|Corruption in the Philippines|
PHILIPPINE HISTORY IN BRIEF
(Version # 3C)
by Wallace H. Little
EXISTENCE AND SETTLEMENT
About 8000 miles due west from the US, the Philippines are an archipelago of 7100 islands, with only about 300 that are habitable. Over a 100-year period, there were three waves of immigrants from Malaysia. They came by open boats, but we have no knowledge of how they managed to navigate the distance. These settled in the north, on Luzon, during most of the first two waves. The third group split between Palawan, Mindoro, the Visayans, and the Bicol areas, comprising the largest ethnic group. The settlers in the Visayans eventually established Cebu, the largest city of that area. Those became primarily fishermen.
Intermixed were the much smaller pygmy-size Negretos, who settled mostly in the flatlands of central Luzon, 70 to 100 miles north of present day Manila. They tended to be isolated, and never grew to more than small numbers. These groups brought with them pagan religions, including animal sacrifice. Most of those in these areas became rice farmers.
Midway in this influx, large numbers came on the much shorter trip from Indonesia, ending up mostly in the southernmost largest island of Mindanao. Some, fewer, also came and settled in central and northern Luzon. They brought with them their brand of Islam.
Various others, including Chinese, came in small numbers, with the Chinese remaining mainly in the Manila area. Primarily, they were business people, and engaged in shipping. The Chinese introduced many of their customs and cultural elements into the Philippine society, and are responsible for its basic Oriental slant.
When Spanish arrived 400 years ago, there were only (estimated) about half a million Filipinos. These isolated tribes retained their own distinct and culture, language, and laws, until to facilitate their control, the Spanish conquistadors and their missionaries forced the Filipinos into a seemingly heterogeneous nation. But many groups were, and remain, fiercely resistant to change. With their deep cultural roots and strong tribal affiliation, it is a serious matter for these to accept another religion. Hence, it is often difficult to persuade men to leave their religion, for it generally means giving up their and culture, society, and families. Often religious defectors are subsequently ostracized or even killed. Too many visiting American preachers who have returned home with glowing reports of large numbers of baptisms, have fostered the idea that the Philippines is a ripe mission field. These gave American churches the idea that the Philippines are a sort of "second Pentecost." However, most of those put under the water during these visits by Americans are fakes. Some have even been paid to be "baptized" in order that local preachers gain a good reputation with American "moneybags." To assume the Philippines are what is called "a missionary area" with many easy conversions is a serious mistake.
The Philippines has a written culture dating back 1700 years, and therefore, must have had an earlier unwritten one. Their dialects reflect their culture, and as different groups were isolated in the early part of their history, this produced a variety of cultures that in turn, developed a variety of dialects.
The primary and universal Philippine principal cultural concepts center around two basic ideas. The first is survival, and the second is family. Concerning the first, the brutally harsh economic situation obtaining from virtually the first settlers has generated an intense concentration on devising means of survival. Likewise, isolation from others prevented mutual help between them, particularly in difficult times as typhoons, drought, disease, and crop destruction by locust infestations. The isolation of language and culture was reinforced by physical isolation during these periods of natural disaster. From a purely survival point of view, this required the development of a concept of mutual dependence within the immediate and extended family. In turn, that produced what Jose P. Rizal, their national hero, said is the idea that "a Filipino is an individual only, and not a member of any particular (political-whl) group." They have nothing resembling nationalism, no strong sense of belonging to a higher group than the family.
The family itself is based on the concept of mutual assistance and adoption. Remaining members of deceased families are taken in and provided for. The family concept basically is the immediate physical/ biological unit, but most also include other non-biologically-connected but with a personal closeness in the extended family such as marriage, concubinage, or close friendship.
At the personal level, Filipinos group with others of like ideas into what are called "barkadas." So inclined by their culture, these usually will have one leader who by force of his personality, takes control. This has spread to the extent that it is not uncommon for a barkada leader in a work area or business to exercise more real control than the nominal boss.
