Philippines, the sick man of Asia “again”? No. It ALWAYS HAS been sick!

Certain “thought leaders” are issuing shrill commentary on the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns aimed to mitigate its effects. The fact is, most if not all countries are suffering from economic crises in varying degrees thanks to the brittle world order of intricately interdependent and interlinked economies created by “globalisation”. Amateur economists of the sorts that write for “social news networks” like Rappler are dishonestly painting the economic plight of the Philippines in absolute terms rather than regarding it in relative terms by comparing it like-for-like.

It is true, indeed, that much of what the Philippines had gained economically over a period spanning more than ten years had been undone over just the last couple. The Philippines had performed worse relative to other countries because it does not have sound economic fundamentals to begin with and much of the economic achievements trumpeted by successive governments in the first two decades of the 21st Century are labour-added-value in nature — Filipinos working in factories funded by foreign capital, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), and work outsourced to the Philippines by rich countries. Much of the economic activities that create employment in both big cities and rural areas are tethered to foreign funding. Break those tethers and the whole house of cards fall. This is essentially what happened when the world went on lockdown. Those whose economies possessed true substance did relatively well. Those that depended on said substance trickling down to their gaping mouths suffered more.

As much as has been made about the “miracle” that was supposedly the Philippine economy over the 21st Century leading up to 2020, the sad fact is that the Philippines, at its core, remains very much Third World.

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(1) It is a country that populated way beyond any inherent ability of its society to sustain their numbers.

Philippine society’s indigenous technological capability cannot, by itself, sustain its people’s aspirational standard of living. Something as basic as committing to sustaining the enormous population Filipinos find themselves stuck with cannot be honoured to the standard most Westerners and northeast Asians enjoy. This leads one to the question of why Filipinos committed to such an enormous population to begin with. Said population had become a liability rather than an asset in this regard if seen from the context of Western standards of living.

(2) It built an economy composed of unsustainable industries and propped up by consumption.

The Philippines is no more than a consumer market. Filipinos simply spend their money and spend their days finding ever more creative ways to convince themselves how much they deserve to spend their money on the latest trinket or gadget.

In that kind of a market, what sorts of industries is the Philippines likely to attract under a hypothetical regime of unfettered access to foreign capital of the sort preferred by foreign governments and investment banks? Most likely this: industries that will further grease the pipeline that channels cheap manufactured goods from highly-capitalised economies to the living rooms of increasingly impoverished Filipinos. Filipinos, in turn, will increasingly fund these purchases with the same old labour-intensive solutions — working overseas and working for the factories and retail outlets that manufacture and sell them these trinkets.

(3) Filipinos did not build a capital base that serves as a stable store of economic value and a foundation that provides a soft landing in times of economic crisis.

Despite the Philippines being host to abundant natural resources, and now, an enormous supply of people, the society as a whole lacks a collective ability to apply this enormous number of people to the task of turning these resources into any sort of valuable economic output of consequence. Instead, natural resources are harvested raw and sold raw — mineral ore, logs, overseas foreign workers. Overseas, these then get turned into iPhones, karaoke machines, those shirts with the Philippine islands embroidered onto their left breasts, Honda Civics, Havaianas, and Starbucks tumblers after which they are shipped back to the Philippines to be purchased using OFW cash.

There is no real equity at the core of such a society’s economic house of cards. There is nothing in the Philippines beyond the muscle of its workers that is worth buying. When demand for labour vanishes, Filipinos are left with virtually nothing. No world-class business assets and brands to sell, no safe and pleasant (much less interesting) cities and countrysides to offer to European and Japanese backpackers, no lush forests to pitch to researchers and eco-tourists, no world-class cutting-edge indigenous technology and scientific achievement to fall back to and build upon from scratch if necessary. Nothing.

(4) Its people lack an ethic of self-reliance ingrained in their cultural fabric.

Despite the Philippines being a democracy with a free market economy, its “thought leaders” see the poor as exempt from the expectation that everyone be equal participants in the free market. Whereas “well-to-do” people are expected to compete and account for their own success or failure, poor people are considered to be people who need to be given a break — given a break from taxes, given a break from complying with the law, and even given a break for being stupid. Indeed, if the poor are regarded as subject to the same rules the middle classes and up abide by, the jeepney would long have been consigned to a museum, squatters would have long ago been scraped off public land, and certain crooked showbiz celebrities and politicians accused of sexual misconduct and rebellion thrown in jail.

Self-reliance and an ability to chart one’s own path and develop original ideas is what underpins success in today’s world. Rather than wean Filipinos off reliance on the ideas of old colonial masters, the Philippines’ foremost “thought leaders” remain adamant in sustaining the debilitating colonial mentality that had long been a cornerstone of Philippine society’s edifice of dysfunction.

