guess what:

A society where everything is closed, inefficient, and complicated is fertile breeding ground for corruption.

We can see now how corruption and productivity are so closely inter-related. Corruption hobbles productivity and lack of productivity breeds corruption. Corruption therefore cannot simply be considered to be some kind of bogeyman to launch “wars against corruption” against. It is a feature inherent to Philippine society. Its roots are intricately interwoven into the very fabric of our society. Efforts to eliminate corruption have always lacked scale and structure. Strong-arm low-thinking-applied approaches to rooting out corruption have failed miserably so many times, precisely because they were done without a clear understanding of the complex relationship it has with its host society. And because of this, procedures are designed and agencies are organised to work in an insular, stand alone manner which fails to achieve the scale that only a government with finely coordinated and interlinked agencies can achieve.

Indeed, because Filipinos are not exactly renowned for our systemic thinking (the arch-enemy of institutional corruption) it is hardly surprising that our systems suck, as the venerable Conrado de Quiros observes:

Pacquiao’s monumental triumphs, in fact, merely reaffirm an old-age truth we ourselves have glimpsed in the form of the question: Why is it that Filipinos do exceedingly well when they go abroad? Or more to the point, because it holds the key to its answer: Why is it that Filipinos obey the rules, act like model citizens, and work their asses off when they’re abroad?

These are questions we’ve always answered with: Because of the system.

There’s nothing innately wrong with the Filipino. There is nothing in his genes that prevents him from accomplishing big things. There is nothing in his physical or mental endowments that obstructs his capacity to do great things.

But there is everything wrong with his system. It’s his system that robs him of his discipline, his direction, his drive. It’s his system that prevents him from envisioning grand things. It’s his system that stops him from accomplishing great things.

Elsewhere in the world, the system rewards the upright and punishes the wicked. Elsewhere in the world, the system praises the worthy and damns the rotten. Elsewhere in the world, the system applies the law to everyone, jailing bank robbers and Bernie Madoffs alike, jailing common criminals and uncommon criminals alike. Elsewhere in the world, the system allows merit to thrive and demerit to perish. Elsewhere in the world, the system pushes the promising to excel and the corrupt to rot away. Elsewhere in the world, the system provides the foundation or the support or the ground for talent to blossom into genius.

That is how Filipinos do great things when they’re abroad. The system allows them to.

While at first the above may come across as another thing that triumphalists may use to prove that Filipinos are not responsible for their chronic inability to progress, I see it more as highlighting our biggest failure as a people: we consistently fail at creating and implementing a system for ourselves that enables us to be successful as a Nation.

Furthermore, a people who see themselves as helpless and disenfranchised simply cannot be moved in the right direction. Such hopelessness is an outcome of limitations to their scope of thinking imposed by:

– irrelevant and impractical traditions and belief systems;

– a chosen language that dismally fails to connect their minds to the broader and deeper collective knowledge amassed by humanity over the last several millenia, and;

– a cultural aversion to creating new options, critically evaluating existing options, and begging to differ to authority (in the truly insightful way that those who truly beg to differ do).

While the first and third of the above three are quite widely accepted as real issues to be reckoned with, it seems there is still significant debate around language as an enabler for world class thinking and world class achievement (the latter word being the substance behind any real hope for a better Philippines).

A lack of real power is what turns a people into a chaotic mob of passive-aggressive anarchists who, despite possessing The Vote, still do not see their duly-elected representatives in Government as truly representing their interests. Tragically, we are sold on the concept that this “freedom” we supposedly enjoy as a democratic people is what supposedly “empowers” us.

Guess again. As I wrote a while back:

We use [“freedom”] as an excuse to elect fools to office only to flick them off the pedestal we helped them climb onto with even more foolish displays of street parliamentarianism. We even use this “freedom” to run a publishing industry that capitalises on the stupidity of the masses; allowing it to scrimp on journalistic talent and integrity.


The irony that escapes the Filipino mind is that true freedom can only be earned after a thorough and consistent application of rigour in EVERY aspect of how we conduct ourselves.

Now that I mention the above, I incidentally now rememebr too why we also consistently fail at delivering on the world-stage of international-grade arts. In the snippet below (which I quote from my book, by the way) I not only articulate this but ultimately tie even this art angle back to our own hollow-headed regard for democracy:

We are completely baffled by the idea that the stratospheric value of a Mercedes, a Rolex, or a La Coste shirt comes primarily from the excellent engineering, design, or quality of these products; that pedestrian crossings and lane markers painted on roads are not simply to make a road “look modern”; that true artistic beauty is a product of depth in structure and meaning and not just of chaotic expression; that democracy is a discipline and not merely a freedom to enjoy wantonly.

