Philippine Democracy is a Farce: It is a Plutocracy!

“He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

I remember hearing this statement 11 years ago as part of my training as a medical transcriptionist. Back in those days, I was earning a rather miserable Php 7,000 a month, equivalent to about $160. At that time, I was fortunate that I was living rent free in a double-income family consisting of myself, my wife, and my 1-year-old son. Living my life as a so-called “Yuppie” during those days reminded me of a term that my wife uses to this day: “Corporate Slavery”. My wife and I had to slug it out in the harsh corporate world to earn some cash that barely covers our living expenses. I can only imagine how worse it must have been for my colleagues who had to pay rent plus have to support not only themselves but members of their extended family as well. Even as I rose from the ranks to gain positions of leadership, amounting to a somewhat better salary, it doesn’t help at all that around 30% or more from my gross salary would just go to taxes. Being somewhat well-informed, I then discover that my former line of work would earn at least thrice as much or more in developed nations. I began to ask myself why can’t we have the same thing here in the Philippines when we work our asses off as much as our brethren working in the same field for a lot more. Then it occurred to me that the Philippines is mainly marketed in the whole world as a source of cheap labor. Now the question is, who would promote the Philippine workforce in that way? It seemed to me the answer is none other than the oligarchs who own most of the big businesses in the Philippines.

Given that the oligarchs have priced the talents of the Filipino workforce in such a cheap way, many have resorted to going overseas as OFWs. We all know the reason for this: it is for none other than earning at least twice as much, sticking the almighty Dollar in their pockets in an effort to have the means to have a better quality of life back home. Now, is there any way that Filipinos can have a great paying job at home? In some way, the advent of freelancing websites like oDesk have made it possible, but only to a limited extent. The fact remains that it is only internet-savvy Filipinos who have the capability to do this, and I’m afraid to say if you take into account the general populace of the nation, they amount to only a small fraction. This is compounded by the fact that not a lot of Filipinos who try working from home via the Internet get great opportunities, no thanks to many Filipino freelancers who keep on driving the prices down to a miserable level. This in turn reinforces that Filipino labor is cheap in the eyes of the global community. I ask myself this: Has the Filipino been dumbed down by the oligarchs that even those who have set their sights on the global workplace would drive their rates down? The answer seems to be a big “Yes!”

It seems to me that one of the problems of Filipino society is an anti-competitive attitude coupled by mediocrity. The work ethic where “pwede na yan” (that’ll do) as a foundation results in — you guessed it — a cheap and mediocre product. Now, I speculate that the root cause of such thinking is none other than mind control by the oligarchs. For years, Filipinos have been conditioned to think that their talents and skills are cheap by local businesses offering 8- to 12-hour working days for miserable rates. The naturally persevering Filipino would then accept it as an inescapable fact of life they have to go through while muttering complaints under their breath about how miserable life is in the Philippines, so much so that they aspire to go abroad or go online for better employment opportunities. For the few who are successful enough like some OFWs and some online freelancers, they get to spend their money at home, purchasing products from none other than oligarch-owned companies and pay their taxes to the government. Since the oligarchs effectively use the government as its subordinate to strong-arm the people to their will, nothing changes: the economic playing field will always remain in favor of the oligarchs.

I suppose at this point one can see this vicious cycle going on:

1. Oligarch sets up business.
2. Oligarch employs local labor dirt cheap.
3. Local workforce continues to live under miserable conditions and aspires to go abroad as an OFW.
4. OFWs return home, some successful, some not-so-successful, but both will nevertheless spend money in oligarch-produced commodities and taxes.
5. Money goes to the oligarchs and the government, only for them to repeat step 1.

The success of this cycle maintained by the oligarchy relies on a number of factors, but the big thing is this: the restrictive, protectionist economic policy of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. Now, I am no economist, and what I’m saying right now is my personal observation, but it is what we are experiencing at the moment.

One will be apt to conclude that the Filipino masses are effectively rendered a captive market of the oligarchs. If you see it this way, you wouldn’t be surprised that they are staunch opponents of constitutional reform. As things look the way they are now, the oligarchs will control government in order to keep the status quo by closing off great opportunities to many Filipinos. They effectively do this by keeping competition out of the equation.

