Philippine political maturity

Carex aurea inflorescence at maturityHow politically mature is the Philippines? Not very. Maybe I have lived abroad too long. Not that things are perfect over here. But I do see this:

Sure, there is some bayanihan at the level of practical matters. But the mindset when it comes to politics seems to be: follow the herd. There are some independent thinkers, but a true revolution in mind that is necessary has not yet started. There are groups that Joe America has called Filipino 100%ers. Conformity to a thought leader and his followers is expected, like in a church or sect.

You easily get labeled some color or group. Guess that is because in old Filipino culture, you were a follower of this datu or the other. The Spanish priests came and also had their followers. Schools of thought in the Philippines usually freeze up and become rigid repetitions of what their founders might once have had as original ideas, no further development. Could it be that it never was about the truth anyway, anytime – but just about face and power? Because the actions of followers of whatever group often do not match the meaning of words – not only in split-level Christianity:

  • Those who call themselves Communist rebels are often just extortionist bandits – nothing to do with Che Guevara ideals
  • Those who call themselves democratic are often just oligarchs and elitists – the system is there to perpetuate their power
  • Those who call themselves disciplinarians are often out to discipline everybody else, but are not very disciplined themselves

How often is politics in the Philippines NOT about getting things done in a better way, but just about one’s own skin at the expense of everybody else? Zero sum games.

It has its historical reasons. But I wonder if enough will be smart enough to finally get the country off that vicious carousel? I am happy I am not in the Philippines – yet sad for the people there.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 12. February 2016

P.S. Jose Rizal was an independent thinker. Now he is a statue, an anito worshipped like the Black Nazarene by many but probably still only understood by a minority until now.



Filipino Virtual Bayanihan

BayanihanThere has been something forming quietly, without being noticed too much by the usual suspects in blogs. I suspect we are a bit too self-centered sometimes. While we have been discussing, some people have started to act – and make websites for virtual bayanihan. Yes bayanihan, the old Filipino community spirit of self-reliance and mutual assistance – as opposed to the oppressive, authoritarian barangay where one relies on a datu-type leader for everything, including what one should think and do. Let me show some examples:

Overseas Virtual Bayanihan

There are a few sites which I have noticed in Europe, possibly there are many more, maybe even in the Middle East:

  • This is an example of an article from Migreat – which gives practical tips about migration, studying and more for Filipinos in Germany, Spain, England and Italy.
  • This is an example of an article from Pinay In Germany – which is a group of Pinays married to Germans, giving tips to other Pinays and also writing about life in Germany.
  • This is from Pinoy in Amsterdam. I would say the site is still quite rudimentary, but it does explore a lot of areas. Here there is the possibility of a commercial/business link.

What is interesting is that the makers of these websites are very unassuming, unlike most bloggers on the political scene. I even would include myself as being a bit self-promoting at times.

Local Virtual Bayanihan

Locally, there are two sites that I have noticed. I am sure there are more:

  • Efren Nolasco gives not only computer tips, but also tips on how to deal with practical matters like SSS, Philhealth etc. – one example is this article.
  • Boklit also gives practical tips on the usual day-to-day stuff like SSS, Philhealth, PAG-IBIG…, but also self-help ideas like this article on how to get out of debt.

A New Spirit?

What is interesting is that Efren Nolasco is a former OFW.  My first article at Joe America’s blog foresaw a role of those who have been abroad in changing the Philippines. Those who are poorer or less educated in the Philippines are often kept from gaining too much confidence I think – by both the rich and the educated, many of whom want to keep a colonial-style monopoly of wealth and knowledge. Being abroad is not only about earning money, it is also about seeing how things can work differently, and gaining confidence by seeing one’s hard work finally having true results.

Joe America recently mentioned the possibility of people powered journalism. People Power was not a bad thing – it removed a dictator, or an authoritarian ruler, whatever one chooses to call him, who had plundered the country and driven it into inflation and debt among other things. But People Power only replaced one ruling group with another somewhat better ruling group.

