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A Malay Leader

Joko Widodo 2014 official portraitis in Hamburg these days – representing his country in the G-20. Joko Widodo if dressed like the crowd would not stand out in most parts of the Philippines, he smiles much like a Filipino yet manages to look dignified at the same time. He is even eyeing that Indonesia join the Financial Action Task Force or FATF (link) – something the Philippines is far from even imagining (link).

President Duterte on the other hand looked terrible in badly worn military clothing on his attempt to go to Marawi (link) – stopped due to bad weather. The wrong undershirt and loafer shoes with weird socks. Most Southeast Asian men manage to look better in slippers and traditional peasant clothing, yes there are pictures that show barely clothed native warriors with enormous dignity – like those of Eduardo Masferre (link).

Hare and Tortoise

Indonesia became independent 3 years later than the Philippines – in 1949 – and was seemingly way behind then. Yet I have heard stories that unlike the Philippines, they bought the houses and lots of their Embassies in Europe way back in the 1950s and 1960s. A minor detail, yet it shows more strategic thinking. Other evidences were how students abroad were taken care of, and how technology was not only bought, but skills transferred. Today, Indonesia builds its own naval boats.

In the 1960s, the Philippines was richer than South Korea and behind only Japan. The Deutsche Mark and the Peso had a 1:1 exchange rate. Of course photos of Manila then showed big American cars, and English-speaking Filipinos often considered themselves superior to their fellow Asians, even until the 1970s just laughing about them. Now Indonesia is helping the Philippines patrol common waters (link) and is clearly positioning itself as a regional leader (link) – even in opposition to China.

The strategic aspect

Indonesia had enormous crises, including a spate of killings in 1965 that by far dwarf anything the Philippines has ever seen, even now. And the Suhartos are also in the notorious Top 10 most corrupt worldwide list – together with Marcos and Estrada. So what has made Indonesia succeed, and the Philippines seem to keep having phases of growth that turn out to be wasted momentum in the end – the 1960s, the mid-1990s, and most probably the recent boom as well? Maybe also the 1890s. And the 1930s.

My previous article dealt with how many Filipinos like to show off materially, spend on consumerism. Napoles’ daughter partying with Justin Timberlake comes to mind. Or the need to send one’s kids to Oxford at all costs. Another article (link) dealt with Filipino impatience in wanting to buy the latest technology always – without slowly building the capabilities to handle it. The MRT-3 fiasco is one result. Indonesia for all its mistakes managed to have people like B.J. Habibie (link) in leadership positions. There are also those who say that inspite of all corruption, the Suhartos at least spent most of their money in Indonesia, unlike the Marcoses who bought jewelry or condos in New York. Economically speaking this makes sense, as local spending fuels local jobs. And of course it is smarter to develop own industries like Habibie managed to do. Somewhere I read that German public transport is heavily subsidized. But where does Germany most probably buy its train parts? Not abroad like the MRT-3 does.

The cultural aspect

The Malay language (link) existed as a lingua franca throughout the region, making it easy to establish Bahasa Indonesia as a national language, without the conflicts that the Philippines had with Visayans rejecting Tagalog as the national language. English is fine, but it is probably easier if your school language is related to your language at home. I know Germans who had to learn High German in Grade 1, having spoken a dialect at home. But at least the structures are similar, making it easier to “migrate”.

As for state: the old empires of Majapahit and Sri-Vijaya were on future Malaysian and Indonesian soil, respectively. So there was already an idea of how a real state works – unlike the Philippine state which was established colonially and still is a bit of a foreign body for many Filipinos. Often it seems that the Philippine state is seen as spoils of victory to be exploited, like in colonial times – not as something of long-term value to be maintained properly. Plus Filipinos act as if their leaders are personally known to them, using first names. And as if a state could be run like a barangay, where the datu whimsically changes the rules based on favoritism or mere caprice, where the favors of the state automatically accrue only to those who support the winning datu. The principles of utang na loob recently seen in President Duterte’s giving positions, or who was taken along on government trips, as if the presidential plane was merely a balanghai, a ship of the datu. Or Duterte’s personal view towards both AFP and PNP.

