(As a tribute to the great Singaporean statesman, Singapore’s first Prime Minister and visionary “Third World to First” leader who passed away early morning of March 23, 2015 (Monday morning), the CoRRECT™ Movement would like to republish an old article written by its principal co-founder. We in the CoRRECT™ Movement maintain that in order for someone of Lee Kuan Yew’s caliber, character, and competence to ever emerge as the top leader of the Philippines, the Philippines must first have a Parliamentary System. Otherwise, if the Philippines insists on sticking with its defective and flawed Presidential System, then the Philippines will continue to be stuck with corrupt traditional politicians, actors and celebrities, and lazy hacienda-owning scions winning elections and doing nothing to fix the Philippines. Only a Parliamentary System can allow a competent Lee Kuan Yew or Mahathir-type of leader to emerge victorious in a Third World country like the Philippines, in the Singapore of the 1960’s or in the Malaysia of the 1980’s.
We invite all who read this article to please learn more about the Parliamentary System in order to understand better on why the way it works tends to produce better-quality leaders than Presidential Systems.
This article was originally published on the 10th of January 2011 in both Get Real Philippines and the old Antipinoy website.)
One of the best ways for us Filipinos to realize the Truth about ourselves and our country is to find out how people from other countries observe us and our society. This is best done when the one observing and describing us is an extremely well-informed and highly intelligent non-Filipino who has had his own fair share of problems similar to the ones that the Philippines has gone through (or is currently going through), and had a hand in actual problem-solving for his own country’s originally Philippines-like issues.
An example of such a person is Singaporean Minister Mentor and former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Hailed as the Father of Modern Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew and his People’s Action Party were able to craft appropriate solutions for the issues and problems that were hounding Singapore early on in its history as a newly-independent Third World country with no natural resources, a huge number of uneducated people, and security problems resulting from the initial hostility of its neighbors towards it, among many other problems and managed to turn it into Southeast Asia’s oasis of prosperity and development and a First World hub within a region of what were then known as “Third World” countries.
The following excerpt which features Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s observations on the Philippines and of Filipinos should at least entice the readers of www.antipinoy.com to immediately pay a visit to the local Bookstore (those which specialize in real books – not school supplies!) and ask around for copies of the book from whence it came – “From Third World to First.”
Far from just being a book about Lee Kuan Yew or Singapore’s history of development, “From Third World to First” is also a collection of invaluable lessons in economic development, policy-making, international diplomacy, statecraft, domestic politics, history & culture, behavioural and cultural reform,meritocracy, the principles of pragmatic idealism, and examples of ingenious out-of-the-box thinking. In it, Lee Kuan Yew himself also describes how he and his team of technocrats were able to reform the culture, mindset, and behavior of a people who in the 1950’s were still predisposed to spitting in public and other unhygienic behavior as a result of carefully-planned behavioural-modification policies and systems which have turned Singapore into one of the cleanest and most orderly societies in Asia as well as well as the World.
This book can no doubt serve as a helpful handbook for any would-be leader of any Third World country looking to move into the First World.
I truly encourage all Filipinos who work in government, have an interest in government, or are looking for lessons on how to craft solutions to the problems of the Philippines to please buy a copy of this book. I assure everyone that “From Third World to First” will not just be eye-opening and enlightening, it will also enable Filipinos to understand that finding solutions to our problems is very possible if only we adopted a can-do attitude, a bias for intense learning and analysis, a solid framework for critical analysis and big-picture thinking, as well as a grounding in practical & creative out-of-the-boxproblem-solving.
If Singapore with Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party could do it, why can’t we?
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(The following excerpt is taken from pages 299 – 305 from Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First”, Chapter 18 “Building Ties with Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei”)
The Philippines was a world apart from us, running a different style of politics and government under an American military umbrella. It was not until January 1974 that I visited President Marcos in Manila. When my Singapore Airlines plane flew into Philippine airspace, a small squadron of Philippine Air Force jet fighters escorted it to Manila Airport. There Marcos received me in great style – the Filipino way. I was put up at the guest wing of Malacañang Palace in lavishly furnished rooms, valuable objects of art bought in Europe strewn all over. Our hosts were gracious, extravagant in hospitality, flamboyant. Over a thousand miles of water separated us. There was no friction and little trade. We played golf, talked about the future of ASEAN, and promised to keep in touch.
His foreign minister, Carlos P. Romulo, was a small man of about five feet some 20 years my senior, with a ready wit and a self-deprecating manner about his size and other limitations. Romulo had a good sense of humor, an eloquent tongue, and a sharp pen, and was an excellent dinner companion because he was a wonderful raconteur, with a vast repertoire of anecdotes and witticisms. He did not hide his great admiration for the Americans. One of his favourite stories was about his return to the Philippines with General MacArthur. As MacArthur waded ashore at Leyte, the water reached his knees but came up to Romulo’s chest and he had to swim ashore. His good standing with ASEAN leaders and with Americans increased the prestige of the Marcos administration. Marcos had in Romulo a man of honor and integrity who helped give a gloss of respectability to his regime as it fell into disrepute in the 1980s.
In Bali in 1976, at the first ASEAN summit held after the fall of Saigon, I found Marcos keen to push for greater economic cooperation in ASEAN. But we could not go faster than the others. To set the pace, Marcos and I agreed to implement a bilateral Philippines-Singapore across-the-board 10 percent reduction of existing tariffs on all products and to promote intra-ASEAN trade. We also agreed to lay a Philippines-Singapore submarine cable. I was to discover that for him, the communiqué was the accomplishment itself; its implementation was secondary, an extra to be discussed at another conference.
We met every two to three years. He once took me on a tour of his library at Malacañang, its shelves filled with bound volumes of newspapers reporting his activities over the years since he first stood for elections. There were encyclopedia-size volumes on the history and culture of the Philippines with his name as the author. His campaign medals as an anti-Japanese guerrilla leader were displayed in glass cupboards. He was the undisputed boss of all Filipinos. Imelda, his wife, had a penchant for luxury and opulence. When they visited Singapore before the Bali summit they came in stye in two DC8’s, his and hers.
Marcos did not consider China a threat for the immediate future, unlike Japan. He did not rule out the possibility of an aggressive Japan, if circumstances changed. He had memories of the horrors the Imperial Army had inflicted on Manila. We had strongly divergent views on the Vietnamese invasion and occupation of Cambodia. While he, pro forma, condemned the Vietnamese occupation, he did not consider it a danger to the Philippines. There was the South China Sea separating them and the American navy guaranteed their security. As a result, Marcos was not active on the Cambodian question. Moreover, he was to become preoccupied with the deteriorating security in his country.
Marcos, ruling under martial law, had detained opposition leader Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino, reputed to be as charismatic and powerful a campaigner as he was. He freed Aquino and allowed him to go to the United States. As the economic situation in the Philippines deteriorated, Aquino announced his decision to return. Mrs. Marcos issued several veiled warnings. When the plane arrived at Manila Airport from Taipei in August 1983, he was shot as he descended from the aircraft. A whole posse of foreign correspondents with television camera crews accompanying him on the aircraft was not enough protection.
International outrage over the killing resulted in foreign banks stopping all loans to the Philippines, which owed over US$25 billion and could not pay the interest due. This brought Marcos to the crunch. He sent his minister for trade and industry, Bobby Ongpin, to ask me for a loan of US$300-500 million to meet the interest payments. I looked him straight in the eye and said, “We will never see that money back.” Moreover, I added, everyone knew that Marcos was seriously ill and under constant medication for a wasting disease. What was needed was a strong, healthy leader, not more loans.
Shortly afterward, in February 1984, Marcos met me in Brunei at the sultanate’s independence celebrations. He had undergone a dramatic physical change. Although less puffy than he had appeared on television, his complexion was dark as if he had been out in the sun. He was breathing hard as he spoke, his voice was soft, eyes bleary, and hair thinning. He looked most unhealthy. An ambulance with all the necessary equipment and a team of Filipino doctors were on standby outside his guest bungalow. Marcos spent much of the time giving me a most improbable story of how Aquino had been shot.
As soon as all our aides left, I went straight to the point, that no bank was going to lend him any money. They wanted to know who was going to succeed him if anything were to happen to him; all the bankers could see that he no longer looked healthy. Singapore banks had lent US$8 billion of the US$25 billion owing. The hard fact was they were not likely to get repayment for some 20 years. He countered that it would be only eight years. I said the bankers wanted to see a strong leader in the Philippines who could restore stability, and the Americans hoped the election in May would throw up someone who could be such a leader. I asked whom he would nominate for the election. He said Prime Minister Cesar Virata. I was blunt. Virata was a nonstarter, a first-class administrator but no political leader; further, his most politically astute colleague, defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, was out of favour. Marcos was silent, then he admitted that succession was the nub of the problem. If he could find a successor, there would be a solution. As I left, he said, “You are a true friend.” I did not understand him. It was a strange meeting.
With medical care, Marcos dragged on. Cesar Virata met me in Singapore in January the following year. He was completely guileless, a political innocent. He said that Mrs. Imelda Marcos was likely to be nominated as the presidential candidate. I asked how that could be when there were other weighty candidates, including Juan Ponce Enrile and Blas Ople, the labor minister. Virata replied it had to do with “flow of money; she would have more money than other candidates to pay for the votes needed for nomination by the party and to win the election. He added that if she were the candidate, the opposition would put up Mrs. Cory Aquino and work up the people’s feelings. He said the economy was going down with no political stability.
The denouement came in February 1986 when Marcos held presidential elections which he claimed he won. Cory Aquino, the opposition candidate, disputed this and launched a civil disobedience campaign. Defense Minister Juan Enrile defected and admitted election fraud had taken place, and the head of the Philippine constabulary, Lieutenant General Fidel Ramos, joined him. A massive show of “people power” in the streets of Manila led to a spectacular overthrow of a dictatorship. The final indignity was on 25 February 1986, when Marcos and his wife fled in U.S. Air Force helicopters from Malacañang Palace to Clark Air Base and were flown to Hawaii. This Hollywood-style melodrama could only have happened in the Philippines.
Mrs. Aquino was sworn in as president amid jubilation. I had hopes that this honest, God-fearing woman would help regain confidence for the Philippines and get the country back on track. I visited her that June, three months after the event. She was a sincere, devout Catholic who wanted to do her best for her country by carrying out what she believed her husband would have done had he been alive, namely, restore democracy to the Philippines. Democracy would then solve their economic and social problems. At dinner, Mrs. Aquino seated the chairman of the constitutional commission, Chief Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, next to me. I asked the learned lady what lessons her commission had learned from the experience of the last 40 years since independence in 1946 would guide her in drafting the constitution. She answered without hesitation, “We will not have any reservations or limitations on our democracy. We must make sure that no dictator can ever emerge to subvert the constitution.” Was there no incompatibility of the American-type separation of powers with the culture and habits of the Filipino people that had caused problems for the presidents before Marcos? Apparently none.
Endless attempted coups added to Mrs. Aquino’s problems. The army and the constabulary had been politicized. Before the ASEAN summit in December 1987, a coup was threatened. Without President Suharto’s firm support the summit would have been postponed and confidence in Aquino’s government undermined. The Philippine government agreed that the responsibility for security should be shared between them and the other ASEAN governments, in particular the Indonesian government. General Benny Moerdani, President Suharto’s trusted aide, took charge. He positioned an Indonesian warship in the middle of Manila Bay with helicopters and a commando team ready to rescue the ASEAN heads of government if there should be a coup attempt during the summit. I was included in their rescue plans. I wondered if such a rescue could work but decided to go along with the arrangements, hoping that the show of force would scare off the coup leaders. We were all confined to the Philippine Plaza Hotel by the seafront facing Manila Bay where we could see the Indonesian warship at anchor. The hotel was completely sealed off and guarded. The summit went off without any mishap. We all hoped that this show of united support for Mrs. Aquino’s government at a time when there were many attempts to destabilize it would calm the situation.
It made no difference. There were more coup attempts, discouraging investments badly needed to create jobs. This was a pity because they had so many able people, educated in the Philippines and the United States. Their workers were English-speaking, at least in Manila. There was no reason why the Philippines should not have been one of the more successful of the ASEAN countries. In the 1950s and 1960s, it was the most developed, because America had been generous in rehabilitating the country after the war. Something was missing, a gel to hold society together. The people at the top, the elite mestizos, had the same detached attitude to the native peasants as the mestizos in their haciendas in Latin America had toward their peons. They were two different societies: Those at the top lived a life of extreme luxury and comfort while the peasants scraped a living, and in the Philippines it was a hard living. They had no land but worked on sugar and coconut plantations.They had many children because the church discouraged birth control. The result was increasing poverty.
It was obvious that the Philippines would never take off unless there was substantial aid from the United States. George Shultz, the secretary of state, was sympathetic and wanted to help but made clear to me that the United States would be better able to do something if ASEAN showed support by making its contribution. The United States was reluctant to go it alone and adopt the Philippines as its special problem. Shultz wanted ASEAN to play a more prominent role to make it easier for the president to get the necessary votes in Congress. I persuaded Shultz to get the aid project off the ground in 1988, before President Reagan’s second term of office ended. He did. There were two meetings for a Multilateral Assistance Initiative (Philippines Assistance Programme): The first in Tokyo in 1989 brought US$3.5 billion in pledges, and the second in Hong Kong in 1991, under the Bush administration, yielded US$14 billion in pledges. But instability in the Philippines did not abate. This made donors hesitant and delayed the implementation of projects.
The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial. One Filipino newspaper, Today, wrote on 22 November 1998, “Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, torture, and plunder. Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public’s revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand.” Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?
President Noynoy Aquino and everyone in his cabinet and staff (all secretaries down to the director level) should all get copies of “From Third World to First” and read the book at least twice.
We in the CoRRECT™ Movement encourage all readers of this article to please purchase copies of the late Lee Kuan Yew’s book “From Third World to First.” The insights in the book can give Filipinos a good lesson on how things are best done based on the situation a country happens to be in.
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Lee Kuan Yew’s Profile:
The late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew (Hakka for 李光耀 – Lî Guang Yào in Mandarin) born “Harry Lee Kuan Yew” and known simply as “Harry” to close friends, family, and his late wife, was born in Singapore on September 16, 1923, a third-generation descendant of immigrants from the Hakka dialect-group hailing from China’s Guangdong Province. He finished law at Cambridge University, England. In 1954, he formed the People’s Action Party, which won the first Singapore general election five years later. Though dominantly English-speaking and fluent in Malay, but originally unable to competently converse in Mandarin or other Chinese dialects, he decided at an advanced age to exert intense effort to learn Mandarin and later Hokkien, because he needed both for political campaigns at the grassroots level. He also changed his public persona from being a British-educated British-accented upper-class Anglophile named “Harry Lee” to being known in public and in the papers as “Lee Kuan Yew.”
Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore’s first prime minister in 1959, at the age of thirty-five and quickly developed Singapore’s economy through the aggressive invitation of foreign Multinational Corporations by avoiding economic protectionism and creating a business-friendly environment in order to concentrate on the immediate task of job creation for the ordinary citizens. In November 1990, he resigned the office to assume the advisory post of Senior Minister in the Singapore Cabinet and in 2004, took on the title of the “emeritus” role of Minister Mentor when his successor as Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong (吳作棟)became Senior Minister after Goh resigned the premiership.
He died on Monday, 23 March 2015 after a battle with severe pneumonia.
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Lee Kuan Yew’s son, Lee Hsien-Loong (李顯龍) now serves as Singapore’s Prime Minister after so many years of being given the most difficult and challenging of job assignments, proving himself academically superior to his peers at school, and needing to prove his worth purely through merit by rising up through the ranks in both the military and the civil service (he became a Brigadier-General), and not because he is the son of Lee Kuan Yew.
About the Author
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes systems the way they should be: logically and objectively.
Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Having experienced OFW-life himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.
After the recent revelations of the pork barrel scam, the patronage politics exposed during the Typhoon Yolanda Tragedy and the privileged speech revelations in Senate , it strikes me that the Government of the Philippines is very similar to the Sicilian Mafia, and I’ll explain why. You be the judges:
The Mafia (also known as Cosa Nostra, in English “Our Concern”) is a criminal syndicate in Sicily, Italy. It is a loose association of criminal groups that share a common organizational structure and code of conduct, and whose common enterprise is protection racketeering, smuggling, gambling and other illegal activities. Each group, known as a “family”, “clan”, or “cosca”, claims sovereignty over a territory, usually a town or village or a neighbourhood (borgata) of a larger city, in which it operates its rackets. Its members call themselves “men of honour”, although the public often refers to them as “mafiosi”. If you examine Philippines Patronage Politics, from the Barangays all the way to the Presidency, you will note these clan and family associations.
According to the classic definition, the Mafia is a criminal organization originating in Sicily. However, the term “mafia” has become a generic term for any organized criminal network with similar structure, methods, and interests.
The Sicilian adjective mafiusu (in Italian: mafioso) may derive from the slang Arabic mahyas (مهياص), meaning “aggressive boasting, bragging”, or marfud (مرفوض) meaning “rejected”. In reference to a man, mafiusu in 19th century Sicily was ambiguous, signifying a bully, arrogant but also fearless, enterprising, and proud, according to scholar Diego Gambetta. In reference to a woman, however, the feminine-form adjective “mafiusa” means beautiful and attractive. Have a look at the Congressmen and Women, and the Senators, both Male and Female, in Philippine Politics and see how many of them fit this description.
Italian scholars such as Diego Gambetta and Leopoldo Franchetti have characterized the Sicilian Mafia as a “cartel of private protection firms”, whose primary business is protection racketeering: they use their reputation and connections to deter people from swindling, robbing, or competing with those who pay them for protection. For many businessmen in Sicily, they provide an essential service when they cannot rely on the police and judiciary, who are either corrupt or powerless to enforce their contracts and protect their properties from thieves (this is often because they are engaged in black market deals). Scholars have observed that many other societies around the world have criminal organizations of their own that provide essentially the same protection service through similar methods. Is this not similar to what occurs in the Philippines? People must resort to bribes, political connections and corrupt officials to get things done?
For instance, in Russia after the collapse of Communism, the state security system had all but collapsed, forcing businessmen to hire criminal gangs to enforce their contracts and protect their properties from thieves. These gangs are popularly called “the Russian Mafia” by foreigners, but they prefer to go by the term “krysha”.
“With the (Russian) state in collapse and the security forces overwhelmed and unable to police contract law, cooperating with the criminal culture was the only option…. most businessmen had to find themselves a reliable krysha under the leadership of an effective vor.”
—excerpt from McMafia by Misha Glenny.
Is this situation also similar to what happens in Mindanao with clans like the Ampatuans?
The Historical Context: Modern scholars believe that its seeds were planted in the upheaval of Sicily’s transition out of feudalism in 1812 and its later annexation by mainland Italy in 1860. Under feudalism, the nobility owned most of the land and enforced law and order through their private armies. After 1812, the feudal barons steadily sold off or rented their lands to private citizens, very similar to what the Wealthy Land Owning Families of the Philippines have done in the past. Primogeniture was abolished, land could no longer be seized to settle debts, and one fifth of the land was to become private property of the peasants (similar to the Hacienda Situation existing in the Philippine Context).
After Italy annexed Sicily in 1860, it redistributed a large share of public and church land to private citizens. The nobles also released their private armies to let the state take over the task of law enforcement. However, the authorities were incapable of properly enforcing property rights and contracts, largely due to their inexperience with free market capitalism. Lack of manpower was also a problem: there were often less than 350 active policemen for the entire island. Some towns did not have any permanent police force, only visited every few months by some troops to collect malcontents, leaving criminals to operate with impunity from the law in the interim. With more property owners and commercial activity came more disputes that needed settling, contracts that needed enforcing, transactions that needed oversight, and properties that needed protecting. Because the authorities were undermanned and unreliable, property owners turned to extralegal arbitrators and protectors. These extralegal protectors would eventually organize themselves into the first Mafia clans and sometimes these clans controlled, and in many cases became the local governments. Does this not sound familiar to what occurs in remote Towns and Villages in the Philippines?
In 1864, Niccolò Turrisi Colonna, leader of the Palermo National Guard, wrote of a “sect of thieves” that operated across Sicily. The sect made “affiliates every day of the brightest young people coming from the ruling class, of the guardians of the fields in the Palermitan countryside, and of the large number of smugglers; a sect which gives and receives protection to and from certain men who make a living on traffic and internal commerce. It is a sect with little or no fear of public bodies, because its members believe that they can easily elude them.” Does this not also sound like the Oligarchy and Political Elite that currently rules the Philippines? In fact, this Protection was enshrined in the Philippine Constitution of 1987, which guarantees the control of all forms of business in the hands of the Oligarchy, with no risk of Competition. In fact, the Oligarchy in the Philippines, is in fact, the Government itself.
Mafiosi meddled in politics early on, bullying voters into voting for candidates they favored. At this period in history, only a small fraction of the Sicilian population could vote, so a single mafia boss could control a sizeable chunk of the electorate and thus wield considerable political leverage. Mafiosi used their allies in government to avoid prosecution as well as persecute less well-connected rivals. The highly fragmented and shaky Italian political system allowed cliques of Mafia-friendly politicians to exert a lot of influence. The Current Dynastically Controlled Philippine Presidential System basically mirrors this set up, from the LGUs all the way to the Houses of Congress and Senate. Power rests in loose associations that masquerade as Political parties where allegiances change easily, based on power and influence. In a series of reports between 1898 and 1900, Ermanno Sangiorgi, the police chief of Palermo, identified 670 mafiosi belonging to eight Mafia clans that went through alternating phases of cooperation and conflict. How many rival clans control Philippine Politics? Read this article to find out…
Lets look at how the Elites have ruled, and continue to rule the Philippines: President Aquino is the son of Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr (“Ninoy”) who was assassinated upon return from exile in 1983, an event that touched off several years of unrest that culminated in the historic People Power revolution and the 1986 ousting of President Ferdinand Marcos. Ninoy’s father (Noynoy’s grandfather) was Benigno “Igno” Aquino, also a Senator before World War II before becoming Vice-President of the Japanese-sponsored “second Philippine Republic” toward the end of the war. Igno’s father (Ninoy’s grandfather, Noynoy’s great-grandfather) was Servillano “Mianong” Aquino, who was a general in the anti-colonial revolution fighting successively at the turn of the 20th century against Spain and the United States and who served in the revolutionary government’s Congress. Mianong’s father (Igno’s grandfather, Ninoy’s great-grandfather, and Noynoy’s great-great-grandfather) was Don Braulio Aquino who belonged to the landed aristocracy and lived 150 years before his great-great-grandson announced a run for the presidency. Noynoy is the second cousin of another failed candidate for the presidency, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro. Noynoy’s mother, Cory Aquino, is a cousin of Teodoro’s mother, Mercedes. The two wings of the Cojuangco clan have been feuding for decades.
After WWII, in a strange parallel to the situation in the Philippines, the changing economic landscape of Sicily would shift the Mafia’s power base from rural to the urban areas. The Minister of Agriculture, a communist, pushed for reforms in which peasants were to get larger shares of produce, be allowed to form cooperatives and take over badly used land, and remove the system by which leaseholders (known as “gabelloti“) could rent land from landowners for their own short-term use. Owners of especially large estates were to be forced to sell off some of their land. The Mafia, which had connections to many landowners, murdered many socialist reformers. The most notorious attack was the Portella della Ginestra massacre, when 11 persons were killed and 33 wounded during May Day celebrations on May 1, 1947. Note the similarity to the Philippines and the Hacienda Luisita Massacre, among others?
Also, after WWII there was a huge demand for new homes. Much of this construction was subsidized by public money. In 1956, two Mafia-connected officials, Vito Ciancimino and Salvatore Lima, took control of Palermo’s Office of Public Works. Between 1959 and 1963, about 80 percent of building permits were given to just five people. Construction companies unconnected with the Mafia were forced to pay bribes and protection money to get permits. Many buildings were illegally constructed before the city’s planning was finalized. Mafiosi scared off anyone who dared to question the illegal building, or had them tied up in red tape or frivolous legal cases, often dragging on for years. The result of this unregulated building was the demolition of many beautiful historic buildings and the erection of apartment blocks, many of which were not up to standard. How many Philippines Construction Companies get the bulk of Philippines Government Infrastructure Jobs? Who owns these Companies? Who owns the large property development firms, how are they connected to Politics? In fact, who runs the Banks, the Power Generation Plants, the Telecommunication Networks, the Large Retail Outlets, the Cement Factories, the Media, etc?
In many cases, Philippines Public Institutions are extensions of these Mafia-like activities. Let’s take a hypothetical look at the PNP or NBI. For example: suppose a meat wholesaler wishes to sell some meat to a supermarket without paying taxes. Neither the seller nor buyer can turn to the courts for help should something go wrong, such as the seller supplying rotten meat or the buyer not paying up. The law does not enforce black market agreements; it punishes them. Without the arbitration of the law, the seller could cheat the buyer with impunity or vice versa. If the parties both do not trust each other, they cannot do business and they could both lose out on a profitable deal. Instead, the parties can approach someone they know to corrupt in the PNP or NBI, to supervise their illegal deal. In exchange for a commission, they promise to both the buyer and seller that if either of them tries to cheat the other, the cheater can expect to be assaulted or have his property vandalized. Only a fool would dare cheat somebody protected by the Mafia/Police/NBI. With the traders satisfied that this mafioso can discourage cheating, the transaction proceeds smoothly and all parties leave satisfied. The Mafia’s protection is not restricted to illegal activities. Shopkeepers often pay the Mafia to protect them from thieves, as many do the Police and NBI (based on Published News reports). If a shopkeeper enters into a protection contract with a mafioso, the mafioso will make it publicly known that if any thief were foolish enough to rob his client’s shop, he would track down the thief, beat him up, and, if possible, recover the stolen merchandise (mafiosi make it their business to know all the fences in their territory), as do the Police/NBI.
Mafiosi sometimes protect businessmen from competitors by threatening their competitors with violence or other problems. If two businessmen are competing for a government contract, the protected can ask his mafioso friends to bully his rival out of the bidding process. In another example, a mafioso acting on behalf of a coffee supplier might pressure local bars into serving only his client’s coffee. In the Philippines, Corrupt Officials fulfill this role, holding up approvals or permits until the shopkeeper complies.
The primary method by which the Mafia stifles competition, however, is the overseeing and enforcement of collusive agreements between businessmen. Mafia-enforced collusion typically appear in markets where collusion is both desirable (inelastic demand, lack of product differentiation, etc.) and difficult to set up (numerous competitors, low barriers to entry). In the Philippines, this has been set up in the Constitution, and in collusion with the Lawmakers, who themselves are the ruling business classes, including the Oligarchy. The 60/40 Rule and the FDI negative list enshrines these protection into the Constitution itself. The truth is that the power of Filipino family-based oligarchies both derives from and contributes to a weak, corrupt state. From provincial warlords to modern managers, prominent Philippine leaders have fused family, politics, and business to subvert public institutions and amass private wealth, an historic pattern that continues to the present day.