Filipinos were still hopeful sheep then. It was a necessary stage in the country’s development – away from being intimidated sheep. Now they are regaining confidence as well as community. Virtual bayanihan is in my opinion a major step forward for Filipinos – away from being just masses to becoming empowered citizens. This start is oriented towards daily needs, which I think is a good thing because that is what counts for most people, first and foremost. Between the thought leaders and the virtual citizens, there is still a divide. Bridging it remains the main challenge.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 9. February 2016

P.S. in response to an article of mine about Rising from Victimhood, Joe answered that the way to rise is knowledge that gives confidence. Will Villanueva added faith to that, and I commented that faith in good things about being Filipino is essential. This is all essential to overcoming the slave mentality that Get Real Philippines points out – but their solution is dictatorial and self-hating.

Revolution in Mind

Braid 4permis not what some think I have in mind. It is a revolution of the mind that I have in mind. It is what I think the Philippines needs. All other forms of revolution so far have failed. And will fail. Rizal lets his (by then anti-)hero Simoun say at the end of El Filibusterismo: what if the slaves of today become the tyrants of tomorrow? Now wasn’t he right like oh so often? Who has read the Noli and the Fili properly? Or The Philippines, A Century Hence – or Rizal’s translation of Schiller’s Wilhelm Tell. He seems like a mere statue today. He died at the age of 35. His thinking discontinued.

Theory and practice

Rote learning is the norm in the Philippines. Theoretical education is too divorced from practice. Common sense looked upon with disdain. The people on the ground are not listened to by the theoreticians, since they often do not have the capability to express themselves in an erudite manner. The people on the ground do not get what the theoreticians want, and often the theoreticians do not break it down properly for them. Like Joe America wrote in a recent comment, the middle is missing. Those on the ground walk on foot. The cars of the erudite have wheels above ground.

  • The 1987 Constitution is beautiful in theory, but fails to fulfill even the first two ideas of its preamble, striving for a just and humane society.
  • Endlessly detailed discussions on legalisms in so many different recent cases, but the law is effectively not there in many parts of the country.
  • Metro Manila’s business district has all modern amenities while huge parts of the country hardly have Internet access at a reasonable speed.
  • International studies are commissioned, for example on traffic, while the expertise and common sense of local experts is often ignored.
  • International contractors are taken in for projects, but there is often no strategy for building local expertise in a step-by-step manner.

The present programs of DOST like the DOST AGT, the Roadtrain, the Diwata Microsatellite, the iGovPhil government IT project, or Project NOAH shine as exceptions to this sad rule. The DOST projects also took small steps to success, but with an overarching goal in mind. Wanting big successes at once does not work. Forget going federal-parliamentary in one step for example.

Models and reality

Hel spit - old mapWe all use mental models to simplify the reality that we see. To be able to process it in a reasonable timeframe. But mental models can become outdated. Old nationalistic mental models of the United States as the threat to national sovereignty ignore how the USA has changed, how the parameters of the global game have changed, and who is now occupying islands near Palawan. Old leftist mental models ignore that there are much better ways of creating a level playing field, and that one has to create better habits among the disadvantaged so they can use these new chances. Old rightist mental models of repression ignore that it has been proven that repression creates an adversarial relationship between citizens and the state, especially if it comes with human rights abuses – that modern policing can involve the community and value human rights without losing its necessary effectivity. It is like satellite photos may cause old maps to have to be redrawn.

Or surveyor’s measurements. It is very important to check assumptions. The adjust the map in one’s mind of the territory that is reality. It will never encompass everything. 90% is enough.

Trial and error

The Romanians have one of the fastest Internets in the world thanks to so-called neighborhood networks. A bit similar to how some Romanian gypsies and Filipino slum dwellers improvise their electricity. Now I am sure that the educated Makati crowd, or the experts at UP would have looked down upon such a suggestion with disdain, since they are world-class and not like slum dwellers at all.

