IN one of the many holidays my wife and I spent in Australia way back in the 1990s, I chanced upon a television talk show discussing that great Aussie paranoia – the Indonesian threat. How this imagined threat came about escapes me. Indonesia had never shown hostility against Australia nor had it staked any claim to Australian territory that I could think of. Yet, the fear of an ‘imminent’ Indonesian invasion seemed as real to Australians as kangaroos and dingoes.
I first heard of the Indonesian scare from an Australian, a former vice-president of MCA Universal Television who I did a lot of business with. Many trips later to that lovely land down under only served to confirm what he told me.
The collective anxiety seems understandable, considering that there are over 200 million Indonesians to only about 20 million Australians. Is it perhaps because most Australians are immigrants and are therefore aware that they had once upon a time been ‘invaders’? Does this make them feel vulnerable, imagining that neighboring Indonesia may lay claim on their land the way the Chinese made a claim on the Philippine Spratley Islands?
The Australian television talk show featured a retired general, whose name I can’t remember. The talk show host tried to hype on the issue about the Indonesian threat, but the general dismissed it. That of course will not be the last instance when media will try to exploit people’s fears in order to attract an audience. The general eventually succeeded in dismissing the ridiculous notion of an Indonesian threat when he said: “The real threat to Australia is not Indonesia but Australian Social Security”. In Australia, the nagging issue is that the employed are bled for taxes that are used to subsidize Social Security freeloaders.
This reminds me of the same predicament of Filipinos who have the wrong notion about the national problem and often end up rallying behind the wrong solutions. The Filipino’s biggest stumbling block – his biggest enemy – is himself. Not knowing what his real problem is or who his real enemies are, many Filipinos are caught clinging to false hopes and trusting false messiahs.
Among the most telling of these encultured counter-productive mindsets of many of our countrymen are the following:
Democracy is the cure all
The Filipino is stuck in the belief that democracy and elections are the answers to the nation’s problems. The truth is – most Filipinos don’t really know what democracy is and how every Citizen should act for democracy to work. The freedom to vote is not democracy. Democracy is the freedom of the majority to set and enforce their own policy on how their country should be run. In a democracy, the people, and not the elected public officials are the rulers.
Blind trust in America
We continue to look up to the US as our “Great White Father” – benevolent, kind, trustworthy, and one who will always look after our interest. Look at the many Filipinos who so willingly backed the Iraq War of George W. Bush, not realizing that this runs contrary to our interest as a country with millions of OFWs in the Middle East providing the single biggest relief to our financial woes. The trusting Native Americans once regarded the US as the “Great White Father” – and they ended up victims nearing total annihilation.
From their perspective, the US deals with the Philippines as befits American interests and there is nothing wrong with that. That is called patriotism. What is wrong is how our leaders acquiesce to overtures of the US with an almost blind trust and naiveté or their outright disregard for Philippine national interest if kowtowing to the US gives them a personal gain. That is called treason. When we deal with the US, we must deal with them as one corporation does with another and as only our own national interest dictates.
Our parochial and tribal perspectives
We have not risen above our parochial, tribal loyalties to allow us to have a sense of love for country. Many foreigners who are regular visitors to the Philippines tell me that Filipinos have an inordinate sense of affinity to family, clan and hometown but not for country. Rather than identify with national undertakings, most Filipinos prefer to be involved with local affairs in their barrios, towns or province. Cebuanos, for instance, rebel against adopting a national language that comes from Tagalog.
Not knowing our real friends and enemies
Because many of us don’t seem to know what it takes to be a nationalist, it is too easy to call every militant advocate for nationalist causes a communist. Even in America, particularly during the McCarthy era of the early 1950s, the Red Scare had been overused to defend and protect selfish interests. Our affinity to Uncle Sam rubbed off on many Filipinos who are similarly quick to brand nationalist cause-oriented advocates as ‘commies’ even if by doing this, they are inadvertently fostering the interests of some other foreign country. The fact that it is so easy for us to rally behind the Benedict Arnolds and Quislings in our midst and to deride our genuine heroes only goes to show how far away we are from being a nation.
Our penchant for the quick fix
We tend to go for quick fixes. We cheer when more and more Filipinos find jobs overseas and can send money home to ease our financial troubles. But we have not done anything to set our house in order to create a healthy local climate for investment and job pursuits at home. In contrast, our ASEAN neighbors have managed to advance way ahead of us. They have done their homework and have built the necessary infrastructures to magnetize investments and create jobs. As our neighbors preen their feathers to tackle the world, we go merrily about with our ‘pwede na yan’ (that will do) standard of mediocrity.
Many years ago, today’s fastest growing economy had declared Mandarin as the national language, effectively unifying all of China and its poverty-stricken and linguistically diverse population. As for us, well, we thought that the English language gave us a shorter way to conquering the world, never mind if we were derisively referred to as ‘little brown Americans’. Remember a few years back how we raised a diplomatic row when a European confectioner named his chocolate cream-filled product ‘Filipino’ because it was brown outside and white inside? Why did we even bother to raise a fuss when it was obviously because of our own doing that the outside world perceived us as such?
Still we debate the issues on what comprises the Filipino nation and then place our hopes on the altars of the Almighty Quick Fix. Like a drug habit, we have turned ourselves into a nation of junkies living by the day and yet not raising a finger to rehabilitate ourselves or rise above our sorry plight. Unless we make our democracy work to serve the welfare of the people, we can only allow ourselves to get trampled deeper and deeper into the rut by the vultures and opportunists in our midst.
Hope that God will do our work for us
Many of our countrymen are plagued by what George Bernard Shaw wrote – “To Trust to God to do the work that we should do ourselves”. This is perhaps one of our most twisted values. Religion is not supposed to work this way. Even the Catholic Church has never made indolence a criterion for sainthood. This makes me wonder why many Filipinos continue to think like Juan Tamad waiting for the guava to fall.
We are asked to fall on our knees in fervent prayer and repentance so that God will support us through our period of crisis. We can all spend the next two weeks on our knees praying and I can wager all my savings this will only make our problems worse after all that loss of manpower hours and productivity. What do we need to repent for in the first place when it is the failed leadership of this country that brought us to this mess! We cannot repent for the plunderers or those who conspired to steal elections. There is a time for prayer and a time for work. These days what are most needed are man-hours – set in the proper direction.
Not knowing our history
We suffer the curse of not knowing our history and worse, the curse of not bothering to know about it. Unless we know where we came from, we cannot set ourselves on the right direction. Without knowing who our enemies are, we can only find ourselves victim to all the rape and abuse, both virtual and real, for generations to come.
Medical science teaches us that unless the cause of an infection or pain is determined, there is little chance for a severe illness to be cured. Even if the illness is cancer, a specific cure for cancer of the prostate will not work for cancer of the lungs. Alcohol is good for cleaning a skin surface and preventing infection but alcohol cannot cure what is already infected. The same science also tells us that we do not run to an ophthalmologist when it is our kidney that is sick – we go to a nephrologist.
The same thing happens to a people who do not know their history. Not knowing our history is like medicating the wrong disease. We only waste time and money and we risk aggravating our health condition. That is how our socio-economic condition got worse. Not knowing our history, we end up like the poor patient who resorted to seeking cure from the “arbularyo” (quack doctor) for his worsening cancer.
The Joseph Estradas and the Fernando Poes that our system has produced are the “arbularyos” of many Filipinos. They are the false messiahs who feast on the false hopes of the masses who do not know and understand the conditions that keep them in their never ending cycle of poverty.