Mafiosi approach potential clients in an aggressive but friendly manner, like a door-to-door salesman. They may even offer a few free favors as enticement. If a client rejects their overtures, mafiosi sometimes coerce them by vandalizing their property or other forms of harassment. In the Philippines, often these overtures are done by local Government Officials, Police or LGUs, to extort money, products, services and favors. In fact, most Philippines Government “Service” Providers are simply Official Extortion Rackets, requiring people to pay for irrelevant “Clearance Certificates” as a form of harassment and extortion of fees.
In many situations, mafia bosses prefer to establish an indefinite long-term bond with a client, rather than make one-off contracts. The boss can then publicly declare the client to be under his permanent protection (his “friend”, in Sicilian parlance). This leaves little public confusion as to who is and isn’t protected, so thieves and other predators will be deterred from attacking a protected client and prey only on the unprotected. In the Philippines, this is the Patronage System, usually involving High Ranking Officials, or other Political Figures, local, Provincial or National.
Mafiosi generally do not involve themselves in the management of the businesses they protect or arbitrate. Lack of competence is a common reason, but mostly it is to divest themselves of any interests that may conflict with their roles as protectors and arbitrators. This makes them more trusted by their clients, who need not fear their businesses being taken over. It also leaves them free from Public Scrutiny, in the case of Philippines Officials and Politicians.
A protection racketeer cannot tolerate competition within his sphere of influence from another racketeer. If a dispute erupted between two clients protected by rival racketeers, the two racketeers would have to fight each other to win the dispute for their respective client. The outcomes of such fights can be unpredictable (not to mention bloody), and neither racketeer could guarantee a victory for his client. This would make their protection unreliable and of little value. Their clients might dismiss them and settle the dispute by other means, and their reputations would suffer. To prevent this, mafia clans negotiate territories in which they can monopolize the use of violence in settling disputes. This is not always done peacefully, and disputes over protection territories are at the root of most Mafia wars. This can best be demonstrated in the Philippines context by the Atimonan Massacre, in Quezon Province, where 13 people were killed, including high ranking Police Officials, by another Group of Police and Military personnel, allegedly working for rival Gambling Lords over a Territorial Dispute.
Politicians court mafiosi to obtain votes during elections. A mafioso’s mere endorsement of a certain candidate can be enough for his clients, relatives and associates to vote for said candidate. A particularly influential mafioso can bring in thousands of votes for a candidate; such is the respect a mafioso can command. In the Philippine Context, these endorsements can come from Celebrities and Artistes, who themselves hope to become Politicians, once their Star fades. Vote buying is also prominent and often financed by illegal activities. Politicians usually repay this support with favors, such as sabotaging police investigations or giving contracts and permits. Sound familiar?
Mafiosi provide protection and invest capital in smuggling gangs. Smuggling operations require large investments (goods, boats, crews, etc.) but few people would trust their money to criminal gangs. It is mafiosi who raise the necessary money from investors and ensure all parties act in good faith. They also ensure that the smugglers operate in safety. In the Philippines, Politicians are often the main beneficiaries and facilitators of these smuggling activities, often inserting relatives into the operation to ensure it goes smoothly. JPE the Former Senate Chairman has been known to be heavily involved in the Operations of the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (CEZA), a renown entry point for smuggled automobiles into the Philippines.
The Sicilian Mafia in Italy is believed to have a turnover of €6.5 billion through control of public and private contracts. They rarely manage the businesses they control themselves, but take a cut of their profits, usually through payoffs. One only needs to look at the Whistle-blowers allegations in the Napoles Case to see how this functions in the Philippines. In the Philippines case, the term “Mafia”, is easily interchangeable with the “Politicians”, allegedly involved in this case, along with the Government Officials that colluded in it.
In Summation: In Italy, the term associazione di tipo mafioso (“Mafia-type organisation”) is used to clearly distinguish the uniquely Sicilian Mafia from other criminal organizations. Article 416-bis of the Italian Penal Code, under which all criminal organisations are prosecuted, defines an association as being of Mafia-type nature “when those belonging to the association, exploit the potential for intimidation which their membership gives them, and the compliance and omertà which membership entails and which lead to the committing of crimes, the direct or indirect assumption of management or control of financial activities, concessions, permissions, enterprises and public services for the purpose of deriving profit or wrongful advantages for themselves or others.”. OK, can anyone think of a more apt description of the Philippine Political Structure as outlined and exposed in the Napoles Fiasco?
Trevor L. Evans is the CEO of Black Hawk Inc, a Training and Simulation Solutions provider servicing the Aviation Industry throughout SE Asia. He has provided Consultancy Services for Business and Government in the Gulf Region and is formerly the Marketing & Communications Vice President for several Multi Million dollar Property Developers based in Dubai, as well as serving as the Director of Operations for the Dubai World Trade Center, the largest Exhibitions & Events Complex in the Middle East. Trevor also served as a State Police Officer and Specialist Services Officer in the Australian Army and has worked extensively in Australasia, North America, the Middle East and Europe.
Trevor currently lives in the Philippines with his Filipina wife and their Filipino children. (That’s why he cares about the Philippines: His wife and kids are Filipinos!)
Many Filipinos want to get rid of the Pork Barrel. But as mentioned in a previous article, it is necessary to understand the root causes of this “contraption” in order to come up with a truly effective solution.
We at the CoRRECT™ Movement have come up with an infographic that aims to educate netizens in a step-by-step manner exactly how the Pork Barrel came to be and what solutions are necessary to address those root causes in order to totally eradicate the corruption-prone pork barrel as it exists.
Please feel free to pass this infographic around to as many people as possible in order to promote a much deeper understanding of the issue among a wider population.
There has been some debate among Filipino netizens about what is more important when it comes to fixing the problems of the Philippines. Much of it has been centered on the flawed culture in the Philippines and the need to fix this flawed culture. Some netizens have argued that we need to fix the culture first before fixing the Constitution. Others argue that it is the other way around. So which is it?
The following article explains that culture is built up around systems, and so in order to change the culture it is necessary to change the system first:
So instead of trying to fight corruption alone, we must correct the system that encourages corruption. Instead of just telling people to vote wisely, we must first change the system that encourages people to go for name-recall and vote celebrity politicians instead of voting for competent statesmen based on abilities and platforms.
Essentially, it is all about dealing with root causes. To more efficiently and more permanently fix a problem, one must go to the root cause of the problem, rather than just dealing with symptoms.
Of course, it is possible to change the culture through a dictatorship, but I’d prefer doing it through a much more democratic way. What we need is a system that enforces certain wanted behaviors, and discourages certain unwanted behaviors – and switching to a parliamentary system, rather than a presidential dictatorship, is the way to do it.
Think about the 10 Commandments of the Bible. Sure, it is definitely a good moral code to go by. However, it is not enough just to advise people to not steal. Humans are fallible creatures prone to temptations. All humans have this tendency. Some religious traditions even have concepts to explain this: The Jews have the concept of the Yetzer Hara (The Evil Inclination) that is the source of how people can sometimes be harmful (albeit it is also tied in with the human survival instinct), and Christianity has Original Sin.
When it comes to one of the biggest moral flaws of Philippine society, corruption, it turns out that it is actually an intermediate effect of even deeper systemic root causes. It’s to say that corruption is somewhere in between a symptom and a root cause. Corruption causes other bad things, yes, but something deeper causes corruption to occur and/or exacerbates it.
The truth is that the tendency towards corruption is present in each and every person. It manifests itself as an effect of the human survival instinct which, when unregulated, can mean that one tries to survive at the expense of others. It manifests itself as laziness and the tendency of human beings to want to go with the path of least resistance: i.e., to get something for nothing.
Like I said, all humans have this tendency. Call it Yetzer Hara, Original Sin, Temptations, etc.
What we can do, however, is to come up with systems that will minimize the tendency for such traits to emerge. For instance, when people are needy and desperate, there is often a greater chance that they will resort to corruption in “finding the shortest path to ensure their survival” even if this harms others or goes against the rules or standards of society.
As such, a society where people are at least able to meet their most basic needs comfortably can minimize corruption greatly. If we have an economic system that does not provide enough economic opportunities for people to live comfortably, expect higher incidences of corruption to emerge. Then there’s the fact that if you have “more eyes watching”, it causes people to be more likely to avoid being corrupt.
In short, having systems that dissuade people from being corrupt, having systems that provide economic opportunities for the people at large, having systems that reward transparency and punish corruption can minimize corruption and if done properly, practically eliminate it.
It’s not enough to say, “get rid of corruption” or “thou shall not steal” because the question is: How?!?! Sometimes, even if you try to get rid of corruption without addressing the root causes of why some people risk getting caught while doing corrupt acts in the hope of personal gain, you’ll find that the corruption doesn’t really go down.
It’s like trying to swat flies over and over again, but new flies keep emerging. It’s necessary, thus, to look at the systemic root causes for why there are lots of flies in your area, and often, you’ll realize that it’s the preponderance of uncollected garbage that becomes the breeding ground for maggots and flies. No amount of swatting the flies over and over again does anything because new flies emerge to replace the ones who were downed.
The emergence of corruption is not the root cause… It is the effect or symptom of something else. And that often – at the very core – is poverty and the lack of opportunities. People who have mounting bills to pay because they earn so little or probably don’t have jobs themselves may end up seeing an opportunity to “cheat the system” as being advantageous to them or helpful to their survival. Had they not had to worry about that, they then wouldn’t have resorted to corruption.
We need to look at root causes. In the end, our system in the Philippines is conducive to keeping people poor, and poverty makes corruption come out in full force.
If we CoRRECTed the system so that we have a system that creates more economic opportunities, more prosperity, more chances for people to live decent lives, then there’ll be less tendency for corruption to emerge.
Now where do poverty and lack of opportunities stem from? They generally stem from the economic system and how things work as far as the economy goes. Countries that stifle business and economic activity tend to shoo businesses and entrepreneurs/investors away. Countries that allow free business to happen and allow foreign companies to easily set up shop and create jobs for the local population tend to have better job creation and less poverty as a result.
I also have to mention the case of having “more eyes watching.” Well, that’s why parliamentary systems also tend to be less prone to corruption than presidential systems. Because the way parliamentary systems work involves the opposition sending in representatives to the ministerial meetings of the government so that there is always a witness from the opposition present to watch over ministry meetings. While the majority has a government cabinet led by a prime minister, the minority has an opposition shadow cabinet led by the leader of the opposition. Each minister of the government has a corresponding “shadow minister from the opposition” watching over him and attending the meetings of the minister in his ministry. The Minister of Defense, when conducting meetings for the Ministry of Defense has the Shadow Minister of Defense from the Opposition attending and looking at the proceedings and noting all the decisions.
This is why generally speaking, parliamentary systems outperform presidential systems and parliamentary systems are less prone to corruption: Because there’s someone or many people from the opposition watching.
In the end, in order for corruption to actually get lessened, you cannot just ask people to not be corrupt. You cannot just command them not to steal. You must set up systems that prevent the corrupt-tendencies present in all people from emerging and to suppress people being corrupt with systems where “many are watching over.”
CoRRECT™ is really all about systemic change, not just surface changes. System change hits at the root causes of problems. That’s how we fix things in the long term. That’s how we CoRRECT™ the Philippines – by CoRRECTing the flawed system enshrined in the 1987 Constitution of the Philippines.
People often wonder about what determines the success of a society. Is it the culture or is it the system? Quite recently, as the debate on Constitutional Reform progresses and as more and more people realize that the current Philippine System – both economic and political – is dysfunctional and flawed, one opposing view that keeps coming up insists that it is not the system that needs changing, but the culture. While I am an advocate of Constitutional Reform and System Shifting, I have also long since proclaimed the fact that Filipino Culture is deeply dysfunctional, flawed, and needs a major overhaul. The question is: How do we overhaul Filipino Culture?
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Differences in culture
Ever since I was in High School, I have been reading extensively about other countries, observing and finding out about other cultures, and in those observations as well as the research I’ve continued to do just to satisfy my own curiosity, I realized one main thing: That some cultures are more predisposed towards success than others.
I was born and grew up in Metro Manila and despite not being of pure Chinese ethnicity, studied in the Jesuit-run Xavier School (光啓學校) in San Juan which is known to have a predominantly ethnic Chinese or mixed-Chinese descent student population where Mandarin was taught as part of its curriculum. Incidentally, the most recent “immigrant” ancestor I had was my Lebanese great-grandfather, Elias Jureidini – my father’s mother’s father who had married into a Mestizo-Criollo Ilonggo family. On the other hand, all of my other ancestors were either native “Indios” or culturally Hispanicized and assimilated “Mestizos de Sangley” (Chinese-Mestizos – mother’s side) who, despite their unmistakably Chinese facial features, had no identification whatsoever with Chinese culture. During the summer before I got into the 6th grade, my family moved to Cebu (as my father is Cebuano) and I transferred to Xavier’s “Cebu branch” (which also had a predominantly ethnic Chinese or partly-Chinese student population), a school that used to be known as “Sacred Heart School for Boys” (聖心男校) , which later changed its name to “Sacred Heart School – Jesuit” when it accepted girls long after I graduated, and just recently, it has now become known as the “Ateneo de Cebu.” Due to this close contact with Filipino-Chinese friends and classmates, I observed a lot of key behavioral differences that showed just how the ethnic Chinese differ culturally from most fellow Filipinos. These ranged from such things as frugality and handling money, attitude towards studies, attitude towards achievement, self-discipline, and many more. One weekend, I visited a Tsinoy friend and classmate who lived in the Cebu Downtown area with whom I was working together on a joint class project. His home was the typical shop-house where they lived upstairs and their store was downstairs. I was slightly shocked to see him handling the cash-register while his father dealt with customers. I never imagined that his parents would make him work during the weekends. But there it was. He was being given direct training at such a young age on how business worked. If anything, I now saw the secret of his quick math skills. This experience of observing Chinese culture first hand was taken many steps further when I, together with some schoolmates were sent on a Mandarin-language study tour in Taiwan one summer in order to spend a little over a month at the St. Ignatius High School (徐匯高級中學) in the Luzhou district (蘆洲區) of Taipei. We Filipino students (many of whom were Fil-Chi) were a bit shocked at the rather “repressive” environment and hard-driving system that was in place for the Taiwanese Junior-Grade High School students who all had to live on campus. While we visitors had it relatively easy, the Taiwanese students from the first 3 years of High School were essentially living in a Catholic version of the highly disciplinarian Shaolin Monastery with elements taken from Military Academies! Instead of Buddhist Shaolin Masters, the “slave-driving” Shifus (師傅) were mostly Taiwanese Jesuit Priests, Jesuit Brothers and the teachers under them. (It is said by my close Ilonggo Tsinoy friends that a similar Shaolin-Military style system is in place at the Iloilo Central Commercial High School, fondly known as “Hua-Shong” – 華商 , the alma mater of such famous people as singer-businessman José Mari Chan & basketball star & former presidential brother-in-law James Yap.)
At St. Ignatius High School, a sort of reveille would wake all of them up early in the morning, around 6am, got them doing early calisthenics, then breakfast, and then they all had a supervised common study period before they did their everyday flag ceremony where they’d have two anthems play. They would first sing the Kuomintang’s (國民黨) solemn anthem entitled the “Three Principles of the People” – (三民主義– San Min Zhu Yi) and after that, they’d all salute the Kuomintang banner of the Republic of China while a faster, unsung military march called the “National Flag Anthem” (國旗歌 – Guo Qi Ge) was played for the actual flag raising. Only after all those morning rituals would they start their classes for the day at around 8am. Every afternoon, we all couldn’t help but notice that the Taiwanese students all seemed to have P.E. or military training (depending on their year level). Then afterwards, they’d have some free time, dinner, and then right after dinner, they’d have supervised study & do-your-homework periods.
We visitors from the Philippines were shocked once again to see how the Taiwanese students were all literally forced to study their day’s lessons at their classrooms (several such classrooms were close to our dorm rooms) until around 9:45pm, and during those study periods, there were teachers or proctors who made sure no one dozed off. Occasionally, we’d gasp in horror when we’d see some students brought out to the corridors and spanked in the derrière with a ruler by the supervising teacher or proctor for the slightest infraction – usually dozing off. We had it easy. We never had to go through any of that! We also took note of the fact that the Taiwanese school system had classes 6 days a week (they had Saturday afternoons off when they’d return to their families to spend the weekends) and they had six full years of high school. Three years of Junior-Grade High School, and another three years of Senior-Grade High School. After that, they’d have to do two years of full-time military service before ever stepping into University. Whew! My Fil-Chi friends and classmates who were with me at the study tour were so thankful they were all born Filipinos and they’d exclaim in Cebuano almost every single day that they were so lucky their grandparents decided on choosing the Philippines as an immigrant destination to escape the poverty of Fujian Province in the early 1900’s instead of staying in China and then getting forced to flee to Taiwan with the KMT when the Communists won. Indeed, while it was true that the Filipino-Chinese themselves have done extremely well in the Philippines when compared to the relatively complacent and extremely fun-loving native Pinoys, the Taiwanese, who themselves are mostly of the same predominantly Hokkien-Fujianese stock as most Filipino-Chinese, were clearly more driven and hard-driving than the Tsinoys. In fact, in recent years, many Filipino-Chinese have not only gotten so assimilated and Filipinized (not necessarily a bad thing), so that they’ve been losing their heritage, language ability, and even the recognition of the traditional cultural values, some of them have even adopted some of the slothful traits of many “huaná” (番仔), the Hokkien term used to refer to native Filipinos. Having observed the Taiwanese example first hand, I do not at all wonder why Taiwan’s economy is one of the most competitive in the world, and why Taiwan has been responsible for coming up with some of the world’s most successful technology companies such as Acer, Asus, MSI, Trend Micro and many more. That highly disciplined military boot-camp cum Shaolin-style traditional Chinese educational system they all had to go through in Taiwan explains why they ended up with a culture that seems hard-wired for success.
Fast forward to 2004 when I went to Harbin, China to spend a year there, I saw a very similar situation where the academic competition was extreme especially at the Number 3 Middle School of Harbin (哈爾濱市第三中學) where I taught a few classes of English while doing a sabbatical from working in the IT industry to beef up on my Mandarin Chinese skills. Every single one of the students was conscious about how good jobs were scarce and how they all needed to compete against hundreds of millions of other people by the time they got out into the work-force. For them, their only ticket to a good life was to get a good job, and the only way to get a good job was to qualify for a good university (and if possible, get a scholarship abroad), and one of the best ways to qualify for a good university was to finish at number 3 Middle School, which was one of Harbin’s top schools which also figured among one of the top schools in Northern China. For the longest time, among themselves, the Chinese (whichever side of the Taiwan strait they come from) have had an extremely strong sense of Meritocracy, causing José Rizal himself to mention what might seem to be a minor detail about Chinese culture in an excerpt taken from Chapter XIV of Noli Me Tángere, entitled “Tasio, el loco o el filósofo” (or “Tasio, the madman or the philosopher”) which happens to be extremely relevant to these times. In the excerpt, Tasio the Philosopher addresses the visiting Doña Teodora Viña (emphasis is mine):
“Ya sabe usted, Señora, que no soy partidario de la monarquía hereditaria. Por las gotas de sangre china que mi madre me ha dado, pienso un poco como los chinos: honro al padre por el hijo, pero no al hijo por el padre. Que cada uno reciba el premio o el castigo por sus obras, pero no por las de los otros.”
“You already know, Madame, that I am not an advocate of hereditary monarchy. Due to the drops of Chinese blood that my mother has given me, I think a bit like the Chinese: I honor the father because of his son, but not the son because of his father. That each one receive the reward or punishment for his own deeds, but not for those of others.”
As everyone can see, even Rizal himself had made it a point to make explicit mention of the meritocratic culture of the Chinese “Sangley” community who had been distinguishing themselves through hard work as traders and businessmen, many of whom had intermarried with native Filipina women and produced the hybrid, mixed-heritage, assimilated “Mestizo de Sangley” caste of Spanish-speaking Filipinos from whence most business-minded, educated, wealthy, hard-working, knowledgeable, and enlightened Filipinos like Rizal, Mabini, Aguinaldo, and many more came from. (The word “Sangley” is derived from the Cantonese dialectal pronunciation of 生理 “Sang-lei”, pronounced “Seng-li” or “Seng-di” in Hokkien or “Sheng-li” in Mandarin which means “business”) Filipinos may ask what makes a culture strong or success-oriented, and I will say with conviction that it is not a random coincidence that the Chinese are more predisposed towards economic and all other forms of success than most ordinary Filipinos are.
The Filipino-Chinese are much more predisposed towards economic success than most Filipinos because from a young age, many of them are brought up to regard hard work and self-discipline, not luck, talent, hereditary brilliance, or innate ability, as the determinant of success. At an early age, many of them are introduced into their family businesses to help out and learn the ropes during the weekends and summer breaks so that they learn and internalize simple business concepts, improve their mathematical and accounting skills while handling the cashbox, learn the intrinsic values of self-discipline, and recognize that money does not grow on trees. In their homes, their parents or grandparents hang decorative Chinese calligraphy scrolls with proverbs or sayings that extol the virtues of hard work, diligence, perseverance, continuous learning, and many more. Even the families of Filipino-Chinese Taipans Henry Sy and John Gokongwei, to name just two examples, did not spare their children the obligation to earn their allowance by doing work at their stores, rotating them into different parts of their businesses, familiarizing each one with inventory maintenance, merchandizing, delivery management, accounting, etc, with the intention of instilling both a strong work ethic and to train them to turn business management into their second nature while still at a young age. Chinese Culture is much more predisposed towards success because the Chinese have set up formidable child-rearing and positive reinforcement systems that cultivate their young to exhibit the very traits and behavioral patterns necessary in order to be successful in business or whatever field of endeavor they so choose. Many of them set up the right role models of whom to emulate, and they continuously, consistently, and constantly repeat proverbs or sayings that remind themselves of what to strive to become and what to avoid becoming. They set up the appropriate behavioral rewards and reinforcements as well as punishments and disincentives so that as much as possible, their children learn the right values and behaviors and avoid the wrong ones. In short, the “secret” of the Chinese is that they have set up a System of how to bring their children up in order to instill the highly success-oriented aspects of Chinese Culture in them.
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What exactly is Culture?
After years and years of observing different cultures, collective behaviors, collective achievements (or lack thereof), and looking at the systems of up-bringing or cultivation that either gave rise to, further augmented, or dampened the competitiveness of the different people who possess these traits, I’ve realized that cultures do not randomly emerge. More importantly, successful cultures do not arise as a result of historical accident. Successful cultures are cultivated. In fact, if we were to look at the etymology of the word Culture, we find that its original Latin “Cultura” stems from the word “Colere” which means “to cultivate.” Cultures, therefore, emerge partly because they are either unconsciously cultivated by some external force such as the physical environments or climates in which they were spawned, or they can also be consciously cultivated by the very people who comprise or lead the groups in which people belong so that a culture’s development may be cultivated towards a particular direction, either counterbalancing the debilitating tendencies that a particular environment may cause, or by appropriately responding to the challenges that certain environments may exert. When we check the American Heritage Dictionary, we find that Culture is defined as thus:
Culture (kŭl’chər) noun
a. The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought. b. These patterns, traits, and products considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population: Edwardian culture; Japanese culture; the culture of poverty.
c. These patterns, traits, and products considered with respect to a particular category, such as a field, subject, or mode of expression: religious culture in the Middle Ages; musical culture; oral culture. d. The predominating attitudes and behavior that characterize the functioning of a group or organization.
2. Intellectual and artistic activity and the works produced by it.
a. Development of the intellect through training or education. b. Enlightenment resulting from such training or education.
4. A high degree of taste and refinement formed by aesthetic and intellectual training. 5. Special training and development: voice culture for singers and actors. 6. The cultivation of soil; tillage. 7. The breeding of animals or growing of plants, especially to produce improved stock. 8. Biology.
a. The growing of microorganisms, tissue cells, or other living matter in a specially prepared nutrient medium. b. Such a growth or colony, as of bacteria.
The very first definition clearly defines “Culture” to be a set or System of behavioral patterns, beliefs, values, priorities, traits, etc.
One of the most instrumental researchers in the development of culture, its ability to be shaped and modified as seen fit, and its relation to behavior, values, and many of the other trappings of what we all call culture, was the founder of Operant Conditioning, the late Dr. Burrhus Frederic Skinner. In Chapter 7 “The Evolution of a Culture” of Beyond Freedom and Dignity, B.F. Skinner states:
“…those who observe cultures do not see ideas or values. They see how people live, how they raise their children, how they gather or cultivate food, what kinds of dwellings they live in, what they wear, what games they play, how they treat each other, how they govern themselves, and so on. These are the customs, the customary behaviors, of a people. To explain them we must turn to the contingencies which generate them.
Some contingencies are part of the physical environment, but they usually work in combination with social contingencies, and the latter are naturally emphasized by those who study cultures. The social contingencies, or the behaviors they generate, are the “ideas” of a culture; the reinforcers that appear in the contingencies are its “values.”
A person is not only exposed to the contingencies that constitute a culture, he helps to maintain them, and to the extent that the contingencies induce him to do so the culture is self-perpetuating…”
Furthermore, he states at the end of Chapter 7:
“The social environment is what is called a culture. It shapes and maintains the behavior of those who live in it. A given culture evolves as new practices arise, possibly for irrelevant reasons, and are selected by their contribution to the strength of the culture as it “competes” with the physical environment and with other cultures. A major step is the emergence of practices which induce members to work for the survival of their culture. Such practices cannot be traced to personal goods, even when used for the good of others, since the survival of a culture beyond the lifetime of the individual cannot serve as a source of conditioned reinforcers. Other people may survive the person they induce to act for their good, and the culture whose survival is at issue is often identified with them or their organizations, but evolution of a culture introduces an additional kind of good or value. A culture which for any reason induces its members to work for its survival is more likely to survive. It is a matter of the good of the culture, not of the individual. Explicit design promotes that good by accelerating the evolutionary process, and since a science and a technology of behavior make for better design, they are important “mutations” in the evolution of a culture. If there is any purpose or direction in the evolution of a culture, it has to do with bringing people under the control of more and more of the consequences of their behavior.”
