In comparisons, PHL is terrible

IF you listen to the international press and media—and often the local—you will discover the following about the Philippines: “Positives: friendly people, good English and nice beaches. Negatives: everything else”.

The problem with these assessments is that they are based on comparisons, and are not objective. Of course, Filipinos are friendly to visitors in comparison to North Korea, where tourists must assume their hotel room is “bugged”. Australia is an English-speaking country but, because of unique slang and accent, many outsiders would have trouble following a normal conversation between two Aussies. And talking about Australia, the beaches around the city of Darwin are inhabited by the sometimes-fatal box jellyfish, 10-foot-long saltwater crocodiles and sharks—lots of sharks.

Comparisons are usually flawed and, therefore, inaccurate. However, we can make valid comparisons when looking at two things that are similar in many respects, like coffee shops. We can rationally compare quality, price and ambiance, and that is probably fair.

An article in the Bangkok newspaper The Nation was titled “Thailand and Philippines: Twins separated at birth”. While weak on content, the title does illustrate the mind-set about Philippines/Thailand comparisons. Maybe “separated at birth” means the Philippines was conquered into slavery by the Spanish, and then made a submissive of the United States. Thailand has been a sovereign nation since 1782 and was never colonized.

But that is ancient history. What about today, where Philippine electricity costs are nearly double that in Thailand? The Philippines even generates less of its electricity from fossil fuels than Thailand. What are we doing wrong that they are doing right?

Except, Thailand gets nearly 70 percent of its power from natural gas, which is cheaper than oil. More important, Thailand produces 37 million cubic meters of natural gas, while the Philippines produces 4 million. Another nation that is constantly compared to the Philippines is Vietnam, where twice as much power comes from hydroelectric than in the Philippines. Vietnam has 47,000 kilometers of rivers; the Philippines has 3,200 km. Vietnam produces 11,000 megawatts of hydropower; the Philippines produces 2,800 MW.

However, we all know that the problem in the Philippines is politics, problems that neither Thailand nor Vietnam has. Of course, the average term of a Thai prime minister is less than two years. Maybe some of Thailand’s “political stability” comes from the new constitution that allows the military to appoint all members of the 250-seat Senate.

But why can’t the Philippines have the political stability and continuity that does create better economic results like in Vietnam? Maybe we should start with the death penalty for “those who abuse their positions and/or power, have accepted or will accept directly or through intermediaries” any bribe over P7 million, like in Vietnam.

We know that Philippine politics is a kind of problem that Vietnam solved. There is only one legal party in Vietnam—the Communist Party—and elections are clean. In the last election, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung was elected with 95.38 percent of votes and President Truong Tan Sang was elected with 80.19 percent in their respective districts.

Maybe when making comparisons about the Philippines, we should think of this conversation: “You are terrible at basketball. Why can’t you be like your kuya?” “My kuya is 6’9″, I am 5’10”. Do the math.”


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