Now what’s all this got to do with democracy in the Philippines? A whole lot. The oligarchs will start conning the masses into voting for political aspirants with ties to the oligarchs. Vote buying and control of local media amount to some of the biggest methods for it. The oligarchs and the government will also try and make the populace become more dependent upon them by slowly creating a welfare state, the biggest example of which would be the conditional cash transfer program. By controlling their minds, their emotions, and their stomachs, these oligarchs will continue to exert control over voter choices and behavior. The so-called excess freedom of the Filipinos described by the late Lee Kuan Yew is being used, paradoxically, as an control agent. Filipinos are given freedom to do the most mundane and stupid things one can observe on the streets in exchange for giving power to the oligarchs. Sounds kind of like the Philippine masses are being drugged into willful submission.

It’s safe to say (as it has been said by a number of individuals way before me) that the Philippines is under a plutocracy perpetuated by the oligarchs. This will continue to be the case until we Filipinos get to have the balls to shake things up, revise the Constitution, and create a Free Market society that allows investors from around the world to come to the Philippines and create better opportunities. Should this happen, it will level the playing field for both oligarchs and the masses and then ultimately address the problem of economic inequality. If such changes were to happen, reports of a booming Philippine economy wouldn’t feel like a big lie . It’s high time we get rid of the rule, “He who has the gold, makes the rules.”

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The K-12 Education Upgrade in the Philippines: Is it a Solution to Poverty?

K+12-Education-program-of-the-Philippines

I’m close to completing my M.A. in Music Education. All I need to do now is write my thesis, something that’s scheduled for June of this year. In my music education seminars with one of my favorite professors, the K-12 program is discussed a lot. Matter of fact is that one of my projects for “Current Trends in Music Education” is a syllabus and sample learning plans for grade 12 music track students. It’s called “Music Production, Composition, and Sound Design with Computers”, something that I hope will be offered in schools by the time the first batch of Filipino grade 12 students start their work. I have to say first that I am all for this education upgrade in the Philippines. It’s one step that perhaps the Philippines is going somewhere towards improvement. Some people (my professor included) would even boldly claim that the K-12 program is the solution to poverty in the Philippines. Thinking about this, I would like to look into it deeper and see if it’s true. Is K-12 implementation really the solution to poverty in the Philippines?

The intents and purposes of the K-12 program are good. In a nutshell, the K-12 program is designed to better prepare the students for employment and/or higher learning right after secondary school. It is assumed that the K-12 program will produce fresh high school graduates who are ready to enter the workforce immediately, allowing themselves to be contributors to society as seen in all first world nations. I see this as a very good thing, having been denied many times of employment opportunities when I was still at the college level. The K-12 program is meant to address that problem by churning out workforce-ready individuals. It is assumed that we no longer have to see job ads that require just college graduates or college-level students. Sounds good, right? On the surface, many would say yes. Reality is a different thing, however. There is some level of certainty that these future graduates of the K-12 program would have the skills and knowledge necessary for employment, but the question now is where will they get jobs?

The hard reality now hits us. Many college graduates in the Philippines have it hard getting employed. I’ve experienced this myself. I was trained as an occupational therapist and I passed the boards back in August 2004. The problem was that I could not get a job at hospitals. Now, why is that? Many hospitals (yes, even commercial ones) prefer volunteers just because they don’t have to be given even a small transportation allowance. It’s a cost-cutting measure while gaining the ability to offer professional-level rehab services. Seeing that the culture in Philippine hospitals is like this, it made no sense to me at the time, especially that I already had a family to support. Volunteering simply will not enable me to pay the bills. It’s a despicable practice! A person who works has to be paid the correct wages. The premise is that rehab professionals have to slug it out for a minimum of 3 years with no salary just to gain fillers for their resumes so they can go for jobs abroad.

Speaking of going abroad for employment, at this point in time it is the aspiration of many Filipinos because of the scarcity of good-paying jobs in the Philippines. Local employers only offer paltry sums for wretched, grueling hours of hard work. Let’s face it, folks. You can’t expect a call center agent earning a gross amount of Php 20,000 to provide a good standard of living for his/her family when 32% of that will go to taxes. How many years will such an employee have to spend in order to save enough to place a partial sum for a small house and lot in Cavite or Bulacan? Will such an employee be able to sustain paying off the mortgage for 10 years or more? The point is that there are only very few jobs in the Philippines that would allow for an acceptable standard of living. If such is the case of your call center agent nowadays, the situation would certainly look grim for future K-12 graduates simply because there is no assurance of them being able to get employed right after they graduate. College graduates have it hard nowadays, and it does look like it will be harder for them future K-12 graduates if things do not change. The only glimmer of hope for these K-12 as well as college grads would be to go where the grass is greener: abroad!

