Saturday, April 19, 2008

Whats wrong with Philippine politics

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The simple answer is a great deal if you judge by the figures on economic growth. You could be forgiven for thinking the economy is shugging away quite nicely, but one has to note that its supported by 4 issues which are not of its own making:
1. Strong commodity prices
2. Remittances from Filipinos abroad - which should actually be seen as a negative because these are family members who sympathise with the plight of their family members, or its Filipinos who were forced abroad by a lack of opportunities or adequate pay. No other comparable country has such a large proportion of their population abroad.
3. Strong money supply growth - I dont know if this is because of government printing money. It might be repatriated funds going into local property to be enjoyed by future retirees and local family members.
4. The call centre industry - Americans saw the opportunity, but now Filipino companies are finally developing the market.

Well thats the economy. It has lagged others - the question can be answered on multiple levels.

Competitive advantage
This country is not open to competition. In fact its rather closed. There are alot of industries where foreigners are just not invited. I think there are political obstructions to this at a very high level. Foreigners cannot own an educational institution. You might wonder why? Certainly foreigners have at least a 'growth story' to teach Filipinos.
I think there are alot of Filipinos in positions of power who do not want to surrender their cozy position, like the Catholic Church keeping control of the education system. But in most areas I dare say its just the process that undermines change. So what is wrong with the system.

Democracy does not work
Democracy only works is so far as it offers stability, but it does not guarantee rational outcomes. Only a properly structured political system can deliver rational outcomes. In Philippine politics there is utterly no sense of reality. By that I mean you never see the truth emerge. Everything is done behind closed doors. No one is held accountable for what they say or do. These people at the top of the pyramid are supposed to be role models, but read the newspaper, and you would have to conclude that its a joke. But this is democracy.

The ethics of the Philippines
The democratic institutions in the Philippines were borrowed from the USA. They work better in the USA to be sure, but then that is a relative standard. Things could be better in the USA when you consider their crime rates, monetary largesse, debt levels, government policy, etc. But we can argue that our politics is a product of people's understanding of how the game is played. The system stays in play because Filipinos dont see the big picture. The Philippines is a poor country, and they have an underfunded education system. Teachers are not well trained, but parents are even worse. I have never seen a more self-indulgent citizenry in my life. They eat rubbish with no regard for theit health, they spend money like there is no tomorrow, they live off their relatives abroad, and have a matching HUGE sense of entitlement upon anyone with money, whether its a rich uncle, foreigners or relatives abroad.
They lack the ability to think well. They have limited capacity to conceptually think, though that is to be expected in a poor country, even among the educated elitists, whom you would expect to be self-important, arrogant and defensive about the lack of accomplishments of their country in the modern era. I was in Baguio City a few months ago reading how the Philippines bought in cheap labour 50 years ago to build the highway there. What? Is that a misprint? Nope. It was not so long ago that the Philippines was behind Japan. What a change for the worse. So if we dont expect Filipinos too be smart, what should we expect? Well how about working?
This culture is not geared towards education to be sure. In fact its hard to find a province which embraces education as a political priority. Quezon Province strikes me as one of the better ones since it has 12-14 libraries from memory. How are kids supposed to develop in such a lawless land. Anything goes here. I know why Filipinos are so deaf, why they so easily turn off, its because they grow up in such noisy chaos. How could anyone think with that? I moved out of an apartment for less than the people in slums would be putting up with. This strikes me as a leadership problem. Filipinos have been used to servitude.

Historical legacy
I think the Philippines has to come to terms with its history. I think the Philippines value system went down the toilet under the Spanish occupation, and that fact was never acknowledged. It doesn't require alms from Spain, but the issue needs to be acknowledged because this is a nation of victims. It extends beyond the 'comfort women' in Korea, Malaysia, China (also Philippines), etc whom were exploited by the Japanese. This goes further back, but its impact is far more pervasive on the culture because it was 150-odd years...not a few years. That has scared the country, and the impact of the Americans and Japanese did not help, not to mention the Catholic church, business, in fact any authority that has managed this society.
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Andrew Sheldon www.sheldonthinks.com
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