Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Filipino Dream

I wrote the other day about the Philippine Dream because, as an immigrant, I don't know what it is. I don't know what is supposed to motivate me to strive to see the dream fulfilled. First, I did a little research.

I found the Pledge of Allegiance:

I am a Filipino
I pledge my allegiance
To the flag of the Philippines
And to the country it represents
With honor, justice and freedom
Put in motion by one station
For God
for the People,
for Nature and
for the Country.

And the Oath of Allegiance:

I love the Philippines,
the land of my birth,
The home of my people,
it protects me and helps me
To become strong, hardworking and honorable.
Because I love the Philippines,
I will heed the counsel of my parents,
I will obey the rules of my school,
I will perform the duties of a patriotic citizen,
Serving, studying, and praying faithfully.
I will offer my life, dreams, successes
To the Philippine nation.[

The National Anthem is poetic but ends on a real downer:

Land of the morning
Child of the sun returning
With fervor burning
Thee do our souls adore.
Land dear and holy,
Cradle of noble heroes,
Ne'er shall invaders
Trample thy sacred shores.
Ever within thy skies and through thy clouds
And o'er thy hills and seas;
Do we behold thy radiance, feel the throb
Of glorious liberty.
Thy banner dear to all hearts
Its sun and stars alight,
Oh, never shall its shining fields
Be dimmed by tyrant's might.
Beautiful land of love, O land of light,
In thine embrace 'tis rapture to lie;
But it is glory ever, when thou art wronged
For us, thy sons to suffer and die

The problem I personally have with the two oaths is that they insist on a militaristic obedience to authority rather than inspire personal commitment. It seems rather a one-way street, that the citizen owes all and will give all to the State. The Pledge also has God front and center, which denies atheists the right NOT to be dedicated to God. They could not, in good conscience, cite this Pledge.

I enjoy the National Anthem for its poetic elegance. In melody and lyrics, I like it better than the American Anthem. I don't enjoy the last two lines, for they raise dying for country to a worshipful glory when it is nothing but tragic. Furthermore, the Anthem demands total capitulation of self to the State, even in how the Anthem is sung. As Martin Nevera found out, anyone who sings the song as anything but a militaristic march risks being hauled before Congress and beaten with verbal sticks until he grovels and apologizes to the uberpatriots.

Freedom evidently means something different to me than to the Philippine State.

I think allegiance ought to be earned by the State before it is demanded.

The American Dream is to dedicate oneself to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is what has motivated new arrivals since the getgo, in 1776. It is "customer oriented", or citizen oriented, a perspective that is largely missing in the Philippines with its general obsession with self rather than the common good (self-engagement is the underpinning of pollution, corruption, inefficiency, rudeness)

The seven words of the American Dream mean so much. Life means safety, security and health. Liberty means freedom and responsibility to laws that define where one person's freedom ends and another's harm begins. Pursuit of happiness means many things. It means freedom to worship as one wishes, or even not to worship. It means the right to pursue opportunities fairly without others cheating to undermine good effort. Today it is being redefined to allow same-sex marriages, if that harms no one else and is the path to happiness.

The point here is that the dream is not static. Indeed, it mandates change, in the pursuit of happiness. It changes as Americans change, as new technologies define different ways to communicate and deal with personal information, as awareness of the human condition gets deeper and better thought out, and as the real-time digging for information reveals new insights as to the way things work. The America of today is much different than the America of 50 years ago.

Much of the Philippine governmental framework is patterned after the standards of its former colonial master, America. But it doesn't work the same. First of all, this is not a nation of immigrants. It is a nation of local communities pasted somewhat haphazardly together. There are three main forms of worship here  -  Muslim, Catholic/Christian and Tradition/Superstition. Filipinos have lived under occupations by  Spanish and American conquerors, with a short blink by Japanese. Southwest Mindanao feels a greater affinity for the Moro neighbors in other countries than with Catholic/Christian Manila.

New arrivals are generally associated with the arrogance of occupiers and are therefore not wholly welcomed in the hearts of Filipinos. Oh, some may be welcomed too well in the way that fits the Filipino class concession to a white person. But they are not welcomed as FILIPINO.

A Chinese American is an American.

An American Filipino is an outsider.

So two counter-forces are at work. One wants unity as a nation. The other imposes exclusion upon those who can't help but be different. The disenfranchisement that Joe America feels when he is treated rudely is perhaps not much different than the disenfranchisement that Muslims feel in a predominantly Catholic state. Unwelcome, basically. But we are all expected to kiss ass when the State demands that we kiss ass.