One particularly significant element of the family concept is that the father "runs" affairs outside the house, and the mother does the same thing inside. To a large degree, the wife/mother controls the family spending and raising the children. Surprisingly to Americans, the mother is much stricter on her daughters than her sons. The girls will be the ones to raise the future generation of Filipinos, while the men only provide the necessary physical support for that role. Boys are allowed a much greater freedom and less discipline, whereas girls are held to higher standards and strictly controlled. A family that does well is expected to provide support for less wealthy members of the extended family. Sometimes this is abused, with who are deemed "wealthy" may find relatively distant kinfolk moving in to live with them without invitation. This practice is often enforced by "avengers" who will threaten, beat, and may eventually even may try to kill men who complain and resist.
In this nation, religion is heavily into politics - - and the reverse. I'll cover more on that later. Religiously, the Philippines are essentially made up of three major groups: Catholics, Iglesia ni Cristo, and Muslims. The first, and by far the largest, is the Roman Catholic Church to which 86% of the Filipinos give at least casual allegiance. This itself is redivided into a variety of smaller sects, the majority of which have very limited membership. Of the total population of the Philippines, about 65% are nominal Catholics in the standard sense of the word. Another 21% are in a powerful offshoot called El Shaddi whose key distinction is its politics instead of religion per se - - that is, in competition with the larger group of Catholics, it selects and backs political candidates that offer them the strongest voice in political decisions. The remaining multiple RCC sects have less than 1% of population.
Another large (non-Catholic) group is the Iglesia ni Cristo. That includes about 6% of the Philippine population. Its distinguishing religious concept is its denial of the divinity of Jesus. It is more a business than a religion, but is very powerful politically, as it contributes bountifully to those politicians who support its goals. Politicians grovel before it for its support, because a faithful member will always vote as headquarters directs. Thus, they are a strong voting block that often has sufficient political power to swing a national election. It is very jealous of its membership and defections from its ranks are not always conducive to longevity. It is also very antagonistic to public criticism, and doing such can be dangerous unless the one speaking against it has plenty of backing present when he does the criticizing. Men who have done that have also been known to disappear permanently.
The third significant religious group is the Muslims, which has about 7.9% of the population. Most are peaceful, but some have adopted radical fundamentalism with its militant desire to return to the golden age of Islam and, like many of similar persuasion worldwide, have developed powerful terrorists units. These, passing themselves off as "freedom fighters," some are a strong influence in the southern Philippines. In actuality, they use their religion as an excuse for rapine, and are nothing but avaricious kidnappers and murderers. The more peaceable Muslims are fearful of condemning their violent conduct.
All other religious groups are classed as "Protestant," which includes churches of Christ. Taken together, these form a very small part of the religious community - - amounting to less than 1% of the population.
The early work here was centered in two men. One was Harold Cassells (1928, Manila). I have found little record of what he did, either written or verbal transferred through the generations. The second was George Benson (1929, Mindoro). He managed to convert a number of men some of whom developed into outstanding preachers. When WWII came, the church members were pretty well scattered, and many killed. As Benson had worked primarily in Mindoro, most of the deaths among saints occurred there where most of the churches existed.
Institutionalism "arrived" in 1948, resulting in the establishing of the Philippine Bible College (PBC). These Americans ran a "tight ship," controlling churches through the support they provided or withheld from preachers. This lasted until 1964 when two NI Americans were stationed at our Naval Base in Subic Bay. Dave Turner (deceased 1999), and Richard Ellis (now an elder in a Jacksonville, Florida, congregation), first began to oppose the institutional errors while they were stationed in the Philippines. I arrived in 1966, and began meeting Filipinos who had learned enough to realize the PBC practices did not agree with their Bible teaching. They wanted to separate.
Until the mid-1990s, despite strong institutional opposition, the work grew slowly but steadily. Then began the influx of American money began here. Often these big fund-carrying preachers used their money to try to control the work. When some Filipinos would not bend, those Americans used their money, and influence to try to "cast them out of the Synagogue." They created false issues to do this, beginning a division that has yet to run its course. The troublings engendered by these men has greatly stunted the real growth of God's work in the PI.
