Education and Organization

Taurus Configurationare the keys to success, their lack causes failure, as Miyako Izabel points out (link): The EDSA Revolution has failed, primarily, because the people who have been pushing for the democratic principles promised by that revolution have not focused on professionalizing the government and intellectualizing its citizens, the requirements for the Philippines to become a knowledge society.. India is what it is today because of the Nehrus. Jawaharlal Nehru dreamed of a highly educated people and a government of experts and professionals. Indira Gandhi opened up science, engineering, and management institutes. Rajiv Gandhi introduced mass information and communication technology.  Well, one could point out that India always had a tradition of respecting knowledge and that the founders of the modern Indian state also built on that. Filipino BPO people sometimes sneer at the Indian accent, but are Filipinos launching satellites like India (link)?

The German state of Bavaria where I live also built its postwar progress on heavy investment in schools and universities, turning a formerly agricultural state into a powerhouse. There was also a foundation for that in the glorious period of the 19th century, where the newly founded Kingdom of Bavaria attracted a lot of scientists and other experts, many of whom are buried in Munich’s Old Southern Cemetery (link). The late 18th and early 19th century was also a period of institution building which accompanied modernization, creating the foundations for a strong civil service.

India of course built on the British civil service tradition, something Singapore also did. With emphasis on SERVICE, unlike the Philippine LTO. Little service there (link).

Now what does the Philippines have to offer? Public schools in the 1950s were still excellent. From what I gather, there were 7 years of elementary school and 5 years of high school before – in fact the first batches of Philippine Science High School which was founded in 1964 HAD five years of high school. K-12 is therefore not really new, but it may yet fail. There are excellent universities and private schools, but they cover too few people. Polytechnic and vocational education is still weak – due to feudal attitudes look down on “dirty work”?

So there you go – an elite that is often in higher spheres, theorizing about rule of law for example, while in the barangays of the poor that rule of law is practically non-existent. You either buy your way out of a bad situation, or go to a crowded jail for years without a chance of getting a hearing. Wonderful theorizing about democracy, while in the barangay it could well be that you are simply dead if you dare question something a local boss says – and I really wonder if this was any different before President Duterte.

While Miyako Izabel in her post quoted above mentions political dynasties practicing political patronage, extortion, and bribery, the strongest analysis I have ever seen is from Mila Aguilar (link); [the main bulwark of Dutertites] are the lower middle classes we have now, who went to public schools, got a low level college education in some diploma mill, and went abroad to earn their keep, sending enough money to their families to build houses, buy service vehicles from tricycles to jeeps, to the present Uber cars, as well as computers and cellphones to lighten their lives.

Many of them still languish in urban poor areas or extremely low-cost subdivisions, and cannot send their children or siblings to private schools, where they might become better informed. Used to be public schools were good, and the valedictorians and salutatorians of EVERY public school got an automatic UP scholarship. That was at least until the 1950s. A lot of the well-educated Filipinos from that period went to the USA starting in the 1960s – probably those who could not be absorbed by the always very small ruling class of the Philippines.

But what destroyed this road to opportunities? Was it in the Marcos period, when a new middle class also rose? Was it a case, conscious or unconscious, of of FYIGM (fuck you I got mine) which is defined as follows (link): in a race, whoever gets to be first across the bridge, destroys the bridge before the competitors can cross it. Now if one looks at the typical Duterte follower as described by Mila Aguilar, aren’t they applying FYIGM to those just one rung below them? Could it all be about being too comfortable and therefore afraid of potential competitors (link)?

The path of least resistance seems so very Filipino. Unfortunately those who do not keep abreast become laggards. It is like that with nations – and with people. There are educated Filipinos who stagnate afterwards, like an operating system that never goes online for an update, they just repeat what they learned once. Rich Filipinos are usually rent-seekers, trying to prevent competition.

But the world will not wait. The Philippines was richer than South Korea in the 1950s. Will it be behind Myanmar at some point? What a waste. Will it all finally be a story of might have beens?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 25 February 2017







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A comfortable life

Comfortable anywhere (372543421)is what President Duterte promised in his first SONA (link). I would not want a comfortable life. I like the way my life is now – with its efforts and its rewards, but not comfortable. Someone who is comfortable is in my book depending too much on others, either as patrons or as servants. Getting comfortable means getting complacent. In the same article, Duterte says: “My administration is working to ensure that basic human services are available to all; food and health needs; water and sanitation; shelter; public safety; education; and economic opportunities”. Sure.

