It is how people think, more than the stuff that lines their pockets, that spells the difference between those who live in first world countries and those from the third world. Factors such as education and attitude determine a nation’s fortune or misfortune.
As the world’s leading supplier of manpower resource, the Filipino may indeed seem to be not too way behind when it comes to education. While it is true that our standard of education deteriorated when our economy dipped, it is also true that we have managed to remain competitive in some respects. What sets us back is more of our attitude.
Attitude has always been a key factor to success or failure and it certainly has been so for us as a country. We can blame a good part of our political, economic and social problems on our attitude as a people which, admittedly, has been conditioned to a large extent by exploitation – be it of the colonial or neo-colonial kind. But it is time we stopped finding who to blame and instead start doing something about our problem.
Southeast Asian neighbors – Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand – have all outpaced us because they had recognized and accepted the reality of their national problems early on and had all worked together as a people to overcome them. In the words of Canadian author Orlando A. Battista: “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.”
In contrast, we basked in the splendor of being number two in Asia in the 60s and remained in an indefinite suspended euphoria. While our Asian neighbors fortified themselves, we chose to take it easy, in our own characteristic “bahala na” (que sera, sera) style. When we eventually reached a point so extreme that we had no choice but to awake from our state of denial, we finally learned to accept the sordid truth about our economic and social misery. But instead of taking steps to resolve our crisis, we entered a new stage of denial, this time, taking cover in the illusion that there are simpler and easier solutions.
Like a sick man refusing to accept the reality of his brain tumor at its initial stage, we try to deny the headaches until the tumor enlarges and the pain forces itself. Rather than taking the effective but radical step of surgery, we prefer to wait in hope that we will be blessed with the miracle cure of faith healing or herbal quick fixes.
Forty years ago, the Philippines held second rank in economic performance in Asia. Our neighbors recognized our advantage in education by sending their children to our schools. Today, we are far behind Thailand in agriculture, behind Malaysia in manufacturing and behind Singapore in services and technology. Despite Singapore’s smallness, it has outpaced us in tourism. Now, the former “students” can be our mentors. It hurts our national pride but it does not serve our cause to deny that we have a suffered a reversal.
Denial is a national malaise of the Filipino, one that has been shaped by historical and cultural realities.
We had at one time even denied being a colony of Spain, preferring to live out the illusion that we were part of the Iberian landscape. Even our own heroes of that period debated on whether we were fighting for independence from Spain or were seeking reform in the way Spain administered the colony. Even today, a good 60 years since we had officially severed ties with the United States of America, there are Filipinos – in fact many of them – who still think that Filipinos and Americans share one and the same national destiny and that what is good for the United States is likewise good for the Philippines. To this day, there are many Filipinos who perceive nationalism as though it were some kind of a radical fundamentalist ideology that is as bad for the country as it is bad for US interests.
We have to admit that we suffer as a people from a warped sense of “hiya” – the Filipino’s great fear of being embarrassed and losing face. The Filipino will spend beyond his means to celebrate the town fiesta so that he can appear to be in step with his neighbors. Many Filipinos will dress to flaunt – hoping that the status symbol identified with expensive brands would rub off on their own stature in society. They think that having a Mercedes Benz that they cannot afford will buy them more respect than owning a much more inexpensive Toyota model which would have allowed them to purchase a house and lot.
We cannot get ourselves to go from here to there because we do not want to admit where we are, which marks the actual starting line of our journey to better things.
We even deny to ourselves that we are Filipinos. There was a survey done in the not too distant past that showed a shockingly big number of Filipinos who would have preferred to be another national, Filipinos who actually wished that they were born to another country and race. Filipino travelers would rather own another passport for fear of being associated with the image of Filipino domestics who now work all over the world. Nobody, it seems, wants to be a Filipino. Are we surprised if foreign investors do not want to invest in our country?
Poor Philippines – she has altogether lost the affection of her own people. We must wonder how we will get out of this black hole that we found ourselves in due to our attitude towards our duties as Filipinos. Really, to be frank about it, I think there are more Ilocanos who love Ilocos, Cebuanos who love Cebu, Tagalogs who love Rizal, Ilonggos who love Iloilo, Bicolanos who love Bicol than there are Filipinos who love the Philippines.