Back to dignity: the native elite of the Philippines was coopted first by the Spanish, then by the Americans – and even by the Japanese for a while. They usually managed to act like snakes shedding their skins for new languages and styles – to the extent that they are seen as foreign by many Filipinos. Colonial criticism of Filipino natives was also used by native elites to keep their countrymen in place. It is no small wonder that the behavior of Duterte and his group often resemble a caricature of the Indio as described by the most racist among Spanish friars. And that their attitude is the exact reverse of colonial racism which put foreign whites above native whites, mestizos below whites and natives at the lowest rank – with the strange exception that it places the Chinese where the whites used to be, and seems to a favor a number of Chinese mestizos. The damaged self-esteem caused by colonialism is at the root of many dysfunctional behaviors, including what is happening just now. Those perceived to be “oppressive” are hated on: the UN, the USA, the EU, educated people, old middle classes, the Church. Those perceived to be “lower” are put under pressure: Filipino Muslims (link) and slum dwellers for example. Weirdly, affirmation is looked for among those one claims to hate: “NASA and the Best President in the Solar System”, anyone? The language/learning issue and the barangay mentality are easier to fix than self-esteem. Maybe wearing clothes properly is a start? They don’t have to be new.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 8 July 2017





12 comments to A Malay Leader


    MANILA, Philippines — Once more, as they have over the past years, lumad of Mindanao have come to Manila to ask government to let them live in peace, to end the militarization that has trapped them in a cycle of violence and displacement and which, they say, martial law in Mindanao has only worsened.

    Ironically, this time they do so under a president they believed would be their champion. After all, his city, Davao, was one of their sanctuaries whenever they fled whenever the men with guns entered and occupied their communities, often ahead of business interests eager to plunder their resource-rich ancestral lands.

    This was why, said Datu Rudy Ugking, a Manobo chieftain from Tago town, Surigao del Sur, “we actually voted for him as a bloc.”

    But here they are again, bewildered that nothing has changed under President Rodrigo Duterte and has, in fact, led to more suffering since the whole of Mindanao was placed under martial law on May 23.

    These are the very same lumad who, in 2015, fled their homes in Surigao del Sur en masse when a military-backed militia murdered a revered teacher and, in front of them, executed two tribal leaders; or their villages in the Davao provinces and Compostela Valley because soldiers camped in their “NPA (New People’s Army) schools, threatening the teachers and students, accusing them of supporting the rebels..


    1. Relentless campaign against illegal drugs. “During my inauguration last 30 [June] 2016, I said that the fight against criminality and illegal drugs and corruption will be relentless and sustained. I reiterate that commitment today.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    2. Strip LGU chiefs of power over police. “The DILG is also directed to strictly monitor how LGUs perform their supervision functions of the police and those found not performing will be sanctioned including the loss of police deputation from the NAPOLCOM.”

    STATUS: Implemented

    3. Prioritize rehabilitation of drug users. “We will also prioritize the rehabilitation of drug users. We will increase the number of residential treatment and rehabilitation facilities in all regions of the country. The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will facilitate the preparation for the use of military camps and facilities for drug rehabilitation.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    4. Crush terrorists. “The full force of the AFP will be applied to crush these criminals who operate under the guise of religious fervor. The AFP shall enhance its capability to search and engage these rogue and lawless elements.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    5. Address global warming. “Addressing global warming shall all will be our top priority, but upon a fair and equitable equation. [applause] It must not stymie our industrialization.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    6. Affirm Hague ruling. “We strongly affirm and respect the outcome of the case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration as an important contribution to the ongoing efforts to pursue the peaceful resolution and management of our disputes.”

    STATUS: Failure

    7. Continue Aquino economic policies. “On the macroeconomic management, my administration will continue and maintain current macroeconomic policies.”