So the question is, does the Philippines even want a dream for immigrants? Possibly not.

It depends on what the dream for FILIPINOS is.

You see, I don't know what the "domestic dream" is, either. If it is to stay as we are, then things are peachy keen. Hunky dory. No need to do anything. The Philippines is pretty much the same as it was 50 years ago, and can be the same 50 years from now. Uncommitted to anything but subsistence.

I suspect that if you asked Filipinos what they have as dreams, you would get one of two answers depending on the wealth of the respondent. For those with money, it would be to make more money and collect the power and prestige that goes along with it. For those without money and little opportunity to get some, you'd get a blank stare.

Well, as I personally think we homo sapiens need goals to strive for, principles to guide how we live, and growth to enrich our souls and drive a wedge between us and other animals.

Therefore, I shall attempt to construct a dream for Filipinos. It is perfectly acceptable if Filipinos ignore this. It is just for my personal pondering and amusement. I won't run out and seek to impose it on my innocent neighbors.

 I'll use the brainstorming method which begins with the simple first step that all ideas are poured out without regard for whether they are good or bad, flawed or inspirational. After everything is on the table, we can better sift through and grab the best ideas.

What points should the dream make? I use "we" under the assumption that I am Filipino.

  • That history is rich, and our heritage makes us what we are.

  • That there are many famous Filipinos because we are engaged in the world in many areas.

  • That we should have the opportunity to improve our lot in life; our wealth mainly.

  • That we remain the Philippines, and no other country will again claim or occupy our land.

  • That we are one people, but incredibly diverse, with 114 dialects, many religions, and 7,000 islands.

  • That we can deal with disaster better than most; we are strong.

  • That we are becoming computer literate and adopting new values, like divorce and health and reproduction bills. We are modernizing.

  • That we prize our educational reach and literacy, and our ability to work in English.

  • That we are free and democratic and want to remain that way.

  • That we have huge problems to overcome, like poverty, inadequate schools and poor health care.

  • That we aspire to treat women fairly and as equals to men. We don't believe in age discrimination. We do believe in Christian ethics and the discipline of being conservative about homosexuality and sex outside the marriage.

  • That we are one nation, without geographic division, but our island structure and diversity require some decentralized authority.

Now some of these are hard to express as a unified dream. "We are Filipino. We deal with disasters and are free."

So there has to be some amalgamation.

For example:

We are dedicated to preserving a rich, diversified heritage while defending and promoting a free, secure, principled and resourceful way of life.

Now this is perhaps not the best. Maybe it can be made shorter. Not seven words, probably. Maybe it can be made to ring more profound as it rolls off the tongue. But it is a start.

Here's a brief on my thinking.

A diversified heritage is important to the Philippines. It is very different than in the US, which is substantially a new nation. Preserving heritage means anyone  - natives, Moros, Filipinos born overseas, foreigners - can be brought into the national community with the highest respect for their historical contribution to the Philippines. The lessons of history - the trials and tribulations - are a part of the richness that makes up the nation. There is no need to consider those who are different, or who come from different places, as divisive. There is no need to fear them. They make up the rich fabric of the Philippines.

The words "defending and promoting" are meant to show action. It is not a static society even though its heritage is important. The people want to direct their own nation and defend it, and never again be subservient to invaders. We also want to modernize and change to stay relevant.

The way of life - "free, secure, principled and resourceful"  - provides the standards for a lawful, safe, healthy, innovative and productive society. Citizens must be highly educated to achieve this dream. And they must be motivated to build, to grow and to be strong. Now today, I might argue the Philippines is falling short in adhering to some of these standards. That is why expressing them in the dream is important.

That is why it is still a dream. Not reality.

Buying into the dream is important. It is an oath that each person should take, to himself. Not to the State. The State is an outgrowth of the dream. The dream is not an imposition by the State.

With this dream, the path is clear, the commitment total.

It is the dream I bought into when I moved permanently to the Philippines.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Filipinos: A Certain Lack of Passion

It came to me the other day as I sat in the shade amongst the bamboo that dominate our back garden. Filipinos lack a certain passion.

Now the immediate reaction from most Filipinos will be, ironically, passionate.

  • "You dickhead, JoeAm, how can you say that about a country that overthrew its dictator decades ago, before the Arabs even thought about it?

  • "What about the cheering throngs backing Colonel Pacquiao?"

  • "Hey, muttonbrain, you obviously were not at EDSA!"