The present situation is that where preachers are genuinely working, and the work is growing, if still slowly. The infusion of these large sums of money beginning in 1998 has thoroughly corrupted many, greatly expanding a previously existing but limited corruption. There are three groups of men here claiming to be preachers. ONE, those who are genuine. TWO, the out-and-out crooks and con men, some of whom are very clever indeed. THREE, those who are simply job seekers. Most asserting themselves to be preachers are in that category. Their reports have wild claims of successes. If true, they would be witnessed by hundreds of self-supporting congregations. Their claims are belied by the fact that to date, to the best of my knowledge, which goes back 40 plus years, there are no self-supporting NI congregations in the PI.
Within 100 years, the direct descendants of the Spanish and the Roman Catholic Church Jesuits whom the Spanish brought with them were already in control. These descendants of the Spanish settlers, a group commonly called "The Oligarchy," effectively run things in the Philippines today. Between these two groups, within that same 100 years, they amassed control of two-thirds of the arable land here and most of the wealth. When the industrial revolution hit, these wealthy landowners and the RCC were the only ones with the money to take advantage of it, and they consequently became even more rich and powerful. Today, the Oligarchy and the RCC each own about one third of the farmable land and 40% of the industry here. In one way or another, most people depend upon them for their livelihood in a sort of serf-like relationship. Consequently, there is only a very small middle class, mostly business and professional men, and most of these are clustered in the large cities. Land costs in the Philippines are exceedingly high, even when measured by United States standards.
When the Spanish arrived and the number of Filipinos numbered only about one-half a million, the land grabbing had no immediate effect. Today, however, 80-million dirt poor Filipinos live on the productive capacity of about one third of the land and 20% of the industry. By "dirt-poor," I mean people that for practical purposes are "naked" to disasters - - those for whom a serious storm may mean the difference between whether they have food to eat and the other necessities of life, or suffer privation that sometimes includes death. This is particularly true when severe medical problems arise. High quality medical care is available there, but it costs, relatively, as we would say, "an arm and a leg." I've known few brethren who have died for lack of sufficient funds to get the needed medical care.
In the cities, the government enforces a minimum wage, but this amounts to $0.89/hr take home pay. With it, one may purchase five eggs, or 1/8th of a pound of oatmeal, or less than half a pint of milk, or 6 ounces of fruit juice, or 1/8th of a pound of chocolate powder to flavor the milk, or a loaf of wheat bread. That is NOT "all the above" but one - - take your single pick. A man working for a minimum wage would make about $160 a month. Often for this, an employer demands more than the standard eight-hour day and five-day week. If the employee objects, there are others "out there" who will gladly accept what he wants to turn down, so he is out of a job. A family man can generally make enough to feed his family as long as he is able to work every day, but he often has little or nothing left for other needs. Therefore, many people live under bridges or in shacks and shelters made of cardboard, shipping crates, and discarded metal sheets or whatever other junk can be found. I made a video of some who lived atop a massive one-square mile in-the-city dump so they had the "privilege" of being the first to pick through the trash and garbage. That finally ended when the government developed a better disposal system, and closed the dump, and moved the "settlers" off of it.
In order to get professionals away from the cities and into the provinces where they are desperately needed, the government has financed the education of and supports doctors and other professionals to work in rural areas--at their minimum wage that amounts to a taken-home of $1.30/hr. These professionals working in the countryside are those whose education are financed by the government, are serving five years (usually) as "pay back" for their education. Beyond high school, such professionals put in four years of college and in the case of doctors, four more in medical school, plus two years internship, then must study for some extended period after that to be able to pass national board examinations in their field so that the government will certify them.
