vol 17 / no 3 / March-May 2008 / issn 0118-3931


Why is the Philippines Poor?

That is the question two articles now blazing across the Internet ask—one rhetorically, because it proceeds to answer that self-same question by resorting to such devices as non sequitur, comparison and contrast, and process of elimination; and the other, reluctantly, as if the answer was so obvious it didn’t even need a question to be framed to see its truth.

Let’s examine the rhetorical one first. Is the Philippines poor because it is still a young—and therefore, underdeveloped—nation? Or is it that way because it is a country made old by “over-” or “mis-” development? Indeed, is age a factor at all?

No, says the article. Age doesn’t matter a whit. Egypt and India are 2,000 years old and remain the land of shortages and the home of the needful; Canada, Australia and New Zealand are still infant nations but are already players in the “major league.”

One would think a country with scarce natural resources is bound to be third world, but look at Switzerland: no bigger than a postage stamp and snow-bound nine months of the year, yet its exports of chocolate and dairy products of the best quality, along with its exquisite timepieces, make it an earthly paradise.

Closer to home, there is Japan, an island nation like the Philippines, except that its islands are mountainous and not suitable for agriculture. Japan has to buy almost everything it needs to live; yet by turning itself into a floating factory, importing raw materials from where it can and selling manufactured goods all over the world, Japan has become the second largest economy in the globe today.

Does the difference then lie in the color of one’s skin? Nope, says the article. As a matter of fact, in the “coping” department, a study finds Filipino managers way ahead of their Caucasian counterparts.

So okay, enough of the suspense: Bakit mahirap ang bayang magiliw?

Attitude, says the article. The Philippines is poor not because of its location, its climate, its lack of natural resources, its history of colonization, but simply because of the attitude of its people to life, labor and love; an attitude “shaped by the education we had, by our culture and tradition.”

What the article calls “attitude” turns out to be the “difficulty Filipinos have in following principles observed by most people in rich or developed countries, to wit: 1) Ethics as a basic principle, 2) Integrity, 3) Responsibility, 4) Respect for the law, 5) Respect for the rights of other citizens, 6) Love of work, 7) Inclination to savings and investment, 8) Will of super action or putting corporate good over individual welfare, 9) Punctuality, and 10) Discipline.”

The article equates these with “laziness, love of intrigue and politics, too much individualism, a bent for taking the shortcut, lack of discipline.”

More to the point is the piece Nonie Pelayo, former Dawn editor and now Associate Editor of BusinessMirror, has been e-mailing. You want to know why the Philippines is poor and who is to blame for this?

Easy, he says: “265 persons — 24 senators, 240 congressmen and one President, the only people who exercise the power of government.

“Once we fully grasp this plain truth, then it must follow that the country is what it is because that’s how they want it to be. Therefore, by present facts, they stand convicted of incompetence and irresponsibility. For there is no single domestic problem that is not traceable directly to those 265 persons.”

“Do not let these 265 people shift the blame to bureaucrats, whom they hire and whose jobs they can abolish; to lobbyists, whose gifts and advice they can reject; to regulators, to whom they give the power to regulate and from whom they can take this power. Above all, do not let them con you into the belief that there exist disembodied mystical forces like ‘the economy,’ ‘inflation’ or ‘politics’ that prevent them from doing what they take an oath to do.

“Those 265 people, and they alone, are responsible.
“They, and they alone, have the power.
“They, and they alone, should be held accountable…”

Further, affiant says nothing.