Ultimately this is really the only question that really matters. There is no disputing the fact that the Philippines must change. The alternative? Well, that’s really up to Filipinos. If the Philippines does not change, it will continue along its current path. It would be a matter of being content with that course and the future it will bring.
If the alternative to not changing dooms Filipinos to a bleak future, why aren’t Filipinos readily embracing opportunities to change? The answer to this question involves simple economics. To change, you need to invest. To invest you need to be assured a return on that investment. The trouble with the prospectus of change at a national scale is that Filipinos are very skeptical that any of the benefits of macro change will ever trickle down to their dinner tables or bank accounts.For example, much of what any one of a number of governments that have ruled the Philippines over the last several decades touts as “achievement” involves “economic growth”. Economic growth measured by a number such as the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) constitutes a macro change in a country’s circumstances. However, the tough thing about macro change is making it relevant to ordinary citizens. To the average Filipino eking out a living in her mnimum wage factory job or even a garden-variety white collar worker who wastes three of his precious waking hours everyday stuck in traffic, those numbers are meaningless.
And so, an investment at an individual to change at an individual level becomes an exteremely hard thing to sell. Try telling that worker to work harder and “smarter” to contribute to improving national manufacturing productivity and you’ll get a glazed look back. Try telling that office worker stuck in traffic to observe traffic rules and be more courteous on the road and you’ll likely get punched in the face.
What’s in it for me?
Why should Filipinos care about “doing their part” to contribute to the national effort? Indeed, there is no evidence of such civic ethic in Philippine society. Big walls separate the rich and middle class from the poor. Shiny cars cocoon their occupants from Manila’s corrosive atmosphere. Losts of heat removed from airconditioned homes and offices are routinely blown into the faces of Manila’s wretched sweating majority. The poor, in turn, feeling they have been left to their devices to make good use of the public areas the rich and middle class have fenced out of their enclaves and turned an apathetic eye to progressively annex vast tracts of these lands and facilities into their rapidly-expanding colonies and foul up vital transportation channels (including critical waste disposal channels) with their refuse.
Surprisingly, notwithstanding all the loud complaints about traffic, inefficiency, and corruption that are fielded all over social media from their ranks, the rich and middle class for their part have a lot invested in maintaining the status quo. This is why it has proven to be devilishly difficult to extract any kind of unified outrage and indignation out of the leisure and middle classes. They have a lot to lose if a truly disruptive change or reform process kicks off. A real taxation reform program, for example, will hit them hard — specially owners of small- to medium-sized businesses with revenues largely flying underneath the the Bureau of Internal Revenue’s (BIR’s) radar.
Another possible out-of-left-field development would be the rise to power of a politician who truly represents the Filipino masses (as opposed to the traditional ones from the current oligarchy who pay them mere lip service). A true people’s politician will institute reforms where it truly hurts if one happens to be part of the A/B classes. Indeed, the irony here is that though all the loud calls for “reform” come from the educated, so-called “illustrado” classes, this is really a case of rich and middle class people needing to be careful of what they wish for. How much real reform are rich and middle class people willing or able to tolerate? What if this supposedly ideal politician who truly represents the interests of the masses institutes that real taxation reform described earlier to redistribute wealth more “equitably” across society, or starts cracking down on brain-killing telenovelas, or decrees the opening up to public use of roads within private subdivisions, or cracks down on “private armies” including the private security agencies that have been vital to maintaining the peace in gated subdivisions and shopping malls.
Indeed, will the entrenched oligarchy even allow this frightening scenario to transpire? Not likely. They’ve got concessions, sweetheart deals, and other agreements amongst themselves to protect. Just getting pork barrel thieves thrown in jail, for one, has already proven to be a big monumental no-results exercise — precisely because everyone is in on the racket. A real scientific accounting of the thievery mounted will result in nothing short of a class-wide meltdown. Even ex-communists who appear to have gone “legit” and joined the democratic process to become House Representatives have, themselves, become part of the problem. So there is little hope of ever seeing a self-motivated initiative coming from the A/B classes to police their own ranks.
Meanwhile, the entire economy is propped up by the remittances of the Philippines’ vast army of overseas foreign workers (OFWs). Though reports put their contribution to the economy at a number that hovers between 10 and 12 percent of GDP, the impact on the economy may be a lot higher if the flow-on effects of these remittances in terms of the consumption these stimulate may be a lot bigger. OFW reliance is a lot easier than creating wealth — and employment — domestically, which is why OFW addiction is here to stay. It is the easy solution.
The cousin of addiction to foreign employment is addiction to foreign investment. The trouble with the Philippines is that it is not a self-sufficient society. Capability to create and grow indigenous capital (i.e. native technologies, native farming methods, native medical practice, etc.) probably could have sustained a population of a couple-odd million. Instead, the Philippines had grown to an enormous country of 100 million. Much of this population growth is fuelled by foreign capital — which means the Philippines is hopelessly hooked. When you are hopelessly irrevocably hooked on a resource you exert very little control over, you’re pretty much f-cked for life and a slave to whoever controls that resource.
In summary, any initiative to change or “reform” the Philippines will have to address all of the above systemic factors that complicate all those good intentions. Are Filipinos up to the challenge of scaling that tall smooth wall to get to that prosperous future they feel they are entitled to?
Abangan ang susunod na kabanata.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.