Being Truly Modern

BMW 531 1951 01

1950s BMW

Recent issues with the MRT3 – and recent DOST developments – show the struggle for modernity in the Philippines. For a long time, modernity was defined by its outward trappings, not by real modernity. I shall expound on this.

Outward progress

Some Filipinos tried to tell me how progressive the Philippines – or Makati – was with arguments like this:

  • Hollywood movies arrived in Germany months after they were already shown in Manila
  • Fax machines were used more extensively in Makati before most German offices used them
  • The Internet was used more extensively by the same crowd before it was widely used in Germany

And yes, cell phones were more widely used by Filipinos before Germans used them. The skyline of Makati is definitely more impressive than that of Munich or even Frankfurt. All true, but:

  • Hollywood movies used to arrive in Germany later because of dubbing into German done in Berlin. This is done synchronously now, so no more delay.
  • What is the use of being first in using the Internet if it is slow? Germans – and Swiss even much more – are typical late adopters who want things done properly.
  • Anybody can buy cell phones. But Germany is a country that builds a lot of the equipment used for telecoms networks. Siemens dropped out of cellphones at some point.
  • The difference between what someone in a German village and one of the big cities – not only Berlin – can get is not so big. Makati is highly modern, some other places too, but the rest?
  • Kudos to the largest malls in the world in the Philippines. But how about the public spaces in the cities? Philippine malls are a replacement for other failings in making public spaces livable.

Some Filipinos with money might buy a BMW first and possibly on credit. A German will probably first see to it that he or she has a proper washing machine – or go on vacation to Spain, after saving money. These is where the two mentalities diverge, even if some among the young generation in Germany tend to be more consumerist and get into debt compared to the older ones.

Attempted progress

MRT-3 Kamuning Station Platform 3

MRT-3 Kamuning Station

The MRT-3 stands as a testimony to attempted progress. There are a number of major mistakes that were made from the very beginning:

  • Too small coaches, equivalent to smaller subway lines or trams in Europe. Not enough to truly replace buses on EDSA, or absorb most of the people travelling there.
  • Maintenance, operation and supplies seem to not have been planned properly planned by contractors. Rails were “borrowed” from LRT1, coaches and engines not there on time.
  • Stations are not extendable for bigger coaches, meaning the system cannot grow to accomodate additional needs. And not suited to managing the crowds that use the system.
  • Hardly any local capability was built to be able to make own simple spare parts like metal wheels, rails, or even coaches. Inspite of local capabilities in making bus bodies.
  • The interfaces to other transport systems and to major buildings are catastrophic to say the least. LRT1 and LRT2 at least have a common station for interchange in Manila.

Practically everything was done wrong here, and the present administration has a mess to sort out. Even if one wants quick wins, it does not mean that one should go quick and dirty. One should always try to make sure that one can upgrade, especially if the upgrades are foreseeable. It just takes some common sense. Bus rapid transit proposals were ignored, even if they could have been quick wins, and cities worldwide show their success.

Real progress


DOST AGT, Bicutan (source: DOST)

There are examples for real progress that have taken place recently: the DOST AGT, the DOST Roadtrain, the Diwata satellite completely constructed by DOST to be launched by the USA. All of these examples work by the following principles that have made real progress possible, and made developed countries successful:

  • Don’t live beyond your means. DOST AGT uses concrete elevated rails, not metal rails, because these are as yet still hard to manufacture in the Philippines. It uses rubber tires, because they are easy to procure in the Philippines. It uses existing capabilities from local bus body manufacturing.
  • Develop own capabilities. DOST AGT and DOST Roadtrain use metal working capabilities developed by the Metals Industry Research and Development Center. Only buying other people’s stuff means you are dependent forever, while own local capabilities can be built upon. You will always have to buy some stuff elsewhere – even Germany does. But have enough of your own.
  • Don’t rely too much on the private sector. They are good when it comes to bringing prototypes to production, putting up running systems and of course also making money out them. Of course large industrial companies have research and development, but in a newly industrializing country like the Philippines, one cannot expect too much in terms of their investment.