  • "And our tears, our tears!! You don't see them on the daytime entertainment shows like Showtime that pour it on for the poor? Or can't you imagine what is going on at home at night where people sit glued to the tearjerk dramas on TV?"

  • "Hey foreigner, go back home! You wanna see passion, check out the business end of my .45!"

  • "But Joe, you are married to a Filipina. Surely you find her passionate!"

And I fall to my knees and plead "wait, wait!" I said a certain passion. A specific kind of passion.

Please don't let your impatient, hotheaded passion get the best of your inquiring mind. At least hear me out.

A certain kind of passion.

It has been perplexing to me to observe what appears to be a bump in the space/time continuum as it pertains to Filipino thinking. I know Filipinos are intelligent. My wife is smarter than me, with her high school degree and my BA in Mathematics and MA in Radio and Television Arts. She reads things quicker, remembers things better, and can solve a practical problem faster. I dither and ponder, for I am Gemini, busy looking at all sides of an issue. Yes, sometimes my problem solving is a little richer. But by the time I have it figured out, she has made the decision and is onto something new.

The breadth of education in the Philippines is amazing. Zillions of kids march daily off to their dilapidated, overcrowded classrooms to learn as best they can. Some good brains emerge. Not enough, but plenty to organize a successful nation. Many adults speak two languages and several dialects. I speak English and 200 words of Visayan that I can string into lengthy sentences of one or two words.

Along with India, the Philippines is the call center capital of the world. It can deal in the World Language better than any Asian country except Singapore. Many Presidents, generals and top-officials went to top-flight American universities, or the best universities in the Philippines.

Read Rizal or Mariano Renato or Doy Santos or, yes, Benigno, and you see intellectual foundations that go deeper than that of 99% of all Americans. Seeing with wise eyes, expressing concepts artistically or logically.

Filipinos are smart.

Then why is the nation so poor? So corrupt? So polluted? So industrially lackluster?

That is the bump in the space/time continuum that I've been working on. So let me try my latest iteration of thinking about this. First, a review.

I have learned that one cultural phenomenon of Filipinos that sets them apart from Americans and other Western cultures is a humongous preoccupation with self. I call it Ego, with a capital E because it is so profound. This Ego is also tender, sensitive, and susceptible to either murderous outrage or total capitulation.

Egos actually fit quite well into the Philippine social system of situational power, where people size each other up as fast as the mind can compute, "that guy has a nice car, he may be someone important; so what if he is on my side of the road; I choose the rice paddy."  Power and subservience to power are two poles of hundreds of daily interactions, whether they be on the road or in the bank or at a government office. The person in power is rude, the person without power concedes. And makes excuses or tosses blames to save face or undermine the face of the person with power. . . behind his back.

Seldom to his face. Delicate dazzle requires submission.

Sometimes people can buy a little power with some excess cash. That is the Philippine style of corruption which is broadly accepted as legitimate no matter what big fish the President is currently trying to fry. After all, the main currency is not the peso, but the favor. Trading favors may get more accomplished than cash investments. But cash is also a nice favor to swap, under the table, or behind the scenes. A job. A court settlement. A driver's license. An election. An unfair contract.  A used helicopter as new.

So Ego is big here, and power, and the trade of favors.

Overlay the Ego with a case of blindness to one's own susceptibility to the forces of power, and you have a great unmovable chunk of concrete that does not do change well. Why have things not changed much from the 1950's? First of all, there is precious little introspection, so there is no read-out that gross change is needed. Second, thinking outside the box puts one at the target side of the bow-and-arrow where traditionalists take plenty of shots. After all, rich oligarchs who control everything like being rich oligarchs, and they sit at the pinnacle of power. All that they do . . . or fail to do . . . like stuff in a sewer line . . . flows downhill.

It is a society that does not do strategies well. It is transactional, waiting for and reacting to the assorted powers that emerge from the day's activities. Or from the ever present oligarchs. No one dare pre-empt  the powers that be. No one dare plan around them.

And that brings me to the matter of a certain passion. Or the absence thereof. Why do people not rebel if they are dealt shit every time they turn around? Why are they subservient? I don't mean march and mindlessly join the anti-government protests occurring around the globe, as if responsibility can somehow be found in a mob. Why don't they form progressive, independent political groups? Or a consumer's union? Or a civil liberties union? Why don't they organize the universities with a charisma that shouts loud and clear, "this is what we demand!"? How can the Catholic Church speak so powerfully, but a million university students stand largely mute?