Just a few sentences after, the real emphasis becomes clear: “In his speech, Duterte cited Davao City during his term as mayor, wherein he became well-known for bringing peace and order to his hometown.”. This sounds like putting the cart before the horse. Give people a chance to make a decent living thru work and you have a lot less unrest. How is the situation when it comes to water and sanitation in Metro Manila and other big cities, especially the poor areas where there are many addicts? I might take at least a shot of gin myself – not drugs – if I had to endure living there.

How about education and economic opportunities? It could start with small scale industries, there are programs like K-12 Plus (link) which happens to be German-sponsored and combines both education and economic opportunities by training poor people on the job. I doubt that the kids learning metalworking in the San Pedro Relocation Center National High School take drugs. They have a chance in life and most people are not so foolish to waste real chances. As for shelter – if Leni allegedly did not do enough, what is her successor now doing in terms of social housing.

The right mix in social housing – with community centres especially for the youth to prevent disorientation, mixing different income groups to prevent the hopelessness of ghettos, putting people near factories or place where there is work – has proven crucial to defusing social tensions in modern countries. Where is the comprehensive program for this – or even just the first baby steps?

Food needs. Microfinance (link) and rural banks are crucial, not just ranting against moneylenders. Storage and distribution as well. Prosperity is not just comfort. What is being done for prosperity?

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 18. February 2017

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The Kinetic Energy

Luzon mining camp, 1899of colonial discovery hit the Philippines in 1521. The billard queue is long gone but the balls keep moving. Just a preview of a new movie about Lumads in Mindanao shows this (link). Loggers come into the hunting grounds of the Manobo, who finally get sucked into the middle of armed conflict. Uniformed men bullying Lumads are heard speaking Visayan, telling their commanding officer who speaks Tagalog and tells them to stop that he is still naive about the realities of the conflict. A scene that shows one of the many ethnic hierarchies of the Philippines in a nutshell.

Examples of the greed of early encomenderos, those granted land by the Spanish crown in the beginning of colonization, are documented (link): Several principales from Ylagua (Dagua) testified that Salgado had charged them one chicken each in addition to the regular tribute. This, it was claimed, caused “much damage and loss to their wealth.” Principales already being the Filipinos of higher rank – I wonder if low-ranking Filipinos would have dared complain to a royal Spanish tax collector. Even today extortion seems to be practiced by those who have the power to (link).

A pattern seems to have been established then. The pattern of taking instead of building, the easy road to wealth. The path of least resistance. A path that does not create long-term wealth at all. Mine the soil, don’t build anything with the minerals. Sell sugar, coconuts and tobacco abroad – but don’t bother to make soap out of coconut, or at least even cigars or rum like in Spanish times. Let your OFW and migrant relatives work, and spend their money at the mall instead of building something at home. Might be extorted by police or NPA anyway, so who knows it might be wiser?

Two men from Spain – the Roman emperors Trajan and Hadrian – played a decisive role in the conquest of gold-rich ancient Dacia. Affluent Romans liked to settle in Spain, while the Romans who went to Dacia were usually soldiers, adventurers and convicts – the roots of what became Romania. In 2013, protests against the planned Roșia Montană gold mine were the roots of a civic society movement (link) that ousted a Prime Minister in 2015 and a Minister of Justice just days ago. Decades after ousting a dictator, after decades of backlashes, corruption and populism.

A country with more than 10% of its people working abroad. A country that is home to a lot of business process outsourcing, as its people have learned to be flexible and multilingual in their history. Also a country that has been in the vicious cycle of poverty and corruption for very long (link) with people speaking of: constant, everyday bribery — at hospitals, schools and public institutions. And yet a young man says: A new generation has emerged that doesn’t keep drawers full of bribery presents. Everything can be shattered in the next 10 days.

Seeing is believing. Could more Romanians have seen with their own eyes, in places like Western Europe, what real value productive energy can create? That it isn’t just take or be taken from? That just spending energy taking from the earth without reaping – and from others – makes most people POOR, long-term? Possibly those who have understood have begun to reach a critical mass. This critical mass is not yet there in the Philippines, which seems to be evolving backwards or sideways in recent months. But one never knows what surprises kinetic energy may hold in store.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 12. February 2017



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Power and Responsibility

Philippine National Police train with JIATF West teamusually go together. Push-ups for police suspected of extortion (link) is not enough, neither is reinstating suspected rogue cops after retraining (link). Sufficient evidence is important, but such a betrayal of the trust they were given as policemen normally deserves a greater punishment – in order to teach others the responsibility inherent in having the power to potentially even kill in order to protect citizens. But it seems that power in the Philippines is often irresponsible – while those with less power are punished more severely. Starting from plans to punish even 9 year olds (link).

