Monday, September 6, 2010

Is the Philippines Hopeless?

Thanks to my friend Vicki, I came across the article below by political analyst Daniel Wagner who finds the Philippines "hopeless." Interesting enough is the mixed reaction the article has generated from Filipinos around the world. See the comment section here and you'll see na mukhang mas madami yatang Pinoy ang napikon o na-offend. The article has some honest analysis of the Philippines, it's harsh and painful and it's up to you to decide whether you'll take it as an insult or a constructive criticism. I think going back to the creator and source of hope is the best solution to this "hopelessness" - considering the Philippines as a Christian nation, Filipinos should easily know who I'm talking about.

This week two noteworthy events involving the Philippines made headlines: the botched rescue of Chinese tourists taken hostage by a disgruntled former policeman, and a botched response to a question by Miss Philippines in the finals for the Miss Universe contest. You might ask, what do these two things have in common? Separately, not much, but taken together, they represent both the peril and promise of the Philippines today.

For many years pundits have commented that the Philippines appears to be heading backwards economically and politically, while many parts of Asia barrel toward middle income status and have maturing democracies. Yes, other countries have disputed elections, other countries' leaders do questionable things, and other developing countries struggle to achieve sustainable economic growth. And, yes, there are recent examples of fresh political turmoil and economic hardship not only in Asia, but throughout the world.

The difference here is, many of the countries experiencing political instability and economic dislocation don't have the things the Philippines has: agricultural self-sufficiency, a high literacy rate, and a largely homogeneous population. One Asian country that possesses these qualities - Indonesia - has managed to transcend monumental political turmoil, turn its situation around, get on the path to democracy, stay there, and become a darling of the international investment community. The Philippines had this in the 1960s. Why can't it have it now?

When I lived in the Philippines from 2003 to 2007, I was asked, what is the difference between the Philippines and Indonesia? My answer was, "In Indonesia, they have hope." I came to the conclusion that in spite of all the things the Philippines has going for it, its people didn't demand enough of themselves, or of their government. Political apathy and a willingness to accept a low common denominator of performance have taken their toll on the psyche of the Philippine people.

Filipinos should not therefore be surprised that the Philippine police tried to negotiate with the hijacker of the Chinese tourist bus well after a reasonable period of time had passed, negotiations had failed, and the lives of the tourists were clearly in jeopardy. Police from a variety of other nations would have simply killed him at the first opportunity, regardless of the fact that he was a former colleague. This SWAT team knew how to get the results that were required, but they failed to do so. Why? Their priorities were misaligned. The safety of the hostages should have been paramount - not the fanciful notion that a man who is desperate enough to take hostages would somehow come to his senses at the height of the crisis.

The result of actions like this are unfortunately consistent with the expectations many people have of performance in other areas. Politically, the Philippines has descended into an ongoing competition between political dynasties: Marcos, Arroyo, and yes, Aquino. What I don't understand is, why do Filipinos continue to vote them in, election after election? Is it because of a lack of viable alternatives? No. Is it because of political apathy? Possibly. Or is it because they have no expectations that anything will change, regardless of who is in power? Definitely. What does this say about the country's future? Nothing good.

Which brings me to the Miss Universe contest. Miss Philippines, Maria Venus Raj, is by anyone's definition fantastically beautiful, poised, and graceful. Many believe she should have won the competition, and she deserves a lot of credit for being the first Filipina since 1999 to make it to the finals. But her flubbed response to the question of what mistake she had made in her life and what would she have done differently apparently cost her the crown. How could this 22-year-old woman, who so diligently prepared herself for that moment -- at great personal sacrifice her whole life - not have come up with a better response?

She was nervous, she said. Well, who among the finalists wasn't? Other Filipinos have said English wasn't her first language so she had difficulty coming up with the right words. Really? How come no other Philippine contestant in the Miss Universe pageant ever had an interpreter? In preparation for this event it never occurred to her or anyone around her that such a question might be asked? Had she come up with a better response, it is likely the crown would have been hers, and the Philippines would be basking in her glow. Instead, it's just another instance of a missed opportunity, and Filipinos are making excuses.

If the Philippines wants to get its act together and live up to its potential, it needs to demand more of itself. It can achieve this by stopping making excuses for its failures and ending its acceptance of the lowest common denominator. President Aquino promised to put an end to nepotism and corruption in government. The people should make sure he does this. When the police screw up a hostage rescue, the people responsible should be fired. And when a beauty queen blows an attempt to become the glory of the Philippine people, it should be recognized as such.