Trial and error is so often the way to success. The DOST AGT in UP did not amount to much while the one in Bicutan is much better. Remember Bill Gates’ first DOS versions?Gluehlampe 01 KMJ

But for that, one must be willing to make mistakes, accept them and learn from them. Edison tried so many designs until he finally succeeded in getting his incandescent lamp working. Good he did not grow up in a culture that immediately calls out minor mistakes, which Filipinos do. While ignoring major mistakes and those who are shameless enough to justify them as being right. A culture that calls to crucify the earnest and release the shameless is not conducive to real development. In my German IT project experience, we have corrected mistakes and moved on to do better.

A culture that seeks to learn progresses. A culture that seeks to punish stays put or regresses. The real revolution that brings lasting effects is the one that happens in the mind.

Driving the BRP Sierra Madre into a reef was a stroke of genius. Using the oldest ship in the navy to block Ayungin Shoal. Filipino ingenuity can if given the chance.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 5 February 2016


About Philippine Priorities

This is about a comment about Filipino priorities by Singaporean banker chempo at Joe America’s blog. It has made me seriously ask: what priorities does the Philippines have?

To fight corruption?

Merlion, Merlion Park, Singapore - 20130315-04This is the relevant part of chempo’s comment:

If the objective is to help fight corruption — I can name other priorities —
– Anti-Dynasty Act
– Banking Secrecy Act — repeal or amend to permit criminal investigations,
– Persons-with-criminal-records-cannot-sit-in-congress/senate- or- some- other- high- institutions Act,
– Anti-universal Sufferage Act — no person or institution can demand group endorsement of candidates in an election,
– Anti-Corruption Unit Act — set up an independent body with wide ranging powers to investigate.
– Anti-bloody-nonsense TRO Act
– Anti-Representation Act — charge all giver and taker, tax-disallow representation expenses.
– Anti-switching-of-parties-after-election Act
– Serious-Notarisation Act — have proper gazetted lawyers to do this, not in a side street that advertises “Notary Services” & “Photocopy Services” on the same sign board, parties need to appear personally with ID and proper attire (respect for the law and a solemn event) — cannot send messengers.
ETC ETC ETC — give me time, I can give you 100 priorities.

To dispense justice?

Well, I answered and named two more priorities for the country:

1) Legal reform – the Criminal Code Draft of 2014 was just the beginning as is somewhere in that goddam lazy Congress.

2) Justice reform – Rizal said more than a hundred years ago that the reason why the English are respected in their possesions is their swift and speedy justice system. He was criticizing Spanish judges and the Penal Code of 1884 which is STILL today’s Filipino law.

To look good?

APEC 2015 TrafficTo be fair, the Congress and Senate have finished quite a few laws in the past years and the President signed them.  I did give credit to this here:

At least there is now a Philippine Competition Commission, meaning the Philippine Competition Act is being implemented. We worried about IRRs some months ago.

BUT I have a caveat – I read that Philippines EU FTA (free trade agreement) talks have started. Guess what one requirement of the EU was for FTA – you got it, competition legislation and implementation. We Filipinos – me included – need pressure to get moving.

A few reactions

Joe America’s answer – for which one must remember that former NEDA Secretary Balicasan, a man of high competence and integrity, is now heading the Philippine Competition Commision:

Yes, I was impressed that they met the deadlines. Commission formed, a good data-oriented, analytical head appointed. Saved me a blog article to complain about it, because I was tracking it. Kudos to both Aquinos, senatorial and presidential.

In the publications of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Manila there is an an article about Aquino’s 2015 SONA which specifically mention the Philippine Competition Act:

The Philippines has seen steady economic growth in the past years. In addition to that, the new Competition Act is a positive signal for international investors.
Back to the beginning of chempo’s comment, which I quote which it is appropriate in this context:
We have to ask ourselves first and foremost, what is the objective of the FOI in the case of Philippines? My base feeling is it’s just a showpiece — to show the world there, we too now have an FOI. We have joined the league of “clean” nations.

