‘Somalia of Asia’

By Perry Diaz

Whoever would have thought that the Philippines would be the next Somalia?  Indeed, a few years ago, that question would have been ignored and ridiculed.  But today, there are disturbing signs that seem to manifest the unthinkable:  The Philippines could become the Somalia of Asia!  What happened?

In my article, “Road to Perdition or Redemption” (PerryScope, November 9, 2007), I wrote: Arroyo’s dismal failure and egregious disregard — and disrespect — for the people’s sentiments should be grounds to abrogate her mandate of government. In six and a half years of usurped authority, Arroyo is embroiled in a quagmire of corruption and deception. She implemented ineffective programs and projects that only fed the voracious appetite of kleptocrats in her government. Indeed, as several bishops and political leaders have stated, Arroyo no longer has the moral authority to lead the people. Under Arroyo’s leadership — and skullduggery — the country is on the road to perdition. It will no longer be the ‘Sick Man of Asia’ but will soon become the ‘Somalia of Asia’ where anarchy would be the order — or disorder — of the day and warlords reign supreme in their fiefdoms.”

Private armies and paramilitary groups

Unfortunately for former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s successor, President Benigno Aquino III, the country hasn’t only changed since 2007 – it got worse!  The Philippines is now closer to becoming the Somalia of Asia.  As a matter of fact, some parts of the country are almost like Somalia.  Most parts of Mindanao — particularly Maguindanao – have the telltale signs of another Somalia in the making: overpopulation, poverty, corruption, and lawlessness where warlords rule and commit crime with impunity.

The massacre of 58 unarmed civilians including 32 journalists last November 23, 2009 alleged to be committed by the powerful Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao has brought to the consciousness of the people that the government has been rendered inutile in maintaining peace and order.  In the nine years of Arroyo’s presidency, military and paramilitary units killed more than a thousand people allegedly and several hundred more disappeared without a trace.  These extrajudicial killings continue to this day.

In the Maguindanao massacre, the Ampatuans allegedly used four armed groups:  the clan’s private army, Civilian Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs), Civilian Volunteer Organizations (CVOs), and – disturbingly – Philippine National Police (PNP) personnel stationed in Maguindanao.   With that kind of firepower at their disposal, the Ampatuans ruled with absolute power over their political domain. Nobody would dare challenge them.  And their political alliance with Arroyo provided them with immense influence as well as protection.

Had there been no survivor from the massacre, and all the victims buried without a trace, the bloody incident wouldn’t have attracted international attention and could easily have been “swept under the carpet.” And the Ampatuans would continue on their bloody merry way.

A few days after the heinous mass murder, Arroyo created the Independent Commission Against Private Armies (ICAPA) and ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the PNP to dismantle all private armies in the entire country before the May 10, 2010 elections.   But like most commissions that Arroyo created during her presidency, the ICAPA — better known as the Zeñarosa Commission – missed its deadline.  However, it completed its work and submitted its report to outgoing President Arroyo and incoming President Aquino on June 30, 2010.

To date, Aquino is still reviewing the Zeñarosa report.  However, he indicated that he would not dismantle the CAFGUs and CVOs (formed by the military during Cory Aquino’s presidency).  He said that his government would work toward professionalizing the paramilitary groups.  The problem with Aquino’s proposal is that it would also professionalize those who are trigger-happy; thus, making them more dangerous and prone to commit more abuses.  That would be tantamount to licensing armed goons to kill.

Indeed, with 50,000 CAFGU members and 800,000 CVO members across the country, we are looking at a humongous time bomb ready to explode.

Population explosion

Another factor that would put the Philippines into the category of “impoverished” countries like Somalia is runaway population growth.  Dr. Malcolm Potts, a US-based demographer and health expert, said in a recent forum hosted by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation Incorporated in Metro Manila that due to its ballooning population, there would be about 160 million Filipinos, from the estimated 94 million today, in the next 40 years which could pose a huge problem of how to feed, clothe, educate and house them.” Interestingly, he mentioned another “disturbing aspect” of the population problem: “About 600,000 babies were born in the past four months after President Aquino took over Malacañang on June 30” or 5,000 babies born every day.