That puts a dark pall over the prospects of a people not exactly known for exercising rigour, consistency, and follow-through in any collective undertaking. After all, bahala na (“come what may”) and pewee na yan (“that’ll do”) remain the national mantras of choice.

Like every other subset of the all-encompassing framework of thought that I apply to every bit of work I publish here and everywhere else, the elegant simplicity of this three-pronged approach to regarding our prospects for prosperity lies in its robust scalability. You can see it relevant both at the macro and at the mirco levels of society and even in our own personal day-to-day interactions with our environment and immediate social circle.




It’s simple, really — though not for the small-minded.

17 Replies to “Security, empowerment, and access: Why the lack of these hobbles progress in the Philippines”

  1. Benign0,

    Again, you see the glass as half-empty and not half-full.

    Filipino do have an abundance of

    1. Security — in most countries, there are hardly any security guards at a bank, shopping mall or even at a McDonalds. Only in the Philippines can you find an abundance of security guards. This is possible due to our competitive labor market which enables businesses to have “security” at relatively cheap rate. Heck, even many call centers have security guards.

    2. Empowerment — Filipinos are world renowned high achievers. Manny Pacquiao, Charice, APL, and Bruno Mars are but a small sample of many shining examples of what the empowered Filipino can achieve. The Filipino is empowered because globalization has leveled the playing field and the World has been exposed to the genius of Filipino talent which is rewarded finacially.

    3. Access — With social networking, Filipinos can further leverage their use of the “friends and family” bond that is uniquely strong in the Philippine culture. Using these “connections”, Access to almost anything (like a Green Card) is all but guaranteed if one is within the “Pinoy Network”. Foreigners can only envy our “solidarity” such that any complaints of unfairness are but poor excuses for their inability to compete with our “social cohesion”.

    1. Security? You feel safe here without guards? Charice ? Has no idea how to write a song. Young stars don’t usually have longevity unless extremely talented and versatile like Stevie Wonder. Only Pinoys have family bonds? You are not a proud Pinoy but self entitled , delusional Pinoy. Troll harder and somewhere else. People that eat your lies without question.

    2. Security? Tell that to the victims of the Manila Bus hostage crisis. What about the Zamboanga siege that happened? Is that what you call security?

      In the case of those empowered people, they were able to reach what they achieved because they were empowered by foreign companies, along with their talents and skills. It’s not enough to just namedrop some famous filipinos without exactly looking at their history like Charice who had to sing just to get a decent meal. Empowered eh? If it were not for Ellen, Oprah and Dave Foster she’d probably still be singing in the slums or in some cheap bar somewhere.

      Access. Exactly how many Filipinos can afford a consistent internet connection, you forgot those people living in the squarters area who can barely eat. Seriously, enough with this pinoy pride delusion.

    3. @Proud Pinoy:

      Filipinos are high acievers? Pacquioa…Charice, APL, Bruno Mars. Four people amidst 100 million Filipinos…It’s just in sports and arts…no Science, Medicine, Technology, etc…faculties that are needed for a nation to progress…

      Another YellowTard in a “Yellow cloud limbo; with a Jaundiced view of his reality”…what a stinking thinking…

    4. OMG, U are warped buddy. The security guards aren’t necessary at McD’s in the first the fils?anywhere there is a cash register it needs to be guarded with arms.
      DO YOU even know what ‘Globalization’ is? it is the importing of the 3rd worlds livng conditions and wages to the 1st world, along with the eradication of the 3rd world farmer into the hands of the ‘global’ corporate farmers. Plus a li’l more to it, but U couldn’t digest it, if U believe what U just wrote above…OMG!
      Show me a few well paid Filipino’s who work at the same call ctr., and by that I mean one that makes $70,000.00/year(thats P3,000,000.00, and in any major 1st world city that is subsistance wages).
      “Social Cohesion” will get you a green card?

      Like I said, You are warped…and delusional.

      1. That’s what you get when your meal only consists of ketchup spaghetti and too much pride and bigotry on oneself…you spew out nonsense and idiocy – just ask Proud Pinoy.