Why don't they protest FOR certain rights, instead of against things. Protest FOR gender equality and divorces that give women (or men) the right to end relationships that punish them; just as they had the right to form a relationship they erroneously thought would be good for them? It is a legal contract, by Constitutional law outside the reach of faith. Protest FOR equal opportunity laws that remove favor from the career path and substitute competence in its stead? Protest FOR free schools so the poor have opportunities equal to richer folk? Protest FOR free access to courts so justice serves all?

I argue that the reason is the lack of a certain kind of passion. One that knows how to channel wrong into a forceful corrective path. Missing is the passion of righteousness.

The United States is a nation of immigrants. People left the hard times in their homelands and set out to find the wealth of opportunity available in a democratic nation. They moved their lives to a capitalist nation that prized ambition. A free nation, dedicated to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. A growing nation with lots of land and riches there for the discovery. Gold. Silver. Farms. Ranches. Stores. Trade. Banking.

They bought into the American Dream lock, stock and soul. They became passionate about defending it. They defeated racists in the Civil War. They advocated gender equality, age equality. Fair treatment. Transparent information rather than commercial manipulation. They became litigious, and a flood of social justice lawsuits defined where freedom left off and harm began. The passion of righteousness arose every day in every form of media. Right and wrong were knocked about and shaped until a center emerged. And good. And how to attain life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as an individual and as a community.

The passion of righteousness became the soul of the American Dream.

That is what is missing in the Philippines. Missing is a deep-down sense of wrong carried too far. Missing is the national scream for a right abandoned for too long.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Knowledge, Skills, Discipline, Socialization

Why do we send our kids to school? Do you ever think about that?

Do we send them to get them out of the house and out of our hair?

Do we send them because everyone else does, and because, generally, we think school is a good thing?

I ask these questions because if we don't understand what we hope to accomplish by sending our kids to school, I don't know how we structure the best education for them. I rather think that, in the Philippines, the top educators don't think much about why kids are in school. They are too busy administering the standard curricula, getting text books, making rules, building classrooms and hiring teachers.

They see solutions only in a bigger budget. Not in reconfiguring education to improve what students learn, and to give kids the opportunity to be the best they can be.

It seems to me that there are four benefits kids get out of school:

  1. Knowledge: History and science give us a perspective on our world. It is generalized information that can be put to good use in understanding why it is important to trek down to the polling place to vote or wash our hands before eating.

  1. Skills: Mathematics for most people represents a skill. How to add up the cost of the shopping list or calculate the risks of investing in this or that. Welding is a skill. Science is knowledge.

  1. Discipline: Will we follow the rules or not? Do we have the routines in place to achieve a goal, like passing an exam or getting a paper written well and on time? Or later on, being self-motivated and productive on the job.

  1. Socialization: Will we engage other people directly, or manipulate the situation to favor us, or beat the shit out of someone who we perceive has slighted us? Do we have the confidence and aptitude to compete for success?

Now the level of emphasis given to some of these areas ought to vary depending on the "Development Platform". In the youngest years, all kids should receive the same fundamentals, with emphasis on discipline (good study habits) and socialization (how to find harmony in process and happiness through achievement). Later, the Platform might change as a child's "interests and aptitudes" become clearer.  The curricula should adjust according to what the goal is.

The two basic Development Platforms are:

  1. College track, or, in primary school, getting the discipline and knowledge needed to succeed in the next step of education.

  1. Trade track, or getting skills, discipline and knowledge in place to perform tasks for an employer who values individual productivion.

If we reflect on how to develop kids, we can observe that the Philippine public education system from kindergarten through high school has some profound flaws. These are flaws apart from the shortage of classrooms and teachers. They are correctable. Let me recite a few that I think have profound effect.

  1. Knowledge that is irrelevant. Take the table of elements. How relevant is it to know the symbol for Silver  is Au and why it is isn't Sl. And what element number it is? Why should hours of a student's time be spent memorizing the table  versus five minutes spent understanding how to Wiki the table and 10 minutes grasping what it is used for?  The point here is that this is not the 1950's and knowledge about how to get information is more important than the information itself. How do you teach the internet if your classroom has no computer? How do students compete with students around the world who DO learn computers? The Philippine teaching method is 1950's. Today is 2011.

  1. Skills that aren't. It does no good to try to teach a person who thrives on manual productivity how to calculate cosines. It does no good to try to teach an aspiring oceanographer how to paint or kick a soccer ball. It does a lot of good to test a student for aptitude and put him in a program that fits. One curriculum does not fit all.

