A good President does not make a great nation, but people do

Philippine politics is like the same badly-written script being played by different actors every year. An actor could play different roles over a number of runs. Different roles could put an actor at different vantage points and require him or her to apply a different internalisation routine to play the part well. The trouble with being just an actor, though, is that the script remains an absolutely inaccessible aspect of the production. No matter what part an actor plays, the outcome the plot yields will ultimately always be the same. The similarity between the theatre and Philippine politics ends there. In Philippine politics where all of us are mere actors, we can, unlike the actor in that metaphorical play, influence the script and the outcome of the plot. We just need to be able to think beyond the actor’s frame of mind.

I was recently in an email exchange with a good friend of mine. We were discussing an acquaintance of mine who I shall call Kevin. Despite having converted from being a supporter of Noynoy Aquino to another presidential candidate, Kevin still took offense at the way we in AntiPinoy.com continued highlighting some unsavory cultural traits of the Filipino — traits which explain Noynoy’s enduring appeal to the typical Pinoy. And all the while I was under the impression that a glimmer of enlightenment in Kevin’s mind had sparked his miraculous conversion away from a candidate who is primitivism embodied!

It did not seem to occur to Kevin that it is precisely these cultural traits that we keep bagging here in AntiPinoy.com and our other associated sites that predispose many of us to support a no-substance candidate like Noynoy Aquino. That good friend of mine wrote the following insightful paragraph in the course of discussing Kevin. I thought I’d share it because it so succinctly captured an important observation about the way Filipinos position themselves in their politics:

When one limits one’s own power of critical thought to give undue reverence to one’s own culture, exempting it from questioning, deifying its authority, and excusing its weaknesses, then whatever edifice you try to erect over said culture could not be sustained considerably, especially given the onslaught of adversity to which every culture and civilization is subject. Trying to erect a system [in an environment] without critically considering [said environment’s] culture is like trying to build a tower over a weak foundation–no matter how strong and straight you try to make the tower as, it will lean or may even crumble.

After reading the above passage quoted above, it kind of hit me that perhaps even if Kevin had seen at some level the stupidity in supporting a presidential candidate such as Noynoy, the rationale he had applied in his converting to another candidate did not run as deeply as I had foolishly expected in people who defect from the Noynoy camp. Indeed, today just happens to be a day that an election campaign is on-going in the Philippines. Regardless of whether there was an on-going election campaign or not, we’d still be writing about the issues through the lens of Filipino cultural dysfunction. If there was no election that happened to be on-going right now, somebody or something else would serve as the posterboy or embodiment that we’d use as a baseline against which we could measure what Filipinos could rise up from. Efren Penaflorida happened to fill that role for us at some point not too long ago, for example. So did Erap back in the late 90’s. It is not only people that serve as convenient whipping boys for illustrating our insights. Things like jeepneys, ocho-ocho revolutions, and other artifacts of Da Pinoy Condition were also used as symbols of what make Filipinos so world-class at failing. Indeed, there are many noted people and things in our society and culture that are each able to encapsulate the awful As Is State that we need to aspire to transition away from in order to advance.

Today we are at the homestretch of an election campaign going on in the Philippines right now — and Noynoy Aquino, poor sod that he is, happens to be the current artifact we are using as a convenient example of what we Filipinos should rise up from. Tough luck, sir. Ikaw ang taya. Noynoy Aquino represents a breed of politician that so fully reflects the As Is State of Philippine politics. We need to transition from that kind of politics in order for us to become the sort of democratic society we aspire to be — fair, transparent, intelligent, mature, and results-oriented.

Kevin is an example of a person who changed his fashion sense but failed to become fashionable in a deeper sense. By shifting to another candidate without having a deep enough rationale for doing so, he built a tower on shaky ground. The Presidency can be seen as a tower we are building on our society. But we as a people need to work on the foundation of this tower. We need to be better at seeing how our very character as a people and a society can easily undermine the Presidency no matter who happens to be dispensing its services. We did the same thing on a macro level when we adopted American-style “democracy” as our form of government. We may conduct the elections and have the institutions — in short, go through the motions — but can anyone say with a straight face today that we are in a profound sense a truly democratic people?

