Friday, June 13, 2008

Philippines - Current Observations

In one of the luncheons he hosted recently for clients of the Rizal Commercial
Banking Corp., Ambassador Alfonso T. Yuchengco asked the writer Francisco
Sionil Jose to share some of his observations of the current scene. This is the
paper Mr. Jose read on that

By: F.Sionil Jose

What did South Korea look like after the Korean War in 1953? Battered, poor -
but look at Korea now. In the Fifties, the traffic in Taipei was composed of
bicycles and Army trucks, the streets flanked by tile-roofed low buildings.
Jakarta was a giant village and Kuala Lumpur a small village surrounded by
jungle and rubber plantations. Bangkok was criss-crossed with canals, the
tallest structure was the Wat Arun, the Temple of the Sun, and it dominated the
city's skyline. Rice fields all the way from Don Muang Airport - then a
huddle of galvanized iron-roofed bodegas, to the Victory monument.

Visit these cities today and weep - for they are more beautiful, cleaner and
prosperous than Manila. In the Fifties and Sixties we were the most envied
country in Southeast Asia. Remember further that when Indonesia got its
independence in 1949, it had only 114 university graduates compared to the
hundreds of Ph.D.'s which were already in our universities. Why then were
we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper
and better products.

The basic question really is: why we did not modernize fast enough and thereby
doomed our people to poverty.
This is the harsh truth about us today. Just consider
these: some 15 years ago a survey showed that half of all grade school pupils
dropped out after grade 5 because they had no money to continue schooling.
Thousands of young adults today are therefore unable to find jobs. Our natural
resources have been ravaged and they are not renewable. Our tremendous
population increase eats up all of our economic gains. There is hunger in this
country now; our poorest eat only once a day. But this physical poverty is
really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the
poverty of the spirit.

Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the
Atlantic Monthly came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture
which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do
find a great deal of truth in his analysis. This is not to say that I blame our
social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a
social system and an elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too,
in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one's hands is frowned upon and we
inherited that vice as well.
Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony
of our own elite.

We are poor because we are poor - this is not a tautology. The culture of
poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass
by a slum area every morning - dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and
drink. We do not save.. Look at the Japanese and how they save in spite of the
fact that the interest given them by their banks is so little. They work very
hard too. We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-
coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men,
their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang -
that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang.
How much better if it were channeled into production.

We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking.
Under its guise we protect inefficient industries and monopolies. We did not
pursue agrarian reform like Japan and Taiwan. It is not so much the development
of the rural sector, making it productive and a good market as well. Agrarian
reform releases the energies of the landlords who, before the reform, merely
waited for the harvest. They become entrepreneurs, the harbingers of change.
Our nationalist icons like Claro M.Recto and Lorenzo TaƱada oppose agrarian
reform, the single most important factor that would have altered the rural
areas and lifted the peasant from poverty.
Both of them were merely anti-American.

And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone
cronyism and corruption and we don't ostracize or punish the crooks in our
midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice
because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.

We can tackle our poverty in two very distinct ways.
The first choice: a nationalist revolution, a continuation of the revolution in
1896. But even before we can use violence to change inequities in our society,
we must first have a profound change in our way of thinking, in our culture. My
regret about EDSA is that change would have been possible then with aminimum of
bloodshed. In fact, a revolution may not be bloody at all if something like
EDSA would present itself again.
Or a dictator unlike Marcos.

The second is through education, perhaps a longer and more complex process.The
only problem is that it may take so long and by the time conditions have
changed, we may be back where we were, caught up with this tremendous
population explosion which the Catholic Church exacerbates in it's
conformity with doctrinal purity.

We are faced with a growing compulsion to violence, but even if the communist
won, they will rule as badly because they will be hostage to the same
obstructions in our culture, the barkada, the vaulting egos that sundered the
revolution in 1896, the Huk revolt in 1949-53. To repeat neither education nor
revolution can succeed if we do not internalize new attitudes, new ways of
thinking. Let us go back to basics and remember those American slogans: A Ford
in every garage. A chicken in every pot. Money is like
fertilizer: to do any good it must be spread around.

Some Filipinos, taunted wherever they are, are shamed to admit they are
Filipinos. I have, myself, been embarrassed explain for instance why Imelda,
her children and the Marcos cronies are back, and in positions of power? Are
there redeeming features in our country that we can be proud of? Of course,
lots of them. When people say for instance that our corruption will never be
banished, just remember that Arsenio Lacson as mayor of Manila and Ramon
Magsaysay as President brought a clean government. We do not have the classical
arts that brought Hinduism and Buddhism to continental and archipelago Southeast
Asia, but our artists have now ranged the world, showing what we have done with
Western art forms, enriched withour own ethnic traditions. Our professionals,
not just our domestics, are all over, showing how an accomplished people we

Look at our history. We are the first in Asia to rise against
Westerncolonialism, the first to establish a republic. Recall the Battle of
Tirad Pass and glory in the heroism of Gregorio Del Pilar and the 48 Filipinos
who died but stopped the Texas Rangers from capturing the President of that
First Republic. Its equivalent in ancient history is the Battle of Thermopylae
where the Spartans and their king Leonidas, died to a man, defending the pass
against the invading Persians. Rizal - what nation on earth has produced a man
like him? At 35, he was a novelist, a poet, an anthropologist, a sculptor, a
medical doctor, a teacher and martyr.

We are now 80 million and in another two decades we will pass the 100 million
mark. Eighty million - that is a mass market in any language, a mass market
that should absorb our increased production in goods and services - a mass
market which any entrepreneur can hope exploit, like the proverbial oil for the
lamps of China. Japan was only 70 million when it had confidence enough and the
wherewithal to challenge the United States and almost won. It is the same
confidence that enabled Japan to flourish from the rubble of defeat in World
War II.

I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real
and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the
intransigence of any foreign power. We are our own enemy. And we must have the
courage, the will, to change ourselves.

May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from the other.
- Genesis 31:49

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