Japanese cars in the 1950s did not amount to much, neither did BMWs from the 1950s. But unlike the Filipino jeepney, they were developed into more. Building the capabilities needed for a truly modern country – which include mindsets such as thinking of maintenance, operation and supplies – takes time. Filipinos can be fast learners. If they want to be – and are not hard-headed.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 10 January 2016



26 thoughts on “Being Truly Modern


    May 6, 2008 at 10:01 am (UTC 8) Link to this comment
    “The globalization paradigm leads people to see economic development as a form of foreign policy, as a grand competition between nations and civilizations. These abstractions, called “the Chinese” or “the Indians,” are doing this or that. But the cognitive age paradigm emphasizes psychology, culture and pedagogy — the specific processes that foster learning. It emphasizes that different societies are being stressed in similar ways by increased demands on human capital. If you understand that you are living at the beginning of a cognitive age, you’re focusing on the real source of prosperity and understand that your anxiety is not being caused by a foreigner.” David Brooks NY Times

    In certain civilizations way before Copernicus a heliocentric earth was already known by early observers. From Copernicus to the Lutheran reformation process to the Enlightenment age.

    Brian Arthur was the first economist observer that declared that the digital age we a seminal shift as profound as the invention of the steam engine.

    In his last known letter celebrating the anniversary of American Independence from Britian, Jefferson wrote,

    “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”

    Cognitive edge is what separates winners and loosers in the market place. It is not supposed to be that way.

    The entire thesis of comparative advantage rests on the premise that both are comparable in stature and cognition.

    In the Philippine setting mainstream media is generally bought and paid for. Short term profit goals are the norm.

    In this setting blogs offer a wide open avenue.
    In more mature settings in the West where media has been corporatized blogs become the avenue for independent journalists and others.

    They have become a force to reckon with.


    Philippines is now the 4th largest shipbuilder globally, after Sorkor, China, and Japan (in terms of tonnage). This is one sector where FDI is critical, indeed you can never jumpstart this industry without them. And I’m glad that the govt recognises this and allows 100% foreign ownership. Let’s face it, whilst Phils is no 4, it’s the foreign players like the Hanjin and Keppel group that is pushing the industry forward. There is nothing wrong in that, set national pride aside. Overtime, some smart local plays will develop. That’s evolution.

    You say we can’t win on quality and lack of technology. You are happily wrong in this. The FDIs bring the quality and technology with them. That is the reason why Phils has climbed to number 4. And Micha says they come for the cheap labour. Absolutely wrong in this case. They are here because Phils have the deep waters and the land. Shipbuilding requires extensive footprints. Established yards in Sorkor and Spore has run out of space.

    Cheap labour is not the prime factor. Sokor, Japan and Singapore are proof of that. Although Spore relies heavily on cheaper foreign workers, it’s still pretty expensive compared to Phils. China’s labour cost has gone up rapidly and probably higher than Phils now. Only India is still cheap., then again, Indian shipbuilding industry is far behind Phils. I understand that going into the next 3 years, the order books for Phils yards are full. This augurs well for the industry…

    shipyards are private enterprises, so the govt processes do not apply. If you mean the tariffs, VATs, duties — then rest assured all these have already been established otherwise these FDIs would not have set up shop. There are tax holidays of a few years, VAT exemptions on related equipment/machinery importations, duty reductions, etc — I don’t have details, but I know there are there way back in the late 1990s.

    Power remains the perennial problem.

    On skills — I believe the Maritime Industry Authority is on top of things. Co-operation with TESDA has relevant marine industry courses are in place. This is one great success story in Phils that has never be told adequately. TESDA has been very successful in churning out workers for the marine industry. I believe TESDA has turned out almost 100,000 certified welders. Believe you me, welders are the foot-soldiers of the shipbuilding industry.

    Karl, I’m glad you raised this subject cos it’s something good to talk about. Basically, the SONA on the marine industry is ALL SYSTEMS GO. It’s in the same sweet spot as the BPO industry.

    Some other pointers:
    1. Phils yards do not have the competitive edge in new vessel construction. It’s weakness is cost and delivery time. Critical in this industry are cost, quality and delivery time.So most of Phils jobs are conversions or retro-fits. This is one segment of the market itself, so Phils might as well concentrate in this at this stage.
    2. There are more than 120 yards in Phils, but really few that can take big vessels.
    3. The support industries are still very weak. This is where local plays can be more substantial. But there are also some international players that need to be enticed to come in, or take up joint ventures with locals.
    4. The supply chain is still weak. Lots of parts, toolings, technology etc needs to be imported.
    5. Customs and ports management need to be beefed up to facilitate the logistics required in this industry. A delay in the inward port clearance for a small part may hold up the delivery schedule of a project. (I have a personal story to tell here, but maybe for another day).
    6. Although skilled workers are available, they are not localised. Eg shipyard in Batangas have majority of workers coming from NCR. Would be better if training could be pooled from the local population near to yards.
    7. I understand dry-docking charges are still very expensive in Phils. Why is it so, and can it be further reduced?