  1. Discipline that is not. How can it be that so many kids graduate and go on to adopt the corrupt morality of favoritism that undermines Philippine well-being and productivity? The kids are taught to obey, follow the rules and learn by rote, but somehow way too many emerge to cheat, to connive, to take the easy way. Now a part of this is the social framework into which they are thrown, favor based rather than capability based. But a part is that they are not taught to aspire, to compete, to brainstorm and organize solutions, or to cherish the pride that comes with adhering to upstanding principles.

  1. Socialization that fails. The one mystery to my western mindset is why Filipinos are unkind to each other, lacking in basic consideration and courtesy. The nation seems to situationally sort people into powerful and powerless and it is considered acceptable for the powerful to trample on the powerless. Blaming, excuse making and knocking down successful people and practices are common reactions from the powerless. This is NOT an upward bound social framework. I believe Kids should be taught elements of character. Kindness, thoughtfulness, personal ethics. Ambition that is exercised honorably. Independent thought.  I believe a caring, aspiring culture is a productive culture. It is a rich culture. Introspection is important. Denial is counterproductive.

I'd recommend the Department of Education rethink why kids are in school. And get out of the 1950's.

Monday, October 24, 2011

"The Philippine dream is . . ."

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.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Iraq, the VFA and Senator Santiago

A few years ago when a Filipina named Nicole lived on the front pages of all the newspapers in the Philippines and occupied the lead story in relentless television coverage about her bad night on the town, a great many people attacked the US, its motives and its military manners. Her accused abuser, a young man of low military rank and poor judgment, was tried before the court of public opinion and found guilty. A lower court also found him guilty, but evidence was not very important in that finding. Nicole was found innocent by reason of being a Filipina.

During this period of outstanding ratings for the media in the Philippines, even  congressmen stepped shrilly before the microphones to decry the "unfair" treatment the Philippines had been given in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). This is the agreement that defines how military people are to be handled between the two countries;  visas, imprisonment policies, etc. Under the VFA, Filipino soldiers who break laws in the US are to be held and tried in the US. US soldiers who break the laws in the Philippines are held by the US (at its Embassy) until convicted and sentenced by Philippine courts.

Senator Santiago's cry stands vivid in my memory. "The humiliation! The humiliation!" she exclaimed, obviously feeling that the disparate clause about prisoners was an intentional insult hurled at the Philippines by arrogant officials in the US.

Fast forward to the Spratley Island tussle with China now going forward and we note there are no more headlines condemning the US, no more attention getting cries by Senator Santiago, no more marches down Roxas Boulevard by Filipinos condemning the US, not even a whisper of a demand that the VFA be re-written.

Why? Because it is patently clear that the Philippines gets more in terms of defensive aid than it gives up by some rarely used inequity in the imprisonment clause. No congressman in his right mind would today disrupt the defensive support being offered to the Philippines by the US to argue the imprisonment clause.

Now the VFA has not changed. It is still the same words as when Nicole ruled the Inquirer roost. The Philippines held the same advantages then as it has now. And if a US soldier beats the tar out of a Filipino during this week's Spratleys joint training exercise by the US and Philippine military, the US soldier will not be imprisoned in a Philippine jail.

The reason the VFA has not changed is that the US would end the defensive alliance before abandoning her soldiers to a court system that cannot be trusted to rule in law, that is too susceptible to rulings of influence over evidence.

The verification we have for this is with us today in Iraq. The US would like to leave troops in Iraq after the end of the year to continue to support Iraq, and Iraq would like to have them there. But Iraq won't accept the US demand that its troops be given immunity from prosecution. The US does not trust the Iraqi judiciary.

So the US will leave Iraq on December 31, 2011. Period.

The US stands by her principles, and one of them is not to leave a soldier behind. The soldier offers his life; the US will return the commitment. Hundreds of lives will be risked to rescue one man trapped behind enemy lines. And the US will not turn its soldiers over to a haphazard standard of justice. Even if those soldiers make a mistake. She will punish her own. As Private Smith was ultimately punished, in proportion to his misjudgment.

Now Philippine hostility toward the VFA and US was expedient at the time. It allowed the Philippines to smack at an overbearing power-monger and feel important. It was the easy way. Playing the victim card in a long-term love-hate relationship. Blaming. No one was willing to step forward to defend the Agreement for the POSITIVE benefits that squarely are granted to the Philippines under the VFA.

And it was truly a wonderful media moment. Three years worth.