With the specter of population explosion, the congressional debate on the controversial Reproductive Health bills — which have been dormant in Congress for the past eight years due to strong opposition from the Catholic Church – might finally come to a vote and pass with the strong backing of Aquino.

In my article, “Is it time for population control?” (PerryScope, October 5, 2010), I wrote: “In 1903 when the first census was taken, the population of the Philippines was 7,635,426. Thirty-six years later in 1939, the population more than doubled to 16,000,303. Twenty-nine years later in 1960, the population increased by 169 % to 27,087,685. Forty-seven years later in 2007, the population increased by a staggering 327 % to 88,574,614. This year, 2010, the population is estimated at 97,976,603, an increase of more than 11% in three years or 3.67 % per year. At this rate, the population would be 500 million in 50 years, 1.2 billion in 80 years, and 2.2 billion in 100 years!”


If the Aquino government took the wrong step in dealing with paramilitary groups, it could end up institutionalizing warlordism similar to what’s happening in Somalia where a central government is diminished to an impotent body and its military arm fractured and rendered useless.

Is the Philippines on the road to becoming the “Somalia of Asia” and beyond redemption?


20 Responses.

  1. tina berenguer peralta says:

    Dear Perry
    The Philippines is not going to become the Somalia of Asia – it is already one!

    Anarchy reigns supreme and you can experience this by just trying to report something to a policeman. They not only do not know the ordinances and the law, they even make excuses for the perpetrator. Worse these people who are supposed to be our protectors will stop us by the roadside and threaten us with all kinds of fines and hassles when all they want lang pala is money for their chow.

    Anyone with influence and power or has an Ak-47 can get away with murder, stealing, squatting conning, blackmailing, kidnapping, terrorizing. You bring someone to court and you are not even assured that the case will be heard fairly, judiciously and without bias because many judges and fiscals are corrupt.

    You have someone arrested because they have done something to you and the big power of the province uses pressure to the police either not to arrest or in most cases bail them out accompanied with veiled threats to the one who has been the victim of injustice.

    Public servants steal, bribe, blackmail, con the people and do not do their work properly or even attend to it what with the many newspapers and magazines they have to read all day. One cannot even get a driver’s license without the usual “Tip” so that your paper is processed “faster” and those that do not even know how to drive, much less know theory can get their license anyway to the detriment of our riding public. And to the glee of the clerk.

    We have governors, congressmen, senators, barangay captains that have their private armies, meaning they even use the armed forces of the Philippines as their own private army just like what you said happened in Maguindanao.

    Elections are rigged, voters are bought, candidates are killed if they show any signs they are winning against the one who loves to be in power.

    The poor think they can run rough shod on the law just because they are poor, so they have no qualms to steal, murder, squat or rob their fellowmen on the main reason they are poor. Worse, our corrupt officials perpetuate the status quo by coddling them even if they have overstepped their boundaries. Worse even, our holier than holy churchmen happily and with no qualms encourage them to go against the ten commandments even if they are supposed to be the apostles of Christ telling them to do otherwise.

    We read of the same family running the provinces for years and years and like in North Korea, their children and their children’s children, their wives, their cousins, brothers, sisters-and brothers-in-law continue to be the ruler even if sinusuka na ng mga tao. And this is done through voter intimidation, rampant vote rigging, vote buying, killing and anything else they can do that will ensure they stay in power.

    Justice is slow, no one is accountable, no one is jailed for their crimes of plundering the country. Victims of extra judicial killings never get justice, all they get is grief and the feeling of despondency and despair.

    One can try to overthrow the government and the perpetrators will just be asked to go back to their barracks and do push ups, if they can even do that as most of them have big stomachs from too much sitting down. Even if the reputation of the country suffered and investments and tourism went down and businesses suffered losses due to damage and loss of customers, everything is forgiven because no one has the courage to go against the armed forces. They might nga naman do it again. Worse the traitors get to be pardoned even by a president who promises to change things.

    And why are we already a failed state? Apathy, indifference, no civic pride, no nationalism, and laughing about our situation. We have no seriousness nor sense of urgency or sense of what is important about anything and everything. We forgive too quickly as if a massacre or a plunder of the country’s coffers or a coup d’état are something we can and should forgive and move on. No one is accountable, no one is jailed or fired for any misdeed. The legislators legislate not because it is good for the country as a whole but because it gets them votes. On the other hand they do not admit there are laws that are doing more harm than good like the land reform which never really took lands from the landed especially the church, but actually took more from the struggling farmers of 1-5 hectares and left them destitute instead. We are gravely immature, both in our outlook and our view of ourselves. We are all Peter Pans that refuse to grow up because it is easier to be eternal children with nary a care in this world, wasting away our days and banking our future on Bahala Na or Bukas Na Lang and laughing away our days while our neighbours continue to plod and strive and do responsible actions to better themselves.

    • perry says:

      Hi Tina,

      You’re right, it is already like Somalia. However, it is still reversible if P-Noy would be bold in dismantling private armies, CAFGUs and CVOs, which are being used by warlords and gambling lords. If he doesn’t do anything about it, then it will become irreversible in a few years.


  2. Juan M. Montero,II says:

    Right on target, Perry. That’s why there is no substitute for population control in the Philippines if we are to progress. P-NOY has no excuse on this if he does not take the lead. He has no re-election to worry about. Since he is late in procreating, if ever, we may give him a pass and limit to two. Good luck !


    • perry says:

      Hi Doc,

      I hope P-Noy would stick to his guns on Reproductive Health and give his full support for its passage. That would be a monumental achievement for him.


  3. perry says:


    It has been 4 years since we visited the Philippines. We read and heard through your eyes and ears what has been happening in the Philippines. We have been hoping that P-Noy will turn the Philippines around for the better. Now, we pray that he does not fail our hopes and expectations.

    Ben Oteyza
    (Sent by email)

  4. perry says:

    Hi Ben,

    I fervently hope that he’ll pursue the reforms he promised. The pressure from those who want to maintain the status quo is evident in his recent actions and it’s disturbing. I wish he’d be more courageous in making the change needed to rid the country of corruption and lawlessness.


  5. DRCDC says:

    HI, Perry;

    I am a U.S. citizen now. For so many years, it was my dream to go home to the Philippines to retire. Many Filipino-Americans had the same desire as I do. Now you are making it more clearer of the Philippines turning to be a Somalia delight. With this, I changed my mind to retire in the Philippines. and many more I presume did the same.
    One very important caveat; the Philippines must be at peace and must prove to be a safe place to live with full security.
    The enormity of problems facing the Filipinos particularly in its deliverance from economic injustice demands heroic sacrifices from everyone. Democracy restored is not all that they need; they must also be free from hunger and want. Only then can Filipinos declare themselves free at last.
    With my recommendation that the Philippines is a place to enjoy your retirement, consider the overwhelming problems in our country – a very significant
    caveat for us U.S. citizens to think twice before considering retiring in our beautiful country.


    • perry says:

      Hi Doc,

      I, too, was planning to retire in the Philippines when the time comes. During Gloria’s time I refused to take my dual citizenship. I promised that I’d take it after she stepped down. I finally took it when P-Noy took over. Now, it’s just a question if reforms would really be made. But it seems change is not going to happen anytime soon. But I’m still hoping… hoping… hoping…


  6. Romeo Sirate says:

    Easier than done Perry, but until the Filipino people wises up and start using their common sense, not even this new president will be able to do anything about the dilemna that our country is in. I will say it again, we may be one of the most literate country in the world but our people are still too ignorant to realized that our country is all screwed up. I for one does not see any changes in the horizon, it will be business as usual for the same deadbeat politicians that the people voted in last election. Mabuhay Pilipinas! What else can you say?

  7. perry says:

    Hi Perry,

    Here’s my take on the Somalia/Philippines commentary. Sorry I accidentally pressed the send key when I was just starting my comments. I started on my AOL address and wanted to to switch to ATT when this happened. It would be nice if you could send your Balitas to my sfpartible@att.net address from hereon. I love your commentaries. Keep it up and God bless!

    My thoughts on the Philippines becoming the future Somalia of Asia. Three scenarios; one on the pessimistic, another on the guardedly-optimistic and the third on the overly-optimistic sides. I won’t touch on the chronic graft and corruption and oher societal ills of the Philippines. Rather, I would like to concentrate more on overpopulation.

    FIRST SCENARIO: The Pessimistic Perspective
    With the way things are going, granting that the RH bill passes but would still be ineffective to control the exploding population growth in the country, the Philippines could very well become the next Somalia. Poverty, disease and starvation could worsen and would be more widespread in the country. Such conditions could trigger more social unrest until only the strongest and most physically fit would survive. The more fortunate would already have left the country. The rest of the masses would either have died from starvation or be on the wayside awaiting their turn to die. This is a very unthinkable, but a remotely possible grim scenario for the once-touted “Pearl of the Orient Seas.” God forbid!

    SECOND SCENARIO: The Guardedly-Optimistic Perspective
    1. The RH Bill and Advances in Technology
    The RH Bill would have done its part, wholly or partially successful. The advances in technology and reasearch would make up for the difference. New hybrid plants, more infrastructure, irrigation and better land utilization would boost agricultural production to catch up with a controlled-population growth. For the first time since the fifties, the Philippines would have enough grain to feed its inhabitants. With a little more push, it could even become a grain-exporting country.
    2. The Foreign Investment Angle
    Although right now, the Philippines continues to lag behind its Asian neighbors in the inflow of foreign investments, such inflow of capital and resources is still a major factor in the progress and industrialization of the country. Even with the comparatively restrictive and less than competitive investment climate in the Philippines, capital continues to flow into the country. Contruction of new buildings, infrastructure and more liberalized laws on investments would further enhance the position of the country to be a major destination of foreign capital seeking to expand production overseas. Such would lead to more manufacturing and service jobs available to the people.
    For those who keep track on the economic progress of the country, look at the new shipbuilding, car manufacturing, IT industries, call centers, and other foreign companies doing business in the Philippines. Look at all the new roads and other infrastructure built and soon to be built around the country. The new Ft. Bonifacion Global City has sprouted practically overnight. With its gleaming business and housing skyscrapers, well-planned development with first-class facilities and excellent security, the place would more than compare with the best cities around the world. And look at bustling, vibrant and exciting Makati. Metro-Manila seems to be in an uncontrolled building spree. Around the country, megamalls are sprouting all over. And we think Filipinos are poor? Look at all the lines at restaurants and shopping centers! Undeniably of course, there are the poor people everywhere. But what country is spared of this human misery? Even the US has its share of the poor and the homeless. With the continued influx of foreign capital, jobs and economic growth should continue unabated. Along the way, there should be a proportionate reduction and alleviation of poverty.
    3. The Literacy and a Functioning Government Factor
    Compared to Somalia, the Philippines is light-years ahead in terms of literacy and a functioning government. Admittedly, there is still so much to be desired in the quality of education in the country. Adding an additional 2 years to the pre-college curriculum is a step in the right direction. The country may not be perfect. It is riddled with so much graft and corruption, but I have faith that its constitutional government could be reformed in due time with the continuing vigilance of an informed citizenry.
    3. The OFWs and the FIGs (Filipino Immigrant Groups) Factor
    I mean no disrespect to the OFWs, but we should differentiate between the OFW migrants and those Filipino Immigrant Groups (FIGs – my proposed acronym for the group) that have settled and adopted the citizenship of their host country. The OFWs are basically temporary residents, or migrants, of their host country, whereas the FIGs are there as permanent settlers. Both these groups are unsung heroes of the Philippine economy. Right now, both groups contribute immensely to the economy of the Philippines with their currency remittances. The OFWs would continue on with their remittances throughout all their working years until their return to the Philippines. Whereupon, they would cease to be OFWs. They now have a chance to apply their accumulated wealth and acquired skills to the home country. Theirs is a total lifetime, or working life, commitment.
    The FIGs would continue their remittances until such time as they have all their immediate family members with them. The remittances of this group are temporary unless they have other relatives to support at an expectedly reduced level. Or, they decide to invest some of their money in a business or a home or condominium in the Philippines.
    The remittances from these two groups should continue to significantly prop up the Philippine economy.

    THE THIRD SCENARIO: The Overly-Optimistic Perspective (We Take Over the World, ha, ha, ha)
    Recently, I came upon an interesting article on the comparative population growth of countries around the world. In order to sustain its current population level, a country has to have 2,1 average population growth. Most industrialized countries in Europe including Canada and the US hover a little over the 1.1 growth. Even Japan and China are not growing enough. Obviously, this growth is not sufficient to sustain their level of population and economic viability. In the next decade or so, these countries would necessarily have to liberalize their immigration policies. Guess what? The Philippines would then be prepared to send in the troops – its millions of excess inhabitants to these foreign shores where millions of them have already secured a veritable beach head. This scenario takes the best of both worlds – a stable and progressive Philippines and an international support group of FIGs. There would no longer be any OFWs because everybody would become immigrant FIGs. Who knows, the future leaders of all leading countries in the world may someday have a FIG blood running in their veins. This would be a total and complete globalization of the Global Filipino!

    Being an eternal optimist, I lean more towards the second scenario and dream of the third. Let’s all be patient, after all Rome was not built overnight. The Philippines is still a relatively young country with lots of growing pains. Let’s all do our part in nation-building. Remember, you have no right to complain unless you have done your part to correct such deficiencies or inequities you are complaining about.


    (Sent by email)

  8. perry says:

    Hi Sal,

    Good analysis. Like you I’m an optimist. I haven’t given up on our motherland yet. I like the second scenario too. It’s more doable than the third.


  9. Mac Flores, Jr. says:

    I hope the Philippines will not be like Somalia, come what may.

    We are a Christian nation, Somalia is not. Our religious leaders will not make it happen, including our Muslim brothers in Mindanao.

    Despite the impoverish condition in the Philippines, we still have a functioning government: the executive, legislative and judiciary. The evils embedded in each branch do not outweigh the goodness inherent in a government ruled by law and not factional warlord outlaws known to rule Somalia.

    The Asean region and our Asian big brothers will always extend their helping hands to the Philippines for the sake of security and peace in the region. The Organization of African nations is not strong enough to help and discipline Somalia.

    The emerging political and economic presence of the OFWs and Filipino immigrants throughout the world will surely extend their helping hands to the mother country. Somalia does not have these skilled, managerial and educated manpower forces unlike the Filipinos.

  10. perry says:

    Dear Sir:

    It’s sad that you believed that the future of the Philippines is a Somalia like environment. The writer is a foreign-based organizqation is thought they can predict the future of the nation – just because our government specifically the House of Representatives does not believe in the RH bill.

    What is worst of this is that a fellow Filipino thought it is right so he is speading the news.

    What a shame. Study the matter first before you spead any news.

    John Santos
    (Sent by email)

  11. perry says:

    Hi John,

    My article is well-researched and backed up by studies made by professional organizations. Google Dr. Malcolm Potts on the recent forum in Manila which I mentioned in my article, “Somalia of Asia”:

    “Another factor that would put the Philippines into the category of “impoverished” countries like Somalia is runaway population growth. Dr. Malcolm Potts, a US-based demographer and health expert, said in a recent forum hosted by the Asia Society Philippine Foundation Incorporated in Metro Manila that “due to its ballooning population, there would be about 160 million Filipinos, from the estimated 94 million today, in the next 40 years which could pose a huge problem of how to feed, clothe, educate and house them.” Interestingly, he mentioned another “disturbing aspect” of the population problem: “About 600,000 babies were born in the past four months after President Aquino took over Malacañang on June 30” or 5,000 babies born every day.”

    Also google Philippines+Somalia and see the comparisons made.

    The Philippines used to be called the “Pearl of the Orient Seas.” Then it became the “Sick Man of Asia” during the Marcos years. Then it’s called the “Armpit of Asia” during the time of Gloria. If our leaders don’t get their act together, it would soon be the “Somalia of Asia.” The signs are there. The worst problem with some Pinoys is when they’re in denial. Try to look beyond the tip of your nose, my friend.


  12. Romeo Sirate says:

    People like John is a good example of what I commented on about the Filipinos being too ignorant to see what is really going on in our country. The 90 plus million people the government claimed to be the population of the Philippines is probably just a guesstimate (not a new word) knowing how the Philippine government do their reporting. Why can’t our people see that things are’nt really looking good for the future of our country. Filipinos really need to wise up and do it quickly or we might end up a lot worst than Somalia.

  13. tina berenguer peralta says:

    Dear Perry
    I agree with you, Perry. If we are in denial and do not see the writing on the wall or even the tea leaves formation, we cannot do the right things to prevent it from happening. We have to face up to the truth that we are a country in anarchy – laws are just suggestions, positions in government are not sought for civil service but for money making scheme. And Justice if it grinds at all, grinds almost to a halt. The population in general, especially the people in the provinces are discouraged from making any criticism because of threat of extra-judicial killings perpetrated by those in power. The army or police are sometimes used to do their dirty work. If that is not already Somalia, then we are heading there inexorably. Look at the case in Maguindanao. Can you even imagine how extremely horrific this massacre was? Only a person secure in the thought that he will not be made accountable for such a heinous crime because of his power and influence can do that. Megalomania! And that is the beginning of the decline of a country into lawlessness just like Somalia. And if the perpetrators of this heinous massacre will go free or get a jail sentence that is even less than the 40 years the two robbers got for sticking a knife to a taxi driver, then we will have already reached that tipping point or irreversibility. Good luck to us.

  14. The Filipino says:

    Dear Perry,

    I am a regular reader of your website but this thesis is, while not completely without foundation, alarmist and misses the mark. Chalk it up to my boundless optimism, but there’s a lot of things going on in the Philippines that augur well for its future.

    Take the national leadership for one. Noynoy is definitely NOT the Messiah that everyone has been waiting for. Trus, he lacks a lot of leadership skills and the “strong leader” image — two different problems bedeviling him — but he is also in a different league, from what I can tell. He’s NOT going to be Marcos, he’s NOT Erap, and he’s not GMA. Now, if he can just be half as effective as Ramos, the Philippines will outpace its problems, just by virtue of being right smack in the middle of a booming Asia.

    Two is the investment climate. The stock market is reaching all-time highs, the dollar reserves have never been higher, the local BPO industry just overtook India’s, and foreign investors are flocking right back. Just the other day, WSJ featured a planned Versace luxury hotel. Luxury brands are opening shop. Sure, the “luxury trend” is quite perverse given the poverty outside a few pockets of Manila, but still, that says something: i.e., Business is rocking in the Philippines. Remember what they say about money being able to buy everything except happiness? Well, big money men in the Philippines will buy peace and order (to a certain extent) if only out of their self-interest.

    Three is the people. Ms. Peralta’s view of the Filipino culture is very dark and almost painful to read. The good thing is, it’s not really accurate. There’s a lot of things good about the Filipino people. Check out this Q&A: http://askthepinoy.blogspot.com/2010/12/will-filipinos-ever-be-considered-model.html.

    From that blog post, you can see data about how Filipinos in the US have: (1) really high college graduation rates; (2) really impressive household income (next only to Asian Indians; and (3) ultra-low poverty rates. What do these data tell you? That as a people, our culture is not necessarily our problem, not a barrier to success. The barriers to success for the Philippines are clearly systems that work and the laws that get enforced. Of course, these are big barriers, but slowly, with 3 or 4 generations of Noynoy-type leaders, we should be able to right the listing ship. And the good thing is you have a few honorable guys in the national scene who have “it” after Noynoy’s term is over: Teodoro, Roxas, Robredo, to name a few.

    Lastly, the Philippines has us: OFWs and the Fil-Am diaspora, who have always proven to be its lifeline. We cannot stop sending remittance. Even second generation Fil-Ams show a remarkable sense of affinity and concern (see http://askthepinoy.blogspot.com/2010/11/why-does-philippines-suck.html). Somalia does not have a similar arrow in its quiver.

    I still have a lot to say but, for now, rest my case. Thanks for reading!

  15. Romeo Sirate says:

    If or when all these great things that Mr. Filipino mentioned in his comments are to happen, the real question is when. It’s true that Filipinos in the US or in other countries are doing well because of the opportunities afforded to them, but what about the Filipinos at home? It’s really no use to discuss these issues because some people will never see the overall picture. I’ll just wait and see because all I have is time. Will these good things happen in my lifetime, I doubt it?

  16. I like your way of writing! You should post more often.

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