  2. Counterpoints against the obvious troll who does not know what he/she is talking about, as always…

    1. The Philippine labor can’t be compared to countries like the US and countries in Europe because of the poor level of education alone in the Philippines. Poor quality of education leads to increasing incompetent labor force. Increasing unemployment does equate to competitive labor.

    2. Filipinos would always look up to inspirations like Pacquiao yet they don’t want to improves themselves – economically and socially. Try asking a foreigner what a Filipino is and 8 out of 10 – they will say that they’re cheerful yet they have trust issues.

    3. More than 50% of the Philippine population barely have access to social networking – those who do just waste their time with online games/useless tsismis. Again, you try to alienate foreigners with your notion of “solidarity” – the reason why nepotism is rampant in this government is due to those “connections.”

    Again, you just waste your time posting trash here.

    ***benign0, you have a typo here: “pewee na yan” (pwede na iyan). Just pointing out.

  3. Very enlightening article and analysis on why we are, what we are…
    An Elephant tied to a string, will not move and free itself from the string…iff (another:if and only if): It thinks itself Captive…remember this is a powerful beast…but its belief (mindset) is self defeating.

    Aquino and the previous Presidents had never understood, the collective mindset of their fellow Filipinos. Our previous Spanish colonizers, called us: “indolent”…you can observe this on Filipino “istambays”, drinking in groups (mga lasengo) around the corner. Filipinos have no sense of “for the good of all” mindset. So, it is every man for himself…politicians steal and become Oligarchs. They produce family political dynasties…to continue their rule and grip to power. Depriving other potentially good leaders; the opportunity to give their best also…

    Can we do, as those succesful and progressive nations have done? Of course, we can…iff, there will be a “Renaisance of Thinking”; a “Renewal of Mindset”; and the “Desire for Excellence”…we can, if not we can even surpass other countries…Filipinos hide and run away from challenges….we are not, like Aquino hiding and running away from stress/turmoil… like in the Luneta Hostage incident. Take those challenges, by the horn…it is the way, we can improve ourselves…it is during the time of hardship, that we grow…

  4. Oh, Benign0, you insult some Filipinos once again by telling them they need a very strict and cruel thing called rigour. 😛 It’s something Filipinos hate, because that means they have to be careful, thoughtful and calculating about their efforts. In other words, they have to think and be accountable! Rigour, efficiency… concepts Filipinos would love to shun.

    1. Yes Chino… in the condo where I live some Pinoys can’t even dump trash in the trash chute. They just sweep their hair outside their unit even though they are one meter away from the chute. Heck, when I have opened the door to the chute I have seen a bag on the ledge. They couldn’t even give it a little extra push and let gravity do the work. What is this thinking? The next person will push it for them? No responsibility! That is bizarre. That is the mentality here. Disgusting!

    2. @Chino: Yeah, you think? 😛

      There’s too much appreciation of the trappings of prosperity and very little understanding of the measures needed to achieve and earn those trappings…

    3. Rigour is an alien concept to a people who insist on getting through life by winging it. Rigour also requires discipline. Now mention that to Filipinos and watch the Pinoy crybabies outdo each other over who can whine the loudest, especially about their precious “freedom” being stifled.

      Security – one can’t feel secure in a society where people can’t be trusted to do the right thing, and where people look out for merely themselves and not the greater community.

      Empowerment – one can’t feel empowered in a society where change and innovation are frowned upon, and where people are taught what to think and now how to think.

      Access – a society that is rigid, heavily stratified, reeks of communal distrust, and where the elements all bicker amongst themselves over some sort of perceived individual superiority, closes itself off to real improvement, development, and upward mobility.

    4. Rigour is something Manny Pacquiao lately demonstrated in his victory against Timothy Bradley. Problem with other Pinoys is, they’ll say it’s not rigour… it’s the Pinoy’s “innate ability.” Even our government spokespeople have sadly propagated that baloney. If they further encourage that Filipinos have “innate ability” to be good at anything, then Filipinos will lose interest in developing discipline and rigour. Then the “innate-talent”-believing Filipinos will find out the hard way – being a winner isn’t innate. It comes from work.

      1. The Pinoy’s “innate abilities” are the ff:

        1. Getting butthurt over the truth
        2. Too emotional
        3. Tend to repeat their mistakes
        4. Having too much ego yet can’t back-up their own words
        5. Tends to go substandard over quality of work (“Pwede na iyan!”)
        6. No sense of trust

        The list goes on and on…

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