I suppose this is common in mankind in general, just not the Philippines. Little manipulations to appear wise and capable. But what is starkly clear is what a mistake it would have been if emotion had gotten the better part of judgment, and if Nicole had not recanted her charge. Either the US would not stand ready to support the Philippines today, or the Philippines would have to run to the US to craft a quick agreement to counterbalance China's bullyism in the West Philippine Sea. With an imprisonment clause the US would accept.

I have discovered that this is typical of the way the Philippines operates. Transactionally. For its own advantage as the times change. Not according to an enduring principle.

There is no enduring principle that would have Philippine leaders stand proudly behind the nation's alliance with the US to bridge over a bad night on the town by TWO irresponsible drunks.

I will soon do a blog about "The Philippine Dream", for I don't know what it is. I know what the American Dream represents to all the immigrants who have flocked to her shores for 235 years. But I have no idea what guiding principles are held up by Filipinos to inspire them to grow stronger and richer. Without guiding principles, it is impossible to adhere to a consistent course through all the transactional and political winds that arise from time to time.

As for responsibility, I believe Philippine media should explicitly step forward and ask Senator Santiago what she thinks about the VFA today. Now she was not the only critic of the VFA; she was just one of the loudest and most shrill.

If she supports it, she should accept responsibility for her earlier outburst and apologize to Filipinos. She need not apologize to America; the US hears rants like hers all the time. But in seeing the VFA as a "humiliation", she refused to stand up for defense of the Philippines.

Now understand her failure. For Nicole, an irresponsible Filipina drunk out with an irresponsible American drunk, she would toss the agreement that keeps US guns behind Filipino security. She would place the entire country at risk for a headline moment.

Remember, weighty advantages to the Philippines existed in the VFA then, as they do now. And she condemned the Agreement.

Responsibility is a very important principle. She chose expediency. She chose popularity. She did not choose principle.

And if she chooses still to view the VFA as a "humiliation" today, then lots of luck to her in the next election . . .

My guess is the media will not revisit the VFA. It would be a humiliation for them, too. They would have to go back and recant their Op-Ed condemnations of the VFA.

Better to sneak about thinking no one knows about their blatant errors of judgment, two drunks over the security of the Philippines.

And my guess is Filipinos will not demand that their media or legislators step forward and accept responsibility either.

They would have to admit they were short sighted, too. This was an entire nation that could not see past the headlines, that could not see that no contract is ever exactly the same for both parties, that it is a weighing of advantages and disadvantages that make it equal for both. This was an entire nation, an emotional nation, that could not weigh its own security against two irresponsible drunks, and come down on the side of security.

It is better for an entire nation to hide out until it blows over. You know, tippy toe quietly away and hope Joe Am and loudmouths of his ilk shut up.

The moral to my story is:  be true to your principles. 
If you don't have principles, then, by cracky, find some.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wall Street Virus

I see from this morning's news clippings that the Wall Street protests have gone viral, speeding across the so-called civilized world faster than a cold in a school classroom.

I thought for a time it would just go away. But it hasn't because conditions are ripe for spread. The world's economic body is ill, run-down, weak, suffering. It is open to all kinds of infections and bugs. So, damn. Now I have to think about it and adopt a posture.

That's what we bloggers do. Adopt postures.

Ahahahaha. I see the late Twiggy strutting her bony body down the fashion boardwalk, the late Mychael Jackson on stage tipping his hat with a white-gloved hand, and the very late Charlie Chaplin looking big-eyed and innocent whilst leaning silently on a cane. You youngsters might instead see Showtime dancers grabbing at their crotch or Kris Aquino fattening up on Goldilocks sweets or Manny Pacquiao smiling during his march to the ring where he knows he is about to pulverize another chump and make millions.

My posture is hunched over a Chinese keyboard whacking away at letters in hopes that something articulate might come out. Sometimes it does.

Here's my posture on protests.

The Occupy Wall Street movement fancies itself as a counter to the Tea Party conservatives. The Tea Party emerged from a bunch of old folks dissatisfied with the spending habits of Congress and blossomed as the megaphone for loud right wingers who tutored under the subtle charm of Rush Limbaugh and the calm introspection of Glen Beck and the fair and balanced perspective of the leaning tower of rightward tilt, Fox News.

My posture on that was to shrug. Even nitwits who require a collective to support them in their strident and irrational demands have a right to meddle with the American Way.

So I rather think the same thing regarding Occupy Wall Street. Even nitwits who require a collective to support them in their strident and irrational demands have a right to meddle with the American Way.

