A typical slum area in the Philippines. Photo: correctphilippines.org
he Philippines has about 200 political clans spanning Apari up North to Jolo down South. These clans control most of the local politics in their bailiwicks. They wield tremendous power and have so for decades. A rich, powerful, and politically connected family makes up the core of each clan. Family members are treated like royalty and are well-known throughout their region. Clans also maintain a well-oiled and expansive political machinery, so it is no wonder they handily win in local elections. Clans can thus easily perpetuate themselves in positions of power. In the Philippines, they are also referred to as political dynasties.
Clans have been around at least since the Spanish colonial period. Once a family has established itself as the preeminent clan in a region, it becomes extremely difficult to dislodge it from power. And the longer a clan remains in power, the stronger the sense of entitlement felt by its core members. Like royals, clan offspring are born into power. They quickly learn that their social standing is far above the common people … many times they believe they are even above the law. Inculcated in these scions is the fact that eventually, they will grow up to rule the town, city, province, or region their family controls. It is their destiny.
All the above would be fine, if this was still the 12th century and all our neighbors were autocracies like ours. Unfortunately, this is the 21st century and most countries are now meritocracies whose economies have rocketed past ours.
The Philippine economy on the other hand continues to meander towards “first-world” territory but never quite arrives. For example: today we have one of the highest growth rates in the region. So, do you think the Philippines has finally turned the corner and is on its way to becoming the next, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, or Singapore? Probably not, in the foreseeable future.
And why is this so? One reason is because in the Philippines, both the government and private sectors are run by second-stringers—individuals not fully qualified for the job. In the Philippines meritocracy is almost non-existent. A typical Filipino worker gets a job, or a promotion, not because of his skill or ability to do that job but because of the connections he or his family has. Likewise, in politics, the country is lead by the sons and daughters of political dynasties. They are elected into office solely because they carry the right surname—it does not matter whether they know anything about the job or not.
So over time all Filipinos have learned to accept mediocrity as the norm—in business, in politics, even in life. We never got much from Filipino politicos and we have learned not to expect much from them. Wrong decisions, poor of planning, lack of choices, and constant delays, are simply par for the course as far as Pinoys are concerned. We’ve learned to accept it, live with it, and if possible, we’ve learned to work around it.
As we noted earlier, if every other country in the world operated this way, things wouldn’t be so bad. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. Most advanced countries are meritocracies were the best and the brightest rise to the top. In government, only those with proven accomplishments and a solid track record of success are voted into power by the electorate. Unlike the Philippines, the public expects action from their leaders. They hold their feet to the fire, and remove them from office when they don’t get the expected results.
Given their radically different environment, it is hard to envision situations where the Philippines can compete, or even keep pace with such countries. Should Pinoys just learn to accept the fact that their country will always be among the poorer, less developed countries of the world?
Might there be a way to change things? Perhaps. We’ll talk about one possibility in the next part of this editorial. Published 3/22/2018