If we are to believe President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III and his minions, the Philippines’ only hope for a bright future is to continue the “reform” agenda set in motion by the current administration. But of course they will say that — because the current party in power — the Liberal Party — wants to stay in power. This means assuring that someone from its ranks bags that lucrative seat in Malacanang in 2016.
Whether the effort to remain in power past 2016 is motivated by a genuine concern for the continuity of these reforms or to keep President BS Aquino out of jail is beside the point. The point is, can the Philippines afford to rely on the nebulous notion that keeping on the straight and narrow will get it places?
Funny that we would use the straight path as a metaphor to illustrate the Liberal Party’s key strategic philosophy. Any motorist would know that the idea of staying within your road lane in order to get from point A to B (like one would be able to in better-designed roads in the First World) in Metro Manila is a foolish dream. You need to actively swerve, cut-off slower sods, and muscle your way into positions of advantage over the entirety of your road trip in Manila. People who follow the rules don’t get anywhere (or end up arriving at their destinations two hours late).
The reality is that to get to the top involves not just going with the flow and being told how to do things. The Philippines has a hell of a lot of catching up to do. Incremental gains from “reform” that merely tinkers at the fringes of the status quo will not cut it if Filipinos are to aspire big. What Singapore achieved — to get from Third World to First World — within a single generation takes progress in leaps and bounds.
In short, keeping to the straight-and-narrow, which essentially means merely doing no wrong will only get you so far — perhaps only just enough to keep the Philippines falling further behind. If Filipinos aspire to catch up and overtake the likes of Thailand and Malaysia (who were, just a decade or two ago its developmental peers in the region), it has to find the bumpier curvier road to traverse at twice the speed.
There you go.
See, nothing worth achieving is easy. The trouble is, merely being compliant with the law is already an immense challenge for Filipinos who are, at a fundamental level, habitual law-breakers. For other more progressive societies, being compliant with the law already serves as the baseline. What does that say? The straight-and-narrow should be seen as Point Zero. Progress on top of the straight-and-narrow is when we get to the positives. At the moment, the Philippines is in the negative and trying to get to Point Zero. There is nothing “positive” about being in that position. The Philippines is, by all measures, at a negative state, if we use that cold standard of achievement.
The common wisdom amongst ordinary Filipinos eking out a living is that walang yumayaman sa pagiging empleyado (“nobody gets rich by being a mere employee all his life”). At some point you gotta take a big risk, get around to being your own boss and do things your way in order to start raking in the big bucks. The Philippines needs to do the equivalent of that. Muddling along in mediocrity and even achieving Point Zero levels of “development” won’t turn it into another Singapore. Filipinos need to innovate and churn out original ideas, products, and services that will differentiate it on a crowded planet.
That is the challenge a true leader needs to issue to his countrymen — not that Daang Matuwid that only serves to pander to that all-too-familiar Loser Mentality that imprisons Filipinos minds.
It is time Filipinos (1) find that sort of leader and (2) take the initiative to challenge themselves with aspirations to higher standards of achievement.
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