The road to entitlement hell

is my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Over the weekend I came across an interesting article, a satire actually, that really hits the spot: “Survey: 94% of Informal Settlers Were Actually Silver-Spoon-Fed Spoiled Brats During Their Childhood Years” (from So, What’s News?; http://sowhatsnews.wordpress.com/). I recommend reading it, if simply as an antidote to all the nonsense written in the name of social justice.

As the article puts it, the squatters (which, I believe, is the more appropriate term) “felt entitled to be given free housing, as well as living allowance and transportation allowance.” Among other things they also felt entitled to:

  • “Informal settlers are free to illegally tap the water lines for their consumption. Same goes for electricity.
  • During demolition protests, they are entitled to hurt the authorities trying to uphold peace and order because the police have no human rights. Only them.
  • The government must provide everything for them, namely: housing, livelihood, education, pocket money, living room showcase, bedroom showcase, possibly a car, wardrobe showcase, full cosmetic makeover from Belo Medical and a jacket. Everything but the kitchen sink; because they said so."

The entire piece would have been really funny if it weren’t for the fact it’s true. Granted, there’s the recent Asian Development Bank report, “The Social Protection Index, Assessing Results for the Asia and the Pacific” (which criticized the Philippines’ low social protection expenditure). But such is incomplete as it only measures what the government doles out without factoring in what our society tolerates or refuses to hold people accountable for (along with the attitude or motivation behind it).

For example, while Singapore indeed allocates a huge portion of its budget on social protection, nevertheless, it will not tolerate squatting or any sort of criminality, with everyone encouraged (“compelled”?) to put in their fair share for Singapore. Contrast that with the Philippines, where the extended family, immediate community, employers and the government are all expected to provide anything on demand but without any concomitant responsibility required of the citizen.

I’m reminded again of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s remarks on what he believes is a fundamental problem faced by the US: “We are turning into a paternalistic, entitlement society. That will not only bankrupt us financially, it will bankrupt us morally. Because when the American people believe this is no longer a place where only their willingness to work hard, to act with honor, integrity and ingenuity determines their success in life, then we’ll have a bunch of people sitting on a couch waiting for a government check.”

Unfortunately, as Christie notes, rather than feeling secure about their future, it resulted in lesser optimism among people. For the Philippines, rather than corruption or foreign intervention, it’s this combination of entitlement and paternalistic cultures that’s the source of the nation’s fundamental problems.

A blog, “Get Real Philippines” (http://getrealphilippines.com/blog/, which I highly recommend for its intelligence and, quite frankly, for doing something most columnists nowadays are scared to do: give an independent thought), offered more extensive insights on the foregoing issue. Ilda’s take on the matter (A lot of decent Filipinos are getting fed up with squatters, July 10, 2013) revolved around the entitlement angle, while Benigno (“Bianca Gonzales speaks out on Manila’s squatter infestation!,” July 9, 2013) focused (correctly I believe) on the rule of law.

There’s no dearth of examples on how we’re degrading our people through this entitlement culture. You have jeepney, bus, tricycle drivers, as well as waiters, clerks, laborers, office employees -- all thinking they have the God-given right to do anything they want: “You don’t like the way we do our job? Fine, we’ll abandon it.” And screw duty or the rule of law.

In fact, readers of this column will remember the issue I took against the Kasambahay Law and the likely problems it will bring. Even then I wrote, borrowing words from Christie, “I do not agree when our politicians tell our people: ‘do not bother about wanting to work hard and acting with honor and integrity and ingenuity because we’ll take care of you.’”

And apparently, I’m right. Many middle-class readers and friends (and it’s always the middle class that gets loused up in this country) told me stories about advancing transportation funds for new maids only for them to disappear (along with the money), of dutifully registering their maids with the SSS only for those maids to abandon their employers just because they felt like it. Then there are the accounts of maids having stolen stuff or left their employer thousands of pesos in debt to the phone company, destroyed appliances, broken furniture. All this without the Kasambahay Law (or any of our laws) giving any effective remedy to the honest employer.

Don’t get me wrong: poverty alleviation is a noble objective. But it can’t be solved merely with good intentions. Unfortunately, in the Philippines, the road to hell is not only paved with good intentions, it’s lit, furnished, and gilded with it.