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:
- Value to consumers.
- 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.