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.

Overpriced Electricity and Water…It’s More Fun in the Philippines

(Part 1)

(Part 2)

Last October 11, 2014, my father, Tony Galang, one of the (more or less) influential society leaders in Maragondon, Cavite and acting vice president of Movement to Save Maragondon River (MSMR), was a guest at “Politics Today”, a show hosted by Herman Tiu Laurel. In this episode, my father (one of the water advocates) along with other guests Butch Junia and RJ Javellana, talk about how the oligarchs in collaboration with the government are trying to bleed the middle class and masses dry with overpriced electricity and water.

In a nutshell, this episode power and water companies owned by the oligarchs pass on to the consumers the costs of running their businesses, and the regulatory government bodies like the ERC do nothing about it.

If you are planning to set up a small- to medium-sized business in the Philippines, you got to think more than twice about it. It doesn’t seem very profitable to do business here. No wonder this is another reason (other than the 60/40 provision) why big international firms won’t invest in the poor country where I was fortunately (or unfortunately) born.

On a related note, my father’s fighting against the big oligarchs in their plans to build a dam along the Maragondon River. The potential for destruction to nature, agriculture, and society that is tied up with this controversial dam project is alarming. The issue is very close to my family’s heart, given that my father lives literally next to the river bank.

I remember a time when as I child, I was swimming in the Maragondon River. There is now the potential that my son and his future children will have to pay for the use the water from the river. It’s ironic when you think that the family home is right next to the river.

Overpriced electricity and water…It’s more fun in the Philippines.

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.

Frank Zappa: Musical Genius, Questionable Bible Knowledge

Saying that Frank Zappa’s music is influential to mine is an understatement. I very much appreciate his musical genius. Other than the music, most of the time I would agree with his criticisms of society. However, I have to say that when he makes such sweeping claims about the Bible, that’s where I would disagree with him. Had he read the Bible well with openness and understanding, he would not say that it turns people into idiots. Any person who carefully studies the Bible would need to exercise thought and logic. Most of the time he misinterprets scripture in some of his songs.

It seems to me that his criticisms stem from various facets of “Christianity” that give the Bible a bad name such as televangelism, the Roman Catholic Church, and all other cults and organizations that dupe people their money into a lot of doctrines that otherwise don’t hold up to the truth in the Bible. The thing is that all of these allegations against Christianity are the result of prominent individuals and groups pursuing their own selfish agendas while slapping the Christian label onto themselves. What a shame. Seems like Gandhi is vindicated when he said (I’m paraphrasing here), “I like your Christ. I don’t like your Christians.” It exposes the fact that many “Christians” do not follow what Jesus Christ actually said. In Matthew 7:15-23, the Lord said this about such people:

15 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. 16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

The reason why people such as Frank Zappa have loaded accusations against the Christian faith is because he sees the impact of such people claiming to be “Christian” and how much they’ve messed up society. They should be rightfully rebuked for their hypocrisy as Zappa tried to do within his lifetime. However, Zappa commits the error of making a sweeping accusation that such people are representatives of true Bible-based Christianity.

It’s fascinating when you see people like Frank Zappa and all of these other so-called geniuses mock the very thing that gave them the liberty to do what they wanted in the first place. Many of the laws that keep the civilized world free have been patterned after the Bible , so it really is kind of amusing when people start attacking it as the cause of bigotry and hatred around the world. Sweeping generalizations are dangerous; most of the time, it’s the result of seeing things from a narrow perspective rather than really getting into the meat of it all.

Listening to Frank Zappa’s music is always an exercise in critical thinking. I appreciate the music for it’s ingenuity. I would go so far as to say that serious musicians will find it very worthwhile to study the music of Zappa because it is very much groundbreaking. At the same time, it’s kind of like viewing a TV show like Family Guy any of those Seth McFarlane cartoons. You always need to take on it with a grain of salt and you shouldn’t watch or listen to such stuff without having a firm spiritual and intellectual foundation. At the end of this piece, I will still say that Zappa’s musical aptitude remains to be laudable. I just don’t agree with him when he starts attacking my faith from a skewed perspective.

Is Jazz Dead?

Is Jazz dead? Depends on where you live. In the Philippines, it’s barely surviving, no thanks to local mass media, many of which are hell bent on keeping people stupid with anti-neuron “music” and TV shows. However, artists like Johnny Alegre and the Tomodachi Trio along with places like Tiendesitas try as much as they can to keep it alive. In the place where I serve, I’m the only guy who’s seriously into jazz, my bandmates know of it on a superficial level, and the rest of the folks attending the services have little idea of it. The way things go with the music industry nowadays, it is probably hanging on for dear life even in its birthplace, the U.S. of A. although because of its cultural value it might continue to live on. In places like the university where I attend, some semblance of it still lives through the popular music courses being offered. Unfortunately, we don’t do jazz in graduate school. I asked the dean numerous times if we had a jazz major or elective since I was interested. The reply was negative.

If you ask Wynton Marsalis the question “Is Jazz Dead?”, here’s his reply:

Maybe we could try asking Frank Zappa that question. He said, “Jazz is not dead. It just smells funny.” Perhaps you can take the word from someone who can be inspired by some of the most profound things on earth down to the most mundane of things like fried chicken:

Postmodern Societal Attitudes Give Rise to the Starving Musician

Any decent business (especially businesses involving media) would hire a number of people and services to get something done. The range of such services would involve anything from PR personnel to cleaning services. All of these people get paid, whether they get down dirty to clean whatever muck such project accumulates or act as your typical desk pencil pushers. It does seem really unfair that while people have budget for such things, there are others who simply leave music out of the picture. Such a thing has been going on for as long as I can remember like all of those times that I have played with a mediocre dinner or endless cups of iced tea the only remuneration I get for music. It sucks really that there are numerous times that in certain events, people ask you to play for them free. It’s like society is conditioned in such a way that music is free like air, yet the fact remains while it is possible for any person to learn how to play music, not everybody can become pros at it. Therefore, as law of supply and demand would dictate, a demand for music from a pro should equate to financial remuneration. What you should sow is what you should reap, right? Now, why is it that so many people, ranging from the casual party organizer to media giants, think that they can get music for free? To put things into better perspective, I’d like to share this fascinating letter from D.J. White, a professional musician, to a media company who would like to use music for free:

 

whitey letter

 

 

Now, every serious musician (myself included) has invested close to a lifetime of learning to be able to do what they do best. Matter of fact is that until now, I am investing time and energy to learn new skills, techniques, etc. so that I do better. It is fact that such activity requires money simply by virtue that all musicians have the same needs as other people, just as Abraham Maslow had charted in his hierarchy of needs. Therefore, professional musicians, such as myself, have every right to demand payment for what they do. Now, the problem is that why is it that certain sectors of society feel entitled to get music free, never providing a budget for it? Shouldn’t we musicians have the final say regarding that? After all, such parties are the ones in need of what we do best: provide music. Another question is how can society’s perception change? How can we change the mindset that music has a premium. It something that demands effort, patience, and time, that it is something produced by people who have bills to pay and mouths to feed in order to keep on going. Are musicians also to blame as to why people can get away with getting music for free? Maybe it’s time that all musicians in the world start to dictate the worth that they deserve so that others won’t just push as around to play or write music for free. Perhaps there are ways out there that can change the attitude of postmodern society so that we no longer give rise to more starving musicians.