June 2018
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Riding the Tiger

Kennon Road construction in 1903 (Wikimedia commons)

The Philippines rides a tiger today. Like a bus going up Kennon road, it is on a narrow path upwards, with the precipice to one side and the mountain to the other. The Philippines is going through multiple developments that Europe and America had decades and centuries for at Internet speed, with some people very much ahead and others way behind – in all respects.

Forces of History

Different tribes on numerous islands were colonized. Islam, Spain and the Americans shaped them. The Spanish co-opted local nobility as the principalia, from barangay to municipal level. Some of the principalia became ilustrados, the first to define the Filipino nation as an idea. The common people had no real idea of a Filipino nation. The nation that Bonifacio referred to was Katagalugan, the Tagalog nation, even if some Filipino nationalists say he meant the Philippines, I doubt he really did.

In early 20th century Bikol, there were the “Nationalists”, more often principalia and Spanish-speaking, often originally coming from Tagalog or other regions, and “Americanists” who saw their opportunities in the new order, mostly those who were not yet as entrenched. Aguinaldo’s Republic was mainly Tagalog and run by the principalia, with some ilustrados like Heneral Luna and Mabini. Probably Mabini was the only true Filipino nationalist at that time, seeing both nation and people.

Quezon was a Nationalist who completed the Philippine state with Americanist methods, and was instrumental in fighting the more radical Ricartistas, the followers of Heneral Ricarte. Ricarte was anti-American and pro-Japanese, his followers often tough street people. The Jones Law of 1916 temporarily defused the Ricartista movement. Ricarte, “El Vibora” went into Japanese exile to return with the Japanese. The reviled MAKAPILI were a reincarnation of the aggressive Ricartista spirit.

NP and LP continued along old Nationalist and Americanist lines – one more pro-state, the other more pro-business, even if Macapagal tried to outdo the NP in being nationalist. Marcos for all his anti-oligarch rhetoric established his own cronies, and was beholden to certain groups within the United States at that time for all his nationalistic rhetoric. The persecution of intellectuals during his period made many become rebels – both Moro groups and NPA grew during the Marcos regime.

Cory for all her American education was against US bases staying. Ramos eased the return of the Marcos family for all his efficiency, while Erap nearly had Marcos interred in the Heroes Cemetery. Throwing out Erap who seemed for the people but proved corrupt only paved the way for worse in the form of Gloria Arroyo. Noynoy Aquino was voted into power on the hope that he might be able to make things better.

The Philippines Now

He has done well on some fronts, OK on many, and badly on a few. In international matters – dealing with China, multilateral cooperation, APEC and ASEAN, the growing relationship with the EU which has recently started free trade talks with the Philippines, formerly shunned – his record is excellent. In economic matters as well, the Central Bank is now excellent, international credit ratings have gone up, the BPO business continues to buzz. Even tourism is picking up again. In terms of opportunities, it looks like the Go Negosyo Act and Negosyo Centers have already been effective. In social matters, the 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilya) couple assistance for the poor with inculcating better habits, and CCT is coupled with school performance. Both are well monitored from what I gather. K-12 is a good education program, Oplan Lambat-Sibat and LGPMS sound good on the police and local government side. How well implemented and monitored they are is unclear.

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.

Confusion and Understanding

Philippine Daily Inquirer

Inquirer logo (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Media often help confuse and increase the anger. Manila papers are often just data, who said what. Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc died to see her Inquirer decline from what it was in 1986, a bastion of restored democracy, into a tabloid. Online media like Rappler, Interaksyon and CNN Philippines at least offer mostly information. True knowledge like what I would like to see about tanim-bala, crime and poverty is not offered by anyone. Some knowledge is offered by bloggers like Joe America or Raissa Robles, to some extent also by Get Real Philippines when they are not heckling. Excellent regional papers like Mindanews and Cebu Daily News are more and more national in their perspectives.

Therefore it takes enormous effort to get a clear picture of what is really going on at important fronts, even for the highly interested. Social media is both a force of information and disinformation, especially with the campaign nearing.

Top-level press in developed countries would report about Tanim-Bala like this, to give a recent example:

  • Since when has it been reported, how many cases, how many dismissed etc.
  • How many cases in relation to number of travelers in a given time frame.
  • Timeline – first reports, investigation initiated, charges pressed etc.

