Why we’ll never be First World » Manila Bulletin News



Leandro DD Coronel

By Leandro DD Coronel


Every developing nation aspires to belong to the ranks of the world’s prosperous countries. The Philippines does and should.

But how can we reach the status of a First World country when we can’t even accomplish the most basic things?

If you’re dismayed at what you see every day around you, you should be. As a citizen you have every right to be so.

When you look at the trash in our surroundings you must cringe at the utter disregard we have for not only the environment but also for our own health and sense of aesthetics.

When you see people nonchalantly dispose their personal litter on public grounds as if it was the most natural human behavior, then you are right to worry and be disappointed.

When you experience brownouts from time to time, when cable TV and the Internet are down at times (sometimes at crucial times like deadline hour), when the MRT makes commuters suffer and their only recourse to sanity is letting out a mouthful of expletives, when all these basic things break down, then we have all the right to grumble and ask the Heavens “Why?”

When those whom we elect to govern us steal from us instead of making life bearable for us, when every bureaucrat’s daily exertion is to make a quick buck, when those who are supposed to serve us make life hell for us, then we have all the right to raise our own hell.

When the LTO can’t even give us stickers (just stickers, for heaven’s sake!), when postal employees steal our letters’ contents and, worse, connive with syndicates that take over our identities through fraudulent credit cards, when airport employees slash our luggage and separate us from our precious belongings, then we have all the right to get dismayed and ask, what in the devil’s name is going on?

These are all basic things that a working society should be able to take care of in the normal course of things. These aren’t extraordinary things that require rocket-science thinking or super-efficient logistical effort. If we can’t even do these things as a matter of course, then how are we going to accomplish the more complicated things that make a nation an ideal place in which to live?

We Filipinos like to think that we’re part of the modern, sophisticated world. We, more than many other countries, are up-to-date on high-tech gadgets. Indeed, we are the texting capital of the world. Many of us, especially the status-conscious, consider last year’s models of mobile phones ancient and they’re embarrassed to be seen with them. (Disclosure: I have an ancient cellphone model.)

We follow every trend that comes out of the technological, fashion, automotive, and cinematic industries from around the world. We go crazy over show biz performers from here and abroad, and shell out thousands of pesos to go to their concerts.

But we’re not able to take care of the most basic things in life.

The American writer James Fallows more than three decades ago visited the Philippines and was shocked at Filipinos’ unrestrained littering and even bad table habits (like throwing food bits on the floor).

And yet, ironically, we Filipinos pride ourselves on our personal cleanliness. Our homes are immaculately tidy and well-organized. And yet public sanitation facilities (even in upscale establishments) are embarrassingly unclean and stinky.

Actually, all these basic things aren’t hard to take care of. Local governments should be able to keep public grounds (including markets) tidy and well-kept. These shouldn’t be the concern anymore of the national government. A few communities in the country (like Marikina and the Ayala part of Makati) have succeeded in keeping their areas clean.

So why can’t we all do it?

It takes a certain culture among the people and local governments to do it. It takes discipline, a sense of community, and concern for the environment and for one another to do it. It can be done, we only have to want to do it.

We want to be First World but we’re not up to it. And, with the kind of schizophrenic leadership we have right now, it’s hard to convince the rest of the world that we’re a serious and stable society.

The term Third World isn’t just a disdainful description invented by First Worlders. By our behavior and practices we bestow that description upon ourselves.

Want to become First World? Let’s take care of the basic things first.


Tantrum Ergo. Filipinos throw trash from moving vehicles as if our roads were one big garbage dump. People in other countries are so disciplined, like the Japanese, and carry their own cigarette-ash containers in their pockets because they don’t want to litter. Why can’t we be like them?

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