The brutal business of implementing change in the Philippines

“In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act” – George Orwell

Improving systems and changing cultures invariably starts with looking under the covers, and with brutal honesty sometimes. Self-delusion doesn’t — shouldn’t — feature in corporate life, nor should it in national governance. Would you prefer your taxes be invested in somewhere managed like Microsoft, or to something more akin to a pyramid scheme? A ‘Bill Gates’, or a ‘Janet Lim Napoles’ in charge?

ChangeBeing politically-correct means being politically-gagged. My independent nature doesn’t like that, and nor should any free-thinking individual. Progress can only happen after first understanding the situation and accepting the issues, otherwise people simply revert to being defensive – a natural Filipino trait.

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An external perspective, whilst different and difficult at times, can be useful, even if it only stimulates debate and clear thought as well as broadens the mind. If people just say – ‘negative’, ‘wrong’, – without backing up those assertions, then they are usually indirectly confirming that it is actually right, and that they are simply being resistant to change, and incapable of meaningful input and subsequent discussion.

Change is about self-discovery, ownership, and effort, and not unwrapping a bought-in solution. Those (the lattert) don’t exist anyway. Many here and elsewhere have offered numerous ideas and suggestions and are usually derided – ‘not invented here syndrome’, or ‘they can’t tell us what we should do’. ‘Pnoy is our messiah’. ‘It is god’s will’, ‘what have you done’ etc.

Debate takes maturity and knowledge.

Where are the brightest and best that President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III (PNoy) promised to have in the Cabinet? Seems more like a cosy club of friends, relatives, and shooting buddies.

PNoy’s Tourism Secretary Mon Jimenez says something that encapsulates the development approach of the government: “Nobody invests ahead of demand.” That outlines the national problem in one sentence. No planning, no investment, and incompetent idiots in charge of tourism, infrastructure, and energy among other things.

No wonder brownouts — whether 4 hours or 8 hours — that do not impress investors and tourists, and costs local small micro businesses loss of trade they can ill afford continue.

If we see the Cabinet as already made up of the best assembly of brains that the Philippines can muster, then the country really does need help! Indeed, the brain drain generally is becoming a serious issue and future obstacle to progress.

Education, education, education!

Expert lecturers/centers of excellence!

Technology, engineering, planners!

Innovation, competitive spirit, dynamism!

Of course I can write many positive things, and enjoyed many places and experienced great adventures, and also met wonderful people. But within this context, isn’t that akin to only wanting to hear ‘good news’, and isn’t that part of the ‘cultural’ problem which pervades?

The focus has been on the systems, strategies, style of leadership, structure of politics, skills shortages, shared values (culture), not on individual Filipinos per se, and certainly not on coming up with a public relations piece. So many problems exist in the Philippines precisely because the raw truth is hidden, and honesty is not paramount. ‘Lie and deny’, complicated webs of deceit, confuse, divert, intrigue, sugarcoat everything, endless spin/propaganda etc. Isn’t the pork barrel scam/fiasco a case in point?

PNoy, as expected, touted the Philippines as an economic miracle this week at the World Economic Forum conference, and himself as the reincarnation of John Maynard Keynes. Such a snakeoil salesman approach will do him no favours nor win him any friends amongst hard nosed finance ministers and chiefs, who prefer honesty and facts, to propaganda and fancy. Motherhood statements may work with the Filipino electorate, but seemingly less so as time passes.

If Filipinos (beyond the top 5%) believe that PNoy Aquino is right about his economic miracle and believe the SWS that 70+% of filipinos are happy, including 70% of those surveyed in the Tacloban area post Yolanda, and that Filipinos are reaping the economic benefits then all is wonderful, so no need for aid, or to beg money from tourists.

Honest criticism is a sign of caring, and wanting better for those who cannot always express themselves too well, or too readily. People should campaign for compatriots who are less fortunate, and undertake voluntary work (which I have all my adult life – even in the philippines).

I did not see many passionate and articulate ‘champions for change’, a thriving chamber of debate in the Senate or House, cutting edge think-tanks, politicians writing newspaper articles, the cut and thrust of political debates, or a hunger for progress within the administration. But I repeatedly heard from struggling Filipinos who wanted food, education, healthcare, and more opportunity for their children. I also heard from workers who were experiencing rapid increases in commodity prices, but frozen wages, and the added stress of the contract system which releases them after 5/6 months in order that the company can avoid benefits. Tell me who in government and politics is fighting to change such a crazy and short-sighted policy, or that SM do not allow any union/workers co-operative. This list goes on and on.

Are Senators and congressmen working 18 hours a day every day? Maybe someone should conduct a ‘time and motion’ study on their activities and their effectiveness, and check on the number of overseas trips on expenses. Oh, but no Freedom of Information (FoI). How fortuitous for some.

