Principalía of Leganes, Iloilo

Principalía of Leganes, Iloilo around 1880

2016 has started. The Philippines is going to make a major decision about its future soon. At this point it makes sense to look at the forces of change that have shaped the country.

Patrons and clients

From the time of datus and their followers, the prinicipalia which the Spaniards used to rule the country up to Filipino politics now, patron-client relationships determine the country’s economy and politics. Even Antonio de Morga wrote about how datus had their respective followers and shifting rivalries and alliances among each other, and usually exercised much local power. The state and the economy of the Philippines continue to be semi-feudal. Even the Marcos dictatorship, which tried to consolidate the state, continued to play by these old and unwritten rules of the game.

Of course the time after Marcos continued in this pattern, with more attempts to continue creating more formal and effective institutions as well as real economic opportunities. Old structures and the centuries-old way of doing things kept undermining things, each group accusing the other of favoritism, but every administration had some of it. I don’t want to get into who less, who more.

Rebellion and migration

The legend (not verified history) of Datu Puti shows a pattern typical for the Pacific: groups that lost in power struggles left for other places. Much of the Pacific was populated in this manner. Those who were less fortunate in the constant struggles for economic and political ascendancy often resorted to rebellion and migrated if that failed. In the 1920s many Filipino Christian lowlanders moved to Mindanao, possibly there was a connection to failed colorum and pulahan rebellions. In the 1950s peasants were relocated to Mindanao to weaken the Hukbalahap base.

Apart from the migration to the USA which got going during the 1920s and never really stopped, export of workers to other countries on a large scale started in the 1970s. POEA was founded then. This never really abated, there are millions of OFWs now. Migration to large cities especially Manila started after World War 2, resulting in slums which have grown, especially from the 1970s. This may have been connected to the NPA rebellion in the countryside, just like Davao’s progress and growth is also indirectly connected to the unrest in many other parts of Mindanao.

State and islands

AmCyc Philippine Islands

Philippine Islands: American Cyclopedia, 1879

The central state for all its formality and bureacracy never was particularly strong. The Spanish never really controlled large areas of the country. The Americans achieved control only in the 1920s. Local politicians have often played their own game. LGUs only recently have had to submit to LGPMS, after President Corazon Aquino’s Local Government Code gave them a lot of autonomy and guaranteed money from the national government. At least Cory continued the nationalization of the police started by President Marcos, merging PC and INP to form the Philippine National Police.

Good laws exist on paper, but their implementation up to the very last island is doubtful to say the least. Probably not only in areas where rebel groups hold sway, or the goons of provincial politicians. To what extent recent reforms and initiatives are actually felt by the common man will depend on a lot of things. How much is actually implemented on the ground and how much is just window-dressing reported to headguarters in a regional office or in Manila. How many people still prefer to trust – and serve – their local patron like before, and distrust the state.

Industry and outsourcing

Major industries never really managed to take root in the Philippines. Manufacturing zones for foreign companies started in the 1970s, while the first business process outsourcing companies were founded in the late 1990s and that industry really took off in the 2000s. True industrial development seems to be hampered by a lot of factors. Businesses like malls, utilities, telecoms and more are in the hands of a few groups, they have a captive consumer base. Electricity is expensive, Internet is expensive and slow. State initiatives either lack political will or are stifled by bureacracy.

Extensive form of Stay Firm or Give In

Stay Firm or Give In?

Of course there have recently been some technological advances coming from DOST and laws like the Philippine Competition Act and the Go Negosyo Act which may provide additional impulses. But the question is whether they will be implemented well in an environment where patronage and favoritism run deep in the culture. Do outsiders with energy and smarts really have a chance? There are innovative enterpreneurs like Dado Banatao who made it big in the United States, when will that be possible locally?

Zero-sum and Win-Win

Many of the problems of the Philippines seem to stem from a zero-sum-game mentality. The two major Internet players do not peer, even if it could increase overall speed and overall business. Zero-sum games are those where one side wins = 1 and the other loses = -1. Constant fear of the other side cheating is zero-sum mentality. Win-Win thinking is completely different – grow the cake for all instead of quarreling about it.

Central Government for the functions that need economies of scale, and LGUs for what is better done locally is also Win-Win Thinking. More of that is needed. But of course this is hard in a society where the winner take all mentality has always dominated, and where cooperation is the exception not the rule.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 2. January 2016