    Generally, I thing the Maritime Industry Authority has it’s acts together and has some good plans in place. How the industry can grow very much depends on private enterprises. EG whether Hanjin and Keppel simply wants to continue to do conversion jobs from their overflow of orders from Sorkor or Spore, or they want their Phils entity to undertake other jobs, it’s up to their own business strategies. There are many other segments that Phils can grow into — new vessel construction, very large vessel conversion/construction, rigging projects — like supply platforms or oil rigs, port voyage repairs, specialist vessels of all sorts. If the govt decides on a direction to sail forward, then it should provide all the support and incentives to entice the FDIs to commit accordingly.

  3. – worth reading…

    Ramos and Arroyo according to him built the most infrastructure… as we know now via chempo MRT was a strange deal… as for Arroyo:

    The result of this was mediocre performance in infrastructure investments. The only major program of new road construction was the SCTEX – the road connecting Subic to Tarlac and the North Expressway in Luzon.

    There were improvements and expansions of the South Expressway and its expansion to Batangas, the improvement rehabilitation of existing roads and the initial programs designed to build a more extensive Ro-Ro transport system across the islands.

    The main airport expansion in Manila, which was finished during this period, got locked up by an extended corruption scandal and by a decision to withhold its opening for some years.

    Major infrastructure programs ended up in corruption scandals that led to them being held up or abandoned by the Aquino administration when they took over, even after significant project funds had been spent.

    This was the case with Ro-Ro investments (arranged with French support) and in railway systems and telecommunications improvements (arranged with Chinese financing).

    I don’t agree with the source about BNPP… imagine it running during the Pinatubo eruption or maintained like the MRT…


    THE National Aeronautics and Space Administration has launched into space a cargo mission that included the Philippines’ first microsatellite on Wednesday.

    The 50-kilogram imaging satellite called DIWATA-1 is part of the 3,400-kg cargo of key science supplies onboard the Commercial Resupply Services Flight 6 that lifted off from Florida in the United States past 11 a.m. on Wednesday (Philippine time).

    NASA live-streamed the launch of the mission, which used the Cygnus spacecraft of private aerospace manufacturer Orbital ATK, Inc.

    Cygnus will deliver to the International Space Station (ISS) science and research, crew supplies and vehicle hardware, including DIWATA-1, according to information NASA posted online. The spacecraft is scheduled to reach and dock to the orbiting space laboratory on Sunday (Philippine time).

    DIWATA-1 will be housed in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM) called “Kibo” before its release into space towards the end of April, according to the Department of Science and Technology (DoST).

    MANILA, Philippines – The audience at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman’s Electrical and Electronics Engineering Institute who were watching the launch of the Philippines’ first homegrown microsatellite could not contain their excitement on Wednesday morning, March 23.

    There were laughter, oohs and aahs, and cheers during the countdown to lift-off of the Atlas V rocket, which was carrying the Cygnus unmanned spacecraft. Cygnus’ payload includes the Philippines’ Diwata-1 microsatellite, along with several other nanosatellites and science experiments which will be brought to the International Space Station (ISS). (READ: PH microsatellite Diwata-1 heads to Int’l Space Station)

    Kaye Kristine Vergel, one of the UP students sent to Hokkaido University in Japan to work on the payload of Diwata-1, said through a video conference that their team was very excited for the launch.

    On the other side of Japan, in Tohoku University, team member Ariston Gonzales said: “Everyone is happy and excited for the launch is successful. We’re hoping for the best for the ISS release.”

    Japanese consultant Professor Yukihiro Takahashi also said that he was very pleased and relieved after the successful launch.

    Everyone at the launch viewing party in UP – from the top university and government officials to the team members hooked up via video conference – was hopeful for the continuous success of the country’s “space fairy,” Diwata-1.

    UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan said that after the successful launch, Diwata-1 will be able to help produce more valuable data toward the development of better science-oriented programs and policies for the country.

    Manila: The Philippines launched its first non-commercial microsatellite, Diwata 1, on March 23. The spacecraft is expected to soon beam information crucial to saving lives and property.

    At around 11am Manila time, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, carrying the parcel box-sized Diwata 1 together with other payload, totalling 3,395 kilograms.

    “The launch of Diwata 1 marks a new and exciting chapter in the use of space technology in the Philippines,” Dr Mahar Lagmay, who heads the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (Project NOAH) team, said.

    The remote sensing information that the 50kg Diwata 1 will beam to earth will be crucial. The data that it will gather can warn of natural disasters and improve weather detection; assist in determining agricultural growth patterns and monitoring forest cover and mining; aid in the protection of cultural and historical sites; and help in the guarding of territorial borders of the Philippines.

    The microsatellite was developed over three years at a cost of P800 million (Dh63 million).

