Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hey, Arrogant American, Stop Criticizing Us!

That was the first complaint that came my way when I started commenting on Filipino blog sites a few years ago. I had referred to the Philippines as "the islands" which attorney Bencard found condescending.

I agreed with him, as I reflected on it. And I went through a period of being more reserved and careful. I felt like a guest, like a newbie, because I didn't quite understand how things worked here.

Now I've kicked around a few years, trying to figure out why I think so differently than my neighbors, and why I find living here so frustrating. By western standards, this is a civilization that is discourteous and inefficient, a place where poverty and dysfunctional living, and babies without love, persist.

Well, it is true that Filipinos can be whatever they choose to be and anyone who does not want to partake of the lifestyle can mosey on to a place they find more to their liking. And it is true that many in Manila and other big cities are attuned to more cosmopolitan values.

But I also believe that subservience is a trait found too frequently in the Philippines, and also, at the other extreme, that those who are not subservient move too quickly to the gun as their preferred choice of action. 

Better to work with ideas and demonstrate determination to fix the things that should be fixed and leave alone the things that do no harm. Better to hold the well-being of the Philippines in our sights and remain neither complacent nor rabid for violent change. Better to work to build instead of tear down.

I think hypocrisy and upside down thinking are not constructive. It is bizarre for me to see Filipinos complain about poverty while partaking in the very activities that assure poverty thrives, tying the Philippines to a big stake in the ground while the rest of Asia soars. You are assured of poverty if you birth babies faster than the economy can produce wealth, jobs and food. You are assured of poverty if you give the produce of the Philippines to people who cannot turn it into more wealth; like giving land to farmers who turn it to weeds or mines to Koreans who cart their profits to Seoul or allowing legislators to siphon off the public's money to pass out favors to stay in office. You are assured of poverty if you don't invest your money in things that build value. That applies both to public and private money.

So now I yap in unrestrained fashion. I have no axes to grind, no candidate to support, no need to defend my manhood, no money to make. Just ideas to offer and an openness to ideas submitted.

Here's what I think. I think there is not a big enough executive core in the Philippines. Not in government. Not in business, where too often an "executive" is someone's brother or schoolmate. Certainly not in local government where everything is disorganized and slapdash and amazingly authoritarian. It is like the whole mien of government is that the rest of us are intellectually challenged twits of no standing who have to be ordered about. The public service mandate gets flipped backward.

Power is important here. It is a value, supplanting the Golden Rule.

Trading favors is important here. It is a value, supplanting obedience to laws.

Organization and planning and consideration of others and efficiency and kindness are not prized values. Exercising the discipline to obey laws is not a value. "I'll park in the middle of the National Highway if I want to. Deal with it. I'll dynamite the fish and cut the logs, chop the coral, hoard the rice, smuggle the onions, sell the poor young girls for money, slaughter the turtles, and fish the bays to desert. What's it to you, Bub?"

Here is the observation of the Ken Powell, Chairman of General Mills, cited this year as the most respected big business in America:

"We value our corporate reputation tremendously and work hard every day to foster and honor the trust of our stakeholders. For us, building this trust includes delivering nutrition and value to consumers through innovation, strong community engagement, a commitment to protecting the environment, as well as developing strong leaders to grow our business around the world. We believe consumers reward companies that operate with integrity and stay focused on doing what is right over the long-term.”

Read that again and highlight the following in bright yellow marker:

  • Trust.

  • Value to consumers.

  • Innovation.

  • Strong community engagement.

  • Protecting the environment.

  • Developing strong leaders.

  • Consumers reward companies that operate with integrity.

General Mills is the daylight. They live it. They don't just write it and do something very different. They start with trust and end with integrity and build products and respect between those two bookends.

Philippine values are the night. The bookends are Ego and Pride. In between is a mishmash of inefficiency, incompetence, disorganization, rationalization, excuse-making and blame. And a whole lot of cheating as people try to scrape off a bigger share of the limited wealth available to everyone.

You can't cling to the nighttime values and expect poverty and its twin, ignorance, to go away.

You have to do things differently. Like General Mills, built trust. Stop taking from the public and give to them. Innovate. Work for the betterment of all; sacrifice a little of self. Cherish the beautiful Philippine environment. Develop strong leaders. Build integrity.

It astounds me that these principles can't be acquired here. That old and young adhere to a model of dysfunctional power pushing and insufferable self-service. Intellect is a dirty word. So is ambition. And achievement. Leaders cannot seem to motivate their citizens to aspire, compete and find pride in personal achievement. Leaders have no idea how to build competence into a work force riddled with friends and sycophants.

These islands are a raft. Not enough people are paddling.

