Philippines’ shallow capitalism

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I’ve never done this before in my column, but in this case, I strongly feel that more of our intelligentsia, and the elite, should read this piece titled “The Philippines’ Shallow Capitalism: Westernization Without Prosperity” that was posted on the website-only news site Huffington Post’s “The Blog.”

It was written by Richard Javad Heydarian, who has had several of his other pieces posted on the Huffington Post. He is the author of “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East Uprisings.” I had been told that he was taking post-graduate studies at the University of the Philippines.

I agree with everything he wrote, well, nearly. He claims that almost all Filipinos carry Spanish names. But my name, for one, isn’t Spanish, and quite interestingly the farther one goes out from the metropolis, and where the poorer the population becomes, the fewer people you’d meet with Spanish-sounding names. That the piece struck a cord is indicated by the fact that it was “LIKED” by 14,000 readers, shared by 3,600, and had 140 comments. Following is Heydarian’s essay:

As the sole Catholic-majority nation in Asia, with a distinct combination of Spanish and American colonial past, the Philippines stands as one of the most unique countries. Yet, many Westerners tend to find the country too familiar—that is to say, not as “exotic” as other neighboring countries—precisely because of its tremendous cultural and architectural affinity with the Western civilization, specifically the Iberian and Anglo-Saxon varieties. Almost all Filipinos carry Spanish names, while government and educational institutions rely on English as their primary medium of communication.


Sometimes, members of the Filipino elite tend to boast about how the Philippines is the most Westernized country in Asia, with others openly relishing the fact that the Southeast Asian country was carved out of Western colonial machinations and imagination. The very name of the archipelagic country—derived from King Philip II of Spain— perhaps says it all. In many ways, Filipinos share more common characteristics with, say, Latin Americans than their immediate neighbors. (Except that most Filipinos can’t speak proper Spanish, thanks to the regrettable fact that the Spaniards never bothered to introduce universal education in their key Asian colony. Spanish was used as a language of distinction and exclusion rather than nation-building and collective identity.)

Ordinary Filipinos, meanwhile, also boast about the astonishing fact that the Philippines— among the poorest countries in Asia— is home to 3 out of the 10 biggest shopping malls on earth. And with the country (again) featuring prominently among the fastest growing emerging markets, there is a growing feeling that the Philippines can finally claim a place of pride among modern and vibrant capitalist societies in Asia.

And that renewed sense of confidence is trickling down to the younger generation. (Nowadays, it isn’t hard to find youthful, ambitious Filipinos confidently expressing their views in international conferences and gathering, especially when they sit among fellow Asians who happen to be less adept at English and cosmopolitan in outlook.) Ideologically, the Philippines is largely situated in the Western episteme: Westernized lifestyles and pro-Western socio-political outlooks dominate the Filipino public sphere. One sometimes wonders whether the country has been geographically placed in the wrong corner of the world.

A closer look at the country, however, reveals a fundamental paradox: centuries of Westernization have not led to genuine modernization, while years of rapid economic growth haven’t brought about prosperity for the majority of the people. The country continues to remain as a semi-feudal (especially in rural areas) society under the grip of a vicious form of crony capitalism. Formal ‘electoral democracy,’ in turn, provides a comfortable veneer of legitimacy (for the political elite) and an illusion of egalitarianism in a country mired in poverty and glaring inequality.

 Premature consumerism

Shopping malls dominate — both physically and cognitively — the urban landscape in the Philippines. All key public transport systems cluster around major shopping centers, which provide unrivaled comfort, the right temperature (in a humid, tropical country) and breathless access to a wide range of brands that cater to all social classes.

Urban cultures pivot and are shaped by shopping malls that are often located close to Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) companies, which employ hundreds of thousands of yuppies who have redefined the Filipino urban lifestyle. One can find both Prada and Penshoppe (a local clothing brand) in major malls, with both the uber-rich and working classes participating in a global consumerist culture, which has taken over almost all corners of the planet. It is a classic form of faux egalitarianism. (Having visited numerous countries across five continents, I seldom come across a product sold at better prices elsewhere but back in Metro Manila.)

Every few steps away one can find newly rising residential suites, which, similar to shopping malls, offer a variety of options for up-and-coming urban residents who are after modern amenities and a perfect location in a congested city like Manila or Cebu. Major cities across the Philippines have been transformed into virtual construction sites, resembling the construction boom that has been seen in places such as Dubai, Tehran, Moscow, and Shanghai in the past decades.

More recently, even small towns and municipalities have been transformed into frontier markets for a few major conglomerates, which dominate the retail and real estate sectors in the country. The past decade has been among the best years in terms of corporate profits and business expansion opportunities for the country’s elite, which have disproportionately swallowed much of recently created growth in the economy.

To be continued

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8 Comments

  1. If one really wants to know why the Philippines is poor you only have to read “Philippine Society and Revolution” by Amado Guerrero (allegedly the alias of Jose Maria Sison in the1960s). Unless of course you are a thoroughly well brainwashed anti-communist ideologue this book will provide you some enlightenment on the social, political, historical and economic structure of the Philippines (which is not taught to Filipino students at all levels). Philippine schools teaches students the American version of Philippine history and society (which is real rubbish !!!). To find the book just type the title above in google search and it is available online.