    Although the Philippines had a privately owned commercial communications satellite in orbit, the Agila 1 — which was launched in 1999 — the Diwata 1 is the first spacecraft assembled and developed by Filipinos.

    “Diwata is the country’s first microsatellite designed, developed, and assembled by Filipino researchers and engineers under the guidance of Japanese experts from Hokkaido University and Tohoku University. The satellite is designed to provide real-time images for disaster risk management and other applications …” the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development said.


      The Philippines, being a locus of typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions, is a hotbed of disasters. Natural hazards inflict loss of lives and costly damage to property in the country. The effect of these hazards were witnessed in 2011’s Typhoon Pedring, 2012’s Typhoon Pablo, and the most disastrous storm of the century, 2013’s Typhoon Yolanda. These resulted in a high number of fatalities with economic losses amounting to billions of pesos. Extreme weather is the common factor in these catastrophes. Situated in the humid tropics, the Philippines will inevitably suffer from climate-related calamities similar to those experienced in recent years. With continued development in the lowlands, and growing populations, it is expected that damage to infrastructure and human losses would persist and even rise unless appropriate measures are immediately implemented by government.

      In response to President Aquino’s instructions to put in place a responsive program for disaster prevention and mitigation, specifically, for the Philippines’ warning agencies to be able to provide a 6 hour lead-time warning to vulnerable communities against impending floods and to use advanced technology to enhance current geo-hazard vulnerability maps, the Nationwide Operational Assessment of Hazards (NOAH) was launched by the Department of Science and Technology.

      NOAH’s mission is to undertake disaster science research and development, advance the use of cutting edge technologies and recommend innovative information services in government’s disaster prevention and mitigation efforts. Though the use of science and technology and in partnership with the academe and other stakeholders, the DOST through Program NOAH is taking a multi-disciplinary approach in developing systems, tools, and other technologies that could be operationalized by government to help prevent and mitigate disasters.

      NOAH’s immediate task is to integrate current disaster science research and development projects and initiate new efforts within the DOST to achieve this objective. Presently there are nine(9) component projects under the NOAH program, namely:

      Hydromet Sensors Development
      DREAM-LIDAR 3D Mapping
      Flood NET – Flood Information Network
      Strategic Communication
      Disaster Management using WebGIS
      Enhancing Geohazard Mapping through LIDAR and High-resolution Imagery
      Doppler System Development
      Landslide Sensors Development
      Storm Surge Inundation Mapping
      Weather Information Integration for System Enhancement (WISE)

      The current NOAH Program team is composed of the scientist-leaders of these projects. The country’s warning agencies: PAG-ASA and PHIVOLCS are also represented.

      Within two years, NOAH shall provide high-resolution flood hazard maps and install 600 automated rain gauges and 400 water level measuring stations for 18 major river basins of the Philippines… this is about what the project is doing… – links to the apps for all citizens are here…


    MANILA – Diwata-1, the Philippines’ first microsatellite, will be brought to the International Space Station (ISS) at 11 p.m. of March 22, Eastern Standard Time (11 a.m., March 23, Philippine Standard Time).

    National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) commercial provider Orbital ATK is set to launch its fifth mission to the ISS on March 22 (EST), and the company’s Cygnus spacecraft is scheduled to lift off on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at 11:05 p.m. (EST) from Space Launch Complex 41 in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA.

    The Philippine Department of Science and Technology (DOST) said March 22 (EST) is a target launch date and is subject to change due to a variety of factors.

    “NASA will make every attempt to notify the Philippines of changes at the soonest possible time,” the agency said.

    At the ISS, meanwhile, Diwata-1 will be housed in the Japanese Experiment Module (JEM), nicknamed “Kibo.” Towards the end of April, the JEM Small Satellite Orbital Deployer (J-SSOD) will release Diwata-1 into space at an altitude of 400 kilometers from the earth’s surface.

  6. I’ve always considered the use of malls in the Philippines as the substitute for leisure parks for Filipinos. This is a very strong analog to the fact of abundance of land area in America. I’m also musing on the utility of windward versus leeward sides of the archipelago, viz. typhoon paths in northern Luzon and Bicol regions as wind energy farms and maritime industrial utility of the Visayas and Mindanao. Filipinos as clients is obvious, to me anyway. A superboost to our domestic market, perhaps.

  7. From the German Embassy Manila FB page:

    Cooperation of Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT) and UPMSI

    According to the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Ecology (ZMT), which is based in Bremen/Germany, forecasts suggest that soon, more than two-thirds of the world population will either live in coastal areas or depend on the sea for their livelihood. In their goal to provide a basis for the protection and sustainable use of tropical coastal ecosystems, ZMT has teamed up with the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute and WorldFish, an international, nonprofit research organization that harnesses the potential of fisheries and aquaculture to reduce hunger and poverty.


