Friday, December 14, 2012

Classmates and Achievement

Johnny Lin made a remark in a recent thread that focused on President Aquino's membership in an Ateneo group called the "Fab Five". The comment pertained to an Inquirer article that revealed that President Aquino appears to rely upon the counsel of his schoolmates working at the Palace over the counsel of his cabinet members.

That struck me as representing a uniquely different cultural quality than what you find in the United States. Schoolmates in the U.S. are generally not so deeply attached and influential as schoolmates in the Philippines. Yes, some people carry high school or college associations for a lifetime, but they are independent friendships, generally not linked to jobs.

The bonds of school friendships in the Philippines seem to take on a much deeper meaning. I see the pattern over and over again, with my wife, with Facebook friendships, with Gloria Arroyo and the generals she promoted, with President Aquino. Schoolmates are an integral part of one's decision-making and life's path in the Philippines.

No wonder Facebook fairly roars in the Philippines.

Is that bad or good?

Considering that the broad commercial and political roads here are paved in favor, it is simply a pragmatic thing. A necessary thing. Friends and family and classmates can open doors. So the close personal associations here have a utility that American's don't use as much because no ambitious boss in the U.S. would risk hiring a friend over someone who is competent.

The utility of family ties also binds OFW's to the homeland. Overseas workers send billions of pesos back to parents and wives and kids. Love is three thousand pesos a month and a box of Goldilocks treats delivered when visiting.

The ties that bind.

So I don't think one ought to criticize the President of the Philippines for being consistent with Philippine culture UNLESS one is also willing to criticize this entire national network of friendship and favor over competence.

For myself, I criticize both, arguing that nothing would energize the Philippines more than an equal employment law that unleashed competence as the driving force underpinning personal success.

But my views are generally dismissed as culturally irrelevant because "that's the way we do things here, Joe" and besides "you Americans do it, too, or you wouldn't have two Clintons in high politics, or the Bush family or the Kennedys". 

And I argue back that those are exceptions, not the rule, and the drive for MEASURED COMPETENCE is deeply  ingrained in business and public service employment practices in America. Careers incent achievement ; friendships do not. U.S. employers structure well-defined career paths for promising people. They set specific performance targets and conduct regular reviews of progress. Salaries, promotions and bonuses are tied to achievement.

It is different.

Friendships and families have utility in the Philippines. I can't tell if that utility is a substitution for affection or an add-on. In poorer communities, I think the utility is very pronounced as kids are sent out to the fields to help generate some income or food. Grandma also has utility, as a baby sitter while the single mother is out working. So utility works both up and down the family line.

If you like the way it is done in the Philippines, I have no problem with that.

I merely suggest there are other ways, and sticking with the status quo is a choice.

Just be fair and don't criticize the President of the Philippines for acting consistent with Philippine culture.

If you don't like the status quo, try some serious introspection. Consider the way Philippine society works as a form of infrastructure, and put in some different platforms, some different dynamics. For EVERYONE.

If Philippine leaders can imagine a Philippines focused on competence, they can put in place the framework to assure it. Indeed, I think that is what President Aquino has done with the Executive Branch.

Does Chief Justice Sereno have the clout to do that with the courts? We will see.

The Legislature is a rats nest of favor over competence. That is the public's fault, the media's fault, and the social media's challenge.

But for sure, people can't change the social infrastructure if they insist on doing things the same way it was done 115 years ago.


  1. In sickness and in health, for richer or poorer, till Supreme Court do us part ... FRIENDS FOREVER

    Friendship in the Philippines is like wedding vows. This is called the Bayanihan Spirit. Barkada, Kamaganaks, Kaibigans, Kasamahan.

    It works for Benigno because he has "upright" and "moral" friends what about those under Benigno? His cabinet members? Their bodyguards?

    That is why to this day, nobody has been caught wang-wanging along EDSA because even PMAyers are afraid to pull them over. If they did, they'd be directing a flotilla of navy pumpboats in lonely Spratleys against Chinese armada.

    *wang-wang is a police siren installed on civilian cars of the rich, powerful, and, well-connected

    1. Friends of Benigno may upright and moral but their presence is enough to make a security guard at Forbes tremble even though they do not have a pass and no business being there just like that Volvo driving teens that were allowed to pass thru the pearly gates of heavily guarded planned community.

      These are the kinds that never find its way into Rappler and even Rappler quake in their slippers if ever they were the first to bring it up in the spotlight.

      Rappler recycles the obvious and make it into political conquest without pinpointing behind-the-scene personalities.

    2. "Rappler recycles the obvious and make it into political conquest without pinpointing behind-the-scene personalities."

      I prefer the term "loosey goosey" writing, or maybe slap-dash, where they are slapping so much writing onto the internet that it gets pretty scattered and scatty. I've read trash there, and brilliance, and a pile of mediocrity, but I prefer it to mainstream media.

  2. My wife is goot at pulling friends' influences. As we all know, Department of Foreign Affairs - Passport Office is the busiest office of the Republic of the Philippines. People line up a night before so they be served the following day. THAT IS HOW FILIPINOS ARE EAGER TO LEAVE THE PHILIPPINES and go to their former colonial masters like America, Europe and Japan to apply for and beg for and surrender themselves to be recolonize.