  2. Vicente Penetrante on

    What prosperity should we be after?
    From the very beginning, there was room for richness, but the Patriarchs chose to remain poor. Only Cain and his descendants started building cities.
    Satan led Jesus on top of a tall mountain to show and offer Him the richness of the whole world, but Jesus rebuked him.
    Despite adopting the style of living of the prosperous West, we remain poor. Aren’t we blessed because we are poor?

  3. Western Capitalism is a paradox–tells us to be entrepreneurial–Tells us to be competitive..When we do as it bids -Wipe out the competition-

    Then paradoxically we are now accused of being a monopoly..

    As Karl Marx has said Capitalism has within it the seeds of its own destruction

    He was one of the only Philosopher s to see his own ideas come into fruition -In France where communism started off..

    Marx went to the meetings heard the advocates..He came back and said “I am not a communist”

    Maybe the same can be said about Capitalism ..We see maybe 10-14 percent own and have as much as the rest of the population put together.._

    This was the statistics about ten years ago..

    It has been suggested –That the developed counties form of Capitalism–Has more in common with Oligarchy…

    David Meyer MD.D.P.M. Phd

  4. At the outset, Western Capitalism has shown to be deeply flawed-..As it practiced by the U.S.A and other countries.

    .We see time and again ; how it engenders a huge difference between the Mega rich and “The also ran’

    Capitalism is a paradox..On the one hand it encourages and favors individual profits…Then, when they became too successful; accuses them of Monopolization .
    .
    I recall when I was at university;many years ago–When dinosaurs still roamed.

    .My professor; telling us how the great Karl Marx , saw in his own life time. The birth of communism.He went to meetings of communist advocates..When he came back he is reported to have said “I am not a communist.”

    In his great works he said that” Capitalism” has within it the seeds of its own destruction”

    When we look at the statistics in most western capitalist society..We see that like around 10-14 percent own as much as the rest of the population..

    I would suggest we no longer have Capitalism at all !..We have a full blooded Oligarchy

    I am your humble servant..
    David M Meyer M.D.D.P.M .PhD

  5. As a (returning) visitor to the Philippines, I enjoyed taking a taxi ride yesterday from Makati to Las Pinas using the splendid Skyway expressway. (The less said about my subsequent jeepney experience, the better!) There was very little traffic on the Skyway, and its elevation afforded an excellent view of the traffic – no doubt inhibited by the 164 pesos toll – crawling along the non-expressways. Isn’t there something wrong with this picture? The economic cost (among other costs) of interminable commutes must be significant; while the fast, new expressway is almost deserted. I can only think that the policymakers – read politicians? – just don’t get it. Or is it OK so long as the wealthy can enjoy the benefits of their relative affluence – regardless of the less fortunate?

  6. sonny dela cruz on

    You mentioned that we filipinos have no name identity because most of us has a spanish name somehow we filipinos are very lucky because only our name was lost and not our language unlike the South Americans who lost their name and language. We can still correct to gain our name identity if we filipinos will start naming filipino names, Ex. Manny Pacquioa, Boy Mallette, Baby Hutchinson or Aiden Dimalanta. Then we know who this people are in the world, they are filipinos. Let me say why the Philippines right now is the poorest nation in Asia. It is the culture that we inherited from the Spanish. Travel to South America and see the Philippines there’s no difference at all. The only difference is we filipinos are more educated than them, corruption, that we inherited from the Chinese and now from the American politicians. Now, why the Philippines is still the poorest nation in Asia if our independence was since Spanish time, you are talking more than a hundred years of independence and why until now we are still very poor. Our true Philippine independence is July 4, 1946 throughout the country and not only in kawit, Cavite, that’s why from that year we are now just developing our economy, maybe 50 years from now we will be one of the develop country in Asia.

    • The Filipino culture has been Malay and many of its traits are still recognizable in Indonesia and Malaysia. The difference between PH and their neighbors is that PH never developed a strong state apparatus and (by design) let the door open for elite groups to perpetuate their paralyzing grip on society and state. These elite groups are dead against any change of the status quo. They are in a favorable position which they will never give up voluntarily. Usually Filipinos blame the Spanish and the US for their predicament and often the Chinese for their corruption. I just ask a very simple question. Why has PH gone from reasonable, to bad, and now to disastrous since independence in 1946? Why has PH not developed after these bad influences were banned? Richard Javad Heydarian wrote several articles about the flawed development of the PH and he is very detailed in his description and that is why Mr. Tiglao takes one of his articles and quotes it for 100%. Wait until his next article and read it careful because it will (hopefully) open your eyes to the truth. In the meantime I can assure you that if PH doesn’t change its ways it will certainly NOT be a developed nation in 50 year’s time. It will by then certainly have more cars, more shopping malls and more empty condos but certainly also more poverty, or to quote the Pope more scandalous inequalities