We always hear of the government giving praises for the OFWs they barely support. OFWs are rightfully called heroes since a big chunk of the Philippine economy is due to their contributions. OFWs have to go through all sorts of crap and hell in their host countries as they try to bring home the bacon. It’s sad that many Filipinos are forced to fly away from home and be torn away from their families for employment instead of doing such things by choice. Many enlightened Filipinos have the government to blame for this. It seems to me that the K-12 program is a platform for training more OFWs for the Philippine government to send elsewhere in the world and then simply milk them dry via taxes. It’s an open secret where most of those taxes go that I don’t really have to spell it out.

I do think that it is stupid to send out cows to the neighbor’s grassy plains when you have the capacity to plant some good grass yourself. Now, what do I mean by this? The Philippines can have the capacity to bring more foreign investors in to create more jobs for Filipinos if only the Government would take out protectionist economic policies as outlined in the 1987 constitution. Such policies only keep the oligarchs (who are unable to compete in an international scale) in power. Should such economic policies be lifted, highly competitive foreign investors would come in to offer better services and good-paying jobs, forcing local businesses to step up their game. It can be a win-win situation if you ask me. If such economic restrictions are lifted, we can have access to better services, technology, products, and great-paying job opportunities from both local companies (who should be forced to compete) and foreign (already competitive) businesses. Such third-world to first-world stories have been seen in the likes of Singapore and South Korea. It’s very possible for the Philippines to go such a route, which is possible only if radical changes are made in the government and in society itself!

Going back to the question, is the K-12 education upgrade in the Philippines a solution to poverty? I would have to say it is not a complete solution. If these future K-12 graduates find employment as OFWs, we can say that they will be able to improve their lives and contribute to society and the economy. I would have to admit that. However, with our current presidential system of government, protectionist economic policies, rampant corruption, and the Filipino culture of having too much freedom and a lack of discipline, I would have to say that the Philippines will remain to be the sick man of Asia despite the implementation of K-12. For things to improve, us Filipinos have to start opening up our eyes and minds to the idea of change.

The Prevalence of Idiocy

I just read a news item dated September 30, 2014 that says LTFRB executive Ariel Inton has proposed a ban on private vehicles on EDSA during peak hours as a solution to Metro Manila’s traffic woes. Now, the picture below is a phenomenon that every Filipino motorist has to deal with on a daily basis:

EDSA Cubao Traffic Photo by Towie Vasquez

(Photo courtesy of Towie Vasquez via Facebook)

Now,  given the fact that I (and at least a handful of others) witness this sort of chaos every day while driving on most major Metro Manila thoroughfares, would you really say that Mr. Inton’s proposal is the best? One is compelled to think how much LTFRB officials earn by protecting the interests of these bus operators. In the midst of this chaos, not once have I seen any of these bus drivers and operators pay the penalty for clogging up Metro Manila’s major highways. From my perspective, it seems that every person supposed to be in charge of organizing Metro Manila traffic (from the level of the lowest-ranking LTFRB, MMDA, and local traffic enforcement lackey up to their top brass) is keen on preying upon private motorists for the slightest infraction yet they would never tangle with the perennial traffic violators driving buses and jeepneys. That’s concrete evidence of impunity in Philippine culture, folks! I’d like to add as well that it simply is idiocy to propose solutions that don’t address the problems that are clearly seen.

Given the picture above, the solution seems obvious: a massive redesign of Metro Manila’s public transportation policies. Things that come to mind include one of the following:

  1. Get rid of all the colorum (i.e. illegal) buses.
  2. Phase out the jeepney (Why should we keep on using antiquated technology?).
  3. Implelement strict public transport schedules that could be found in various developed nations.
  4. Upgrade the present railway system.
  5. Implement traffic rules and regulations to the letter of the law.

Now, I understand that given the hypersensitive hair-trigger temper of my fellow countrymen (“balat sibuyas”), many will object to such suggestions which, I would admit, are not in any way unique. Such objections are the result of many things not limited to preference to the status quo, resistance to change, and resistance to any exercise in disciplined and organized behavior (as evidenced by the aversion to following rules such as the use of pedestrian walkways, a topic for another time). I also understand that implementing changes involves systemic revision, hence it is in no way easy. However, we have to start somewhere. The realization that a cultural change should happen has been long overdue hence this rather small reminder in cyberspace that the Filipino needs to shape up if it wants to deserve the sort of pride  it desperately clings on to. Perhaps it’s about time by starting to change how we Filipinos behave while we’re on public streets. If we Filipinos, as a culture, persist on keeping such chaos described above as the norm, we’re just demonstrating to the world the prevalence of idiocy in our country.

