How to waste the high potential of the Philippines

Mike Wootton

Mike Wootton

Filipinos have very many good and endearing qualities, there is no question about that. The bayanihan spirit, their adaptability and endurance, their patience, pakikisama and the need for harmonious relations, to name a few. Alas, these traits can be self-defeating if not respected. Add to this an apparent difficulty in getting organized for a wider common cause and a reluctance to challenge authority figures borne from an ingrained respectfulness, and you can end up with a people who can readily be taken advantage of by those with little conscience and who would profit from doing so. And there are quite a few of those types around who unfortunately have the resources to continue to further their self-serving causes.

The government thinks or at least publicizes that it is doing really well—apparently “the people now have more faith in the government.” I wonder which people are referred to? Certainly few if any of the people I talk to.

It is the current fashion to gift the functions of government to a rapacious private sector operated by a group of oligarchs. This is hardly the way to protect the people, in fact it is a way to expose the people to unconstrained abuse. The gifting by government of monopoly
concessions is a proven way for the private sector to prosper, Li Ka-Shing’s Hutchison of Hong Kong is a tribute to the success of such practice given his hold on 14 of the 21 berths at Hong Kong container port; low cost labor is charged out at maximum cost and this, together with poor quality service, repeats itself in almost all cases of monopolistic concessions. In less developed economies, regulation is generally a sham, thanks to the ability of a rich and powerful private sector to influence matters in their favor over the public interest—“regulatory capture.”

The government has inadequate funds to provide for the citizens, in part because such large amounts, hundreds of billions, have been either misappropriated or spent unwisely.
So let’s get the private sector to provide what we don’t have enough funds to provide.

Either way the citizens lose out — either there is no meaningful provision and any money that may have been earmarked just goes missing, or the private sector takes over and just charges what they like for whatever quality of service they feel like giving [internet services for example, or electricity, or water].

It’s all a bit sad really and so difficult to change such a system. Even mass action and lots of arm waving do not seem to bring much in the way of a result and I know well to my cost just how difficult it is to use what purports to be a regulatory system to overcome the gross malpractice of certain vested interests. In the end the only recourse is to a judicial system which itself is not immune from accusations of bias. Difficult to change the way things are.

Filipinos, like the British, have a reputation for complaining a lot. The difference, though, is that in the UK, there are credible systems for hearing complaints and doing something about them if necessary — citizens would rarely be ignored by government and steamrollered by oligarchs or monopoly power. There are clearly identifiable political parties and a powerful opposition to the party in power. Here, there is a dominant party and a lot of other miscellaneous groups who frequently disagree with each other. Above all, though, in the UK the politicians at least give a credible appearance of attempting to represent the interests of their constituents, whereas in the Philippines, the politicians in general tend to represent their own interests with little regard for the desires of those whom they represent. In the UK, regulators regulate in a transparent and balanced way and are very unlikely to be “captured.”

There are so many good Filipinos who just want a chance to contribute in exchange for a fair deal but there are also so many opportunities for mischief-making and extortion that if you can’t find an opportunity to contribute as you know you really should then start looking at laws and regulations and make a bit of mischief. Conversely, if you are the type who wants to make mischief as a primary objective, then you can also pick whatever suits your purpose from the great raft of contradictory regulations.

It’s easy for people to think that there is no hope of a just society, examples of injustice abound and how can ordinary individuals hope to get a fair deal in such a system, complaints would be ignored and the cost of entering a judicial lottery are just out of reach. So we end up with a society that for all sorts of reasons finds it difficult to work cohesively together and which just accepts whatever gets thrown at it, or in which people just “escape” to work abroad. It is such a waste of what is potentially a world-class resource.

Mike can be contacted at


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