Much has been said about how the appalling work conditions, low pay, and stifling congestion in the Philippines is driving away its most talented workers. But what seems to be the biggest put-off for the greatest Filipino minds is the intellectual bankruptcy that prevails in Philippine society. Much has also been said about technology being the silver bullet that will rescue the world’s people from the ravages of ignorance. We have come to embrace this idea and now take it for granted. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate its validity. The Philippines offers a perfect laboratory to do just that.
The Philippines, as many of its noted ‘thought leaders’ like pointing out, is the world’s “social networking capital” pulling a whopping 93.9 percent of its population into Facebook…
Social network penetration is incredibly high in the Philippines, reaching 95%. Facebook is the country’s most popular website, more so than Google, and has a penetration rate of 93.9%. The Philippines is also the eighth most popular country for Twitter use on a global scale, with a penetration rate of 16.1%. The popularity of photo sharing has increased by 46% in the country in one year, largely due to Facebook. Social networking is so popular among Filipinos, the country has been nicknamed “The Social Networking Capital of the World.”
But does more social media activity and more chatter translate to increased collective intelligence?
Back in 2000 before the rise to Web dominance of social networking, when most Filipinos (and much of the rest of the world) accessed the Net via dial-up, an “admired Filipino economist, based in New York” made this observation of the Philippine National ‘debate’:
“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.
That was 14 years ago. Have things changed now that 93.9 percent of Filipinos are now networked together into a Borgesque collective of digital chatter and sharing?
One quick way to answer that question is to examine the products of the Philippines’ “democratic” exercises — its popularly-elected president and members of Congress.
Current Philippine President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III is credited as the first Philippine president who made full use of social media in his campaign (following in US President Barrack Obama’s footsteps as the free world’s most famous pioneer in that field). Thus, one can say that President BS Aquino, like President Obama, is a product of modern crowdsourcing. We qualify our use of the concept of crowdsourcing here with “modern” because democracy is the oldest form of crowdsourcing. For the benefit of the millenials amongst our readers, it is worth reminding that people did manage to vote without machines back in the old days. Indeed, a show of hands amongst members of a Neanderthal clan gathered in a cave 500,000 years ago to determine whose buffalo wall painting was the coolest was perhaps the first human democratic exercise.
So does President BS Aquino, as a product of a more “technologically-enabled” Philippine “democracy”, represent an improvement on the intellectually-bankrupt national debate cited by that New York economist 14 years ago? For that matter does the quality of the Filipino people’s representation in their Congress of popularly-elected Senators and congressmen reflect the much-touted intelligence-enhancing properties of 21st Century social networking technology?
Suffice to say, since that seminal 2000 article, those once insightful questions have been reduced to the merely rhetorical, now that the answers to them have become quite obvious.
Nonetheless, we continue to latch on to the idea that more chatter, more information, and more “sharing” necessarily makes a people more intelligent. The “wisdom of the crowd” continues to be a buzzword and the mantra du jour of the country’s social media mavens. The height of this frenzy to find political wisdom in Internet chatter was most felt during the key defining event in President BS Aquino’s presidential term — the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona. In that quaint exercise, the wisdom of the Filipino crowd was tapped at every step and component of the process. Popularly-elected “Senator-Judges” composed the “court”. Popularly-elected House Representatives composed the “prosecution”. And the media (operating within the framework of their popularity-equals-profit business models) became the key sources of “evidence”.
At the height of this 2012 circus, noted “journalist” Raissa Robles sang hymns praising the quality of evidence against Corona that emerged from her efforts to crowdsource her throngs of fans. And coming out of nowhere just in time for the event was Rappler.com, Maria Ressa’s groundbreaking “social news network” site. The hipster “journalists” of Rappler proceeded to contribute to the overall “crowdsourcing” effort already led by Robles and lead prosecutor Niel Tupas Jr to bury Corona’s defense team (led by the late great Serafin Cuevas) in dubious, often illegally-obtained evidence.
Just about every legal mind in the country watched in horror as the Senate and House of Representatives, supported by All the President’s [Wo]men in Philippine Media made a mockery of the Philippines’ legal profession, all to further the President’s pet project…
Complicit in this project to morph Corona’s impeachment into the national embarrassment that it is today was a very “cooperative” Philippine mainstream media mob that, parroted to its vacuous audience just about every press release made by the prosecution team. It will be interesting to see if there will be any rectification made on the volumes of “news reports” issued by this small inbred clique of freedom of speech “champions”.
Most ironic of all is the prosecution allegation that Corona “betrayed the public trust”. It is evident now that it had been the House-Media-Malacanang political complex that did just that — a deliberate wholesale misleading of an entire nation. Not only was the chief magistrate of the Republic subjected to a trial that made even the Senate look like a bunch of chumps, the privacy of a number of people caught in the LRA database search dragnet mounted by Diaz were also violated.
We are happy to report to the Noted Filipino New-York-Based Economist that, in 2012 (despite the awesome might of 21st Century social media technology coming into play), the wrong arguments won in the Philippines.
And they still do.
A multitude of problems that beg obvious solutions continue to fester in the Philippines. Traffic has never been so bad. Yet abusive — often criminal — public transport operators and drivers continue to lord it over the Philippines’ roads and highways.
The Philippine media, often cited as the key to enlightening the Philippines’ throngs of ignoramous masses, continues to churn out braincell-killing teleserye, moronic noontime variety shows, and unoriginal, mediocre cinema — horsemanure that Filipinos worldwide gleefully consume that nonetheless delivers megabucks for enormous multinational conglomerates like ABS-CBN.
Most recent is the so-called “activism” surrounding the pork barrel scam — focusing on the trivial (various Napoles Lists cleverly fielded to distract small minds) and ignoring the relevant (a proper and scientific criminal investigation mounted by qualified professional investigators). Vacuous ideas and slogans continue to prevail in the Philippine “activist” scene, seriously misleading the public and sending even the most educated of people on wild goose chases.
And so it comes across as no surprise that smart Filipinos leave.
Then again, to be fair, perhaps the really smart ones stay and beaver away in the background raking in huge profits on the back of an enormous market for goods and services created by mind-numbing stupidity on a national scale. One need not look too far and hard for examples of these brilliant idiopreneurs. All of the top accounting firms in the Philippines have thriving practices geared towards helping gold clients get around the country’s decrepit tax regime. Manufacturers and distributors of advertising paraphernalia routinely make a killing during elections. Technology consultants laugh all the way to the bank advising the government on how to computerise its political exercises and selling the hardware and software to make this happen. And Philippine Banks continue to enjoy the distinction of being the world’s last bastion of traditional Swiss Banking, thanks to the Philippines’ AML-proof bank secrecy laws.
Perhaps it is true that it really is more fun in the Philippines. To make millions in the Philippines, you only really need a mediocre product or service and millions of suckers willing to part ways with their parents’ hard-earned remittances.
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