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An unreliable people?

Giotto - Scrovegni - -31- - Kiss of JudasRecent reports of how Duterte would not want to insist on the island claims filed before the UNCLOS (link), about how a Chinese plane recently landed in Davao (link), its course even clearly evidenced (link), his alleged wanting to have railways in exchange for giving up sovereignty, even his climate change statements calling Western countries hypocrites which is a stance China used to pronounce – but wanting to set up steel factories that might for all we know be Chinese and help China get rid of its own smog – seem to show once again a historical Filipino pattern of treachery:

  • the Claveria decree for Filipino surnames in the 19th century mentioned three surnames that were not to be given: Tupas, Raja Matanda and Mojica. Those that had been given special exemptions by King Philipp II in exchange for selling their own people to Spain. Tupas of Cebu, Raja Matanda of Manila and Mojica who I think was Kapampangan.
  • the betrayal by Paterno and Buencamino during the Philippine-American war is generally known now thanks to the Heneral Luna movie. Veteran commenter Mariano Renato Pacifico never fails to mention the Pact of Biak-na-Bato with the Spanish by Aguinaldo in 1897, and it is known how he came back on a US ship in 1898 after asking for American assistance. Macabebe scouts arrested Aguinaldo, which was the start of the often purported claim that Kapampangans are traitors. I think there is an older tribal Tagalog-Pampango rivalry at work sometimes.
  • that many Filipino politicians collaborated with the Japanese is known – names like Laurel, Roxas, Aquino and yes, Mariano Marcos come to mind. But the worst was Artemio Ricarte, who came back with the Japanese. His supporters, known as Ricartistas, were a very loud group in the 1910s. He was anti-American to the hilt, and Ricartistas were often Manila street toughs. Ricarte was involved in the foundation of the MAKAPILI who betrayed Filipino guerillas. Dutertistas are also often tough guy types. History rhymes, said Mark Twain.

There are those who say Manuel Roxas I sold out to the USA after the war and passed laws that favored his own sugar interests. There are those who think President Aquino has been making deals with the Malaysians and MILF on the BBL. What is sure is that Marcos was a darling of certain groups within the United States before and they dropped him after he became a liability. What I also think is sure is that the USA of today is a manageable partner for the Philippines. But what kind of international partner is the Philippines if there seem to be so many who will sell out anytime?

The Balkan peoples

Being in Germany and having had contact with numerous people from Southeastern Europe has its advantages. One gets to know many mentalities. A Serb once told me:

“The battle of Kosovo showed the best and the worst in our people. The heroism of some, and the betrayal of those generals who sold out to the Turks”

Kosovo of 1389, the legendary battle where traditional Serb nationalists will blindly see only heroism. But a statement by a Bulgarian makes things even more interesting:

“Our army was about to invade the Turks, but the Serbs came from behind to help the Turks and so our independence failed in the 19th century”

Romania is another country not really Balkan anymore, but was under the yoke of Turkish rule for about as long as Filipinos under Spain. A Romanian once told me:

“We Romanians were like snakes in World War 2. Allied with the Germans first, then switched sides to ally with Russia when the Germans were losing”

Romanians had a hard history, much like Filipinos. Because of that, many of them are survivor types. Caring first and foremost for their own families, a few ready to do nearly anything for them.

Yet they today have President who, even if he could have availed of German citizenship easily as an ethnic German, chose to stay in Romania. Klaus Iohannis, a school teacher. History rhymes.

Florante at Laura

was a poem by Balagtas. I hardly remember most of it. It was in very hard, old Tagalog and was not taught well to us. But I do remember it was about a Christian prince in Albania, tied to a tree to be eaten by lions. He laments about how in his woeful country, “kagalinga’t bait” – capability and goodness – do not matter. A Muslim prince rescues him, the rest of the story is a bit confused. Probably Francisco Baltazar, who wrote his poem in jail, knew very little about the Balkan. But replace Albania with the Philippines, and the Ottomans with Spain, and you have some parallels.

Yet is is hard for people who have been under an oppressive yoke for so long to learn how to work together, to trust one another again. The Bulgarian I mentioned already once told me this

“The Romanians are thieves, the Greeks are hypocrites, the Serb is your brother but he waits for you with a knife”

We all know how things went in what used to be Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Well, the Philippines has Mindanao which has been a place full of unrest for so long.

Duterte is seen as being close to the NPA, which are known to be Maoist. Like in former Yugoslavia, you often don’t know who is one what side there or in the entire Philippines.

And what people often say about the respective “other” sometimes echoes the Balkan examples I mentioned. Finally, how can a country get its act together and not fall prey or fall apart?

Regaining true pride

there is a lot of “Filipino pride” around, but where is it when it truly counts? Guess true pride would be more like what a Romanian migrant told me before leaving Germany for good:

“The other Europeans see us as garbage all the time. Time to prove them wrong.”

The anti-corruption drive of President Klaus, the seriousness of the anti-corruption directorate (link) and most importantly the people went on the street to oust Prime Minister Ponta last fall, who has cases similar to those against Vice-President Jejomar Binay, show that the people of Romania have found true pride. I was in Bucharest in times when dangerous strays still were in the streets.

Some Americans now call Bucharest the new Havana of Eastern Europe. For sure the Romanians are mainly Latin, passionate, fun people just like the Cubans who live in a warmer climate. I know a number of Cubans as well – of all colors. They too had a hard time. Spanish first then the USA like the Philippines. But somehow there always was a direction, the worst crook they had was I think Batista and he did not last. The Cubans had a longer revolution than the Philippines, who just started when they saw Spain weakened by Cuban revolution and Spanish-American war.

Today Cuba is finding a new relationship with the United States, have a well-trained workforce and an excellent system of healthcare (link) which all is a foundation for a better future. They are still socialist in name like Vietnam, but both of these countries may find more investment in the long-term than the Philippines. Because Filipinos are seen as unpredictable and opportunistic. Finally, water seeks it own level. Partners seen as straightforward, pragmatic and reliable build good long-term relationships with similar partners. Those who are not flock with their own kind.

Ninoy Aquino said that the Filipino is worth dying for. I wonder if he was right or wrong. It is so much easier to lose a reputation than to rebuild it. Trust is the most valuable capital there is in life. Within human communities. Among human communities. The lessons of cultures that were damaged, burnt to some degree by foreign conquest and internal divisions show what betrayal and lack of mutual trust can lead to. In the Balkan. In Latin America. In the Philippines. The lessons of countries that have healed or are healing are also significant. No major works on this I know of so far.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 17 April 2016.

 

 

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