Afterthoughts About The Movie-Viewing Habits of the Pinoy

My wife and I like watching movies. It’s one of those things that we tend to enjoy together. After watching the last Twilight Saga movie (Breaking Dawn Part 2) and then seeing the Jason Becker movie trailer over at YouTube, it led me to conclude how vacuous the tastes of many Pinoys with regard to their movie viewing choices.

Breaking Dawn Part 2 was entertaining, something that many Filipinos appreciate in their movies but content-wise it was thin. I never even bothered reading the books after my wife reported about how bad Stephanie Meyer’s prose is (she apparently shares the same opinion that Stephen King had with Stephanie Meyer). See, in our household while I am the authority regarding music, my wife is the authority with regard to literature so I tend to listen to her suggestions and opinions regarding prose. Going back to the movie, it was mere entertainment or something that a completionist would do. It’s just that I’ve watched every single Twilight movie and I wanted to see how it all wraps up. To sum up the whole shebang, the Twilight Saga is entertaining in its depiction of teenage angst in a world where vampires and werewolves are different from the traditional folkloric concept of such creatures. Again, it’s entertainment and nothing more. It does not compel anyone to go deep into serious thinking about symbolism and intellectual themes. The Twilight Saga could never merit an intellectual discussion anyway.

And so the theaters were filled with this movie and some other local flick which I wouldn’t bother watching. A day after, I once again saw the trailer for Jason Becker’s biopic “Not Dead Yet”. Being a musician, such a movie sparked a great deal of interest in me and wondered why such a story would never make its premiere in the Philippines. And then I suddenly recalled those other trailers of Justin Bieber and Katy Perry movies in local cinemas. The question now became, “Why do Philippine cinemas show such vacuous movies rather than movies that compel people to think or imagine?” It’s bothersome that majority of Filipinos only prefer mind-numbing entertainment rather than information that would provoke them to think big and be creative. Philippine theaters would prefer to air vacuous movies like Justin Bieber’s and Katy Perry’s rather than a Jason Becker movie.

Consider this. Which of those music-related flicks would prove to be more inspiring? If I would compare the trailers for each of these flicks, in terms of overcoming challenges and obstacles, the Jason Becker movie would just sink those Justin Bieber and Katy Perry flicks to the bottom. While the two would continue to dominate music charts with their vacuous pop crap, Mr. Becker churns out wonderful, imaginative music to this day using only his eyes. If we examine the backgrounds of these artists, it seems to me that all of them stem from middle-class North American families. I don’t understand why the Justin Bieber and Katy Perry trailers seem to whine about the “obstacles” they face while they churn out millions and millions of dollars every single night, complaining about being “different” and living in a “repressive” environment. I don’t really see how different they are from every aspiring teenager who wants to make it in the music industry. It looks like all of them grew up in similar suburban settings so with the exception of Jason Becker, I don’t really see what they’re whining about.

Jason Becker, in contrast, is burdened by a real challenge. Being one of the top-notch guitar virtuosos of his time, he suddenly fell ill to Amytrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig disease. He can only move his eyes, his jaw and to some extent his mouth, but he can’t move and can’t speak. His musical and artistic mind is trapped inside a body that many people would easily give up on. Despite the enormous challenge, he still can write music through his eye movements that control his computers and sophisticated software.

I seem to be going off tangent but I’m trying my best to illustrate a point here. That being Philippine cinemas would rather feature shallow entertainment than something that is truly inspiring. The Jason Becker movie has that sort of story that I think many Filipinos would like, since many Filipinos are suckers for that kind of feel-good-underdog-rising-against-the-odds movie. It’s sad that it would never be shown here. The reason could be easily demonstrated in a following imagined scenario:

Me: Uy manong, nagugustuhan nyo po ba yung mga kanta ni Justin Bieber at Katy Perry (Hey mister, do you like songs by Justin Bieber and Katy Perry?)

