Security, empowerment, and access

Oftentimes it is the most mundane of things going on around us -- things we take for granted as business-as-usual that, when regarded from the point of view from a lateral thinker so effectively highlight some the most disturbing aspects of our society.

Picture these scenes, for example:

- The ubiquity of heavily armed uniformed private security personnel detailed at every other corner shop, bank branch, and entrance to residential enclaves.

- Stonewalling automaton-like sales clerks and bank tellers trained in a narrowly-defined transactional scope; police officers fearful of applying the law to what may turn out to be a high-ranking politician or government official.

- Homeowners -- from the wealthiest down to even lower-middle-class families -- cloistered in gated communities that require specially issued passes for outsiders to enter.

These are but a small subset of a vast landscape of what are mere symptoms of the underlying deeply-entrenched rot in Philippine society.

Fear not though, because there is always an underlying simplicity in most things that leave average-minded folk scratching their heads. Like every big mis-understood monster, we just need to up our thinking faculties and acquire the ability to deeply understand what motivates said monster.

If we look closely at the above examples, they each illustrate issues around three key enablers to developing a cohesive and productive society:

- Security
- Empowerment
- Access

A society where people have come to depend on privately-employed armed forces to assure their security, have been rendered powerless by draconian controls and bureaucratic complexity, and are faced with institutionalised curtailment of access is indeed a sick one.

Quite simply:

- Without security there can be no openness.

- Without empowerment, there can be no efficiency.

- Without access there can be no simplicity.

So guess what:

A society where everything is closed, inefficient, and complicated is fertile breeding ground for corruption.

We can see now how corruption and productivity are so closely inter-related. Corruption hobbles productivity and lack of productivity breeds corruption. Corruption therefore cannot simply be considered to be some kind of bogeyman to launch “wars against corruption” against. It is a feature inherent to Philippine society. Its roots are intricately interwoven into the very fabric of our society. Efforts to eliminate corruption have always lacked scale and structure. Strong-arm low-thinking-applied approaches to rooting out corruption have failed miserably so many times, precisely because they were done without a clear understanding of the complex relationship it has with its host society. And because of this, procedures are designed and agencies are organised to work in an insular, stand alone manner which fails to achieve the scale that only a government with finely coordinated and interlinked agencies can achieve.

Indeed, because Filipinos are not exactly renowned for our systemic thinking (the arch-enemy of institutional corruption) it is hardly surprising that our systems suck, as the venerable Conrado de Quiros observes:
Pacquiao’s monumental triumphs, in fact, merely reaffirm an old-age truth we ourselves have glimpsed in the form of the question: Why is it that Filipinos do exceedingly well when they go abroad? Or more to the point, because it holds the key to its answer: Why is it that Filipinos obey the rules, act like model citizens, and work their asses off when they’re abroad?

These are questions we’ve always answered with: Because of the system.

There’s nothing innately wrong with the Filipino. There is nothing in his genes that prevents him from accomplishing big things. There is nothing in his physical or mental endowments that obstructs his capacity to do great things.

But there is everything wrong with his system. It’s his system that robs him of his discipline, his direction, his drive. It’s his system that prevents him from envisioning grand things. It’s his system that stops him from accomplishing great things.

Elsewhere in the world, the system rewards the upright and punishes the wicked. Elsewhere in the world, the system praises the worthy and damns the rotten. Elsewhere in the world, the system applies the law to everyone, jailing bank robbers and Bernie Madoffs alike, jailing common criminals and uncommon criminals alike. Elsewhere in the world, the system allows merit to thrive and demerit to perish. Elsewhere in the world, the system pushes the promising to excel and the corrupt to rot away. Elsewhere in the world, the system provides the foundation or the support or the ground for talent to blossom into genius.

That is how Filipinos do great things when they’re abroad. The system allows them to.

While at first the above may come across as another thing that triumphalists may use to prove that Filipinos are not responsible for their chronic inability to progress, I see it more as highlighting our biggest failure as a people: we consistently fail at creating and implementing a system for ourselves that enables us to be successful as a Nation.