Moving on to the idea of designing or modifying a particular “culture”, in Chapter 8 “The Design of a Culture” of Beyond Freedom & Dignity, B.F. Skinner goes on to state:
“Many people are engaged in the design and redesign of cultural practices. They make changes in the things they use and the way they use them. They invent better mousetraps and computers and discover better ways of raising children, paying wages, collecting taxes, and helping people with problems…”
He goes on to say:
“A programmed sequence of contingencies may be needed. The technology has been most successful where behavior can be fairly easily specified and where appropriate contingencies can be constructed – for example, in child care, schools, and the management of retardates and institutionalized psychotics. The same principles are being applied, however, in the preparation of instructional materials at all educational levels, in psychotherapy beyond simple management, in rehabilitation, in industrial management, in urban design, and in many other fields of human behavior. There are many varieties of “behavior modification” and many different formulations, but they all agree on the essential point: behavior can be changed by changing the conditions of which it is a function.”
It is extremely important that Filipinos who wish to understand the “culture change versus system change” debate realize that Culture is by itself a System. Culture is a system of mores, values, behavior, and social consequences dependent on behavior. It is a system of thought patterns. It is a system of priorities. It is a system of how things are done. To change the culture of a particular people, it is necessary to change the underlying system or systems that cause the culture in question to be the way it is. Doing so when a system deals with human beings requires that the appropriate rewards (positive reinforcements) versus punishments (aversive consequences) be put in place in order to induce the desired behavior and avoid the unwanted behavior.
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Systems that determine or influence Behavior & Culture
Human behavior and the underlying values, preferences, priorities, and manner of thought – collectively lumped into that system of social norms shared by a group of people known as “culture” – is often the result of several levels of system influences. Rather than stating that an individual person’s behavior is necessarily the result of only one particular system, it is best to recognize how several different systems work together to probabilistically determine or at least highly influence a person’s behavior and subsequently, the culture to which he belongs. Here is a listing of all 5 systems and their attributes:
1. Natural Environment & Eco-System– Affects people collectively – Cannot be changed– Is represented by the influences of Climate, Terrain, Geography, Land Altitude, Land Fertility, Weather, other natural factors peculiar to the location where people live.– (you may superficially and temporarily “alter” climate by using air-conditioning, or do other “superficial changes” but it requires effort, energy, and technology) – (you may migrate to a different territory to get away from the original environment)2. Societal System– Affects people collectively – Can be changed– System of Government, System of Laws, System of Law & Policy Enforcement, System of Education3. Sub-Community Group and Family System– Affects people collectively – Can be changed– Upbringing, Nurture, Family Values, Values of the Small Community4. Personal System– Affects people individually – Can be changed– Personal Beliefs, Personal Values, Personal Principles, Personal Decisions5. Hereditary & Genetic System– Affects people individually at the cellular/DNA level – Cannot be changed within one’s lifetime– Genetic Inheritance, genetic predisposition, behavioral tendencies / Temperament caused by genetic influence, innate abilities / talents
By understanding how these 5 different systems all influence human behavior, we also can better understand at which levels the challenges, advantages, disadvantages, and even dysfunctions are to be found as far as behavior and culture are concerned. It is in this way that it also becomes much easier to determine how to improve the competitiveness and survivability of a particular individual or group of people with respect to inducing the emergence of desired winning behaviors and thus to ultimately establish winning cultures on the collective levels of the wider society, the sub-community group, and the family. It is also necessary to understand that these different systems are all arranged from macro to micro, in order to more easily understand why it is possible for there to be “exceptions to the rule.”
For instance, certain societies within a particular environment may develop a particular predisposition to act in a certain way due to said environment. However, some societies may develop their own societal system that causes the people within that society (or country) to defy the natural tendencies as induced by the environment and thus behave differently. This is best seen within the context of how Singapore, despite being in the tropics where numerous societies within tropical regions are often expected to have national cultures that are usually uncompetitive & slothful, Singapore shines as an exception to the rule due to the manner in which its societal system was set up in order to defy the environmental influences of being in the tropics. Likewise, within a particular society having a collective culture, some sub-groups or families may defy the stereotypes because within their own small groups or family-units, collective systems are set up in such a way as to cause the members of said groups or families to behave differently from the mainstream. This is how the Filipino-Chinese, Mestizo-Sangleys (often known in modern times as “the Filipino Upper Classes”), and Mestizos-Criollos (often called “Tisoys”) do not always conform to national stereotypes due to differences in how these groups raise their children within their family-settings so that they end up exhibiting certain traits and behaviors that are oftentimes advantageous over the mainstream (such as fiscal consciousness, frugality, etc). This also explains how Ilocanos are stereotyped to be extremely frugal, despite the general tendency of most mainstream Filipinos to be spendthrift, even though many Ilocanos have already migrated to other areas and no longer live in the relatively barren and infertile homeland of Ilocandia which was responsible for shaping their frugal nature. Likewise, if and when a person is born into a dysfunctional family where there is chaos and disorder and no proper parental guidance nor family role model to aspire to, this model also explains how it is possible for an individual person to decide to defy his family’s dysfunctional system and still turn out successful due to extreme willpower and a strong, well-developed personal system. More importantly, it should also be recognized that well-developed collective systems (systems at the societal and small group & family level) can even drive people to succeed despite their lack of genetic endowments. As it is, in the Confucian-influenced East Asian cultures of the Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, as well as others bearing similar influences, one’s genetic predispositions are – within their cultural paradigms – said to count for little or are often seen as irrelevant, as their paradigm for achieving success rests more with hard work and effort. As such, genetic endowments are seen merely as a bonus in such cultures. Each and every person is expected to work his or her hardest to succeed, despite whatever hereditary background they may have, be they the children of street-cleaners or PhD’s in Physics. For such Confucian cultures, “genius”, which in Mandarin is “Tian Tsai” (天才) – literally Heavenly (天) Gift (才), is not an excuse to slack off and take it easy, and instead, so much more is expected of a genius or extraordinarily-gifted person. (This also has echoes in the Protestant Ethic)
From the perspective of many East Asian cultures’ paradigms, failure is not the result of one’s innate deficiencies but is rather a result of not having worked hard enough. This paradigm is most observed with the kinds of ancient classical proverbs that the Chinese have (which are often hung as decorative calligraphic scrolls) and are often shared with other cultures of the Sinosphere, including Korea, Vietnam, and Japan. Rather than exalting innate abilities or in-born intelligence, ancient Chinese proverbs or key words exalt perseverance (持之以恆), hard work (功夫 – “Kung Fu”, which in the West is thought to mean “Martial Arts”), continuous improvement (改善 – “Gaishan” in Mandarin, “Kaizen” in Japanese), continuous learning (學無正竟), and of course, the all-important virtue of discipline (訓練). It must be realized that culture change by itself can never happen unless a corresponding system change is made. This is simply because of the numerous systems that influence and probabilistically determine human behavior and ultimately, human culture. Before we can change culture, we need to know what the different systems are and how they influence behavior: 1. Natural Environment & Eco-System
The Natural Environment and Eco-System in which a group of people first form their cultural identity has a profound effect on how such people may behave, think, and see the world.
British Historian Arnold J. Toynbee, in his book “A Study of History” explained in his Challenge and Response Theory that human societies are often subjected to various challenges which if responded to properly, can allow the societies to rise above the challenge and succeed. Such challenges, at the environmental level includes such aspects as climate, terrain, quality of land, and others which may pertain to the abundance or scarcity of sources of food or food production ability. Difficult environments such as cold climate or difficult terrain, for instance, pose as challenges to the groups of people living in such environments. Not responding appropriately to such challenges results in extinction or suffering, while responding to the challenges properly results in improved chances of survival. A culture that is competitive and easily able to respond to challenges is termed a “hard culture.” Wherever the environment is easy, chances are very high that the people living in such an environment tend to become lax and complacent. Such a culture is termed a “soft culture.”
In “A Study of History”, Toynbee writes:
“Civilizations come to birth in environments that are unusually difficult and not unusually easy.”
In describing the development of Chinese Civilization, Toynbee adds:
“The Sinic Civilization was nurtured in the north of China, where the climate was severe, and swamps and regular floods made agriculture difficult, and so it became a “hard” society.”
From the Age of Enlightenment came an older, similar idea which emphasized the role of environment & ecosystem, most particularly of the aspect of Climate, on how different cultures tend to behave differently.
Charles de Secondat, le Baron de la Brède et de Montesquieu, known to the world simply as “Montesquieu” wrote extensively about the role of the Environment & Eco-System, with an apparent emphasis on Climate, in determining the behavior and culture of people. He described colder climates as being more likely to force people to become more frugal, forward-looking, self-disciplined, and less emotional.
On the other hand, he described warmer climates as being more lax and tolerant of mistakes, based on the short term, frivolous/flippant, and emotional.
In one excerpt, Montesquieu writes:
“On a donc plus de vigueur dans les climats froids… Cette force plus grande doit produire bien des effets: par exemple, plus de confiance en soi-même, c’est-à-dire plus de courage; plus de connaissance de sa supériorité, c’est-à-dire moins de désir de la vengeance; plus d’opinion de sa sûreté, c’est-à-dire plus de franchise, moins de soupçons, de politique et de ruses.
J’ai vu les opéras d’Angleterre et d’Italie ; ce sont les mêmes pièces et les mêmes acteurs: mais la même musique produit des effets si différents sur les deux nations, l’une est si calme, et l’autre si transportée, que cela paroît inconcevable.
Vous trouverez dans les climats du nord des peuples qui ont peu de vices, assez de vertus… Approchez des pays du midi vous croirez vous éloigner de la morale même: des passions plus vives multiplieront les crimes ; chacun cherchera à prendre sur les autres tous les avantages qui peuvent favoriser ces mêmes passions.”
“The people have more vigor in cold climates… This superiority of strength must produce various effects: for example, a greater self-confidence, that is to say – more courage; a greater sense of superiority, in other words, less desire for vengeance; a greater sense of security, i.e., more frankness, less suspicion, politicking, and scheming…
I have seen the operas of England and Italy, they are the same pieces and the same performers: and yet the same music produces effects so different upon the two nations; one is so calm, and the other so transported that it seemed inconceivable.
You will find in the climates of the North – people who have few vices, many virtues… If you approach the South you will believe yourselves entirely removed from the verge of morality: the deepest passions cause a multitude of crimes; each one will seek to take advantage of all the others who can promote these same passions.”
The good Baron’s observations regarding the differences that often characterize the Cold versus Warm dichotomy when looking at the fates of different societies continue to be a recurring theme when correlations are made between the richer temperate countries versus the often poorer tropical countries of the world. It is also not surprising that Montesquieu thus observed that societies from colder climates can prosper even with democratic or libertarian systems, while societies from warmer climates need to have strict, disciplinarian, and somewhat coercive systems in place for such societies to prosper.
In “Lee Kuan Yew, the Man and his Ideas”, the Elder Statesman – who also subscribes to Montesquieu’s Climate Theory – mentions his own observations on the differences between some cultures based on their climatic environments:
“On my first visit to Germany in 1956, we had to stop in Frankfurt on our way to London. We had [earlier] stopped in Rome. This languid Italian voice over the loudspeaker said something … And there were Italian workers trundling trolleys at the airport. It was so relaxed, the atmosphere and the pace of work. Then the next stop was Frankfurt. And immediately, the climate was a bit cooler and chillier. And a voice came across the loudspeaker: “Achtung! Achtung!” The chaps were the same, porters, but bigger-sized and trundling away. These were people who were defeated and completely destroyed and they were rebuilding. I could sense the goal, the dynamism.
…I also visited Switzerland when I was a student in ’47, ’48, on holiday. I came down by train from Paris to Geneva. Paris was black bread, dirty, after the war. I arrived at Geneva that morning, sleeping overnight. It was marvelous. Clean, beautiful, swept streets, nice buildings, marvelous white pillowcases and sheets, white bread after dark dirty bread and abundant food and so on. But hardworking, punctilious, the way they did your bed and cleaned up your rooms. It told me something about why some people succeed and some people don’t. Switzerland has a small population. If they didn’t have those qualities, they would have been overrun …”
(Personally, I think that the key difference between Paris and Geneva – both being linguistically and culturally French-speaking is that Paris is predominantly Catholic (as well as agnostic), while Geneva is predominantly Calvinist-Protestant, and is therefore heavily-influenced by the Protestant Ethic.)
Even Lee Kuan Yew wrote that if the system of Singapore were not based on an extremely competitive meritocracy, then the tropical climate would make Singaporeans grow soft and complacent, and in the end, the effects would mean slipping back into “Third Worldism” and mass poverty.
In a speech to a group of Trade Unionists in Adelaide during a visit to Australia, Lee Kuan Yew explained:
“The Chinaman who came out to Southeast Asia was a very hard working, thrifty person. I mean he faced tremendous strides because he faced floods, pestilence, famine…, [but] we are getting soft. You know, all sunshine and bananas growing on trees and coconuts falling down by themselves – this affects people. To a certain extent, you can try and counter it… Up to a point we can strive to lessen the burden… This is a problem all migrants face. You are part of one culture, one civilization and culture. But it is a different climate.”
We can also see how other challenges posed by the Eco-System can cause people to respond in ways that make them more predisposed towards certain types of behavior, hopefully those more conducive to success.
The Ilocanos, for instance, are known to be very frugal and hardworking people and quite often, the somewhat barren or infertile nature of the land in Ilocandia is cited as the reason for this. Incidentally, they are also some of the most orderly of Filipinos. A visit to the Ilocano countryside or to Ilocano cities such as Vigan or Laoag reveals an extremely clean and orderly (almost obsessive-compulsive) environment, eliciting analogies with the Japanese: orderly and always ensuring that their surroundings are very neat.
The Fujianese or “Hokkien” (福建) Chinese are seen to be like the Ilocanos of Southern China (Fujian is barren and hilly) – extremely frugal and hardworking, especially when compared to the Cantonese whose culture is said to have flourished in the lush farmlands and plains of Guangdong (廣東) Province.
The Basques of Spain also have the same rugged and relatively infertile terrain as the Ilocanos and the Fujianese, and it is for this reason that they are considered to be the most hardworking of Spaniards, and among all the immigrants from Spain who went to Latin America, they quickly became the earlier landowners and industrialists and dominated agriculture and early industry. It also comes to no surprise that many of the surnames of some of the richest families in the Philippines such as Abóitiz, Araneta, Ayala, Elizalde, Larrazabal, or Ortigas just to name a few are Basque.
Ultimately, there’s not much we can do about our natural environment other than migrate to another location with a different environment. Or we can temporarily change the temperature and humidity of our enclosed surroundings through air-conditioning, but that’s just about it. We thus just have to work on what we can change: our collective social systems and personal systems.
2. Societal System
The same thinker from the Age of Enlightenment who talked about Climate and the Eco-System’s effects on human behavior, Montesquieu, also mentioned that the manner in which a society is run (its “System of Governance”) also helps to shape culture. More importantly, Montesquieu did not dismiss the possibility of people from warmer countries becoming disciplined, frugal, forward-looking, and more logical, because as long as the societal system (including the system of government) is carefully-designed to constantly provide the right incentives to promote the desired behaviors to emerge among the people as well as appropriate disincentives that would prevent the emergence of undesirable ones, then the people from such warmer countries can learn to exhibit the same or similar “winning culture” that has often been observed among civilizations from colder climates.
As it turns out, while the Baron de Montesquieu did in fact observe that the Eco-System – climate, geography, and other aspects of the environment – affect the temperaments and customs of a group of people, he did not believe in rigid determinism. As such, he did not believe that the effects of the environment and the resulting cultural inclinations (especially the dysfunctional ones) could not be resisted and mitigated.
For him, it was necessary that the laws put in place, the policies pursued, the manner in which they were implemented and enforced, and even the form of government adopted and set up by the people would have to take careful account of all these different factors. Thus, as an example, instead of copying the form of government that was specifically set up for another society having an extremely different set of cultural and historical circumstances, Montesquieu advocated taking careful stock of the cultural and behavioral inclinations as well as the environmental influences on society in order to accommodate whatever positive traits proved useful, and actively and ruthlessly counteracting all the cultural and behavioral dysfunctions of the people as well as the negative effects the environment influenced upon the people.
In talking about the need to ruthlessly counteract the effects of the environment on people’s behavior, in his magnus opus “De l’esprit des lois” (The Spirit of Laws), the Baron of Montesquieu writes that sometimes, if the country’s environment causes people to be too lazy or unwilling to work, there is no choice but to use coercion just to get things done:
“Il y a des pays où la chaleur énerve le corps, et affoiblit si fort le courage, que les hommes ne sont portés à un devoir pénible que par la crainte du châtiment: l’esclavage y choque donc moins la raison…
“There are some countries where the heat irritates the body, and weakens one’s drive so strongly, such that men can only be made to perform hard work only by the fear of punishment: slavery thus becomes less shocking to one’s reason…”
Lee Kuan Yew himself also saw this and realized that tropical Singapore needed “behavioral modification” and “social-engineering” systems that were a clever mix of proper incentives and disincentives which practically bordered on “coercion” in order to motivate people to work hard. As such, despite huge monetary reserves, Singapore never went on the same type of dole-out distribution spree that characterized many prosperous Western countries who believed in socialistic welfarism.
Moreover, instead of a Ponzi-scheme social security system, he set up the Central Provident Fund which operated like a high-interest bank account, where employees would be deducted a particular percentage of their income each month, to be matched by their employer. Upon reaching retirement age, retirees are not exactly going to be drawing from an inexhaustible pool of retirement pension payments. They would be dispensed cash against their own CPF accounts which they had built up over their years of working. The Central Provident Fund was also the instrument used to fund the home-ownership drive of Singapore’s Housing and Development Board, where instead of coming up with a “free housing” scheme, Lee Kuan Yew and the People’s Action Party preferred that people pay for their houses in order to give them a real sense of achievement and value. (Consistent with Singapore’s “no dole-out” policy)
On the other hand, the low income-tax rates which were computed only after CPF contributions were deducted ensured that Singaporeans would see most of the fruits of their own labor going to themselves and not to some “black hole.” This way, earning was not unduly penalized. This system effectively fostered frugality and gave more motivation for people to earn more. In a tropical environment of abundance lacking the urgencies of deadlines and seasonal changes in temperate climates, it made sense to set up a system of rewards and penalties that would encourage people to earn and save more in order to counteract the tropical tendency to be spendthrift and hedonistic. Moreover, he needed to use such techniques of reward & punishment and caning & fines (“$ingapore is a fine city”) in order to reform Singaporeans to become more orderly and hygienic and abandon such previously common but abominable traits such as spitting just anywhere including indoors as well as urinating inside elevators!
3. Sub-community Group and Family System
It is important for people to realize that the reason why the Jewish Diaspora, Overseas Chinese, the Lebanese diaspora, the Armenian diaspora, the Sindhi diaspora, and many others are hugely successful ethnicities is not because their cultures emerged as having the right traits of success by chance. Instead, the real fact is that many of these successful groups ended up with their “Winning Cultures” often as the result of their sub-community systems and strong and effective systems of family upbringing which molded their behaviors while they were still young.
Lee Kuan Yew, for instance, wrote that he learned that part of the reason for the dominance of Jews in many fields of endeavor, such as the sciences, arts, business, etc is that their culture was shaped by how they were brought up strictly to strive for excellence (especially in numerous intellectual fields) by disciplinarian parents within their family setting. In the book “Lee Kuan Yew, the Man and his Ideas”, Minister Mentor Lee writes:
“From the 10th to 11th century in Europe, among the Ashkenazim, the practice developed of the rabbi becoming the most desirable son-in-law because he is usually the brightest of the flock. …So he becomes the richest and wealthiest. He marries young, is successful, probably bright. He has large numbers of children and the brightest of the children will become the rabbi and so it goes on.”
To become a rabbi, one had to go through intense study. There was the study of Hebrew, Aramaic (some texts such as the Targums are in Aramaic, not in Hebrew), and yes, the texts of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible), the Talmud, and many more. They had to study Jewish jurisprudence and learn to be superior at logic and many more. Every single family wanted their sons to become rabbis. Since all their boys needed to study certain religious texts for their Bar Mitzvah anyway, everyone was encouraged to at least aim to study to become a rabbi. And the best among them would indeed become rabbis. Those who did not become rabbis still benefitted from the intense focus and discipline they underwent in their religious instruction so that as merchants, bankers, physicians, and other experts, they had the necessary traits to prosper. Even those who did not study to become rabbis all looked up to rabbis and got their children to aspire accordingly. The pattern got repeated over and over again.
With the Chinese, just replace the word “Rabbi” with “Mandarin Magistrate.” And replace “study the Torah, Bible, and other texts” with “study the Analects of Confucius, Sun Tzu’s Art of War, The Three Kingdoms, and all the other Chinese classics.”
Practically every Chinese family (except those barred such as sons of actors and prostitutes) hoped to have a son become a Mandarin Magistrate. It was their ticket to the big-time. As much as they could, they pushed their sons to study hard so that when they were ready, they could take the Imperial Civil Service exams that would turn them into mandarins. Rich merchants (most often failed Mandarin-wannabes who became traders) presented their daughters to newly-minted mandarins (and back then, they also had polygamy) for marriage. In short, almost everyone wanted to become a mandarin, and even those who didn’t make it actually benefited in their new trades from the training, discipline, and intense study they had gone through.
Lee Kuan Yew figures once again as he also showed how a certain culture of “eugenics” emerged due to the competitive nature of old Chinese society:
“…You read Hóng Lóu Mèng(紅樓夢), A Dream of the Red Chamber, or you read Jīn Píng Méi (金瓶梅 – The Plum in the Golden Vase), and you’ll find Chinese society in the 16th, 17th century described. So the successful merchant or the mandarin, he gets the pick of all the rich men’s daughters and the prettiest village girls and has probably five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten different wives and concubines and many children. And the poor labourer who’s dumb and slow, he’s neutered. It’s like the lion or the stag that’s outside the flock. He has no harems, so he does not pass his genes down. So, in that way, a smarter population emerges.
“If you have a culture that doesn’t place much value in learning and scholarship and thrift and hard work and deferment of present enjoyment for future gain, the going will be much slower.”
For the case of the Lebanese, and the Lebanese Diaspora(the Lebanese are ultimately the surviving heirs of the ancient Phoenician-Punic maritime civilization who invented the original alphabet which influenced the Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, and Aramaic scripts), many of them are Christians (Latin America is dominated by Lebanese Christian émigrés – like Carlos Slim Helu of Mexico, listed as Forbes’ richest man in the world – surpassing Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, and internationally, there are other famous names like Carlos Ghosn of Nissan and Renault, former CEO of Ford Jacques Nasser, author Nassim Nicholas Taleb) and for a very long time, the culture was similar to the Jewish one. (In fact, the Syriac-based names of the months in the Lebanese Christian calendar are not too different from the Hebrew names of the months in the Jewish calendar.)
Most Lebanese were traditionally brought up in very strict family environments by disciplinarian fathers, and instead of rabbis, the Lebanese Christians had priests (Maronite Catholic, Orthodox, etc). Because of the unique ancient eastern traditions of the Lebanese Christians, even those Christian groups under Roman Catholic jurisdiction such as the Maronites, Melkite Greek Catholics, and several other groups, married men are permitted to become priests. (The only real restriction is that marriage must happen before Holy Orders. Moreover to become a bishop, one must be celibate, so those who have plans to move up the ranks must stay celibate, or in the case of the Orthodox, an ecclesiastically-sanctioned divorce is obtained permit a married priest’s promotion to the episcopacy.)
In short, in the pre-modern days, many Lebanese Christians were brought up in a competitive religious educational environment not too different from the Jewish rabbinical tradition of scholarship and many of them were expected to give prestige to their families by joining the priesthood. If they planned to raise their own families, they had the option to delay taking up Holy Orders in order to get married before going through the Sacrament that would turn them into priests. Being a priest was not only well respected, it was something that almost every male aspired to become or at least emulate because there was no strict “celibacy trade-off.” Such a tradition of high aspirations and high collective expectations permeated throughout Lebanese society, resulting in the relatively high success rates of many Lebanese émigrés and their descendants.
We also see how some groups of people, undergo collective “spiritual conversions” or changes in their belief systems. Max Weber, in his extremely famous work “Die protestantische Ethik und der Geist des Kapitalismus” (The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism), explained that the belief-systems and value-systems of many Protestants, particularly Calvinists, were ultimately responsible for their relative economic success. By simply going through a major paradigm shift that made them think of work not as a chore or “necessary evil”, but rather as a “means to praise, honor, and glorify God“, and that “wealth is not evil, but a sign of God’s grace“, Calvinists and most other Protestants on the average ended up more prosperous than Catholics because they did not disdain work nor wealth.
Such conversion required a constant “reminding” of the value system that was adopted. Thus, a system of reminders or “rituals” or “practices” (such as regular worship services) needed to be put in place so that the individual members of the group do not forget nor lose sight of the newer paradigm they have adopted. In that manner, new converts do not regress back to their pre-conversion state.
This level is referred to as the “Sub-Community Group” and “Family” level because in addition to raising children within the family setting, there is also the fact that minority groups, often as immigrants, tend to congregate within a small common group of fellow immigrants from the same ethnic community. In such a setting, they may reinforce each other and their children to retain whatever good traits their ethnic background may have. When groups of families regularly congregate around certain cultural or religious centers that help maintain a specific identity, such as churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, or other centers, common collective behaviors and customs and traits emerge which may be reinforced or enhanced by the religious systems and discipline espoused by their groups.
One peculiar example that stands out in the Philippine setting is that the Philippine classical music scene’s choral and operatic sector is currently dominated by highly-talented and extremely sought-after Filipino opera singers and choral conductors who happen to come from mainline Protestant backgrounds. (“Mainline” includes UCCP, Baptists, Methodists/IEMELIF, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Presbyterians, etc.) At the very least, the relatively large number of mainline Protestants who enjoy some of the most respected reputations within Philippine classical music’s voice category is clearly disproportionate to their small overall share of the total Philippine population which continues to have an overwhelmingly Catholic majority.
Case in point: World class and internationally-acclaimed Filipino opera stars like soprano María Rachelle Gerodías, baritone Andrew Fernando, tenor Lemuel de la Cruz(all three of them also happen to be products of UST’s Conservatory of Music), internationally-acclaimed Filipino choral maestro, math genius and music professor Dr. Joel Navarro, and famous counter-tenor, choral conductor, and keyboard virtuoso Eudenice Palaruan(who used to direct the now-defunct San Miguel Chorale and whose choral arrangement of the Capiznon folksong “Pasigin” and a few other Filipino songs are extremely popular among most serious choral groups including choirs in Singapore, Thailand, and Indonesia) all come from mainline Protestant backgrounds. Continuing the list are the celebrated late baritone Gamaliel Viray, the famous “Dequadin Tenor” Nolyn Cabahug and his sister soprano Lisa Cabahug, soprano Ailene Cura, mezzo-soprano and choral conductor Jai Sabas-Aracama, pianist & choir conductor Fidel Calalang, Jr., pianist & choir director Carminda Regala, and the late baritone and choral conductor Elmo Makil.
