Saturday, February 25, 2012

Philippines After 26 Years: Still Camping in the Desert

It was not too long ago when I contributed an article - Standard & Poor's Downgrade: U.S. Going the Wrong Way - to Blogcritics, a seemingly American Conservative group.  It solicited a response from one American who turned out to have ties to the Philippines, by way of his Filipino wife.  I decided to share it now after reading a few articles that tackled several issues that continue to frustrate Filipinos, 26 years after a peaceful revolution that earned us our freedom. Here is what he wrote:

Hello, Cordi -

Great article, and sure to be panned by the BC conservatives since you lay the blame where it belongs.

But I wanted to mention an observation - I'll be moving to Quezon City in a few months (my oldest son is teaching college and my youngest son is in fourth-year high school, both in Q.C.) for the reasons I listed in this article. It is as I've heard a few Pinoy say, America's a great place to make money, but it's better to grow old in the Philippines.

But back to the observation - when I visited my wife's family there while we were in the middle of the Great Recession here stateside, I traveled from Taguig (which is a modern and beautiful place even by western standards - Google "Serendra") to Baguio to La Union and back to Q.C., and I saw nary a sign of the Great Recession that the U.S. and Europe were going through. I figured this was because of the Pinoy attitude: if you don't have a job, don't sit around waiting for one but go out and make one - start a business, even if it's selling taho in the iskinita. I think that's why most Pinoy stateside are either professionals or businesspeople, or are trying to start businesses of their own.

But that's the difference between America and the Philippines - America has a reliable way to collect taxes, whereas the Philippines doesn't, and so they have to rely greatly on import duties and fees to help finance their government (which is why electronics is so much more expensive there). America, OTOH, reliably and automatically collects taxes, and so can afford the wealth of social programs we have here (not to mention our hideously-expensive military (I'm retired Navy)). If the Philippines had a better system of collecting income and business taxes, they'd be able to afford so much more and provide an actual social safety net.

But I suspect that will not happen in my lifetime...and even though I'm a dyed-in-the-wool bleeding-heart liberal, I sometimes wonder if it's better that it doesn't. Why? Because without the social safety net, the Pinoys are forced to strive harder - witness the bookstores where the fiction books take up less than a quarter of the space, but nearly half consists of professional certification and qualification manuals!

And because they've had to strive harder, they've excelled in much of the world, as is evinced by the fact that one-third of ALL crewmembers on the world's merchant marine ships are Pinoy. It helps that most Pinoy are intelligent - indeed, can America produce an example of a polymath like Jose Rizal who, by the age of 32 when he was martyred, had become a practicing eye surgeon, had published two books of national importance, had traveled the world, and knew twenty-two languages? Perhaps Benjamin Franklin comes close, but that's about it.

Don't get me wrong - I'm no Filipinophile, for there's many problems there that we would not abide here stateside (again, see the article I referenced above). But there's a lot of lessons we could learn from the Philippines. Problem is, America's got this attitude that if the idea didn't come from America, then it must not be a good idea. That attitude is IMO America's greatest shortcoming - the unwillingness of Americans to learn from other nations or cultures...which is probably the same obstacle faced by every nation in history that has stood unchallenged.

Sorry for the rambling comment - it's just that I'm glad to see someone lay the blame where it belongs, and that the same someone can understand and appreciate the observations I've made over the years.

My reply:

Hi Glenn,

I agree with you on your observations about the Philippines. We lost our way a long time ago and have been so far out that we decided to camp. Haha!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Enrile: Road to Redemption or Perdition

The impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona remains as enigmatic as the man tasked to lead the panel of its judges, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.

Recently, Esquire Magazine banked on the trend and published an interesting article, What I've Learned: Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile.  Although he spoke with the wisdom of a man who was "not fortunate enough to be born in a soft bed," one cannot tell at his age of 92 years if he is on the road to redemption or perdition.

On one hand, he professes to believe in a Supreme Being.  On the other, he says, "How does one get anything done in Congress? You have to have friends. You have to maintain connections with people who have the cloud."  By all indications, he is still a politician who can go either way.  There is just no way of getting a sense from him as to who this impeachment trial will end up serving-Filipinos or Corona.

After all, Enrile, who once had to learn from the "art of war" in order to survive in the "jungle" as he referred to life, might just be reserving the right to change his mind in case the fight ends up being a matter of his own survival.  Besides, history often repeats itself.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

EPAL: Most Helpful in Public Toilets

Mang Juan worked in the farm owned by the governor of their town.  He smuggled some rice from work to bring home to feed his family.  He got caught and lost his job. A few days ago, he went to the town's faith healer around the corner for a tumor he had in his back. Of course, he had no health insurance. Now, he is dead.

The governor hears the news. It is a year before election. He orders his men to bring some refreshments to the wake of Mang Juan. Without further ado, they drive their black SUV to the depot where they keep all kinds of campaign materials, all printed down to the sugar sachets with the governor's name.  They say to the issuing clerk, "para sa patay."  She hands them a couple of bags and off they go to Mang Juan's wake.

Prrrt!  Stop. Hold your horses. I must admit that I have just written a likely scene for a soap opera. However, would you not agree that art often imitates life?

A politician giving alms to poor people and using it as a way to advertise himself is not only tasteless but moronic. They think they are so smart to play with emotions of those who are in their most vulnerable to remember their names. I say to them, for heaven's sake, does wisdom count in your brains?  Would you go as far as advertising your failures in coffee cups for the dead?

And by the way, I have a better idea for you guys.  EPAL will be most helpful in public toilets to help people do their business with ease.  Oh yes, on toilet paper too at all SM bathrooms.

Toilet with face photo from