    Ananas Anam has developed an innovative, natural and sustainable non-woven textile called Piñatex™ made from pineapple leaf fibres. Piñatex has evolved from seven years of R&D to create a natural textile from waste plant fibres.

    Piñatex harnesses advanced technologies to create a totally sustainable high performance natural textile. While the initial development work leading to Piñatex™ originated in the Philippines, significant research & development is now being undertaken between the UK and Spain.

    Piñatex provides new additional income for farmers while creating a vibrant new industry for pineapple growing countries.

    Piñatex fibres are the by-product of the pineapple harvest. No extra land, water, fertilizers or pesticides are required to produce them.

    No pineapple is harmed in the making of Piñatex!

  9. Modern is not the same as developed or developed is not the same as self-reliant.
    what I wish Filipinas to be is self-reliant that is she does not need to rely on other countries for her people to survive. In terms of security and trade she needs to co-exist with other countries but this is not necessary in a peaceful perfect world. Trade is there to support luxury of Filipinos.
    In reality many materials are already in place in Pinas for their basic needs of food, clothing, shelter and entertainment. And Pinas has the capability to develop its resources into better finished products for its own consumption and this should be part of the strategic plan of the country to resource most of her needs in country.
    But there are hidden forces who do not want to have this happen for the obvious reason of monetary gains and continuity of control. It very logical and economic (in the long run) for Pinas to build hi-rise housing for the massa not only at the urban but also at the rural area. This is to better use the land for agri-business and environmental protection. With a well organized housing, decongestion in the urban area can also happen. Basically, Pinas is an agri-business based country. All the other industries are to support the other needs of Pinoys and the agri-business. I wish our decision makers can see the mining we do is to build better boats to fish, have better farm implements, provide widest electrification, build planes and warships to monitor and protect our territory. But the strategic vision of our politicos is not on this aspiration but but for a short term gain of more money more money for the rules and perpetuate the rulers dynasties. Pinas is indded in the modern era but practices and lives by the olden times.

    • There are different definitions of modern – and one could say the Philippines is about as “modern” as Dubai or Saudi Arabia. The Philippines gets its money from selling its human resources at home and abroad, the sheikhs by selling their oil. Both types of modernity do not have a really strong foundation – once oil is not that needed or runs out the Arabs will be back to what they were 100 years ago, once the human resources that the Philippines sells are not that needed anymore because of worldwide automation and economic crisis both in developed countries and oil countries there could be a rude awakening.

      So the time to modernize – yes I agree that agri-business and food self-sufficiency is an important goal – is sooner than later. Modernity is needed because one cannot turn the clock back, and efficient utilization of land for agriculture is only possible by high-rises for example like you mentioned – and by mechanization of agriculture which is already happening. The other stuff are spin-offs and allow the country to earn the money needed in order to buy what is needed. But vertical integration which Karl has already mentioned is needed to avoid needing too much from others, selling raw materials and buying finished products back is a guarantee for everlasting backwardness.


    Modernity is a term of art used in the humanities and social sciences to designate both a historical period (the modern era), as well as the ensemble of particular socio-cultural norms, attitudes and practices that arose in post-medieval Europe and have developed since, in various ways and at various times, around the world. While it includes a wide range of interrelated historical processes and cultural phenomena (from fashion to modern warfare), it can also refer to the subjective or existential experience of the conditions they produce, and their ongoing impact on human culture, institutions, and politics (Berman 2010, 15–36).

    As a historical category, modernity refers to a period marked by a questioning or rejection of tradition; the prioritization of individualism, freedom and formal equality; faith in inevitable social, scientific and technological progress and human perfectibility; rationalization and professionalization; a movement from feudalism (or agrarianism) toward capitalism and the market economy; industrialization, urbanization and secularization; the development of the nation-state and its constituent institutions (e.g. representative democracy, public education, modern bureaucracy) and forms of surveillance (Foucault 1995, 170–77). Some writers have suggested there is more than one possible modernity, given the unsettled nature of the term and of history itself.

    • This article focuses on the technological and industrial aspect of modernity.

      Of course Gian is right about the mindset – the complexity is not seen.

      So K-12 and TVET/TESDA Dual Training are needed, to increase qualification.

  11. The first problem would be majority of Filipinos do not see or understand the complexity of starting an industry. The reaction of people from my facebook feeds show me that they do not understand the comlexity and tradeoffs regarding bringing back the steel industry as Duterte supposedly plans to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *