Janina San Miguel critics demonstrated our damaged culture
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-03-18
Binibining Pilipinas Miss World winner, Janina San Miguel, got so much flak she did not deserve when she stumbled for words in English to answer a question from one of the pageant judges.

Media, as well as those with two cents to peddle, jumped in to crucify the poor 17-year-old lass, as though Filipina contestants were expected to speak affected call center English.

This reaction only demonstrated Filipino damaged culture.

In countries with a strong sense of nationhood, Janina San Miguel would be expected to speak the national language. Japan and South Korea have always taken pride in speaking their own language. Quite naturally, they think and feel as one people and thus easily and quickly recovered from extreme situations such as war.

Although students in Japan and South Korea endeavor to learn foreign languages, they do this to advance their businesses and careers, rather than shed their own cultural identity. For these countries, using English as the medium of instruction is unthinkable.

It does not strike us that the successes of Japan and South Korea stemmed from their people’s strong sense of nationalism. Here, we are not even in touch with our own history. We teleport ourselves to cultures not our own and try to outdo the people of these cultures in their own language. Then we pat ourselves on the back because this is our idea of achievement.

The most pathetic of Janina’s critics was Ruffa Gutierrez who tried to score points at Janina’s expense. Ruffa Gutierrez couldn’t care less if she was demonstrating her own version of the Filipino damaged culture just as she couldn’t care less if her life’s dirty linen were exposed in media.

To her credit, Charlene Gonzalez did not find Janina’s slip with the English language as something to be ashamed of. She even cited the case of many Latina beauty pageant winners who spoke in either Spanish or Portuguese through translators. They spoke in the language they were most comfortable with and the language gap did not impede their triumphs.

James Fallows, as early as 1987, spotted this grievous wound in the Filipino soul — our damaged culture. “If the problem in the Philippines does not lie in the people themselves or, it would seem, in their choice between capitalism and socialism, what is the problem? I think it is cultural, and that it should be thought of as a failure of nationalism,” Fallows wrote.

Fallows added that the absence of nationalism “can be even worse, if that leaves people in the grip of loyalties that are even narrower and more fragmented. When a country with extreme geographic, tribal, and social-class differences, like the Philippines, has only a weak offsetting sense of national unity, its public life does become the war of every man against every man.”

Fallows also noted the difference between us and the Japanese. He said: “Japan is strong in large part because its nationalist-racial ethic teaches each Japanese that all other Japanese deserve decent treatment. Non-Japanese fall into a different category. Individual Filipinos are at least as brave, kind, and noble-spirited as individual Japanese, but their culture draws the boundaries of decent treatment much more narrowly.”

He compared our culture with that of the Mafia. “The mutual tenderness among the people of Smoky Mountain is enough to break your heart. But when observing Filipino friendships I thought often of the Mafia families portrayed in The Godfather: total devotion to those within the circle, total war on those outside. Because the boundaries of decent treatment are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at least 90 percent of the people in the country. And because of this fragmentation ‑ this lack of nationalism — people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.” Fallows observed.

What Fallows wrote in 1987 even applies to our problem today.

He noted: “For more than a hundred years certain traits have turned up in domestic descriptions and foreign observations of Philippine society. The tradition of political corruption and cronyism, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the tribal fragmentation, the local elite’s willingness to make a separate profitable peace with colonial powers — all reflect a feeble sense of nationalism and a contempt for the public good. Practically everything that is public in the Philippines seems neglected or abused.”

“This is a country where the national ambition is to change your nationality,” Fallows was told by an American who volunteered at Smokey Mountain.

“There is not necessarily a commitment by the upper class to making the Philippines successful as a nation,” Fallows was told by a foreign banker. “If things get dicey, they’re off, with their money,” the foreign banker added.

Isn’t it pathetic that it had to be a foreigner like James Fallows who recognized this cancer that eats into the very core of our cultural fiber?

Before we can get rid of the oligarchs who exploited us to impoverishment, we must first rid ourselves of everything that contribute to our damaged culture.

  Previous Columns:

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Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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