Saturday, January 28, 2012

Going in Circles

This blog has become stuck. I find myself going over the same tracks regarding Philippine culture. It is a limit of my ambition, I suppose, that I don't dig into new topics. There are several good sites that monitor important subjects such as the impeachment trial that do a better job of providing information than my factless opinion-mongering does.

My main interest is to understand the core Filipino values that generate the very different culture into which I have waded, for good and bad. I'm more interested in the framework, the social infrastructure, than the detailed acts carried out within that framework. Although some of those are juicy indeed.

I've got that framework sorted out fairly well, I think: poverty, a fundamental insecurity that shows up to make almost every interpersonal engagement a power contest, a lot of thinking that is isolated from context and veers off to dysfunction, and what I would term relentlessly inconsiderate and therefore non-productive actions. Filipinos make choices I would not make, but that is their prerogative. Like giving the Catholic Church so much power while letting the Church deny any responsibility for anything.

If I were to have a super-human power to impose three changes on Philippine society, I would impose the following:

  1. A revamping of public education, making it internet based, to free kids from the constraints of a stale program that is more focused on hollowblocks than generating a globally competitive caliber of students who are smart, psychologically healthy, and ambitious. Today, intelligent kids are dumbed down (45 kids per classroom) and opportunity is ripped from their lives; vibrant thinking and the joys of ambition are suppressed under an unimaginative, authoritarian model of instruction. It's tragic. Kids are precious but are treated here as if they were too much trouble.

  1. A revamping of the Judiciary to make it free to every Filipino, focused on quick action as a condition of being fair; efficient of process; and objective and scholarly in its rendering of law. Judges should be rated and paid according to specific metrics of quantity and quality of judicial output. Class-action lawsuits should be welcomed as a robust and legitimate legal processes. Open, fair and efficient courts would give the people an avenue for progressive action. They would not have to rely on a stuck-in-the-mud Legislature that benefits from keeping things the same.

  1. Actions from the Office of the President and Legislature that show they understand that the Philippines cannot compete globally as long as social mechanisms are hung up on a system of favors instead of competence. This "trade of favors" is the biggest, fattest, ugliest albatross in the world, holding the Philippines back from emergence as a wealthy economy. Favoritism can be broken down by enacting measures such as a fair employment law that bans hiring and promoting on ANY basis but qualification to do the job better than any other person. And continuing the anti-corruption effort.

I'm not sure who is in charge of socialization(personal interactions), so I don't have many idea about changes in that area. The popular media, I suppose. And schools could, but they evidently don't see that as a charter. Filipinos need the courage to recognize failure when it occurs -- looking earnestly for the reason WHY rather than whipping a scapegoat and thereby figuring the problem is solved -- and an ability to accomplish things without the kind of gloating that paints trees bright red. Actions, like trees, should represent themselves. I'm not a shrink, but I am reasonably sure that the psychological underpinnings of too many behaviors in the Philippines are unhealthy. There are too many blames, too many excuses, too much snarling and obedience (depending on which side of the power line you fall), too much associative pride, and too many hidden agendas.

Man, just stand up, and own up . . .

Overall, the nation's laws are good, but enforcement is really shitty. It would be wise to work purposefully to instill the kind of responsible, disciplined, considerate, modern behavior you see from overseas Filipinos, but not at home. This requires that officials hold people to account when they misbehave.

Fundamentally, I think people in power (old rich people) don't want to change all that much, either because they lack vision and aptitude to build things, or because they are risk averse.  The main hope for improved social awareness and developmental progress rests with the blogging and social networking community as it engages in self-discovery and pressures the power people into working harder for the betterment of the Philippines. Mainstream media are starting to pick up ideas from the on-line community, so perhaps constructive thinking will percolate up and spread, and all the dysfunctional, nonsensical, inconsiderate, illegal stuff will stop.

I hope so.

Catch you later.



  1. Joe,

    The people in power do not want change because they benefit from the status quo. Actual "Rule of Law" is not in their best interest since they have been living above the law by bending the rules for many generations.

    Imagine if a governor's son (of a political dynasty) would actually have to be stopped and fined by a lowly policeman for a traffic violation? Such a scenario may be common in America but not in the Philippines my friend. Over here, the governor's son simply mentions his name or makes a quick phone call and the lowly policeman has to let him go.