I miss accurate and extensive reporting on crime in the Philippines as well. How was it before, what has improved, where are the flashpoints. What are the causes? Has crime “increased” statistically because it is only being reported more now, being monitored better? Is it only because the dirty kitchen has been opened and the cockroaches are finally being counted? My feeling is partly yes, partly no. Whether you look at DILG and PNP, or at Davao, I doubt it is the whole picture.

Clear statistics about poverty, and overview of the places where there are a lot of slums, what is being done about it are needed. I would expect a future President to show a map of the country at every SONA, with problem zones for every important aspect – rebellion, crime, poverty – shown in red, OK areas in blue, and fixed areas in green. And comparisions to the year before. If the President does not do it, I would expect good media to do it. Only hard-nosed realism fixes problems long-term. Not excessive optimism and smugness, not opportunistic negativism.

Shaping the Future

Romeinse vlag

Modern re-creation of Roman SPQR

Mutual respect, effective communication and responsibility are imperative in this situation. To build:

Real education. Problem-solving skills and not discussing ius sanguinis and residency requirements like medieval monks who discussed how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Equal opportunities. Filipinos often are cake eaters and pettily quarrelsome, based on colonial and postcolonial experience. The cake should be grown for all to have more instead of quarreling about it.

Effective justice. Rules should be clear and simple, and imposed impartially and without delay. Not what they have been so very often – used to favor one’s own group and screw others.

Good Leaders. Don’t ask me who I would prefer for President. What is needed are:

  1. A President who can lead a team of Secretaries and supervise the LGUs nationwide,
  2. A Vice President who assists the President and is a credible successor just in case,
  3. A Senate that not only makes good laws, but blocks and/or modifies bad laws,
  4. A Congress that represents the different local groups, but thinks nationwide,
  5. Governors and Mayors that effectively implement what is needed locally.

Good citizens. People who both support their leaders, and constructively criticize them as well. Who form citizen groups to help in auditing local governments, like the Citizen Action Network for Accountability. Who check the press, but in order to increase understanding, not confusion. People will have to vote leaders at all levels that can work together, and learn to work together as well. Follow rules by themselves, and help fix rules that are obsolete.

Senatus Populusque Romanus

SPQR meant the Senate and the People of Rome, a force to be reckoned with. Finally it is about cohesion. Albay under Governor Joey Salceda seems to have achieved that at all levels, forged among other things by weathering natural disasters. Nona was handled in an exemplary manner recently. Since Yolanda, improvements like DOST Project NOAH for monitoring risks and Oplan Listo for LGUs have helped, Lando relief was praised even by the UN. But Albay was already ahead even before.

There is not enough cohesion yet at the national level. Political groups try to blame each other for nearly everything while pretending they are saints themselves – some more and some less. Finally there are a few who have realized that it is imperative to address the work to be done instead of getting lost in personal and group quarrels. Like former President Ramos in the slapping issue.

A Happy New Year to the Nation and the People of the Philippines. I once turned my back on the country as a hopeless case. This time I see a real chance for better days to come.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, Munich, 27. December 2015


27 comments to Riding the Tiger


    Transformation is not in our DNA? Over a century ago Rizal saw that, and called upon the youth? We’re sinking deeper but can’t do much because we’re riding the tiger’s back? Where parochialism is high up in our value system as paternalism and hierarchy? And where we’ve given free pass to tyranny when we bowed to political patronage and oligarchy?

    If the church couldn’t step up to the challenge posed by Rizal then, what about today? Why did Francis tell us that he didn’t visit Tacloban to rub elbows with the elite class but to be with the poor? Because of our total and complete misunderstanding of what we profess as our faith? It is egalitarian, not hierarchical as exemplified by Francis of Assisi . . . and Christ himself. And why Francis chose to be Francis.


    I guess the passing of few laws has to do with the reason that there are already too many of them.