Seeing Noynoy Aquino for the mistake that he is comprises only the first step in what is really a long journey that our nation needs to take in order for it to take its place among the truly great democracies of our world. Much of the rest of the journey involves us learning to see beyond the politics for solutions. The solutions do not lie in our politics nor the actors who play different roles in it. The solution lies in the nature of the script — the very codification of our the DNA of our society, our culture. If we do not develop our solutions from the ground-up starting with our culture, no Philippine Presidency will ever stand tall.


About benign0

benign0 is the Web master of GetRealPhilippines.com
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19 Responses to A good President does not make a great nation, but people do

  1. Persona non Grata says:

    Like what my mentor-armchair-philosopher, Renato Pacifico, has said for zillion of times, “what goot is a president if 99.99% of the Filipinos are corrupt”. Like any presidentiables, has “kamag-anaks, braders an sisters, badygards, nem-drapers” and “englischtzes-spekin” Filipinos … ” How true! Filipinos cling like corrupt barnacles, name-drops to get free rides, free chow.

    Whatever Renato’s political leaning is, my take is he is for “ERAP-para-lahat-pantay-heRAP” to benefit his selfish parent’s foreign remittances for his personal interest, seemed to want a mediocre president to make the value of Philippine peso sink further relative to his parent’s dollar remittances.

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  3. uncle pinoy says:

    Hello Benign0,

    We may have had this discussion before (or maybe I missed one of your articles on this), but can you summarize for me again how you propose we change the Filipino culture?


    • benign0 says:

      @ Uncle Pinoy, yes I believe we’ve had a similar conversation below, but I’m always happy to re-iterate.

      At a high level, a program to mitigate the adverse effects of our cultural character on our ability to prosper as a nation needs to have at the very least the following elements:

      (1) An overhaul of the nature and quality of the content disseminated by the Media. I provide a one-stop-shop portal to describe this initiative here. Elements of an initiative to overhaul the information dissemination infrastructure are all over our network of sites, much of it involves reinstatement of English as the primary medium of instruction (including signficant reduction of resources allocated to developing Tagalog material), keeping the Media honest (the “In the News” initiative here within AP is one example), and publishing various articles that highlight relevant issues and propose solutions around this area.

      (2) Investment in the Youth and future generations. A lot of what we write about reproductive health, the impact of OFW-ism on OFW orphans, etc. fall under this umbrella.

      (3) Re-visit concepts of nationalism. Things like the misguided pride (culturolatry, and stuff like that), the Efren Penaflorida thing, etc. are things that interlace most of our articles. The basic concept is that when we talk about “National Pride” or “Pride in being Filipino”, this should be tempered by a simple question: Pride in what exactly? The aim there is to couple the concept of “pride” more tightly with achievement.

      The above three are actually consistent with the three major sections in the last (i.e. “Conclusion”) section of my book.

      There is also a Solution Framework section in the GetRealPhilippines.com website with an intuitive diagram of how elements of the above solution areas hang together (plus detail around specific key areas of that framework in article form).

      Let me know if there is any specific area you’d like to discuss further. 😉

    • Dr. José Rizal II says:

      Uncle Pinoy,

      One other way to change culture is, you probably guessed: Government policies that aim to change behavior.

      This is how Singapore reformed a previously dirty and unhygenic group of people who used to pee anywhere, spit anywhere to create a very clean and orderly society. Even Subic and Marikina prove to be local Philippine examples of how the correct policies of “carrot-and-stick” can reform society.

      Media, of course, should complement government policies. Essentially, media should come up with stories that exalt good behavior and portray undesirable behavior as being unattractive and unworthy of emulation. Portraying diligence, hardwork, frugality, and responsibility as being worthy of admiration and laziness, excessive spending, and irresponsibility as leading to ruin can go a long way into “influencing” people to change their ways.