(The late Prof. Makil is also famous for his arrangement of the Itneg War Chant “Iddem dem Mallida” which like Eudy Palaruan’s arrangement of “Pasigin” is another favorite choral piece within the Singapore choral community, even being used by Singapore’s Anderson Junior College Choir as a choral competition piece in Italy).
Incidentally, Rachelle Gerodías – who has also made her name as the soprano “gold standard” in both the Singapore and Malaysia opera scene – confirmed that the same situation applies to South Korea as most if not all the Korean opera singers she has met also come from Protestant backgrounds. Rachelle also added that aside from the emphasis on polyphonic choral music as used for Sunday worship services dating back to the time of the devout Protestant Baroque composers Johann Sebastian Bach (famous among both Catholics and Protestants for the hymn “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”) and George Frederic Händel (famous for “Joy to the World” and the Messiah Oratorio), she also clearly hints at what Max Weber calls the Protestant Ethic when she says:
“…I think what really made a big difference between Catholic and Protestant musicians and singers is the discipline and the religious or spiritual practice. Most singers in Protestant churches are encouraged to join the choir and sing every Sunday. If you are gifted with a beautiful voice, it is recognized as a talent from God that you must use and develop because that is the will of God.”
Based on the famous diva’s words, it appears that the overall “system” or paradigm of mainline Protestant spiritual belief and religious practice actively supports the development of highly talented classical singers. The spiritual belief motivates those with talents in music to further develop such talents, while the religious practice of Sunday worship molds many of them towards the direction of classical singing.
In contrast to the emphasis on classical-style choral singing that is integral to the Sunday worship services of mainline Protestant churches in the Philippines, post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism as practiced in the Philippines had unfortunately drastically reduced or even practically eliminated the traditional emphasis on polyphonic classical-style choral singing or even unison Gregorian chants and switched to a significantly less elaborate form of musical expression for the newer “Novus Ordo Missae.” (“New Order of the Mass”)
Hopefully, with a lot of the positive examples provided on how certain minorities – ethnic or religious – are able to outperform other groups, mainstream Filipino families and groups can pick up a tip or two on how to make the next generation of Filipinos become much more competitive, achievement-oriented, and successful.
Moving on to how Filipino migrant communities in other countries fare, we unfortunately find that among many small Filipino communities abroad, Pinoy migrants who hold get-togethers with fellow Pinoys often congregate around a television set that has The Filipino Channel (TFC) in order to watch Wowowee (back when it was around) and get their kids learning to dance to the Ocho-ocho, Spaghetti Song, and other sexually-explicit and unfit-for-public-broadcast crass embarrassments to Filipino identity that very often get criticized by non-Filipinos. Those immigrant Filipino communities are just small microcosms of what goes on in the teeming squatter colonies and shanty-towns all throughout the country, where birthday parties of little girls aged 5, 6, 7, or older are celebrated with the same sexually-explicit songs and dances popularized on the noontime shows. Worse, from noontime, the go-go dancers have even been migrated to prime time.
With a “system of entertainment” that encourages sexually-explicit dance moves at such a young age and rewards those who fit the go-go dancer mold with fame & fortune (the rumor circulating is that the go-go dancers on the various noontime and primetime variety shows earn good money and are given their own cars), it is not surprising at all that from being known as a nation of domestic helpers, the Philippines has now overtaken Thailand to be a major source of prostitutes and “hospitality-providers” to Singapore & Malaysia. Those at the top of the pyramid of the go-go dancing “industry” get accepted into the TV variety shows and earn big bucks and get free cars. Those who don’t make it capitalize on the “go-go dancing skills” they picked up while aspiring to get into the TV variety shows by becoming go-go dancers in girlie-bars or progress into “modeling” (notice the quotes) and “escort services” or outright prostitution.
It would have been preferable if what got retained were the good Filipino values and the ugly & embarrassing garbage, discarded.
Personally, while I accept that the CBCP has the right to teach Catholics the official Vatican line, it does not have the right to impose Catholic-only dogma on the secular government. The issue is that instead of denouncing the go-go dancing phenomenon promoted on Filipino TV variety shows, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines continues to waste its time on a losing battle by imposing specifically Catholic-only anti-contraception dogma on the secular government which happens to represent the rights of non-Catholics (Protestants, Muslims, and others) who have no opposition to modern contraceptive methods. The CBCP clearly needs to refocus away from attacking the Responsible Parenthood Bill, and instead put more effort on actively denouncing the extremely sexually-suggestive (and even explicit!) noontime and primetime variety show go-go dancer phenomenon, otherwise, the Philippines will continue on its downward spiral towards a totally failed state.
(An American friend and his family in Singapore have a Filipina maid who requested for a subscription to The Filipino Channel. He told me not long ago that when he came home for lunch one day, he was horrified to find his little kids watching a bunch of go-go dancers gyrating on a noontime TV show as the maid was having her daily dose of Wowowee using the common living room TV set! Immediately afterwards, he had a small TV installed in the tiny maid’s room and got the cable company to deactivate The Filipino Channel from the living room’s set top box and activated TFC only for the maid’s room. What a major embarrassment for the Philippines!)
4. Personal System
Some people are more hard-working than others even if they are in a group or family of sloths. Some people do 180 degree turns in how they manage their lives, despite the people around them. These behavioral and mindset shifts are often the results of the personal system that a single individual may set up for him/herself. No doubt, such changes at the personal system involve whole lot of self-discipline and self-control.
Does a person reward himself after he does well on an exam by treating himself to ice-cream? Or does he treat himself to ice-cream regardless of whether he does well, passes, or fails? Does he deny himself certain indulgences like playing video games if he hasn’t accomplished his work yet? Or does he play video games regardless of whether he has accomplished his work or not? Does he reward himself with a brand new luxury car (or two) if, as CEO of the company he just recently took charge of, was able to turn it around for the better? Or does he buy it/them anyway, never mind that he hasn’t done anything at all to deserve such a reward?
One’s personal system is ultimately what determines a person’s behavior as it is the final arbiter of whether a person is likely to be open or closed to outside influences that may be advantageous or disadvantageous. It is the Personal System that is targeted by authors of self-help and motivational books that often aim to change the world “one person at a time.”
The key challenge is usually that while a person may decide that he wants to improve himself, he may encounter difficulties if the other collective systems that influence him are not too cooperative. A drug-addict who wishes to go clean will find it almost impossible to do if his own family is dysfunctional and are themselves drug addicts, unless he leaves his home to escape the dysfunctional family system.
While extremely self-motivated individuals can improve themselves on their own without requiring a support group to help them out, such people are extremely rare. Most human beings need other human beings to remind them and point out their faults or achievements. That is also why human beings often need other people to serve as their teachers and mentors, rather than going purely along the “self-taught” route. This too, is why support-groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous often work better than having single individuals try to solve their own alcoholism or addiction problems because people need other people to tell each other what they refuse to see or remind each other or things they may forget or ignore.
It is for this reason that most of the time, for real profound change to happen in an individual’s personal system, a change needs to happen in the collective systems that influence people as well. That means that change is most effective when it is done collectively, hitting not just a single individual’s personal system, but also the sub-community systems, family systems as well as the entire societal system at the very top. That’s because it is easier for people to remind each other of what values they must hold themselves to, what behaviors they must exhibit, as well as praise and reward good behavior or castigate and punish bad behavior, as it is not always practical for a single person to reward or punish himself.
5. Hereditary & Genetic System
People’s behavior tends to be influenced by genetics. Studies on identical twins separated at birth and raised by different families has revealed the extreme similarities in temperament and personality of such twins so that psychologists have confirmed that nature does have a profound influence on a person’s behavioral or personality tendencies.
Unfortunately, there’s not much we can do about our genes. We are what we are born with. All we can do, however, is to try our best to take advantage of whatever good traits our genes have given us, and work as hard as we can to fight against our unfortunately genetically-embedded negative tendencies.
Since I would prefer to delve more on the importance of culture and culture-change, making mention of the genetic level and how the hereditary system influences behavior helps for us to know what our inherent strengths and weaknesses are in order that we may modify our behaviors to take advantage of such strengths and avoid or suppress the weaknesses.
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How the different Systems determine Culture & ultimately Destiny
Now that the different systems have been discussed, it is important to note that only three out of the five systems can easily be altered and modified through human means by way of policy-changes and proper enforcement of said policies. These are the Societal System, the Sub-Community & Family System, and the Personal System. Due to the collective nature of both the Societal System and the Sub-community & Family System, they are best lumped together under the description “Collective System.” Through this, we can see how the systems work in order to change not just human behavior on the individual or collective scale, but also how these can become more embedded to become individual Characters or collective Cultures. Personal Systems clearly induce specific individuals to behave in a particular way through the priorities and value-systems that individuals set for themselves. If they adhere to a particular belief-system or paradigm, they are likely to encourage themselves to behave in a certain way and avoid other types of behavior. A person who personally believes that mediocrity is acceptable and that there is no need to stress himself out by working hard will clearly act it out: he will be mediocre and he will not work hard. Either he coasts along barely passing, or ends up failing in many of his endeavors.
Others who, for instance, may personally adhere to Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic that working hard is a means to “glorify God” and believe strongly that their purpose in life is to “glorify God” have a higher likelihood of working hard and succeeding. In similar fashion, people who adhere to the Confucian Ethic of hard work and self-discipline have been observed by eminent socio-political analyst, author, and CNN host Dr. Fareed Zakaria to exhibit the same success-oriented traits that Max Weber described to be present in the Protestant Ethic. In addition to setting up a personal philosophy or personal belief-system, more disciplined and self-directed people are likely to even set up strict consequences of reward and punishment for themselves, denying certain pleasures unless tasks that they set for themselves are accomplished, and rewarding themselves only when they achieve success. As they continue to follow their own personal system of pursuing certain behaviors and avoiding others and continue to reinforce these through a combination of self-reward versus self-denial, they may cause those behaviors that they continue to do to become habits. With much more repetition, the habits become more ingrained and embedded, becoming part of one’s character. If the character that one develops for himself is one that is more predisposed towards success, then chances are higher that he would become successful. Sadly, it is easier to mold human behavior at the personal level when young and when under the appropriate tutelage of parents. Once grown-up, people oftentimes have habits and personal paradigms that die hard and sometimes, even if they change their paradigms, their habits are so ingrained and their characters so fixed that changing their own characters by themselves is next to impossible. Since it is far easier for human beings to check on others, shaping behavior collectively is actually much easier. Collective systems, like societal systems such as a political system or a system of governance, or a specific educational system developed at the state level, or religious systems propagated within particular religious communities through their church, mosque, synagogue, or temple, as well as systems of family upbringing can mold behavior at a much more sustainable and much higher level of effectiveness. Collective Systems, through the effective balance of consequences, tend to induce behavior more easily because people follow others whom they observe to be “winning” and avoid emulating those whom they observe to be “losing.” In other words, it is not always necessary for a person to be punished in order to discourage undesired behavior or rewarded to encourage good behavior, because in collective contexts, this can be done vicariously. One merely needs to observe that another person whose behavior has been undesirable is promptly punished in order for one to conclude that such behavior must be avoided. Setting up examples of model behavior and praising them as well as presenting examples of unwanted behavior and shaming or punishing them thus tends to work more effectively because of the influence of peer pressure in addition to the actual use of enforcement. As groups of people continue to behave desirably through constant reinforcement, that collective behavior becomes a custom. As that custom and the underlying value behind the custom get more embedded in the group’s collective consciousness, they become a part of the group’s collective Culture. And when a group’s collective Culture causes them to succeed in one or more areas of endeavor, then the collective destiny as determined by that culture is one of Success.
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What behaviors should be emulated vs. avoided?
It is necessary to note that what is considered “desirable” versus “undesirable” behavior often varies across groups. Filipino Society has been described by many foreigners and Filipino academics alike to be extremely anti-Intellectual, so that people who tend to be more intellectual than others either get ostracized or invite jealousy, rather than praise and adulation. There may also be some groups where cheating is tolerated and worse, tolerating or even assisting in cheating is seen as a sign of camaraderie. In such cases, the peer pressure system works so that the one who does not cheat nor allows others to cheat is deemed an outcast. (And this is clearly an example where the peer pressure undermines the competitiveness of the group) How then do we determine what types of behavior should be considered desirable or undesirable? Montesquieu did mention that colder countries do tend to produce more frank and honest people. Why is frankness and honesty more likely to develop in colder areas?
Here’s the answer: The Natural Environment as well as the Climate are tyrannical, unforgiving, and inflexible task masters. They set definite deadlines which cannot be stretched. A community of people living in the cold temperate zone have no choice but to be honest with each other regarding task assignments or simple things like food supply levels. If the leader asks one of the members of the community to handle the supplies of food, any dishonesty on the part of the member will translate into suffering or death for one or more members of the community. Worst case, dishonesty results in the death of the entire community, including the dishonest member. If a community leader assigns a member to start planting crops on a particular day, if that member procrastinates and doesn’t start planting on the day he’s told to, he can’t fudge and cover it up by saying “yes” when asked “have you started planting the crops I told you to plant?” He has no choice but to be honest because dishonesty will result in the entire community’s suffering. Transparency, honesty, integrity, punctuality, frankness, and self-discipline are oftentimes naturally-developed in temperate zones because of Winter. If you are late in planting by a day or two and are at least honest about the lapse, crisis may still be easily averted by immediate corrective action. But doing cover-ups and making excuses, on the other hand, results in pain, suffering, and perhaps death by the coming Winter. The cold climate can’t be bargained with. It can’t be reasoned with. It is a ruthless taskmaster. This largely explains the difference in timeliness and punctuality as well as openness, frankness, and honesty, and self-discipline that contrasts cultures from colder versus warmer climates. We should definitely rank countries based on all the competitive indices available, including GDP per capita, Human Development, lower incidences of corruption, etc and take a good look at the kinds of traits and behaviors that are exhibited by their people. The problem with the Philippines is that as a tropical country, our climate and general environment are rather tolerant of mediocrity. Failure does not necessarily result in annihilation, unlike in countries with much harsher, colder climates. Our climate and environment unfortunately do not give us direct feedback on whether what we do or do not do is wrong.
However, we can see just how mediocre the Philippines is whenever we compare ourselves against other countries in terms of per-capita economic output, our level of human development, and even simply at how we are regarded by other people around the world. The way forward, therefore, is to emulate the winning traits, winning behaviors, and winning cultural inclinations of the people from the most successful countries in the world. We also need to sift out whatever behaviors some of them may already be exhibiting due to success, as some First World countries whose people used to be extremely hard-working and self-disciplined have, due to their societies’ wealth, comfort, and First World status, have started to become less hard-working and have grown “soft.” We especially need to learn from Singapore, which – though tropical just like us – has adopted a Societal System that seeks to induce Singaporeans and all the people living in Singapore to behave, act, and think competitively and competently like the people from the most advanced countries in the World which are mostly found in temperate climates. Since tropical environments do not by default induce people living in such climates to save, Singapore set up a collective system that would cause people to save: a forced savings scheme (the Central Provident Fund) as well as many other schemes that would actively reward and encourage it. Ultimately, the Philippines needs to set up effective Societal Systems, ranging from an appropriate System of Government, appropriate laws and policies, appropriate rewards and punishments, an appropriate state-prescribed Educational System that increases our overall economic competitiveness, as well setting up other appropriate systems at the societal level that all seek to induce Filipinos to collectively stop behaving like children and force us to mature and learn to be more responsible. Moreover, these societal systems must be set up to further encourage sub-communities (like churches, religious groups, etc) and families to further improve their sub-community systems and family systems to cause Filipinos to get our collective acts together. Simply telling people to “shape up” will not work. Systems must explicitly be set up in order to actively enforce behavioral and cultural reform (or overhaul) at the collective level. Obviously, this effort of reforming the Filipino should start at the highest level if this is going to be a wide-scale collective effort. That highest level is at the System of Government as it is at this highest societal level from which everything else emanates: far-reaching policies on education, economic management, finance, commerce, environmental management, infrastructure, law enforcement, etc are all dependent on the Government.
If the System of Government continues to allow unqualified and incompetent people to reach the top and call the shots simply because the system is set up to favor popularity, name-recall, winnability, and celebrity status, then we can all expect that the quality of everything else will suffer. But if a better system of government were set up so that only the best, most analytical, most brilliant, most capable minds, most competent, most hard-working, and most action-oriented are able to emerge on top, then such a system of government would also induce the entire populace to behave accordingly: a competent, intelligent, and hardworking leader assigns only other competent, intelligent, and hardworking people to work in his team. Because of such a system of meritocracy, people will aspire to be the best, most brilliant, and most capable in order to achieve success. It is therefore important for everyone to note that the quest to reform and improve Filipino Behavior and Culture requires reforming the System of Government. To reject efforts and calls to reform the system of government by stating that culture must first be reformed is to miss the point: Massive cultural reform requires system reform, and the highest level for implementing this lies in reforming the System of Government.
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System of Government must be appropriate to the Culture & Environment
Lee Kuan Yew commented on how the Philippines was erroneously approaching its developmental problems by blindly and mindlessly adopting wholesale a concept of governance which Montesquieu himself wrote to be more suited to cold countries (where the people are more likely to be more self-disciplined and more calm and less rambunctious) than to warm countries, in his book “From Third World to First”, he wrote:
“At dinner, Mrs. Aquino seated the chairman of the constitutional commission, Chief Justice Cecilia Muñoz-Palma, next to me. I asked the learned lady what lessons her commission had learned from the experience of the last 40 years since independence in 1946 would guide her in drafting the constitution. She answered without hesitation,“We will not have any reservations or limitations on our democracy. We must make sure that no dictator can ever emerge to subvert the constitution.”
One of the main points that most Filipino leaders and ordinary citizens missed (and still continue to miss!) is the fact that the US Presidential System and its Paradigm of revolving around “Freedom and Liberty” was originally designed with the rugged, self-disciplined, self-directed, self-motivated, independent-minded immigrant (or son of immigrants), and predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxon (therefore “Northern European”) Frontiersman who had rebelled against his former mother country of Britain clearly in mind. It was a system that had been designed not for the predominantly Catholic, supposed to be docile & obedient, Hispanic-influenced indigenous and non-immigrant Austronesian that is the Filipino. This problem is analogous to having a short Filipino boy riding a mountain bike that was custom-built for a huge 6 ft 7 inch tall white American adult. (This is a point that journalist and historian Stanley Karnow often repeats in his book “In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines.”) Alas, as Filipinos were far too enamored by the form of the American System, little real thinking was put into analyzing the substance of how to best adopt a system suited to the Philippines. Instead of studying the systems of other predominantly Catholic countries as the drafters of the Malolos Constitution had done (where they patterned it after the Constitution of Spain and several other predominantly Catholic countries, thus adopting a Spanish-style Parliamentary form of Government), the guiding principle for designing the 1987 system of government was for the Philippine System to “out-do”, “out-democratize”, or “out-Americanize” the United States of America.
(Digression: Incidentally, the structure of the modern-day Italian system closely resembles the proposed form of government prescribed by the Malolos Constitution. The Head of State of the First Philippine Republic was the largely ceremonial “Presidente de la República.” In Italy, their ceremonial Head of State is the “Presidente della Repubblica.” The more actively-governing prime minister of the Malolos Republic’s title in Spanish was “Presidente del Consejo de Ministros.” In present-day Italy, the Italian prime minister’s title is “Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri.”)
Instead of making use of an Electoral College through which the USA enforces the “republican ideals” of representative government which the majority of the US Founding Fathers preferred as opposed to Thomas Jefferson’s deviant ideals of “direct democracy”, the Philippine Presidential System of 1987 became one which prescribed nationwide voting-at-large for the President, separate from the Vice-President, as well as Senators. Had Montesquieu been alive today, he would be cursing at Filipinos for the blasphemy which we had decided upon in 1987, which many Filipinos – including some people who should know better – have continually refused to correct. As the good Baron would have predicted, funny little surprises did occur. Thanks to the stubborn “Democratism” that Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ and majority of his fellow members of the 1986 Constitutional Commission had insisted upon, the presidential elections of 1992 turned out to be a near-disaster at the Presidential level, as they forgot to insert a provision requiring a run-off election which would ideally pit the top two candidates from the first round in case the electoral contest with more than 2 candidates did not yield a majority winner. The president who emerged, Pres. Fidel V. Ramos, won only 23.58% of the entire vote, while his closest opponent, Miriam Defensor-Santiago got 19.72%. There were a total of 7 major candidates, and the emerging winner had less than 25% of the entire vote. In another country like France, Mrs. Santiago and Mr. Ramos would have been forced to slug it out in a second round, thereby forcing the emergence of a president with Majority Mandate, as all the other supporters of the remaining candidates would have had to choose between the top two. Why had they not even seen something as simple as this when so many other countries in Latin America or France that have multi-party Presidential systems featured run-off second rounds? Moreover, why had they not learned from the USA which had at least fused the selection of President and Vice-President, so that ballots do not feature separate individual candidacies, and instead force voters to choose a tandem? In other words, in the USA, you cannot mix and match. You either vote for Obama-Biden or McCain-Palin. You cannot choose Obama-Palin because US ballots feature tandem-pairs. On the Vice-Presidential level, it was a real disaster. Competent candidates like the late former Chief Justice Marcelo Fernan or former Cebu Governor Lito Osmeña were electorally no match for veteran action star and “heart-throb” Joseph Estrada. Moreover, at the Senatorial level which was a nationwide contest just like the Presidential and Vice-Presidential races, the top scorer was none other than Eat Bulaga host and slapstick comedy actor Vicente “Tito” Sotto III. The “funny little surprises” were all too easy to spot.
Fr. Bernas, SJ and the people who designed the 1987 Constitution unfortunately did not take into consideration the happy-go-lucky, flippant, frivolous, childish, undisciplined, rambunctious, personality-oriented, popularity-centric and what Montesquieu would have called “warm-climate” tendencies of Filipinos. They blindly and mindlessly assumed that if the Philippines adopted the Freedom-and-Liberty paradigm that was originally designed for the predominantly Protestant Anglo-Saxon and Northern European immigrants (from cold countries!) who had rebelled against Britain, then the Philippines would automatically enjoy the same prosperity and success that was present in the USA. By further tweaking it in order to “out-democratize” the USA and thus “be more American than the Americans”, Bernas and his companions sealed the fate of the Philippines as a chaotic, unstable, coup-prone, rambunctious and anarchic failed state. These people had failed to analyze the fact that the higher level of education and political consciousness of Americans in looking more at issues and not mere personalities, the superior economic performance of the American economy – thus enabling Americans to more easily live fulfilling lives, as well as its specific cultural context allowed the American Presidential System – though obviously containing many flaws – to work adequately for Americans. In fact, these people simply failed to realize that certain key features of the American system such as the use of the Electoral College as well as the practice of both main parties (Republicans and Democrats) to practice strict party discipline through intra-party caucuses and primaries prevented the same problems that are present in the Philippines from emerging in the USA. Moreover, the leaders who do emerge from the US presidential elections have a minimum level of qualifications and competence and American voters often choose on the basis of relevant issues such as platform and programs of government. In the Philippines, on the other hand, presidential elections are purely popularity and name-recall contests so that the emerging winners are not necessarily the most suitable candidates for the job of leading the country. As early as the 1990’s, fearless crusaders like Mrs. Carmen Pedrosa, Dr. Pepe Abueva, and even Butch Abad were already mentioning that the 1987 Constitution was inherently flawed and its corresponding presidential system of government prone to gridlock, prone to higher levels of corruption, and much slower to get things done. Still, blindness, stubbornness, mindlessness, emotionalism, small-mindedness, irrationality, and the refusal to do the appropriate research and analysis continued to prevent the much needed changes from happening as uninformed members of media, politicians who did not care to study and analyze issues carefully, as well as many uninformed members of the public chose to reject what was an honest call for reforms. They misguidedly (and some, maliciously) kept branding the call for reforms as an underhanded means to cause the incumbent to stay in power.
For the longest time, it was almost as if Fr. Bernas and his colleagues – through their insistence on using an “extra-democratized” form of the American Presidential System (originally designed for a predominantly Protestant country with a predominantly Northern European-descended population in a temperate climate) – had been forcing Filipinos to wear fur coats originally designed for use during cold Minnesota winters in the sweltering heat and humidity of the Philippines. Bernas and company unfortunately took the text of the American System, but not the full American context. Talk about inappropriate. The only real hope for the Philippines is for Filipinos to realize that we unfortunately do not belong to the same context as the Americans, and to use the “text” and system of government that was designed for a people with a different historical context, different cultural inclinations, a very different personality and work ethic, and a different level of economic and intellectual development is totally disastrous. By adopting a form of government and system of governance that is much more flexible and appropriate to the Philippine context, Filipinos will find that self-government need not be too much of a burden. Should we really continue to use a system that does not work for us? It’s high time we made the change.
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Conclusion & Recommendations:
This rather lengthy “quasi-dissertation” has clearly covered many points and has sought to carefully explain, beyond reasonable doubt, the causal relationship between system and culture. It is thus important to present a few solid feasible recommendations to the readers at the various levels of fixable systems involved: Societal System:
There is no doubt that Constitutional Reform must be pursued in order to set up a more flexible, stable, accountable, platform-centric, and supremely more appropriate system that would support a more meritocratic framework of allowing the more competent and deserving members of society to rise to the top of the leadership hierarchy. Instead of promoting pure popularity and winnability, shifting to a parliamentary system which better promotes platforms, programs, competence, intelligence, and achievement as opposed to the winnability-focus found in the flawed Philippine presidential system will send an extremely strong signal to the entire Filipino populace that the country’s priorities have changed and improved and people will respond accordingly through the appropriate behavior.
It is also necessary that in choosing the model of such system, care is taken to ensure that the model of governance adopted is one which is more likely to be consistent and cognizant of the cultural context of the Filipino People. An extremely flawed and distorted version of the American-style Presidential System has continually been tried and it has clearly failed Filipinos. It is high time to reject it and replace it with something better and more appropriate to our context.
Moreover, at the societal system, the leadership structure – once such system reform takes place -should definitely seek to set up a system of education that molds Filipinos to become highly-disciplined, focused, hardworking, analytical, studious, logical, rational, highly-informed, inquisitive, and intellectually-precocious. Perhaps a lax and liberal atmosphere patterned after the mainstream liberal American educational system may not be the best one given that the Philippine tropical environment is not conducive to molding a highly-competitive citizenry. Numerous European countries (despite being temperate and cold) and Asian countries (take a good look at the Chinese, Taiwanese, Japanese, Korean, and Singaporean educational systems!) have systems that are highly competitive and disciplinarian, which is then reflected in their superior international academic rankings.