  • – two comments to my FB post of the article:

    1: But give credit where credit is due, the economic gains touted by Aquino are mere ripples on the stringent economic policies of arroyo.. And to start the article with arroyo was more corrupt than erap yet none of the cases filed vs her are not even moving along makes this article more propaganda than an insightful analysis…

    2: Arroyo indeed deserves credit for the total overhaul of this economy. It can even be argued further that Pnoy is just enjoying the fruits of what Arroyo did. But since we’re in the spirit of giving credit, are you ready to give kudos to the economic architect of these two administrations? Clue: He is a Wharton graduate

    My answer: Arroyo was worse is what I wrote – in terms of dividing the country and being reviled. Getting somebody actually answer for what he or she did in court is difficult in a country that does not manage to even finish the Ampatuan case where it is clear that they have killed. What seems to be true is that Aquino is benefitting from the later gains of Arroyo, but he did continue many of her policies. That the economic architect of both administrations is Roxas does not surprise me, but that he is that important what not clear to me until this point. It is very hard to put together a clear picture of what happened since 1998 in the Philippines because of the confusing media noise I mentioned in my article. But that is exactly what I am going to dare in the New Year: put together a history of 1998-2015 in two parts. Of course there is no complete objectivity, there is always a point of view and principles that underly every evaluation.

    Also, I have been asked if this article can be translated. If I find time I might translate it into Tagalog, and look for volunteers for Cebuano and Ilokano as well. But what would interest me is what economic policies of Arroyo did Aquino exactly benefit from, how did he continue them, how did he modify them. I have seen that claim in some articles, and how much was Mar’s role in it?

    • For Ilocano you can try to convince Sonny.

      let us look at the Neda chiefs during Arroyo.
      I will just give two, Neri and Ralph Recto.
      Neri was controversial during the ZTE scandal.

      Recto,If I recall he almost quit because of AFP pension time bomb.
      Let me verify the circumstances of why he resigned,if he did resign.

  • Reality

    Looking at current figures future looks not that bright.

    GDP went down
    Stock market lost 3 %
    Balance of Trade:
    Philippines Trade Balance Swings to Large Deficit
    It is the largest deficit in the record, as exports plunged while imports rose more than expected.
    Tourist arrivals are going down
    GDP From Manufacturing in Philippines decreased
    Consumer Price Index CPI in Philippines increased to 142.30 Index

    Reality speaks that there is no sustainability for the future in the Philippines.

  • Happy New Year, Irineo!

    A very objective article, and an enlightening one. You are a great historian and political analyst for sure. Congratulations and thank you for the insights you share here, at Joe’s and at raissa’s.

    Since this is the campaign season, an informed electorate is a must if we are to put a truly worthy one in the highest position of the land. That’s the only area of your article that I have a concern about. The rest is an excellent view of where we have been, where we are now and where we ought to be if we really desire to be at par with the rest of the nations of the world.

    “Real education. Problem-solving skills and not discussing ius sanguinis and residency requirements like medieval monks who discussed how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.”

    The SC will hear the SET case elevated by Rizalito David and the DQ cases already decided by the Comelec, subjected yesterday to an expected SC TRO to stop the clock so to speak as the decision will take effect after five days. The voters need to understand the issues behind these issues that will have the SC as the final arbiter. We all know that the SC rulings depend on whether the Arroyo 8 SC associate justices will see the light or will be influenced by political leanings. Cases in point are their rulings on Enrile bail, midnight appointments, the Estrada pardon, etc, etc. Whatever the SC decides, the people should discern the issues and to do that, they need to understand the principles and the provisions already established by the constitution and the law. If they allow Poe and Duterte to run as presidential candidates, then the future of this country will be in the electorates’ hands.

    Poe is more acceptable than Binay, Duterte (who will be another problem for democracy loving Filipinos) and Santiago who has a catastrophic health issue. My concern for Poe is her decision to gravitate towards the remnants of the Marcos regime, Escudero is the son of Marcos Agriculture Minister, same with the Zamoras, Roberto Ongpin and Danding Cojuanco’s group (Ramon Ang of SMC and PAL) who can possibly influence her decisions most particularly the appointment of the 11 SC associate justices who will form the majority of the SC capable of mangling the constitution beyond recognition. Looking back, I should not be surprised as she was raised by FPJ and Susan who are avid supporters of the Marcos family. If we consider an old police report of FPJ threatening to shoot a restaurant owner if she confessed to him that she voted for Cory in the snap election and had proceeded to shoot the walls and furniture of the restaurant before leaving the terrorized owners and patrons without paying for his groups’ food and drinks, then they are not just simple, avid supporters. Poe’s choice of people to associate with, her recent display of lack of deeper analysis of current issues, plus her lack of honesty and integrity in the filing of her CoC in 2013 and 2015, including her filing application to avail of RA 9225 wherein she stated that she is the biological daughter of her adoptive parents when almost everyone including herself know that she is a foundling just to go around the rule that only natural born citizens can avail fop that particular Republic Act. If she can be dishonest in those things, circumvent laws, rules and procedures, in what more decisions affecting the country can she be trusted in? That leaves me with Roxas and my passionate attempts to understand each and every issues regarding this election. I’d want a candidate for presidency to display a genuine respect for laws, procedures and most of all the constitution. If she can ignore these, then she does not deserve to be a candidate for president nor continue legislating laws which does not respect at all.