There is a saying in German: die Kleinen hängt man, die Großen lässt man laufen – the small ones are hanged, the big ones walk free. Old wisdom that knows one thing: those drunk with power can become abusive and entitled, totally regardless of the culture and times. Ideas like democracy, rule of law and human rights developed to prevent the abuse of power – it will be interesting to see how people in the United States live by these principles and defend them, now that there is a man on top who shows an irresponsible attitude to power, and could be dangerous for the world.

Now in the Philippines, wang wang culture has obviously returned in traffic (link) – now one could argue that is the culture and forget strange Western ideas of equality and rights. Asian cultures are indeed more hierarchic, but in the successful Asian cultures like Japan, those on top have a highly ingrained sense of responsibility and service which includes self-imposed punishment for error. In the Philippines, even Rizal’s novels show how some who strive for “heroism” are entitled and irresponsible (link) to the point of narcissism. The bandit Elias sacrifices himself for Ibarra, who later returns as the vengeful Simoun. Ibarra is enormously vain in the Noli, for all his striving to do good, while as Simoun he acts almost like a sociopath willing to sacrifice anybody for his idea of what the nation should be. Now is it surprising that many Filipinos refuse to sacrifice for the nation, given that many “leaders” have failed to be responsible? How often do Filipino “leaders” act as if they are saviors while the Eliases of today do the dirty work for them as servants or even henchmen, often taking most of the blame? Such a culture is not bound to be successful I think.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 5. February 2017

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The Beautiful Philippines

Sunset Borocay White Beachholds the Miss Universe finals tomorrow, and may think it has won back the world’s good graces. Yet one of the suspects in the slaying of a Korean businessman simply slipped away and is at large now (link).

More than ever before, the Philippines exudes an air of untrustworthiness, and a lot of things come across as sleazy. It feels more like a tawdry mix of Macau and Vegas now, rather than like a respectable Southeast Asian country.

A country with a unique history, difficult as it may be. A country where, most unfortunately, the principled seem to be weak and the strong are simply ruthless. A country that works well at the level of families and villages, sometimes even cities, but never really learned to deal with larger units in a way that benefits the majority. Larger units that conquerors imposed.

A country that effectively has two systems of justice: well-paid lawyers for the rich, cramped cells and years without even a trial that gets finished for the poor. A country that has hypermodern malls and offices – and wretched drug-ridden slums.

A country that is Christian on paper, yet more often than not polygamous, and a sense of vengeance that is un-Christian. Democratic on paper, yet run mostly by a few families. With a mainly rent-seeking economy based on exploiting human and natural resources – hardly adding value to them. What a waste. Yet the world, with all its bigger issues, hardly blinks.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 29 January 2017

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Facing the Music

William Holman Hunt - The Scapegoatis something Filipino leaders don’t do well. Think South Korean murdered (link) – or Mamasapano. In both cases, Filipino Presidents wound their way around their command responsibility. President Duterte has not made any public statement on the issue of the South Korean murdered at Camp Crame until  now. President Aquino was heavily criticized for not going to the arrival of the coffins at the airport after the Mamasapano massacre, a consequence of an anti-terrorist operation he personally had initiated – even if he did go to the wake later on.

A common denominator for both crises was Senator Grace Poe calling for the President to be accountable – one does see her Americanized attitude a little bit there, formed by her life experience. Since face and power go together in the Philippines, there is seldom true accountability – nobody dares question the one on top except political enemies. In fact, political allies go through almost Yoga-like contorsions to justify what “their man” is doing while political rivals are like piranhas that attack at the slightest sign of blood.

In a country where children quickly learn that to ask “why” can be seen as insulting in certain contexts, those who are raised in entitlement are not used to criticism as it seldom happens. In fact they are seldom confronted by the real consequences of mistakes and learning from them. Either mistakes are covered up by one’s group, or one has made a mistake that cannot be covered up anymore and it can happen that you are dropped by the group, to prevent collective loss of face. Could “Bato” be the scapegoat this time? With Mamasapano it looked like Napeñas.

Scapegoat (link) is a biblical concept in which a goat is designated to be cast into the desert with the sins of the community. The trouble with scapegoating is that nobody learns from mistakes which are systemic.  Both the falling apart of command and coordination at Mamasapano and criminal operations within the police like in the recent case of the South Korean seem to be systemic. Similar to drugs in Bilibid prison, which still seem to be an issue (link) inspite of the scapegoat Senator Leila de Lima having been symbolically burnt on the stake in Congress.

