Caricature; wit and humor of a nation in picture, song and story (1911) (14782806795) The latest research has looked into the causes of societies failing or collapsing more extensively than ever. This could help in finding out how to fix Philippine society. Why Nations Fail (link to blog) by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson as well as Collapse: Why Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (link to Wikipedia) by anthropologist Jared Diamond are the strongest works on this matter to date. Wikipedia (link) summarizes the reasons for societal collapse as follows:

Common factors that may contribute to societal collapse are economical, environmental, social and cultural, and disruptions in one domain sometimes cascade into others. In some cases a natural disaster (e.g. tsunami, earthquake, massive fire or climate change) may precipitate a collapse. Other factors such as a Malthusian catastrophe, overpopulation or resource depletion might be the proximate cause of collapse. Significant inequity may combine with lack of loyalty to a central power structure and result in an oppressed lower class rising up and taking power from a smaller wealthy elite. The diversity of forms that societies evolve corresponds to diversity in their failures.

Damage to Culture

A lot of things point to the Philippines as a society that has already collapsed in the past. Rizal and others have written extensively on how the fabric of society was damaged by the encomienda system, “producing a race without a mind and without a heart” according to his milestone work “The Philippines, A Century Hence“. Get Real Philippines, while being exaggerated and pro-dictatorial in its conclusions, has indeed described phenomena similar to those in James Fallows’ “A Damaged Culture” (link). One of the most damaged cultures is that of the Ik (link):

  • an ethnic group numbering about 10,000 people living in the mountains of northeastern Uganda near the border with Kenya…
  • were displaced from their land to create the Kidepo Valley National Park and consequently suffered extreme famine. Also, their weakness relative to other tribes meant they were regularly raided. The Ik are subsistence farmers who grind their own grain…
  • The Ik people live in several small villages arranged in clusters, which comprise the total “community”. Each small village is surrounded by an outer wall, then sectioned off into familial (or friend-based) “neighborhoods” called Odoks, each surrounded by a wall. Each Odok is sectioned into walled-off households called asaks, with front yards (for lack of a better term) and in some cases, granaries.
  • Children by age three or four are sometimes permanently expelled from the household and form groups called age-bands consisting of those within the same age group. The ‘Junior Group’ consists of children from the ages of three to eight and the ‘Senior Group’ consists of those between eight and thirteen.
  • No adults look after the children, who teach each other the basics of survival. However, it is not certain whether this practice is typical Ik tradition or merely triggered by unusual famine conditions. Joseph A. Tainter proposes this fragmentation to be an artifact of the dire circumstances where each person must depend on their own resources alone to find food and the age peers band together primarily to protect themselves from older stronger children who would take their food.

Much worse than the batang hamog that Karl Garcia mentioned in the past article, showing that there are degrees of damage to culture, much like there are degrees of how one can burn oneself. There is a study by the anthropologist Turnbull which is controversial, but does summarize the worst aspects of what happened to the Ik as follows:

“There is no better or more heartbreaking example of the alienation of the human capacity to love than the story of the Ik tribe of Uganda. Colin Turnbull in his book Mountain People documents how Milton Obote nationalized traditional hunting lands as national park for European tourists, and prevented the Ik from hunting in their traditional hunting grounds. After a couple of generations of starvation conditions, the Ik, originally a cooperative, child loving tribe, became a group of selfish cruel people who don’t trust or help anybody.

Subsidiarity, Solidarity, Humanity

are the three aspects of a functioning society that Manong Sonny has mentioned. Karl Garcia in the previous article on serving the community and the environment has looked at how to build some degree of subsidiarity and solidarity – thereby increasing humanity in the long run – at the barangay and municipal level. This is the bottom-up approach, but I think one must add:

  • the state has to protect communities against impunity, i.e. armed violence. Lumad communities in Mindanao even organize their own schools, I have read, but are often prey to impunity.
  • the state has to make its basic services more accessible to communities. Not force people to go to different offices. Have extension offices in regions, municipalities, even in barangays.
  • the state has to develop more of a service-oriented mindset. This is hard in a country were not even banks are truly service-oriented yet. It would be less of a foreign body for the people.

Negosyo Centers, Justice on Wheels mentioned by Karl, pilot projects with courts working in Filipino like I mentioned are ideas like this. The popularity of both Binay and Duterte rests mainly on their having implemented citizen services at the local level. Even if they made their workarounds. I suspect that the principalia, the native chiefs whom the Spanish coopted to help rule, often made workarounds for their respective villages and were loved by their people if they did for their benefit. Hated if they insisted on implementing often impracticable Spanish laws to the letter.

The Polder Model

The Dutch have polders (link) and each community is in charge of not only warding off the sea, but managing its own natural resources and keeping things clean. Dutch water boards (link) are among the oldest democratic institutions of the country, democracy in its best form being people cooperating for their common interests. In the case of the water boards these are the interests:

managing water barriers, waterways, water levels, water quality and sewage treatment in their respective regions.

In the Philippines it could be making sure mountains are reforested (link) or at least planted with crops like moringa (link) and disaster mitigation. This is one level above the community level that Karl has mentioned in the previous article. Communities that are in the same zone could be encouraged to form alliances to ward of ecological collapse, mitigate natural catastrophes and increase agricultural productivity, possibly even allow for ecotourism. This is regional. The Dutch polder model (link) is also used to describe cooperation and balance of interests at a national level:

The Dutch polder model is characterised by the tri-partite cooperation between employers’ organisations such as VNO-NCW, labour unions such as the Federation Dutch Labour Movement, and the government. These talks are embodied in the Social-Economic Council (Dutch: Sociaal-Economische Raad, SER)… During the postwar period, the Catholic, Protestant, Christian, social-democratic, and liberal parties decided to work together to reconstruct the Netherlands, as did unions and employers’ organizations. Important institutions of the polder model, like the SER, were founded in this period… ever since the Middle Ages, when the process of land reclamation began, different societies living in the same polder have been forced to cooperate because without unanimous agreement on shared responsibility for maintenance of the dykes and pumping stations, the polders would have flooded and everyone would have suffered.

In the Philippines, the system of warring barangays worked well for a long time. But there were only about 4 million people in the country around 1800. Today there are 25 times as many people. History I have read mentions that landownership, for example, hardly mattered in the old Philippines because there was always enough new land to slash and burn, then leave after a while to regrow the forest. Now there are hardly any forests left. The population when Marcos rule ended was almost three times that of when Magsaysay’s plane crashed. Now there are nearly twice as many Filipinos as in 1986. Even if what they say is true that the Philippines could export rice during Marcos days, the present population and the land do not allow it anymore. The countries of the Mekong delta can produce rice more cheaply and in larger amounts. Time maybe to look at the Dutch way, people of the sea, survivors of calamities. Cooperate – or collapse.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 14. April 2016