Patronage politics will ruin the Philippines just like it ruined President Noynoy Aquino

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 Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew could not understand why Filipinos fail to progress despite their wealth of talent.
The late Singapore leader Lee Kuan Yew could not understand why Filipinos fail to progress despite their wealth of talent.
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.

Padrino system at work: President BS Aquino and former PNP chief Alan Purisima
Padrino system at work: President BS Aquino and former PNP chief Alan Purisima
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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18 Comments on “Patronage politics will ruin the Philippines just like it ruined President Noynoy Aquino”

  1. Ilda, aren’t you missing the elephant in the room here: the reason the padrino system exists in the first place? It happens in every country where The Other is guaranteed to screw you over.

    The Filipino’s natural instinct is to mistrust, cheat, or otherwise bring down anyone outside the family (he would do well to mistrust his own family too, but that’s another story). He does that because every other family will do the same to HIM, given the chance. This is the source of the “close families” myth.

    The Philippines is not the only place this happens. Southern Italy is famous for it, as are a lot of South American states. The result is exactly the same.

    Life is not a zero-sum game. Co-operation is what makes developed countries developed. Unless the country can shed this ridiculous need to hurt the person living or working next to them, the padrino system will remain a completely logical one.

    1. Why do we mistrust so? Is it because Filipinos are simply hardwired to prefer dishonesty and indolence? No, we mistrust one another because we know that a Filipino will not keep his word, break contracts, come up with shoddy work. That and because our culture simply disrespects laws (contracts are considered laws as well, albeit binding only between contracting parties) – we simply have a culture where a man’s word is not enough and we cannot count on anyone to enforce simple rules.

      In the end, the bottom line is that it is our culture thats causing the problem. How can we deal with this then? Simply put, all of us has to do their share. Work, don’t make promises you can’t keep, follow simple rules (traffic rules, don’t build on property that isn’t yours, don’t spit and piss on the roads), make sure you give your best possible output in your job, be humble, don’t make so much noise at nighttime, show courtesy to others (ex. Falling in line), widen your knowledge (read, experiment, tinker).

      1. Right. They mistrust because they have been given many, many good reasons to mistrust. But it’s a vicious cycle, and it’s almost impossible to break. You can’t just tell people to start co-operating: there has to be some kind of punishment for people who break contracts etc. At the moment, people do it because they know full well that they can get away with it, and may even be praised for doing so.

    2. @marius

      I did say patronage politics promotes mistrust in Philippine society. And I didn’t say it only exists in the Philippines. The problem is, the whole country is run like the mafia.

  2. Good article! I’d say he has already passed the point of treason but that’s just me. From the very start, buying the new Porsche til now, he has proven to be incompetent. The rationale of those who voted for him was “well, he can appoint smart people…”. What kind of logic is that? First, they knowingly elect a person who they KNOW is not capable to do the job and second, they think he will at least be smart enough to hire people smarter than himself! Absurd logic! In my opinion, the ONLY reason he is still in Office is because he allows corruption to thrive within the AFP. Maybe that’s one lesson he learned from watching the mistakes of his mother; keep the Generals happy and stay in Office.

    1. Thanks, Jetlag807!

      PNoy is now unapologetic about defending the MILF. He even likens them to the great people of Japan who worked hard to earn the world’s respect. Meanwhile, even without feeling remorse for their atrocities, the MILF is getting a free pass and some more freebies from PNoy.

  3. Patronage politics has already ruined the county. I don’t think “will” is the appropriate word here.

    Again there is absolutely no hope for the slave nation.

  4. If we are ever to hit the ‘Developed Country’ milestone, we are bound to have similar problems as most countries in Southern Europe (i.e. Portugal, Spain, and Italy) are facing: lack of jobs, a corrupt government, a very high national debt, etc. Everything seems to be connected within our predominantly Catholic mindset.

  5. What hope there is might require us to completely replace the system we have in place. It might be difficult at first but it will be better than digging ourselves deeper.

    1. My former professor once said, “Para mawala ang korapsyon sa bansa, dapat mamatay lahat ng Pilipino ngayon at magsimula ulit sa umpisa.”

      Of course that’s ridiculous. But maybe, just maybe, we really needed our own Cultural Revolution.

  6. Noon nakatira ako sa bansang Pinas, the Philippines gave me absolutely no reason to hope (and I mean genuine ratonal hope, not vain or desperate emotional hope) for it than this:

    You all exist. The Pinoys commenting on this article and the author exist. One person in a thousand is aware of the nightmare of the system. Ang nagiisang pag-asa para sa bansa niyo, ay kung mapapaniwala niyo ang mga kabansa na kailangan nilang magbago.

    I know how impossible this is. I know how deaf the ears will be that your words will fall upon; I’ve spoken to them as well with even less credibility as I’m American. To call a pinoy out on his faults is unacceptable, NAKAKAWALANG HIYA!

    But its the only way. Otherwise the commenters who have said it already are correct, and there is no hope.

  7. Padrino system or Patronage Politics breeds the “Culture of Corruption and Incompetence”. It is not “what you know” that gets you in a good position in the government. It is “Whom you know”…

    Trapos need this Patronage Politics; to ensure their election in offices, and their re-elections. They need followers, who are indebted to them, who have the “utang na loob” mentality.

    The “Gel” to hold Filipinos is Facing Our Realities, and remove what does not work in our political system…

    The Solvent is the Exodus of talented Filipinos to foreign countries, where they are welcomed and appreciated. Aquino , himself is the one encouraging talented Filipinos to migrate to other countries. The Philippine economy would sink, if there are no foreign money remittances of us, OFW…BRAIN DRAIN will continue…

  8. There is almost no region in the Failippines where it is not essential to know to which tribe, or which subgroup of which tribe, whoever their BS president belongs. From this single piece of information you can trace the lines of patronage and allegiance that define the state.

    1. Apology accepted. I apologise in advance too if I have keep pointing out the error in supporting his candidacy in my future articles. There are still a lot of people who refuse to acknowledge their mistake. Their arrogance continue to divide the nation.

  9. Great article! This president is as incompetent as his allies! He’s been put to office just because of his parent’s popularity, and not because he’s deserving. By the way, what are his parents noble contributions to the country really? Huhhhmmm! And now he’s promoting yet another incompetent BS. For what? To make sure he’d still get his fair share or to continue the well-praised “incompetence” set by his office? C’mon. Wake up people!

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