I suppose it will change when a group of young, intelligent Filipinos decides to channel their energy, not into anger, continuing the power-pushing that destroys value, but into a determination to weed the nation of values that harm it, and instill values that build it.

The main drag on wealth-building in the Philippines is not the economy.

It is values.


  1. " trying to figure out why I think so differently than my neighbors"

    how do u think differently? i'd like to hear some of these alleged differences...

    1. GabbyD. Ha, "alledged". So innocent of being different unless I prove difference. I arrive on time because it is respectful of the fact that others have things to do and I can upset their schedules. Filipinos arrive at any time they want. I follow the rules of the road, for safety sake, they do not (helmets during checkpoints, then put them away). I speak directly and my neighbors never confront things (I had to let my wife manage the workers here because my approach didn't work; generosity was viewed as weakness on my part so they would take advantage, etc.). There are others, but I don't want to write a whole blog here.

    2. i think its more fun and productive to speak on specifics than in generalities.

      1)i think being on time may be a difference. but i dont see why you have to put up with it, unless u need them somehow. if they are late, just leave them. if u have something else u'd rather do, then go and do it. leave them behind.

      2) helmets? hmm. it really depends on your speed. if u are travelling at 40kph, dont u think helmets are ridiculous?

      3)generosity as weakness... it depends, u mention u had an "approach", suggesting u were solving a problem.

      what was the problem? the solution to the problem depends crucially on what the problem is.

    3. GabbyD, let's have some fun then. In order itemized . . .

      1) I do as you say. I've left my wife behind when she couldn't get her act together on time. I am never "at home" if people drop by unannounced; our house is big enough to disappear in. The drawback of lose time management is inefficiency. It has been drilled into me in my former corporate lifestyle, and prior to that, the Army, where being late to action puts people at risk. It isn't that severe in civilian life, but it is serious. It is also discourteous, and courtesy is a good thing.

      2) I once saw a guy fall off a parade float and crack his skull at 5 MPH. The helmet laws exist for a reason. Same as speeding laws, or fireworks laws. Public safety. Following laws is a good thing.

      3) My approach was to give bonuses for steady, quality work; what it got was people showing up late for work and taking days off. I paid one guy above market as a mason, because I pay everyone that, and he bragged to his buddies how he had ripped me off. Now the wife handles it, and she pays market and snarls at them if they goof off. My approach was to encourage self-starter initiative; it got the opposite.

    4. thanks for these... let me deal w #2 first:

      don't you think thats a freak accident? at 5mph (8kph?), you can die, but thats got to be some kind of accident.

      we can die anywhere, crossing the street, in the bathroom, while sleeping... asking people in a float going at that speed to wear helmets is a bit much.

      in the same way that someone slipping in the bathroom is NOT an argument to regulate bathrooms, one dude falling off a slow wagon is NOT an argument to ask people to wear helmets.

    5. GabbyD, ahhh, the libertarian argument, we should be free to injure ourselves if we want. Next up, allowing marijuana smoking, because you can tax the hell out of it and people are no less responsible than drunks. Indeed, I have no problem with repealing helmet laws personally, but would instead negotiate for a law banning stray dogs. I have a feeling dogs do more damage to motorcyclists than lack of helmets do. But it is the law, designed to keep Filipinos safe and out of public hospitals, where the state carries the burden of pasting the broken heads back together again. It is a fact that pavement is unforgiving. When it meets the human head, the human head always loses.

  2. Yeah, Joe! Stop criticizing us. LOL

    Anyway, my take has always been this:

    It's impossible to come up with change at the national level overnight. We're talking about a cultural change, right? Even corporations can't change that fast, General Mills didn't establish that reputation in just a year. I think development by means of pilot implementation is possible. Case in point: Subic and Marikina

    It does not have to be everything at once. The thing is, people in leadership positions got stuck at flagship projects that don't last as soon as they step down.

    Successors often claw at their predecessors just to make a name for themselves. As soon as differentiation is done, they settle in to what their predecessors did. Case in point: PNoy and Erap

    The change you wish for can happen. That's as soon as people realize that they have to get their heads out of their asses, hands off the keyboards and realize that there's real work to be done. Tweeting about it to death won't bring change.

    1. You know, you make a superb, superb point. I'm tempering my sharpness because, indeed, I am seeing bits and pieces of change, and think we will wake up one day and will say, whoa, what happened to those schlocky 1900's? We got some action goin' on here! It is a perspective I think that escapes also the critics of government policies and practices. The two unrealistic expectations are: (1) it should be perfection or it is complete failure, and (2) it should be done NOW.

    2. There's a thin line dividing criticism and empty rants. :)

  3. Joe,

    For every General Mills there is a Goldman Sachs. For every trading of favors there is insider trading which is another term for trading of favors.

