You don’t need to look far. The current political tele-dramas that have rivetted Filipinos lately point to it. Thievery on such an unprecedented vast scale perpetrated by the elected officials of a society are proof in itself. Many of them were not elected once but twice — and their offspring and kin elected despite all that. When a mistake is made once, we can let it slide. Twice mistaken, stupidity becomes a possibility. More than that constitutes a criminal abuse of the Vote.Champions of Philippine democracy have long asserted that the Vote constitutes the “voice of the people”. Consider then that Philippine Congress is now widely considered to be the country’s biggest criminal syndicate we can conclude from there that this is a reflection of the character of the society that elected its members.
You can’t blame Filipinos if they suffer from collective trust issues. Jaime Licauco in an Inquirer article dated 22 May 2001 went as far as saying that: “A nation whose policies and rules are based on the assumption that everybody is a cheat and liar unless proven otherwise cannot long endure. Take a close look at our bureaucracy and its rules. It is burdened by elaborate and often unnecessary checks and balances so that nothing ever gets done in the process.”
Why can’t things be simplified in the Philippines? Because Filipinos cannot be trusted to be honourable enough to do the right thing on their own volition. And so whereas a standard process will require, say, one approval and one validation, those Filipinos are subject to in their country require double or even triple that. It is easy to see this dynamic at work in one’s routine commute to and from work. There are steel and concrete barriers littered all over Manila’s roads that are meant to physically control traffic flow. Compare this to other cities in the world where mere concepts painted on the road largely suffice.
In such societies, people trust one another to follow the rules. Indeed, the whole system works on the basis of each individual adhering to these rules. There is mutual trust on a vast scale and, as such, prosperity is at a scale that matches the extent and depth of this social trust. In short, there is honour amongst the participants of the well-oiled systems of interaction in prosperous societies, and that honour is well-rewarded at a macro level.
Compare this to the Philippines where everything is snarled by Filipinos’ blanket mistrust of one another. Nowhere is this profound mutual distrust Filipinos feel for one another more evident than in the way Filipinos build their homes. Where such perks could be afforded, Filipino residential communities are walled fortresses patrolled by armed guards. And within these fortified enclaves, individual homes are walled up as well.
Suffice to say, the Philippines remains a feudal society in more ways than one, even in the 21st Century. It is true, however, that the northern societies that dominate the planet today were all forged in the horrors of medieval feudalism that lasted for centuries. The evolution from that state of affairs into the prosperous, cohesive, and largely egalitarian societies that these great countries are today was long and bloody. One would argue that it is unfair to compare a young country such as the Philippines to these comparatively ancient societies. But history only matters when lessons can be learnt from it. Singapore, for example, did exactly that; pulling itself together against the odds and prospering mightily against the pressures presented by its fragmented ethnic striven social fabric, its small size and military weakness, and its being abandoned by its former colonial masters. It achieved in a few decades what many societies took centuries to achieve.
The story of how Singapore went from Third World to First World within less than half a century debunks any excuse that the Philippines remains a chronic failure because it lacks Europe’s and northeastern Asia’s history and the strong social harmony that took centuries to establish in those parts. For that matter, there is no point in making excuses for failure. Twenty First Century technology offers unprecedented access to humanity’s vast knowledgebase. Filipinos simply need to use the Net to learn how to build stuff instead of using it to take selfies and download porn.
Thus the bigger challenge we face is in finding evidence of honour that transcends family and religious ties — as what we can see in truly modern societies where all ethnic and religious groups and minorities are treated fairly and respected unconditionally. And if we cannot find any beyond quaint examples of “honour” at small community and clan levels that comes easy due to family, religious, or ethinic ties, then we need to reflect on what needs to be done to build that social honour to a scale that befits a 21st Century nation. The alternative will be to remain a poor sorry excuse for a country forever lamenting the poor hand history has dealt it.
[Photo courtesy MomFilter.com.]