The Philippines is too big a country for Filipinos to govern on their own

It’s no wonder the government fatally screwed up to the tune of 44 dead Special Action Force police officers last January — and even more baffling that Filipinos are actually shocked that such a monumental foul up could actually occur in the Philippines of all places. The operation involved lots of coordination, up-to-the-minute planning, and lots and lots of communication. Does the Philippine government and the bigger Philippine society that it both governs and is a reflection of actually possess a strong track record of organising things at that scale?


Look no further than the traffic armageddon that happened as a result of yesterday’s celebration of the 29th anniversary of the 1986 ‘people power’ “revolution”. Total chaos all over the city. Each agency did what it thought was right — each action an outcome of the internal thinking process within each bureaucracy. Malacanang had its fear-of-the-boss agenda. The police had received its myopic orders. Businesses went on with the business of making money. And various ‘activist’ movements went off to what they thought was going to be an open street party.

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imperial_manilaThat’s just Metro Manila, where, to begin with, traffic is always gridlocked thanks to Filipinos’ aversion to the obvious solutions staring them in the face.

If you think about it, nobody really expects much of anything conceived, planned, and executed by Filipinos. You can see it in the way everything organised and built in the Philippines become crumbling derelict monuments to stupidity within just a couple of years. Roads are potholed within months of their construction. Buildings and infrastructure all over the city are gray eyesores coated in foul soot. Public facilities like airports and train stations are just a couple of notches above public latrines in terms of pleasantness. Sidewalks are cracked urine-stained impromptu public markets and squatter hotels.

Politics are another example. In most normal countries, a common enemy or a nationwide disaster is often enough to get all parties whether in power or in Opposition singing off the same page and taking up unified positions to respond to the threat. Not in the Philippines. Tribal affiliations and deals amongst chieftains hands down trump state interests any time.

Nick Joaquin in his timeless piece A Heritage of Smallness summed up the historical roots of the Philippine Condition quite eloquently…

The barangay settlements already displayed a Philippine characteristic: the tendency to petrify in isolation instead of consolidating, or to split smaller instead of growing. That within the small area of Manila Bay there should be three different kingdoms (Tondo, Manila and Pasay) may mean that the area wa originally settled by three different barangays that remained distinct, never came together, never fused; or it could mean that a single original settlement; as it grew split into three smaller pieces.

Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it become two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions i always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity.

Even amongst the country’s relatively more disciplined communities in its police and armed forces, this Filipino condition manifests itself — an aversion to working together that often proves appallingly fatal.

Not surprisingly, Nick Joaquin’s prognosis is quite dim…

Because we cannot unite for the large effort, even the small effort is increasingly beyond us. There is less to learn in our schools, but even this little is protested by our young as too hard. The falling line on the graph of effort is, alas, a recurring pattern in our history. Our artifacts but repeat a refrain of decline and fall, which wouldn’t be so sad if there had been a summit decline from, but the evidence is that we start small and end small without ever having scaled any peaks. Used only to the small effort, we are not, as a result, capable of the sustained effort and lose momentum fast. We have a term for it: ningas cogon.

And so, in the aftermath of yet another vastly-diminished EDSA anniversary celebration, we ask ourselves again

What specifically can our hopes for a better Philippines in the future be pinned on?

The recurring theme no longer seems to be “freedom”. The Philippines’ decline to the wretchedness of its present state since 1986 proves that a lack of “freedom” had nothing to do with Philippine poverty. More to the point, freedom has only made Filipinos inherent divisiveness even more stark — as if the 1986 “revolution” had undone almost two centuries of unification, first under the Spaniards, then under the Americans.

Indeed, in the hands of Filipinos, the Philippines came apart within several decades despite centuries as a unified colony under Spain and the United States.

Analyse that.

22 Replies to “The Philippines is too big a country for Filipinos to govern on their own”

  1. One has to wonder: If japan had won World War II, would the Philippines be better off now ? If Japan had won and still become the society they are today, it may have been far better off.

    Perhaps if the United States had guided the Philippines during the aftermath of World War II, it would not be so screwed up. Certainly it would be a far cry different had the United States retained it as a US colony…..

    1. if Japan had won, the Philippines would have got stuck with a lot of Jap-Fil war babies! Japanese Men love filipina’s, but their society…not so much.

      the 2nd paragraph tells me how little you understand what happened in the Philippines in the first 20 yrs. post WW2,I mean…WOW !
      Your kidding,yes?

      1. During worldwar II everytime the Japanese arrives on Philippine towns the concerned citizens would shout to their neighbours “The japs are coming, hide your daughters.” But these days everytime the Japanese are arriving on Philippine towns everyone shouts to their neighbours “The Japs are coming, display your daughters!”

    2. United States will never guide us the correct way. their plan is to make our country their last state / territory. if they can’t conquer us by force/armed conflict, they colonized us in our minds. hence we tend to look for them again and again. always following them. to the point that one of my friend said, “i think it’s better if U.S made us one of their state.” His a product of colonial mentality.
      can’t even blame him though. we need to have a 2nd marcos but a polished one. a better one with no corruption in his heart. to instill proper discipline like a japanese parent to his sons/daughters but not to the point of harakiri. lol. peace out.

  2. Solution: Let each region govern itself,step back, and watch all the people at the top kill each other as they try to seize power from each other.

    Result?:thinning of the over-populated dynastic is one way to get rid of at least some of them.

    1. Wouldn’t sit well with the Catholic Church which the powers may be are in bed with. Despite being afflicted with the sane malaise of corruption, the Church still has to keep up appearances as a “peacekeeper.”