    My wife asked her officemate who her big friends are over at Passport office. Her officemate gave a call to some biggie that my wife is going to visit to have her and my son's passport renewed because they are leaving soon to the Vatican to attend Pedro Calungsud's canonization.

    Lo and behold, she was stopped by the Security at the Passport Office. She dropped the name of the biggie. Security called the biggie if she knows my wife (actually the biggie and my wife do not know each other it is her officemate that know the biggie). The biggie waved my wife in. Ask for the form and passport and renewal fee. The biggie walked up to the cashier. Voila ! Week after she got her renewed passport! No money exchanged ! Just a call from a friend of the friend of the biggie.

    In another instance, my son had a fender-bender (it was my son's fault). License confiscated. My wife followed-up the release. When the frontman of LTO found out she worked in this office and my wife was a biggie, too, she told her "it was all a mistake they confiscated my son's driver's license". LTO delivered my license to the office of my wife. No kiddin'.

    My son said "Mama is powerful". I told him to always stand in line and follow up yourself so you become a man in the PHilippines and know the process. Again, my son told my wife. My wife was so mad! She scolded me that time is of the essence. She did not have the luxury of time standing in line. She has to pull strings.


    I'd rather have Philippines and China go to war than argue with my "powerful" wife.

    1. If I ever need a favor, I'll know whom to contact: either your wife or Kris Aquino.

      Note the goot grammar in the use of "whom".

      Fortunately, I get pretty much the same favorable responses as your wife by being tall, white and male.

    2. Yup ! Nothing beats being tall, white and male with goot englsichtzes. You get the most courteous and polite excellent service. Filipinos wanted to please "foreigners" so when they go home they yelp a goot review and foreigners comes rushing in and snap up our brown demure angelic beauties who are goot in the kitchen and demon in, ya know .... that makes Filipinos really ... really uncomfortable ...

      But once you have these beauties in foreigners harem, THEY RULE !!!!

      Go Knicks ! Give D'Antoni a kick.

    3. The order of power within our family is as you say, the Queen rules, the Prince rules, the lackey white slave dog provides money and assorted personal services, like drives to the mall and massages and coins for the arcade games.

      The Knicks have never been the same since Willis Reed limped out onto the court a half century ago. The Lakers under D'Antoni are like a huge rusted bucket driven by a Porsche driver. Still, they have character. Go Lakers!

    4. Clear agreements are the basis of successful relationships. That’s why my partner and me put them on paper. As I contribute most financially, I take the major decisions, she takes the remaining minor decisions.

      She decides on the house, the car we bought, the education of the kid, the relationships with our families… , the major things are for me: the future of the Philippines, hunger in the world, climate change…

      Never had any (major) discussion.

    5. Ahahahahahaha, sounds like my relationship, too. She selects the jewelry and I figure out the meaning of life.

  3. In our high school years, we initiated the Mondoy crowd

    the name is more original than Fab Five
    Ask ex Gov Ed Panlilio

    Johnny Lin

    1. I'm developing a whole new idiomatic language in the Philippines.

      "The Mondoy crowd"
      "The Duerte rules"
      "The Catholic lobby"

  4. 1. Good or bad?

    2. Bad. Definitely bad.

    3. Decisions on any issue should be based, as much as possible, on the merits of reasoned arguments.

    4 To give merit to blood or kinship (nepotism) or familiarity (favouritism) or association (cronyism) is both unethical and unwise.

    5 Employment, or the engagement of anyone for services, should be based on competence not whom you know.

    5.1 The Clintons are competent. The Bushes maybe not.

    6. The mindset of selection through identification by a common attribute is a major source of the world’s woes.

    6.1 True it works - especially in show business (Sharon and KC, Kirk and Michael) - but it should be kept there.

    6.2 The mindset springs, not from the strength of affinity, but from the weakness of insecurity. It arises from, and is enforced by, the mentality of “it’s me against the world” and “it’s us against them.” And it leads to the simplification of issues to the error of false dichotomy.

    6.3 The merits of the RH Bill is reduced to Catholic beliefs vs. non-Catholic logic. The merits of peace is reduced to the rights of Jews vs. Arabs.

    6.4 Oh, if only the matters of choice and selection related to taste, for example to drinks, it would be inconsequential. I must confess partiality to Zero Coke and Moccona Classic Medium Roast.

    1. 5.1 is hilarious. Strike the "maybe".

      I have a contradiction in the blog. You may have spotted it. In the beginning, I cite President Aquino's reliance on friendships. In the end, I say he has developed competency in the Executive Branch. The contradiction is rationalized if we accept that trust is an element of competency in a corrupt nation. Aquino works with those he trusts to be honest, those he knows well. (Guess: He probably doesn't consult with Binay all that much.)

  5. Normally the expression shit rolls downhill denotes a negative
    consequence. With Aquino's leadership, the shit that rolls downhill end up smelling like roses!