At every level and every area in society, the government should strongly promote merit-based competition. Even “Conditional Cash Transfers” should not end up like simple dole-outs to beggars and instead should best be implemented with competitive requirements such as, perhaps, turning the CCT into an incentive scheme for poor families to promote scholastic excellence among their children: only families who produce honor students among their children are eligible to receive CCT’s. In fact, an even better scheme might involve giving much higher CCT allotments to families whose children graduate as class valedictorian, salutatorian, honorable places, and other special graduation distinctions.
In short, government should use every single opportunity to promote excellence in any given field as a prerequisite to receiving any “favors” orfinancial assistance. A society that creates such a system where “there is no such thing as a free lunch” can easily find itself almost instantly changing the priorities and cultural preferences of the people. Through such a major shift in philosophy and practice, mendicancy will automatically get drastically reduced and everyone will learn to recognize the value of everything.
Sub-Community & Family System:
Small communities like church groups, parishes, Islamic Majlis councils, civic groups, community clubs, village associations, barangay groups, and the like need to organize themselves around actively motivating their members and the families that comprise them to become successful and competent members of the wider society.
(I also emphasize greatly that the Catholic Bishops’ Conference should definitely shift its attention away from their losing stance on the Responsible Parenthood Bill, formerly known as the RH Bill – which unfortunately erodes the CBCP’s support base and credibility – and instead focus more on denouncing the go-go dancer phenomenon found in noontime and primetime TV variety shows which invariably promote prostitution as a “viable occupation.” That is the greater social cancer that afflicts the Philippines.)
Singapore has successfully made use of this paradigm of organizing the various ethnic groups’ associations, clan associations, old-country home-town groups, religious groups (church, mosque, temple, gurdwara, etc), small political constituencies, town halls, and more that comprise Singapore in order to promote policies that lead towards the direction of excellence and real economic and societal progress. These initiatives range from simple educational-support, actively giving due public praise and recognition to scholastic, intellectual, musical, athletic, and other achievements to students who excel, organizing review-groups, as well as providing tutorial and assistance to those encountering difficulty. Awards are even given at these small-community levels to parents whose children excel in school, thus giving incentives for parents to ensure that their children study hard. Moreover, adult members of communities themselves receive recognition for their own career excellence.
Because of the strong culture of meritocracy and achievement fostered at the wider societal system through the Government’s active promotion of excellence which permeates down to the Sub-community system via the small community groups, Singapore’s family systems are likewise geared towards excellence. Parents from all ethnic and religious communities actively discipline and encourage their own children to study hard, excel in whatever they do, and cultivate their talents in different fields of endeavor.
“We have focused on basics in Singapore. We used the family to push economic growth, factoring the ambitions of a person and his family into our planning. We have tried, for example, to improve the lot of children through education.
The government can create a setting in which people can live happily and succeed and express themselves, but finally it is what people do with their lives that determines economic success or failure. Again, we were fortunate we had this cultural backdrop, the belief in thrift, hard work, filial piety and loyalty in the extended family, and, most of all, the respect for scholarship and learning.”
Truth be told, the collective solidarity that exists within the traditional setting of the Filipino family is a good starting point which connects us with our Asian neighbors as well as our related Mediterranean (Latin/Hispanic) adoptive siblings and cousins.
Granted, thrift might not be a strong point of some Filipino families – not yet at least, but filial piety, loyalty in the extended family? These are intrinsic values in Filipino Culture just as much as they are among the Chinese, Malays, and Indians of Singapore. If enlightened Filipino leaders are able to properly harness the natural family-orientation of Filipinos in order to bring about much needed reforms in society the same way Singapore did, there is no reason that the Philippines cannot achieve similar results. (Now that also requires that the political system allows competent and enlightened Filipino leaders to emerge at the top in the first place, which is why “system of government” is important!)
Unfortunately, the Filipino Family System cannot be improved unless parents are in the Philippines together with their children. If one or two parents are forced to work abroad because they are unable to find decent-paying local job opportunities, the Family System weakens and the children suffer. Instead of sending Filipinos to work in foreign companies in foreign countries as OFW’s, causing them to be unable to provide effective parental guidance to their children, and often indulging them by sending undeserved gifts in order to make up for their absence, we need to bring the foreign companies to the Philippines to give local jobs to locally-based Filipinos.
Therefore, part and parcel of the need to improve the Family System is to bring about Constitutional Reform with the ultimate aim of creating massive local employment opportunities by removing the misguided protectionist provisions which have discouraged foreign investors from creating jobs for Filipinos.
Thanks to the emphasis on excellence and meritocracy at all wider collective spheres, people will have no choice but to adopt the emphasis on excellence and meritocracy as part of their own personal systems and philosophies. Under such a paradigm, sloppiness and laziness will cause them to become the outcasts.
Currently, Filipino society is unfortunately wired in such a way so that people who wish to excel need to have extremely strong personal systems with “deviant” tendencies or strong personalities who do not care about what others think of them in order to defy the general tendency of Philippine society towards laxity, mediocrity, moral turpitude, and anti-intellectualism. The strong crab-mentality and “pakikisama” tendency causes many Filipinos, especially many Filipino males, to merely seek to fit in with the mediocre crowd rather than excel and stand-out due to the risk of ostracism. This peer pressure culture of pakikisama in the Philippine context of the urban & rural poor may even be such that young little girls who are exposed to the sexually-suggestive music of Lito Camo and the sexually-explicit gyrating dance-moves of the Sexbomb Dancers are forced to fit in with the rest of their young peers and join in the dancing or risk ostracism. Those young little girls who know better not to join in such dancing end up becoming social outcasts among the peers they grow up with within their communities.
This problem of pakikisama and peer pressure towards all the wrong things is unfortunately why many of Philippine Society’s most competent and most excellent members are often forced to put up façades of ordinariness just to blend in with the wider crowd. It’s either that, or those who really do excel in certain fields that are not considered “mainstream” start out as deviants in one way or another, not caring about how others see them.
As it is, focusing on the personal system as a means to achieve societal change is important. But personal systems of different individuals often respond to stimuli formed within the collective context of their own families, communities, and the wider society as determined by those at the top of it. If the collective systems in the wider context of Philippine society continue to promote mediocrity and incompetence, then people whose personal systems incline towards achievement and excellence risk social alienation.
How can we create a successful society if being excellent and successful means risking social alienation?
How can we create an intellectually-precocious society if being intellectually-precocious is seen as weird?
How can we create a meritocratic and hard-working society if our systems reward popularity, not merit?
It is for this reason that reforming all the Collective Systems at the Societal, Sub-Community, and Family level are extremely important. The rewards or punishments provided at the collective levels, no doubt influence or even determine the kind of Personal Systems that most individuals maintain. Ultimately, we must realize that if our aim is to come up with a society that is competent and excellence-based – one that can get out of our unfortunate failed state of Third Worldism and transform ourselves into a prosperous and well-run society, then we cannot simply hope to change the Philippines one Filipino at a time. It has been proven that other societies can leapfrog their mediocrities and states of economic stagnation to change their societies collectivelythrough effective top-down reform caused through the pursuit of correct and appropriate government policies that permeate downwards to other societal levels, smaller communities, down to families, and down to the individual personal level. Do we really want to improve our culture collectively so that instead of mediocrity, we all fight for excellence and a better life? If yes, then that entails changing our collective culture, not just our individual characters, changing our collective customs, not just our individual habits, and ultimately changing our behavior, both collective & individual. Luckily, we now know how all that can be done:
To change our collective culture, we must change all our systems.
Editor’s note: While it is true that this is an old article from June 1994, the author William McGurn’s analysis is so spot-on and remains extremely relevant today such that this article seems as if it was written just yesterday. If anything, it is worth noting that the Philippine situation is even far worse now (some 20 years after this article was written) so that whatever the author wrote in 1994 has become even worse in terms of degree. That this article was written in 1994 does not diminish the Truth that this article speaks.
The human costs of protectionism
Teresa Concepcion had high hopes for her future.
Although her father was only a farmer with a grade-school education, things were looking bright for the new generation of Filipinos. By the time Teresa (not her real name) was born, the country had risen from the ashes of World War II to achieve not only independence and a working democracy but the second-highest standard of living in the Far East after Japan’s. In 1970 she entered a local university. Four years later, degree in hand, she took a job as a social worker supervising day-care centers. That’s when her dreams began to dissolve.
Teresa had expected only a modest salary. Upon entering the working world, however, she was stunned to find out exactly how low wages were, not only in her profession but throughout the Philippines. Her paycheck brought in barely $40 a month. By now she was married and had given birth to the first of three sons. Her husband, a surveyor’s assistant with the Bureau of Land and Natural Resources, made no more than she did. Even such basics as clothing and baby food became more than they could afford. And so, after eight years of incessant financial struggling, Teresa and her husband made a critical decision.
In the summer of 1983, she hugged her husband and three boys–ages 7, 5, and 3–and, with money borrowed from her in-laws, boarded a plane bound for Hong Kong at Manila Airport. At age 33, she was leaving her family behind to begin a completely new career: as a maid.
Teresa was not alone. Some 105,000 Filipinas labor in Hong Kong as amahs, or maids. Almost a decade after the People’s Power revolution that toppled Ferdinand Marcos, the plight of these women remains a standing indictment of the Philippine government’s staunchly protectionist economic policies. Like Teresa, the amahs are for the most part smart, relatively well-educated women who found the door of opportunity slammed shut at home. They have college degrees in disciplines ranging from accounting to education, yet they find themselves cooking meals and scrubbing floors for Hong Kong shop clerks and secretaries. Like Teresa, many of them are mothers who are now raising other people’s children while their own grow up without them. Underscoring their predicament is a cruel irony: A generation ago, Filipino families imported Chinese maids.
Today the situation has reached crisis proportions. Within East Asia, disparities in prosperity have led to huge labor outflows, mostly from poorer countries such as the Philippines to richer ones such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and Korea. The maids are only the legal tip of a Filipino iceberg that includes such diverse occupations as nightclub dancers, construction workers, shop clerks, and mechanics. Their growing numbers and negative image have become sensitive issues both at home and abroad. When Teresa first arrived in Hong Kong 10 years ago, there were only 24,800 Filipina amahs at work; now there are more than four times that many, and locals complain that the women occupy the city center on Sundays, their one day off.
In the Philippines, the debased condition of these women has led to legislation calling for an end to the Overseas Worker Program. In 1993, Philippine public opinion was outraged by the death of a Filipina nightclub hostess in Japan whom Japanese authorities said died from hepatitis but whose family claimed she had been beaten. Filipinos are also upset by the virtual identification of domestic with Filipina throughout the region.
The current president, Fidel Ramos, has vowed to reverse some of the longstanding policies that have sent so many Filipinos abroad–a promise that the Philippine people have heard many times before. Ramos’s biggest obstacle is a reluctance among the Philippine establishment to admit that its self-perpetuating economic policies are largely responsible for the country’s descent into poverty.
Over the years, Philippine leaders have ascribed their abysmal economic failure to any number of root causes, including their colonial heritage, Marcos-era greed, and a series of natural disasters. The truth, however, is that the country’s poverty is no accident and the quandary in which Filipina maids find themselves owes itself almost directly to the most pernicious of economic sins: protectionism. For the past 40 years, under the guise of ensuring the country’s economic sovereignty, successive Philippine governments have enacted laws that have discouraged foreign investment, concentrated wealth in fewer and fewer hands, and diminished the standard of living for the average Filipino to the point where less than 50 percent of the country earns a subsistence wage.
Nowhere is this clearer than in a comparison between the Philippines and Hong Kong, just a two-hour flight from Manila and the destination of so many Filipino laborers desperate for work. Just as the Philippines owes its current status as “the sick man of Asia” to longstanding protectionist policies, Hong Kong owes its stupendous wealth today to an ongoing commitment to open markets and a hands-off approach to business.For the past decade, Hong Kong has boasted an unemployment rate of under 2 percent, and its residents purchase more each year than the Japanese, other Asians, or Europeans. In 1993, Hong Kong’s per-capita income even surpassed that of its colonial protector, Great Britain.
But Hong Kong was no more destined to be wealthy than the Philippines was destined to be poor. If anything, it was a prime candidate for the sort of economic anemia that afflicts the Philippines. Lord Palmerston’s remark about Hong Kong upon its 1842 acquisition by the British–he called it “a barren island with hardly a house upon it”–was a fair description of its seeming promise, and even today its crowded population is spread over an inhospitable terrain that makes it utterly dependent on its neighbors even for basic resources such as water.
If Hong Kong’s natural obstacles to wealth were considerable, the man-made ones were downright staggering. No sooner had the colony begun to recover from the Japanese occupation of World War II than the Communist takeover of the mainland sent hundreds of thousands of desperate refugees to its shores. A few years later, a United Nations-imposed boycott of China saw Hong Kong lose its largest market overnight. Back in the 1950s and ’60s, the experts were not talking about the “Hong Kong miracle.” Back then, they were wondering if Hong Kong would survive.
Hong Kong withstood these pressures primarily by remaining open to foreign investment. While the Philippines and other East Asian nations chose to coddle their industries and put their faith in central planning, Hong Kong forced all its industries to compete with the rest of the world on their own merits and on a completely equal basis. And now, when countries such as South Korea are busy trying to pare down huge bureaucracies spawned by protectionism, Hong Kong is free to do productive business. There are no foreign exchange controls, and foreign companies are free to take their profits out if they choose. Taxes are stable and minimal, with none on capital gains and a flat tax on corporate profits. As Milton Friedman once quipped, “To see how the free market really works, Hong Kong is the place to go.”
This prosperity and freedom are largely the legacy of Hong Kong’s legendary financial secretary, John James Cowperthwaite. During the 1960s, Hong Kong was said to be governed “by the gospel of Adam Smith as expounded by his disciple John James Cowperthwaite.” Arriving in the colony as acadet officer in the civil service just three months after the Japanese surrender and charged with getting the economy back on its feet, Cowperthwaite immediately noted the degree to which Hong Kong’s resilient economy had already recovered without any government help. Cowperthwaite’s strength was that, more than most, he understood that even the most brilliant planner was no match for the collective genius of the market.
Whether it was water–which in those days was always in short supply–or food or energy, Cowperthwaite insisted that the best way around the problem was to allow free pricing among suppliers and to keep the doors open to anyone who wanted to enter. He did his part by keeping taxes low and refusing to spend more than he took in. “I see no reason,” he once said to a request for government to finance lower water rates, “why someone who is content with a cold shower should subsidize someone who is able to luxuriate in a deep hot bath.” Cowperthwaite, in fact, was so distrustful of intervention in the economy that he refused to allow the government to keep statistics on gross national product–on the grounds that if the government kept the statistics they would only misuse them.
This strategy was not simply do-nothingism. At the same time the government was keeping taxes low and spending under control, it embarked on a public housing scheme that would eventually shelter more than half the population. The difference was that Cowperthwaite could afford to do this since he maintained fiscal restraint and resisted calls to subsidize Hong Kong industry or give them any protection.
“Had Cowperthwaite taken the advice or yielded to all those who wanted more government intervention,” says Richard Wong of the Hong Kong Center for Economic Research, “Hong Kong would not have prospered. By keeping Hong Kong open he ensured that it would remain competitive.”
Certainly history has vindicated Cowperthwaite’s judgment. During the 10 years between 1961 and 1971 that Cowperthwaite was Hong Kong’s financial secretary, income grew faster there than anywhere else in Asia. The policy of keeping the door open to imports also fueled an export boom–at a phenomenal average annual rate of 13.8 percent over these years. Real wages increased by more than 50 percent over this period and remain roughly twice those of both Korea and Taiwan.
Hong Kong’s disavowal of protectionism extends to the lack of anti-dumping laws that are used even in the United States to keep competitors out. “Any economist will tell you that when you keep foreign business out you simply hurt your own people,” says Hong Kong treasury secretary and former trade negotiator, Donald Tsang. “All you are doing is cutting your nose off to spite your face. We keep our economy open because it is in our self-interest.”
(Note: Sir Donald “Bow-tie” Tsang went on to be Hong Kong Chief Executive at the time when Noynoy Aquino committed terrible embarrassing diplomatic blunders during the HK Tourist Bus Hostage Crisis.)
If Hong Kong owes its impressive wealth to a conscious political decision not to micro-manage the economy, the Philippines’ pervasive poverty represents the negative version of the same argument. There, a series of conscious economic choices made over the past four decades–especially a hostile attitude toward foreign investors–has allowed local monopolies to flourish at the expense of both workers and consumers.
Some have called it “crony capitalism.” But the preferences enjoyed under this arrangement have little in common with capitalism, and the cronies would lose their protected empires tomorrow if the state weren’t propping them up. The ruling elite in the Philippines has taken a country with a well-educated English-speaking work force and an enviable location smack dab in the midst of the world’s fastest growing market and turned it into an economic basket case.
This took some doing. Providence had bequeathed the Philippines many advantages, including an almost inexhaustible supply of natural resources: gold, iron ore, copper, cement, salt, granite, marble. Its soil was rich and its produce bountiful, including rice, sugar, coconuts, tobacco, bananas, and avocados. In the late 1950s and early ’60s, it was second in Asia only to Japan, and everyone assumed that its future would be as bountiful as its present.
As the World Bank put it in an upbeat report, “By comparison with most underdeveloped countries, the basic economic position of the Philippines is favorable…. |Apart from its~ generous endowment of material resources and high level of literacy, other favorable factors are the growth of the labor force, the availability of managerial and technical skills, the high level of savings and investment, rather good prospects for most of the Philippines exports, and considerable possibilities for import substitution.” The Philippines was considered so successful, in fact, that in the ’60s Manila was sending specialists to Korea to advise them on their development.
But the Philippines never realized its potential. Instead opening the door to foreign investors with the money and the wherewithal to make something of its resources, the Philippines wrapped itself in the cloak of protectionism. Under the guise of nationalism–the country had achieved independence in 1946–the Philippines passed a series of laws limiting what they called “alien” (foreign) involvement in the economy. It started with a limit imposed on alien-owned market stalls in Manila and soon covered everything from access to credit to quotas on imports. By the end of the ’50s, this had evolved into a full-fledged ideology called “Filipino First” that would figure prominently in the presidential elections for years to come.
In 1960, Philippine President Garcia summed up the Filipino First policy as merely “an honest-to-goodness effort of the Filipino people to be master of their own economic household.” His secretary for commerce and industry, Manuel Lim, likewise described the policy as simply an effort to ensure that Filipinos get some share of the benefits flowing to foreign investors. Of course, it was slightly more than this. Although both Garcia and Lim went out of their way to say the Filipino First policy would be fair to outsiders, they both saw foreign involvement in the economy as a “threat” and a cause for alarm. Although the policy was later relaxed somewhat, the emphasis remained on ensuring Philippine “supremacy.”
“It’s the classic mistake for developing countries,” says Richard Wong. “Despite all the populist rhetoric, whenever you make it more difficult for foreigners, all you are doing is taking money from the public and putting it into the hands of the vested interests.”
In the Philippines, protectionism was intertwined with racism. Many of the local entrepreneurs belonged to the country’s sizable Chinese minority, and many of the government regulations attempted to force them from their economic niches. Two of the most infamous regulated participation in retail selling and the corn and rice industries. In June 1954, President Ramon Magsaysay signed “An Act to Regulate the Retal Business,” which was followed by a 1964 measure that tightened the screws even more. The gist of the regulations was that no industry or store could sell directly to the public unless it was Filipino owned; otherwise the business had to sell to a Filipino first. The object was to make sure that Filipinos got a piece of the action on every sale. But in practice, the regulations simply created a middleman who raised the final cost to the consumer. The almost-immediate effects included a precipitous drop in the number of newly registered retail businesses and a sharp rise in general prices.
Much the same thing happened in 1961, when the Philippines passed another protectionist act, this one “Limiting the Right to Engage in the Rice and Corn Industry to Citizens of the Philippines.” Like the retail business law, this one took aim at the Chinese merchant population by decreeing that only Filipinos would be allowed to participate in rice and corn production. This was a big decision, because at the time rice was both the chief staple of Filipinos’ diet and a significant commercial export. In 1960 there had been 6,100 foreigners registered in the rice and corn business, but by the summer of 1962 the executive director of the Rice and Corn Board, E. V. Mendoza, reported that the program had “worked” in running foreigners out.
“Success,” however, was curiously defined. Apart from encouraging fraud–some foreigners simply put their companies in the names of their Philippine wives or friends–it had a disastrous effect on production and prices. Mendoza was correct in noting that by year’s end most of the rice and corn business was forced out of foreign hands. But the price paid by the population for that change was a severe rice shortage. The Philippines went from a country that exported rice to one that imported it, a situation that did not change until much later in the decade when scientific advances introduced a new, “miracle” rice capable of tremendous new yields.
The government’s continuing support of protectionist policies in the face of such abject failures is the reason why Max Soliven, editor of The Philippine Star and the country’s most popular columnist, blasts the Filipino First philosophy as “the pirate flag of convenience for vested interests.”
“Every big foreign investment project,” says Soliven, “is slandered as ‘a scam’ or labeled ‘imperialist exploitation,’ and thus those two cabals of conspiracy, the Old Rich and the nouveau riche, manage to fight off and repel ‘the enemy.'” Filipino First, says Soliven, should really be called “Filipino Last and Always.”
As far back as the early 1960s there were voices raised in warning. In 1962 the president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce, Alfonso Catalang, went on television to say that Filipino First was shooting the country in the foot. My magazine, the Far Eastern Economic Review, warned that “Filipino politicians seem to favor securing foreign loans instead of inviting foreign capital to come in.” The direct result of such choices were the bloated Philippine monopolies that still stand before us today, protected from foreign competition and unresponsive to the needs of the country.
Although myriad regulations restrict foreigners doing business in the Philippines–foreign banks, for example, have not been permitted to open new branches since 1948–the most effective way of keeping them out has been a law limiting the amount any foreigner can own in a business to 40 percent. At the start of his reign, President Marcos made some moves to open up the economy, but instead of busting the monopolies he merely put his own buddies in charge of them. Nor did things improve with the People Power revolution of Cory Aquino. By 1991 foreign investment in the Philippines totaled only $783 million–compared to about $5 billion for Thailand and almost $9 billion for Indonesia, which is just about as poor as the Philippines.
In many ways, in fact, Aquino only made the situation worse. The constitution drafted by her associates specifically blocks or severely limits access to vast segments of the economy by outside developers, especially in the area of natural resources. Section 12, for example, requires that the “State shall promote the preferential use of Filipino labor, domestic materials and locally produced goods.” In effect, the revised constitution applies the 40-percent limit to all but a few areas. Filipino First is back with a vengeance.
The reason the 40-percent limit is so debilitating is that as long as votes in a company are pegged to the owner’s share, no foreign investor will have control over his money. This is particularly distressing in a developing country such as the Philippines, where the economic climate is uncertain and the risks are already high. Foreigners are unlikely to invest millions of dollars if they don’t have a say over how the money will be spent.
“If I had to name one thing that has hurt the Philippines more than anything else, it’s this 40-percent limit,” says Peter Wallace, an international business consultant and economist who has lived in Manila for many years. “We had a similar problem in Australia years ago–we were resource rich but cash poor. Much of Australia’s development came about because it opened the door to those who had the money to develop, especially in the mining industry.” In testimony before the Philippine Congress, Wallace pointed out that if the Philippines followed Australia’s lead, the country’s abundant resources would finally start paying some dividends.
The development of natural resources is hardly the only area of the Philippines’ economy affected by the lack of foreign capital. The nation’s infrastructure, for example, remains one of the worst in Asia. President Ramos has recently eased the ongoing power shortage that just last summer was responsible for blackouts of 10 to 12 hours a day. But the shortage never would have occurred had the country opened energy development to foreigners. “Making yourself open to foreign investment does much more than bring in money,” says Wallace. “It brings in badly needed technology. It grows your exports. It creates jobs, and it generally also develops a host of industries that pop up to serve the new investors.”
The Philippines’ nationalism has, in fact, managed to strangle every aspect of economic development. Foreign goods remain a luxury that only the protected rich can hope to afford. Recently Philippine Sen. Blas Ople pointed to a study by the government’s own assistant secretary for trade documenting that no less than 167 signatures were necessary to release an imported car from the Bureau of Customs. Ople had a field day when the customs commissioner proudly announced he had greatly reduced the number of necessary signatures: to 50.
The regulatory choke hold is also responsible for a phone system so abysmal that it is an international embarrassment. In a November 1992 visit to Manila, Singapore’s senior minister, Lee Kuan Yew, publicly spoke out against the Philippine telephone company as “an example of a powerful vested interest … which has had a monopoly for 64 years.” He also cited a standing joke that “98 percent of Filipinos are waiting for a phone and the other 2 percent are waiting for a dial tone.” In fact, fewer than 2 out of 100 Filipinos have phones in this nation of 61 million people, and the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company controls more than 90 percent of the existing 600,000 lines. Their monopoly has been helped along by Supreme Court decisions that shut Eastern Telecommunications out of the market and awarded a contract to PLDT even though its foreign-backed competitor had outbid it by a factor of six.
Comparing the Philippines’ phone system to Hong Kong’s actually provides a thumbnail sketch of how two economic systems produce hugely different results. While the Philippines stagnates with one of the worst phone systems in the world, Hong Kong boasts one of the best: fully digitalized with about 63 phones per 100 population, about double the number of another East Asian powerhouse, South Korea. It is so easy to get a phone in Hong Kong that almost all the colony’s shops have a phone sitting out front that customers can use free. And with new developments in related technology (such as cellular phones) now becoming popular, the government reviewed its telecommunications policy and decided to open up additional networks to increase competition.
Beyond all the theoretical and statistical explanations, however, the painful human costs of the different economic strategies pursued by Hong Kong and the Philippines are dramatically illustrated by the booming growth of domestic helpers in Hong Kong. A generation ago, middle and upper-class Filipinos were likely to have poor Chinese as amahs. Today the situation has flip-flopped. Thousands of desperate Philippine women just like Teresa Concepcion–college educated and with children of their own–are forced by circumstances beyond their control to go abroad and work as domestics. The ones who are lucky go to Hong Kong. Many go to the Middle East or other parts of Asia, where the work is even more demanding and the environment even more difficult.