It does not surprise me at all that Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo could do all these things that she has done to us – steal the presidential elections of 2004, plunge the country into its worst fiscal crisis, violate the relationship of our institutions with that infamous EO 464, repress our freedom of assembly and free speech through CPR, lie and prevent us from seeking the truth. I resigned from her campaign team in 1997, when she had her sights on the 1998 presidency, because I saw that she was not the president that I would want to be associated with. History proved me right. I find it shocking that as stockholders of the country Filipinos do not actively exercise their option to remove this president.
What puzzles many political watchers like me is the fact that surveys affirm strong recognition that we have a very bad president. Survey after survey confirmed that close to 80% think that Ms Arroyo stole the 2004 elections and over 65% want her removed. Yet despite that, we hear only simple declarations of disgust.
Have we become a nation of wishful thinkers and love of country is now just a part of our daydream? Is the Filipino of today paralyzed from coming to the rescue of his country in crisis? Are we the same breed of Filipinos descended from those who had fought valiantly against the Spaniards and after them, the Americans and the Japanese? Are there no Gregorio del Pilars among the youth of today?
In my generation, I saw the heroism of my former classmate, Edgar Jopson, who abandoned the comforts of city life to take to the hills, fight the Marcos dictatorship and eventually lay down his life for the cause he believed in. In our grade school days at the Ateneo, Ed’s diminutive frame did not project the “gigantic” attributes of strength of spirit and fortitude. It was when Ed recited Marc Antony’s funeral oration in front of our class in 5th grade that gave us an advance notion that this small bit of a guy before us was made for greater things. Too bad we no longer have the likes of Ed Jopson among our youths today.
Great nations were carved from people’s struggles. The UK, Germany, France, all went through more than 3,000 years of wars, from within and from without. Their history should teach Filipinos that salvation can’t be had by wishful thinking, no pain no gain. Nor can national salvation be attained only by prayers. Other than prayer, great nations have one other thing in common – when it was so required, they were always ready to give their all for country. Winston Churchill lauded the British people’s sacrifice of ‘blood, sweat and tears’ that kept the United Kingdom standing up to the German juggernaut in the early years of World War II.
Look at the Europeans today. Even at the peak of their national prosperity, they are quick to register their dissent whenever their leaders deviate from their mandate or commit a grievous mistake, especially one that is willfully done. After the British realized that US president George W. Bush had duped the UK and the rest of the world in going into the Iraq War, they poured out into the streets to demonstrate their outrage in London at the time Bush was visiting. Mothers pushing their baby cribs were there to show their sentiments at how a war can be so fickly launched under the cover of outright lies. In contrast, mothers here are the first to dissuade their sons and daughters from taking an active part in public demonstrations and rallies.
These prosperous nations fought for every economic advantage and benefit they now enjoy. They enjoy responsive leadership because they have impressed upon their leaders that the people are the stockholders and they, the leaders, are mere directors and managers who work for the stockholders. The culture of accountability is so pervasive in Europe. In France, for example, a bad wine harvest, even if this is due to unfavorable weather, could be cause for the removal of the party in power.
Here, we are treated like serfs in the olden days in Europe when feudal barons used to enjoy the first night with wedded virgins. People in the world who are still living under monarchies are likely to get better respect from their kings than what we get from our leaders. I don’t think the British queen, the Scandinavian or the Thai kings treat their subjects the way Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has been treating us, virtually spitting on our faces when she lied about running and then stole the 2004 elections. In Taiwan and South Korea, we may see fisticuffs erupt in their parliaments but they do not dare display such a betrayal of their people’s trust as what Joe de Venecia and his ilk did to the impeachment case in congress.
Yes, we have the misfortune of having people like Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Joe de Venecia running the country – to the ground if I might add. But they are emboldened to do what they do because they know that we will simply curse and do nothing more. Ask yourself: If we were anything like the British in registering their dissent when their government steps out of bounds, will these people persist with what they are doing? You and I may brand them rotten to the core. But when they are still around to do what they are doing, there is nobody to blame except us – the stockholders who do not exercise our rights to hire and fire our directors and managers.
Heck, we did not even “hire” this president! She stole this term that she is now holding. Can you imagine the stockholders of a major multi-national company that owns a global brand simply allowing a usurper who they did not appoint as CEO to continue to hold office and mismanage their company? That CEO will not only be out of office but will be thrown in jail.
You may email William M. Esposo at: firstname.lastname@example.org