May 24, 2022

Challenges Facing Philippine Society


Our Role in Creating These Challenges, and the Necessity for Change


Not so long ago, we were one of the most promising nations in the world. But today, despite two globally admired People Power uprisings, we have earned the dubious distinction of being both a laughing stock and a leper on the world stage. We have become a banana republic. Our corrupt nation is bequeathing a bleak future of decay and despair. We are robbing our youth and our children of a better tomorrow.

Tingnan natin ang saril natin. We have reached thepoint where there is little we can be proud of, precious little we can hope for. The challenges of renewing Philippine society are complex, systemic, interrelated and multi-dimensional.

Overview of our Challenges

We are mired in poverty, huge budget deficits, a ballooning foreign debt,  and a fragile economy. Millions have no job and go to bed hungry each night. Foreign interests increasingly dictate national policies. Lack of political will and budgetary support make promising laws stagnate. There is lawlessness and war in our land. Our high literacy rates mean nothing when we can no longer feed and house ourselves as a nation.

At the same time, our land is scourged with toxic tailings and scars from mines; our soil is blowing away; our forests destroyed; our rivers run dry; lakes and air polluted, and our seas over-fished.

Meanwhile, depraved Filipinos drug our young, murder our neighbors, and exploit most everyone else. We are near the ultimate nightmare of a dog-eat-dog world. Uncaring. Violent. Meaningless.

The trail of corruption in all spheres of society is permanently etched in the potholes that riddle our national highways and roads as well as in the public works that are now prematurely dilapidated. Worse, it is embedded in the very structure of our psyche, sa ating kaluluwa, creating “potholes” in our soul.

Because our rotten justice system does not punish evil, and our goodness is not appreciated and promoted, the good among us are starting to succumb to the evil around them. Dahilsamaramiangnakakalusot at nagpapalusot.

Corruption knows no bounds, infecting both the rich and the poor, the highest national officials and the grassroots. We have now gained the dubious distinction of being the 11th most corrupt country in the world and the number one (# 1) most corrupt in Asia. And not to be outdone, corrupt and violent pushers have also made our country the number one (#1) drug users in Asia. Truly disgusting! Mga walanghiya! Walay ulaw!

Multi-dimensional and Systemic Challenges

In the economy, to use and expand United Nations Development Program (UNDP) language, we are experiencing jobless growth and ruthless growth. In recent years, before its current contraction in 2009, our economy grew but unemployment and underemployment continued to hover at high levels. In addition, this economic growth was “ruthless” in that it only benefited the rich upper classes as 4 million Filipinos entered the ranks of the poor between 2003 and 2006. The Philippines has one of the highest Ginicoefficient (0.44) in the ASEAN region and in the world, indicating that economic growth is unevenly and unfairly distributed. Furthermore government has re-established the dreaded practice of crony capitalism, where, as a result of political indebtedness, the state favors certain individuals and corporations in different industries to prosper at the expense of other businesses. Finally, the economy is resting on weak and narrow fundamentals, with a weak manufacturing sector and an over-reliance on OFW remittances.

In politics, we are experiencing voiceless growth. Citizens, the true subjects of democracy, have no real voice in the affairs of the state. Political dynasties continue to reign supreme in Philippine politics. Traditional politicians in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government violate laws and regulations left and right yet continue to justify these violations as their defense of law and order. The upper levels of the military are highly politicized and corrupted. Government officials at all levels steal hundreds of billions every year from the national budget. When citizens protest government wrongdoing and abuses, citizens are met with water cannons and police brutality. Worst, some citizens become victims of unresolved extrajudicial killings. On top of it all, the justice system is increasingly becoming corrupted, preventing citizens from obtaining relief from the harm done to them. The growth of condominiums and malls hides the massive betrayal of democracy.

