Another major weather event has just passed us by, Super Typhoon Ruby, but then it is the typhoon season, June to November, so about 20 or so are to be expected as usual. As we well know, these weather events cause a lot of problems, and following the Haiyan disaster both in preparedness and effect, public sensitivities are readily focused on the potential risks of big typhoons heading towards land. Lots of people, including me, were constantly checking the weather information to try to assess what the effects will be in their own or their family’s locality. At one stage, several different tracks were being forecast by various agencies, weather forecasting being the rather inexact science that it is. What did become fairly evident, though, was that the typhoon was weakening fast by the time it made its first landfall in Samar on Saturday.
Supermarkets in southern Metro Manila were full of people buying candles and siege supplies of food at the weekend. Public awareness had been raised to such a level that headlines in foreign newspapers were saying that “millions of people were hunkered down in Metro Manila waiting for the typhoon to hit.” Evacuation centers had been set up throughout the Metro area.
As always, schools close “at the drop of a hat” in the face of the slightest risk of bad weather, as also did government offices, the stock exchange and rather surprisingly, the banks who get to play with your money for a bonus extra day. Better to be safe than sorry, you may say, but after all that hype there was no impact at all on Metro Manila other than a bit of rain, and an intelligent watch of the multitudinous sources of weather information available, rather than the overly dramatic media coverage, would have made that fairly clear.
These unfortunate weather events, taken along with the proclivity of the Philippines to hold holidays and fiestas—20 national holidays plus another 30 or so local holidays per year—add up to a lot of lost time, and it’s not only the time allowed for the actual day of, say, a holiday, it’s the additional time spent in anticipation of a holiday; for example, the need to travel to arrive somewhere in good time for whatever festivities may be planned. Lots of time must also have been spent reacting to alarmist and inadequately researched media typhoon forecasts and seeking divine intervention, and the uncertainties of whether there will be any school tomorrow, will the banks be operating, who may be working and who may not be. In short, it’s all very disruptive. Up to 15 percent to 20 percent of available work time (excluding annual leave entitlements) can just be lost . . .
Now of course this sounds all very miserable and unfeeling, but it does lose the Philippines some competitive advantage over places like Singapore (11 days holidays), Laos (10 days holidays) and Myanmar (9 days holidays), which have less holidays and which don’t suffer from typhoon problems.
It’s easy to get the feeling that the Philippines as a nation is not really driving forward remorselessly to develop an economy based on real industrialization. The so called work-life balance seems generally to be tilted more towards enjoying life, with work as a necessary evil to finance the enjoyment of life and family activities. “Nothing wrong with that,” you may say, “that’s what people who have got their priorities the right way round should be doing.” And yes, it is. Singapore is said to have one of the unhappiest populations in the world, all work, strict governance and overall not much fun. In the Philippines there is minimal governance, not much work and lots of fun provided you can avoid being shot, robbed or kidnapped by crooks or even by the forces of law and order!
Is the balance right in the Philippines? I suspect it is not, if the Philippines really aspires to be an advanced industrial economy rather than to just be a fun-filled albeit reasonably advanced, Pacific island nation.
Yes, it is a highly unequal society, that is obvious, but leaving aside the homeless and the hungry who really do need serious help, there seem to be lots of people who give every appearance of being happy enough the way things are, because “that’s just how it is,” so long as there is a roof over our heads, food on the table, a TV or radio, a few bottles of beer (or Tanduay or Ginebra) occasionally and for a treat, a lechon now and then, then all is fine—no worries.
If somebody wants to pay for my vote, perhaps P1,000 or even P500, then great, we can have a good meal tonight, pity there are not more elections! Another holiday, a typhoon—then great, no work. These attitudes are certainly not the attitudes of all but they do seem to be the attitudes of many, and in a nation of over 100 million which boasts about its truly democratic system, it counts for a significant majority, so perhaps that is the way it should be?
The Philippines is not unique in having a large proportion of its population exhibiting such “acceptingness,” but as a nation, it deserves to do better and undoubtedly it can, but you do have to wonder if the western democratic model is the right one to use rather than a truly honest and benevolent dictatorship, which would make it right and better for everybody without the need to disrupt their inherently moderate expectations.
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com