The Philippines cannot progress without an intelligent civil service

Nothing is more confronting than statistical facts. Today’s Inquirer op-ed, “Dismal passing rate”, paints a sobering picture of the Philippines’ brains trust — perhaps an oxymoronic term to use considering that it is anything but. The Inquirer Editor in essence issues an indictment on the ability of the Philippines to sustainably implement good governance and, in the midst of calls from the Left to improve government employees’ working conditions, provide more secure careers for civil servants.

As the title of the piece suggests, the prospects are dismal

In the latest career service exams held in March, only 51,311 of the 297,952 candidates who took the professional exams passed, for an alarmingly low passing rate of 17.22 percent. The passing rate for the subprofessional level was just as bad at 17.02 percent, as only 6,372 out of the 37,433 individuals passed.

“Dismally disappointing” was how Bohol Rep. Kristine Alexie Tutor described the passing rate, as roughly five of six flunked the exams for professionals (college graduates) and sub-professionals (undergraduates) wanting to get a permanent job in government service.

If it weren’t enough that Filipino politicians are widely-derided as a useless and crooked lot, it becomes doubly-disturbing to find that professional civil service is in even direr straits. The Philippines, in short, is fucked from both the top-down and the bottom-up. It is beset by (1) a power elite bent on sustaining a status quo that benefits their interests and (2) a foundation of civil servants bereft of intellectual substance. This in a time of global and environmental dynamics that demand rapid innovation and outside-the-square thinking. If the Philippines is unable to think its way out of a paper bag, what lies in store?

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Indeed, good question. Just as a failure to learn how to read would doom the average person to a life of wretchedness, so too would the prospects of an anti-intellectual society be hardly one that any sane investor would bet good money on. Back in 2000, an “admired Filipino economist, based in New York, surveyed the economic situation here and dolefully intoned: ‘What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt’.” This admired economist may as well have issued the same observations today, a quarter of a century later.

Take, for instance, the national debates, she pointed out.

“They are droll and unintelligent, focused on the trivial or the irrelevant.” When the issues are of some significance, it’s the wrong arguments that prevail, the wrong side wins. Logic and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated. There seems to be some bases for her disenchantment.

Even going down to atomic-level specifics, words issued so long ago remain uncanny in how they continue to ring true today.

Listen to the vacuous debate on increase of fuel price and the jeepney strikes. Almost everyone wants to repeal the law of supply and demand and annul the OPEC. How untidy has been the bishops’ choice of causes to champion. They hardly know they are playing tail to the leftists’ kite. Mercifully, other uninformed crusaders had joined them in maintaining that the 13-year old Constitution is so perfect it needs no change whatsoever. They don’t know that the Constitution has never been meant to be everlasting. All Philippine Constitutions and most constitutions in the world had gone through some amendments within the first five years of its ratification. Times change. Lessons must be learned. The present Constitution was drafted in the shadow of martial law. Among others, it’s now clear, presidential election is most expensive, with no guarantees of great leaders. A parliamentary system immediately saves the country one costly election and with the parliament members electing the premier from among themselves, it prevents the less qualified from becoming head of state.

Stupidity seems to rule not just at the fabric of Philippine society but at the very fibres that constitute this fabric. That a prognosis made 24 years ago remains true today says something about what the Philippines of 2050 might look like — the same at every level simply because there is no appetite whatsoever to even consider doing things differently.

To do things differently requires an immense wherewithal because human beings are wired to resist change. Change hurts and brains are designed to gravitate to comfort zones. One would think it would be in the interests of “the poor” to instigate change because, common sense might dictate, poverty sucks. Like frogs being boiled alive, “the poor” seem to be content with their lot in life. They outnumber the rich a hundred to one but seem disinclined to scale the walls of the latter’s fortified enclaves and seize what they have long felt they are entitled to. Indeed, no amount of communist propaganda and terrorism could move such a vast pool of wretchedness. The rich are fiddling and laughing, resting on the toils of a vast force for change that is the Filipino masses.

Rich ‘first world’ enclaves in the Philippines like Bonifacio Global City exist amidst a sea of wretchedness.

The last thing we need, to be fair, is for “the poor” to actually drive this change. That would only lead the Philippines back down the road to jeepney oblivion. The Philippines’ jeepney infestation, after all, is a textbook case of the perils of allowing a tyranny of the masses to persist. The question lies in why the Philippines’ powers-that-be seem to have happily chugged along over decades as the Philippines — once the most literate and educated countries in Asia — degenerated into the intellectual wasteland that it is today.

Key to solving this riddle may lie in the country’s population statistics. The Philippines’ population exploded from just over 18 million in 1950 to a whopping 119 million today. By the mid-1970s, the Philippines, 43 million-strong, had roughly the same population as that of Thailand. But while population growth in Thailand stabilised (even as wealth per-capita galloped on), Filipinos continued to multiply like there was no tomorrow. Today, Thailand enjoys a healthy population of 73 million vastly wealthier citizens. From a business standpoint, it really didn’t matter to the Philippines’ powerful elite. Even if Filipinos’ purchasing power did not level up at an individual level, their numbers made up for it. Business continued to be brisk. Malls sprouted all about, and the rich continued to laugh all the way to the bank.