Despite their relative good fortune, their life in Hong Kong is not an easy one. According to a survey by Asian Labor Update Research, some 40 percent of these maids work 14 to 15 hours a day and 30 percent work 16 to 17 hours a day for a standard monthly wage of $415, much of which is sent back home. If they are “lucky,” as is Teresa, they have an “amah’s room” off the kitchen–a non-air-conditioned eight-foot-by-six-foot cell barely big enough for a twin bed. Less fortunate amahs sleep on a couch or share a room with the younger children of their employers.
Life on the bottom rung of society has its other problems as well. Filipinas often report that the Chinese look down on them and treat them harshly. Indeed, one of the colony’s biggest companies, Hong Kong Land, recently tried to bar them from sitting on its grounds on weekends when they congregate with their friends in the center of town.
Occasionally, their work may even prove fatal. One Filipina, Pascuela Destas, gave her life for her 5-year-old charge by pushing him out of the way of an out-of-control bus. But saving the life of her employers’ son meant that Destas left her own three boys back in the Philippines without abreadwinner.
Although life in Hong Kong may be difficult, the maids agree on one thing: It is better than being in the Philippines. Thirty-eight-year-old Eppie Cruz is typical. Ten years ago she received her B.S. in accounting from the Philippines’ University of the East. After her graduation, she came to Hong Kong to work as a domestic to support her sisters back home. “Of course we would like to stay in the Philippines if the opportunity was there,” says Eppie. “But the jobs are here.”
Eppie is wearing a Giordano blouse, a popular brand in Hong Kong roughly equivalent to the Gap in America. In the Philippines, she says, it would cost three times as much as it does in Hong Kong. The same goes for her Sony Walkman. Back in her tiny room, she has a telephone, an air conditioner, a JVC television, and a host of minor appliances that are standard in Hong Kong but would be regarded as luxuries in the Philippines.
Or consider 49-year-old Cora Alanunay. Cora is the mother of six children–two of whom are with her in Hong Kong, also working as domestics. One son, Ramon, is working in a hospital in Saudi Arabia. She came to Hong Kong shortly after she was widowed and needed work, and like her friends she is impressed by Hong Kong’s commercial openness and the opportunity it breeds. Although Cora makes only a minimal wage in Hong Kong, it’s far more than what another son makes back in the Philippines as a bank executive.
The incentives are as clear as they are heartbreaking. Today Teresa Concepcion’s children are 16, 14, and 12. Since leaving the Philippines nine years ago, she has seen her boys and her husband just once each year for a few weeks’ holiday. Yet she has little choice. Her salary of $520 per month is 13 times what she could hope to make in the Philippines, and each month she mails half of it back home. Like other Filipina exiles in Hong Kong, Teresa stoically accepts the trade-offs: “I constantly remind myself how important it is to send back the money to them. Otherwise I would get depressed thinking about the kind of work I’m forced to do.”
These amahs are not alone. Ever since the Philippines started its Overseas Employment Program in the mid-1970s, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos who would otherwise have stayed at home have gone into exile to provide for their families. They have also provided for their country. Last year, the 4.5 million Filipinos working abroad helped bail out their country’s cash shortages by sending home an estimated $2.5 billion in foreign exchange-more than the revenue from a number of important Philippine industries, including tourism.
Having inherited an economy that so demeans productive workers, President Ramos has moved to open up the banking system and, most recently, has vowed to fulfill promises to sell off state enterprises. But the problems remain formidable–particularly the protectionist constitution that walls off investment in any number of areas and a Filipino First legacy that endures. Perversely enough, at a time when the Philippines ought to be out begging for multinational investment, a major argument in the national legislature against the privatization of firms such as Petron Oil is that they may be bought by foreigners.
Ramos, too, for all his stated intentions to the contrary, is not above playing the old games. Back in 1975, Imelda Marcos erected pretty white fences so that the delegates to the annual IMF/World Bank meeting would not have to be offended by the sight of the very poor they were supposed to serve. Last year on May Day, President Ramos announced plans to close the Smoky Mountain garbage dump–long a favorite of foreign reporters looking for a symbol of the Philippines’ crushing poverty. The thousands of scavengers who eke out an average $3.00 per day picking through Smoky Mountain’s waste for anything they can sell, use, or eat are upset that the government is once again taking away what little livelihood they have. The Philippine poor will be forced to move out of sight, if not out of poverty.
And in Hong Kong, Filipina mothers and daughters continue to pay a devastating social and economic price for the protectionist schemes of their government. Most of these women started out with big dreams; Teresa Concepcion thought that with her college degree she’d have a fulfilling career in the Philippines, not a job scrubbing floors in Hong Kong. Today she just wants to go home. “I’d like to return to the Philippines in two or three years,” she says, “maybe to farm with my husband.” Even if she is lucky enough to do so, it will mean her children will have grown up without her. What kind of protection is that?
After getting in touch with Orion Pérez Dumdum during a Christmas Celebration of the Bagumbayan-VNP (Gordon-Bayani 2010) Party, I studied its 3-point agenda and realized that the changes it has proposed should be implemented.
Of course, every great idea does not come without great opposition; so I’ve been encouraging everyone around me to study the CoRRECT™ Movement, ask questions, debate and take a stand – but more impotantly to always keep an open mind. If this is implemented within our lifetime, we might only mostly see the change in direction but it will be the next generation of Filipinos who will benefit greatly from the results of such a change.
Now, among some of the most common reasons that opponents oppose the CoRRECT™ Movement are “it will never be applicable to us” or “it’s not our culture” or even “it’s not in our character”; I believe that until a new and better system is implemented for us, our culture and character will remain as it is in the status quo. Let me make an analogy on how a system changes a culture and characters using a game that most Filipinos love – basketball.
In 1984, the Chicago Bulls drafted arguably the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan. As a young player, Jordan had already shown his great potential and awesome athleticism, but his team’s rivals (notably the Detroit Pistons) knew that if they stopped Jordan, the Bulls’ could be stopped as well. That was until Phil Jackson took over as coach, a proponent of Tex Winter’s Triangle Offense, changed the system and changed the team’s direction – resulting six championships (two 3-peats).
Most people believe that the Triangle Offense is “just a play”, but it is not – it is a system. It reads and adapts to the defense of the opposing team, its players moves are strategic (with or without the ball), and it distributes the scoring opportunity to everyone in the team.
Some might say that the Bulls have Jordan and it’s not applicable to other teams. But the Kobe Bryant-led Los Angeles Lakes proved them wrong. When Phil Jackson took over and applied the same system, it changed the culture and character of his new team and brought back its dynasty winning 5 more NBA titles.
Some might still say that Jordan and Bryant are Americans, and that the culture and characters are different and “it is not applicable” to other countries, where the situations may be different.
So let’s check out something local – our very own Philippine Basketball Association. In 1986, a young Alaska Team had a difficult time fitting in the league. That was until the arrival of Coach Tim Cone (another proponent of the Triangle Offense) gradually changed the culture of the Alaska team, and led them to a rare Grandslam of 1996.
Sure, some might still say that the Alaska Team has good players, but that would be grossly unfair to other teams who had good (if not great) players of the same era.
Fast-forward to this year, 2011. Coach Tim Cone jumped from Alaska to B-Meg Llamados and brought the Triangle System with him. They had a rocky start, the adjustment period was there, and they initially won only 2 of their 4 games – until they got used to the system, until their culture had changed, until their characters had changed: and by then they’d have won their 8th straight game!
Does this guarantee them a title this year? Most-likely, because no one can really count them out, so they have a good chance. Their main players’ (James Yap, Kirby Raymundo and PJ Simon) opportunity of scoring is shared, even way deeper to the bench.
Truth be told, I was a Jazz fan back in the 90’s, a Mavs fan since Mark Cuban’s ownership, and a Ginebra Fan back in the Jaworski-era; so the Triangle System hurt my teams back then (until the Mavs swept the Lakers last playoffs), but I’ve learned to respect it, and to understand its concept and the way it changes culture, character, playing style, and direction of a basketball team.
A change in the system can change a people’s culture and character. I need not specify what the changes will be if the CoRRECT™ Movement’s Three Point Agenda is applied to our country, and it’s really up to you to study it.
The bottom-line is this: Jordan, Kobe, Johnny A., James Yap and all those great players can be compared to the natural resources of our country, as well as the skills of our countrymen; but why are we trailing behind other countries? Changing the system, applying the CoRRECT™ Movement’s 3-point agenda may not catapult us immediately and instantaneously from being a Third World to a First World country, but if we at least make the proper system changes now, over a period of time, we’ll have a better chance of improving our country.
It worked for them, it can work for us.
Let us study and spread this link to other Filipinos: http://correctphilippines.org/
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Figo Cantos is an IT Systems Professional who has had a lot of exposure to the concept of how systems work. He is also a Red Cross Volunteer and is active with the Bagumbayan Volunteers for a New Philippines which campaigned for Dick Gordon and Bayani Fernando for the May 2010 Elections. Himself hailing from Marikina, he has witnessed the success of Bayani Fernando’s goal-oriented and management-by-objectives “engineering-oriented” system of governance.
He has also witnessed the effectiveness of Dick Gordon’s system (aka “management methodology”) in personally handling the Philippine Red Cross, making it a highly responsive and effective organization for disaster response, rescue operations, and emergency services. As a basketball aficionado, Figo has also observed how different “systems of gameplay” have caused different teams to behave differently on the court, partly determining their chances of winning.
The late Senator Claro M. Recto, president of the 1934 Constitutional Convention which drafted the 1935 charter, describes the Philippine political system this way:
“Our Constitution was frankly an imitation of the American charter. Many of the delegates were products of an American system of education and consequently were obsessed with the sincere belief that Democracy can be defined only in American terms. Necessarily, therefore, the Philippine presidency became a copy of the American presidency, with its vast concentration of powers and only periodical accountability to the people. Like the man in the White House, the man in Malacañang is now safe from immediate responsibility. And like the men on Capitol Hill, the men on Taft and Lepanto (the old Congress) do not have to render accounts for the fixed limits of their terms. A bad President and a bad Congress may not, in Lincoln’s phrase, fool all the people all of the time. But they can make fools of the people – they can make fools of themselves – for at least four years.
Only God and impeachment can remove the President from high office, no matter how incompetent or dangerous he may have proved himself to be in the eyes of the majority of the electorate. He may quarrel with his Congress. Congress may rebel against him and systematically obstruct his administration. But the issue must remain unresolved for the duration of their arbitrary terms. Neither the President nor the Congress may be changed although those two active powers of government may be stifling the Nation in a stubborn and unbreakable deadlock.
Under the Constitution the Presidency is potentially more powerful. I do not believe it an exaggeration to state that the President of the Philippines could easily convert himself into an actual dictator within the framework of the Charter. With his control of local governments and all that it signifies in terms of elections, with huge sums and unlimited sinecures to distribute, with emergency powers to rule by executive decrees as a last resort, he is restrained only by his own conscience from perpetuating himself or his party in power.
I do not recall any considerable discussion in the Constitutional Convention on this ancient and persistent problem of governmental responsibility. I believe we were too deeply under the spell of the American system to give much thought to any alternative. But now that we have presumably been freed by the declaration of our independence… the Filipino people may soberly consider (another) system… to harness the power of government to the will of the people.”
(Note: Recto was commenting on the 1935 System which was better than the 1987 System. What would C.M. Recto say if he were talking about the 1987 System which is a much more degenerated and defective system than the 1935 one?)
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Here are some useful articles on the Parliamentary versus Presidential Systems:
(First published on antipinoy.com on July 7, 2010)
At the time of this writing, millions of people around the world are obsessing about the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa and the noise of the annoying Vuvuzela horn. From every continent, people speaking almost every language, coming from practically every race, creed, and color are excitedly watching the game called “Association Football.” Unfortunately, there’s been relative calm in the Philippines, as hardly anyone, save for a few die-hard soccer fans, actually watched the World Cup closely.
Soccer, (coming from the word “association” in the sport’s full-name “Association Football”), called “Football” by everyone else, is also known as the world’s Beautiful Game. It is one of the most democratic sports ever – as Time Magazine recently described it. Anyone can play and excel in it: Rich or poor, light-skinned or dark-skinned, and most importantly, tall or short. That last one is of utmost importance, considering that we Filipinos, most of whom are not very tall, are crazy about basketball – a sport that obviously favors tall players.
It has caused numerous ceasefires in many conflict zones as Israelis and Palestinians (Soccer is the biggest sport in the Middle East) or Rebel guerrillas and Government troops in continents like Africa or Latin America, often stop fighting just to watch the World Cup or other high-profile soccer matches on TV or listen to live commentaries on radio. During World War I, an informal Truce on Christmas Day in 1914 witnessed one of the most amazing displays of human fraternity as warring sides – British & French versus the Germans came together and played Soccer. After having played the game, made friends, and exchanged names & addresses, the soldiers simply could not shoot at each other once the truce ended, forcing their respective angry generals to send all of them to other fronts to fight against other enemies.
It’s a real shame because while Filipinos were glued to the NBA Finals at about the same time that the World Cup was just about starting, one unfortunate fact continues to be ignored by basketball-crazy Filipinos: We are never going to excel in sports that require height. Unlike most basketball-loving Filipinos, millions of average-height, barely middle-class, or even impoverished Africans and Latin Americans who play and practice soccer can actually dream of one day playing professionally for local or internationally-famous professional teams such as Manchester United (England), Juventus (Italy), Real Madrid (Spain), or Galatasaray (Turkey) – to name a few – and live a life of fame and fortune. These are dreams which are feasible as long as whoever plays and practices the sport has the competence, talent, and commitment, because the game-dynamics of soccer simply does not require height. It needs to be said that soccer legend Diego Maradona of Argentina became a soccer superstar with his very Filipino height of 5 ft 4.
In stark contrast to the meritocratic nature of soccer which does not care much about being born with the genes for height, the fixation that Filipinos have for basketball creates so many shattered dreams. Millions of young Filipinos are raised to love a sport that does not love them back. Many waste inordinate amounts of time practicing the game, wishing that they would be just like Kobe Bryant when they grow up, only to grow to their full height which might be just a few inches taller than Diego Maradona – a height that is just not cut for competitive basketball.
Filipinos even love to watch the NBA play-offs, but even if the Philippines is perhaps the most basketball-crazy country in the World (Americans are more obsessed with American Football and Baseball), countries with much more diversified sporting interests such as Mainland China and the former Yugoslav republics of Serbia, Croatia, etc, who all watch more soccer than they do basketball, have successfully sent players to the NBA. The Philippines has never sent a Filipino to the NBA!
Numerous honest discussions and debates have erupted about the need to shift the Philippines’ team sports focus from the excessively height-centric basketball towards the more height-agnostic soccer in order to focus on a sport in which every ordinary Filipino can excel. However, the rebuttals to the contrary range from such excuses as “The cultural temperament of Filipinos makes them prefer basketball because it has a faster-pace of point-scoring while soccer’s scores are low and goal-scoring is rare” to other excuses like“soccer requires a huge field in order to play while basketball needs a much smaller space.”
Both excuses fall flat considering that Filipinos are ethnically and even temperamentally similar to the Malays of Malaysia and Brunei (except in religion), both of whom enjoy and excel in soccer within the ASEAN region. It can be argued too that most Latin Americans, with whom Filipinos share common Spanish colonial history vis-à-vis Hispano-America and a very similar Iberian heritage with Portuguese-speaking Brazil, are somewhat culturally similar to Filipinos (especially in their sense of humor) and yet they too enjoy the sport immensely and are perhaps among the most excellent players of the Beautiful Game in the World. Most importantly, millions of impoverished Latin-Americans and Africans often practice playing soccer just about anywhere, be it on a small field, a dusty road, or even a small backyard. Some of the world’s highest-paid soccer stars come from such an impoverished background and they often cherish their childhood memories of growing up, playing soccer barefoot with plastic bottles or anything they can kick around as their ball, drawing lines on the ground to serve as their “goals.” It is just not true that Filipinos cannot shift to soccer.
The unfortunate fact is that Filipinos prefer to stick to whatever status quo they’ve grown used to. The real problem here is Inertia: the resistance to change.
Resistance to Change
Indeed, there is something really flawed about the situation, and Filipinos have to immediately correct it. Unfortunately, there seems to be something about us Filipinos that exacerbates our resistance to change: We have a tendency to refuse to admit that a problem exists, and often prefer to just ignore it and sweep the problem under the rug. In case that problem stares squarely at us, thereby making it impossible to ignore, quite often, we just outright refuse to do the work that would fix that problem and just endure the resulting mediocrity. Worse, many Filipinos prefer to make excuses that seek to justify such refusal to fix the problem, oftentimes reasoning – using intellectual dishonesty – that trying to fix the problem would actually make things worse.
We need not look far to see that this problem is not solely confined to the world of sports, in which increasing attention is being placed on the Soccer versus Basketball debate. Just recently, journalist and current Ambassador to Greece, Rigoberto Tiglao, recently wrote a two-part special on why Filipinos are not into Soccer.
In it, he likened the need for Filipinos to carefully consider shifting from basketball to soccer and the difficulty in convincing Filipinos to do so, with the fact that many Filipinos still stubbornly refuse to at least attempt to consider the objective merits of the Parliamentary System as a possible option to replace the current Philippine Presidential System. It has been observed that the Philippine Presidential System’s skew towards popularity and name-recall , coupled with the Philippine Electorate’s preference for form over substance that unfortunately brought about perhaps the most embarrassing stain on the Philippines’ international reputation in 1998, when celebrity actor Joseph “Erap” Estrada won as President of the Philippines. The Philippines had another close call in 2004 when his fellow celebrity actor and close friend, the late Fernando Poe, Jr. almost won. And just recently in May 2010, the convicted-of-plunder ex-President Estrada who was deposed in 2001 ran again and took second place.
In the meantime, numerous politicians aspiring for the Presidency jockey for positions in the equally useless and non-representative Philippine Senate (whose Senators do not represent constituencies unlike in the USA, where Senators are elected per State), and as a result, the Philippine Senate has numerous “Senactors” (Senators who are actors) as well as politicians married to actresses or celebrities.
We continue to be a basketball-crazed society that is isolated from the soccer-loving rest of the world and yet we can’t even excel in this game we so love, nor can we send talented Filipino players to the NBA because basketball is a game that clearly favors height and we simply do not have the height that would at least give us a fighting chance.
In almost the exact same way, we continue to clamor for improvements in our lives, our economic livelihood, and the quality of our politics, yet because of a system of government whose electoral procedure (choosing the name of an individual candidate running for President) clearly favors “winnability” (popularity and name-recall) over competence, we end up with incompetent people who become President only because of their celebrity status or famous surnames. At other times, we also end up with leaders who – though sometimes competent – are forced to pander to the public lest they risk being unable to govern if they fail to play the popularity game.
When will we Filipinos realize that for us to excel in team sports, we need to choose a sport where competence and real talent are much more important than one’s height?
When will we Filipinos realize that for our society to be better-run, more efficient, and more responsive to our people’s needs, we need to choose a system of government in which quality policy-making, platform relevance, and competence take overwhelming precedence over petty traits such as celebrity-status, personal popularity, and name-recall?
Knowing that both basketball and the current Presidential System are not good for us, why then do we Filipinos continue to insist on sticking it out with the both of them instead of making the necessary changes that would correct the problems that these two Problematic American Imports continue to cause?
Once upon a time, Albert Einstein said that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.”
Basketball & the Presidential System: Problematic US Imports
Both Basketball and the Presidential System are largely American inventions which they brought along with them during the almost 50 years that they occupied our country and we Filipinos took to both of them as if they were our own.
Unfortunately, both basketball and the Presidential System have pre-requisites that Americans often meet which Filipinos don’t: Basketball inherently favors height for a player to be considered eligible for competitive play because the hoops are high. On the other hand, the Presidential System requires that the electorate be naturally issues-centric and platform-oriented in order to counterbalance the inherent personality-centered exercise of voting for a presidential candidate.
Incidentally, both basketball and the Presidential System have brought Failure to Filipinos: Basketball has shattered the dreams and self-esteem of millions of young Filipinos who’ve continued to aspire to be just like their idols Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Michael Jordan, or Kobe Bryant, practicing basketball for hours on end, only to be rendered ineligible for competitive basketball all because they were too short. On the other hand, the current Philippine Presidential System (based on the 1987 Constitution) has shattered the lives of millions of Filipinos who – because the system favors candidate winnability (popularity, and name-recall) over competence and a sound platform for governance – often end up with leaders who merely have popularity but no competence. Sometimes we end up with leaders and lawmakers who have no choice but to pander to the public instead of focusing on doing what is the correct and beneficial course of action in the long-term, even if it may appear to be unpopular in the short-term. Most politicians with presidential ambitions (except for a select few) therefore tend to focus too much on short-term popularity by engaging in publicity stunts in order to have the name-recall and media attention they need just to have a stab at the Presidency when the time comes to run for it.
In the end, Philippine Society as well as its Government is often unable to make the hard decisions necessary that would bring about a better economy, more jobs, more prosperity, and more improvements to the lives of the people, all because the focus on popularity-based personality-politics always manages to derail society away from focusing on the most important aspects of governance.
In a manner of speaking, it can be said that both basketball and the Presidential System are skewed towards traits which Filipinos either do not have in abundance (height for basketball) or towards traits that Filipinos are extremely obsessed about (popularity and celebrity-status for the Presidential System), both of which lead to Mediocrity and ultimately, towards Failure.
In the former case, Americans have a bigger pool of tall people to select from who may excel in professional basketball, while Filipinos clearly do not. In the latter, Americans have the required cultural and political maturity, policy and platform focus, issues focus, and the ability to zero-in more on the message rather than the messenger in order to counteract and counterbalance the inherent skew towards popularity and name-recall that is inherent in the Presidential System. Filipinos, sadly, are more culturally pre-disposed towards personality, celebrity-status, and popularity, so that winning Philippine presidential elections is more about fielding candidates who are deemed “winnable” rather than determining who among the prospective candidates is the most competent, possesses the necessary qualifications that would enable him to perform his duties successfully, and who has done the best job related to governance in the past and as such, is therefore most likely going to do a splendid job.
Regarding the sport of basketball, it is also no wonder that Filipino basketball players are not exactly NBA-quality (and therefore explains why no Filipino has ever gone to the NBA). In the Philippines, many basketball players who get chosen to go professional are often those who are of towering height, never mind that they may not exactly be the best among the entire pool of available players. There are oftentimes people who play basketball really well and can shoot hoops accurately, but simply because they are too short and unable to do slam-dunks, they are totally ignored by recruitment scouts for professional or semi-professional teams.
In fact, stories circulated in the past about some UAAP basketball teams whose alumni associations recruited players who were not really basketball prodigies, but just plain “tall giants” from their respective high schools. It was evident from their on-court performance: These were extremely tall players who always missed getting the ball through the basket during free throws. No mystery there: Such players were recruited for their height, not for their prowess in basketball.
Once again, this parallel zeroes in on the main problem that the Presidential System has brought on the Philippines. Very similar to basketball’s unfair preference for tall people, the Presidential System has an inherent skew towards winnability (popularityand name-recall), coupled with the cultural inclination of Filipinos to gossip more about popular celebrities and their private lives or marital woes, and discuss less about the most important issues related to the economy and governance. It is therefore not difficult to see why numerous actors and showbiz celebrities end up as politicians and why professional politicians often end up marrying famous actresses or TV personalities just to gain media mileage and rapport with the voting public. It also shows precisely why the discussions in Philippine Politics tend towards vacuity and pettiness, rather than on real practical problem-solving. For this reason, the Philippines continues to be unable to fix the same kinds of problems that have hounded it for decades, while other countries are zooming ahead leaving the Philippines in the dust.
In other words, the system of government in the Philippines is set up so that the people who are most favored to win in national elections tend to be those candidates who have the necessary popularity and the name-recall (actors, showbiz celebrities, children of well-known politicians, politicians married to celebrities, controversial public figures who get excessive media exposure, athletes and basketball stars, etc) required to win said popularity contests, to the detriment of those people who have the requisite expertise, competence, track record, vision, and most importantly, the relevant platform of governance that matches the needs of the country at a given point in time.
It doesn’t help much that the Philippines continues to make use of the direct popular vote in stark contrast to the more indirect voting system of the US Electoral College, which was set up by America’s Founding Fathers with the express intention of moderating and mitigating the tyranny of popularity, name-recall, and emotionalism that is the unfortunate negative tendency of direct democracy. In addition, there also is the fact that the two-party system of the USA makes use of party-based Caucuses & Primary Elections to ensure that – as much as possible – the best man (or woman) for the job is chosen by each party.
To be absolutely honest about it, there is a steadily increasing dissatisfaction and growing base of evidence worldwide against the dismal operational efficiency and low degree of accountability resulting from the Presidential System. Case in point: There is a large number of disadvantages that the Presidential System is described to possess by numerous political scientists and economists, particularly by renowned political scientist and expert on political systems Dr. Juan Linz, PhD of Yale in his famous essay “The Perils of Presidentialism”) as well as a recent joint World Bank and University of Chicago study entitled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter” – authored by three Latin American economists namely,Dr. Daniel Lederman, PhD – Chile, Dr. Norman Loayza, PhD – Peru, and Dr. Rodrigo Soares, PhD – Brazil, correlating the Presidential System with greater levels of corruption on the one hand, and much lower incidences of corruption with the Parliamentary System on the other.
Notwithstanding all those operational disadvantages of the “separation-of-powers” Presidential System, coupled with the inherent tendency towards personality-politics found in it, at the very least, it can be said that the USA has specific safeguards such as the use of Primaries and the Electoral College which clearly mitigate the negative traits associated with the Presidential System’s popularity-centric electoral procedure.
Alas, no such safeguards such as a “Two-Party System”, “Party Primaries” and the reliance on an “Electoral College” exist for the current Philippine Presidential System based on the 1987 Constitution. It is for this reason that the full unadulterated impact of the tyranny of popularity bears down heavily on Philippine Society.
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Defects of the 1987 Constitution’s Presidential System
Unfortunately for Filipinos, the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986 which created the current 1987 Constitution – of which one of the most vocal members is revered Constitutionalist and Jesuit Fr. Joaquín Bernas, SJ – set up a system that has consistently produced presidents who do not have a majority mandate. The 1987 Constitution did not support the creation of a two-party system which would enable the electoral winner to emerge with an absolute majority, and instead, allows for multiple candidates to run for president. The real dilemma here is that allowing multiple candidates to run for President of the Philippines invariably results in splitting the vote in three ways or more, in which there is a big possibility that the candidate who emerges with the most number of votes merely wins with a plurality but unfortunately does not have a majority (more than 50%) of all votes cast. A President who does not get a majority of all votes cast is a Minority President.
