Uncle Sam’s Misguided Child: Like Father, Like Son, or: Why Two Controversial Philippine Laws Are Omens

“The Philippines right now is how America will be in twenty years”, says Li, a Manila resident situated in one of many Bonifacio High Street’s various cafes, in reference to two government acts under Noynoy Aquino’s leadership. The laws in question are The Reproductive Health Bill, and the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, both the subject of intense debate that highlight the political processes, pluralism, corruption, and bureaucracy that generate a problem in the form of the universal solution amongst many Filipinos: “Save up and get out now, send money home, and get everyone else out; there’s no hope here.”

The Reproductive Health Bill is a measure that would guarantee free contraceptives and family planning information at government health centers, and comprehensive reproductive health classes in schools. In a country with its population growing at an alarming rate due to the absence of sex education in school and many in poverty due to not having money to buy contraceptives, it would be a landmark in human rights in the Philippines, giving women the choice of how many children to have. It’s controversial because of the arguments and delays to get it passed come from the over 80% Catholic majority of the country’s 96 million, who are strongly influenced by the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church makes its arguments on “morals” (strongly against contraceptives) which influences a good majority of the predominantly Roman Catholic population in spite of the benefits. As reported in the L.A. Times, contrary to the Church’s fear that it will condone abortions, studies have shown that unwanted pregnancies falling means that abortions fall too. Simple and believable, eh? “But it’s only 2.5%  annual population growth rate! That’s not so bad!” says one opponent of the bill to Li, while smacking his fist against the table and spilling his coffee. “Well what happens in fifty years at the same growth rate? Population doubles!” says Li responding cynically to his companion’s argument, while pointing out that the majority of the country supports the bill.

The other issue the Philippine Cybercrime Act of 2012, which is so archaic that it makes SOPA look a lot more reasonable. The law wants to address criminal and abusive behavior online, and gives the government more powers to search and seize data from people’s online accounts. Sound bad? It is: “a person found guilty of libellous comments online, including comments made on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter or blogs, could be fined or jailed” in the pretext of fighting issues like cybersex and hacking. Although the act has been suspended, just like many bad ideas, it can come back with nine heads more, each one a lot uglier than the last. The sad thing is, it might actually be good to come back once it is worked through to be representative of the online population rather than repressive. As it stands, the current terms would make troll comments and people who click “bored” on 8asians articles subject to jail time [click “bored” if you love this article in protest of the law!]

So what is it that makes former American colony, the Philippines, a snapshot of America in twenty years? It has inherited not only the democratic values and political system from America (or at least a derivative of it), which in turn means the bureaucracy and pluralism that hampers the ability to move ahead. Throw in the nepotistic nature of politics and business, the extreme religious right (sounds like the Rothschilds and the Tea Party), offensively high levels of corruption that brought former President Arroyo to power and sheltered her from being impeached, and utter apathy (“Nothing can be done, so why bother doing anything?” and “Let’s just get out of here, there’s no hope”), and you can see echoes of the American Millennial Generation: highly cynical, and ready to hop on a plane to do a mediocre job teaching English because “nothing is in America anymore and it’s easy money”. Or, because it’s in line with the American characteristic of always moving out into the unknown wild frontier to live the Dream–much of the frontier people moved out to in the past weren’t incorporated into the Union until much later.

In a stagnant bog of mediocrity with talentless hacks and unlearned lads mistaking opinions and grievances for facts and actions, progress is there, just severely constrained by the environment and attitude.

Although the Philippines is facing problems that America is paralleling (or perhaps the other way around), here’s the big difference: the Philippines is not on the downswing, it’s clawing its way up and out of the abyss despite the obstacles that plague it. America the Ambivalent Empire has a hard time admitting its glory days are no longer spoken of in the present tense. People who deny reality are those doomed to suffer from it when the rug is pulled from under, and the zeitgeist of the youth nowadays has gone from Horatio Alger to Holden Caulfield.

Why is this an omen? Because with the severe brain drain the Philippines faces as people depart for greener pastures that parallels the American Exodus, some real talent is lost (as is some rabble doing half-assed ESL teaching overseas). Sure, someone can start a business overseas and create a niche, but how much of that money flows back to the motherland? If the Philippine situation of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) sending money to their families is an indicator of anything, money itself has no value, structure and industry is. You can send a million t-shirts to Africa, but that won’t change anything, when better solutions are to create more industry and thus more jobs for people.

But again, you have so many people adamantly against progress and recovery with a severe misunderstanding of their own politics, and if Todd Akin, the Tea Party, and the repeated calls to secede from the Union is anything to go by, people are ruled by pettiness, and it brings down the entire nation.

So when plagued with the xenophobic, patriarchal, parochial groups, a bureaucratic system and process that stifles progress with interest groups (and yet nobody thinks Super PACs is practically corruption in an institutionalized form!), and a severe brain drain, where is America going? Hard to say, but this is where it can at least take a page from the Philippines: take all the help it can get from its neighbors and admit it screwed up. Better to be honest and humbled by mistakes instead of prideful and poorer by refusing to give in.

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About JohnnyC

Johnny C is a self-described Accidental Asian American: born in California and raised in Hong Kong and Manila, he spends his days traveling as a freelancer for various NGOs in development and human rights. An idealist and adventurer, his travels are both for work and fun, while sharing stories through his pictures, videos, and writing. When he's not dance-walking to indie rock songs on his iPod in cities around the world, he's usually got himself engrossed in a science fiction novel traversing the portals of reality.
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