  6. Joe,

    I think school friendships are the basis of business and political networks later in life. Ever wonder why rich white folks inevitably send their offsprings to boarding schools and Ivy League schools? Maybe it doesn't hold for ordinary Americans but it holds true for the American plutocracy. Maybe the Filipinos are doing right emulating what their oligarchs do. They build networks early in life. Maybe that's what the 98% can learn from America's 2%. Maybe that's the way you can break their strangle hold on your economics and politics.

    A rich man, a union man, and an unemployed man had a dozen Twinkies in front of them. The rich man grabbed eleven and then warned the unemployed man that the union man would steal the last Twinkie from him if he does not watch out. Now if only the union man and the unemployed man developed school friendships....MB

    1. Yes, that is true. American business schools tout the importance of networking. Usually, though, they mean it in the sense of keeping in touch with business associates and building on new relationships. Philippine networking is more on the home front, the family side. Rather like Mafia or Kennedy families (hahaha). The damage is done when appointments are not made for competence, but friendship. If you build a network of competent friends, then it is less a problem I suppose.

      In the end, it is the quality of the output that matters, and in President Aquino's case, the output seems sound in most areas. I don't know about DENR or Customs. And Judiciary seems weak in the investigating sciences. COMELEC is better with Padaca there.

  7. Joe,
    A network of competent friends is an ideal that both societies hope to attain. But it is out of reach because both societies operate on exclusivity. There are schools, neighborhoods, country clubs, etc. for the rich. Where else are those people going to network, where else are they going to find the competent? In the US, how many of those exclusive conclaves actually represent the demographics of the country not only in terms of race but also in terms of economice status? The network created the process and now the process creates the network. Meritocracy applies only to those who are outside, the 98 percent. MB

    1. I don't deny the exclusivity of networks in the U.S., and the small pool of talent for, say, the head of a major technology company, or large bank. It is a small clique, indeed. But as professionals, not family.

      And I do think the US has an energy, a dynamic, call it "career path competency", that is weak in the Philippines because so much hiring/promoting here is based on favor. I credit President Aquino for wanting to go to performance-based salaries and wish the entire nation would get energized by career paths and structured reviews and performance bonuses. Maybe it would help supplant corruption as a way for lower and middle managers/technical staff to get wealthier (LTO people, for instance).

  8. Joe,

    The exclusivity networks start with family both here and the US. Family gets your foot in the door. Whether you stay in and move up or not goes with skill. However all things being equal skills wise guess who gets ahead? What I'm saying is this: Like you I believe in a meritocracy but to compare the US and the Philippines and to say that you have meritocracy and we don't is a false assumption based on American mythology. You see the big difference between your country and mine is that your people believe in the myths they were schooled in, my people are more skeptical. America is a plutocracy and its plutocrats have managed to sell to the people that it is a robust democracy where everyone can fulfill their dreams. We are not as naive. The good thing however is Americans are beginning to ask questions, very basic questions about equality and sharing the burden. You know the ole saying Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the poor. That's why some businesses are get bailed out by the government and middle class Americans who are too small to matter lose their homes

    Your observations regarding the Philippines and the solutions that you offer would be considered radical in your country. I like your suggestions but do not be self righteous about America because America like Western Europe was built on the back of slaves and colonies. Had positions been reversed, Africa, Latin America and Asia would be first world and America and western Europe would be third world.

    As to corruption, it did not start with Andrew Jackson. It started from the very beginning and it has not waned. If corruption here looks worse then thank our vigilant media, they have never fallen for papering over things for the sake of national security.- MB

    1. As my brilliant journalism teacher at USC, Dr. Ed Borgers, said, all acts can be defined in terms of direction, weight and intensity.

      So, yes, you can find the same negative traits in the US as in the Philippines and the same positive traits in the Philippines as you can in the US. The directions are identical.

      The weights and intensity differ. Transparency International says so. And Human Rights Watch. And many other organizations and experts and observers.

      My subject matter is the Philippines, not America. There is plenty to criticize about America. My perspective of the Philippines is shaped by my American experience, and it is sometimes wrong. I write, I learn, I try to teach ideas.

      The notion that a perspective is "self-righteous" can be a legitimate failing, or it can be an overly sensitive reaction to an outsider being engaged.

      The rub is that I am not an outsider. I am an insider, with an outside perspective, which is both my strength and weakness as a blogger. So I'll just keep doing what I do, and if it is occasionally self-righteous in tone, I can only hope there is anough original thought, positive, to balance that out and make it worth reading.

    2. And you are for sure welcome to submit a guest blog here to straighten out my off base ideas.

  9. The weight and intensity relative to what? MB

    1. Relative to zero, for comparative nations (people). Take stealing of government funds through kickbacks on construction projects. It happens in both countries. The direction is positive, the same in both the US and Philippines. It happens more often in the Philippines. The weight is higher than in the US. When it happens in the US, it is likely to be for much larger amounts. The intensity is higher in America. That is how I would apply the professor's principle.

      You could do a similar comparison on other traits. Like extrajudicial murders or illegal trading on insider information or shooting in schools or election murders or congressional deceits or legal cases determined by bribes. The two nations in most cases have similar traits, but the weights and intensity (frequency and severity) are not the same.