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s it exists today, the Philippines can never become a great nation…at least not in our lifetime. Why? The answer is because from an outsider’s perspective, we are a nation of liars and thieves. Or if that sounds too harsh, we are a nation made up mostly of liars and thieves and a small minority of non-liars and non-thieves who prefer to look the other way or bury their heads in the sand.
An American friend of this author, related what he thought was a funny little incident at a Jollibee restaurant in Manila. He and his Filipina friend ordered lunch and one peach-mango pie for dessert. Their complete meal was delivered to them at their table a few of minutes later. Then a second waiter delivered another peach-mango pie to their table. My foreigner friend was about to tell the waiter they already received their pie when his Filipina friend tapped him on the knee and stared at him to stop him in mid-sentence. As far as she was concerned, if the restaurant wanted to give them another pie (which cost around 60 cents US) for free, that was fine with her.
Even though that foreigner thought nothing much of it and most likely has forgotten the incident by now, to this author, it is emblematic of Philippine culture today. We lack scruples and if we know we can get away with it, we’ll do it. Over the decades, that attitude has allowed for this every-person for-himself mindset that permeates Philippine society today.
People no longer even question why Filipino politicians are so filthy rich nowadays. Gone is the time when a Senator or Congressman would take a taxi to work. Today they live in high walled mansions and are driven around in big bulletproof SUVs accompanied by a phalanx of heavily armed bodyguards. One wonders how they can afford to build 500-million-peso mansions in high-end subdivisions like Wack-wack when they work full-time as legislators? Also, how does a political family from a dirt-poor region of Mindanao amass a fortune fit for a king? The answer is simple: there is a lot of dirty money to be made in politics!
In the Philippines today, even the lowly position of Barangay Tanod (barangay peace and security officer) is a highly sought-after post. This is because played right even a tanod can make a lot of money on the side. Become a police officer of any city and make even more money. Corruption in law enforcement is so pervasive today that walking into any police precinct is like walking into a den of thieves. Any cop that ever harbored noble notions of duty and service to the community has long since left the force in disgust, been driven away, or killed. The only ones left today are the kotong cops—those who use their position to shake-down their victims—and cops who operate behind the scenes taking “cuts” from all manner of illicit activity in their area.
Sadly, corruption in the Philippines is not limited to just politicians and policemen. Everyone seems motivated by pure greed in the dog-eat-dog culture that has taken hold in the country. Thus, even a simple straightforward business transaction that in other countries would sail through uneventfully becomes a tedious mess in the Philippines as everyone involved has their own little agenda on the side. And if that isn’t enough, all parties still have to deal with local government bureaucrats who sit on the necessary permits or paperwork unless they get their “grease money.” One can of course bypass all the hassle and get things done quickly by using a “fixer” or “expediter” who will speed things up for a fee—of course.
Given all the foregoing, can the Philippines ever become a first-world country? The simple answer is no. The country will continue to fall further and further behind until a new generation can completely sever its ties to everything that Filipinos of today stand for or believe in. And those men and women who will finally turn this country around: they have not even been born yet—and won’t be for generations to come. Published 10/30/2013