In culture, we are experiencing the growth of moral rootlessness. The pervasive and almost unstoppable corruption around us destroys our sense of what is right and wrong and uproots our capacity for moral outrage. We are becoming more apathetic and cynical as a people. Worse, an increasing number among us flow with the tide of corruption instead of resisting it. And because we are cut of from our moral center, we cannot unify as a nation around moral issues that profoundly affect our future. Our low quality education does not help the situation. The increasing corruption of civil society, including NGOs, peoples organizations, social movements, schools, media, and religious groups, adds further to moral cynicism and inaction. On top of it all, we have no clear vision of who are as a people nor do we have an understanding of what our collective talents are as a nation.

For society as a whole (that is, our economy, politics, and culture), we are facing the challenge of hopeless growth. We are surrounded with the same urgent issues that have faced us for more than two decades: poverty, corruption, lawlessness, conflict, crime, overpopulation, damaged institutions, and others. The promises of past and present government administrations to address these societal issues now sound empty amidst the massive growth of these problems. Our prospects for renewal seem to be bleak and hopeless in the decades to come.

While our society is burdened with the challenge of hopelessness, we are also facing the stark reality of futureless growth in our relationship with our ecology – our sources of life, in our almost utter disregard for the integrity of creation.  Solid waste, water and air pollution is increasing to dangerous levels. We are inadequately prepared for the massive impacts of global climate change that is upon us. Our chemical and poison-based agriculture continues to destroy the fertility of our soil and undermine our health as consumers. We continue to over-fish our oceans and destroy our forests and watersheds. Mining practices continue to be environmentally unsound and socially disruptive.

Economic, political, and cultural structures and institutions are responsible for the massive challenges we face today. Yet, in the end, human beings constitute systems and structures. People run the great institutions of our society. If people have integrity and competence, then the issues of society will be meaningfully addressed. If people are corrupt, then they will corrupt the systems, structures and institutions that they manage.

Unfortunately, at the spiritual and the individual level, we are also facing the challenge of meaningless growth. Filipinos are becoming more and more self-centered and egotistic. They only think of their immediate personal advantage instead of the common good. They cannot find their place in the wholeness of society and human history and therefore they do not find meaning in their lives. They are also becoming more materialistic. They value corrupt shortcuts and material possessions over honesty, hard work and a deep spiritual life. As a result of egotism and materialism, Filipinos increasingly feel empty and meaningless inside. They try to fill this meaninglessness with material possessions. They do not realize that gold can never replace principles and values as the basis for true meaning, purpose and satisfaction in life.

Institutional Failure

The behavior of key institutions in Philippine society contributes greatly to this crisis.

Corporations continue with business as usual, focusing solely on their own gain and ignoring their dependence on the vitality of society at large. They continue to pollute the environment and exploit their workers. They do not mind being the cronies of the political powers that be as long as this special albeit stigmatize status brings them money, money, money. They also maintain their monopolies and oligopolies by buying off politicians or running for public office themselves.

Traditional politicians (“trapos”) are multiplying like pests, rapaciously feeding on and fueling the national chaos. The Presidency and the Executive Branch has behaved mostly like landlords and beauty contestants, concerned pre-eminently with their own narrow interests and their popularity. Congress has become a stage where the chief objective is not to govern wisely and prudently, but rather to determine who wields greater political power and who can suck, uncaught, the most in terms of monetary pilferage. The Supreme Court and its system of courts have also been ravaged by corruption. Money, not legal merits, determines the outcome of a case. The Office of the Ombudsman shelters the powerful, corrupt criminal, instead of prosecuting them. Comelec, ideally the guardian of clean and honest elections, has become the most brazen violator of our electoral process, a key feature of our democracy.

And, unfortunately, the recent elections in May 2010 do not promise much change. Massive and widespread electronic cheating marked the conduct of the recent elections. The “electronic Garci” dwarfs, in scope, bravado and pervasiveness, the manual Garci of the 2004 presidential elections.

Significant segments of civil society including NGOs and Church groups, increasingly become irrelevant to the crying needs of the country, distracted by ambitions, power, moral corruption, and their own narrow instincts for institutional survival. Meanwhile most of our mainstream media feast, like vultures, on the dead bodies and broken dreams of the nation. They focus on sensational murders, accidents, robbery and spend countless prime time hours highlighting shallow, meaningless and often scandalous programs. For its part, significant segments of the academe are basically irrelevant to the discourse on national transformation. They become ego-centric, insular, unimaginative, conservative, reactionary, and mostly irrelevant to nation building.

