A K-drama lesson and red-tagging

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - December 5, 2020 - 12:00am

I have been hooked on this Korean drama (K-drama) entitled “Start-Up” for over a week now on Netflix. I don’t watch K-drama as much as many of my friends younger and a bit older than me do. But a social media post by Filipino director Jose Javier Reyes intrigued me enough to start watching one of the K-dramas he mentioned.

The director wrote on his Facebook page: “Start-Up is about setting up businesses. It’s Ok Not to be Ok is about mental health. Life is about health care and business. Itaewon Class is about dignity in ambition. Sky Castle is about parents and education. Record of Youth is about choices in life and the sacrifices you make. THIS is KDRAMA TODAY.”

While our own Filipino drama series still show more of the same story line: babies get switched in the hospital, a lost diary, a mistress straight from hell, curly-haired female villain versus a heroine with hair stretched tight, botched kidnappings, all rich people are evil, etc., Reyes added.

Filipinos are known to be creative. We do not lag behind our Asian neighbors in that department. What we lack is a suitable ecosystem that supports creativity. And the K-drama ‘Start-Up’ inadvertently makes that contrasting point to a Filipino audience.

‘Start-Up’ tells the more than the story of people in Korea’s excellent start-up ecosystem, but it does highlight in visually-stunning style the existence of such ecosystem. A start-up is a business at the earliest stage at which venture capital investors provide funds usually on the basis of a sound business plan.

Korea’s start-up ecosystem has been described as one of the most active and well-designed systems in the world, attracting the attention of not just homegrown investors like Samsung and LG but also Silicon Valley companies like Google. Its government also plays a major role in the start-up ecosystem, actively making large funds available for start-ups to grow into the scale-up stage. South Korea is also the world’s most connected country with the fastest average internet connection.

This developed status was, of course, achieved when South Korea successfully reformed its agrarian structure (land reform) as a solid base for national industrialization. It likewise prudently used loaned funds to develop its industries. Notably, land reform and industrialization are two unresolved issues young activists are still shouting for in the streets today.

Yet we scowl at these young people: Shut up and be model employees and unquestioning followers of authorities. We kill their idealism by feeding on a paranoia that these young activists may surely be flirting with communism. We expect the youth to be creative and innovative but are intolerant of their restlessness. We allow them to be red-tagged by incompetent bureaucrats and sycophants dipping into a pool of intel funds. 

Red-tagging is an ad hominem, the lowest form of argument. It subverts our common desire to find solutions to our nation’s problems as it distracts us from tackling the merits of the real issues that matter. In a corrupt system like ours, government officials who red-tag and threaten activists are akin to philandering husbands trying to straighten out their rebellious children, wondering why the home is so much broken.

After following one of those K-drama series for over a week, I know now why some of my activist-friends are ardent followers of K-drama. Aside from their refreshing and unexpected plotlines, K-dramas are mind enriching. They offer historical lessons and socially-relevant angles. The K-drama ‘Start-Up’, for example, shows what can be achieved if a country knows how to nurture the potential of its young people through a culture of meritocracy and leveling the playing field, as opposed to the culture of ‘palakasay’ (pulling strings).

In fairness to the government, we do have a few bright spots here in the Philippines when it comes to developing an excellent start-up ecosystem. The Department of Trade and Industry has been very supportive in the establishment of fabrication laboratories (Fablabs) and maker spaces in the country. There are now Fablabs in Cebu located in UP Cebu and Cebu Technical University. The DOST Philippine Council for Industry, Energy and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIERD) is also providing start-up research grants and other funding programs. It also has its Young Innovators Program to further encourage the youth to delve into scientific research.

But these programs do not make an entire ecosystem. We need to fix an entire corrupted system before we even come close to competing with Asian tigers.


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