Having a minority president is obviously a major disadvantage and creates a crisis of governance. In fact, it is a curse. Minority Presidents are always disadvantaged, because Philippine media has always had the tendency to pander to the preferences of the public. A minority president with say, 40% of the vote, will have 60% of the electorate stacked against him as they did not vote for him, making him vulnerable to gripes, complaints, and negative articles published in the papers.
Every single Philippine President who came after the late President Cory C. Aquino has been a minority president. Former President Fidel Ramos only had 23.5% of the entire vote thanks to so many rival candidates running for the presidency in the 1992 elections. Ousted former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada was a minority president, having just around 40% of the entire number of votes cast. And in 2004, former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was also a minority president with around 38% of all votes cast. It is no surprise, therefore, that all of them were often presented unfavorably by media during their term.
In fact, our popular new president, President Benigno Simeon Aquino III is himself a minority president as his mandate is said to be just around 42%, with roughly 58% of the electorate having voted for another candidate.
Now, lest we think that Minority Presidents are extremely common around the world, the fact is that in a majority of countries that allow for multiple candidates for President such as France, numerous countries in Latin America, countries using a presidential system in Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and even East Timor, the prospect of a Minority President (a president with less than 50% of all total votes cast) is thoroughly avoided through provisions for a second round of elections called the “Run-Off.”
The dynamics for holding Two-Round elections are simple: The first round of elections pits all candidates, say, 3 or more candidates for President against each other. After they slug it out in the first round, the top 2 candidates who emerge from the first round are then pitted against each other in the Run-Off election, where a week or more after the first round, everyone goes back to the polling stations to vote in the second round “Run-Off.” Since there are only two candidates in a run-off, a clear majority-winner will emerge. It is in such an electoral system where people who voted for other candidates during the first round are then forced to “choose the lesser evil” during the “Run-Off” round. At the very least, voters can choose whom they really want during the first round, and if their favorite candidate was eliminated after the first round, it’s during the run-off where they throw their support behind one of the two candidates.
Here is an example: France’s 2002 Elections. The first round of elections saw numerous candidates slugging it out with Gaullist re-electionist Jacques Chirac coming out on top and with Right-wing “Neo-Nazi” and anti-immigration Front National candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen snatching second place. As there were too many candidates, Jacques Chirac did not get a majority of the vote, so a Run-Off had to be held exactly one week after, pitting the top two candidates from the first round against each other. The Run-Off was an amazing display of solidarity among the French in order to avoid allowing a “Neo-Nazi” like Le Pen to emerge victorious. Everyone from the Left – Communists, Socialists, even people who had formerly hated the right-of-center Gaullists with a vengeance, went in all-out support for Jacques Chirac in order to ensure the defeat of far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Front National candidate Le Pen.
Alas, the 1987 Constitution made absolutely no provisions for a run-off election, nor did the Constitution’s framers find it important to avoid having a minority president. That is a major defect.
Unfortunately, this inherent defect in the 1987 Constitution cannot be fixed unless the Constitution is amended. That is exactly what a Constitutional Amendment is all about: If something is missing, needs to be removed, or changed in the Constitution (never mind if it’s a word or a punctuation mark), the Constitution needs to be amended. There is unfortunately no real way around it. The 1987 Constitution is defective and needs thorough revision, if not an overhaul.
The Better Way: Soccer and the Parliamentary System
Fortunately, since it is clear that both basketball and the current Philippine Presidential System are more and more proving to be inappropriate and extremely non-conducive to success for Filipinos, we now have the opportunity to look at the clear alternatives. For our “national team sport”, we definitely should consider soccer. For our form of government, we should bid Adieu to the Presidential System and move on towards the highly recommended Parliamentary System. (Recommended by Ivy League Political Scientists and Economists)
We already know the issue with basketball. Basketball requires height and average Filipinos just don’t have height. Rather than continuing to produce heart-broken basketball-loving youngsters whose dreams of going professional are shattered by their inability to grow to at least 6 ft tall, it’s about time our society – led by our Government, Media, Schools, and our Businesses who sponsor sporting events – decisively shifted over to soccer.
There should be no turning back. Soccer is clearly the World’s Beautiful Game, loved by almost everyone of all creeds, colors, cultures, languages, races, and continents. It is a sport that can allow Filipinos to excel because it does not require nor does it even favor height in order for players to be successful. It is a sport that promotes more teamwork as there is much more ball-passing that goes on than in basketball. In soccer, most goals are scored as a result of teamwork and last-minute ball-passing, in contrast to basketball’s tendency to promote keeping the ball to oneself selfishly in order to reap the glory of scoring.
We also know that the Presidential System has the tendency to promote personality politics due largely to the electoral procedure of choosing an individual candidate to become President. During such Presidential campaigns especially in the Philippines, candidates are extremely likely to promote and differentiate themselves from their opponents by talking more about their own personal traits. Instead of playing up their party-affiliations and their party platforms, advocacies, and policy proposals, Presidential candidates in the Philippines, are forced to play the popularity game simply because it is ultimately popularity, winnability, and name-recall that gets voters picking a candidate’s name on the Presidential System’s ballot. Worse, the Philippine Presidential System creates Minority Presidents.
In stark contrast, the Parliamentary System requires the formation of majority governments, through either of two ways: a party can win an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats, and immediately, the majority party’s leader immediately becomes the Prime Minister. Another way such a majority government is formed is through coalition-building. Coalition-blocs can be formed, so that if one bloc gains a majority of all seats in parliament, that coalition then forms the government, and the leader of the party with the most seats within that majority bloc emerges as Prime Minister. Prime Ministers in a Parliamentary System, therefore tend to have more majority-support and therefore a clearer mandate than minority Presidents emerging from the runoff-less Philippine Presidential Elections.
Moreover, the Parliamentary System is a much more party-centric system whose campaigns tend to be much more issues-advocacy, ideas-centric (as opposed to personality-centric), and platform-focused as the electoral dynamics do not involve the Pubic Electorate directly choosing who the Prime Minister will be. This does not even talk about the Parliamentary System’s bias towards leaders with competence and solid knowledge of all the relevant details regarding the country’s affairs: A Parliamentary System features a weekly Question Time session where the Prime Minister and his Front Benchers (Cabinet) are grilled by members of the opposition to make sure that all angles relating to policy-making and functioning of the government and cabinet have considered the best options and are also running properly. A Prime Minister must therefore be on his toes, totally knowledgeable, and able to respond extemporaneously as he is often expected to answer most questions without deferring to other members. For this reason, not all ordinary MP’s aspire to become PM and members of the majority party often cooperate to help brief the PM and the front bench on what they need to know so that they can properly respond. This Parliamentary feature further promotes more solid team dynamics as party members close-ranks to support their PM and party front-benchers.
Listed below are two ways in which the Philippines can develop a True Party System where the politicians rally around ideas, platforms, and consistent policies, and form a loyalty to their parties and their core principles, and where the voting public can be made to look less at personalities and look more at the collective nature of parties and vote accordingly:
Removal of Term Limits – Allowing the top leader to continue to stand for elections more than once (removal of term limits) actually promotes stronger party dynamics as parties cease to be ad-hoc election clubs that get formed only to defray election-period campaign costs, and become more long-standing and consistent in rallying around a stable policy-platform in order to maintain continuity. This was the observation made in a research paper entitled “Presidential Term Limits and Party-System Stability in New Democracies” as well as the book “Presidential Bandwagon: Parties and Party Systems in the Philippines“, both authored by Japanese political scientist Dr. Yuko Kasuya, PhD when she observed that the party structure of the Philippines rapidly deteriorated after the idea of presidential re-election was banned by the 1987 Constitution, thus preventing an elected President (or Head of Government) from standing for more than one term. This has caused presidential aspirants as well as those people running together with them in their parties to unfortunately regard each election as essentially a one-shot deal. In case a presidential candidate does win and becomes President, there is hardly any real sense of continuity as that President and his staff only look at the specific 6 year term he has. One-shot deal thinking of that sort turns parties into ad-hoc “cliques of convenience” (my term), thereby eroding whatever sense of continuity and working for the same goals may have existed during the campaign. In short, the idea that an incumbent President may run for re-election develops a better focus on continuity among members of a party to act in support of the incumbent party-mate. Since Parliamentary Systems do not have term limits for Prime Ministers, the tendency for parties to act like one-shot, ad hoc, and temporary “cliques of convenience” is greatly reduced and in fact, practically eliminated, and it is thus no wonder that the party system is much stronger in countries using Parliamentary Systems. A Prime Minister who continues to enjoy his own party’s (or coalition’s) internal support, and whose party (or coalition) continues to enjoy a parliamentary majority stays on as Prime Minister. (Technically, under the Parliamentary System, the parties are bigger than the personalities involved, and so it does not matter who the Prime Minister should be, because it is the party or coalition and its accompanying platform that truly matters.)
Forced “Straight Ticket Voting”– Superior party-dynamics emerges (or is further enhanced) when the ability to choose different candidates vying for different positions is eliminated, and replaced with a system that forces “Straight Ticket Voting” or “Straight Party Voting”(sometimes confusingly called “bloc-voting” as that term may also mean groups voting as a “bloc” as in the INC’s tendency towards telling their members whom to vote for: “voting as a bloc”) The use of the term “Forced Straight Ticket Voting” clearly refers to the scenario where voters are not able to split the ticket across to vote for a candidate from party A to be President, a candidate from party B to be Vice-President, and a candidate from party C for their local district representative. “Straight Ticket Voting” in the USA would clearly refer to voting straight Republican (for all positions) or voting straight Democrat (for all positions). Modifying the ballots to remove the ability to choose different candidates from different parties for each position and instead determine the party that the voter chooses and all candidates from the same party are assumed to be selected for all the relevant positions. This feature forces the electorate to cease looking at individual candidates and instead forces the voters to look at entire parties. Since political parties are not human beings with “individual personalities”, the key differentiator between political parties then becomes their Party Platforms.
When one carefully looks at both, it is obvious that number 1 forces Strict Party Dynamics among the Politicians themselves, as they end up having better party discipline as they seek to allow for more continuity of their party’s programs instead of seeing their “parties” as mere ad-hoc cliques that stand for nothing and come together every 3 or 6 years with the sole purpose of simply pooling campaign financial resources together to share and defray the costs of their poster printing, TV and Radio advertising, etc. Number 2, on the other hand forces Strict Party Voting among the Electorate. As mentioned, the inability of the voters to “extricate” the personalities from the parties forces the electorate to look at parties as a whole, rather than rely on the default Filipino tendency which is to look for individual superstars.
Both these features which promote better Political Party Dynamics can be done within a Presidential System. Term-limits can be removed *and* the ballots can be redesigned to force voters to choose only straight party tickets. In order to do this, ballots should no longer have individual names of candidates, and instead, only party names will be written down and selected by the voters.
However, when you do both 1 and 2 within a Presidential System, you’ve essentially turned that Presidential System into a Parliamentary System, because this time, the voting system fuses the choice of Executive (President) and Legislative (Senate and Local District Representative) together so that both choices come from the same party.
Part of the reluctance of Filipinos to try something different has often had to do with the primordial fear of the unknown. Once Filipinos are used to one way of doing things, shifting over to a better paradigm or system which presents the better way of doing things is seen negatively. This kind of mentality used to kick in among a huge number of Filipinos whenever the subject of shifting from the dominant sport of Basketball to the more Filipino height-friendly sport of Football would come about. Excuses about Filipinos already being used to it or excuses like the so-called “cost of shifting from Basketball to Football would greatly exceed the returns” would be mentioned. This too is exactly the same type of knee-jerk thinking (or lack thereof) that kicks in every time a discussion pops up regarding the need to shift away from the extremely flawed and problematic Philippine Presidential System to the much more efficient, cost-effective, accountable, and stable Parliamentary System.
Thanks to the Philippine Football Team (fondly called “The Azkals” – a stylized slang term for “street dogs”) and their spectacular coming-from-behind performance from underdog to serious semi-finals contender, Filipinos are finally seeing the light! After years of seeing the Philippine Football Team continue to be the underdogs due to lack of support from the Filipino public and the dearth of financial sponsorship from companies, Filipinos now see hope in shining internationally with Football. This especially comes in the midst of many years of embarrassing international defeats in basketball despite “shooting hoops” being the Philippines’ national obsession. The “Azkals” have rightfully given Filipinos something to aspire to.
Filipino Excellence in Football is not new
The truth is that excelling in Football isn’t really new to Filipinos to begin with. The “Azkals” are simply reclaiming the history of excellence in Football that Filipinos have actually enjoyed at one point in our history. Unknown to many Filipinos, the greatest football striker in the history of the famous Spanish team FC Barcelona, fondly called “Barça” was a Filipino: Paulino Alcántara.
Born in 1896 in Iloilo to a Spanish father and an Ilongga mother, Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá was raised in the Philippines until he was between the age of 13 and 14 and moved to Barcelona where he was discovered and given the chance to join the professional FC Barcelona team where he became known as “El Romperedes” – the “net breaker”, as he is known to have broken nets due to the sheer strength of his kicks.
To this day, Paulino Alcántara remains Barça’s record holder with a total of 357 goals having appeared with FC Barcelona 357 times, and no one has come close to beating his record as a phenomenal striker. He is most remembered for a game against France in 1922, here he scored a powerful goal from 30 yards away, with the French goalkeeper having been totally unable to prevent it from coming through.
He had a little hiatus away from Barcelona when his family returned to the Philippines in 1916 where the young Paulino likewise played for the Philippine Football Team, bringing it to 2nd place against Japan in the Far East Championship Games in 1917. While in the Philippines, he also excelled in international table tennis!
In the meantime, with Paulino away from Barça, his old team wasn’t doing very well, since he was their star striker and there was no one else who could fill in his shoes. He later returned to Barcelona after his old team kept begging him to return and the team found itself winning once again. But lest we all think sports (football and table tennis) defined “El Romperedes”, it actually turns out that in the midst of his very successful professional football career, he was also studying to become a doctor. When in 1920, Paulino was scheduled to take academic examinations for his medical studies, he turned down the chance to play for the Spanish National Team as he needed to concentrate on studying for his exams.
The Legend of Paulino Alcántara, a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines who also had the chance to represent the Philippines in both Football and Table Tennis – is solid proof that Filipinos have excelled in football and that the Beautiful Game is not some new undertaking in which we have no experience.
Filipino Excellence in the Parliamentary System is not new either
While it is clear thanks to the example of Paulino Alcántara that Filipinos have it in us to succeed in Football and that the Azkals’ recent performance is really just all about reclaiming our glory in a sport more suited to us, there actually also exists a solid example of the ability of Filipinos to perform well within the parliamentary system. While we’ve had a Filipino figure prominently in Football as FC Barcelona’s all time highest goal-scorer, we’ve also had a Filipino excel within Spain’s own Parliamentary System by becoming a three-time Prime Minister of Spain!
Born in Manila in 1832 to a Basque Spanish father (a general, later turned bookseller) and a mestiza-Bicolana mother from Albay, Marcelo de Azcárraga y Palmero – just like Paulino Alcántara – was raised in the Philippines, and studied law at the Universidad de Santo Tomás in Manila (“UST”) before moving on to the Nautical School and then transferred to Spain to attend a military academy. Thanks to a distinguished military career where he rose to become a general in the Army, upon retirement from his military carreer, Azcárraga shifted to Spanish politics and became a leading member of the pro-Monarchy Conservative Party. From being a Senator, he later became the top-ranking Minister of War in the Conservative Party’s cabinet and succeeded on to become the interim Prime Minister of Spain after his party’s leader, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, was assassinated in 1897. He again went on to become Prime Minister in two separate incidents.
Respected and remembered in Spain, where he was given the Golden Fleece award for defending the Spanish Monarchy and is the highest possible award that any person can be awarded in Spain, Azcárraga was originally honored in Manila with a long avenue that was named after his illustrious family. That avenue, originally called Calle Azcárraga, is now known simply as “Recto” after a series of name-changes were pushed in 1961. Nevertheless, numerous Tondo and Manila natives still refer to Recto as “Azcárraga” just as practically everyone in Metro Manila still calls “Sen. Gil Puyat Avenue” by its original name “Buendía.”
Born and raised in the Philippines, excelled in Spain
The existence of both prime examples of Filipino excellence in both Spanish Football and the Spanish Parliamentary System not only prove that Filipinos have had past experience in both fields of endeavor, it also confirms that Spain has also never had any real issues with allowing Philippine-born Filipinos to meritocratically rise up to the top of the food chain in “la Madre Patria.” (Spain)
It will be recalled that during the 1884 Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, the famous Filipino painter Juan Luna won three gold medals for his famous masterpiece “Spoliarium” and was accompanied by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo’s silver medal. Would these Philippine-born Filipinos who were not European creoles been awarded and showered with accolades had the Spaniards been the “racist chauvinists” certain historians with flawed pseudo-nationalist political agendas make them out to be?
The 1884 awards for Fine Arts were not going to be the one and only time when Spanish egalitarian attitudes towards Filipinos would become evident, as this was followed up with half-Pinoy and Manila-born (and raised) Marcelo de Azcárraga’s ascent to Prime Minister in Spain’s Cortes in 1897, half-Pinoy and Iloilo-born (and raised) Paulino Alcántara’s cult-following as FC Barcelona’s (and the Spanish Football Team’s) star striker, and in more recent history with Manila-born (and raised) Isabel Preysler’s emergence as Spain’s most famous media celebrity to consistently grace the pages of Spain’s glossy magazines.
(Tip: Any showbiz, fashion, or glossy lifestyle magazine randomly taken off a stand in any major Spanish city is 100% sure to have at least one picture of Isabel Preysler found within its pages.)
Incidentally, Isabel Preysler – who in 1991, 2002, and 2006, was voted “most elegant and best-dressed woman in Spain” – is the ex-wife of ex-footballer and singing sensation Julio Iglesias and the mother of world famous half-Spanish, half-Filipino singing sensation Enrique Iglesias.
Basketball and the deeply-flawed Philippine Presidential System are two examples of colossal failures for Filipinos which were bequeathed to us by the United States of America. Far too many misguided Filipinos have continued to defend such an infatuation with everything American, using the tired old argument that since the USA is currently the world’s largest economy and world’s foremost superpower, whatever the USA does is “the best.”
This needs to be seriously re-evaluated as the performance of the USA itself in Basketball has proven to be an even greater colossal failure on the world stage as US Basketball Teams, in all categories – youth, adult, and even professional – continue to consistently get clobbered by so many other teams primarily from Europe and even Latin America. Ever since the year 2000, European-style basketball, whose general playing philosophy is heavily rooted in Football’s heritage of heavy ball-passing, strong-defense, and an almost extreme emphasis on cooperation and teamwork, has on the average reigned supreme over America’s Basketball players’ superstar attitudes and egotism.
(Luckily, many Americans do tend to be self-critical enough to admit when something needs to be changed, and thus articles do get written which focus on highlighting the problem in order to get everyone realizing the need to solve it.)
Be it a basketball game pitting the Philippines against Kazakhstan, Singapore, Malaysia, South Korea, Lebanon, or others, all of whom are primarily Football-centric countries, the result is the same: The Philippines loses to them in Basketball!
Clearly, this consistent barrage of slaps-on-our-faces should serve as a wake-up call to our continued unthinking infatuation with the American way of doing things as our failure in Basketball is not only a result of our obvious lack of height in a game that mandates it as a minimum requirement, but it is also clearly the result of our collective refusal to look at and learn from other paradigms coming from other societies (such as European or other societies) which may actually be better-fits with our inherent cultural tendencies or inclinations.
The American Primadonna Paradigm has always been one that exalts personal glory and individual achievement above all else. Not only does this extend to the American Political System and American Sports, this also extends to American Pop Music, where solo artists abound in America whereas the British are a lot more into bands.
By itself, an emphasis on Individualism is not bad. However, it tends to spell total disaster in team sports where cooperation is supposed to reign supreme over ego and personal glory. Furthermore, Filipinos are actually much more predisposed towards collective undertakings as evidenced by our tendency to do things as a group (something which we actually share with fellow Asians and even with Southern Europeans/Latins), as exemplified by the oft-touted Bayanihan spirit. The heavy emphasis on rugged American individualism is again, by itself, not bad, but it actually does come in direct conflict with our natural tendencies and therefore contributes to a certain level of confusion.
On the one hand, our models for sports – based on the individualistic nature of American Basketball as seen in the NBA – confuses us to go against our own inherent group-based tendencies, and this too is very much evident in our model for governance which is also based on the American Presidential System, itself a highly individualistic, primadonna-based, and personality-heavy system that exalts one individual (the Presidential Candidate) over and above the team (the Political Party).
On the political system front, the US Presidential System is itself under intense fire from among America’s very own intellectuals. Leading intellectuals from the USA such as Dr. Arend Lijphart, Dr. Juan Linz, and even CNN’s and Time’s Dr. Fareed Zakaria all point to the US Presidential System as being fundamentally-flawed and in fact serve to hobble the US from reaching its full potential.
“People often note that America’s political system is broken. Perhaps the truth is more awkward: America needs radical change, and it has an 18th century system determined to check and balance the absolute power of a monarchy. It is designed for gridlock at a moment when quick and large-scale action is our only hope.”
Another political and policy commentator from the USA, Craig Ruff, has also criticized the US Presidential System and clearly points out the superiority of the Parliamentary System. In his article “Parliament Works Better”, Ruff states:
“America’s love affair with separate powers assumes strange things: a) a leader cannot be both a maker and implementer of policy; b) it is wicked to entrust the well-being of people to a coherent political party, as opposed to special interests piecemealing public policies; c) one party’s good showing at one election breeds irreversible despotism; d) cults of personality are healthier to democracy than intelligible reasoning and a coherent, guiding philosophy; and e) a bedsheet ballot of nondescript individuals defines the public will.
In stark contrast, consider a parliamentary system that produces: a) robust and seasoned thinkers who understand the making and execution of law; b) accountable leaders of parties, as opposed to unaccountable associations and lobbyists; c) elections whenever a leader loses the public’s and party’s faith and trust; d) ennobling philosophical disputes instead of du jourflaming; and e) unified but reversible law making.”
“The United States is not about to up and rewrite its constitution to create a parliamentary system.
But if it were up to Gerring and Thacker, it certainly should. As Gerring put it, “There’s very little to defend the current system.” Thacker, meanwhile, noted that for a country with our level of economic development, the United States doesn’t do nearly as well as we might be expected to do across a broad range of human development outcomes. “For a rich country, we should be doing better,” he said.
Still, constitutional reform is a live issue in many countries around the world, as well as for those who think about nation-building. And the lessons from Gerring and Thacker do seem clear: Parliamentary systems that institutionalize coordination and compromise consistently produce better outcomes than presidential systems that institutionalize conflict and confrontation.”
Quite clearly, there is an ever-increasing number of US-based intellectuals who have decided to look squarely at reality and determine what exactly it is that has enabled the USA to succeed. As a result, more and more Americans are in fact realizing that America’s success happened despite (not because of) its use of the Presidential System. Truth be told, America’s success is directly a result of being the World’s Largest Immigrant Nation, where an overwhelming majority of today’s Americans are themselves first-generation immigrants, sons and daughters of immigrants, or people who can easily trace themselves as being 5th or 6th-generation immigrants, and thus are still quite conscious of the need to excel and live up to the hard-working immigrant ethos of their immigrant ancestors.
Evidently, two of America’s “gifts” to the Philippines – Basketball and the US Presidential System – have unfortunately bombed when transplanted to our shores and worse, are likewise areas where the USA is itself having major challenges as US Basketball Teams continue to keep losing against teams from countries steeped in more cooperative and team-based traditions of Football (Soccer) as their primary sport, and where the United States’ own Presidential System is now increasingly coming under fire from within the entire US Political Science Academia and Intelligentsia for its unwieldy and gridlock-prone structural set-up.
Instead of looking only to the US for inspiration, it may actually serve us well to derive inspiration from numerous other societies and more importantly re-embrace our Spanish heritage. After all, Spain is both a Football-centric country and uses a Parliamentary System and we share a much deeper set of commonalities with Spain than with the USA.
Spain is a better model for Filipinos to emulate than the USA
Filipinos have much to learn by simply looking further back to our history and looking past the over-hyped American influences in both Basketball and the Presidential System.
First off, we need to remember that the Azkals are not the first group of Filipinos to do well in the sport of Football. We’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who rose to become a football hero in Spain, and holds the distinction of being F.C. Barcelona’s all-time highest goal-scorer in all of the club’s history and a committed doctor of medicine: Dr. Paulino Alcántara y Riestrá.
Secondly, we’ve had a Filipino – born and raised in the Philippines – who excelled in Spain’s Parliamentary System. This Filipino started off in a military career, became a high-ranking general, rose to become a high-ranking Minister in Spain’s cabinet and even went on to become a three-time Prime Minister of Spain: Marcelo Azcárraga y Palmero.
Two questions need to be asked regarding our infatuation with all things American:
(1) Have we ever had a Filipino basketball player get into the NBA?
(2) Has a person of Filipino descent ever become President of the USA or at least become a high-ranking US cabinet secretary?
Between the two former colonizers, Spain has proven to be the country that has treated Filipinos – regardless of racial background – as true equals, granting all Filipinos with full Spanish citizenship and giving equal opportunities for Filipinos to excel and reach the top as exemplified by high honors presented to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo in the arts and the rise of Philippine-born Filipinos (who at the time were full Spanish citizens) such as Azcárraga and Alcántara to the top of their fields. With these facts, it thus comes as no surprise that José Rizal and many of his friends and fellow Filipino expats in Spain and Europe such as Antonio Luna were said to have staunchly advocated integration into Spain rather than outright independence: It was clear to them that better political integration and assimilation with Peninsular Spain would have allowed competent Filipinos to easily rise to the top.
(In fact, Antonio Luna remained a pro-Spain loyalist – like Rizal – until after the Spaniards surrendered to the Americans in 1898 and it became clear that the Americans were planning to take over the Philippines. It was at that point when officers and soldiers of the Spanish Army, along with other Spanish loyalists joined forces with Aguinaldo’s Katipunan forces to repel the Anglo-Saxon invaders just as Filipinos and Spanish authorities had done much earlier when another Anglo-Saxon invader – the British – tried to take over the Philippines.)
It’s high time we Filipinos acknowledged that not only do we have much more in common with Spain – in terms of culture and heritage – than with the USA, but also that we Filipinos have had the opportunity to excel in two things that are more associated with Spain than the USA, and are more appropriate to our situation: Football and the Parliamentary System.
Orion Pérez Dumdum comes from an IT background and analyzes systems the way they should be: logically and objectively.
Being an Overseas Filipino Worker himself, he has seen firsthand how the dearth of investment – both local and foreign – is the cause of the high unemployment and underemployment that exists in the Philippines as well as the low salaries earned by people who do have jobs.Being Cebuano (half-Cebuano, half-Tagalog), and having lived in Cebu, he is a staunch supporter of Federalism.
