The seeming aversion of Filipinos to large-scale infrastructure projects — the sorts needed to achieve the vast economies of scale needed to compete in the global market likely stems from the Filipinos’ heritage of smallness. This prescient snippet quoted from Nick Joaquin’s seminal piece describes the underlying character of Philippine culture that is at the root of this national affliction…
The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration. We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships. The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean.
Filipinos, quite simply, cannot be bothered to think that far ahead and are entirely focused on the short-term need of scratching in the next morsel of grub to get through his sub-productive day.
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Filipino “economists” habitually screech about a “lack of money” to build stuff. They fail, however, to look deeper into why Filipinos suffer a chronic lack of money — or, in more precise terms, capital. They fail to realise that societies that enjoy a surplus of capital did not achieve that wealth overnight. It is an accumulation of centuries of building upon the rewards of innovation, bold exploration, an enormous appetite for conquest, and the audacity to dream big that motivates the funding of big projects and grand designs.
What the capital-rich world enjoys today is the outcome of a brilliant intellectual tradition and a blood-drenched history of violence. Without a doubt, Filipinos lack the earlier but, one can argue, have a talent for the latter. Indeed, the Philippines remains one of the most violent societies in the world and smaller minds would point out that if war builds wealth then the Philippines would be the richest nation on the planet today. This misses the finer points of what it means to have a talent for violence. The ancestors of what were to become the colonial masters of the world had progressively built a talent for systematically effecting destruction on their enemies. Sadly, the Philippines did not go down the same path.
Over the centuries, the literal bang for buck delivered by better methods to kill the enemy the then-advancing world developed far outstripped those of societies that were to become today’s Third World. Military organisations kept honing their weapons of destruction and death and building the increasingly complex organisations required to wield them — from throwing spears and rocks, to raining arrows launched with bows, to using explosive oxidation processes to launch projectiles at progressively distant targets with increasing accuracy. Winning societies got better at killing the enemy than “dying for their countries”.
That is what a talent for violence is really all about.
As shown above, even in effecting violence on their enemies, the advanced world makes use of capital-intensive methods to which long traditions of scientific and technological achievement contributed progressively. Did we, earlier, mention that slow-brained Filipino “experts” would argue that Filipinos may lack scientific prowess but possess a talent for violence? True at one level. But as usual, they missed the connection between real talent for anything that builds strong nations and intellectual achievement.
What does this have to do with infrastructure development? All the same principles. Military capability is as much a piece of national infrastructure as a road or rail network is. The existence of an ethic of building big things through projects that span years, terms of office, and even generations spells the difference between societies that win big and fail big. Which shoe Philippine society fits is pretty evident in this regard. We can see this in the way critics of any sitting Philippine government have made a cottage “activist” industry out of both microscopic nitpicking and bullhorn screeching about the costs of building infrastructure.
Until Filipinos drop the whole lame act of being bleeding-heart victim-pandering “decent” people and embrace the killer instinct to succeed in a competitive dog-eat-dog world where winners win big and losers get crushed under the weight of the bags of gold being repatriated to the winners’ treasuries, they will forever be the mere footnote in world history they always have been — despite their enormous numbers.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.