    Or how about a more serious example: A wealthy family monopolizes trade in their region. They to this through corruption, intimidation, and deception. You ask for a more fair society? But why should they give all that power away?

    Joe, you are correct in the diagnosis of the problem. Poverty, corruption, power struggle, lack of education, religion, etc.

    But your proposed solutions are so off the mark and, quite frankly, naive. To wish for a great leader to suddenly appear and bring these "Top to Bottom" reforms is like praying for Jesus Christ to come down from the heavens to rule the people and lead them to the promised land.

    The leaders that you see now are products of the same corrupt and dysfunctional society we have been talking about. Society has to change first before a critical mass of enlightened people are produced and this will take a very long time.

    Remember, it took almost 100 years for America to end slavery and another 100 years for civil rights legislation. Some argue that another 100 years will be necessary for racism to be truly eradicated.

    The Philippines has been independent since 1946? I say 2046, Filipinos start to "get it" and start serious reforms. 2146, if Filipinos don't destroy themselves, is the Philippines (but I think they will call themselves something else) you are blogging about.

  2. Expat, I understand, even the "naive" part. But it is the sum of the pushing even in unrealistic directions that may get a light-bulb somewhere going. The interesting thing to me (naive, too, perhaps), is that the power people have no idea how rich they would be, and fancy their toys would be, under a booming, modern economy. They have the wealth "nut" that gives them a jump start over everyone else. Thanks for the observations.

  3. The wealth is not the only thing they enjoy. Their psychology is very different from ours. I think they are concerned about preserving the feudal lord status. This type of power is different than the power of the rich westerners. It is more egoistic more macho and about self importance. We don't have this need but they do. Their self esteem is connected to it.

  4. I experience this ego trip with a few older Filipinos and Filipinas here in New York. They talk about how their family has Spanish blood and how many important relatives they have in important positions and how high and mighty they are. They only like me because I'm white tall and gwapo but I know that I'm just the token white man. I'm not in their league. I just have the right race and looks.

  5. Related to education, Filipino schools train students to follow teachers' instructions to the letter.

    Rarely do you find a student willing to stand up to his/her teacher and tell the teacher that he/she is doing something wrong. They usually wait for it go out of proportion, sometimes for fun, sometimes because they don't want to confront the teacher, or worst, the teacher to confront them (and call their parents).

    I remember my teacher speaking to my parents about my arguing with her over the values of fractions.

  6. My Filipina fiance told me that in her collage if the student ask questions to learn about something than the teachers often answers back by saying LANGKA which means dumb.
    They give answers that make the students feel intimidated so they will rather not ask questions the next time. She told me that is typical and that is why Filipinos in general don’t like questions and feel shy as they are afraid to “fail” and being criticized.

  7. AJ, Attila, my observation is that just about every interpersonal transaction in the Philippines breaks into a delineation of who has power and who does not. This is subtle sometimes, but you see the distinction everywhere, on the road, in stores, in government offices, and when friends gather and ridicule or question the choices of their friends.

  8. "This blog has become stuck. I find myself going over the same tracks regarding Philippine culture... There are several good sites that monitor important subjects such as the impeachment trial ... " - JOE

    Yes, they monitor but they are biased. The bloggers, clueless-oblivious-stuck-up-condescending english-snob Philippine Media either against or are for. There are no balanced analysis. There are no "what if this was the U.S. how would they do it?", "how would the American media would have covered this impeachment proceedings?". Nothing like that.

    Another often disregarded by bloggers is the Philippine Media. Their news gathering, OP-EDs. Their business section that cannot be understood by lay Filipinos. I can understand Wall Street Journal better than Philippine Media's business section.

  9. Atilla, card-carrying Fake American citizen Filipinos in America are the most protective and highly critical of english language usage. They do not bat an eyelash correcting your grammar in front of everyone else to make them look like they are very good in english. In blog comments, they attack your english grammar and spelling first before digesting contents.

    Just this morning, while sipping yuk gae jang in Koreatown their muted television had "Science and Math Quiz Show" beamed from Korea. Nothing like that here in the Philippines. Because it doesn't sell viewership.


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