The national chaos, not surprisingly, is encouraging millions to leave the Philippines and seek their future in strange lands. There they would rather brave loneliness, soul depravation, and broken homes than face the certainty of hunger, crime, drugs, hopelessness, and frustration.

We are our own worst enemy

We think the problem is only out there. But, in truth, the problem is also inside us. There is corruption and decline outside, because, inside many of us, we have died to our ideals, to our sense of freedom, courage, imagination, bayanihan, entrepreneurship, justice and fair play. We have found the enemy and the enemy is us.

There is a universal truth that we ignore at our peril. The most powerful governments and institutions exist only as long as citizens allow their existence. Rizal said it more simply and directly. “There are no tyrants if there are no slaves.”

Yet, for so long, we seem to prefer the status of apathetic slaves, quietly enduring the many sufferings inflicted upon us by corrupt, deceitful, unprincipled and egotistic leaders and their equally corrupt followers.  Instead of doing something about the decline of the Philippines, we hope that, someday, maybe the sufferings of our country would quietly go away. Our favorite habit is to complain about how bad the country is. Yet we do not lift one finger to make the Philippines a better place.

We have thus reaped the seeds of our own passivity and indifference. We now face the horror of a vastly more aggressive and arrogant army of corrupt leaders, professionals and followers in many businesses, government and congressional offices, media, schools, and even a growing number of religious institutions and NGOs.

Our apathy and indifference is reinforced by our doubts and our fears. Inside us, we tell ourselves: The problems are too many and too complex. We are too few to make a difference. We are too ordinary to galvanize mass action. On top of these, we are a divided people. We are no match against the trapos and the corrupt elite. They are too powerful to resist. They may arrest and even kill us.  Our doubts and our fears become a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we doubt whether we can overcome our regional and linguistic divisions and be united against corruption and the trapos, then we empower trapos and elites to ruthlessly exploit this division for their own benefit. Our external prisons start with the prisons we have constructed in our minds and in our hearts. Our external defeats have their origins in the inner defeats we have allowed to fester inside.

Trinaidor natin ang Inang Bayan sa ating pagbaliwala, kaduwagan, at pagdududa.

Our apathy, cowardice, and doubt betray the Philippine Spirit.

May pag-asa pa! Ang liwanag ng kagalingan ng bawat tao
Ngunit sa ngitngit ng dilim, may liwanag na nagaanyaya sa atin na gumising at lumaban.

In the darkness of night, there is hope.

Filipinos, if they want, can succeed and rank with the best in the world. It is a good sign that, while the media concentrated on the disgusting and sickening developments in the Philippines, a number of Filipinos quietly gave honor to the Philippines by winning prestigious global awards in many areas of life. Recently Filipinos were awarded for global excellence in journalism, urban architecture, science education, governance, business and financial management, environmental protection, solar energy, children’s choir, globalization analysis and critique, social innovations and the theory and practice of social movements for a better world.

But this is only a small part of the story. Many Filipinos, from all walks of life, all over the country, are quietly engaged in exciting efforts to create a better Philippines. We do not know about them only because most of our mainstream media prefer masochism and trivia to celebration. They want Filipinos wallow in the melodrama of their own dirt because they think that that is the news that sells. They resist bringing greater recognition to the thousands of decent and honest efforts done by ordinary Filipinos across the archipelago.

The question therefore is not whether we have excellence as individuals and as a people. Rather the question is how to mobilize this excellence that is in each one of us and then unite it to renew the Philippines.

This is where MISSION (Movement for Imaginals for a Sustainable Society thru Implementation, Organization and Networking) comes in. Its mission is to bring together individuals of good will and love for the country to stop our on-going plunge into perversity, mediocrity, and suffering. (Click link to “What is MISSION?”)

Yes, we can shift the future of this country. Defeat and death stalk the countryside. But we can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and death if we release the resurrection power that resides in each and everyone of us. Yes, we can make a new reality, now!