Most arguments for opening the Philippines up to foreigners is for direct economic gain, that is, for foreigners to bring their money here to buy businesses and land.
Let me first give one analytical perspective on this.
Then another that I could suppress for the thin of skin, but will not.
The Analytical Perspective
As far as I can tell, the Philippines offers no dreams to immigrants. Or even tourists.
Visit Cerritos or Fremont or Union City or South San Francisco in California, USA, and you will see huge Filipino communities living the American dream of home ownership, good jobs and opportunities for self-improvement. They are well protected and safe. They work hard and get promotions. They obey the rules. Their children go to good schools. People drive cars. They invest in America. These Filipino communities are each something around 80,000 strong. Cerritos may be closer to 150,000. The US welcomes them and appreciates them. After all, America is a nation of immigrants. The American Dream draws wholesome, hard-working people to it. People who relish the opportunity to be free, to be safe and secure, to have the opportunity to grow and prosper.
The dream is "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". And from the collective drive of aspiring immigrants, a strong and wealthy nation emerged.
Cast this against the immigrant experience in the Philippines. Today in the Philippines we have Subic and Angeles City where Americans gather . . . to visit the bars and find a girl. They are party towns, sin cities. They are not mainstream wholesome communities where Americans build lives along side Filipinos. Where they have a career, and contribute to productivity. What is the Filipino Dream that Americans or other foreigners can subscribe to?
For foreigners, there is none. Well, there is a sweet Peso/Dollar exchange rate and gorgeous views and warm water. And, yes, there are women. Those are hard to build into a slogan: The Filipino Dream: live cheap and warm; enjoy the views and sex.
Maybe you can fill in the blanks for me. "The Philippine Dream for immigrants is _____________."
It certainly cannot be the opportunity for prosperity because the system of self-advantage and favors reserves that for the empowered. Indeed, that more than anything is probably why there is so much opposition to welcoming immigrants. The powerful don't want their boats rocked.
Filipinos complain when the US Ambassador says that 40% of American tourists come here for sex. Well, it may have been a guess, or maybe he was just making a point. But without a doubt, the Philippines discourages outsiders from coming here for clean, legitimate practices like retiring or running a small business to make money. The sign might just as well read "keep out", for there is little legitimate reason for coming to the Philippines, especially if you factor in the holier-than-thou government attitudes and the dilapidated state of most tourist destinations.
Observe the regal, autocratic tenor that we see in government offices, doctor's offices, banks and retail stores in the Philippines, where employees instruct visitors on where to line up. And make them wait and wait and wait.
Doing business with Immigration and Foreign Affairs to an outsider is pretty much the same. It is a jolt for those schooled in the courtesy of the Golden Rule. It is more like waltzing with the enemy.
I was so proud when I got my I-card as a permanent resident of the Philippines.
But the Immigration people scowled at me as they handed me the card. It was as if they didn't really want me here but the law said they had to let me in. No one thought to say "welcome to the Philippines". Such a small but important thing that shouts loudly the attitude hereabouts.
The Philippines believes people will come here because the Philippines benefits. It is the sari-sari store mentality. I want money. I open store. No one comes. I eat the products. The business fails.
The Philippines is a global business enterprise operating out of a roadside shack.
The bigger world does not accept the Filipino standard. Travelers and investors go where they are rewarded and uplifted, not used or punished.
Only wayward eccentrics like Joe America hang their hats here. Normal people, productive people, wealthy people, shy away. They know they would not be comfortable here.
Whatever the Filipino dream may be, it is the wrong dream for foreigners.
A Rude Perspective
I hold little hope that the Philippines can compete with ambitious, modern nations without a sea-change in attitude that can only be imported.
The reason is so simple it is absurd. The malaise is so intractable it will never change without injection.
Any sales guy will tell you the key to success is making the customer happy. This requires an "other orientation" that strives to understand what motivates a potential customer, and to do more than what that customer expects when providing a product or service. This "other orientation" is what drives businesses to innovate, to always reach for more customer benefit. A thinner tablet computer, faster processor, more powerful operating software. Better flavor in the crackers, better texture, less salt. Electric powered cars that get 70 miles per gallon. How to get the service wait time down to less than a minute. Easy return of unsatisfactory goods.
The Philippines is the least "other oriented" culture imaginable. All you have to do is look around. Lack of courtesy, kindness and consideration is behind pollution, behind traffic congestion, behind corruption, and behind lousy customer service that infests the nation. It is what drives a nutty government to appoint Manny Pacquiao to a high AFP position for which he is not qualified while ignoring the loyal people who have worked diligently to EARN a promotion. I assume there are some.
No wonder people grab under the table payments. If you are cheated out of opportunity, cheat back.
The Filipino self obsession is the strangest interpersonal dynamic I have ever witnessed. This behavior is like a brick, a huge stone. It is so thick, so dark and so intense that it is impermeable. You can't get through it.
The simple question "why do you throw trash into your beautiful country?" is met with a strange look, as if you are weird to see this country as beautiful and you are perverted to see anything wrong with tossing trash into all that open space. It is so easy to do.
There you have it.
It is so easy to do.
That is why the Philippines struggles to compete with ambitious, modern nations. Because so few have the discipline to do the hard things because they are the right things to do. They choose easy.
And that is why it is important to get foreigners into the Philippines. So that there is a core of productive thinking, competitive drive and "other orientation" that is large enough and intense enough that Filipinos begin to see how it works or are economically kicked out of the way. Ambitious, creative, disciplined, productive foreigners can compete some sense into business practices, into customer service, and into the economy.
Is this a racial commentary? Or cultural? I don't know. I'd prefer to think it is economic.
Is it arrogant? Condescending? I'd prefer to think it is blunt.
I don't know how to be helpful when people aren't interested in helping themselves. Well, they help themselves to my wallet if they can get into it, but they'd rather not strive to take care of themselves by taking care of others. They fail to grasp the damage caused by their orientation with self. They blame the government. Or the US. Or the neighbor. Never themselves.
A big swamp of self-engagement surrounds me and the Philippines can't prosper with that as its driving force.
The current Philippine dream: "Grab what you can."
Lest you think all I can do myself is complain, I will dedicate a future blog to brainstorming a dream for the Philippines. You of course can offer up your own ideas here.