    STATUS: Fulfilled

    8. Cut red tape. “Processing time in issuing permits and licenses shall be reduced to the barest minimum…Three days.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    Three departments – Trade and Industry, Interior and Local Government, and Information Communication Technology – signed in August a joint memorandum circular ordering local government units to process business permits and licences for new applicants in two days. The same order wants renewal of such documents done in only one day. Other efforts at cutting red tape include the scrapping of the Overseas Employment Certificate as a requirement for overseas Filipino workers and the issuance of an OFW ID to serve as Social Security System (SSS), Pag-ibig Fund, and PhilHealth membership IDs all rolled into one. However, guidelines for this have yet to be released.

    9. Implement RH law. “The implementation of the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law must be put into full force and effect.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    The full implementation of the RH law is primarily hindered by a Supreme Court order prohibiting the Department of Health from distributing implants, but Duterte tried to help by signing Executive Order No 12, ordering government to meet all the family-planning needs of Filipino households.

    10. Lengthen driver’s licenses validity. “For the driver’s licenses, its effectiveness will be extended from the current 3-year period to 5 years.”

    STATUS: Pending

    Duterte’s signature is all that is needed to extend the validity of drivers’ licenses from 3 years to 5 years. Both chambers of Congress already approved the final version of the bill. But Duterte has not yet signed it into law.

    11. Improve Metro Manila trains. “Passenger capacity congestion shall be addressed by increasing the number of running trains from the current 16 trains [applause] with a total of 48 cars per hour, to 20 trains with a total of 60 cars per hour. You increase the train speed from 40 [kph] to 60 [kph]….Specifically for the LRT, the operating hours shall be extended from 9:30 to 10:30 p.m.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    12. Start Mindanao Railway. “So, we shall also pursue rail projects in Metro Manila and the major key-points in the country including the Mindanao Rail Project.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    13. Provide accessible and fast internet. “I have also directed the newly-created DICT, Information and Communication Technology, to develop a National Broadband Plan to accelerate the deployment of fiber optics cables and wireless technologies to improve internet speed….Wi-Fi access shall be provided at no charge in selected public places.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    Duterte approved the National Broadband Plan last March. In the plan, the government is expected to provide at least 10-Mbps connection to all households by 2020 at a much lower cost than today’s average of P1,299 per month. The government signed a deal with Smart for free Wi-Fi in 21 transporation hubs including Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) terminals, airports in Davao, Iloilo, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Kalibo, Laguindingan, General Santos, Clark, Laoag, Cebu, Aklan, and Zamboanga. Last June 12, the government also launched free Wi-Fi along EDSA.

    14. Help 4Ps beneficiaries be independent. “The beneficiaries of 4Ps shall be made to become independent and self-reliant after they have graduated from the program.”

    STATUS: Pending

    The Department of Social Welfare and Development is still conducting its review of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps) by checking on the status of its 4 million beneficiaries. The government has imposed a moratorium on accepting new applicants until after its review. Last March, beneficiaries who complied with the education and health conditions of the program began receiving a rice subsidy, as promised by Duterte.

    15. Improve education. “We are planning to increase spending on basic education and incorporate mandatory education about the evils of drugs. We will also intensify and expand Alternative Learning System programs.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    The Duterte administration allotted P600 million for the Department of Education’s ALS program this year, P200 million more than its budget in 2016. The government wants to attract 4 million young people into the ALS program. Random drug testing of teachers is set to take place during the 2017-2018 school year.

    16. Improve healthcare. “The government will also provide universal health insurance for all Filipinos. The professional competence and operational capabilities of government hospitals and health facilities will be strengthened.”

    STATUS: Ongoing

    Duterte signed the Philippine Facility Development Plan 2017-2022 in which the government will upgrade and construct new health facilities throughout the country. The plan includes building 9,604 more barangay health stations; 2,289 rural health units and urban health centers, and 750 polyclinics. The government intends to build “mega hospitals,” similar to the Philippine General Hospital in Manila, in Visayas and Mindanao.


    ..Political analyst Ramon Casiple believes that the President knows what he’s doing — from befriending China to slightly distancing the Philippines from the US.

    “I think he’s street-smart,” Casiple told, explaining that international relations are all about national interest and common sense.

    “There’s no ideology here. It’s only national interest,” he said. “Don’t believe the US when it says we are friends. Don’t believe China when it says we are friends.”

