Final Thoughts on the Philippines

The Hon. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn
The Hon. Mayor Edward S. Hagedorn
I think I should finish up writing about the Philippines before I get too much farther in my trip. The farther I get away, the less fresh it is in my mind.

From the moment I landed in Manila to the moment I left, there was something that just didn’t seem right with the Philippines. The Philippines in an Asian country, but it feels like a Latin American Country. I mean that in the best and worst sense.  It gets its latin influences from being a Spanish colony, same as most of Latin America. But it also seems to have caught the disease that most former Spanish colonies suffer from.

Let me start at the beginning…

While traveling through the Pacific, I noticed on most islands there was a lot of idleness. People just sitting around doing nothing.  I wont pin down a reason, but I think it is part geographic, cultural, and even environmental. I could write a lot more on the economic prospects of Pacific countries, but let me just say they aren’t good. No matter what happens, being isolated in the middle of the Pacific ocean with few resources or people isn’t a recipe for success.

The island in the center of Ulugan Bay is owned by MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
The island in the center of Ulugan Bay is owned by MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
In the Philippines I saw something very different. Everywhere I went, people were busy. In every village, no matter how small, I saw signs in front of houses offering services. Everyone seemed to be selling something, offering tire repair services, welding, operating tricycles, all usually in addition to farming. Even the guys in Manila who were trying to sell me fake Rolex watches were at least hustling, trying to make a buck. There seems to be no lack of work ethic or entrepreneurial spirit in the Philippines.

Every college I drove past you would see a sea of white from the uniforms of nursing students. Nursing is a very popular area to get into in the Philippines. They produce an abnormally large number of nurses.

English is widely spoken in the Philippines, which gives everyone them a leg up over other companies in the global economy. They also have close ties with the US, which you would think would also be to their benefit. To top it all off, they are in a region, South East Asia, which is experiencing tremendous growth.

Despite all this, the Philippines is poor. By all rights, they should e doing much better. The question that kept running through my head during my entire stay was “why”?

Approximately 8,000,000 Filipinos work overseas. That is about 10% of the country. One of the reasons that nursing is so popular of a profession to enter is that it is relatively easy to study (compared to becoming an MD) and it provides an easy path to getting a work visa outside of the Philippines. In particular, to the US which has a nursing shortage. The country is suffering from a tremendous brain drain. I went to the US Embassy in Manila to look into getting a new passport. I was stunned by the lines at the embassy for people applying for an immigration visa to the US.

One young man I talked to flat out told me he has six years to wait before he can go to the US. He will probably study nursing and maybe even get into a sham marriage so he could move to New York. The sham marriage would cost him 20% of his income. I read one article in a paper which lamented how common it was to have doctor appointments canceled because the doctor has left the country.

Another editorial I read stated that for bright young people, you desire to either a) leave the country, or b) get into politics or law enforcement. Everyone I talked to sort of took it for granted that they wanted to leave the Philippines, preferably to the US or Canada. In fact, when I brought the subject up, I usually got a look that said “duh”.

After having spent two and a half weeks there, I wont claim to be an expert in Filipino domestic affairs or know what the answer is to the Filipino problem, but I think it lies squarely in the political system. (BTW, if you are Filipino and reading this, feel free to chime in the comments. I’d love to hear your opinion)

This visitor center was a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
This visitor center was a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
The only thing you ever really hear about the Philippines in the international news is about politics. For much of the post war era, the Philippines was run by a dictator, Ferdinand Marcos. He was tolerated by the US because he was an anti-communist and allowed the US keep a naval and air force base in the country. When he was overthrown in the mid 80’s, there was a lot of speculation that the Philippines would be the next Asian economic miracle. It never really happened.

What seems to have happened, is that the corruption which was concentrated in the hands of Marcos go distributed throughout the whole system. It is as if they Filipinos said when Macros left, “No longer will we be subject to the whims of a corrupt dictator! Now we will be subject to the whims of corrupt democratically elected officials!!”

The Philippines is very corrupt. Their previous president, Jose Estrada, was ousted by a popular revolt due to his corruption. While I was in the Philippines one of the big stories was if he was going to be given a pardon. There were also charges in the newspapers against the current president,  Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (GMA for short), of corruption regarding her and her husband.

Transparency International ranks the Philippines 131st in the world in the perception of corruption index. The Committee to Protect Journalists ranks the Philippines one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist in the world. 53 journalists have been assassinated since the presidency of Gloria Arroyo started. Sort of makes it difficult to fight corruption when there is a good chance you’ll die if you do.

To really hammer home what Filipino politics is like, I need to present the case of the HONORABLE MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN, mayor of Puerto Princesa. I should note, that I really don’t know anything about MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN. MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN might be a great guy. MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN might run a really clean city. I have no idea.

