Historical perspective of Philippine helplessness | Inquirer News

Historical perspective of Philippine helplessness

/ 04:38 PM November 20, 2013

In contribution to the raging debate on the performance of the Philippine government to respond to the challenge of Yolanda, I present today my historical political economy perspective view of why we do poorly compared with Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, for example.

When the Europeans first came to Japan in the early phase of the age of exploration of the Far East, the Japanese resisted and allowed only the Dutch to deal with them in one specific port for some limited and well-guarded trade.


They purposely adopted a semi-enclosure policy after noting that new ideas brought by early Christian missionaries were bringing changes into the minds and actions of the converts which they considered troublesome.

When US Commodore Perry came almost 200 years later in mid-19th century with his intimidating gunboats, the Japanese finally realized the folly of resisting. They reluctantly signed a treaty with the US and soon with the rest of the Western powers. Since then, however, they worked doubly hard to inquire and copy or cut and paste any new knowledge on western science and technology for their own study, including modern government and art of war and widely spread this newly found knowledge to their people to understand and apply.


By end of the 19th century, Japan successfully tested its newly built strength by defeating China in their contest for Korea’s allegiance, taking part of Manchuria and Taiwan in process. By the combined threat of three white powers led by Russia, which at that time the Japanese thought they could not resist, Japan gave up Manchuria which Russia then gobbled up. Ten years later, Japan was already prepared to challenge Russia and won their bloody encounters in both land and sea; got back Manchuria and occupied Korea finally.

For all intent and purposes, therefore, Japan was already in the league of the west economically and militarily by the end of the 19th century. It lost in WW II and found its industrial areas in shatter, courtesy of the US long flying bombers and atomic bombs. But the destruction only gave the Japanese the opportunity to modernize their industrial machineries and factories which they then successfully used, with the help of American management gurus ironically, to compete with the US in their new war front – the contest to gobble up the largest chunk of the fast growing global market.

With its wealth now, every Japanese citizen, has everything in command to live a long and full life and for the Japanese government to keep things in order inside Japan and protect its people from nature’s harm. Their economy is in limbo now but with its very low or negative population growth, their per capita income is still one of the envy in the world.

In the absence of a central government and national leader, the Philippines, which is divided into more than 7,000 islands, was easy to subdue by the Spaniards. But instead of elevating us to their level of civilization, all the Spaniards did in their 300 years of occupation was to tell the Indios to go to church and pray. They taught very little industry because the Spaniards themselves do not practice them because they depended mostly on their prosperity at that time from their extracted gold and silver from the mines in Latin America. The Indios, as the Spaniards called them, were left only to their native intelligence how to fill their belly and overcome the vagaries of nature and Moro attacks that ended only with the coming of the Americans.

The Americans came to the Philippines almost half a century later after forcibly opening Japan. Pushing aside Aguinaldo and his ragtag army, the Americans succeeded in taking the walled-city of Manila whose occupants were only too glad to surrender to their own kind rather than to the ignorant Indios. Fair enough, the Americans give us a working government, built our infrastructure, provided public health and education services and shackled the Moros. But the first Philippine legislature being created was nothing more than a debating society and breeding ground for the country’s future power hungry politicians who were to take over after the Americans depart. Real political powers rested with the Philippine Commission and US Congress.

Meanwhile, Philippine commerce and industry, large and small, including large plantations and haciendas, were controlled by the Americans, Chinese, Spanish, Chinese and Spanish mestizos, and other foreign investors. The natives only serve as ordinary workers and tenant farmers. Indeed, Philippine life under the US occupation looked like heaven enough when compared to the medieval way of living under the Spaniards. The train departs on time and letters and telegrams were delivered on their duly appointed date and place.

But Manuel L. Quezon, like many others in the cream of the Philippine society that benefited greatly from new opportunities offered in the field of government service at the national and local level, preferred to see the Philippines run by Filipinos like hell than the Americans like heaven.


Unfortunately for the poor Filipinos as the Americans called them now, God did not disappoint Quezon’s fervent hope. True enough, after independence our government under the leadership of corrupt and inept officials (not all of course) who consider their positions in government as family heirlooms are leading us not into a life of fullness and happiness but emptiness and hell.

Look, compared with the 2012 American and Japanese nominal per capita income of $51,704 and $46,707, respectively, we only have $2,611 to show and no amount of purchasing power parity (PPP) adjustment can change the fact of our impoverishment.

So don’t be surprised with the way we deal with Yolanda. It is not Benigno Aquino III’s incompetence but years of corruption and ineptness in all branches and levels of government that did it for us. And we the people are the ultimate cause of our own tragedy by electing to power the same family of crocs (with exceptions again) to run the government year after year.

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