Figuring out things

Bmw welt + headquaterMy New Year article mentions the clean and dirty kitchen in the houses of those Filipinos who can afford it:

Because of colonialism, the Philippines have had the clean and dirty kitchen everywhere. The clean kitchen to be shown to guests, especially foreigners, and the dirty kitchen were the maids cook. Daang Matuwid was theoretically about honesty, about cleaning up the dirty kitchen. The Ombudsman seems to be hyperactive in smoking out corruption; BIR seems to have been cleaned while Customs remains a problem. And yes, charges were pressed in the Tanim-Bala scam. BBL was not handled well, and has failed. The MRT and Manila traffic not handled with enough foresight.

Walls were built to hide squatters from both visitors of the UNCTAD V conference in Manila during Marcos times, and the Pope. Does it sound similar to some things that happened this year? Yes. There are more honest Filipinos now than then in my opinion, but brutal honesty must increase. Not to hit back at “the other side”, but to solve the many problems the country has. The country is in the process of maturing, and maturity means adressing issues without resorting to passive-aggressive sullenness or denial on one side and aggressive blaming on the other.

Get Real Philippines is looking at President Aquino’s dirty kitchen all the time, while ignoring Marcos’ much dirtier kitchen. President Aquino, by virtue of having been in the United States and his mother having been there too, does have a bit of an American attitude about kitchens I think. Just like some of Aquino’s supporters have bit of an American attitude to dogs. Could this be the problem of Daang Matuwid, and most especially the Roxas campaign? The group that runs it is definitely well-meaning and seems to know what it is doing at least in theory. But they live in the clean kitchen part of the country. The Fast Forward video ad of Mar Roxas shows it clearly. And Korina Sanchez nearly fits the stereotype of the old Apo Hiking Society Song “Ang Syota Kong Burgis” (my high-class girlfriend): di pupuwede, sakay sa jeepney, sobrang usok at sikip. She can’t rid a jeepney with me, it’s too smoky and crowded.

Has Mar Roxas ever taken the MRT to work from Cubao where he lives to DILG which is EDSA Corner Quezon Avenue? Former Interior Minister Günther Beckstein of Bavaria took the Tram No. 19 every day to work. Angela Merkel goes shopping in the evenings – accompanied by some security people of course – and cooks for her husband in the evening. To Filipinos who can’t believe this, much like Europeans did not believe Marco Polo when he came back: the thing about Beckstein I just remember, and about Angela Merkel is in TIME magazine – there you have a US source:

Unified Germany is a relatively new democracy. It has no finished official residence, and if it did, Merkel would continue to live in the central Berlin apartment she shares with her husband, whose name is on the buzzer. “I always show it to Latin American visitors,” says Wissmann, who was Transportation Minister when Merkel ran the environment department. “I don’t know if it’s 100 square meters or 120, but that’s for a world leader. She is living modestly.”

The most powerful woman in the world does her own grocery shopping, dragging a small security contingent to the German equivalent of Kroger’s. “If you have good luck, you meet her on a Friday afternoon at the supermarket buying a bottle of white wine and a fish for dinner for her and her husband,” says Wissmann. “That’s not a show.”

I did like Duterte a bit when I first heard about him, the fact that he dresses simply and talks to the people of Davao regularly. But some of his statements have shown that he is too much from the dirty kitchen of the Philippines. So what does this have to do with priorities? I can only quote one of my favorite movies. This is from the end of Demolition Man with Sylvester Stallone:

John Spartan: Whoa, Whoa. I’ll tell you what gonna do:
John Spartan: [to Chief Earle] Why don’t you get a little dirty?
John Spartan: [to Edgar] You a lot clean.
John Spartan: And somewhere in the middle… I don’t know. You’ll figure it out.
Alfredo Garcia: Fuckin’ A!
John Spartan: [impressed] Well put.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 3. February 2016

Money and Numbers

Brynner the KingDuterte said that algebra is useless. Filipinos should learn business math. I think he is wrong. King Mongkut of Siam, of the famous “The King and I” starring Yul Brynner, was a dictatorial man in real life and on screen. But there is a scene where the English teacher tells him of the importance of algebra and he orders everybody to learn it. Could that be the reason why Thailand is quite prosperous?

