Saturday, 1 May 2010

The Philippines can be what it wants to be

We're not alone
Peter Wallace
Manila Standard

We keep complaining about how badly the situation has deteriorated here over the past decade or so. A trip overseas brought the matter more into perspective.

Elsewhere it can be far worse. Bangkok is of course, for us, the most glaring example as it is so closely aligned to us. But it’s by no means the worst. It seems all over the place there are countries in crisis and, and this is important, in almost every case because of corrupt or dictatorial leadership.

Most worrying would perhaps be the sinking of a South Korean warship by, by all indications, a deliberate attack from perhaps the most violated society in the world today—North Korea. Kim Jong Il has totally destroyed his country. The two Koreas prove my oft-raised thesis of just how important a leader is. Both countries were exactly the same before their separation in 1948, exactly the same people, exactly the same culture, heritage and history and geographically together. Yet one adopted democracy and enlightened leadership and is today the 15th largest economy in the world with its people’s per capita income, at US$28,000 ranking it number 24 in the world. And that per capita income quite widely shared. North Korea, on the other hand subsists with a low GDP per capita of $1,700. And a GDP of a miserable US$40 billion (and a huge inequality in the sharing of that) versus the South’s $929 billion—23 times as much.

What the South will do after this attack could have wide repercussions for all of us. The obvious, and correct, response, is to declare war. But North Korea is a nation with a huge army and nuclear weapons and an idiot who might use them. A very worrying time.

Dozens were killed in Pakistan by a suicide bomber of the Taliban in a country, like ours, where the internal strife has never been settled.

Iraq, of course, even outranks the Philippines in journalists killed, and far exceeds it in civilians killed on an almost daily basis—another 100 just the other day. While in Afghanistan the president and some of his senior officials were accused of massive fraud and corruption. President Hamid Karzai is also blamed for the rise of the neo-Taliban. Almost 9 years after the removal of the Taliban government, corruption and poverty are still widespread in this South-Central Asian country. Transparency International ranked Afghanistan as the 2nd most corrupt nation in the world. An estimated 18 million live on less than $2 a day; GDP per capita is only $800. The Fund for Peace reported that in the first quarter of 2008 alone, about 13,000 Afghans were displaced anew as violence occurred in “previously safe areas.” More than 130,000 were also displaced due to drought, violence and instability.

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has killed some 300,000 people and displaced 3 million more. He is wanted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity. There’s an election coming but Bashir has so manipulated it that the opposition has withdrawn its candidate. Chaos and confusion reign in Sudan.

Somalia, meanwhile, has failed to establish a functioning central government since 1991. The Fund for Peace ranked Somalia the most failed state in 2009. Poverty in Africa’s easternmost country is rampant with about 22 percent of its 9.1 million population, or about 2 million, still relying on food aid. Its GDP per capita is a miniscule $600. In 2008, Somalia was tagged by Reporters Without Borders as “Africa’s deadliest country for journalists.” Welcome to our world.

But it’s not just these, just listen to this. “In Kyrgyzstan, ousted leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev said he would formally resign if leaders of the coup that removed him from power guaranteed safety for him and his family. But the nation’s interim government said Bakiyev must either face trial or go into exile—without his family.”

So you see the Philippines isn’t doing so badly. But that doesn’t and won’t excuse the President if she tries some sort of similar undemocratic extension of her power.

But then again, who are we comparing to? Iraq? Afghanistan? Sudan? Is this the league we want the Philippines to be in? Why not want to belong to the group of Singapore, Malaysia, South (definitely not North) Korea—the ones who’ve done well? Why not us? This is where the comparison should be.

And this is where I get so frustrated. Here we are a country of marvelous people, rich in natural resources and beauty yet we lag behind everyone else who matters.

On this trip we talked to many Filipinos and their bosses were delighted with their hard work and dedication to the job. It can be the same back here, you should see my staff. Equally hard-working and dedicated, they’ll stay on until the job is done. Or come in on a weekend to complete it if it’s urgent.

One small example: one of the things that struck us most in Australia and Singapore was how clean they were. It costs next to nothing to be clean, just attitude. Being poor is not an excuse. In Singapore a street hawker with a small store lost his license and had to go to training because his food stall was dirty and had caused several people to get sick. Have you seen the food stalls in Malate? The concept of a license to operate let alone training on food handling, hygiene etc. is unheard of. Why?

The Philippines can be what it wants to be. To be classified as among the unstable nations of this world struggling past the throes of poverty. Or be among the affluent societies able to provide for the material needs of its citizenry. It’s all just a matter of attitude. And good leadership.

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