The lonely niche of Mr. Banatao highlights our pitiful, pigmy role in tech


The story of Mr. Diosdado Banatao, his Cagayan Valley to Silicon Valley saga, is truly an amazing and inspiring one. And the chroniclers of Filipino success stories have not been lacking in appreciating his feats. But many think that even Mr. Banatao is clearly getting lonelier (or attacked by boredom) after every article and commentary on his canonization as a technology wunderkind.

Maybe he is asking this question: Why only me? I am a decade-old story, and my story, despite its obvious merits, becomes tiring at some point. Maybe it’s time to shift the alleluias.

Many of us know the answer to the question “Why only me?” The answer is all too clear. Filipinos have a pigmy role in the tech stage and there are very few success stories of Pinoys in Silicon Valley. So when a Dado Banatao story comes along, we hold on to it and mark it as Exhibit A of our Silicon Valley success because we can’t have a sustained narrative of tech greatness. Indeed, the story of Mr. Banatao has been our only Silicon Valley story — for ages.

The never-ending stories of the amazing Mr. Banatao actually reveal an ugly side. That despite the self-proclaimed humbug on how great and talented we are, we are marginal figures in a special enclave where truly talented and disciplined people can shine.

In a place where anyone with computational powers and entrepreneurial creativity can succeed and fulfill the ideals of meritocracy big-time, we are a mediocre presence. In a sense, this has been a crushing blow to the confidence in our ability to compete globally.

Why can’t we compete in a place where only talent, drive and creativity matter? And we can’t even offer excuses for that miserable – and very distinct – failure.

The paeans to Mr. Batano at Silicon Valley juxtapose with two technology milestones that recently made headlines in the US and across the world. These two major development, sadly, further highlighted the pigmy role Filipinos play in the technology universe. These are the leadership shakeup at Microsoft and the sale of WhatsApp to Facebook for $19 billion.

The retirement of Steve Ballmer as chief executive officer of Microsoft led to the appointment of Satya Nadella as the firm’s CEO. Nadella, this is suggested by his name, was born in Andhra Pradesh and was trained at the Manipal Institute of Technology, one of the many versions in India of Dadao Banatao’s Mapua Institute of Technology. Nadella joins other India-born technology wizards that occupy top posts at the most prestigious and iconic technology companies in the US.

It is clear that for every Dado Banatao that our country produces, India’s university system turns out dozens or even hundreds of technology overachievers. US technology hubs have cafeterias that cater to many regional cuisines of India – the curry for example – the sheer demonstration of India’s powerful presence in these hubs.

Nadella is not an outlier like Dado Banatao. He is just one of the many high achieving India-born technology leaders in the US. If we were to include the other India-born overachiever in business – think of Indra Nooyi and Vikram Pandit – the more will we bury our heads in the sand in envy.

WhatsApp was co-founded by Jan Koum, who was born and raised just outside of Kiev, one of the main cities of now troubled Ukraine. He worked as janitor at a grocery store and his mother was a babysitter. It is worth pointing out that Koum will get the lion’s share of the $19 billion Facebook paid for WhatsApp.

The truth is the Philippines is one of the countries supposedly teeming with talented people that are underrepresented in the giant technology hubs across the US – but which claim Silicon Valley and the Bay Area as the thriving center. No offense meant, but this lack of movers and shakers in the heart of the technology industry is an affront to our pride – well, if we have real pride.

Yet no one is asking this question. Why is Dado Banatao alone at his lonely perch?

Come to think of this. Neither India nor Ukraine is an ideal training ground for would be masters of the technology universe. India is a populous and tumultuous democracy like us, with its dynastic impulses worse than us. And one country where inequality – and the caste system – is deeply rooted.

Ukraine was violent once and is in a state of violence now as Russia, its former patron in the old USSR, has invaded Crimea. But it keeps on molding people from obscurity to prominence.

We can hazard a guess. We are a country obsessed with success, but not the kind of success that will turn out Filipinos for leadership roles in the great universities of the world, or in the greatest technology hubs, or in the largest financial centers.

We obsess over triumphs in boxing, the production of beauty queens, and oddities such as ice skating.

Preparing the university system and providing the context and environment to turn out masters of the universe at the financial centers and masters of the technology hubs are far less important than having gangling Filipino hoop dreamers who can barely dunk get into the D-League of the NBA.


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  1. Anima A. Agrava on

    Mr. Ronquillo, good column. The reason we have no great successes in IT like Mr. Banayao is that our policymakers and private-sector leaders during the Cory Aquino regime stupidly believed the then World Bank and International Finance Corporation mantra to GLOBALIZE OR PERISH! This ideology meant that the economically inferior countries should concentrate their resources on their SERVICE INDUSTRIES and export these so that they can GLOBALIZE. Therefore, the financially inferior countries like ours would have to abandon INDUSTRIALIZATION and AGRICULTURAL MODERNIZATION and expensive efforts to become SELF-SUFFICIENT in rice and food products, Anyway, we Filipinos can buy all the factory-made products and food products cheaply from abroad.
    Now, 30 years later, the World Bank et al. are blaming the persistence of Philippine massive unemployment and pandemic poverty on the policy to abandon manufacturing and agriculture and agri-business.
    If we have not abandoned manufacturing and agricultural modernization in the 80s, our IT scientists and wizards would have, like India, local industries and agri-industrial corporations to work for and do research for. There would have been many new Mr. Banayao’s.
    Of course, the other side of this bad coin is that our OFWs–more than 10 million Filipinos–are working abroad and sending US dollars and other foreign currencies home, making our central bank one of the strongest in the world. This is one reason we allegedly have so-called “sound fundamentals.” And this is why we are being given good credit ratings by Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s. And why we have great GDP growth rates.
    But it is also why our poor are getting poorer and increasing in number.

    Anima A. Agrava

  2. mauricio palao on

    It’s probably relevant to mention here that most of our schools cater to the one, singular objective of their students..the diploma. Most of our students are in school, not for the joy, (nor even just the intent) of learning something, but for the scrap of paper that will stay on the wall of the ‘old house’. Another relevant observation is…as proud as we are of a high ‘literacy’ rate, the fact is we are actually churning out ‘functional illiterates’. Our young, whether they are still in school or just out of it, have nothing worthwhile to read. In most civilized countries, the young are encouraged to read books and journals. What do we have in the way of libraries? I’m just saying.

  3. Jay Dela Cruz on

    Nice write up. You forgot to mention our obsession for titles placed before our given names (i.e. Atty, Dr, Eng, Honorable Political Position (I don’t know what’s honorable about them – they’re crooks), etc…….