Sunday, October 4, 2015

“Beggars can’t be choosers”

That is a title option for this posting that came to mind while the writer – on a lazy Sunday morning with the wife and over their first cup of coffee – read an article about the Philippines in the Sunday NY Times. “Warily Eyeing China, Philippines May Invite U.S. Back to Subic Bay,” Javier C. Hernandez, The New York Times, 19th Sept 2015. The other one is: “Sa pagkahaba-haba ng prosisyon sa simbahan din ang tuloy.”

But how do we make Juan de la Cruz less vulnerable, really? “It is also asking Washington for hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding to strengthen its own military, one of the weakest in Asia . . . China’s push to establish the sea as its own has hit closer to home in the Philippines than almost anywhere else . . . ‘The fight hasn’t even started yet, and it looks like the Philippines government has already surrendered,’ said Renato Etac, 35, a fishing boat captain who says Chinese vessels there routinely chase and try to ram his ship. ‘I can’t even count the Chinese ships I see, there are so many.’

“Last year, the government in Manila signed a 10-year agreement that would let the United States station troops, weapons and matériel at bases across the Philippines, setting the stage for an American return to several facilities, including Subic Bay and the sprawling Clark Air Base nearby. But the pact has been tied up by a legal challenge.”

Hopefully it won’t be an ongoing fiasco like NAIA 3 – where decades later this vital infrastructure would become outmoded before it even got off the ground! The operative word being vital – but did we and do we get it?

“Dreams of democracy,” Boo Chanco, DEMAND AND SUPPLY, The Philippine Star, 30th Sept 2015. “I was ready to rant about what I thought was my bad experience with NAIA air traffic congestion until I read the Facebook post of Celina Cristobal, the daughter of my friend, the late Adrian Cristobal. She had it worse and she was just flying in from Davao at about the same time. Here is her story: ‘At 11pm, 54 planes were waiting for permission to land at the NAIA. My plane (from Davao) was the 54th. The pilot announced we didn’t have any fuel to wait that long, so our only option was to fly to Clark and refuel. We were there for almost four hours, waiting in line behind other airplanes, then waited again for permission from Manila to take-off. I finally got home at 3am… there was no food on the plane. Diabetic me was crying.’”

Are such woes confronting us a microcosm of our culture of impunity . . . the absolute disregard of the common good . . . and of nation building? In the 80s, the US realized that Japan Inc., particularly in manufacturing, was besting corporate America; and one of their conclusions highlighted one reality: that Japan had fewer lawyers than engineers, the opposite of the US.

In an earlier posting, this blog brought up the three levels of human consciousness. And are we Pinoys trapped in the first two levels, that of law and criticism and conflict, and are ways away from attaining nirvana, the level of wisdom? In development terms, we’ve been an underdeveloped nation for the longest time! And reality is staring us in the face?

“Washington has expressed frustration with the delay in carrying out the agreement, which President Obama announced with fanfare during a visit to Manila last year. The case is not expected to be decided in the Philippines Supreme Court until later this fall at the earliest.

“The base was reborn as an economic development zone after the American withdrawal in 1992. Luxury villas were erected atop former ammunition bunkers, and a marine park was built along the shore. Outside the local government here, a statue of a woman holding a dove celebrates the American withdrawal and a plaque reads: ‘Unchain us now’ . . . In addition to the legacy of American rule of the Philippines, another hurdle to military cooperation is the decrepit state of the Philippine armed forces, which have long suffered from waste and corruption.

“Despite a recent effort to modernize its military, the Philippines still lacks basic equipment, including submarines and fighter jets. The most famous vessel in its fleet may be the Sierra Madre, a decaying World War II-era ship that the government ran aground nearly two decades ago to protect a contested reef. American military aid to the Philippines has increased significantly in recent years, more than doubling last year to $50 million. But that is less than the hundreds of millions the United States provided during the Cold War, when the Philippines was used to counterbalance Soviet support of Vietnam.

“In private talks, the government of President Benigno S. Aquino III has pressed the United States for up to $300 million in aid this year, arguing that it needs a substantial buildup of planes and ships to deter Chinese expansionism, according to a senior Philippine official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because United States officials have asked to keep the talks confidential.

“But the Obama administration has so far rebuffed the request because it worries about corruption and the Philippines’ capacity to handle such an influx of resources. A spokeswoman for the State Department noted that the Philippines was already the largest recipient of American military aid in Southeast Asia . . . Some Filipinos are worried that relying on the United States will delay efforts by the Philippines to build its own military. Others are concerned that the United States, despite its mutual defense treaty with the Philippines, is too distracted by its fight against terrorism in the Middle East to help them.

“‘We can’t simply trust that others will come to save the day,’ said Maria Turco, 42, a teacher in Subic Bay. ‘We have to take ownership.’”

That’s a great point. Indeed we have to take ownership. But that presupposes growing up. The good news is development is inherent in people, in nations, in undertakings. The bad news is despite the lapse of several decades, we’re still wobbly scaling the challenge of development.

Does that make us a representation of adolescence that needs adult supervision – like Uncle Sam’s? And it is manifested in our failure in self-government? The evidence?

The rest of the world are in awe of our neighbors, the Asian tigers. And while we claim we have the longer experience in self-government, we are the regional laggard! Why haven’t we benchmarked and learned from the Asian tigers?

Benchmarking is about picking and choosing best practices, not the expectation of perfection – which we want to see in our neighbors? Benchmarking doesn’t work when the mindset is fixed as it does with a growth mindset. Benchmarking doesn’t work when the mindset is fixed as it does with a growth mindset.

And a Filipino educator’s comment to the writer would reveal how we keep shooting ourselves in the foot.

“That practice I just discussed has no Philippine example and so it would be a hard sell. It is not uncommon for us in the academic community to hear: has anyone tried that in the Philippines yet?”

Does it explain why we haven’t done much of the good stuff our neighbors have done? If we can’t toss our parochial mindset, biases and values – i.e., hierarchy over an egalitarian ethos, political patronage over good governance, and oligarchy over a competitive economy – should we remind ourselves how Einstein defined insanity? It is worse than simply being an adolescent.

Are we outraged yet? That we've allowed Juan de la Cruz to be so vulnerable that we need the adult supervision of an Uncle Sam? Yet like the Asian tigers, Uncle Sam isn't perfect.

That is why there is evolution and extinction and survival of the fittest. It is not the strongest or the most intelligent that survives, but the most adaptable to change. We Pinoys are on a very slippery slope? We have to wake up from the stupor!

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