    Casiple said Duterte was being “street-smart” when he decided to appoint Trump’s business partner, Jose E.B. Antonio, as the country’s special envoy to the US.

    On the other hand, Casiple said Duterte made a “timely” decision to pursue an “independent foreign policy” amid a shifting global scene.

    He said a “multi-polar world” has started to form, which was accelerated with Trump’s decision to pursue an “America first policy” while other nations like China and Russia vie for a wider sphere of influence.

    “In a multi-polar world, an independent foreign policy that President Duterte initiated basically makes us flexible. We are not aligned with any of the contending powers but there is potential to be friends with all,” Casiple said..

    ..Jay Batongbacal, Director of the University of the Philippines’ Institute for Maritime Affairs and Law of the Sea, said the government’s strategy is “vague.”

    “They want the Philippines to be not so close to the United States. They want the tensions at sea to be removed. So there’s that vague sense of what needs to be achieved. But I don’t think there’s a clear, deliberate and well-honed strategy for achieving those objectives,” he said in an interview with

    Batongbacal said the decline in power of the US does not mean the Philippines should throw away its ties. “It’s not so easy to just switch sides,” he said.

    He said Duterte might still be “thinking along the lines of…a local politician switching political parties.”

    “It doesn’t work that way,” he said..

    ..Casiple said he considers Duterte a “rough diamond” who knows his limitations.

    “I think if you look at what he (was) doing at the start of one year and what he is doing now, there’s a lot of difference. He still curses but he (has learned) to temper that already,” he said. “And I think he has more appreciation of complexities of negotiation and relations.”

    Batongbacal disagrees.

    He said Duterte has focused on the drug war while other people with vested interests “ride on” to his administration.

    “He has not really shown that deep of an interest in foreign affairs or in agriculture and even economy. Those are being done by his people,” Batongbacal said, adding that Duterte seemingly not been giving clear guidelines to his people who are left to improvise and adjust with each other.

    “Some people say he’s (a) visionary but I don’t think he has a comprehensive vision of the country,” he said. “Because if he (Duterte) did, one of the first things he would be doing would be to try to unite the people with his vision.”

    “Instead what he’s been doing for the past year is sow…he’s been sowing divisions,” he said, referring to Duterte’s treatment of those who criticize his drug war or oppose his leadership..

  • karlgarcia

    Most of the bullent points, I attempted to discuss before.

    As to wealth. This has been approached differently here,such as tracing the Filipino Wealth terms of the moneyed families in the blog about the bangladesh central bank incident.

    Or Natural Resources.

  • Mariano Renato Pacifico

    “..Filipinos act as if their leaders are personally known to them, using first names.”

    Looney lame ignorant Philippine Media promote that journalists know leaders personally, examples:
    1. Rodrigo “Rudy” Duterte
    2. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos
    3. Gloria “Glo” Arroyo
    4. “Mar” Roxas
    5. “Jejo” Binay

    Intelligent brilliant big boys of American Media never say:
    1. Donald “Donny” Trump
    2. “Barack” Obama
    3. William “Bill” Clinton

    Nope. American Media, European Media and the rest of big boys mature media never in quote their nicknames only the kindergartnerish Philippine Media as if they eat sinigang with them in presidential dinner table.


  • Mariano Renato Pacifico

    How to fix Filipino self-esteem:
    1. Love thy skin colors;
    2. Stop importing half-bred crossed-bred half-white beauty queens;
    3. Philippines is not a melting pot of races
    4. Stop selling the idea that Filipinos is a mix of Spanish, English, American, Japanese, German, Chinese and host other colonists
    5. Filipinos that are proud of their mixed races are proud they were colonized
    6. Filipinos love of non-traditional looking Filipino is adoring of their colonists

    U.P. graduates should come clean that General Aguinaldo was a traitor
    Rizal was appointed hero by the Americans
    Philippines were “wealthy” because Colonists supported the country
    After colonists gave up on Filipinos the so-called “wealth” of the Philippines went away
    It was the colonists that made Philippines wealthy not the Filipinos

    • A. the racial thing… every race is mixed but there are dominant features… just like coffee, you can have it black, with milk and sugar or even caffe latte but in the end the dominant element remains the coffee… unless you make latte macchiatto which is milk plus coffee, somewhat like I am usually too white to be noticed as Filipino, but it can be fun listening to Filipinos talk somewhere in public thinking nobody else understands them..