  3. I disagree.The Philippines is not too big of a country to govern; we’re just too centralized. Promdi people like me call it ‘Imperial Manila’. Every major decision that is made at the province would have to go through Manila. A proverb in bisaya echoes this sentiment: “Wa’y dahong mahulog sa atung nasud nga di mananghid sa Malacañang” (“No leaf will fall in our country without Malacañang’s permission.”).

    As a Filipino born and raised outside Metro Manila, the influence of Imperial Manila is felt in our life. The valedictorian in our class in high school attended college in Manila because they had the best college education even though there are a lot of prestigious universities located outside Manila. The best athletes in our city especially basketball, in our city would play in a UAAP or NCAA school. Even the premier sports-league in our country The PBA are solely based in Manila. The news we hear, listen and read are mostly events that are happening in Manila. Our way of life revolves around Manila.

    The form of government right now does not suit to country with 7,107 islands. That form of gov’t is the one that we ditched 115 years ago; Federalism. If the Philippines are a federal republic, Congressmen and Senator would not be debating the BBL right now and capable leaders like Duterte would not be shunned as much.

    1. i’m with you for this. my mom is visaya and my dad is tagalog. i grew up here in metro manila. but i agree that federalism will correct the country. why make the MRT issue become country’s problem when it was a problem only for the NCR?
      probably the national govt. knows only the side-effect of federalism. however, i thought to myself, the country was a unitary system for so long a time but still we can’t progress as a nation economically? i think it’s time to give federalism a try.
      let’s go parliamentary as well. so that there’s no executive head who is being played and controlled like a puppet.

      If Mayor Duterte will run for the office, i will vote for him.

  4. Unless Filipinos realize what’s in it for them, they will never care to aspire big and achieve things as one nation, country, state, or whatever you can classify the Philippines. They are fine with working with their own kind, whatever that one wishes to associate with, either by family or by culture. Thus exists the term “angkan-angkan”, and this breeds unnecessary antagonism with each other, like how people show contempt to another due to religious (e.g. Catholics against other Christian Churches) or cultural (e.g. “Imperial Manila” against the rest of the Philippines) differences.

    If only Filipinos learn to see beyond their differences, that is to say, to actually recognize the merit of one to contribute to the greater society, only then will they be capable to unite and work towards a goal.

  5. It was the “Divide and Rule” tactic of the Spaniards that contributed more to the disunification of the Filipinos.

    Present Filipino politicians take advantage of this mindset; by becoming Warlords of certain: town, province, city, barangay,etc…

    Just look at the many political parties, without any political and economic plans offered to electorates. They run for public offices, without any Clues of how to run their offices. The people elects them…and they rule by Trial and Error, like Aquino…

    I have never seen such kind of political stupidity..

  6. Freedom sadly doesn’t work when a person doesn’t know what to do with themselves. Or even if they did, they make no plans or figure out the intelligent decisions from the bad ones.

    Case in point, not too long ago, a woman who was freed from modern-day slavery thanks to court intervention. In the end, the woman ended up coming back to that slave lifestyle simply because she doesn’t know any way of life other than that.

    Such is the case in the Philippines.

    1. correct. that’s why Mayor Duterte knows exactly what needs to be done in his area of control. his current solution: a little bit of Feudalism. In this way, the mayor can educate the minorities (poor people). hence, they are guided.

  7. Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.

  8. Any entity, whether country or family, will be too big for people with small minds. Because these small minds tend to think of themselves rather than the good of all.

  9. A bit hard to “think big” and be willing to contribute to build something bigger, when just about everyone is looking to shake you down for something. Kung di BIR, yung LTO, kung di LTO, yung LGU, kung di LGU, iba naman ahensya.

  10. Let me re-quote Rizal: “Why independence, if the slaves of today become the tyrants of tomorrow?” It was a deadly, prophetic prediction.

    However I think the title of this article is quite misleading. It should be: The Philippines is too big a country to be govern solely by a SINGLE CITY.

    I’ll echo the sentiments of some provincianos here. Vesting too much power in Manila is wrong. No wonder only a few places in Visayas and Mindanao supported the Philippine Revolution. Because most Visayans and Mindanaoans feared that they’ll just replace Spanish hegemony with a Tagalog one. They wanted equal power sharing. They want Cebu, Bacolod, Davao, etc to be equally important and prosperous as Manila was. Heck just look at the United States: the most easily remembered cities are LA, NY, Chicago, San Diego, etc. Where’s Washington DC? Probably near the bottom of the list.

    Did you catch my drift?

    1. From what I heard, many elites within the provinces themselves are already disregarding laws and also doing massive loads of corruption. So corruption is not just limited to the central city, but everywhere, since abusive elite are found in all provinces.

      1. Exactly.

        If the provinces have a chance to govern themselves, it will teach the local politicians a thing or two about governance. If a province fucked up, it won’t be Manila’s fault. And the people there won’t just sit their on their asses as the neighboring provinces prosper while theirs are still stuck in purgatory. Sooner or later, they’ll demand their local leaders to do better.

        Just my 2 cents.

    2. correct. Federalism needs to be done now in our country. and if the govt won’t allow it, then they better give more economic freedom to the 14 regions. 60/40. un lang naman ang problema. economy. the malacanang would just retain AFP/PNP control.
      parliament na rin tayo. para wala nang puking-inang congress na yan. puro fat basterds ang mga naka-upo dyan save only the good people. Presidential System will never work in our country really. pwede ring may President at Prime Minister. the PM can deal with internal affairs and the Pres. can go outside the country for internatoinal relations and sh!t. pwede ring 3 states: luzon, visayas, mindanao with Deputy PMs for visayas and mindanao. problema sa govt hindi sila creative. lol.

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