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