The question of what is wrong with the Philippines has baffled both Filipinos and foreigners alike. Some say that corruption and incompetence in government is the root of the problem. Others say that the voters who keep voting for corrupt and incompetent politicians are to blame. Either way, the real reason the country has not progressed despite its potential point to Filipino culture.
The late former Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew had a few things to say about Filipino culture in his book From Third World to First. As an outsider looking in, he noticed that Filipinos had a lot of potential but he just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t reach it. He described Filipino professionals working in Singapore as being as good as their own and even admitted that some Filipino architects, artists, and musicians are more artistic and creative than Singaporeans. Unfortunately, he thinks there is something missing – a gel to hold Philippine society together:
This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. Their workers were English-speaking, at least in Manila. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries.
In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together.
The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations.
What could be the gel that could hold Philippine society together? Or, if we put it another way, what could be that solvent that keeps breaking Filipinos apart? As individuals, we can excel in any endeavor but collectively; Filipinos quite often produce mediocre work for the country. It has something to do with the Filipino people’s inability to acknowledge or even appreciate genuine talent and skill even when it is already right in front of them. It’s part of the reason why a lot of talented Filipinos leave for abroad – to get the recognition they deserve.
In the Philippines, in any project big or small, in the public or private sector, one would more than likely find someone popular or someone well-connected overseeing the job instead of someone who is more qualified to do it. In other words, patronage politics or the padrino system is what’s ruining the country because it doesn’t level the playing field. Instead of uniting Filipinos, it promotes mistrust in Philippine society. Likewise, padrino system results in mediocre output at best and devastating outcome at worst.
A classic example of someone who is a product of the padrino system is Philippine President Benigno Simeon (BS) Aquino. He was a man who was voted into office because of his popular parents. Even those who voted for him admit that they knew he didn’t have the talent nor skill to govern but they relied solely on the notion that he would continue his parents’ so-called “legacy”. Their rationale doesn’t even make sense because his father Ninoy’s only legacy is that of being an outspoken member of the opposition during the Marcos years. As part of the oligarchy, it is hard for some people to imagine if Ninoy would have made a difference had he succeeded in becoming the country’s leader. After all, being good at motherhood statements does not equate to being a good leader. And his mother Cory’s legacy – nepotism, favoritism and incompetence – is something that should have made the voters reject BS Aquino’s candidacy back in 2010.
As a product of the padrino system, it’s no surprise that BS Aquino is also a practitioner of the system. He only assigns friends and allies to sensitive posts in his government. He is also quick to absolve them whenever they get embroiled in controversy. He broke his promise to level the playing field. He wouldn’t have been able to do it without hiring people based on their merits alone. No, he would not have hired someone who did not swear allegiance to the yellow ribbon.
Excessive use of the padrino system has caused BS Aquino’s popularity rating to drop significantly. The public has become disillusioned with his leadership style. The Mamasapano clash between the Special Action Force (SAF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) exposed the fact that he ignored the Ombudsman’s suspension order against his buddy former Philippine National Police Chief Alan Purisima and gave him authority to oversee a major operation while still suspended.
Some people say that we shouldn’t really blame everything on the President. While it is true that the President of the Philippines cannot solve every problem in the country, he becomes a big part of the problem when he starts behaving like the Philippines is his personal fiefdom or in short, a dictator. This is particularly true when his policies and actions are against the law and when they have devastating consequences. Policies that have not been thought through not just divide the sentiments of the people. They can also break the country apart. Yes, the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law comes to mind. Some say the proposed law will eventually result in the country’s loss of sovereignty over parts of Mindanao to foreign forces.
The Philippines is in a difficult situation right now. A common goal is not enough to act as a gel to keep the society together. While most can recognize that BS Aquino’s arrogance and incompetence is already bordering on treason, those who are in influential positions in Philippine society but who are still loyal to the Aquino name are unwilling to do what is right, which is to speak out against him. As long as BS Aquino still has their support, he will continue to be blinded by his misguided sense of what is right for the country.
Sadly, patronage politics or padrino system will eventually ruin the Philippines.
[Thumnail photo courtesy Philippine Canadian Inquirer.]
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