      If all they see around them are people they look up to lazing around and the all-around tambay culture, there’s hardly anything that will get them doing things differently unless media effectively bombards them with messages that push them to change their behavior. I’d say Media needs to even demonize the lazing around and tambay culture so that it eventually gets eliminated.

      • benign0 says:

        This is a good point! Singapore is an example of a society that engineered its development from the top-down. And it was the government itself that led the charge. Trouble with Pinoys is that even the slightest whisper of an even remotely authoritarian posturing and everyone screams OCHO-OCHO! and before you know it a mob spills into the streets of Manila waving placards bearing slogans like Patalsikin na Now na and other moronic phrases.

        Kelangan talaga sa Pinoy ay makatikim ng matinding tadyak. This whole emo softly-softly approach of stoking flaccid nationalist sentiments and propagating notions of “freedom” — a privilege Pinoys have hardly earned — is what is turning this country into the regional limpdick.

    • Homer says:

      In a nutshell, I strongly agree with the points that sees MEDIA playing a key role in the reconstruction of our damaged culture…..if only they would do so.

      Instead of raising our cultural standards, our media continues to do the opposite.

      WTF? Something is definitely wrong with this picture.

      • Persona non Grata says:

        That is why Renato Pacifico doesn’t dabble in politics. Because analysis of politician’s personalities and their leanings is based on the slants of the “professional medias”.

        The Filipino medias are hungry people. Not only hungry, they keep up with the Joneses. One media person bragged he can tell a whisky’s age my sniffy-sniff.

        Oh, yeah. Whatever.

  4. FreeSince09 says:

    Nah, it works both ways. A people, its leaders and its values are what makes it great. Not just people

    • BenK says:

      Are not the leaders drawn from the people? Or is regarding “leaders” as a distinct class unavoidable?

      • FreeSince09 says:

        The whole is greater than the some of its parts. Like the liver is the group of nephrons, so to are leaders and groups. It’s kinda like emergence I suppose

      • BenK says:

        That’s my point. The people are the “source” of the leaders. And also the values, for that matter. Address the shortcomings of society as a whole, and you address all its parts.

    • ChinoF says:

      That’s a good point Ben iterated. The people themselves soon become leaders (well, some of them). That’s why I said before, when political leaders are corrupt, it is because they were corrupt when they were ordinary people. Remember, even in the Philippines, many leaders start from the bottom. Even those in political dynasties, the family member replacements for the government position had been ordinary people before taking it, working or doing business as anyone else… and probably following their family’s corrupt way while doing so. That is why I believe corruption starts from the bottom.

    • J.B. says:

      The once confessed trapo Ninoy found enlightenment only after he was incarcerated. That’s how low by way of probability that someone will emerge that has at least the desirable traits of a leader that can bring this country forward.

      Added to that is the fact that our country is multi-party system that a minority can win which has a opposing but equality powerful Senate and Congress that could render his lameduck unless he feeds their bellies.

      • Dr. José Rizal II says:

        Well said, JB.

        The Philippines, thanks to that monstrosity known as the 1987 Cory Constitution caused the mess.

        A Multiparty presidential system that DID NOT have provisions for a RUN-OFF election that would have at least ensured that whoever does emerge as the winner has a real majority mandate of more than 50% of the entire electorate’s vote. Ironically, most countries around the world that use a multiparty, multi-candidate presidential system HAVE THIS. Most of Latin America, France, Eastern Europe, Indonesia, Afghanistan, and even “newcomer” East Timor have a run-off.

        The Philippines is a major disgrace because it had a headstart compared to Indonesia, Afghanistan, and East Timor. The Philippines returned to “democracy” after ousting a dictator in 1986. Indonesia did so 12 full years later in 1998 when they got rid of Suharto. 2001 for Afghanistan, and 2002 (full independence) for East Timor. How come these countries decided to have run-off elections just to make sure they don’t have a minority president, while the Philippines DOES NOT EVEN UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT?!?!?