I do find amusing, and quite ridiculous, the media's obsession with things American. There's the CNN lady and the BBC yokel in downtown New York reporting breathlessly about "the several hundred" protestors gathered there. Now, frankly folks,  it is rather a bit of unmitigated gall for these hundreds of wayward bodies to claim they represent 99% of Americans, 98% of whom are in bed resting from last night's alcoholic or sex binge and looking forward to a day on the couch watching sports and gnashing nachos. Well, that's the guys, and the sex may only have been in their imaginations. The ladies are thinking about their nails or about running down to the mall to buy a new handbag. The youth are on Facebook being inane, as youth are wont to do.

Now what is going on in Syria is a protest. What is going on in Egypt is a protest. What is going on in New York or Denver or London is a youthful spit of frustration that is not based on very deep thinking. It smacks of trying too hard to be like other righteous malcontents raging in the streets.

It smacks of the same kind of jealousy you see in the Philippines where the "have nots" rip the "haves" because they can't figure out how to get even a little. Scape goats, excuse mongering. Venting.

"Corporate greed."

Baby, examined through a different set of colored glasses, it is called "profit motivation". It is the drive to succeed that underpins ALL jobs in America. It is the gold statue we all aspire toward, more wealth, more capability, self-improvement. It's just that these banking guys outdid us. They played it right, with their education, their connections, their achievements. Maybe luck was in there, too.

Why knock them down and undermine the fundamental dynamic that assures America's economic health and vibrancy, built on personal aspiration and success?

Controlling salaries and benefits for CEO's is like controlling rents. It creates so many anomalies in the economic bucket that holes pop out all over the place and it no longer holds water.

Stick with the principles. Markets define limits. Competition defines success.

Spending tax money to get the banks through an economic meltdown was a smart thing to do. It saved America. That the banks are back competing for talent again and paying their CEO's obscene amounts only means that the effort succeeded.

Indeed, I think exactly the opposite of the Wall Street crowd. I view America's corporations as a strategic strength, one of the ways to assure that Europe's shenanigans (subsidizing Airbus to undercut Boeing) or China's cheating (stealing every industrial secret they can get their hands on, whilst going around the world bullying small kids) don't undermine America's economic well-being. Don't CONSTRAIN big corporations by micro-managing how much they pay their CEO.

Let the dog's lose.

Stop double-taxing corporations. Stop harassing them about taking jobs overseas or operating in countries where human rights conditions are a little loose (like the Philippines). Stop playing moralist to the world and expecting the driver's of America's wealth to stand as proxies for some kind of religious fervor in favor of kindness. Companies are not people, contrary to what Mitt Romney claims. They are apersonal organisms of productive might. They are a concept, a principle. Compete well and generate wealth.

Why beat on them with sticks?

THAT will create wealth and jobs???

That's my posture.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Caveman and the Nanotubes

Once upon a time there was a man, a hairy man, who lived in a cave. The location of the cave is not know precisely, but scientists surmise that it was somewhere southeast of Des Moines, Iowa, in the good old US of A. This is known because the cave man's bones have been found in that vicinity. And in Los Angeles near the Jet Propulsion Lab, and in Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri side.

How, you say, were scientists able to discern that the bones came from the same caveman?

Elementary, my Dear Watson de la Cruz. They were an odd shade of green.

Plus, rather like an interlocking 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, the wizards or the lab found they could connect the neck bone of  Des Moines to the backbone of Los Angeles to the hip bone of the Ozarks. "Praise da word of da Lord!"

On investigating the bones, scientists were able to discover that the green tinge was not from the bones themselves, but from a fine coating of nanotubes, rather like a wool shirt, covering the bones. If you have been doing your science reading, you will know that today's modern man is also going down this path of building nanotubes. You take the basic nano material, stretch it until it pops into the shape of a tube made of a bazillion little hexagons, dip it in kickapoo joy juice to coat it with ions, and voila' it twists and shouts on command, generating torque about 1,000 times its own mass.

Torque is the spinning force found in motors.

So these little tubes can be made to twist and shout under certain conditions, which creates a motor finer than a human hair. Imagine that!

So these little motors enable applied scientists, who are the dudes who actually use the materials concocted by the theoretical scientists  (not that the scientists are theoretical themselves; they really exist . . . but their work is theoretical until it is proven, then, because it is no longer theoretical, they publish an article in some obscure technical magazine, pray for a Nobel prize and the $ million that comes with it, and move on to other mindbending discoveries), to control small valves and do other useful things, which shall remain unstated at this point because they remain top-secret because the military applications are such that the balance of world power tips on the edge of one of the little hexagons that comprise a tiny tube.