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In short, there really should be no surprises around the dysfunctional manner with which Filipinos managed the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. They routinely don’t fare well when it comes to routine natural calamities such as the garden-variety tropical cyclones that visit the islands every year. Even basic infrastructure like public transportation had been left in a decrepit post World War II state well into the 21st Century. So, guess what, it really does not make sense to be expecting much of Filipinos when it comes to risk mitigation and disaster response — and certainly no surprise that the Philippines’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be counted as among the worst in the world.

26 Replies to “Philippines, the sick man of Asia “again”? No. It ALWAYS HAS been sick!”

  1. Benign0

    I don’t think “the Philippines’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic can be counted as among the worst in the world.”

    The data on “Coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths worldwide per one million population as of March 17, 2021, by country” conveys a different information since the Philippines belongs to the group of 79-91 countries and ranks no. 84 of 153 total number of countries listed at:

    1. Fair enough. Thanks for pointing that out. It does seem however that in our region, we’re lagging behind other southeast Asian nations within our class of development…

    1. Yet many of our “proud” countrymen are proud of that. Personally, I think having a big number of laborers in other countries(such as many nurses in the EU are our countrymen) are something we should not be proud of. Relying on OFWs show how weak our country is, not to mention salaries here are low compared to salaries in EU and USA, especially for nurses which is why many of our nurses work in other countries just to get a decent salary and I don’t blame them because there’s little opportunity here and living here is a nightmare now, especially if you want to setup a business. That’s why I encourage people to migrate to better countries when they can.

  2. @Benigno, you are incorrect on item number 4:

    (4) Its people lack an ethic of self-reliance ingrained in their cultural fabric.

    This is because our cultural fabric is based on bayanihan or “helping each other out” in times of need. If you dont understand this, watch Ivana Alawi’s blogs. We all need to follow her example.

    1. “This is because our cultural fabric is based on bayanihan or ‘helping each other out’ in times of need.” I believe that’s no longer true because many people have crab mentality, they drag each other down just to prevent one from advancing, it’s already in our culture and we really need to get rid of that before it’s too late.

  3. What’s even worse is in youtube videos about Ph politics and military, many people say Philippines is strong and some will call Philippines a “rising tiger of Asia” and if you say otherwise, there’s a good chance that you’ll get insulted or bashed by people with toxic patriotism or toxic nationality. If you ask them how are they strong, all they can do is blame Cory, blame Marcos on why the country is weak. Some will say Ph has one of the rising economies in Asia or SE Asia. Some even say that Ph has a strong military and they say that their proof is the Battle of Yultong, a battle which ended decades ago and that Ph military is good at jungle warfare.

    In other words, many people with toxic patriotism refuse to admit that the country is weak and has many problems, they just believe the lie they create that the country is strong.

    There are also people who get annoyed if we call Ph a third world country because according to them, Ph is already a developing country and the term “third world” is obsolete but personally, I believe that the term “developing country” is just a nice term for third world country and it was coined to sound less offensive and I also believe that it’s a senseless term because most or all countries are developing, the difference is how the countries develop. Some have forward development, some may be stagnant and some even develop backward.

        1. What’s even worse is people with toxic nationalism often call the fellow countrymen who migrate to other countries losers or even traitors to their home country without any good reason. They don’t even have a legal basis to prove that emigration or migration to another country is treason. If they want to be patriotic or nationalistic, fine but they should acknowledge reality too and they should be open minded too.

      1. @Zion why are you asking me that? I’m different because I look at things realistically. If you understood what I mean, they’re basically overrating Philippines too much. I mean toxic nationalism, not nationality, it’s a typo on that part. Anyway, toxic nationalism or toxic patriotism is overpraising the country and refusing to acknowledge the problems of the country. Toxic nationalism is also refusing to acknowledge the reality that the country is weak and needs to be repaired. Besides, where would they base their statement to prove that Philippines is a strong country?

        1. I asked you because of what you posted here:

          When you said that, “One sign of toxic nationalism is calling fellow countrymen traitors…”, I then wonder, what type of nationalism, you do (or do not) practice yourself or what runs in your veins, when you referred to ‘your’ (it’s not even clear if that meant including you) country being “a cesspool now and it’s not even a country worth calling home”. I presume you don’t consider yourself an oligarch.

          Veteran journalist Ramon Tulfo made an interesting commentary about it. He wrote:

          “Hmmm…I wonder whether James Fallows, author of the article, “A Damaged Culture,” in the reputable The Atlantic magazine was right.

          ‘Stripped to the core, the article said Filipinos lack nationalism.”

        2. @Zion I do not practice nationalism because I don’t want to. Ph has become a cesspool now, I’m sure people with good political awareness know that.

