A Few Good Men – There Are Fewer of Them Than We Think (In the Philippines)

by Crispin Fernandez, MD

Katipunan Monument, the birthplace of the Katipunan, is a historical marker installed by the National Historical Institute in Tondo. | Photo via Wikimedia Commons

It isn’t easy to understand how the Philippines had survived as a country since 1946, when its last colonizer appeared to have given up control and left Filipinos a chance at self-rule. For four years after independence, the Philippine economy managed to rank 4th in Asia behind Japan, China, and India. If the Philippines remained 4th in Asia, there’d be no debate given the sheer size of China and India; Japan has just always been a powerhouse. Since 1950, over 73 years, the Philippines has managed to slide below Bangladesh’s GDP in 2023, 32nd in Asia and 124th in the world based on GDP per capita, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There are 195 countries today.

In the 1970s, the Philippines started deploying overseas contract workers. However, the earliest known overseas Filipino workers date back to the 1900s, when the U.S. had a shortage of plantation workers, initially in Hawaii and then on the mainland. Dollar remittances to the Philippines have increased by about $1B each year since 2011, reaching $33.5B in 2023, roughly 8.9% of GDP. This is without considering the ‘cash remittances’ equivalent to ‘bank remittances’ each year; both, taken together, are almost 1/5 (20%) of total GDP.

But if one listens to the ruling elite, there is nothing wrong with the country. From their perspective, that would be true. The country has produced at least a few dozen peso billionaires and around a dozen or so U.S. dollar billionaires. If you sit across the table from any politician, they would have you believe the country is blessed with countless benevolent leaders, even political clans. The picture they paint is of a country in total bliss and harmony, the people living in plenty and not wanting anything. Their gilded life has obscured any sense of the daily life of everyday Filipinos.

In 1976, during Martial Law, President Marcos Sr. promulgated the Torrens Title system to transition the Spanish Titles from the Spanish colonial times, perhaps unintentionally disenfranchising indigenous peoples and perpetuating the encomienda system. Hence the standard phraseology of ‘binakuran ko, akin ito”.

The landed gentry has held sway in all of human history. Each country evolved according to the willingness, or the coercion of those landed forebears to share or have power taken from them. This is why history in the Philippines is either ignored or not instructive within the school curriculum at any level – history is reduced to who, what, where, when, but never why. Generations then become oblivious to the repetition of historical errors or repackaged so-called societal reform – Bagong ito at yan, pero luma naman (New this or that, but old rehashed ideas).

“Even constitutional amendments will not likely result in a palpable change in the lives of the ordinary Filipino – but a chosen few will enrich themselves whatever happens or does not happen. It’s been said the problems befalling the Philippines cannot be blamed on a piece of paper called the constitution.”

It will take more than an armed insurrection or rebellion to achieve reform. The Philippines has seen its fair share of those- from People Power to numerous military uprisings – not to mention an ongoing communist rebellion or sputtering regional autonomous regions. Even constitutional amendments will not likely result in a palpable change in the lives of the ordinary Filipino – but a chosen few will enrich themselves whatever happens or does not happen. It’s been said the problems befalling the Philippines cannot be blamed on a piece of paper called the constitution. Constitutions of the world’s wealthiest countries have not recently been amended, yet they prosper. The hybrid capitalist-communist governments of China and Russia have relative prosperity despite the most restrictive ownership regimes, yet they also prosper.

A few good men (and women) are all that’s needed – true patriots. Where are Rizal, Bonifacio, Mabini, Luna, Malvar, Silang, Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora? And yet the few patriotic Filipinos often themselves succumb to the ‘system’ that continues to erode the true destiny of our people – one of greatness. Or worse, they end up disappearing or dead. We certainly have no lack of natural resources – if only those resources were not too quickly bestowed upon the favored few who happened to have contributed to political campaigns – where is that piece of paper in the form of legislation that prohibits such ‘kalakaran’ or accepted practice? Do that, and the Philippines can be like Norway and preserve its patrimony for the benefit of all Filipinos yet unborn.

The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), under R.A. 10121, has been allocated P31B in the Philippine national budget for 2024. An additional 5% is mandated by the local governments annually.

Recognizing the vital importance of mitigating the impact of disasters is commendable. The one disaster that faces marginalized Filipinos every day remains largely ignored or, at best, inadequately addressed is the intractable grinding poverty – a disaster that is a daily reality. Poverty is admittedly multifactorial, complex, and resistant to solution. In the case of the Philippines, with its verdant soil, rich natural resources, and an ever-patient suffering population, the one elusive solution is a government willing to be the ultimate risk taker for and on behalf of its poor. Finger-pointing and endless cursing of the darkness is the prevalent response instead of the most rudimentary investment and trust (aka as no collateral) of the neediest and most desperate. There is an expectation of generational change without spending a generation to remedy the disorder of poverty.

A few good men may be few, but only if we can empower them; there is no telling what can be possible.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dr. Crispin Fernandez advocates for overseas Filipinos, public health, transformative political change, and patriotic economics. He is also a community organizer, leader, and freelance writer.

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