Having lived in progressive countries which use parliamentary systems, Orion has seen first hand the difference in the quality of discussions and debates of both systems, finding that while discussions in the Philippines are mostly filled with polemical sophistry often focused on trivial and petty concerns, discussions and debates in the Parliamentary-based countries he’s lived in have often focused on the most practical and most important points.
Orion first achieved fame as one of the most remembered and most impressive among the winners of the popular RPN-9 Quiz Show “Battle of the Brains”, and got a piece he wrote – “The Parable of the Mountain Bike” – featured in Bob Ong’s first bestselling compilation of essays “Bakit Baligtad Magbasa ng Libro ang mga Pilipino?” He is the principal co-founder of the CoRRECT™ Movement and spearheads the campaign to inform the Filipino Public about the urgent need for Constitutional Reform & Rectification for Economic Competitiveness & Transformation.
Among the “occupational hazards” of being an advocate for the Philippines’ eventual adoption of the parliamentary system is to be on the receiving end of irrational and unfounded charges that the Philippines is “unfit” to use such a system because – according to the detractors – it is “incompatible” with who we are as a people. Countless times has this issue cropped up with different people bringing up our almost 50 year colonial “tutelage under the Americans” as being a major reason for us to have to stick to what – at first glance – appears to be a carbon-copy of the U.S. Presidential System.
Needless to say, consistent with the observations made by Stanley Karnow in his book “In Our Image”, I have very often responded that the extent to which the Filipino is “Americanized” is largely superficial, limited mostly to Hollywood, Disney Cartoons, American Pop Music & Pop Culture, and other American cultural icons. Moreover, I also mentioned that most of the more relatively thorough cultural “Americanization” was often limited to members of the middle, upper-middle, and upper classes who almost exclusively speak English at home.
If anything, I’ve had to point out that the vast majority of Filipinos, particularly those who are classified as members of lowland Christian Filipino ethno-linguistic groups, are essentially indigenous Malayo-Polynesian (at the sub-stratum level), Hispanic (at the cultural super-stratum), and were predominantly raised as Catholics. In other words, the DNA that a majority of Filipinos have is mostly of Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian origins, similar to the DNA of the Malays and other indigenous “Bumiputras” of Malaysia, the “Pribumi” Indonesians, the diverse Gaoshan “aboriginal” hill-tribes of Taiwan, Chamorros of Guam, Samoans, Tongans, and even the Maoris of New Zealand, and most grew up in a culture that was essentially formed under centuries of Spanish influence and direct Catholic tutelage.
But are we American to the core? Obviously we are not. We are especially lacking of that inner “ethos” that defines what “typical American” was supposed to define for a very long time. In fact, even among the small minority of predominantly English-speaking privileged classes, their culture is not exactly “American” to the core. If we looked at the external manifestations of taste, perhaps yes. If we looked at the general work ethic and manner of interpersonal-relations, we’ll find that Filipinos are not at all like Americans. If we were to look at how to characterize the dominant culture of the USA, it would have to be essentially immigrantNorthern European (what they call “White”), Anglo-Saxon, and predominantly Protestant.
In essence, the characteristics of the dominant culture of the USA are not exactly the same as the dominant characteristics of the dominant culture of the Philippines. Now lest anyone try to contest the common definition of the dominant culture of the USA, let me preface that with a disclaimer: While the modern-day USA is a melting pot of so many other cultures that fall outside of the traditional “White Anglo-Saxon Protestant” categorization as today there are many Italian, Hispanic, and Irish Catholics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Arab-Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans, and many others, the operant word is “dominant.”
The dominant culture of the USA – the same culture of the Founding Fathers rallied around by most of the colonists who declared American Independence in 1776 – was predominantly Northern European, Anglo-Saxon (from England and other parts of the British Isles), and Protestant. Obviously, the cultural and historical difference of the dominant Malayo-Polynesian (which many of us refer to as “kayumanggi”) origins and Spanish-influenced cultural identity of most Filipinos against the dominant White and Anglo-Saxon cultural identity of most Americans in itself actually explains why US-style Presidentialism hasn’t exactly worked in the Philippines the same way it works in the USA. So how about looking for real alternatives that fit our culture?
Since the adoption of a system of government should best reflect our character as a people – from a majority perspective (without necessarily neglecting the identities of fellow Filipinos who form cultural or religious minorities), we should therefore define exactly what characteristics describe the majority and “dominant” culture of the Philippines.
I have devised a scheme that would allow us to determine, based on our predominant cultural identity, what options are available to us in adopting an appropriate form of government that would suit our temperament, our history, and cultural inclinations. This would, in essence, be parallel to adopting a sport that would suit us better, based on our physique as well as our country’s climate (since the Philippines has no winter, we obviously cannot expect to be competitive in skiing), as opposed to blindly copying another country’s sports preferences without determining its appropriateness to our situation.
First, we shall define ourselves based on our country’s predominant ethno-racial, cultural, or religious identity and even try to examine other possible categories which we may share with other countries so that we can find comparisons. As a predominantly Catholic country, for instance, we will then need to look at the list of all other countries that have a predominantly Catholic identity, even if only nominal.
From there, we will look for which are the best countries under a particular category by making use of the latest 2009 ranking according to nominal GDP per capita. From that, we shall look at the forms of government used by those countries that emerge at the top of each category we happen to belong to.I must add also that nominal GDP per capita is a fair ranking as opposed to the absolute size of a country’s economy, as it removes the bias for large countries against small but well-run ones and evens it out according to population size.
Moreover, using that measure as a basis is consistent with my view (also Get Real Philippines’ view) that per capita Economic Performance is an indication of the quality of a country’s ability to govern itself.This exercise in comparing the Philippines with other countries which fall under categories where the Philippines also belongs is a very simple one that does not even require complex statistical regression analysis which often seeks to reveal trends and correlations which are not always easy to spot. In this particular case, the comparisons are actually simple side-by-side comparisons which generally reveal a straightforward easy-to-spot trend.
The Dominant Filipino Identity & Categories that Define the Philippines
Now let’s define which categories Filipinos as well as the Philippines should belong to:
1. Malayo-Polynesian: We have an Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian sub-stratum core heritage, which we can even further break down into both Malayan and Polynesian
2. Southeast Asian: We geographically belong to Southeast Asia, are members of ASEAN, and in fact we do share a few traits common to other Southeast Asians, such as having a rural peasantry whose houses are usually made of bamboo and use thatched nipa leaves or cogon grass.
3. Predominantly Catholic: More than 70% of Filipinos identify as Catholic or were raised in a Roman Catholic background
4. Hispanic-Iberian: Although Spanish has virtually disappeared as a language spoken by Filipinos for everyday discourse, the Filipino’s Hispanic cultural identity (among the lowland Christian majority) remains and is still essentially stronger than the highly superficial American influence.
5. English-speaking: While English is not spoken natively by the majority of Filipinos, English is the official language for purposes such as business, education, and intellectual discourse.
6. Formerly occupied by the USA
8. Ethno-linguistically Divided
9. Population Size
10. Land Area
Noting all these categories, let’s now look through the GDP per capita rankings of 2009 look for the countries which fall under each category and pick out the top ones.
1. Core Heritage: Malayo-Polynesian
Since Malayo-Polynesian is a huge ethno-linguistic family under the even bigger Austronesian family, I’ve decided to break Malayo-Polynesian down into two sub-sets: Malayan – representing the countries of the Western side of the Malayo-Polynesian realm including the Malaysia, Brunei, the Philippines, Indonesia, and East Timor; and Polynesian, essentially covering the Eastern side of the Malayo-Polynesian realm which includes a few sovereign and independent island or archipelago countries.
Under Malayan we find that of several “Malayan” countries found in the region, the one with the most dynamic, most cosmopolitan, and most advanced economy is Malaysia. While Brunei is actually higher on the nominal GDP per capita scale, it’s an outlier because its wealth is predominantly dependent on oil alone with hardly any real economic diversification.
In fact, its public infrastructure is not as impressive nor as advanced as Malaysia’s at all. Moreover, Brunei is an absolute monarchy which has a British-influenced parliamentary system playing a subordinate “advisory” role to the Sultan. That being said, Malaysia is the best-run “Malayan” country (based on GDP per capita) and it uses a parliamentary system.
Under the Polynesian category, we also find that the best-run independent/sovereign “Polynesian” countries, namely Samoa – immediately followed on the IMF GDP per capita ranking by Tonga – happen to use Parliamentary Systems. There certainly are other Pacific Island countries as well, like Fiji and Vanuatu, but they are Melanesian, not Polynesian. Filipinos are more ethnically and culturally-similar to Polynesians than Melanesians. Samoa and Tonga both use parliamentary systems.
2. Geographical: Southeast Asian
Under the Southeast Asian heading, we essentially join in the Malayan ethnic family that we are in, but we also include other countries in the region – most of whom were just as poor or much poorer than us back in the 1960’s. Automatically, the model country in the region is Singapore, followed by Malaysia, both of whom use parliamentary systems.
3. Majority Religious Background: Predominantly Catholic
The Philippines, being predominantly Catholic – as more than 70% of its population identifies as having been raised with a Roman Catholic upbringing – should also find itself compared among other predominantly Roman Catholic countries.
These need not necessarily be countries in which church attendance is high, but instead, should point to the predominant culture as having been highly influenced by Roman Catholic traditions. The top four predominantly nominally Catholic countries from the 2009 GDP per capita rankings of the IMF and World Bank list are Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, and Belgium. As it turns out, the top ranks of predominantly Catholic countries are countries that use parliamentary systems.
Due to more than 300 years of Spanish influence, lowland Christian Filipinos can be culturally categorized as Hispanic-influenced, and therefore majority of Filipinos fall under the Iberian category.
Incidentally, numerous political scientists looking for a control group for variables in trends analysis often put the Philippines side by side with other Latin American countries due to the obvious similarities in temperament and cultural inclinations. Under both the Hispanic and Iberian categories, Spain is consistently at the top of GDP per capita ranking. Spain is the only Hispanic and Iberian country that uses a Parliamentary System. All other Hispanic (the whole of Spanish America, Equatorial Guinea, the Philippines) and other Iberian countries like Portugal and Brazil) all use presidential or semi-presidential systems.
5. Official Language: English-speaking
Most people would guess that that in the English-speaking realm which includes countries that speak English as a native language (USA, UK, Ireland, Australia, NZ) as well as countries that use English as an official language (including India, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, etc) it would be the USA, which uses a presidential system that tops this list.
As it turns out, the IMF, World Bank, and CIA Factbook 2009 rankings show that Ireland is at the top of the nominal GDP per capita ranking among all sovereign and independent English-speaking countries, and Ireland uses a parliamentary System. Incidentally, Ireland – like the Philippines – is also predominantly Roman Catholic, and moreover has a large percentage of actively-practicing Catholics.
For the IMF ranking, Ireland was preceded by Bermuda and the Channel Islands (Jersey & Guernsey), but those are not sovereign countries but are actually British dependencies. In the CIA Factbook ranking, Ireland was preceded by Jersey. In the GDP per capita ranking based on purchasing power parity, Singapore – which, like the Philippines, uses English as an official language of education and business but has a majority population whose native language is not English – does even better than the USA or Ireland. And Singapore, as mentioned, uses a parliamentary system.
6. Recent History: Formerly occupied by the USA
People are likely to think that all formerly US-occupied countries use the American System, but not really. There aren’t that many such countries that had once been occupied by the USA (without co-occupiers) and are now independent, and currently the list includes the Philippines, Palau, Japan, and the Federated States of Micronesia. From that list, the country that comes out on the top of that list for GDP per capita in 2009 is Japan – which uses a parliamentary system.
7. Territorial Type: Island States + Archipelagos of Two or more Islands
The Philippines is an archipelagic and “island” country. As such, a comparison of all countries falling under such a category should also be done. Under this category, we find ourselves among a group of sovereign and independent countries that includes Indonesia, Japan, New Zealand, Fiji, the Federated States of Micronesia, the UK, Iceland, Ireland, Mauritius, the Bahamas, Malta, Sri Lanka, Kiribati, etc.
Ireland – which uses a parliamentary system – comes out on top of the IMF nominal GDP per capita list of island and archipelagic countries and is followed on the list by Iceland, which also uses a parliamentary system. However, since both countries are essentially single-island states, a separate analysis that excludes single-island countries and looks only at archipelagic countries yields parliamentary Japan, which is an archipelago with three main islands plus numerous other small islands at the top of the list.
8. Ethnic Homogeneity / Heterogeneity: Countries with Three or more Ethno-linguistic Groups
As the Philippines is a country that is composed of numerous ethno-linguistic groups, with the majority of lowland Christian Filipinos alone being subdivided further into groups such as Ilocano, Ivatan, Kapampangan, Tagalog, Bicolano, Cebuano, Ilonggo, Waray, and many more, plus “highlander groups” such Ibaloi, Ifugao, Kalinga, Manobo, and others, as well as Bangsamoro groups including the Maranao, Tausug, Badjao, Iranun, etc, the Philippines is clearly an ethnically heterogeneous one, not only limited to ethnic identification, but more importantly including the reality of having numerous local languages (not mere dialects) in use.
Such a category thus requires a comparison to be made with other countries whose people are similarly ethnically-divided. Excluded from this category are melting-pot immigrant nations such as the USA, Brazil, and Argentina – to name a few – whose predominantly immigrant populations have extremely diverse origins, but mix together and essentially assimilate into a single mainstream. This category concentrates on countries in which ethnic identification predominates (instead of being just a matter-of-factly) and different languages are used for everyday purposes for at least three different groups. In this category are countries such as India, which is divided into different states who often have their own state languages and have cultural distinctions as against other states.
The same would include Switzerland, which is divided into Swiss German, French, Italian, and smaller Romansch-speaking areas, and names all four as official languages. Belgium qualifies too as is divided into three parts: A Dutch-speaking Flemish north, a French-speaking Walloon south, and a small German-speaking area. Belgium has three official languages.
Moreover, included in this list are countries such as Singapore whose people, though not separated regionally, are essentially divided into Chinese (further subdivided into Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hokchew, Hokchia, Hainanese, Hakka, and others), Malays (who, though united through the use of the Malay language, sometimes subdivide themselves into Melayu, Javanese, Bugis, Baweanese, Minangkabau, and others), and Indians (who are subdivided into Tamil, Malayalee, Hindu-Punjabi, Sikh-Punjabi, Konkani, Gujarati, Parsee, and others).
Singapore has four different official languages. Also included in this category are countries such as the UK and Spain, both of whom contain different regional ethno-linguistic identities who in recent history have tended to more strongly assert their separateness from the dominant culture of their respective capitals, such as the Scottish, Welsh, and Irish Catholics from Northern Ireland who assert their distinctness from the dominant English culture of the capital of London in the United Kingdom, on the one hand. On the other hand, Spain has “separate groups” such as the Catalans, Basques, and Galicians, who assert their distinctness from the dominant Castilian culture of Madrid in Spain.
Indonesia, too, is included in the group, as it is a country which – like the Philippines – is composed of numerous ethno-linguistic sub-groups, such as the Javanese, Riau Malays, Balinese, Minangkabaus, Ambonese, Baweanese, Bugis, and even Papuans from Irian Jaya. Though Indonesia officially recognizes only “Indonesian” which is based on Riau Malay based on mostly Dutch-based borrowings (as opposed Malaysia’s use of Malay which has mostly English borrowings), but most people still use their own local languages when among friends.
Canada finds itself in the list as it consists of three main blocs: Anglophone Canadians, Francophone Canadians, and the indigenous First Nations. While Anglophone Canadians and Francophone Canadians tend to assimilate other groups of people, such as the children of Filipino and Chinese immigrants in Vancouver becoming Anglophone Canadians on the one hand, whereas the children of Lebanese, Vietnamese, and Haitian immigrants in Montreal becoming Francophone Canadians, on the other, the distinction between these two main groups based on linguistic affiliation continues, and Canada continues to consider both languages official.
Within this category of countries ethno-linguistically divided into more than three groups, the IMF nominal GDP per capita ranking of 2009 shows Switzerland, on top, followed by Belgium, Singapore, and Spain following. All these countries use the parliamentary system.
9. Population Size: Countries 5 places higher and lower than the Philippines in total population
Another category would be population size. Since there are no countries that have the exact same population size as the Philippines which based on mid-2010 estimates is around 94,013,200, it’s best to pick out the five countries that rank higher in terms of population size as well as the five countries that rank lower than the Philippines.
In the list of countries that rank five places immediately above the Philippines in terms of population size, we have the following:
Bangladesh – 164,425,000 156th place in nominal GDP per capita
Nigeria – 158, 259,000 133th place in nominal GDP per capita
Russia – 141,927,297 59th place in nominal GDP per capita
Japan – 127,380,000 17th place in nominal GDP per capita
Mexico – 108,396,211 61th place in nominal GDP per capita
Among those that rank five places lower than the Philippines, we have:
Vietnam – 85,789,573 137th place in nominal GDP per capita
Germany – 81,802,257 16th place in nominal GDP per capita
Ethiopia – 79,221,000 172th place in nominal GDP per capita
Egypt – 78,888,000 114th place in nominal GDP per capita
Iran – 75,078,000 85th place in nominal GDP per capita
Of this list of countries combined, the top two countries in terms of nominal GDP per capita are Germany and Japan, both of whom use parliamentary systems.
10. Land Area: Countries 5 places higher and lower than the Philippines in total land area
Lastly, we check out the group of countries that are similarly sized in terms of total land area as the Philippines (299,764 km2) by combining the group of 5 countries bigger than the Philippines and 5 countries that are smaller than it. In the group of countries 5 places higher and 5 places lower than the Philippines in terms of total land area, the size-based ranking for those above the Philippines (bigger land area) are:
Norway – 323,802 sq.km 2nd place in nominal GDP per capita
Ivory Coast – 322,463 sq.km 138th place in nominal GDP per capita
Poland – 312,685 sq.km 49th place in nominal GDP per capita
Oman – 309,500 sq.km 36th place in nominal GDP per capita
Italy – 301,336 sq.km 21st place in nominal GDP per capita
Likewise, for the countries that are smaller than the Philippines, we find the following:
Burkina Faso – 274,222 sq.km 157th place in nominal GDP per capita
New Zealand – 270,467 sq.km 27th place in nominal GDP per capita
Gabon – 267,668 sq.km 64th place in nominal GDP per capita
Ecuador – 256,369 sq.km 89th place in nominal GDP per capita
Guinea – 245,857 sq.km 414th place in nominal GDP per capita
After joining both groups, the top 3 countries which come out on top economically (as per nominal GDP per capita) happen to be Norway, Italy, and New Zealand – all of whom use parliamentary systems.
Analysis of the Results:
This 10-point comparison among countries that fall within categories representing characteristics that define the Philippines has instructively revealed a simple and easy to spot trend.
As we can clearly see, there is even no need for complex statistical regression analysis to prove that the countries that come out at the top of each category happen to be countries which use Parliamentary Systems. Personally, the most surprising result of this simple comparative exercise was the revelation that the USA – the most well-known highly-developed country to use the Presidential System – did not have the highest per capita GDP among all English-speaking countries, and was instead bested in this category by Parliamentary-based Ireland.
By reviewing the results of this simple comparative exercise, it is clear for all to see that the Parliamentary System is by and large associated with superior economic performance, with higher per-capita GDP acting as the indicator. Since the categories used are clearly linked to characteristics associated with the Philippines, there is absolutely no merit in the mistaken notion that “the Philippines is not fit to try out the Parliamentary System.”
This simple exercise has proven with very easy-to-spot results that for the Philippines to at least attempt to emulate the best-performing countries within each of the 10 different categories representing characteristics shared with the Philippines, it needs to consider the option of switching over to the political system which has consistently produced better-performing economies with some of the highest per-capita GDP’s per year.
The Best are Parliamentary, The Worst are Presidential
The proof of the pudding is in the eating, as they all say, and the eating is all about economic performance versus economic non-performance. By just looking at the raw and unprocessed listing of the top 20 countries based on GDP per capita, we can easily spot the trend. This is not to say that all of the countries top of the nominal GDP per capita list use parliamentary systems. It’s just that out of 20 countries on the IMF list, 15 of them use parliamentary systems. On the World Bank listing, 17 out of the top 20 countries use parliamentary systems. In both the IMF and World Bank lists, only the USA uses a full presidential system.
Moreover, we also just need to simply compare the top 20 listing with the bottom 30 to see the other trend. Again, this is not to say that all countries at the bottom rung in terms of nominal GDP per capita use Presidential Systems. Indeed, countries like Ethiopia and Bangladesh which have long been associated with mass poverty use parliamentary systems.
However, on the World Bank listing, out of the bottom 30, only 6 countries use a parliamentary system. Likewise, in the IMF listing, only 4 countries out of 30 use the parliamentary system. The rest use full-presidential systems, semi-presidential systems, and military dictatorships.
By simply looking at both listings, it is easy to spot the fact that the Parliamentary System is generally associated with higher chances of economic success and lower chances of economic lethargy and failure. In fact, certain countries, such as Mongolia, Moldova, Lebanon, and Kyrgyzstan have consciously decided on shifting away from presidential forms (most of them came from semi-presidential or full-presidential systems) to adopt the parliamentary system in order to streamline their economic development through better policy-making.
Countless numbers of world-renowned political scientists such as Arend Lijphart, Juan Linz, and many more have pointed out trends which have revealed the superiority of the parliamentary system over the presidential system. Using statistical regression analysis, some economists such as Daniel Lederman, Norman Loayza, and Rodrigo Soares published a study entitled “Accountability and Corruption: Political Institutions Matter” which revealed very telling correlations between the use of a parliamentary system and lower incidences of corruption. A separate, though similar study by John Gerring and Strom Thacker, entitled “Political Institutions and Corruption: The Role of Unitarism and Parliamentarism” reveals the same results. Indeed, there really are so many advantages to adopting a parliamentary system over the more inefficient and gridlock-prone presidential system, yet so many ordinary Filipinos without much of a sincere desire to objectively understand the real merits of considering a shift to the Parliamentary System just easily dismiss it without even having intelligent reasons to justify their rejection.
Worse, there are numerous members of the oligarchic political élite who resist any proposal to shift to the Parliamentary System because they feel that they have much to lose from shifting to away from the familiar and easy-to-manipulate Philippine Presidential System.
This is simply because such a shift will immediately change the rules of the game. Instead of the current status-quo Philippine Presidential system which makes heavy use of patronage politics, the politics of name-recall, popularity & celebrity-status, the disbursement of largesse through the Pork Barrel fund, as well as the promotion of personality politics as opposed to party-centric and platform-based politics, a shift to the parliamentary system will immediately shift the political dynamics so that competence and track-record, not popularity, name-recall, or family heritage makes individual politicians rise within the ranks of their respective parties, and moreover, causes the parties with the most relevant platforms and the most feasible proposals, policies and programs to gain their numbers in parliament.
While the current Philippine Presidential System, with its propensity to consistently produce minority presidents allows vested interests from the oligarchy, powerful religious blocs, and other influence-peddlers to hold a single person – the President – hostage to their demands, such can never work in a parliamentary system. Within a Presidential System, the “supremacy” (power that is “over and above”) that the Office of the President holds over all other decision-making bodies as well as holding veto powers over the legislature, a President can be influenced, cajoled, harassed, pressured, or bribed into making a yes or no decision, regardless of whether this decision reflects the views of the wider public spread out across the entire country.
On the other hand, a Parliamentary System – in which the legislature itself controls the executive cabinet (cabinet members are themselves members of parliament) – works based on consensus, as the Prime Minister does not hold “supremacy” over different members of parliament. Instead, all a Prime Minister has is “primacy” (purely a position of “first among equals”) so that he/she may not ram down his/her own opinions or preferences over the other members of parliament, and instead, must carefully convince the members of parliament on the merits of each position to get their agreement.
(It will be recalled that it was the manner in which Australian PM Kevin Rudd tried to ram down his unpopular mining tax proposal to members of parliament which got his own party mates withdrawing support for him as Prime Minister, thus replacing him with Julia Gillard)
In other words, in a Parliamentary System, it is much harder for unscrupulous vested interests, such as rent-seeking monopolistic members of the oligarchy to influence public policy through special deals and bribes because they will have to influence a majority of members of parliament just to influence policy. Such unscrupulous vested interests, as much as they may try, cannot easily influence the Prime Minister, because a Prime Minister cannot make decisions alone and instead can only propose courses of action which need to be confirmed through a deliberative assembly.
In a Presidential System, unscrupulous vested interests need only to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe one person: the President. In a Parliamentary System, vested interests will find it difficult (and far too expensive) to harass, intimidate, influence, or bribe a majority of members of parliament because there are too many of them.
In the end, it is obvious why many members of the old oligarchy, extremists from some religious sectors, as well as other vested interests who seek to influence or control the public policies of the Secular State are against moves to shift over to the superior, more stable, more efficient, more accountable, and less-prone-to-corruption Parliamentary System as these vested interests will instantaneously lose their ability to influence or control public policy and subvert the public interest for their own selfish interests.
These have not even considered the fact that the Presidential System the Philippines is a highly personality-based system that unduly favors celebrities and people with popular surnames, as opposed to ensuring that the most competent people emerge on top.
While both India and Malaysia have many among their poorer classes of people generally exhibiting identical personality and behavioral characteristics with the “starstruck” masses of the Philippines such as a hero-worship of pop-stars, actors, and other celebrities, Malaysia and India have never ended up with actors, pop-stars, and incompetent-but-famous people ever having become Prime Minister. These differences in political dynamics very clearly explains why the Parliamentary System is ultimately more generally associated with much lower levels of corruption, superior economic performance, a better quality of life, and a much higher GDP per capita.
As everyone can see, the evidence is overwhelming as to the obvious superior performance of societies which use a Parliamentary System over those using a Presidential System. Filipinos who truly wish the Philippines to become a better-performing society with a much better economy, a higher GDP per capita, a much more stable political system, better public policies, and a better quality of life for its people should definitely make themselves intellectually open to the option of shifting to a system which is more generally associated with success. At the very core of our culture and identity as a people who are essentially a cross between Malay-Austronesian & Hispanic, we really have much more in common with Malaysia and Spain both of whom use the Parliamentary System and have progressed because of it than with the United States of America which uses the gridlock-prone Presidential System. It really is about time the Philippines shifted over to the Parliamentary System.
“Half the faculty at Yale Law describes the American Presidential System as one of this country’s most dangerous exports wreaking havoc on over 30 countries across the globe… It is a recipe for Constitutional Breakdown…”
– quoted from “The West Wing” character “Toby Ziegler”, Season 6 Episode 15