      During the early colonial period, natives (“Indios”) were subject to encomienda and polo, essentially slavery. Somewhere I read (if anyone finds a source that confirms or denies this it would be great) that some native women had children with colonizers because these mestizos had to pay higher taxes, but were free from slavery. Somewhat like creoles in the Carribean were free, Malcolm Gladwell mentioned how many shades of color they have in Jamaica, including “olive” and “fair”.

      There are hardly any pure colonists anymore, maybe the Ayalas. Chinese migrant families often try to remain pure for generations, some even forbid their children from marrying non-Chinese. The rest have become blended in. More Chinese blood on the Western coast: Pampanga, Pangasinan. Bikol has a lot of mestizos in different shades, so does Cebu. The Filipino mix in Moroland has a distinct Arab flavor due to missionaries. The main ingredient remains Malay. But as long as the market demands mestizo and mestiza actors, what can you do? Coco Martin who looks like a mixed-race brother of Portuguese soccer player Christiano Ronaldo for example, or Marian Rivera whose father is Spanish? Why not just act natural and accept all who are part of the society? Does a real Filipino have to be like Duterte, dark, rude and violent? At least Binay is dark and “galante”. But this will all take some time to figure out, I am sure.

      B. It is now standard teaching in UP (since the mid-90s) that Aguinaldo was not a hero. Rizal of course was appointed, but nobody disputes his accomplishments. Bonifacio has been upgraded from the violent working-class hero everybody thought he was to what he really was: also well-read, aspiring to dignity and pride.

      C. What is “wealth” in your definition? Manila was the center of the galleon trade. All the protagonists got rich: Spaniards in Intramuros and Chinese in Binondo. Then you had the 19th century: tobacco, sugar, and finally abaca. This is where mestizo traders and plantation owners got really rich and powerful for the first time. Add some European migrants to Manila like the Zobels, or Basque businessmen like the Lhulliers. Enter the 20th century where Americans went all-in for mining and for plantations in Mindanao like Dole. Some old and some new groups of Filipinos got rich there. Cojuangcos were relative late-comers, early 20th century. Then postwar period including Marcos, where mining and logging interests were huge – just look at the denuded mountains of the Philippines. Seems that with the 1995 Philippine mining act, the big guys came in even more. Money was made always but never distributed for long. Filipinos of course, if you mean the real natives with the old mentality, never held on to money for long. In the old Philippines, there was enough for half a million people in 1521, on the same territory where there are now 92 million! Nobody needed to save money, you lived off the land, it was bountiful. Now the situation is different. Very different.

      (I would be grateful if anyone, Karl, sonny, Bill etc. could add whatever sources they find especially C as I am very curious on the full story here)

  • sonny

    This is a ‘majestic,’sweep, tour-de-force of what a leader and leadership should be, PiE. How I wish a person such as Joko Widodo is already born in one of our towns in the archipelago. At least you have captured the how and circumstances of that Filipino leader who is yet to come. If the fits and the starts that is our history will engender his coming, it is worth the wait.

    • sonny

      The Malays of the CAR whose ancestors Masferre so vividly and beautifully documented is so appropriately imbedded in your essay. The first time I saw the collection was during the time of the celebration of the Philippine Centennial in Chicago, in 1998. Check out this monograph authored by Lawrence Hanney (anthropologist) and Jacinto Regalado (botanist) both from the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

    • sonny

      I have met many descendants of Masferre’s photo-subjects in Baguio and the Ilocos and they are happilly integrated with their Filipino milllenial brothers and sisters of the ‘lowlands’. My son’s classmate in college (Cooper Union, NYC) is a beautiful and intelligent 30-something of Italian and Cordilleran parentage. 🙂

