Thursday, 10 June 2010

Colonial mentality and the Philippine future

Written by John Mangun
Outside the Box
Business Mirror

Three countries became independent from their colony rulers at about the same time. The Philippines was released from the United States in 1946. India/Pakistan became independent countries in 1948. Indonesia cast off 350 years of Dutch colonial rule in 1949.

Many of these nations’ citizens had to fight and die for independence. They built a government, a society and an economy facing either neglect or outright hostility from the “mother country.” And all these countries have struggled and suffered as a result of being colonies of the West.

Yet, it is only in the Philippines that anyone would think of describing the people, at least some of the people, as having a “colonial mentality.”

The Philippines has operated for a half-a-century almost as an orphan still looking toward its foster parent, the same parent that exploited and abused it, for guidance and nurturing. Every president has been criticized, some more than others, of being a tool of the US. Even average Filipinos have felt without question that the hand of the US influenced elections, economic progress and social stability.

The other side of that perception is that the Philippines depends economically on the US. That was true 20 years ago and it was true by the choice, from Philippine government policy to average Filipino economic behavior. We bought American goods because they were “better.” Local manufacturers were afraid to compete with American imported goods. Filipinos laughed at products carrying the “Buy Filipino” slogan. What other nation on the face of the earth would carry as common wisdom the idea that “When America sneezes, the country catches cold?” And the sad fact is that far too many Filipinos still believe that to be true.

The common thought is that the Philippines has a love-hate relation with the US, and that may be true. The problem is that we need to have a non-emotional relationship as we do with the other 190 other global nations.

Maybe we need to look at the reality of the US to understand how great the Philippines is, and why the US should only be one of many players for the Philippines and not a role model.

The “land of milk and honey” does not have the crime problem that the Philippines has. Oh? The US has the largest percentage of its citizens in prison than any other country in the world. US law-enforcement authorities claim there are now over 1 million members of criminal gangs, responsible for up to 80 percent of the crimes committed each year. Phoenix, Arizona, features an astounding annual car-theft rate of 57,000 vehicles, and has become the new “car-theft capital of the world”

We are told constantly that the Philippines has a great inequality of wealth that shows how economically bad we are. For the US in 1950, the ratio of the average executive’s paycheck to the average worker’s salary was about 30 to 1. Since 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 and 500 to one. Inequality? Approximately 40 percent of all retail spending currently comes from the 20 percent of American households that have the highest incomes. The bottom 40 percent of income earners in the US now collectively own less than 1 percent of the nation’s wealth.

Employment is so bad in the Philippines, why would anyone want to stay here? More than 40 percent of those employed in the US are now working in low-wage service jobs. In February there were 5.5 million unemployed Americans for every job opening. This recession has erased 8 million private-sector jobs in the United States.

Are you sure that migrating to the US makes economic sense?

One argument I always hear from balikbayan and the want-to-be-Americans is that it is so easy to buy things in the US because of credit. Well, because things have been so easy to buy, for the first time in US history, banks own a greater share of residential-housing net worth in the US than all individual Americans combined.

Perhaps, the most amazing thing is how well our government under successive presidents has managed the national budget in comparison to the US. In 2010 the US government is projected to issue almost as much new debt as the rest of the governments of the world put together. And the people have not done any better. Total debt in the US, including government, corporate and personal debt, has reached 360 percent of gross domestic product.

But, at least, we should take some direction from the US stock market when making local investment decisions. Right? Only if you are an investment dummy, local or foreign.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average experienced the worst May it has seen since 1940. On the other hand, the combined net earnings of companies listed on the Philippine Stock Exchange (PSE) rose an astounding 79.6 percent last year from 2008. The 30 companies that make up the PSE index, the PSEi, reported a 54.9-percent jump in their combined net profits last year. And do not tell me that a portion of those profits were companies selling assets because the assets that were sold were bought by someone else, such as in the case of Meralco ownership.

The US does not have a chest cold; it has terminal lung cancer. The Philippines is not the one who is getting sick.

Why is this all so important? Because when 90 million Filipinos start having faith in the Philippines and in its future, attitude and behavior changes will happen. Corruption is not a consequence of greed, as much as it is the belief that the future does not hold anything more positive than a short-term dishonored gain. Political leaders, unlike our business leaders, must rarely think and never talk about their legacy 20 years in the future when they are permanently retired. It is only until the next election.

It is about time Filipinos realized that the Philippines can and must be the master of its own destiny. Shedding the last remnants of colonial mentality is one part of taking control of the future of this nation and making that future a positive experience.

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