Rodel E. Rodis, September 8, 2008
While there was considerable discussion in cyberspace about the issue of a name change for the Philippines, it was generally limited only to the Filipino chattering class, those folks who regularly express their opinions in various blogs and e-list groups. Most Filipinos are generally apathetic to this issue partly because it would be at or near the bottom of their list of priorities and partly because of lack of information.
Do most Filipinos care that millions of their Moro brothers and sisters in Mindanao and Sulu have never considered themselves “Filipinos” because they successfully resisted Spanish colonial efforts to make them “Filipinos” (subjects of King Felipe)? Would not a new name that included and encompassed all the inhabitants of the 7,180 “Philippine” islands bring together those who were colonized by Spain and those who resisted colonial rule?
With indifference, we may never know. But could there be another reason for this seeming apathy? Do we possess some sense of “useful nationalism” that would make us concerned about the national interests?
An American writer for the Atlantic Monthly, James Fallows, visited the Philippines for six weeks in 1987 and wrote an article, A Damaged Culture, which remains one of the most painfully incisive articles about Filipino culture.
Do Filipinos have any loyalty to the nation and to the Filipino people? No,according to Fallows.“Filipinos pride themselves on their lifelong loyalty to family, schoolmates, compadres, members of the same tribe, residents of the same barangay... 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.”
After Fallows’ article appeared, Filipinos were quick to refute his sweeping allegations by citing as a prime example the People Power revolution that overthrew the Marcos Dictatorship in 1986.
Fallows anticipated this argument: “The EDSA revolution seems emotionally so important in the Philippines not only because it got rid of Marcos but also because it demonstrated a brave, national-minded spirit. I would like to agree with the Filipinos that those four days revealed the country's spiritual essence. To me, though, the episode seems an exception, even an aberration.”
In reviewing Philippine history, Fallows found that “the Spanish hammered home the idea of Filipino racial inferiority, discouraging the native indios from learning the Spanish language and refusing to consecrate them as priests. (The Spanish are also said to have forbidden the natives to wear tucked-in shirts, which is why the national shirt, the barong tagalog, is now worn untucked, in a rare flash of national pride.) As in Latin America, the Spanish friars taught that religion was a matter of submission to doctrine and authority, rather than of independent thought or gentleness to strangers in daily life.”
After 330 years of Spanish rule, the Filipinos waged a revolutionary war for independence from Spain which succeeded but was thwarted by the American occupation of the Philippines in 1899. “The United States quickly earned or bought the loyalty of the ilustrados, the educated upper class, making them into what we would call collaborationists if the Germans or Japanese had received their favors,” Fallows wrote.
Once in control of the country, the United States “rammed through a number of laws insisting on free "competition' between American and Philippine industries, at a time when Philippine industries were in no position to compete with anyone. The countries that have most successfully rebuilt their economies, including Japan and Korea, went through extremely protectionist infant-industry phases, with America's
blessing; the United States never permitted the Philippines such a period. The Japanese and Koreans now believe they can take on anybody; the confidence of Filipino industrialists seems to have been permanently destroyed,” observed Fallows.
“In deeper and more pernicious ways Filipinos seem to have absorbed the idea that America is the center and they are the periphery,” wrote Fallows. “Much local advertising plays to the idea that if it's American, it's better. "It's got that stateside taste!' one grinning blonde model says in a whiskey ad. An ad for Ban deodorant warns, "Hold It! Is your deodorant making your skin dark?' The most glamorous figures on TV shows are generally light-skinned and sound as if they grew up in Los Angeles…This is a country where the national ambition is to change your nationality.”
Was Fallows attacking the character and integrity of Filipinos?
Fallows pointed out early on in his essay that the problems he observed were not caused by “any inherent defect in the people: outside this culture they thrive. Filipino immigrants to the United States are more successful than immigrants from many other countries.”
Fallows believes that the problem of the Philippines is cultural and “it should be thought of as a failure of nationalism.”
“Nationalism can of course be divisive, when it sets people of one country against another. But its absence 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.”
Don't shoot the messenger.
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