Thus is the question begged: Does a civil service populated by intellectually-stunted workers really matter in the scheme of things?

Evidently not. The Philippines “boasts” one of the world’s healthiest economic growth rates. Indeed, World Bank Senior Economist Ralph van Doorn noted recently that “The Philippines is growing close to its potential growth rate meaning in this state with its current productive capacity, this is roughly what we can expect the Philippines.” More notably, van Doorn reportedly points out that “it was important to avoid tight labor market conditions for sustainable growth”. Indeed, why bother increasing income-per-capita (by increasing labour productivity) when we can simply grow on the back of more warm bodies being thrown into the labour pool?

In short, labour-added-value continues to be the easiest and cheapest way to keep the economy chugging along. Filipinos’ regard for public transport mirrors this economic philosophy. Why invest in systems that move more people per operator when the massive army of jeepney drivers operating their clunkers does the job. Maybe the same could be said of the Philippines’ civil service. Why work smarter when cheap, plentiful, and dumb works just fine, right?

13 Replies to “The Philippines cannot progress without an intelligent civil service”

  1. Unfortunately I have met very few people in the PHs with above average intellegence. I dont see anything ever changing which is why my family left the country.

  2. Gov’t officials are reflection of the people. The Filipino people voted for inferiors because elections there are just popularity contests, they’re focused on popularity instead of credentials and track record. No honor, no respect, no humility, no intelligence, no competence and no efficiency.

    Filipinos always say “at least he’s helping people” when defending their idols. That’s their standards.

      1. It can be spot on if you subscribe to privileged democracy, wherein, most things are reserved for the rich and the educated, the westernized and the influential.

        And in reality, isn’t “helping people” the real mandate of those who in public service all about? If public servants are incapable of “helping”, why even choose to engage in public service?

        But, of course, helping by political grandstanding, is not what I have in mind.

        You know, it’s helping people help themselves, creating the socio-economic condition and creating opportunities.

        If you give a poor child food and help him attend school, he will be healthy and achieve a certain level of skill and educated expertise that will help him and be a responsible member of the society, potentially breaking a vicious cycle of generational poverty for his family. This also gives this child a chance to help another child.

        But a government’s help meant more!

        In a genuine democracy, people of varying economic status are properly represented, in recognition in their own small way, as part of the backbone of the collective society.

        We are reminded, a social arrangement which regards illiteracy as ignorance rather than educational deprivation is a false democracy. It is a society of privilege, not a society of opportunity.

        America ranks first as the richest nation in the world in terms of GDP. In a 2023 estimate, 37.9 million Americans are living in poverty, accounting for 11.6% of the total population. Why can’t America end its own poverty?

        I guess, with certain things considered, it’s just that the concept of poverty of the West (including most Westernized Filipinos) is not same as what we term here in the Third World as being dirt poor.

        The poor people in the West, for example, still have jobs, own cars and houses, but, still somehow, clamor for ‘ayuda’ from their own government. That is, despite of them, really, not being “ineffectual lumps that can’t move without assistance”.

        1. A politician’s job is to help the country and people, but the Filipinos’ standard of helping is just giving money and food to the poor which is horrible. Why? Because it trains people to be lazy and reliant on politicians.

          For example: A congressman and senator’s job is to make and pass good laws as well as to amend or repeal laws when needed, not to give money to the poor. People voted Tulfo for senator mainly because he gives money to the poor, because of his fame brought to him by his radio program and his invalid justice style which Filipinos want. Look what he’s doing to DSWD’s “tupad” program, he has pictures of him distributing it and his picture is also on the banner. What good bills did he write, the useless friendship bill? Filipinos clearly disregarded credentials and characters in the last elections. He doesn’t even have a college degree not to mention he lost a libel case against a person. He’s clearly very arrogant and some people accuse him of being narcissist which I just agree. He also doesn’t obey simple laws. The worst part is he promotes trial by media/publicity which is very harmful and not recognized by law and guilty until proven innocent. He’s also a huge advocate of polygraph test which is unreliable.

          Filipinos also vote for re-electionists who have no huge accomplishments for the country.

          Oh well, if Filipinos like being governed by inferiors, then so be it.

        2. As you can read, I didn’t write about Tulfo. Do you expect me to defend or make excuses for him? Too much attention on Tulfo so I don’t think you get it.

        3. As usual you don’t understand my point. Filipino voters’ standard of helping is just giving money and food to the poor, not how effective and efficient politicians can do their respective jobs.

        4. How will you rate VP/DepEd Sec. Sara Duterte’s ‘help’ standard?

          For the students’ need to be focused on their teacher and books, VP/DepEd Sec. Sara Duterte implements DepEd Order No. 21, Series of 2023 or the implementing guidelines for Brigada Eskwela.

        5. @Yuna I’ll give her a solid zero rating. She already admitted once that she cannot review provisions because she didn’t come from the education sector and all she does is drive people to work, not to mention Philippines continue to perform horribly in education during her term. If she’s truly honorable, then she should’ve refused the position in the first place.

    1. Yes, Philippines is helpless. Your military still uses primitive technologies. Pathetic. All Philippines does is rely on allies including the US.

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