A history lesson for Filipinos
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo
Inq7.net 2005-03-27
From all indications, they are a great race. They have produced some of the finest minds in the planet. They are resourceful, inventive, and hardy. Their capacity for absorbing the most severe and trying challenges is legendary. They are noted for having very strong family bonds and are extremely proud of their hospitality. In their region, when a mighty imperial power once dominated the world around them, they were the first to successfully fight it. Because of local limitations, they were compelled to go around the world to seek a better life and today you will find them almost everywhere.
Do you think I am describing the Filipinos? No, I am not. I am describing the highlights of the history of the Scottish race.

The telephone was invented by Alexander Graham-Bell, the television by John Logie Braid, the adhesive stamp by John Chalmers, the bicycle by Kirkpatrick MacMillan, the penicillin by Alexander Fleming, the anesthetic by Sir James Young Simpson and all of them were Scots.

The capitalist economy was founded on the laissez faire doctrine of Adam Smith, a Scot. The fathers of the US and Russian navies were Scots John Paul Jones and Samuel Grieg.

Literature is richer because of the creative minds and contributions of Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Walter Scott, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Burns – all Scots. James Bond was created by Ian Fleming and Sean Connery first starred as the top spy; both creator and star – Scots.

At the peak of the expansion of the Roman Empire, the Scots successfully resisted Roman conquest. Two Roman legions that were sent as an advance column to Scotland vanished without a trace – no bones, no armor, no signs of battle to suggest what became of them. The mighty Romans lost their nerve and zest for conquering Scotland and instead built Hadrian’s Wall; running 73 miles of open country ‘to separate Romans from the barbarians.’ At the peak of the British Empire, the Scottish regiments were considered elite forces. Napoleon used to regard them with a great deal of respect and called them “Amazons” because of the kilt that they proudly wore as uniform. During World War I, the Germans used to call the Scots the “Ladies from Hell” and that reflects the fear that the Scots struck in the hearts of their enemies.

The logical question that arises after having considered the collective talent and valor of the Scottish race is – how come it was the English (otherwise known as a nation of shopkeepers) who became the dominant nation in the UK and not the Scots? The reason is simple. For the most part of their history, the Scots were not united and were very badly led.

William Wallace (of movie “Braveheart” fame) inspired Scottish patriotism. After his death, King Robert the Bruce built on that inspiration and the Scots eventually won their independence from England in the battlefield of Bannockburn. However, before and after Wallace and Bruce, Scotland was plagued by a succession of bad kings. Not only were they badly led for the most part but the Scots were also fighting among themselves most of the time. Clan wars tended to decide which side Scottish clans will fight on. The clan feuds between MacGregors and Campbells, MacDonalds and Macleods, Douglases and Leslies easily found Scots fighting on the side of the English in a war between Scotland and England. Highland and Lowland Scotland was less of a geographic divide but more of a mental one.

Now this comes very close to home doesn’t it?

Like the Scots, we have our own fair share of inventors and some of the best regarded literary minds of Asia. Jose Rizal is regarded as the first towering hero of the Malay race. Filipinos were the first Asians to wage a successful war of independence against a colonial power, only to see their revolution stolen by the Americans who by the late 19th century were spreading their imperial wings. We too have one of the closest family bonds in the world and the poorest Filipino will offer his last chicken in the yard to a guest as a measure of the open heart that marks traditional Filipino hospitality.

Until 1965 we were proud to be the showcase of democracy in Asia and economically we were second only to Japan in all Asia. Contrary to what many now say about us, greatness is not an elusive dream of this country but a legacy of a once proud past that pathetic leaders and national discord allowed to dissipate. Once envied, we are now laggards in a region of countries with phenomenal growth rates. Sitting atop a seething social volcano, this once showcase-of-democracy in Asia now cavorts with options not altogether democratic.

Like the Scots, our family and clan are our sources of great strength and weakness. We draw strength, support and solace from our family relations, making it possible to weather the most difficult economic crisis, even this one which has been ongoing for the past 20 years or so. But the same sense of strong family and clan can bring harm when this rebuffs greater national interest. Exactly what has been happening to our society for the past five decades.

A lot of people were surprised at how Filipinos had survived the devastating aftermath of the 1983 Ninoy Aquino assassination. This was the time when loss of investor confidence and capital flight brought the peso plummeting from P13 to US$1, to P28 to US$1. Through it all, the Filipino survived, thanks to a highly accommodating extended family system and the hidden magic of the underground economy. In the Filipino family system, members who are economically better situated typically share and help out other members who are not.

Filipinos made up their minds that it was high time that Marcos was removed from power but they still ate a decent meal and could afford the basic necessities in life. Filipinos were very angry then but hardly was a Filipino really hungry. In fact, EDSA I was not just People Power but also food power. There was enough food being shared in EDSA in 1986 to sustain a whole month of the revolt.

If only the Filipino’s love for his family extended to love for his country, the country would not be in its present sorry state. A Japanese client of mine in the 1980s gave me a glimpse of the nation-oriented Japanese psyche. He could not understand why rich people here could not even patch the ruts of the road fronting their homes. He could not understand why the Filipino rich could not even spare what could even be less than a month’s recreation budget to help a cash-strapped government.

The nationalistic fervor of the Japanese is well known. During World War II, Japanese Kamikaze pilots plunged to their deaths as they crashed their planes into enemy ships. In the 1960s, we used to observe how Japanese tourists would go to a foreign land to ride in Japanese buses and eat in Japanese restaurants – a joke and an exaggeration perhaps but a tribute to their nationalism.

This nationalistic spirit of the Japanese sets off in contrast our worst failings; our failure to work together for the country, our failure to rise above our selfish interest, our failure to unite, our failure to be a functional nation. Some smart aleck Americans brag that had they not “liberated” us in 1945, we would all be speaking Japanese by now. Considering the bad habits we got from Americans and the good Japanese traits we sorely needed to emulate, it may have been to our best interest if we had not been “liberated” (I use “liberated” because the US merely retook US territory – a case of one conqueror ousting another).

But are we hopeless? We certainly are not! We are certainly not hopeless when we consider how many years it took nations who are considered to the world’s most progressive countries today to get where they are now. Western Europe went through over 1,500 years of wars before they got to the level of development they enjoy today. China went through a worse experience for over 100 years than what we are undergoing today. Our difficulties have only been with us for no more than four decades. Let’s not forget that we were number 2 in Asia until 1965 so it is not as if we are destined to wallow at the bottom forever.

But we will remain in the pits unless we rise above ourselves. We have to love more than just our family and see the bigger picture outside of our domiciles. We have to learn how to relate with the 82 million others who call themselves Filipinos, share a common aspiration and a common course with them. We have to know our history, who our real friends are, who are the ones exploiting us and most important of all – learn from our mistakes and our successes.

Otherwise, we will remain trapped between what has been and what could have been.

You may email William M. Esposo at: w_esposo@yahoo.com

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