Why Filipino Musicians And Artists Should Clamor For A Systemic Change

I work in the arts and education field. Much like an OFW, I have had to look into opportunities outside of my native Philippines to get decent work that would support myself and my family. Because of the Internet, I was able to do that from the comfort of where home might be. Otherwise, my son and I would starve had I only kept looking for opportunities locally.

Sometimes I ask myself why are there only very limited opportunities for musicians and artists such as myself here in the Philippines? Why has it been such an uphill battle? Isn’t there a way to level off the playing field?

Because of the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines has a very broken system of governance that keeps the competent people out of leadership in favor of popular ones. We simply don’t have a meritocracy here. Couple that with too much freedom, too much checks and balances in every aspect of government transactions, patronage politics, and a highly protectionist economic policy, and you have a recipe for keeping competition out in favor of the Philippine oligarchy. For decades, this has resulted in them being able to control wages and prices. They keep salaries low despite rising inflation. Lesser purchasing power, higher prices for everything. It’s a sad reality here in the Philippines.

Such facts are very much evident with the Philippines having expensive electricity, ridiculously slow internet (when compared to the rest of Asia), and rising prices for basic commodities. Couple that with a dearth of opportunities and low wages, it’s no wonder why we’re still in the Third World.

Now, what does have to do with anything in the arts? Anything in the field of arts appeals to a higher need, in accordance to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The arts mostly appeal to self-esteem and self-actualization needs. Therefore, in a country like the Philippines where many people will only have enough for biological needs (food, shelter), arts become low in the list of priorities. I’m in the music performance and music education field. This means that in my country, I won’t have the same opportunities as I would have in developed nations where they definitely have more funding for the arts. Would someone living below the poverty line who can only afford to eat Pagpag have enough money to spend on piano lessons? Of course not! They need to eat first!

Some people would say, “Why not give lessons or play for free.” Well, I have done just that all my life, but I need paying patrons too. I need to eat and I need to keep my bills paid.

Such limitations in the Philippine economy only means less patrons, and less music students. Therefore, less opportunities for musicians like me.

It’s no surprise why working musicians and artists like myself look for opportunities to get paid work in class B to A markets, which is just about maybe 5% to 10% of the Philippine population.

Why not enable the rest of society to get to that level? Why not turn the Philippines into something like Australia or Singapore? No wonder why most of my relatives are in Australia. It’s a matter of economics. The kinds of work they do in Australia (which pays them really well) only amounts to chump change here in the Philippines.

It’s old news to me that every artist in the world is experiencing such an uphill battle, even in developed economies. Being in a third-world nation only means that the struggle is harder.

The way I see how things would change is if the Philippines adopt a new system. I’m very much in favor of scrapping the 1987 Constitution to make way for a federal-parliamentary government that is practiced in more developed nations like Switzerland and Australia in order for changes to happen and an economic policy that allows for foreign investments to come in smoothly, a strategy that Singapore employed to transform their nation from a destitute land to one of the most influential economies in Southeast Asia. Such a change is long overdue.

There are people who would argue that it’s the people that need to change despite the system. For as long as I have lived on this earth, that has not happened simply because the 1987 Constitution has created an environment where the incompetent can flourish and the rich 1% can take advantage of the situation, limiting opportunities only to themselves while handing out enough scraps for the 99% to survive and keep them rich.

Should a more open economic policy open up, local businesses would have to compete against foreign investors. They would have to be able to match the quality of service at a lower price point. Wages would go up as more investors compete for skilled labor resulting in higher overall wages and purchasing power. The economy would improve, giving enough purchasing power to the masses to go for higher needs such as music and the arts. At least in this scenario, even my colleagues in the independent music scene won’t have to play music for free anymore.

Folks like Orion Dumdum from the CoRRECT Movement can explain how this works better than I am. If you want to know more, I recommend that you check out the CoRRECT Movements argument for a systemic change.

I hope I have stated enough reasons why a Filipino musician and artist like myself should keep on clamoring for a systemic change in the Philippines.

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