OPINION | Why Pinoys don't bring their 'bad habits' abroad, Part 1 of 2
By: Cesar Polvorosa Jr., InterAksyon.com
May 12, 2015 11:18 AM
The online news portal of TV5
(Editor’s note: Cesar Polvorosa Jr. is a business school professor of economics, world geography, and international business management in Canada. He is also a published writer in economics, business, and literature.)
The streets of Manila embody chaos: Masses of vehicles crowd the roads, crisscrossing each other’s paths with buses and jeepneys stopping almost everywhere to disgorge and pick up passengers amidst the incessant assault of blaring horns and suffocating, lingering smog.
Equally ill-disciplined pedestrians trudged across sidewalks cheek by jowl with makeshift stalls in a landscape of potholed roads.
A sudden thunderstorm leaves commuters stranded and wading in putrid floods aggravated by overflowing clogged esteros.
The gridlock in the streets of Manila symbolizes the glacial pace of good governance and progress in the sprawling archipelago. However, as I have observed in my three-part article on the Filipino Diaspora, the Filipino driver and commuter easily adapts to traffic conditions in say, North America and does not bring over his/her “bad habits” from the Philippine homeland. Why?
‘Survival of the fittest’ behavior
The unruly Filipino suddenly transforms into a courteous and law-abiding driver and/or commuter when overseas especially in western countries (though ingrained “bad habits” occasionally surface). What is it about the West such as Canada that encourages people to obey traffic rules?
The Filipino is acutely aware that traffic rules and regulations will be applied strictly and equally with stipulated sanctions regardless of class or status. To violate traffic rules is to stick out like a sore thumb because almost everyone else is following them. Furthermore, attempts to bribe or pull rank and exhibit arrogance from a sense of entitlement will only worsen the situation.
The “survival of the fittest” behavior is not needed since infrastructure is much improved.
On the other hand, what is it about the Philippines that fosters anarchy on its roads? Traffic rules are frequently violated or often ignored in exchange for a bribe or because of connections. The infrastructure is also so broken down and inadequate that drivers take “creative shortcuts” to reach their destination in the quickest possible time.
In short, the Filipino driver or commuter’s behavior is shaped by “the rules of the game” which is the popular definition of “institutions.”
The institutional approach spells out the role of the reward and punishment mechanism of institutions in influencing behavior.
There is no clear incentive in the Philippine setting to follow the basic courtesy of the road. There is a widespread perception that rules are not applied equally that combines with a deep distrust of authority.
In fact, following rules such as staying in line will almost guarantee that one will fall behind because others are not lining up properly and are getting ahead.
Particularly in North America, celebrities and politicians are sometimes in the news for publicized traffic violations and the sanctions meted out. For instance, a popular mayor in the Toronto area struck a sign post with her car some years ago for which she was fined $110. Can this actually happen to a Filipino politician or to politicians of many other countries?
What is the origin of this distorted incentives mechanism and flawed institutions?
Causes: Small elite, extractive institutions
The centuries of colonization under the Spaniards and the half century of American rule installed a small elite, extractive institutions and engendered dynasties that aggrandize themselves and controlled the country’s resources.
The outcome over generations had been institutionalized corruption and poor governance which permeated the bureaucracy. If franchises can be granted that strengthens the oligarchy how much more for receiving bribes to overlook traffic violations?
Vested interests and the rule of a small elite lead to corruption and class privilege resulting eventually in highly unequal income distribution and the quagmire of poverty. The people subsequently endure years of inadequate and deteriorating infrastructure. Minor functionaries had no incentive to be honest when the officials above them are corrupt. In turn, the impoverished state of the country leads droves of its citizens to immigrate.
Poor governance, deplorable road discipline, and traffic conditions are just symptoms of Philippine under-development. Note the similar conditions in many developing regions such as Africa which has the highest road fatality rate among the regions of the world. Under-development in turn is a multi-faceted process involving history, culture, institutions, geographies, and resulting motivations.
There is a rich literature on modernization theory or explanations on the prosperity and poverty of nations which include a classic work such as Webber’s “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” to a present day influential work, “Why Nations Fail” by Robinson and Acemoglu.