The Philippines: Still Poor After 26 Years Post-EDSA Revolution

I was nearing 6 years of age when strongman Ferdinand Marcos was forced to fly in exile after only somewhere around 2% to 3% of the Filipino population went to the streets for the so-called EDSA Revolution. Though young, I was already aware that such an event had big promises of change and social upheaval, the start of a society where every Filipino was equal in rights and privileges. After 27 years since that fated day, that promise remains to be fulfilled.

I remember all those years growing up how my parents were able to work hard and see the fruits of their labor blossoming to provide me and my sister the kind of middle class living that majority of Filipinos could only dream of having. One has to understand that while middle class style of living is pretty much standard in developed nations like Australia (where a number of my relatives live), in the Philippines it is rather exceptional. It is worth noting that despite the levels of success my parents were able to reach, as the years after the EDSA Revolution continued to progress, it became more and more difficult for my folks to be able to earn money from their garments manufacturing business. With changing economic forces around the world and antiquated local economic policies, my father’s employers suddenly closed shop, leaving him deprived of his retirement benefits. This also brought about the loss of my mother’s subcontracting business. Coupled with conniving and dishonest people that surrounded my parents like vultures, the years post-EDSA did not provide the kind of environment that would have allowed middle class people like themselves to prosper. I could imagine how much worse it would be for people who didn’t have much.

What does that story about my parents have to do with EDSA? A lot. Apparently, the greater freedom that EDSA was able to deliver provided a recipe for disaster to Filipino society. It only made means for the rich to get richer, the poor to get poorer, and the middle class to be strained close to poverty. Honest small business owners like my parents had to deal with red tape and inefficiency of government services as the BIR continued on their efforts to bleed them dry. All of this was happening while we keep hearing of corruption by post EDSA Revolution leaders, doing nothing with all their power and wealth to delude the ignorant masses to further enrich themselves. Now, I don’t really have to specify details about this. It’s pretty obvious how the Philippines is performing nowadays despite all that EDSA history.

It’s easy to blame the country’s leaders for the government’s shortcomings and failure to provide an environment that stimulates growth and creativity. However, are only the leaders to blame? The matter of fact is that Filipino culture is the culprit. Filipino culture is mired with impunity, mediocrity, and anti-intellectualism  brought about by the “pwede-na” (that’ll do) and “bahala-na” (come what may) philosophy that is so pervasive in society. It appears that every neighbor of the Philippines continues to grow leaps and bounds while Filipinos keep on holding to unsubstantiated “Pinoy Pride” whenever individuals like Manny Pacquiao or Jessica Sanchez garner accolades for their INDIVIDUAL achievements that have NOTHING to do with being Filipino. While competence in other countries lead to success, patronage politics and other underhanded tactics remain key determinants for success in the Philippines. Such cultural traits continue to be present despite the 27 years that Filipinos have been celebrating EDSA, hardly the mark of an advanced society.

I’m not at all surprised that some discerning individuals think of the EDSA Revolution as a joke because it was unable to deliver it’s promises of a society where everybody had equal access to opportunities. It has become such a joke that emotionally-driven Pinoys tend to hit the streets every time they feel angst about something (EDSA 2, 3, etc.). I was gullible enough to be dragged to EDSA part 2 (2001) only to realize that upon arrival it was nothing more than a stupid street party pretending to promote a just cause.

No matter how many times the Philippines changes its leaders, it will always be the same until culture changes. It is only until Filipino culture embraces competence as the standard will we see people with track records of excellence hold important seats in government. When Filipinos start thinking critically will we see the kind of changes we long for.

Surely we Filipinos now enjoy the freedom it had delivered, but that undisciplined freedom is what keeps the Philippines in its current sorry state. This freedom we now enjoy has led to chaos that had deprived many Filipinos of a decent standard of living. Ask the people in the slums eating “pagpag” if they can feel the benefits of EDSA. While they might give trivial and safe answers because of how they have been misled, they will always feel that misery for their sorry state. Such widespread misery is enough to convince me that there is no change after EDSA.

