Filipinos Left Fighting for Crumbs
by Manuel L. Quezon III
I recall expressing to someone the opinion that Filipinos abroad would have an inevitable, and helpful, effect on good governance and strengthening democracy. In particular, I felt that exposure to democratic systems in the West would show Filipinos how stable, democratic systems under the rule of law actually work; and that this would lead to an increasingly unavoidable demand for an improvement in the delivery of public service and justice. Both while Filipinos work abroad, and upon their return. I was greeted with a skeptical answer. In the same manner that a startling number of Filipinos become conservative Republicans upon emigrating to the United States, whatever effects living abroad might have on Filipinos would be dependent on where they ended up: A Filipino in Singapore would praise Singaporean authoritarianism; a Filipino in Communist China would confuse prosperity with freedom, and so on.
Worse than that, a further rejoinder went, is that Filipinos who live, and thrive, in functioning democracies under the authentic rule of law, abandon any expectations of either democracy or the rule of law the moment they land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Upon coming home, the objective becomes to reunite with one’s family as soon as possible, eliminating all obstacles by any means necessary, and to enjoy the fruits of one’s hard work with as minimal a relationship with the government as possible. Improving the Philippines is the least of the average returning Filipino’s concerns.
Which brings me to a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial (Nov. 5) that recently quoted business writer Tony Lopez. He pointed out that one of every two Filipino families is supported by an overseas worker. Put another way, the eight million Filipinos working abroad represent half of the 15 million households in the Philippines, and their remittances of $9 billion to $12 billion a year is “enough to fuel consumer spending…(which is) why the economy is growing, because of consumption, (but) without creating jobs significantly.”
The president of the Philippines claims there are two Philippines: One poised for economic take off, the other, mired in a selfish, stupid, short-sighted and greedy political culture. That was a half-truth. The two Philippines are a country indeed mired in a selfish, stupid, short-sighted and greedy political culture, but the other is a country that is already a Server for a Virtual State: Citizens are bits and bytes flowing through the global network, through pipelines leading to a computer, which only temporarily, and not even permanently physically, stores the data. The country produces the passports, birth and baptismal certificates, and diplomas that allow the gateways to open, but that’s it.
This is a rather fuzzy analogy, I admit, not least because I am not a information technology professional. But I hope you get the idea: It’s like the Matrix, with people thinking they go through their lives interacting with others in a real physical location, but where people are really individuals, isolated from each other, unmindful of the fact they only exist to provide energy for parasitical machines that have enslaved humanity.
The first Philippines is stuck in a political crisis, with its origins in the economic mismanagement of the Philippines during the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos. His government embarked on the systematic exportation of Philippine labor, to the advantage of places like Saudi Arabia. The result is that the Philippines has gone from the export of blue collar workers such as construction workers and nannies, to the accelerating exportation of the country’s white collar workers. Among other things, this has resulted in a crisis in the medical profession, a crucial shortage of qualified engineers, not to mention bankers, journalists, accountants, information technology workers and programmers, and school teachers. The only thing the Philippines continues to enjoy a surplus in are politicians and lawyers.
The political class, most of it dynastic, is educated, often sincere, but have been too short-sighted and even helpless to prevent the rise of an increasingly ignorant, impoverished electorate which, with justification, blames the political class for its woes, but looks for hope to personalities from show business and the media. The result was most drastically seen in 1998 with the election of Joseph Estrada, whose connections to Ferdinand Marcos and other defects were masked by his charisma.
If politics is fundamentally about communication, then naturally the advantage goes to the communicators. The revolt of the masses at the polls was frightening to the political class, and the captains of industry and other sectors, all often related to each other, literally. Estrada’s combined laziness and unwillingness to hide his excesses with even a fig leaf of tact and dissimulation added the Catholic Church to his list of detractors, and he ended up bungling his way out of office (with some help from an ambitious Vice-President, Mrs. Arroyo).
The solution of the political class, when another actor, Fernando Poe, Jr., challenged Mrs. Arroyo to the presidency, was to pull out all the stops to prevent his election. There was also a backlash, even from the masses, and the dwindling middle class, to prevent his election. To a certain extent, it worked. However Mrs. Arroyo got caught, and has refused to be accountable for being caught. A divided middle, upper, and political class, afraid to have events result in open confrontation, but unable to make the system work due to Mrs. Arroyo’s ruthless manipulation of the system, has decided to simply change the Constitution and effect regime change. Mrs. Arroyo is fighting that option, but so far, it seems the only way to end the crisis.
As for the other Philippines, which generates foreign exchange, pumps in billions of dollars into the Philippine economy: it keeps that economy afloat. And immune, in many ways, to what should be the natural consequence of having an unaccountable, combative government thoroughly disliked by the electorate.
This other Philippines is above the law, above politics, concerned, as it is, merely with the survival of individual families. Those families, in turn, are entering into their second, even third, generation of exporting family members abroad. The rest are dreaming of being the first generation to do so.
Those unwilling, or unable, to do so, are left fighting for the crumbs the domestic economy, and political system, produces.