But Duterte also has a point somehow. Maybe we – and I include myself as a Pinoy – don’t know how to use what we learned properly. I have done advanced mathematics in school, but often failed to manage my money properly, until I learned by doing. So I did not REALLY learn my business math – which in the end is just addition, subtraction, multiplication and division – and occasionally percentages. Because there are five steps to learning:

  1. understanding how something is supposed to work
  2. understanding how to be able to do it
  3. actually being able to do it
  4. applying it in reality
  5. mastering it

Mastering something means you apply it well. During a bad phase in my business I had to juggle my money, and first started by making notes, then a simple excel sheet and finally a cashflow sheet with expenses and income forecasts. Now I really know why I am doing it and how to avoid the danger zone. The classic Filipino educational system is a lot about theory and not about applicability and effects. The BBL draft I think shows this weakness. Back to money.

Talking about Money

“Mukhang pera” is a bad word in Filipino. It means money-faced. Some Filipinos say “pera lang iyan”. It’s just money. In the original abundance of the islands I guess it may not have mattered. But now where many people do not live in the barrio anymore, it does. Many Filipinos have debt issues. Some are gamblers. Many LGUs are in debt. There often have been budgeting issues.

It has dawned on me that many discussions in Philippine politics nowadays are about money. Here are some interesting articles from Joe America’s blog:

Money for Nothing

JapaneseIssuedPhilippinePeso-ObverseWhat surprises me is how many people believe that Jejomar Binay can give everybody in the Philippines the benefits he has given to Makati residents. It is clear that Makati is rich. The Philippines probably would go broke if he did what he plans to do. OK the national budget is 3 trillion pesos. Sounds like a lot of money. But divide 3 trillion by around 100 million Filipinos – keep things simple. Makes around 30 thousand pesos per Filipino a year.  That is around 600 Euro only. According to statistics government spending is around 16% of GDP. Not really much.

If one looks at other countries, the USA spends around 25% of its GDP for government, Australia around 35%, Switzerland around 30%. So you need to have the money first to be able to spend it. Common sense. There is I think a lot to be learned in these matters. There are those who think the government can print money. But it can only do so, very generally speaking, in proportion to the goods and services produced locally.

Otherwise you have inflation and your money loses value against other currencies. That is bad if you are importing a lot and/or have a lot of debt to other countries. Common sense I would say makes it logical that countries that produce more goods and services by themselves are more stable. One just has to look at prosperous countries like Japan, Korea, Switzerland, Australia, Canada to see that they have a lot of their own internal economy.

Burglars codesCollection and Distribution

Moving to another topic. It is well known that it can be hard to collect debts from some Filipinos. That many who earn salaries are dependent on loansharks for one reason or the other. But this is quite astounding:

  • That the BIR had a steep uphill fight in the last few years to improve collection efficiency
  • That the SSS has a lot of money uncollected according to the SSS article and others
  • That the money from the sale of Fort Bonifacio allegedly just vanished in thin air

On the distribution side, Pantawid Pamilya gives families ATM cards so that they can get their benefits from what I have gathered. But recently someone with 4Ps money was robbed in Albay – obviously it is paid out in cash also. Cash is of course always dangerous. It is not always traceable.

Important Questions

So there are a number of things that should be looked at to understand the money and the numbers better when it comes to the Philippines:

  • how much money is coming in (collections), being spent internally (costs) and being distributed like SSS and 4Ps?
  • how many taxpayers, how many SSS and GSIS members, how many beneficiaries of SSS, GSIS, 4Ps?
  • how much money is uncollected? BIR and SSS? How much money is not disbursed or liquidated?

In case of real freedom of information or FOI, these could be the first questions to be looked at. The details derive from the broader questions.