  1. Interesting indeed...

    This comment will come from a western missionary's point of view that don't agree with a lot of what western missionaries have brought to the Philippines I may add, and so I find this article rather thought provoking.

    From my personal experience with many wonderful Filipinos I have notice that they see themselves lower than many other people. Most of the time westerners are treated better than other people even in Christian circles and many westerners lap it up, not even realizing what is going on.

    It seems to me that the Filipinos do really believe they are less than others many times, that they deserve less, that their lot in life is to be at the bottom, even at the bottom of all the other Asian countries.

    Filipinos tends to want others to make the hard decisions; they don't want to be the leaders but are happy to be followers and are very good at it may I add.
    They don't seem to like conflict so they keep people in positions that are useless instead of taking a stand and replace them with more suitable people ( this doesn’t seem to happen as much in western countries as in Asia and is mostly based in culture I would guess).

    I am not familiar with the culture of Indonesia so maybe my observations will be incorrect but I am wondering if this hopelessness has anything to do with the male mindset. In the Philippines many males seems to be less motivated to work and support their family than the women. It is always the women that seem to try their hardest to keep the family clean, feed, educated and happy while many men seem to lack drive and motivation and some roam around aimlessly. And how many hundreds of thousand Filipinas are sacrificing a life as a domestic helper in other countries just to find the money for their families?

    Perhaps life would be different if the men were taking a stronger role in both their families’ welfare and society?

    Have the well meaning charity organisations destroyed the mindset of many Filipinos that they are not good enough to solve their own problems? That it needs to be others that come and rescue them?
    If so we have really messed up and it is then time for all charity organisations to stop their colonial imperialism and treat people with the respect they deserve and need to be able to handle their own futures, even if this means that they will make mistakes along the way. We have to stop treating them as children and let them grow up. We have already made far too many mistakes ourselves and we need to encourage these precious brothers and sisters to believe in themselves again, to get back up and make their own decisions and to become role models for their own young that all people are equal to God and with His help they can lead their country into a better future.

    I'm not sure if

  2. Thank you for your comment. If you allow me I would like to post it as a blog article on the main page.

    You brought up some very interesting insights specially your observation that Filipinos see themselves lower than Westerners. I agree - I'm guilty of it sometimes. This mentally probably originated when the Philippines was under Spanish rule. Filipinos were treated as "indios" or the lowest of social classes at that time for 3 centuries. It somehow got ingrained in our "psyche" that we're lower to this day. I like the last part of your comment. It all boils down to the Imago dei that all are created in the image of God and in His eyes all are equal and beautiful. Unfortunately not all have that worldview.

  3. Hi Jason,
    feel free to use my comment any way you like. I LOVE the Filipino people so much, with a love that can only come from God because it is different to any other love I have experienced with a people group and my heart aches when I discover these things of how they see themselves.

  4. Thank you Malin! More blessing to you and your family.

  5. sorry, this has to be said. Religion is a huge burden on the philippines. It is NOT in god's hands. It is in YOURS and nobody else's. You will never learn to walk until you throw away the god crutch.

  6. Phillppines is hopless because its people are hopeless too. Pinoys are just waiting for one another for change just like how pinoys in Phillippines wait for their OFWs to send remittances home. Not only are pinoys losing many foreign investments, pinoys are also losing respect and dignity in many parts of the world. Pinoys are look down all over the world even though the world may not say it out loud. Pinoys are given lowly paid dirty jobs all over the world especially in rich developed nations. Pinoys feel lousy and they look down on themselves too. But pinoys are too arrogant and proud to admit that because they are both poor in material and spirits. Ask your OFWs, how are they treated abroad? OFWs are bullied by powerful and rich nations. OFWs worked like slaves for monies which worth alot in pesos but to the rich nations' poorest locals, the monies given to pinoys are just peanuts and dirt. This is true for pinoys working in Dubai, Canada Australia, Hongkong and Singapore. The rich and powerful nations hiring pinoys are just using pinoys because they are so cheap. Once, the rich nations achieve their goals, they will release these pinoys and deport them back. This is already happening in USA. Despite being its former colonial master, USA rather grant citizenships to someone from Afgahnistan than granting pinoys citizenship. USA make visa applications very difficult for pinoys and often mock and tease pinoys at their custom. But this is not USA's fault. It is pinoys to blame because they are a pain. Which nation will allow trash and shit to spread her country? Philippines sucks!