Mababaw ang kaligayahan

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Greg B. Macabenta

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Mababaw ang kaligayahan loosely means easy to please. The recent Pulse Asia performance and trust ratings of President Rodrigo Duterte, which remain impressively high, are an example of this. But rather than cast doubt on the intelligence of the survey respondents or the integrity of the public opinion polls (which poor losers usually do when ratings are not to their liking), I think credit should be given to Duterte for his uncanny ability to titillate and please his constituents.

In this regard, Duterte is certainly superior to US President Donald Trump who has had to constantly pat himself on the back to satisfy his starvation for praise. Trump’s latest self-praise was his description of himself as a political genius. Said one sarcastic CNN commentator: “Trump has to call himself a genius, since nobody else will.”

But to go back to Duterte’s high performance and trust ratings, it certainly would have given us a better appreciation of the value of the Pulse Asia survey if the questionnaire used had also been published along with the results. That would have given us an idea of how in-depth the study was and how incisive have been the conclusions.

At any rate, let’s assume that Pulse Asia did try to get a better-than-superficial reading of the perceptions and attitudes of the Filipino populace.

The results also do say something about our people’s remarkable ability to make do with what they are served, to see the positive in it, and, in the words of a wise man, “to make lemonade when life gives them lemons.”


Of course, this doesn’t say much about our people’s NACH or “need for achievement,” a term that human resource specialists use to describe a person’s aspirations and upward strivings.

At any rate, if one were to appraise Duterte’s first year in office, based on the survey ratings, one would be inclined to say that he is arguably the best president that this country has ever had and that the Philippines has never had it so good.

In fact, a friend of mine who is a Duterte supporter, to drive home this point, e-mailed me the comparative ratings of Duterte and our immediate past chief executive, Benigno S. C. Aquino III. Needless to say, the latter suffered by comparison.

But then, that comparison with Aquino inevitably begged for a further comparison of our country with our neighbors in Asia, to get a better view of how well the Philippines has fared under Duterte.

Along with the news about the Pulse Asia ratings, Duterte’s Communications Secretary, Martin Andanar, declared in a media interview that out of five presidential campaign promises that Duterte had made, the president has already fulfilled four, leaving only his promise to effect a change to federalism unfulfilled.

The four “fulfilled” promises, according to Andanar, were solving the problems of crime and illegal drugs, government corruption, poverty and peace and order.

In the context of “mababaw ang kaligayahan,” Andanar’s claim would be reason for rejoicing for the Filipino people.

Unfortunately for Andanar, unlike the responses in the Pulse Asia survey, the facts do not confirm his claim. For one thing, most of the thousands of extrajudicial and vigilante killings committed during Duterte’s first year in office remain unsolved and the drug problem continues to plague the country, including Duterte’s bailiwick of Davao.

Secondly, Andanar’s claim of lowered poverty incidence was based on 2015 data, before Duterte’s incumbency (the 2017 figures are still being tallied). Furthermore, recent surveys, specifically one conducted by SWS, also indicate increased poverty among our people.

Thirdly, only someone who is deaf, dumb and blind will believe that the problem of government corruption has been solved. And, with respect to peace and order, the threat posed by the NPA, the Muslim secessionists and ISIS, not to mention China’s encroachment on Philippine territory, still hang over our collective heads.

But what is even more revealing is how the Philippines compares with our neighbors in Asia in terms of economic development, foreign direct investments, unemployment, per capita income and poverty, infrastructure, bureaucratic competence, and corruption. And, oh yes, that other claim that “It’s more fun in the Philippines.”

It’s pretty much like comparing our year-long basketball tournaments in the Philippines with those of the NBA in the US. With due respect to our Filipino players, they are pretty good. But to say that they are a match for the stratospheric ball handlers in the US would be a stretch.

It would be rubbing it in if we were to quote the numbers put out by international and regional bodies tracking the indices of good governance and national progress.

Ironically, even with such indicators as corruption, where Thailand beats the Philippines hands down, our country also bites Thai dust in terms of tourist revenues, economic development and foreign investments.

A further irony is the fact that for a country as rich in tourist attractions, history and culture, coupled with some of the most beautiful people in the world, we are absolutely no match to Singapore, an island nation whose tourist offerings are mostly man-made (such as gigantic musical trees).

But then, perhaps, surveys conducted by Pulse Asia and SWS don’t dare to touch on these issues in an incisive manner for fear of opening a Pandora’s box of unflattering insights.

After all, what’s the point in comparing the Philippines with Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hong Kong when most Filipinos are happy enough with their blissful ignorance. Mababaw ang kaligayahan.

It’s so much safer to ask them what they think of the quality of governance of Philippine officials — mostly in a vacuum, with no comparisons or points of reference — and passing off the responses as proof of high performance and trust.

There’s a saying that comes to mind: In the land of the blind, the one-eyed is king.


Greg B. Macabenta is an advertising and communications man shuttling between San Francisco and Manila and providing unique insights on issues from both perspectives.