    One thing I learned from living in America and making comparisons between the two countries is this: the negatives that you see in Filipinos are also found in Americans. It's not so much the culture or the history of a people as it is human nature. With the exception of sociopaths I think everybody wants to do good except that human nature being what it is, people will always take the easiest path to achieve their desired goals. And every society has their own enabling mechanism for this weakness. That enabling mechanism is what needs to be identified and taken down.

    In the past few decades we have seen America decline because, much like the Philippines, powerful people are getting away with more and more. I was in America during the savings and loans crisis. Except for Keating, not too many people were called to account. There were other huge scandals besides the S&L crisis. You had iran/Contra in politics to bigger and better financial shenanigans in Wall Street to Enron, Blackwater, to no-bid contracts in Iraq and on and on and on. And those involved got away with it. Just like in the Philippines. Because they had money and connections. Just like in the Philippines. Ted kennedy got away with Chappaquidik, his nephew got away with the rape case.

    Sure instilling the right values is good. It is positive. But you also have to have negative motivations for people to behave properly. And you do that by making everyone realize that adopting the wrong values has a personal price. The Philippines and America have to make it very expensive for people to cut corners, to scoff at the law etc. People have to realize that sure they can go ahead and do it but they better be certain they won't get caught because without a doubt whoever gets caught will pay a price that will be beyond the reach of their pocketbooks and connections.

    Sometimes no oftentimes it takes an outsider to see what is wrong. That's the service outsiders perform. And that's appreciated. I too saw a lot wrong with America when I was living there including some forms of bigotry that thankfully do not exist here in the same intensity and form. I too would point out America's shortcomings, compare and contrast our societies to those who were familiar with both countries and cared to listen. And I was, like you, appreciated and criticized for being an outsider who spoke his mind.

  4. MB, I think we've had the discussion before about American faults being little different than what you find in the Philippines, and I was argumentative. We should have it again sometime, because I'm starting to shade toward your view. I DO see more constructive achievements in Philippine commerce than I did a couple of years ago (they were there; I didn't see them), and I DO see widespread abuses of core values in the U.S. (there are more today than there were two years ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement being one of them).

    Still, there are differences of some kind because the Philippines always resides in the lower part of rankings on corruption and poverty and happiness.

    I think the US has a fundamentally more productive way of instilling ambition and productivity in its work force, rather than the favoritism and authoritarian ways of the Philippines that looks at employees as "subjects" to be bossed. In the US, corporations look at them as "resources" to be nurtured and directed. That accounts for America's better ability to solve problems and generate wealth.

    But the point about the US trend line being negative, I agree with. The acrimony you see in politics is now feeding into the commercial sector, and anger and extremism are pushing out everywhere. It is not pretty, watching the glue of high values deteriorate into vested interest, narrowness and greed. And indeed, jailhouse punishment is handed to those without standing, whereas white collar criminals, who destroy more lives, walk back to their yachts.

    1. regarding work forces: why are american corporations going to countries where employees are seen as subjects instead of resources, where there is child labor, where wages are ridiculously low and workers are not allowed to strike?

      I think labor conditions in the US used to be like what we see now in many countries but labor unions forced US businesses to see them as resources. Unfortunately US business decided that the best way to deal with unions and regulations was to set up shop abroad.

    2. The drive for profits sometimes does produce wayward corporate behavior. But American social action groups shine the light on the most serious abuses (e.g.,child labor). And actually, a lot of manufacturing is returning to the U.S. for several reasons: (1) they get low cost work abroad, but poor quality, (2) the cost advantage is eroding, and (3) political pressure to "hire American" (coming both from citizens who criticize, and politicians who criticize, outsourcing. Indeed, labor unions had a lot to do with the outsource flood, and many reputable companies still have facilities abroad. And I rather suspect most manage responsibly.

    3. Thank God for those social action groups. And Apple, Nike, Walmart and thousands of globalized corporations should really leave China for more civilized manufacturing bases.

    4. I think China is too huge a market for them to leave. They hope China's enlightenment occurs real fast.

  5. off topic: before u replied to benk, that it was ilda herself that suggested pnoy step down, i did too.

    my post was deleted. in reply, B0 wrote something appallingly vague:"You’re suffering from a bit of that same cognitive bias that you keep accusing some people here of applying in the posts and comments that they publish."

    which i think is directed to either you or benk! hahaha....

    i hope its for benk, because i cannot believe its cognitive bias to point out facts? yikes! if so, someone doesnt know what cognitive bias means!

    getreal is very entertaining...

    1. Well, he just implied the same directly to me today, same words, so there you go. It is entertaining, indeed. He is pretty active throwing people out now, and dinged me for one spam. Pretty soon he will be talking to the only cognitively pure soul on the planet, himself. Downright godly perspectives we are blessed to receive there.


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