Manong: Ay oo, gusto ko yun. Madaling sayawan at nakakaaliw. Gustong gusto nga ng mga bata yun e. (Yes. I like their songs. They’re very amusing and danceable. In fact, a lot of kids like them).

Me: Eh manong, yung si Jason Becker ba kilala nyo? Magaling na magaling gitarista yun. (Manong, what about Jason Becker? Do you know him? He’s a very good guitarist.)

Manong: Jason Becker? Sino yun? (Jason Becker? Who’s that?)

Me: Magaling na gitarista yun noong dekada ’80. Nagkasakit, di na makagalaw, pero nakakapagsulat pa rin ng kanta. (He’s a very good guitarist in the ’80s. He got sick, became paralyzed but is still capable of writing music)

Manong: Talaga? Ewan ko. Di naman mapapanood sa Wowowee yun e. Hindi  sikat. (Really? I don’t know. I can’t watch him on Wowowee. He’s not famous.)

The point in this illustration is that most Filipinos are only attracted to what’s popular. That person or entity may have all the kind of skill and talent in the world but if he/she is not popular, she wouldn’t make a dent into the Filipino psyche. Many Filipinos tend to admire only what’s popular, even those without any sort of substance whatsoever. This is one fatal flaw in Filipino culture that has resulted into a messed up government, substandard education (Nationalist sentiments promoting Tagalog in public general education, despite the language’s divisiveness, inefficiency to articulate scientific and intellectual concepts, and lack of economic value), and the lack of entertainment options that are intellectually stimulating. And that includes movie choices folks.

Some Thoughts on the Cybercrime Law Protests

Protesting against the cybercrime law is all the rage now. I found myself sympathizing to the protesters who had valid points. I even signed the petition at change.org since I believed that the law should be revised after having read it. However, this got me into thinking more carefully about all this hullabaloo. After growing tired from being bombarded by a barrage of announcements and what not, is there any worth to those posts at all? The crass language, lack of tact, and crudely written pieces (with grammatical errors all over the place) apparently seemed to be nothing more than fear mongering rather than statements that have valid, logical arguments.

Are all of these protests against the anti-cybercrime law just a phase or a fad? Obviously, it has become a fashion statement. The worst part about this is that should the protesters succeed in having the law changed, would it really improve the lives of Filipinos? Would poverty be finally eliminated? Would we see better job opportunities here in the Philippines as a result of all of these protests? Would we see OFWs finally going back to spend time with their families? Would the costs of utilities like water and electricity go down because of competition from a Foreign business owner. Shouldn’t we start focusing on things like getting the 1987 Constitution changed so that the economic policies of the Philippines would be competitive instead of protectionist? Are we really focusing too much attention of the Philippine government acting as the thought police? Somehow, this new wave of protests is starting to feel like EDSA 1, 2, and 3, and I am not saying this in a positive light.

I remember going to the said EDSA 2 revolution. People were all wearing black. The gullible sap in me told me to wear black and I tagged my wife and my sister along. Needless to say, I just found that EDSA 2 was nothing more than an excuse for a big street party. Did anything change by kicking out Erap? No. It’s the same thing with EDSA 1. The Philippines remained poor (and even got worse) after the Oligarchy-backed president assumed office. This anti-cybercrime law protest is becoming to feel the same way, except now it’s on what can be considered the EDSA of the Internet: Facebook.

I just realized that many Filipinos have a love-hate relationship with freedom of speech, a double standard even. Many Filipinos have a penchant for criticism and speaking out their minds aloud yet when they’re on the receiving end, their onion-skinned defenses couldn’t handle it well. Isn’t this what led to the insertion of the libel clause in the anti-cybercrime law? Given this particular cultural defect in Pinoy society, are the protests still worth the effort?

Perhaps there is still some worth into these protests. Laws are not perfect and should be subject to revision as we all live in a flawed society. However, perhaps it would be best if such attention should be focused to more pressing matters. For example, shouldn’t we rally for cultural upheaval instead? Shouldn’t we try to eliminate the collectivist mindset that is the root of the ills of Filipino society.? How much longer should we tolerate things the Padrino system, corruption, macho culture, “pwede na yan” mentatilty, mindless “pakikisama”? Why can’t we as Filipinos adapt the kind of discipline that have led to countries like Singapore, Japan and South Korea to change from barren wastelands to economic powerhouses. Perhaps these are the things we should fight for first rather than thoughtless protests against trivial matters that do not provide any immediate solution to the ills of Filipino culture.