It’s clear to me that there are plenty of people around and not just politicians or the elite, who think the Philippines is just fine the way it is. The World Bank ranks the country 30 places higher than it was a year ago in its ease of doing business table, the international credit rating agencies continue to improve the Philippines rating, the economy in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) growth is growing faster than China and this rate of growth will be sustained, led by industrial output no less according to the National Economic and Development Authority. The Philippines just won an award for transparency in government—the “Bright Spots Award” at the Open Government Partnership in London. Now even the least aware person in the Philippines must surely see an award for open and transparent government as being a bit odd to say the least of it, among the current controversies. And there are many individual ordinary Filipinos who feel that any criticism of the way things are is totally unwarranted. A great job is being done.
Yet pick up almost any newspaper and you will see highly critical editorials of the administration’s performance, and of course lots about “pork barrel” stuff. To talk to ordinary people to ask them if their lives are better or worse than they were a few years ago, is to get a response which is at best “the same” and at worst, “much worse,” difficult to find any who say “it’s much better.” The opinion pollsters must talk to different people than those I talk to. To open Facebook [depending who your “friends” are]is to be assailed by critical postings of one sort of another.
Finally to think for oneself and observe and do a bit of analysis will produce a personal impression, albeit shaded with a bit of unconscious subjectivity. And this produces an opinion which should be defensible in discussion. The problem is that given the limits of the public educational system and opportunities for self improvement, the ability to produce informed opinions is restricted and because of this, there are a lot of “don’t knows.” And alas, there are also a lot of “don’t cares”—“I’m getting by so everything must be OK.”
There is a great polarization of reportage and media-expressed views, and it must be difficult for those who really “don’t know” to form a view as to whether or not there is a need for change, what sort of change should happen and even more challenging to think is it possible, and if so how could it be brought about.
When responsible media people criticize the administration or the social structure, they most usually do so with a view to stimulating change and improvement, not for themselves particularly but for the Philippines and for Filipinos as a whole. It is only criticism, challenge and well-intentioned advice taken that will bring about change and without this, everybody will have to be assumed to think that “everything is OK isn’t it.” Democratic societies are democratic in part because they allow people to say what they think, and such opinions may be shared and adopted or rejected by those who hear or see them.
There is a strong predilection among Filipinos to rely on divine miracles to solve problems. Of course, they won’t [or at least not very often], miracles by definition are very rare events. Prayer is another route which Filipinos unfailingly use to address problems or to change things; prayer as a demonstration of faith is a good thing, but by itself will rarely change anything.
From this piece of [well intentioned!]opinion, two critical factors emerge which need to be modified if indeed the Philippines is to be propelled along the road to an advanced economy; i] all people need to be interested in and understand the social structure of the Philippines, they need to be able to care about others beyond their own circle and open their eyes and observe what is going on around them; and ii] people need to understand that by taking some form of affirmative action even as a minimum by just voting for the candidate who they think will best represent their interests rather than the candidate who pays them the most for their vote, that things can actually be made to change without the need to wait for the unpredictability of divine intervention.
It’s very hard to change the way things work in the Philippines and if the majority think that things are OK, or just accept things as they are, then that in itself is a strong argument for not attempting to change anything in which case the country deserves the leadership and systems that it has, and those who don’t like it have the option to go and live in some other economy somewhere else [if they are allowed].
So this is not to criticize the Philippines, its leadership or the way in which it operates. I am raising the question that if it is only a small but noisy section of the media and opinion leaders and the miniscule “middle class” who ever more strongly criticize the way things are; can that be said to represent the wishes of the majority of the population and is it enough by itself to bring about any real fundamental change? The answer would seem to be “no.” There is a lot of very strong criticism and there are very many unanswered questions about high level corruption and patronage, poverty and the standard of living of Filipinos, but it is difficult to connect these often very well-expressed views and questions with the opinions and wishes of the majority of the population which seems not to have the motivation, the interest or the knowledge or even if it did to be able to readily identify any channel through which they could express a collective will to press an urgent need for change other than “the vote”—and in this undemocratic “democracy” that does not by itself seem capable of stimulating real change, particularly given the suspicions about how votes are counted?
With this background, the Philippines more than most places needs to be governed by those who can be trusted to do what is in the best interests of the citizens, the majority of whom not only are confused by differing reports but who also have no means by which to meaningfully manifest their wishes.
Mike can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org