Friday, October 29, 2004


Philippines: Doomed to more of the same

The Philippines. Land of Smiles. Land of Contradictions. Land of assimilated cultures and languages.

And no matter how much the world changes, the Philippines resists change.

You may remember the so-called "People Power Revolution" of 1986. Marcos was overthrown. Amid great fanfare the world watched with amazement, wondering how the population of this little third-world country could overthrow a dictator with so little blood spilled. The answer, of course, was that it was all a show. Because nothing changed. Oh, Ferdinand Marcos is gone. And that's good. But the only thing that's different is the coup count: coups, attempted coups, rumors of coups, retelling of coups. Nothing else has changed.

Ferdinand may have been dethroned and since died, but his wife and children and their cronies still hold great political and financial power. A tiny number of family dynasties control that country. The political machine that's made up of wealthy land and financial barons still holds up the fa├žade of a democracy, a representative republic - but no one is fooled. Corruption is endemic. Sub-par standards of conduct in business and government hasn't changed in over fifty years. The culture still accepts the premise that a wealthy man is also very intelligent and therefore regarded with deference. The national debt hasn't decreased in over forty years; it continues to rise unabated with no attempt to address it's causes or continuing impact. The small middle-class of twenty years ago has dwindled to almost nothing. The poor and destitute continue to be alternately violently oppressed, then courted by the candidates for political office by means of cheezy entertainment and vote bribes - and it works! The Roman Catholic Church has increased it's grip on the power by playing on the peoples' fears and ignorance. The country continues to squander it's natural resources and export it's most precious asset - it's own people.

The country's agrarian and paternalistic history is very much a part of it's current condition. There's been no shift in government, law, politics, culture or society in any measurable way.

Asia Times recently ran a series of articles on the current state of affairs in the Philippines. It's worth the read.

Despite all that, I love that country. Maybe it's because I haven't been there in 15 years - absence makes the heart grow fonder. And there's a little voice inside my head telling me I shouldn't go back because I won't like that I see.

My lovely wife of over twenty years is from San Felipe, Zambales, Philippines. She could have changed her citizenship a long time ago, but she only made the move in 1998. She loves her family and homeland; that's an apron string that won't ever be severed. It was a tough decision for her.

No, I don't hold out much hope for the future of the Philippines. But I expect I'll return there some day for an extended stay.

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