Because of the shortage of jobs, men are willing to work ten years to become a doctor and take home $1.30 an hour ($240/mo). Those not fortunate enough to get into government education programs covet the treatment afforded to Church of Christ preachers here, many who receive $300-$500 a month support from the USA. Because of the money incentives, there are many men that seek preaching as a job. Therefore, when evaluating men desiring to become "CHURCH OF CHRIST" preachers, you must distinguish among three groups. They have a variety of deceptions practiced to get support and to entice Americans to increase it. Don't underestimate those just because these are small, brown-skinned, and act as innocents abroad. There are the genuine ones who are committed to Christ no matter what; the out-and-out crooks/con artists; and job seekers (by far the largest group). Those in this last group submit reports with wild claims of many baptisms and wondrous success, but the fact that there are no self-supporting congregations today belies their exaggerated claims.
Here is how a job seeker operates. He submits to baptism, preferably by a visiting American. Then he convinces an American (usually a different one coming later) that he is a faithful Christian and longs to spend his life serving God in preaching. So the American gets him support, often in the $300.00 to $500.00 range, and since he now is a "clergyman," he pays no tax on it. This individual, with only a high school education, is receiving an income higher than a doctor in the provinces who had to spend 10 or more years in hard education.
Is it any wonder so many Filipino men want to be CHURCH OF CHRIST preachers?
There is yet another serious economic problem among preachers here. For 40 years, I have virtually beaten my head against a stonewall trying to get preachers to teach on 1 st Corinthians chapter nine, and the responsibility of local churches to support their preachers. I know no more than what I can count on one the fingers of one hand who do so. Why? The supported preachers don't want to "rock the boat" by exposing the dishonest ones lest they endanger their support. The Unsupported ones are likewise reluctant, lest this jeopardize their chance of getting US support. Filipino saints are not stupid. Properly taught, they will pick up the support of their preachers -- at a level they can handle, NOT at the level provided by the Americans. I am NOT saying it is wrong to support a preacher here . I AM saying one must check carefully. I am not far off the mark when I say that virtually every American coming here has been fooled by one and sometimes more of these men passing themselves off as preachers. I am not excluding myself in this, and by far, I have far more experience here than any other NI preacher.
In addition to other hazards from American support often with it comes the demand that the Filipino comply with Americans' doctrinal positions, "OR ELSE!" And of course, the "or else!" is to have their support cut off.
Those Filipinos claiming to be preachers who are, in reality, nothing but crooks, have a variety of methods they use to hoodwink Americans into sending them funds. Among them:
1. Claiming there has been a typhoon in which they (others) suffered greatly and badly need help. Sometimes the typhoons that hit that nation do serious harm and hurt. Often, however, the existence of one is used as the excuse to seek money. Check weather in that area, and a good place to start looking is the Internet.
2. Illness in family/friends/members of the congregation. While illness and medical need is present and often urgent, many times such appeals are fakes, generated in the knowledge that many Americans will gladly provide help.
3. Faking baptisms. One favorite method here is to find a real preacher but who is unsupported, who actually goes out and converts people. Their general practice is "save 'em up" for the end of the month. So the crook goes to this unsupported one, offers him money to take pictures of him -- the crook -- doing the actual baptizing. Then he reports to his supporters (with the pictures) that these as his work.
4. Claim that many postal service mailing addresses are unreliable, and convince the Americans providing support for several to send him the checks which he guarantees to get to those to whom they are written. He may do that, but in doing so, he is seen as the source of the support -- AND having the power to stop it if they do not bow to his "leadership."
5. Manufacturing a "need" for benevolence, then using this as an appeal to Americans for money.
6. Generating a fake congregation, complete with names, when visited by American preachers. The American is impressed with the "results." These may well be the man's relatives and friends who have been persuaded to attend "worship" the day the American is there, but who, really, are not Christians at all. An alternative to this is to offer something in exchange for attendance, as one "preacher" did on one Island. He offered each attendee a package of noodles each time they showed up. Given the very low state of the economy in that area, the appeal was real -- and partially successful.
7. Claiming growth by dividing the congregation into two groups, with another "preacher" working the second one, and now, doubling the need for support.
8. In advance of a visiting American preacher, arrange for other preachers in that general area to "save up the baptisms for the American," and bring them to the American's lectureship. Now with the increased "growth," these make an appeal for additional support.