It is also relevant to ask what sort of country and culture Filipinos actually want. That is for every Filipinos to answer. Being in the big world and moving away from island isolation means being more open to, and welcoming of, diverse and divergent opinions and being somewhat more thick-skinned and self-questioning, rather than instantly defensive. That in itself is a huge cultural change. Do filipinos want to be a truly open, honest, innovative, competitive, and liberal society?

Everything ultimately depends on what type of country and culture filipinos really want, are prepared to be passionate about, and work hard to achieve.
Change is not easy, culture is very complex, but the status quo is not an option if real progress is to be achieved for the benefit of all.

The first step is to be honest and self-critical.

The second step is to stop living so much in the past.

My limited observations, but your country, your choices, your decisions, your responsibility, and your childrens future.

Over to you.

15 Replies to “The brutal business of implementing change in the Philippines”

  1. It’s a matter of the bottom-to-top approach for this country to progress further in terms of economy and their way of thinking (i.e. re-education of the masses by the concerned middle/elite-class). Problem is that those mostly on top would rather manipulate the bottom and the middle-class to suit their needs. And with the media manipulation and the lack of immediate access to real information, this nation is returning to the Dark Ages, only those with money and power would benefit from all of this.

  2. Hallo mate.

    You mentioned education. Apart from that institution, you didn’t mention any other enablers to achieve change.

    We need public policies that create an environment for transformation. For example, the simple expedient of cutting personal income/withholding tax creates for individual citizens greater opportunities for uplifting their economic status.

    The Philippines follows the progressive system of taxation wherein the wealthy is supposed to be taxed more than the less wealthy.

    Unfortunately, our system of taxation punishes the middle income taxpayer who is taxed at rates closer to the wealthy.

    It is not only income taxes that Filipinos suffer. Because everything is taxed, including association dues, the cost of living becomes high. There is VAT on everything, which raises prices of goods and services. That brings the individual tax rate to 32 percent.

    Meanwhile countries like Singapore and Hong Kong have much lower tax rates. Singapore’s personal income tax rate is from two to 20 percent. The corporate income tax rate is a flat rate of 17 percent regardless of whether it is a local or foreign company. Hongkong’s salary tax rate is two to 17 percent. The tax rate for corporations is 16.5 percent. Property tax is 15 percent. Both these countries have the highest per capita income in the region and both have a much higher GDP than the Philippines.

    1. Thanks JS
      Nice to raise the bar!

      I agree.

      I did know hardworking, capable people in philippines in what would be perceived as a decent job getting a paltry 12,000 pesos a month, but circa 8,500 pesos after tax and deductions. People like him were not happy, felt used, felt no-one listened/cared, could hardly afford to live, and will be on the first possible boat/plane out of the philippines. That was what he and his friends were trying for. Sad, but who can blame them. Losing the best/people with right attitude is long term economic suicide – but there is always the ofw remittances – the cash cow of the philippine economy! And ofw’s are far away and don’t have a voice – certainly not those on 100 hours a week ( in contract for housemaids in middle east!!)
      Maybe the view/policy is if more higher paid/more skilled workers go abroad = higher wages abroad than ofw = more remittance per ‘middle class’ ofw.or (pofw) professional class ofw.

      The other tax issue is that because the wealthy and often self-employed do not pay their honest amount – if at all – an added burden is passed down. The wealthly do a deal with the local tax inspector. Many self-employed professionals rightly think taxes will be stolen and use that as the reason not to pay. The poor stay in the black/underground cash/no tax economy.
      The politicians steal half the rest. Not much actually left, except a tax squeeze in the middle.

      In some economies the top 10% tax payers account for circa 50% of all tax revenue. Not in philippines – it favours the rich so the gap/inequality will inevitably not only continue but increase dramatically.( couldnt quickly find how much top 10 pay in philippines but have seen before and a very low proportion which should by reason be the opposite in a poorer country)

      And the top 500 tax list from BIR speaks volumes in itself. Only 25 of 40 richest filipinos are in top 500 taxpayer list! Disgraceful. Should be required reading for filipinos.

      Not difficult to work out what income is required to have multiple houses and cars and educate children abroad.
      No problem if those people are creating jobs/generating wealth/ paying taxes etc but they don’t seem to be.
      Or budding high tech millionaires with innovative products to market to the world

      And 60,000 ngo’s in philippines. How many are really corporation soles to escape tax completely.

      Its a mess. And the answer is not to squeeze, and demotivate, the middle classes, or penalise entrepreneurs, but as you say encourage start ups etc particularly in key areas and spread employment to needed geographic areas with supporting skills education/regional centers of excellence

      But also not give too much away/too many incentives to the large foreign corporates – a delicate balance, but if you offer free rent for 2 years, no/low tax etc, it can of course attract in the short term – a buying jobs policy – but when the perks run out they can switch it off and easily relocate, especially since their cash investment is actually very little in capital terms due to 60/40 and inability to buy land. Am referring particularly to some BPO deals.

      BIR has its issues but parades little fish for propaganda and no structural reform, or integrated systems as far i know.