I'll give you a hint, though. Drones the size of a gnat carrying nukes the size of a gnat's gonad.

But I digress . . . not only that, but I run at the mouth . . .

So how, you might ask, did a caveman get his bones packed in green nanotubes and splattered across the land of the free?

You know, I don't really know.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Free the Philippines!

I am always surprised when some take my writings personally. Perhaps I have been deficient in making clear that I intend to comment on the social integrity of the Philippines, or lack there of. Not the integrity of Filipinos as individuals.

There is a distinction between the character of the individual and the character of the social framework within which people operate.

Take America. Americans are fundamentally good people. They seek to better themselves. They are for the most part good parents. They obey the laws, go to church or subscribe to rational good thoughts, and sacrifice for their country by serving in the military and paying taxes. They contribute their earnest labors to the accumulation of national capital.

Americans are also greedy consumers of the world's resources. They shop like crazy with little regard for the impact the goods they purchase have on the world's well-being. They are wasteful.  My guess is that, collectively, they throw away enough food every day to feed all the squatter's villages in the Philippines. They buy things in order to feel important or look good. They could be giving to charity instead.

So the people are good, but the social framework could use some work to move evermore toward a healthy, vibrant caring society.

When I write a piece about the Philippines entitled "Born to Fail", I don't intend for that article to say to every Filipino "you are a failure". I am trying to express a concept that the Philippine social framework has some inherent problems that work AGAINST the well-being of the Philippines, and Filipinos.

I am FOR the well-being of the Philippines, and Filipinos. And I think Filipinos are fundamentally good people. Intelligent, well-meaning, proud, hard-working. They commit to their family and their community. They are sincere. They are good humored. They sacrifice for their loved ones.

But the Philippine social framework penalizes Filipinos because it suppresses initiative, creativity and achievement. Schools teach kids how to spit back what they are told rather than create new knowledge themselves. The workplace is plugged by the hiring of family and favorites. The Philippines lacks the dynamic of millions of people aspiring to better themselves, prove themselves to the boss, compete for promotions based on productivity, and grow richer in money and capability.  Successful nations instill hope and opportunity, and from that flows achievement. It is in our human bones, this need to grow and build. But the social forces at play in the Philippines suppress it.

It is difficult for citizens to create change. Legislator self-interest is bound in keeping things the same, so that they can win elections and get rich in ways that are open to the powerful but not the powerless. The courts do not give the people a voice in correcting the cheating and wrongdoing that abound. They erect fee barriers and are clogged with delays and inefficiency. For justice to be fair, it needs to be speedy. In the Philippines, it is not. So the people have no direct voice, in law.

The regal attitude of the leadership extends throughout the land to any forum where person A has what person B wants. Too many government offices, retail stores and services vendors are cold, brusque, oand autocratic, scowling at customers.  Doctors refuse to respect that a customer has things to do other than sit and wait for hours on a "first come" basis. There is no drive to put the customer first. And so inefficiency and sloppy service characterize how customers are treated. The citizen is pushed down. Down. Down.

The social framework is oppressive. It is anti-efficient. It is a framework of a society that is born to fail.

How wonderful it would be if fundamentally good people had a chance to excel. Rather than be held back.

  • How wonderful it would be if good kids had a chance to be all that they can be. Rather than drifting mindlessly through a public school system hopelessly over-crowded and under-resourced. Technology provides the means to leverage teaching talent.

  • How wonderful it would be if capable people were rewarded with promotions and more pay, removing the favoritism that plugs all the upward paths with incompetence. Who wants corruption when they have a career?

  • How wonderful it would be if the courts were open to all, efficient and just. Rather than useless at providing the public with a place to redress wrongs and demand change. How dynamic the nation would become if the people had a voice in law.

  • How wonderful it would be if service providers grasped the uplift that comes from recognizing the customer is king. And GAVE respect instead of demanding it for themselves. How refreshing to feel lifted up rather than beaten down.

To President Aquino I would say fighting corruption case by case is like putting a Band-Aid on a heart attack. It is also a negative initiative. Go positive and start building a social framework that unbinds the dreams and capabilities of a good people: Education that teaches kids to aspire. Employment rules that mandate that rewards go to capability not friends, and removes the incentives for corruption. Courts that work, that quickly bring the corrupt and other lawbreakers to account. Customer service that respects Filipinos, and uplifts them.

Give good people a framework for self enhancement. Stop holding them back.

Free the Philippines.

Free Filipinos to achieve and prosper.