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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My Version of Kadsagurongan Using a Sample Library

“Kadasagurongan” is a tradional Maranao kulintang piece that I learned how to play when I was taking my “Teaching Philippine Music” elective at the Philippine Women’s University School of Music. This recorded version was made possible through the use of “Philipperc”, a Philippine indigenous instrument sample library developed by Stephan Marche of Detunized.Com using my samples of kulintang and other Philippine instruments.

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.

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.