The Philippine national project may have failed to produce either a national ideology or a functioning state, but that doesn’t mean the country is not politically organized. On the contrary, the Philippine political system is more extensive than those in many countries.
This benefits of this were recently quantified in a Save the Children report that placed the Philippines and Peru top of a list of developing countries for vaccinating children and treating them for critical diseases.
I can well believe it. Several years ago, I attended a measles immunization mission as an observer in a poor neighborhood near Antipolo. I was very impressed with how smoothly the campaign was carried out. We were met by a female kagawad who seemed to know exactly was required of her. The residents were supportive and friendly and the system of chalking doors to indicate that the occupants had been immunized was beautifully simple. I couldn’t help wondering whether I had been dragged to a poster project, but I was assured that it is like that in most barangays. I am sure that the well established set of grassroots connections here is the main reason for the Philippines’ excellent performance in the Save the Children report. (Of course that same set of connections can be used to service corrupt national interests too, but, hey this is a positive post.)
As an aside, we have nothing like this in the UK. The atomized nature of contemporary British society means that once the national and local governments have gouged you for every last penny they kindly leave you to your own devices. There ain’t no barangay captain to negotiate between competing neighbourhood interests in Britain—in fact the attitude seems to be “Noisy neighbour? Live it with pal”, even if you are an 80-year-old granny being harassed by teenage yobs.
Finally, in case there are any historians out there who want to argue that, far from belng “politics from below”, as I have implied, the barangay system was a Marcos creation, I would argue that all the old fraud did was to rename the existing barrios. Marcos didn’t need to create the barangays because to establish and run such small-scale organizations is as natural to Pinoys as the national project seems to be alien to them.
Thanks for the link Butch.