This rest stop was a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
This rest stop was a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN
I do however know the name of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN because on anything which is remotely touched with city funding, you will find the name and face of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN. In the taxi tricycles, every license sticker has the photo of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN. Every garbage can in the city has “A project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN” printed on the side. The road to the Puerto Princesa underground river park has signs saying the road is a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN. The rest stop on the way there is touted as a project of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN. When you get to the park, the building at the park says it is a project of “MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN”. There is a giant billboard at the park with the photo of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN at the mouth of the cave. At the airport, there was a poster of MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN looking at you in the waiting area.

MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN was usually printed much larger than the name of the project itself.

The only public works projects that didn’t have MAYOR EDWARD S. HAGEDORN printed on it were the bus stop shelters. They had GOVERNOR JOEL T. REYES painted on it.

The most egregious example of this I saw in Manila. I saw a sign congratulating a man who won the purple heart award in the US Marines. The sign had a photo of the young man shaking the hand of the local mayor and below that, was a portrait of the mayor, with the name of the mayor in very large font. This guy was injured in battle, and yet it was only there to promote the mayor. Kind of sad.

The reason why law enforcement and politics are such desirable professions is that it allows you to attach your car to the corruption train. Every public works project is liable to kickbacks, cronyism, and will all be used to keep the incumbents in power.

Sadly, so long as the best and brightest keep leaving the country, those who might have the greatest incentive for reform aren’t around to make it happen. Then again, I can’t really blame them for wanting to leave the Philippines for greater opportunity elsewhere.

24 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on the Philippines”

  1. How long have you stayed in the Philippines? One month? 2 months? Where? We have 7,100 plus sparse islands, and it takes more than a year or so to be able to fully understand our unique culture. We were colonized by the Spaniards for more than 3 and 3 quarters of a century, it is certainly not that impossible to note why Spanish influence did rob on us.Certainly, the Americans had that share of enjoyment too in our country for almost a century. Moreover, despite our independence, we have had several social conflicts in our country for may regimes now. If you ask me, we have not recovered yet from all those troubles We are still slowly mending.

  2. Hi! I think the corruption always starts by citizens themselves. And the lack of nationalism is the main problem why the country has not seen a wide progress. Most Filipinos (the teens in particular) never even take a chance to concern themselves in the vast majority of the problems. I am a 16-year-old studying Bachelor in Mass Communication and everytime I talk about nationalism in any sense, my friends would laugh at me and tell me just to study and be rich in life (money). You see, how can a country make a progress as oneif its citizens has a mind set to progress individually, right? And, how can a country even take a step to a wide progress if its citizens doesn’t even have a sense of nationalism? Everything starts with embracing our nationalism and influencing others, especially the teens. How can they (we) be the future of our country if we add up to the expanding hole of people who never even take a glance at our nationality and culture? :) sorry for the rant, but you get my point. Corruption starts witn not recognizing our nationality and not totry and do.our best to re-shape aspects of our culture that are negative, to benefit not only an individual, but the whole nation as well.

  3. I’ve been living here in the Philippines for just under a year now, and I’ve been trying to answer this very question. Corruption certainly has a lot to do with the surprising lack of “upward mobility” in the Philippines, and I do think it has a lot to do with the lack of a national identity. With over 7,000 islands, several different major religious groups, and numerous dialects, and with the major islands almost being countries unto themselves, it’s fairly easy to see why the national government has such a very hard time getting programs in place and carried out cohesively around the nation.

    Now with P-Noy in office, I think the Philippines has a very good chance of ending quite a bit of the corruption. It will take far longer than one presidential term, but I think he’ll do a good job of getting things started. For it to continue, the people really need to get behind it and report and condemn corruption at every level. The problem here is that local politicians, from the barangay level up, have a stranglehold on the people, and retribution can be swift and deadly.

  4. I think that the problem here in the Philippines is not the political system. What is the problem? I think it is cultural, and that it should be thought of as a failure of nationalism.

    When a country with extreme geographic, tribal, and social-class differences, like the Philippines, has only a weak offsetting sense of national unity, its public life does become the war of every man against every man.