        In short, the minority president scenario, coupled by a “strong Senate” with nothing to do but “fiscalize” (which is a FAKE ROLE, because it doesn’t exist as a real English word!) means that the President is severely weakened, and that the only real way for a President to get anything done is to “pay them off.”

        In Truth, you can’t blame ANYONE who becomes president for “paying off” opponents and/or “gatekeepers” with largesse or patronage because without it, YOU GET NOTHING DONE.

        Who then is to blame for this scenario?

        Certainly, not the President who merely inherited such a stupid system.

        Obviously, IT’S CORY, BERNAS, and the bunch of lousy constitutional convenors of 1987 who didn’t think things properly!

        Those dimwits are the architects of Philippine “loserhood.”

  5. Homer says:

    I view our leaders as a reflection of the people. If they are incompetent, so are we. Those who wish to disassociate themselves from this cannot be spared even if these individuals claim to have voted differently. We ALL have to share the blame for our collective actions. When we see our leaders failing to unite, why should we be surprised when we ourselves can’t do the same?

    Having said this, a site like AP gives individuals a chance to express the desire for Pinoys to choose a leader that would finally give it’s citizens a more positive reflection…but the road towards this path is a bumpy one (to say the very least).

  6. Persona non Grata says:

    Dr. Jose Rizal, There is no government policies that can change Filipino’s behaviour. You are from the U.S. so are the Filipinos you are with run by white Americans. Has the Filipinos change? NO!, they have not changed.

    Filipinos are chameleons. They change before non-Filipinos. Once among Filipinos they become Filipinos. Filipinos, like, Filipino direct from the Philippines.

    Filipinos trash Goldilocks and Jollibee in the U.S. Yet, they never trash American run restaurants.

    Observe Filipinos in West Covina, National City and in Cerritos. These Filipinos throw their fecal minds unto the streets but never will they trash even the cheapest strip mall.

    Filipinos don’t change. Cannot change.

    • Dr. José Rizal II says:

      Why the assumption that I’m US-based? 😉

      Then again, I don’t disagree with you that Filipinos prefer to be followers. There is a bit of laziness not just in “doing” but also in thinking. This “lazy-to-think” attitude is why Filipinos would rather just take on “shrink-wrapped” pre-packaged solutions developed by others (solutions which were usually developed for the specific contexts of the societies that developed them) instead of thinking of how to solve their own problems properly.

      But I think it’s not so much that Filipinos can’t change. We have changed in places like Subic and Marikina. They were run by Filipinos, not whites. Of course, such requires an “iron hand” despite the anti-authoritarian bias Pinoys have, that just happens to be the ONLY WAY discipline can be established among Pinoys. (The only real reason Marcos failed was because his economic policies were lousy. But authoritarianism? That was one of the few correct things he did. Too bad he fouled it up with a failed economy resulting from a crony capitalism he established where his cronies didn’t deliver.)

      To a certain extent, these are the trade-offs: Disciplinarian/Authoritarian governance by no-nonsense Filipino leaders, or liberal style governance by non-Filipinos (preferably WHITES). It’s an unfortunate problem, but I agree with you somewhat that Filipinos find it hard to follow fellow Filipinos. It’s almost as if Filipinos are pre-disposed towards following whites.

      But really now, Subic under Dick Gordon and Marikina under Bayani Fernando were well-run locales where people generally followed the rules even if they were run by Pinoys. (ok, Gordon’s part-American, but Bayani is Pinoy. Kayumanggi Pinoy. And yet he was able to get the people following the rules)

      Proper implementation of carrot-and-stick social engineering actually works.

      • Persona non Grata says:

        Dr. Jose Rizal, thank you so much for your rebuttal. I seem to see the light at the end of the cave. If Gordon changed his flocks thru iron fists, as you say, therefore, Philippines do not need to “outsource the government” we just need plenty of iron hands.

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