    • Thanks Manong.. I started off by thinking of the contrast between Jokowi and Duterte… and putting together what I know so far about Indonesia’s development..

      but it might be that the entire environment is even more significant than the leader(s) themselves.. I always asked if Lee Kuan Yew would ever have thrived if he had been a Chinoy born in the Philippines… or whether he would just have decided to forgo politics and build malls like Henry Sy.. – this article by Prof. Segundo Romero goes in the same direction, in fact if I think of how postwar Germany built itself up over several Chancellors and political parties ruling it also applies here:

      Stand-Alone Presidencies

      Changing a nation is like a relay race — you must not look at just one lap, you have to think of at least 20 laps. Everybody talks about the Singapore model, but what makes Singapore Singapore is the persistent collective intelligence behind it. The People’s Action Party has been in control since 1959. It remains at the helm, elaborating on the city-state design, never resting on its laurels, challenging itself to be ahead by thinking and acting ahead, over and above any scheme any emerging opposition can offer. It was not Lee Kuan Yew that is the secret of Singapore, but a Lee Kuan Yew who knew nation-building required a powerful, sturdy, and persistent earthmoving bulldozer that would transcend his mortal presence. That is the People’s Action Party.

      In the Philippines, leaders who want to change the country all want to be a Lee Kuan Yew, but they fail to appreciate the need for the bulldozer. They think that the bulldozer driver can flatten the country’s problems alone. And so the tragedy of the Filipino continues. Rodrigo Duterte thinks the bulldozer is the amalgam of his chums from San Beda College, classmates from elementary and high school, and his asymmetric personal memories of being part of the revolutionary struggle in the 1970s.

      The problem with the Duterte bulldozer is that it is put together by the mere Duterte persona, made to look like a strong presence with the use of strong words. Filipinos are taken by this kanto-boy, Binoy-like rhetoric, failing to appreciate that “rudeness is the weak persons imitation of strength” as Eric Hoffer puts it. There is no real collective design thinking behind Duterte.

      In fairness, this myopia, this failure to excel in succession politics, is what PNoy failed miserably in. What’s the point in having a good starter runner, if the rest of the relay squad will not run in the same direction, or as competently and honorably?

      And so we are stuck with Digong, tolerable if only he were not so clueless on what makes a nation. One can be pardoned for believing in one’s propaganda, if one will at least cobble the talented and patriotic people to help bring it about. Depending on elementary, high school, and college chums does not come close, especially when they are all in the pre-departure area from this life. Being appointed to high government office is their imagination of what Soylent Green looks like.

      The reason the succession strategy of the Digong cabal is pathetic is that they are not organizing to fast-track and at least demonstrate the shadow of a coherent change strategy, even just for the remaining time for Digong (at most five and a half years). Instead, they are trying to prevent, by mochaic innuendo, con-Troll attacks, and dis-ingenious dis-invitations, the constitutionally-designated successor, Vice-President Leni Robredo, from preparing to taking over in due time. At the personal level, the carpetbaggers are apparently worried they do not have time to amass great fortunes under the Digong administration. As the Duterte appointed Immigration deputy commissioners’ case shows, they want their cash right away, the first time the opportunity presents itself.

      The reason the concatenated, unassembled imitation of a bulldozer Duterte has put together is worried is that Duterte himself knows that going the distance (six years) is the worst case scenario, as it would reveal the full measure of his ineptitude, and the full horror of the scam he has (perhaps unwittingly) perpetrated on the Filipino people. he would rather be given an excuse to pre-terminate his term, if only his sycophants would allow him.

      One would hope VP Robredo will not be a stand-alone President when she takes over. That would be a tragedy. She should not allow herself to be bamboozled into neglecting her political organizing duties. Already, so many people are waiting for her leadership for a strategic, sustainable, programmatic governance post-Duterte.

      In the end, she has to make the people believe, not in stand-alone presidencies, but in an engaged, participative, even accountable nation. As Obama, in his farewell address to the American people said — believe not in the leader’s ability to change the nation, but believe in the people’s ability to do so. Sure, we deserve this Duterte because of our political slothfulness. But should we deserve another, future one?

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