  5. Hi. I followed your link thru a friends tweet. My husband and i have been living in Canada for almost 3 yrs now. We are both designers back when we were in the Philippines. Our first job in Canada were graphic designers also. because of the lay offs and recession, we couldnt land the same job for 2 yrs thus we tried our hands on other field. my husband got into the city transit and i took a shot in retail management. both of us never had any experience or training on our new job. Before you scroll down and read other comments, this is what i wanted to comment to your article. I’m not gona argue on your opinion, observations and comments but i think you should know… a lot of Filipino’s are smart, talented, skillful and good-hearted people. and we are a nation of survivors. The idleness you seen and mentioned in most island well a lot of these people never made it to grade school or high school. these people are the ones who dreamed of at least owning a boat so he could fish. Or a few square ft of land where he could plant veggies/fruits to sell in the market, or start a little poultry where he could take care of a few chickens or piglets so they can send their kids to school to have a better life. Cuz education is not free in my country. These has been our grandparents, parents dreams for a long time now. Hard to admit but sadly, we are also a nation full of corrupt people. The capital of corruption in Asia. There was this regular customer where i work from. One time i had the chance of commuting with him in the bus. There were just a handful us. He was sitting far back when he started asking me questions. “Are you Filipino?” he asked. I proudly said “yes”. Then he added, “a lot of Filipinos started migrating to Canada, I’m wondering why you guys moved here? Is it because you have a better life here? better opportunities? Is country badly broken that you all have to move to Canada?” For a moment i didnt know what to say. People were staring at me, most of them Canadians. I was the only weird looking foreigner there. So i told him. “I wouldnt say better opportunities. Cuz there are plenty of opportunities in the Philippines. The reason why we moved here is because we’ve read and always thought that you have a better government. A good govt has better leaders and therefore better people who lives in this country.” Cuz if all Filipinos has the means to leave the country to find a better world/country they can live in, Philippines’ population wont even make it to a Million.

  6. Hi Gary. I agree with you post as well, though I only spent 4 mos in the Philippines. I was shocked to see roads half built, with locals telling me “oh, they did a small part and then took a picture and sent it to the Gov’t, and then pocketed the rest of the money” as though it was normal. Yes, Nenyalorien, I agree donating to help with the aftermath of the typhoon devastation – but donating to “help” fix corruption is merely contributing to the problem. That kind of change needs to come from inside the country, whereas those of us abroad can help donate to environmental protection, re-construction from disasters, etc. I loved the Philippines but it was extremely sad to see the indifference to the very overt corruption.

  7. I’m a Filipino in my late 20’s, have lived in Luzon, Visayas, & Mindanao – in the country’s three archipelago. The sad thing is that I could not disagree with any points raised in this post.

    What makes me even sadder is that I feel that some sort of cleansing has to happen. I’ll even go as far as saying that it has to be something very bloody – if possible it should also wipe-out all known political families up to the third degree of consanguinity – even if you’re only a political family’s housekeeper or chauffeur.

    I’ve reached to a point in believing that only from its own ashes will my country become better. It must come to the ground first so a new foundation can be laid.

  8. Every bit of your article is true.
    There is very little incentive for people to stay here. There’s no room for financial growth. And the people have grown numb to their surroundings. Almost to the point of apathy.

    I’m a amateur graphic artist. And one of the more evident details that hit me everyday, is how bad the art scene/market/culture is, here in the Philippines. There is a lot of talent, moreover brooding talent, however, the audience that the art circulates with are too few.

    I’d like to point the finger at the LACK of good education, which in one way or another, leads to art appreciation. Or Poverty: Why spend the little cash that you have on a locally made comic book, or indie film, when you have a family to feed, or a sibling’s schooling to support. And, there is also the lack of trust, faith, in our local talent. The few fans that this country has wont gamble the very little money they have left on the work of this “unknown” writer/musician/artist. The mentality of Foreign work being superior in all aspects (comics, novels, music, film, etc.) has made a terrible imprint among the minds of most Filipino fan-boys.

    Not only is this country losing business men, engineers, doctors, nurses, and other specialists, but the Philippines is also in danger of losing its art lovers, dreamers, and aspiring creators.

    It would take nothing short of a miracle, the 2nd coming of Ninoy Aquino, and another Jose Rizal, to rattle this country back to shape. If ever, at least to rekindle the Filipino’s faith in their own motherland. That would mean everything.

  9. i feel sad with my country…fellow country men keeps on talking not good vs own country and this sadden me more…it seems they just born here not of filipino parents but of foreign can we be united and work for the better when we ourselves deny our country of good deeds and better “a”s…the suffering of Jesus Christ gave every Christian a discipline…the sufferings of Muhammad gave every Moslem a good spirit to continue for their dedication but this slaves heroes were given a slap stick from those fellowmen who seems to be trying hard from being “somebody”. Wkae up from that long sleep…you might, one morning, wake up with a mustache that kills you horribly and a dagger that makes you cry for filipino help. Look back and you will find that filipinos at your back are the true brothers and sisters of yours.