    We need a President to steer the country to the realization of what you have enumerated in this great article of yours.

    • Happy New Year, Mary Grace! I am happy to contribute this as input to Philippine discussions. I am not even a historian or journalist by training, just an IT guy applying logic to what I see.

      Actually my comment about the discussions “Real education. Problem-solving skills and not discussing ius sanguinis and residency requirements like medieval monks who discussed how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.” does not have to do with the spirit of the law which you are mentioning, but with some discussions I have seen that are totally sidetracked and show that the Philippines is still, unfortunately, a land of what is called Winkeladvokaten in Germany – streetcorner lawyers.

      How can this for example be: “We all know that the SC rulings depend on whether the Arroyo 8 SC associate justices will see the light or will be influenced by political leanings. Cases in point are their rulings on Enrile bail, midnight appointments, the Estrada pardon, etc, etc.”. This means that anybody dealing with the Philippines is still in legal quicksand, and can easily be screwed. What does this mean for investor confidence, especially German MSMEs that I know prefer Vietnam – simpler rules?

      This jibes with my comment “3. Effective justice. Rules should be clear and simple, and imposed impartially and without delay. Not what they have been so very often – used to favor one’s own group and screw others.”. Now I read from the other side that it is President Aquino and the LP who are bending the law all the time. Finally, how can it be that there is no indictment against Binay or Arroyo until now inspite of overwhelming indications and evidence? This does not speak for the legal system.

      Large German multinationals and other big corporations can afford lawyers and have the capital and the volume to even write off their investment in case it fails due to being on the wrong political side. For MSMEs that also invest internationally, the legal quicksand of the Philippines is a too high risk I would say. Many of these companies have 2-3 boss/owners and just one of them jailed or under “hold departure” orders can sink them. Not to mention Customs possibly blocking their shipments.

      It is difficult, because the Philippines has inherited a lot of colonial laws and a mixture of legal traditions. But at some point it must come to a certain clarity as to what rules apply to all. Not this way today and that way tomorrow – like in the cases you mentioned. Even if I was a millionaire I would not touch the Philippines with a ten-foot-pole, business-wise today. Piss off the wrong people, end in jail or paying lawyers. Who themselves undermine respect for the law, and its foundations.

      If even lawmakers and justices (Poe SET ruling) disagree so massively on matters, how much more the lawyers in simple courtrooms? No wonder cases seem to take so long to settle. Very poor – or badly connected – defendants languish in jail waiting for trials for years on end – there are stories of poor foreigners like that, while Enrile merrily gets out. This all encourages patronage and extrajudicial “solutions”. It personally hurts for me to see the country still effectively a banana republic.

      Respecting impartial (blind) Justitia must start with the President and Supreme Court, I agree. German saying: Der Fisch stinkt vom Kopf – the fish stinks from the head.

      A legal system that allows so many conflicting interpretation is either rotten and needs to be overhauled, or has many wrong guardians who are bantay-salakay – guardians who are the worst offenders and abusers themselves. Den Bock zum Gärtner machen is what they call that in Germany – making goats into gardeners… goats will just destroy the garden not maintain it.

      • Consuelo de bobo… European MSMEs also tend to avoid India, China and most of Latin America due to legal, procedural and political quicksand. They prefer places like Singapore, Vietnam, even Malaysia… don’t know if there are any Latin American countries considered clean enough already to merit the confidence needed.

        Now the old thinking is that MSMEs don’t matter, only multinationals do. But Europe always has had more MSMEs than the USA, traditionally in handicrafts and food especially the Italians and French, but recently a lot in modern technologies – programming, biotech, green energy like solar cells… huge potential business.