9. Mass writing to American churches (lists are available in the various gospel newspapers freely circulated there), with claims of faithful labor for the Lord. An example: one wrote to a preacher in Florida seeking support, and listed his results for the previous 24 months. The Florida preacher called me, asking if I knew the man. I did not, so he FAX'd me a copy of the letter. When I added up the number of adults he claimed for that two-year period, it totaled 194 adults. That would have made it the largest NI congregation in that nation of which I had knowledge. I called the Florida preacher back, suggesting he write the Filipino "preacher," and ask why he wasn't supported by the members of that large "church." He did -- and never received an answer. However, this was not the only preacher or congregation the man had written. In another instance, I know of one "preacher" there who has receiving "support" from 38 different US churches. Some of this was a one-time shot, but a lot was regular. For a time, his income was higher than that of a provincial vice-governor. I contacted each supporter, and provided documented evidence of fraud. However, only two responded, both telling me that no matter what I sent, they thought he was honest, and planned to continue supporting him.
Need I urge caution in responding to appeals for money? Such conduct is not right, but given the exceedingly poor state of the Philippine economy, they are understandable. So check carefully first before responding to appeals for financial help from there.
All politics here are religious and/or business-connected, and largely controlled by these "connections." In the 350 years under Spanish control -- actually in the first 100 years -- the Spaniards and the RCC Jesuits they brought with them, gained ownership of large portions of the land and passed title on when they died. This early amalgamation of land by a few powerful settlers and their descendants amounted to them getting control of about one third of the land usable for raising crops. And in the industrial revolution, each group leveraged the wealth produced by their land to finance industrialization and each ended up with ownership of about 40% of the Philippine industry. The Oligarchy and the RCC Catholic Church very much control the economy here, and consequently business is thoroughly mixed with religion. In order to control business, those with power ensure only people of their choosing are elected to high office. Their candidate selection is enforced by money and bullets. Political campaigning in the Philippines is a serious business. So also is control of the political elite. When politicians or rival religious groups become too powerful, these powerful elites will see to it that they are ousted. In the last 20 years, there have been two "rebellions," but with nothing changing except which religious group ended up with the strongest grip in the control of the nation.
After the Spanish were kicked out in the Spanish-American war (1898), in the subsequent 50 years under American Control, there was a great improvement of the physical infrastructure. Additionally, schooling became universal. It also marked the beginning of loosening of total RCC control of religion and education. During WWII when the Americans were forced out, there were four years of the brutal Japanese Occupation in which the people experienced periods of total repression, murder, rape, and pillage. The gross and persistent violation by the Japanese of the dearly held Filipino values of family led to the emergence of a fanatical class of Philippine resistance fighters. These culturally indignant friends of the US fought with such maniacal ferocity that they became the only force the Japanese feared to fight during WWII. The reason was that there was no quarter given - - battles were always under the conditions that the guerillas chose, and ended only when either all Filipino guerillas or all Japanese were dead. The Filipinos took no prisoners. When it became obvious that MacArthur was going to take back the Philippines, the Japanese retaliated against the fierce Philippine resistance by slaughtering a large part of the population in Manila. In the three days immediately prior to MacArthur's return to Manila, the Japanese butchered between 100,000 and 150,000 Filipinos, mostly old men, old women, pregnant women, young children, babies, and so on. For that senseless rampage, MacArthur ordered the hanging of the responsible Japanese general. This one had asked to be allowed to commit seppuku, so he could die in honor. MacArthur denied this, saying he was going to hang him so he would die with the dishonor he so richly deserved.
In theory, the Philippines have been a free nation since 1946, but while the government is recognized as representing one nation, the politics of the people has essentially remained that of the individual. The needs of the nation take second (or third, or fourth, or, or, or, etc) to the personal desires of the politicians who are often speaking only for their moneyed sources that elect and reelect them. The current president is only a figurehead for the religious/business elite in background who are "pulling the strings." The political culture of aggrandizement of self at the expense of the nations has greatly inhibited the creation of a middle class and consequently has prevented the development of much of their national potential, and seriously jeopardized the future of their natural resources, and because of that, the people themselves remain in poverty.