Manuel L. Quezon once duped the Filipinos into believing that they are ready to rule by arrogantly saying, “I would rather have a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by the Americans, because however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.” Bad (the absence of good) will always be bad, Mr. Quezon! I’d rather have heaven any time rather than your hell! Labeling “hell” as Filipino doesn’t make it any better. The absence of good can NEVER be delightful in any way. Making changes without any progress is useless effort. You can also add to that the fact that change can be for the worse. Look at EDSA. It’s legacy is still keeping the Philippines poor 26 years onwards.

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Filipino Mediocrity Starts with the Individual

About two Sundays ago, I went out for a typical family day with my wife and son. We ate out at the mall and bought some stuff like a light bulb and some new clothes for my wife. It is in these instances that I sometimes get to observe the proud Pinoy at his “finest”. Such behavior at centers of commerce prove the fact that the Pinoy really is anti-intellectual, unruly, mediocre and lack any form of discipline.

We were first at the gilded illusion of a first-world city called Makati, particularly it’s central business district (CBD). Filled with tall buildings and malls with a cozy atmosphere of recycled air, the CBD seems like the ideal go-to place, catering to the taste of people from the higher economic brackets. However, as you venture out of the CBD’s boundaries, you’ll see that Makati is no different than the jungles like Manila and Pasay have become with bad roads, nonexistent city planning, reckless drivers, unruly pedestrians, sleazy joints, etc. On our way out of the CBD, we only have a choice of a two-lane service road that’s similar to a lunar surface and an oppressively expensive tollway. We usually choose the latter for practicality (reduced wear and tear on the vehicle we use) and convenience.

Next we went to SM Bicutan, a place that caters more to the masses. Unfortunately, it is in this sort of place that the misery of the Filipino is more evident. The place just reeks of substandard merchandise and shallow entertainment options designed to drug the masses into a zombie-like, brainless state with four-on-the-floor thumping music and local cinema that’s devoid of anything of intellectual interest and creativity. To get good items or better options in such an environment, you’d have to dig deeper, avoid the pestering utterances of squads of salespersons, and exercise common sense and discernment.

In such an environment, you would readily notice the Pinoy’s lack of courtesy and respect for his fellow man. One manifestation of this is at the parking lot where many drivers have no respect for no-entry or one-way signs. There’s supposed to be an organized way by which drivers should navigate the internal pathways of the parking lot, and such a way is labeled by big signs labeled “This Way” and “Wrong Way”. Apparently, many prefer entering the “Wrong Way” just so they can get ahead and pick out the parking spot they like. In this regard, economic class was not a factor as I have seen a lot of these people driving very expensive vehicles. Many moviegoers in its cinemas are just the worst. They’re loud and crude as they do not respect the need for silence in movie theaters. They would let their cell phones ring loudly and chatter away as if they were watching mind-numbing TV at home. Chaos seems to be the norm for the Pinoy, and it’s level would skyrocket whenever SM hosts some local celebrity event.

It really is odd in these malls like SM where there seems to be a 1:3 salesperson to customer ratio. I probably am exaggerating here, but for items that do not require any form of technical expertise it doesn’t make a lot of sense to have an army of salespersons occupying every corner of the store. People should be disciplined enough to go choose and take items for themselves, and put things back in order. As a creature of chaos, the Pinoy will not do that, hence the armies of salespersons on very low salaries. This goes to show that apparently you cannot trust the Pinoy to take the merchandise from the checkout counter himself and has to be treated like a king with his every idiotic whim.

