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