Furthermore, a people who see themselves as helpless and disenfranchised simply cannot be moved in the right direction. Such hopelessness is an outcome of limitations to their scope of thinking imposed by:

- irrelevant and impractical traditions and belief systems;

- a chosen language that dismally fails to connect their minds to the broader and deeper collective knowledge amassed by humanity over the last several millenia, and;

- a cultural aversion to creating new options, critically evaluating existing options, and begging to differ to authority (in the truly insightful way that those who truly beg to differ do).

While the first and third of the above three are quite widely accepted as real issues to be reckoned with, it seems there is still significant debate around language as an enabler for world class thinking and world class achievement (the latter word being the substance behind any real hope for a better Philippines).

Perhaps the following diagram would help us grasp the smallness of the prison cell within which our chosen "national language" imprisons our minds and utterly disempowers us (click to enlarge):

A lack of real power is what turns a people into a chaotic mob of passive-agressive anarchists who, despite possessing The Vote, still do not see their duly-elected representatives in Government as truly representing their interests. Tragically, we are sold on the concept that this "freedom" we supposedly enjoy as a democratic people is what supposedly "empowers" us.

Guess again. As I wrote a while back:
We use ["freedom"] as an excuse to elect fools to office only to flick them off the pedestal we helped them climb onto with even more foolish displays of street parliamentarianism. We even use this "freedom" to run a publishing industry that capitalises on the stupidity of the masses; allowing it to scrimp on journalistic talent and integrity.


The irony that escapes the Filipino mind is that true freedom can only be earned after a thorough and consistent application of rigour in EVERY aspect of how we conduct ourselves.

Now that I mention the above, I incidentally now rememebr too why we also consistently fail at delivering on the world-stage of international-grade arts. In the snippet below (which I quote from my book, by the way) I not only articulate this but ultimately tie even this art angle back to our own hollow-headed regard for democracy:
We are completely baffled by the idea that the stratospheric value of a Mercedes, a Rolex, or a La Coste shirt comes primarily from the excellent engineering, design, or quality of these products; that pedestrian crossings and lane markers painted on roads are not simply to make a road “look modern”; that true artistic beauty is a product of depth in structure and meaning and not just of chaotic expression; that democracy is a discipline and not merely a freedom to enjoy wantonly.

That puts a dark pall over the prospects of a people not exactly known for exercising rigour, consistency, and follow-through in any collective undertaking. After all, bahala na ("come what may") and pwede na yan ("that'll do") remain the national mantras of choice.

Like every other subset of the all-encompassing framework of thought that I apply to every bit of work I publish here and everywhere else, the elegant simplicity of this three-pronged approach to regarding our prospects for prosperity lies in its robust scalability. You can see it relevant both at the macro and at the mirco levels of society and even in our own personal day-to-day interactions with our environment and immediate social circle.




It's simple, really™ -- though not for the small-minded.

[This article was originally published by the author on 12 May 2009 in the now-defunct]


  1. "That is how Filipinos do great things when they’re abroad. The system allows them to."

    IMO, it's because of the Filipino tendencies to gaya-gaya system. Every body is obeying the law in their land and that is an easy one to comply with. And the fear of being deported for any minor infractions.

    Pacquiao et al are exemptions rather than the rule. I also have worked abroad and have known that the number one factor that makes an OFW to perform his/her best there is the fear of losing a job and be sent back to our country again. The security of tenure there is different from ours.

  2. I think it is also because following the rules and the procedures in advanced societies actually gets you somewhere. Simple example: staying on the proper lane when driving here in Australia pretty much assures you a fair shot at getting to where you are going in a fair amount of time. Compare that to the Philippines where you have to keep swerving from one lane to another to make sure you don't get cut into or get stuck in a slow-moving or dead-end lane or get hemmed into a bunch of jeepneys or buses.

    In short, the systems work because they are well thought out. Unlike in Da Pinas where everything is pwede-na-yan.


Post a Comment

Popular this week

Photos of a group of Filipino men slaughtering and eating a dog

Roundabouts to "solve" Manila traffic - a microcosm of flawed Filipino thinking