SOME OF THE REAL MORAL AND SOCIAL PROBLEMS IN THE PHILIPPINES
ONE:--Couples including brethren, living together for years without
marriage, with no serious social stigma.
Those serving God in preaching/teaching here face some daunting problems that are organic to this nation and its culture. For example, including English, there are 154 known and recorded dialects, plus some tribal dialects. The primary native languages are Tagalog (Pilipino), Ilocano, and Cebuano, this last one the language developed by settlers in the Visayans. Additionally, there are 67 of these different tribals ( NOT tribes), some of whom would not let you live long enough to learn whether or not if they speak a known language. These have never been under any the control of any central government. They are small, seldom numbering more than 200 to 300, but they are a law unto themselves, including marriage and divorce. The central government leaves them alone, knowing it would be impossible to control them, and the only way to change their multitudes of different laws would be "ethnic cleansing."
For the recognized status of congregational ownership of land/ buildings/bank accounts, each local church must file separately for permission to the Philippines Securities Exchange Commission (SEC) -- a very difficult task made more so by reluctant bureaucrats. This induced the centralized control, as the PBC exercised for so many years, or alternately, the building and property deeded as "owned" by preachers. More than one has sold these from under the brethren, and then absconded with the money.
Religious money from and control by Americans has infected the churches here, especially since 1995. Many Americans who bring money for support or benevolence, directly or by inference, insist the Filipinos who received these funds "toe the line," OR ELSE! And when one refuses, as the real preachers do, the OR ELSE! (having support cut off) happens. Also, American preachers often have one special Filipino "friend," and he is the one who, in the final analysis, controls the decision as to which Filipino the American support goes. You can be sure he does his best to direct the money to his family and friends -- and in one case I know of, not all these family members were not even Christians, much less preachers.
Another special problem is evangelistic oversight. Probably 99% of the churches were started by preachers. Given their cultural background of one "taking charge," evangelistic oversight is the norm here. I've tried for 40 years to get preachers away from that, with only minimal success. There are several reasons why this is so difficult. If anyone wants more details, ask, and I'll be glad to explain this.
Yet another problem especially frustrating here is the tendency of Americans to export American problems from the US and import them into the Philippines. One of the most prominent of these today is MDR. In this 86% Roman Catholic nation, this is entirely moot, as there is a specific constitutional prohibition against divorce. There is no possibility of that being changed, but if it did, their culture says no remarriage no matter what the circumstances, even the death of the spouse. Bringing MDR here has caused nothing but needless division and heartache because those Filipinos who follow the "importing, money-bringing Americans" push it to please them.
And more, another difficulty introduced by meddling Americans is the interference in the affairs of local churches. I do NOT mean preaching a particular doctrine, but demanding Filipinos live and preach specific doctrine on and, again, OR ELSE! These Americans are not satisfied to observe Biblical congregational autonomy.
Concerning needs, money for medical benevolence is always critically short. If a saint or one his family has a serious medical need, often, he must sell all he owns to pay for it, or else he essentially becomes a slave to the predatory lender who provides help.
Another very disturbing situation is the envy and jealousy some "preachers" have toward other Filipinos whom visiting Americans deem successful. The ones with envy will try to do something to destroy the reputation and the work of the one of whom they are envious. This "crab" syndrome is endemic among many Filipino preachers as well as the ones just claiming to be such.
A final serious problem is training men to preach and straightening out those converted from the denominations. Such older preachers do not intentionally preach errors, but they have inherited these things as part of their previous religious culture. We have to help dig them out. The only input of new preachers here worthy of the name is our preacher-training classes. We finished our 16th on 26 May 2006 . We use only unpaid voluntary teachers, and have a specific and well thought out ten-week curriculum of very hard work. Subjects and class hours are below.
I pray these short articles help understand more about God's work in the Philippines, and open in you the thought to assist in it.
[Editor's Note: Compare this article to the one Wallace Little wrote in 1979 by clicking here.]