Corruption is systemic too in the Philippines, as is the drug problem, I think. Scapegoating Binay, Arroyo and Chief Justice Corona did not remove corruption. It is just as improbable that the Aztec-like human sacrifice of thousands of drug suspects has significantly changed anything in the Philippine drug trade – probably the major players are lying low as they could afford to do so.

Going beyond scapegoating, and towards finding systemic solutions as lessons learned will be a hard road ahead. How many more scapegoats and irresponsible leadership will it take to get there?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 22 January 2017

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What 2017 holds

Rio New Year FireworksFor the USA, Donald Trump. For Germany, elections. For the Philippines – hopefully not Marcos.

The world –  seems crazy nowadays. Questions are many, for the moment good answers are few.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 31. December 2016

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Charles Dickens novels come to mind

Costumed man hangingwhen one reads of Filipinos cheering about killings, like in Singapore recently (link). Executions in 19th century England were public spectacles (link) even if there was due process involved. Justice originally developed out of a need to sate the very human need for retribution – the dark but very real side of human nature of course – in a manner controlled to avoid law of the jungle. Rewriting Oliver Twist to make Fagin a drug lord and Oliver a drug pusher in Manila would not be hard, I think. Punishment in 18th/19th century England also affected the poorest people:

During the 18th century, the number of crimes that were punished by hanging rose to about 200. Some, such as treason or murder, were serious crimes, but others were what we would call minor offences. For example, the death sentence could be passed for picking pockets or stealing food.

These were the kinds of crime likely to be committed by people in most need, at a time when many families lived in poverty. Towards the end of the 1700’s, the number of people hanged for petty crimes was causing public unrest.

Of course in the Philippines, things don’t happen institutionally but in a personality-based way. Let’s face it, institutions are often just a rubber stamp for what personalities in power want. This includes the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which seems to go by what the President wants, or the Congress, which is for sale via pork barrel. A non-commissioned Filipino officer who experienced the coup attempts of the late 1980s told me that for enlisted men and non-comms, the choice was simple – one followed the orders of one’s higher ups and fought on their side.

It is allegedly barangay officials who help draw up drug lists in the Philippines (link). Setting aside the matter of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) right or wrong, how does one guarantee that these officials do not abuse their power to harrass people they don’t like? Power in the Philippines is often narcissistic, abusive and petty. Not ordering, nurturing and constructive. Can that change?

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 17. December 2016

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Pagmamata at Inggit

Tagalog dress, early 1800ssa tingin ko ang madalas na dahilan para sa maraming problema ng Pilipinas. Wala namang lipunang pantay-pantay, kahit sa Scandinavia may mababa at mataas na tao kahit hindi agad ito nakikita. Pero mukhang sa Pilipinas tatapakan ka talaga kapag mas mababa ang tingin sa iyo, at pahahamakin ka ng mga naiingit kung mayabang ang tingin sa iyo – kahit tangos lang ng ilong ang dahilan. Maski sa abroad meron nito, kaya hindi gaanong naghahalo ang mga grupong “edukado” (UP, Ateneo, La Salle atbp.) at “migrante”. Makikita ito kahit sa pagkontra sa paglibing ni Marcos – maraming nag-dedemonstrate sa US, may iilan sa Australia at UK, bihira sa Alemanya, halos wala sa mga tipikong bansang OFW tulad ng Espanya, Italya, Saudi, Singapore o Hong Kong. Masyadong simple para sa akin ang lumang klasipikasyon bilang masa o elite dahil wala namang aalis sa Pilipinas na talagang mayaman o oligarko, maliban para mag-aral ng iilang taon.

Mas maganda para sa akin ang paliwanag (link) ni Manolo Quezon tungkol sa “postwar middle class” na American-style ang edukasyon, kung paano ito sumuporta kay Marcos noong una, nabigo tapos sumuporta sa pag-alis ni Marcos, nabigo na naman sa mga oligarko na tumuloy sa kanilang pagpapayaman mula 1986, tapos mas marami pa sa kanilang umalis ng bansa mula noong 1990s, huling yugto nitong grupo ang EDSA Dos, pero hindi na nila malaman kung ideyalista pa sila o gusto na ring makinabang ng husto sa kikitain.

