Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Philippines: One of the Most Intriguing Places on Earth

Commenter Greg made this perceptive observation on one of my blog posts the other day:

"You and your readers enjoy an exchange of ideas about one of the most intriguing places on earth: the Philippines. "

The remark rocked my socks because it explains the Philippines in a way that escaped me, and probably many others, but should not.

Indeed, the Philippines is one extraordinarily intriguing place. Here's why:

  • It is frozen in time

  • Technology is 1990's

  • Gunslinging is 1800's

  • Religion is 1500's

  • Social awareness is 1950's

  • Business acumen is anywhere from the 1700's (vendor stalls) to 2011

  • It is full of contradictions

  • It is a democracy that is not, for it is unduly influenced by a handful of oligarchs and the Catholic Church

Mural: Spanish American War
  • The landscape is drop dead gorgeous and drop deader polluted

  • The nation is vibrant and alive but has no clear direction; it is like amoebae bouncing about in a petri dish.

  • It is racially homogeneous but is divided by 114 dialects and 7,000 islands

  • A broad educational networks exists but it teaches children to limit themselves rather than grow (it doesn't mean to do that, but educators weren't taught imagination either).

  • Family ties are like super-glue, the obligation so high that many leave the Philippines to work and send money back to the family. OFW's have a new goal: to return and live well. Many don't.

  • It has a historical richness akin to Europe

  • It is a patchwork of 7,000 islands, each with its own history of links to Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Spain, America and/or tribal origins

  • It was Spanish Asia then American Asia and now has an identity crisis. It seems unable to establish a clear vision of what it wants to be and inspire its citizens to pursue that vision.

  • The US governed the nation starting in 1902 and released it to independence in 1935. English is the language of official documents.

  • The Philippine American War and World War II each killed hundreds of thousands of Filipinos; Manila was destroyed during World War II and has never recovered.

  • The Catholic and Muslim faiths have deep historical roots here. They don't help a secular nation stand on its own, but add mightily to its struggles.

  • The national character has severe psychological hangups

  • Unhealthy absorption with self and relentless tearing down of others.

  • Plenty of rudeness and not a lot of consideration and compassion. Power is the foundation of all personal interactions.

  • Insecure, seeing foreigners as a threat and dual citizenship as a security risk. Onion skin sensitivity to criticism from outside.

  • Social forces are are strikingly different than in Western Countries

  • Concepts such as careers, aspiration, and productivity are not drivers of progress because they conflict with the trade of favors. The trade of favors is when friends, favorites and family are given the choice jobs, or when money or goods buy loyalty, service advantage ("kindly step to the front of the line"), or votes.

  • Religion is an integral part of people's lives, social activities and even government activities (a department starting the day with prayer, for example).

  • Faith and superstition live side by side.

  • Entertainment stars are held in the highest esteem. Or beauty pageant winners. And Manny Pacquiao. They shine in a blaze of hero worship. There are no literary heroes, no Nobel winners, and no pioneers of discovery or exploration.

  • Divorce is not permitted. Birth control is condemned. Journalists are shot. Government is heavy handed and autocratic, not service oriented. Same with a lot of businesses who take the view that customers should be honored to shop with them.

The intrigue comes from two simple questions:

  • "Why is this?"

  • "Does it matter?"


  1. Looking at your bullets, I wonder if you see a lot of opportunities there. For one thing, you'll never run out of material. =)

  2. brianitus, no lack of material, for sure. Actually, I rather see the Philippines as being akin to the US post WWII. It is a huge market, but think. Lots of needs are poorly met now. Once some smart young people figure out they can get rich by acquiring a little investment capital, and putting it wisely into apartments or small businesses that operate with the customer in mind . . . or use equipment instead of labor, then the economy will take off.

    Or maybe I was just dreaming, I dunno . . .

  3. Joe, I'm sure someone out there realizes that all these problems in the country are opportunities.

    However, there are also those who see these issues as opportunities to grab a share of the power from the "elite."


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