        I know one enterpreneur who has 15 programmers working for his German company, in Hanoi. 15 jobs for the Vietnamese. Multiply that by many firms of that size in Europe. Ease of doing business and legal security (knowing what rules to follow and being on solid ground) is an asset for a country. Businessmen like to take CALCULATED risks.

      • I hear you, Irineo and I share your frustrations and misgivings on the state of the country’s justice system. Pres. Aquino initiated the start of his promise to fight corruption by having SC CJ Corona removed from office by impeachment and eventual conviction, but Ex-Pres. Arroyo, in her almost 11 years regime got to appoint a lot of SC Associate Justices in the SC and we all know that much as we want it to be otherwise, the SC rulings depend on the numbers’ game just like in the Congress. You can imagine the obstacles a Philippine President is facing in reforming just one area of governance – the Justice system. He started the reform after the Ex CJ was removed by appointing a very young CJ who will be in the SC for almost 18 years, effectively serving in the regime of almost 4 presidents before retirement (barring impeachment of course). This is why I mentioned the importance of having a President free from any outside influence from the corrupt remnants of the previous regime, one who will get to appoint 11 SC associate justices who will assist CJ Sereno on her judicial reform mission. I learned that the CJ has already initiated this said reforms by introducing new procedures that will make possible the quick resolutions of cases that are gathering dusts in the lower and higher courts. Time is what we need and of course the retirement of the rest of the Arroyo 8 appointees to be replaced by the likes of SC Junior Associate Justice Leonen.

        • It is hard.. and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation analysis of the 2015 SONA shows that many laws that Aquino wanted to push have not passed, probably due to Congress… DOJ finished the draft of the modern Criminal Code for the Philippines in 2014, and the Berlin crowd likes De Lima from what I heard, and they are usually short on praise for the Philippines… probably De Lima running for Senator is about her wanting to be were the laws are made where she can change more than at her own DOJ.

          There is what I call “institutional inertia” – the DFA suffered from it during Cory times when it was full of loyalists blocking things for example – different now. Impeaching midnight appointee Corona was right, and the allegations by other camps that Aquino used PDAF to “bribe” the House are not substantiated, just assumptions. Now patience is not a Filipino virtue, neither is objectivity. I somehow pity Duterte, an ex-prosecutor who went to the Dark Side out of frustration with the system.

  • sonny

    PiE, you’ll be always the Filipino Flywheel to me. 🙂 When your Philippine History books come out, you’ll be also the Filipino Gearbox. Pax, Irineo! To SPQR or should I say SPQP!

    • Thanks! To the Nation and the People of the Philippines. The Nation IMHO is still forming and finding its definition, the outcome will be decided by the forces of history.

      As for books, I will compile the Tagalog Sun Tzu into a handy PDF at some point, and with history same thing once it is done. The last 17 years are a bit more difficult, since there is no benefit of distance yet. I’m presently looking backward from 2015 and forward from 1998 to get the relevant flow, from lots of accounts and events.

      • sonny

        PiE, if and when good circumstances materialize I would like to hand copies of a chapter from an Economics & Gov’t book by Frank H. Golay. The chapter is a snapshot of the Philippines from 1946 to 1953. Many descriptions of our country are beyond my expertise but could be just logical putty to eyes of the likes of you, Mary Grace, Micha, Gian and Karl. Lots of insights, I feel, that are grist for our conversations at Joe’s blog.

  • pelang

    I hope you continue what you’ve started. I used to think
    our country is a hopeless case, but now i have so much to hope for unless of course, Duterte wins. Happy New Year.

    • Yes, I will… and the truth gets more interesting at every turn. The Book “Filipinos and their Revolution” by Prof. Reynaldo Ileto, a Christmas gift from my mother, showed me how similar the Ricartistas around 1915 were to the Dutertistas of 2015. Many followers were from “barkadahan” – street gangs, “astig” like Dutertistas today.

      It was Quezon who was able to keep them down, with the help of the PC and politics. Let’s see how 2016 plays, 100 years after the Jones Act. Happy New Year as well!

  • Happy New Year Irineo!
    2015 was the start of your blogging and what a blast it was!
    More Power!

    • Happy New Year as well! Mamasapano was what got things started. It was really painful to see the young men from all over the country who died.

      From pain and anger through confusion, then to learning and more understanding of the big picture. From there, suggestions for solutions.

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