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A little bit of the Philippines

It’s depressing, really, that there’s a little bit of the Philippines even in those foreign countries that we kinda idolize. I mean, when you’re stuck in the Philippines and neck deep in stories about government scandals and corruption and what-not, it’s so easy to believe that things in other countries are much better. It’s so easy to say that OFWs can take a little consolation in the fact that they live in places where the traffic isn’t so bad, and where government officials are trustworthy, and where the streets overflow with milk and honey.

Yeah, well, I’ve come to realize that that’s because those other countries really don’t air their dirty laundry in public quite as much – or quite as gleefully – as we do. But there’s a little bit of the Philippines in them alright. The predatory cab drivers are here; the petty corruption is here; the grumpy government employee too busy getting a pedicure to really care about serving the public – yup, she’s here too. The main difference, I guess, is that the problem isn’t as widespread as it is in the Philippines. Or is it?

Hard to tell. You open up the news (papers, teevee, internet, whatever) and you see very little being said about how bad corruption is in this country, or how government employees and officials are abusive and all that. The really big scandals make the paper, of course, but mostly they’d have to be really big to land in the news. Otherwise, the papers are filled with actual news. This happened here, and that didn’t happen there. So it’s really difficult to come up with a definitive conclusion that corruption isn’t rampant. Maybe it’s just not being reported, eh?

In contrast, Philippine news mostly trumpet what some person complained about, and what one senator said in reaction to that, and how another government official reacted to the senator’s reaction, and how other senators and other officials and some NGO reacted to those reactions and so on. It’s like pile-on journalism: take one teeny-tiny bit of news and then pile on the reactions – you’ll have a week’s worth of stories to write. Pretty soon, the public picks up on the issue and, viola! another major scandal is born.

Reading the news here and the news from back home, the disconnect can be quite jarring. I’ve been puzzling over it since I got here and the closest I’ve come figuring it out are these conclusions I can be comfortable with:

1. People here tend to give the institutions the chance to work. If they have a complaint against a government official, for instance, they don’t run to the media at the first opportunity. This, I think, is pretty much a function of trust. People here trust their institutions and so corrupt or nasty individuals are typically considered aberrations. Back home, I think trust in the institutions is so low that corrupt officials are considered the rule, rather than the exception.

2. Trust levels are influenced by media reporting. If media pummels you day in and day out with stories of even the pettiest forms of corruption or wrong-doing, you tend to form the opinion that that’s the default state, and so it becomes difficult to trust government. On the other hand, if media were not too sensationalist, then you’re not too quick to distrust. I think most people want to trust their leaders by default. It’s when their leaders are continually portrayed as evil that people change their default impressions from good to bad.

3. And when trust levels are down, media outfits make a killing with news about more shenanigans. And if there are no biggies on the horizon, just take a tiny one and build it up by drawing the parties into a sound-bite war. In no time at all, your tiny bit of lousy news becomes a biggie anyway. And it send trust levels plummeting even further down.

4. It’s a cycle, I tell’ya. A vicious merry-go-round. It’s like, the game is about discovering the basement once you’ve hit rock-bottom.

So, like I said, it’s hard to tell out here if things are actually better or worse than they are at home. I know some people are going to say: “well, check out the other indicators – like national prosperity or how they score in international lists of the most corrupt or the most this or the most that.”

I guess that would work. But like the other day, the Philippines took the number one slot in best child care services among 50 developing nations. Great news, right? But not really. If you take a look at the survey results, it actually shows that there is a huge gap between healthcare accessibility for the rich and for the poor. The only reason we prolly topped that survey was because the rich had it so good that it totally skewed the results – overshadowing the shoddy care the poor get. In my book, that’s no victory.

Ok, so maybe I’m getting really pessimistic here. But I can’t help it. Every night I check the news from back home and all I see is shit. It’s fucking depressing. Then I read the online newspapers from other countries (not those aggregations or ‘world-headlines’ things) and I see that they don’t give as much space – or betray the same sort of morbid glee – to the kinds of things we do and I get a little more depressed. Then the following day, i go out and I see this foreign country I used to think so highly off and I realize that this place can often be just like the Philippines in terms of shittiness, and I get a lot more depressed! That’s like a triple whammy every single friggin day.

The moral of this post, I suppose, is that we shouldn’t beat ourselves up by constantly pointing to other countries and making our countrymen believe that we’re living in a shit-hole because we can’t do it like them. And we shouldn’t feed the morbid fascination of our people for corruption and scandal – especially not under the excuse of ‘the people’s right to know’ – because alot of times, what we feed them isn’t really news just amplifications based on personal opinions. And I’m not saying we should censor our news or sugarcoat it. Just don’t sensationalize it so you can have another cash-cow.

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Filed under: international, journalism, musings, society,

5 Responses

  1. ptt says:

    When you visit the shit hole countries in africa, iraq and afghanistan, and see to much resemblance on how things work back home, thats when it gets depressing

  2. cvj says:

    That’s my beef with the ‘Damaged Culture’ approach in general and our fellow Filipino Voices-contributor Benign0 and his angst-ridden, navel gazing approach in particular. (Remember our discussion in your old blog?) I’ve had the chance to work in a number of countries and have realized the same thing as you have. What he (and like-minded folk) attributes as the faults of Filipinos are really due to human frailty that is found all over the world.

  3. BrianB says:

    This has been observed before and has been written about. Where have you guys been?

    The problem is the people who scapegoat Filipino culture when things, due probably to their own actions, go wrong.

  4. J says:

    I always complain about the Philippine culture of not respecting customers. I hate it when salesmen or waitresses frown on me, or when customs officials are so smug and arrogant. And I used to think it’s an inherent trait of Filipinos.

    But since I experiences the same kind of treatment in Thailand, I realized that these bad things aren’t inherently Pinoy afterall.

  5. rom says:

    cvj: think of it this way, uncle. all countries have guns. but not all countries have gun-control problems.

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