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.
That’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.
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