Binanggit din ni Manolo Quezon ang bagong middle class na mas simple ang pinanggalingan: “Together with the academic and professional elite that migrated in the 70s went Filipinos of modest means who have only begun to establish themselves as a new, entirely different, middle class. Their influence in politics is only beginning to be felt, not in Metro Manila, but in the provinces.” Sa madaling salita, mga pamilyang migrante at OFW na umasenso – baka nadagdag na rin dito ang mga nakapagtrabaho na sa BPO. Iba ang istorya ng mga pamilyang ito.

Halos hindi yata naghahalo ang mga mundo ng mga grupong ito. Madalas na umiiral ang pagmamata at inggit – hanggang sa pulitika. “Bobo”, “Dilaw”, “Elitista” atbp. pang mga pagtawag sa kabila.

Napapaisip din ako sa isang komentaryong ipinost ng isang matanda na sa blog ni Joe America (link): “We were practical, conventional, materialistic and happy… and proud to be so. We compromised. When martial law was imposed in ’73 we were in our early twenties. We were gainly employed, dreaming of a promotion, a bigger salary and more. We thought martial law was a good thing because it ended the disruptive street demonstrations, jailed suspected communists, improved obedience to traffic rules and the peace and order situation because there was a curfew.”

Ngayon, ano ang pinagkaiba ng luma at ng bagong middle class? Baka iisa lang – iyong isa papunta pa lamang, iyong isa pabalik na. Ang bansang Pilipino – di na nadala o natuto man lang.  Dahil heto ang karugtong ng kuwento: “When things started to go bad, we didn’t pay much attention because our priority was sustaining our personal upward trajectory. An arrest here, a disappearance there, Imelda’s foreign junkets and extravaganzas, Marcos’ cronies cornering of the banana,sugar and rice production and trading we simply ignored. We admired and applauded the people who were able to sidle into the corridors of power, and tried to get ‘connected’ to them.  After awhile the abuses mounted, the economy faltered. We became afraid, restless.  Then Ninoy Aquino was assassinated.  We woke up, as though from a stupor or a bad dream,depends where or what we were at when it happened.” Ngayong panahong ito, ano ang mangyayari? Ewan ko.

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




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Studying its villains

Ravanamay have brought Germany much further than the Philippines studying its heroes, buried or not. Are those unworthy of emulation – “huwag tularan” – more important in teaching national lessons? The Philippine cult of heroes always was suspect to me. During martial law, it was suspected that some supposed leftists were mere agents provocateurs to get idealistic youth to show their colors. Working part-time at the Philippine Embassy in Bonn in February 1986, I saw how the new government telexed straight from the Wack-Wack golf course – while people were still at EDSA.

For every young idealistic Isagani or Basilio, there have often been enough jaded, cynical Simouns using them for their own agenda. This has cut through all ideological fronts in the Philippines. Culture of entitlement in fact makes this nothing special for many – it is very much unlike kings of old who led their men in battle, or captains who had the ethic of leaving their own ship last. Good people often get sacrificed in the Philippines – Andres Bonifacio and Heneral Luna, anyone? Or sidelined when no longer needed – think of Mabini, who unfortunately couldn’t walk his talk.

Many in the generation that experienced February 1986 are disillusioned by how the groups that then came into power, and afterwards, continued to mismanage the country. Were the “yellows” too far from the common people, was the left too ideological and power-mad, the right too corrupt and Macchiavellian? I don’t know. But principled leaders were few and usually too weak, I think. Germany also created a new constitution in 1949. It had less lofty-sounding ideals than the Philippine 1987 Constitution. But Germany’s leaders saw to it that its goals became reality on the ground.

Mistakes are there to be learned from. Airline pilots have said that the safe flying of today is due to lots of crashes that happened in the past – and how many lessons were learned by analyzing them. What is good about the present crisis in the Philippines with regards to the burial of Marcos is that the history of Martial Law is being reviewed – what happened, maybe not enough what led to it. The analysis of how post-1986 governments continued Marcos-era mistakes like wholesale labor export and allowing Metro Manila to grow uncontrolled – to learn, not to blame – hardly happened.

And it takes sustained effort to build a country. How often have Filipinos run after mere hope? Or mistaken leader’s vanity for “willpower”? The Filipino youth of today, the Millenials, seem to be more concerned about the future of the country than many had hoped. Now I hope they are less naïve than generations before them. I hope they do not let themselves be used by any group or person. It will be after all their future they are deciding on in times to come. How they will live when they are around 45-55, around 30 years from now. All I can do is wish them strength and perception.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 20. November 2016



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