Between America and the Philippines


IN 1997, I came back home from the United States after 27 years. I sort of knew then that sooner or later, our country would be in trouble. And so it is.

The writing on the wall was all there. Forebodings of economic and political collapse were there. Our leaders had been unable to steer the ship of state in the right direction. The old system hadn’t changed and everything was getting worse.

I came home just as Joseph Estrada was coming to power. “Erap,” as he was of course popularly known, was probably the worst president we’ve had. He had been a small-city mayor and his mentality was clearly limited to that level of position.

The Philippines was so far behind the rest of the world.  Were they ahead of us because they were First World? Yes and no. They were so ahead because there, they had civility, rule of law, respect for one another’s space, respect for common property (very little vandalism, for example), and common courtesy and decency.

Of course one had to work hard to secure one’s bread on the dining table. For me, luckily, I didn’t have to work too hard – no double jobs – to make it in America. It was pure luck for me, I found a place that rewarded talent: I knew how to write, or so I thought I did.

My Filipino colleagues in the organization were a talented bunch – financial analysts, economists, lawyers, and other bright professionals. They did well there, and some came home too. And disappointed, too.

At that time, the Philippines was careening down a slippery slope. Erap made things bad with his small-town mentality. His successor, Gloria Arroyo, got trapped in a web of corruption from which she couldn’t extricate herself. Noynoy Aquino couldn’t get things done in an authoritative manner.

And now we have a leader who’s too impatient to get things done. President Duterte is in such a hurry he wants to do thing through shortcuts. Abominably, his pet project is to kill anybody involved in illegal drugs. If you’re engaged in the drug trade and you don’t surrender in a speedy way, you’re dead.

Now Duterte is in a hurry to get his many infrastructure projects – roads, bridges, airports, etc. – get underway so he can impress people in a big way through what his administration calls “build, build, build.” But when you do things in a hurry – through shortcuts – you’re likely to suffer wastage and sub-standard results.

Duterte wants to impress people by getting underway expensive and expansive projects. What happens when they run out of money? The government claims they have the money to pay for “build, build, build.” I doubt it.

What I think will happen is they’ll run out of money and then tax the Filipinos more and borrow from here and abroad, mainly China, which may end up ensnaring the Philippines in a debt trap.

So, when I had to decide if I should go back home in 1997, should I have chosen to come home or enjoy life in a rich country?

Again, yes and no. Yes, because life in America was good, although it too has problems, especially now with President Donald Trump in power. But no, because my family was here (siblings are here; Mother had already left for the Next Life, and Father had gone way ahead because of an illness).
Did I choose right? In my personal case, yes.