Some Observations

Just some observations as food for further thought:

  • In Germany, a lot is done via bank transfer. Tax offices demand quarterly advance payments, one fourth of expected annual income tax, from businesses. Businesses with employees have to submit electronic lists, I think to tax and social security offices – I am self-employed so I am not sure about this. As a former employee, I know that social security, health insurance and withholding tax are deducted from the gross monthly income, only the net income is paid out. Employers must transfer these contributions very quickly to the right institutions or risk a fine.
  • As for social security, unemployment pay or pension payments, everybody has a bank account and gets his money via bank transfer and then ATM card. There is a law that forces banks to give even poor people at least a basic bank account. Usually the very poor have a postal bank account or one at the local savings bank or rural bank. No cash and no cheques as far as I know.
  • One the personal money side, the Hanns-Seidel Foundation of Munich is helping the Philippines in the area of micro-finance and micro-enterprise development. This is good to make people depend less on loansharks and build their own existence, hopefully getting them out of poverty. Very many sari-sari stores close quickly because money is not properly managed from what I have heard so far. How financial literacy can generally be improved is a very significant question, especially among adults. Are there any DSWD programs for this? Does K-12 address it?

There is in my opinion not only much potential for leakage and inefficiency in the present Philippine system. But obviously a lot more for fraud and corruption, and persistent poverty.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 1. February 2016

Defining Philippine Culture

Philippine culture is unique in Asia due to the various influences it has been exposed to. There are a few theories about where the people that pushed the Melanesian Agta up into hills and mountains came from which I will not go into more deeply. What is known from the Laguna copperplate dated to 900 A.D. is that there was a culture already existing in the Manila Bay Area at that time with strong influences from Java. Indonesians I know have told me that Tagalog reminds them a bit of Javanese. The entire area that is now Malaysia, Philippines and Indonesia was under strong Hindu influence at that time. Ming China was a trading partner of Tondo, which for a long time ruled the Manila bay area. Islam began to reach the Philippines in the late 14th century coming from the area that is now Malaysia and Indonesia. By around 1500, Tondo became a vassal to a city founded by Muslims from Brunei and also called Maynila by the natives.

The Spaniards first landed the Visayas in 1521, then conquered Manila in 1571 to make it the capital of the Spanish East Indies ruled indirectly by Spain via Mexico. 250 years of galleon trade between Acapulco and Manila brought influences from both Chinese merchants that came to Manila and people from mainly Mexico, less from Spain. Many Spanish words in Filipino languages are Mexican, some even Nahuatl, the Aztec language. Nobody in Spain will understand palengke, they say mercado. They do not say andar, that is Mexican they tell you, it is caminar for them.

Spanish direct rule in the 19th century caused major changes, with more educated and affluent Filipinos striving for more recognition within the Spanish system. A dynamic that finally led to revolution, then conflict with the new colonial power America, then American colonial rule. The Americans also consolidated Muslim Filipinos, who had only been partly under Spanish control and that more in the late 19th century, into the system after the long and bloody Moro Wars. American cultural influence on the Philippines was very strong and persists until today.

The Malay base culture with Hindu and Muslim elements. Add to that Mexican and Chinese influence due to the galleon trade. Real Spanish influence for a century, then American influence. The older influences have become part of the culture and are fully absorbed by it. Most stuff that was absorbed until the 19th century is totally part of Philippine culture and no longer seen as foreign.

Mainland Spanish influences did not take root much, while American influences are partly absorbed and partly still seen as foreign. The Muslim area is very different in its cultural attitudes. Mass media has spread popular culture from Metro Manila, but large parts of the country still go their own way, facilitated by the fact of many islands and many different local languages. Communities of migrants and workers abroad have distinct subcultures. Add modern communication and the fast pace of change. The question now is: what moments truly define Philippine culture?

P.S. A beautiful picture came to my mind waking up:

Philippine culture lives in a Malay bahay kubo, with a Sony Playstation below the usual picture of the Last Supper.

When it goes to Catholic Church, the Church looks Spanish on the outside, the rituals are colorfully Mexican, but the spirit of worship is somehow Hindu.

When it goes to a Government Office, the System is American, but its officials often have an attitude like Spanish colonial officials, while some politicians act like Muslim Malay datus.

Irineo B.R. Salazar, April 27th 2015