  10. Very interesting observations and spot on too! You just forgot to mention the Filipinos’ fondness for making babies! The Phil. will fit into Queensland alone (one of the Australian states and where I live), yet at 90 million people, how can any country possibly support that many people? I’m a Filipino_Australian. Have been in Australia nearly 30 years. I longed to go back to the country, but I can’t live there again. It was bad under Marcos, worse now. My heart bleeds for that country….

    • Then if your heart bled for this country, do something about your bleeding heart. Donate. Or at least pray with us.


      • Hokay. Now this is weird. I didn't know that DisQus has me on permalog. Great. But yeah, I did flare up with what you wrote, Christine. I thought you were being hypocritical. If you really bled for our country, DO SOMETHING TO HELP. I wish most of those needed here would stay and help rebuild and change society.

        Thank you for your honest insights, Gary. Yes, we need a lot of help. It sucks that the taxes I am about to pay are only sapped by some politician's kid's drug habit. Grr.

  11. I had met some Filipino women in Palawan who were there on vacation. All four left to live in the US. Only 1 of the three returned to live in the Philippines. The rest were going back to the US because that is where their families were. It is hard to go back after you spent several decades building a life in a different country. Even if they did return, the odds are that their children wouldn’t. I can’t think of many ethnic groups which have ever done after immigrating to a place.

    • It is harder to return to the philippines since the older filipino generation had a collective employee-for-life attitude. It is therefore expected that this cohort will prefer to stay in their adopted country because they live by the paycheck. It is a white elephant in the room that this age group will never ever admit.
      On the other hand, the younger ones have more entrepreneurial and truly global mentality. At this point, we seek the greener pasture outside the philippines, earn and save money and return home 40x richer than the true value of the dollar at a relatively low cost of living. More disposable income to invest in business targeted towards the millenial generation age group.
      It's all psychology baby.

  12. I agree with the post but I am sensing that the reversed brain drain will happen very very soon. Im part of the babies of the 80’s filipino generation which are now scattered all over the world. However, i am finding out a pattern, an unconscious collective strategy to go overseas, work, earn, save money AND invest and retire in the Philippines.
    Mark my words that my generation although less talked about compared with the 70’s & 60’s, focuses more on execution and will make things happen.

  13. such a great post. i am a filipino american, and i am so glad that you were able to post your thoughts so eloquently on your blog. your views, as an ‘outsider,’ basically confirms my own thoughts. i agree with you 100%. i am proud of my philippine heritage, but i agree that something has to be done in order to elevate the country for the future. the political landscape there is a joke, and it’s hurting the progress of the nation rather than helping it.

    sadly, i’m not sure when or how this will change?!

    thanks again for your insights!

  14. I love this post. it’s great to read about my country in the eyes of a traveller. I’ll even blog about this for that linky lovey.

    Philippines has the potential to be the greatest in SE, we speak English, we are not lacking in talent and skill, we have a lot to be proud of…

    The main problem with the RP is that the government keeps pushing the “we are a technologically competent country” to us even if the reality is that we are an AGRICULTURAL country. We do not develop agriculture, we scoff at the farming profession and we import our basic commodities (because it’s “cheaper”).

    maybe it’s pressure from somewhere else, maybe not, but our government doesn’t prioritize well…

  15. Another great post. I actually have nothing against what you’s all perfectly true and it’s as if you’ve been living here all along.

    A lot of people want to leave the country..yes..

    A lot of nursing sister is one of them she also wants to leave the country so she can get better par..

    Well..yea..everything’s completely grasp what it’s like to be here.

    Thank you for this great post..

    I actually do not want to work abroad..i just don’t get it..

    and did you know that the overseas filipino workers ie maids, drivers, nurses, whatever it is they do..are referred to as MODERN FILIPINO HEROES..

    hmmm…our heroes are now slaves..hmm..

  16. Hi, I found your site through Entrecard.

    I’m glad that you’ve been able to visit the Philippines. I’m Filipino, by the way, and currently residing in the Philippines. It’s interesting to note how foreigners view our country.

    And yes, our country nowadays is politically problematic, especially recently. Hopefully, though it resolves soon. But then usually, one problem comes after another and so it has been almost a never-ending parade of problems, solutions, and more problems stemming from what’s supposed to be “solutions” to earlier problems.

    But I’m glad you get to enjoy the other parts of the country, as well.

    Good luck on your journey!

  17. I found your site through EntreCard, and was interested to read your thoughts on the Philippines – I’ll be spending most of next year living there.

    Good luck with the rest of your travels.

  18. Now I am going to go around all day yelling “HAGEDORN!” as if it’s a battle cry or something (at least, I’ll be yelling it in my head)

  19. If I’m not mistaken, Saudi Arabia is the 2nd or 3rd in the world in number of Filipino expats after the US.

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