          One reason I do not practice nationalism because I just do what’s good for me and my family, that’s it. It’s no longer worth fighting for Ph anymore. It’s not even worth staying in Ph anymore if there’s no bright future for the family and future children there. Why will I call a country home if it’s a nightmare to stay there? Personally, a country with too much poverty, corruption and injustice wouldn’t really be considered a home, let alone a country where you can live your dreams, especially if the gov’t is dragging people down and preventing them from advancing, that’s why I choose to “abandon ship”. Why do I need to practice nationalism anyway? Don’t you get it? I just don’t want to sacrifice my future and the future of my family just for the sake of nationalism and patriotism.

          The difference between me and those people with toxic patriotism and nationalism is I do not live in an illusion, I live by reality and I do not sacrifice any of my needs for the sake of nationalism, never.

        3. @No Data Few questions for you.

          Are you saying that the Duterte Government, being in power, “is dragging people down and preventing them from advancing”? You seem to claim to be a person who knows, with “good political awareness”, but, can you be more specific?

          If you’re thinking that “It’s no longer worth fighting for Ph anymore”, why do you have to involve yourself arguing with other people in this site about issues of Philippine concerns? Aren’t you being unrealistic and going by with your above stated conviction, doesn’t that only makes you a person with dubious intentions?

        4. @Edie Duterte is highly overrated by people. I don’t see any significant improvement.

          I’m involving myself by arguing not for the Philippines but to bring people to reality and if I can, encourage people to migrate to other countries. The salaries are low here and there are too much taxes, not to mention they added the safeguard bond for many imported vehicles.

          This article may be last 2016 but it’s still true until now.

    1. Indeed, it is this unfounded pride and misplaced patriotism that is part of what keeps the Philippines socially backward. If one is unable to frame their problems properly and face/handle the truth about their own lot, all the wrong solutions will be implemented.

      This is perhaps why the fatal idea that Filipinos’ salvation lie in politics persists. By believing that all their troubles originate from their leadership, Filipinos absolve themselves of any personal accountability for their own failures as a people.

      1. There is no power “emanating” from the public when poverty and ignorance are prevalent. So leadership and governance are practically dysfunctional/nonexistent. In such case, it’s hard to expect initiative from the collective without the exceptional opportunity that somebody will direct their path.

  4. The Filippines has problems that are way too big for its national borders and at this point I would simply suggestt to anyone living there, GET OUT and DON’T GO BACK until you are a citizen of another country.

    With Europe being over-run with Middle East people and Africans it leaves the USA and CHINA…one country is broken and the other has a booming economy….if you have to ask which is which, you are better off staying where you are.

    1. Yes Fred, people should leave Philippines and never come back by migrating to other countries but they should migrate legally. Sadly, many people would settle for a lower or worse lifestyle for the sake of their “patriotism” or “nationalism”. The problem is the more they stay in Philippines, the more they fuel the corrupt people’s greed. By migrating to other countries, they can reduce the “fuel” to the corrupt people’s greed.

      1. Actually there are a few legit reasons to stay in the Philippines. Confused? Let me explain.

        If you are born to a wealthy and well-connected family in the Philippines then congrats! You just won the lottery in life. Let me list some of the benefits of remaining in the Philippines.

        1. You can live like a king because the law does not apply to you and your family. You can threaten a police officer (or anyone below your social rank) on the spot (I have seen a many rich friends do this) because you “are related to people in high places” and your family has a reputation of destroying low-class people just for fun.

        2. You don’t have to clean your house, wash your dishes, do your laundry, or even reach for a glass of water. Labor is cheap and your household will be full of maids to do all that stuff for you. If you go to the USA, you will need to wash your clothes, cook, clean, and God forbid, reach for a glass of water with your own hands!

        Reflect on this fact: Why would a wealthy person want to degrade himself/herself to an Egalitarian American lifestyle when the Feudal Filipino lifestyle is better if you are on top.

        3. You can get into any elite university in the Philippines (I don’t really need to explain this). You wont have to study or get any good grades. You can get drunk in school everyday because you know that a job is waiting for you from your family owned corporation or perhaps you are the designated heir of a political dynasty.

        4. You can flex your social media posts with exotic travel destinations so you can easily boost your low self-esteem. No, I’m not talking about Boracay or Palawan–those places are for noobs.

        5. If you are well-connected enough, you can “negotiate” to sleep with a beauty queen or celebrity if the price is right (P5M to P20M a night, I heard).

        1. Because bottom line is having the upper hand. Which is self-delusion at best. All of that imagined leverage can collapse in an instant.

    2. @FRED, @No Data

      If let’s say you both got lucky for an interview (in your country-destination of choice) and are required to answer this question, what will be your answer?

      “Before we allow you to come in, in what way do you think we can consider you as an added value to our society?”

      1. If you answer “I’m a Proud Filipino”, that should be enough to impress them and they will let you in, trust me.

      2. @sanne sorry for the late reply, I have my answer but I’ll keep it to myself because I do not answer to you or anyone here.

        @Popoy that comment just gave me a reason not to trust you.

        @Alexa zero achievement? Are you even sure what you’re talking about? Do you even know me or anyone here?

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