I have become friendly with the staff of Lazer Music in SM Bicutan. They certainly have some good merchandise. However, I’m assuming that the management of the place know that a majority of people who try their hands at music are not musically adventurous at all. How do I know? I’ve asked the place numerous times for a 6-string bass. They don’t have it. These days, you wouldn’t really consider a six-string bass to be an unusual instrument, but in the Philippines it is hard to find one. It just is sad to know that many Filipino musicians aren’t willing to go beyond the standard instruments available. If you try out something new, you could be labeled as “hambog” and “mayabang”. Many Pinoys are afraid of change and do not have an innovative spirit at all, and the music store is a sad reflection of that since the management knows that most aspiring Pinoy musicians do not aspire to do more and will not try out something new. Their only recourse is to sell the standard stuff; unusual instruments are out of the question. It’s the same prevailing attitude when you claim to play progressive music in the Philippines; either you earn respect or you get derided for being flashy and out of the norm. Collectivist mentality at work.

I was genuinely amazed at how very few Filipinos would be fascinated by new ideas. The Lazer Music staff happen to be such folk. They were very interested when I introduced to them things like Mark Wood’s violins, Jordan Rudess’s iPad apps and the GuitarViol. I suppose there’s still some hope as at the very least there’s a few open minds out there willing to check out and explore innovative ideas.

So here’s how I could sum up my ramblings:

1. Makati CBD is like opium, designed to numb people from the problems outside of it.
2. Pinoy consumerism and anti-intellectualism create a vicious cycle: The lack of interest in anything intellectual and innovative leads business owners to sell products that serve to feed only shallow interests. These include entertainment options that gives a quick laugh, thrill, excitement, sexual arousal, etc, but lacking in facility to provoke people into thinking of ideas. Such cheap thrills provide the positive reinforcement to think less and then act like animals on impulse. Just like Mark Mothersbaugh sings about, “Are we not men? We are Devo!” Pinoys are devolving. Such substandard merchandise appeals readily to the Pinoy “Pwede na yan” (that’ll do) mentality.
3. Such brain killing activities and products turn men into monkeys, having lost the ability to follow simple rules like “Do not enter. Wrong way.” Idiots and assholes they have become as they confuse what’s right from wrong.
4. It seems to me that the whole design of these places is to keep people ignorant and stupid, so that they can be controlled and manipulated to benefit the interests of major business owners. No value is added, no wealth is created.
5. If you, the thinking kind, would hope that such ignorant people would be wiped off the planet, you’re dead wrong. They multiply like jackrabbits.
6. We need not despair yet as there is a chance that the problems could be reversed, given the fact that there still are a few who are willing to think and accept new ideas. While it is very difficult for me to find people who would be interested in sensible and meaningful conversation, there still are a few.

A Misunderstanding of What Innovation Is

I just read this article from YahooI News:

http://ph.she.yahoo.com/fast-food-chain%E2%80%99s-newest-burger-stumps-critics–consumers-20120628.html

It seems to me like a sign of a lack of ideas or a misunderstanding of what innovation is. Innovation for me is a fresh idea that pushes boundaries and conventional notions but is useful as well. It may be provocative but with a clear purpose in mind, a signal for a change of perception and a new way of doing things in a more practical or beneficial manner. Sadly, this new KFC cheese top burger, no matter how the folks of KFC Philippines think about it, does not fall under what I perceive to be innovative.

I don’t understand what the deal is with KFC Philippines. In my opinion, they’ve been concocting some of the worst dishes I have ever seen or tasted. This by far takes the top spot. I could just imagine how uncomfortable I would be having this sandwich. Is putting cheese on top of a burger bun something you would call innovative? If you want your cheese to stick immediately to your fingers or see it clinging from the takeout wrapper, then by all means you can have this disaster of a sandwich. What about patty top burger, mayonnaise top burger, Coke-soaked burger? This is something that even an imbecile could easily think of making.

I wouldn’t be surprised if KFC Philippines stole an idea from a Nickelodeon series “The Mighty Bee”. There was this episode where the main character prepared a three-course meal for her scoutmaster only to chew it up and regurgitate it before serving. So watch out for the next KFC product: The easy-to-eat, easy-to-swallow chicken bucket meal – Pre-chewed to save time!