      As it was explained to me

      Not collected at all 30 units
      Total target collection 100
      Lost to P barrel/corrupt 40
      Lost to bureaucratic ineffic 10

      Spent/invest/services 50 ex 130

      60%+ lost/wasted/not collected
      Now the difference if full collection would be staggering and it was fully spent efficiently
      Reduce tax rates
      Create jobs
      Improve service & education
      Invest infrastructure

      Pnoy pork barrel in 2015 – 1 trillion – 50% of budget – and cannot even be audited. I don’t foresee any change but a lot of pre-election ‘spending’

  3. I agree the key for change is brutal honesty and also a willingness to change.

    The harsh reality is evident as the Philippines deteriorate to the point of progressing backwards.

    The hard thing is that there are too many flaws that could potentially be fixed but all of them contribute to such a broken state of what is suppose to be a democratic republic.

    The majority acts like a hermit crab and with a crab as reference. It is easy for Filipinos to resist change.

    To make any progress, you have to seek out the hurdles then confront it and make the effort as well to change it and in the case of the Philippine tragedy cycle, you have to implement them until the goal has been met.

    Nobody likes to admit that they needed to change but the fact is that all of us have to do this no matter who, when or where you are. And if you can’t even do this simple path then who is controlling your life? And Don’t give me religion or the some higher up to do it for you.

    For the 2 steps, I know that I am not ignorant of my country’s pain and yet the past can only explain what we should do for the future.

  4. Our Choices…indeed, it is…
    It is a thought provoking article…we, Filipino GRP Bloggers want change for our country…the question is: who is courageous enough to come forward to lead the change?

    We have a Feudal Oligarchy government. We have political family dynasties…we have a culture of political patronage…we have a culture of corruption.

    Our leaders have too many baggages on themselves…baggages of self interest; that they will fight, tooth and nails for any change.

    Tske Aquino, for example…his family owns the Hacienda Luisita, which is almost 70% of his Province of Tarlac. He has tenants working on his huge land (the way they acquire this land is still in question)…Did he and his mother inplemented Land Reform? NO, Sir…they defeated the Land Reform Program. Almost all of our leaders, are “Hacienderos” or owners of huge tracts of lands. The Roman Catholic Church, is even owner of huge tracts of Friar Lands (lands acquired in exchange for soul salvation)…

    This example can show , what any Filipino is facing; if he wants to implement change. The Forces of “status qou” are strong…they are well entrenched…they hold the Media…they hold financial institution…and they hold power in our country…

  5. Oh…those YellowTard Hackers are playing with me again…somebody posted this comment for me; before , I was able to correct it…

  6. The Philippines – positivity

    I think it is always important to try to turn negative thoughts into positive actions – including mine. And rather than tell it as i see it, it is better to ask how it really is, and inquire what could and should be done to drive the Philippines forward, or what is already being done, and maybe not so well publicised.

    My objective when i came to the Philippines was to help in whatever small way i could. 18 months later i left, a bit ‘stir crazy’, but still have the desire to help, for personal reasons, and because i prefer positive conclusions.

    My article on the Philippines stimulated passion. That is good.

    The tone of the article, for non GRP regulars especially, was harsh. That was bad

    The real objective is improvement. That is agreed

    The issues necessitate honesty. That is difficult

    The debate requires maturity. That is expected

    The solution to a problem. That is needed

    I would be very interested to hear any thoughts on any of the points below. With passion yes, anger no!

    – What do you see as the main barriers to faster progress in the Philippines?

    – How would you describe Philippine culture/identity?

    – if you were in charge, what would be your priority bills?

    Over to you.


    1. My thoughts on the questions:
      1. Self – preservation, mostly around the totem pole effect.
      2. The Philippine culture/identity is a lost pearl among the sea. There is no innovation and cooperation among our fellow citizens. Instead it is a source of too many egos fighting for something trivial/useless.
      3. Then the goal would be that the entire country is being benefited. No one is excluded to all the progress and dreams that every Filipino should aim for. The ‘utang na loob’ maybe in place but I will be biased in using it because we need competent people to run a country.

  7. “Progress can only happen after first understanding the situation and accepting the issues, otherwise people simply revert to being defensive – a natural Filipino trait.” – You lost me there. In any case, I am sensing just as much defensiveness in the article.

    1. By the way, I didn’t know you were referring to “shared culture” when you made references like Schizophrenic masochists with borderline personality disorder (females)/ narcissistic personality disorder (males), and that you were trying to effect changes. Guess it was just my defensiveness making me unable to see clearly. In any case, thanks for caring.

      1. In the spirit of Libertas’ writing style, no less. I do like to reciprocate. Do I have to apologize for that too? God, I’m running out of apologies. phew!

        1. Apologise for what? No one asked you for an apology. What do you have to be sorry for?

        2. Oh! Thought I sensed condescension there, hence the reaction. My apologies if you did not intend any (without sarcasm this time. hahah!).

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