Being Truly Global

Antonio luna small

General Antonio Luna

The Philippines is starting to become truly global. Before it was just post-colonial. Speaking English with a fake American accent was mistaken for sophistication. The ilustrados of the late 19th century were more cosmopolitan – and truly Filipino – than many members of the Makati elite later on. Antonio Luna spoke at least Spanish and French. Rizal spoke Spanish and German excellently.

The colonial legacy

Of course the higher classes in the Philippines used the foreign language of the respective colonial power to show off in the past. Spanish before and English later on. Native languages thus were neglected. Tagalog in the times of Raja Suleiman was highly sophisticated. Even Tagalog during the time of Mabini. It is a good thing that Tagalog or Filipino has been revived and strengthened.

Even though large parts of the Filipino upper class spoke English – almost exclusively and even among themselves even among schoolchildren – up to the 1980s, there was hardly any news about other parts of the world in Filipino newspapers. So the Filipino elite which thought itself cosmopolitan and was proud of its American-style English was in fact very insular. Preferred shopping trips of Imelda were in New York. Some who did visit Europe were snooty AND ignorant.

Because at least President Quezon did meet both Mussolini and Hitler in Europe. He was quite positive about Mussolini and did not like Hitler at all. Quezon when he defended his decision to have a national language even mentioned the three Swiss national languages but did not see them as a good option for the Philippines. A true cosmopolitan. A Filipino gentleman and leader. But no less Filipino, inspite of his mestizo features and his cooperation with the Americans.

Manifestations of ignorance

Bongbong marcos cropped

Bongbong Marcos

I observed some manifestations of ignorance in the past which were very unfortunate and misguided:

  • Filipino expats in Europe trying to talk down to French waiters in American English, and in a hurry to get their food. French food is not fast food.
  • Filipino diplomats who preferred to socialize all the time with Americans abroad, instead of concentrating on contacts in their host country more.
  • Filipino diplomats who did not even speak the language of their European host country after many years – notable exceptions are highly respectable.

And I have also heard of some things which made me wonder about some Filipinos:

  • having a superiority complex towards Indonesians because many do not speak English that well or so often. Well many Indonesians speak Dutch or German.
  • Filipinos in the USA making fun of Euro-Disney – probably the only aspect of Paris they knew – in the time it was new and hardly had any visitors.
  • A Filipino expat in the 1990s who made fun about how the Vietnamese still used so many bicycles. Well in Manila there are really many cars.

And some Filipinos in Manila, mid-1990s boomtimes, who told me, we have more malls here, more mobile phones, use more Internet than in Germany.

Looking at Today

The Philippines has huge malls, the worlds largest – but in Europe pedestrian zones in city centers are the malls. Makati used fax machines before Germans widely used them. Same with the first usage of Internet in Makati, you could not find it that widely in Germany yet. And yes, it used to be that Hollywood movies came to Germany months later than the Philippines, because they had to be dubbed into German. Now this takes place synchronously, so no delays. But yes, houses in Europe are mostly old – something a few Filipinos did deride.

In fact a referendum in Munich successfully restricted the height of buildings to the height of the towers of the Frauenkirche, the Cathedral. This was after some tall buildings were built and annoyed conservative residents, just like the Torre de Manila now is not liked by some. And of course nice old houses are even protected by law, and must be maintained by their owners.

Finally some people in Manila have started making the Metropolitan Theater look nice again. There is even nostalgia for old pictures of Manila, and how things looked in the time of Heneral Luna.

The Global Filipino

The Internet, and also Filipino professionals working abroad for longer periods, and the Filipino upper middle class being able to travel abroad more unlike before, have noticeably changed things. Nobody would ask Veronica Pedrosa anymore, who works for Al Jazeera now and is the daugher of formerly exiled journalist Carmen Navarro-Pedrosa, why she speaks British English. Seriously, a real snob would know that British is considered better than American English, not that I particularly care what kind of English accent a person has. I like Aussie and Jamaican accents for example.

The times of the pretentious but ignorant Doña Victorina of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere seem to be over. Rappler, Interaksyon and CNN Philippines regularly feature major international news. There is a Facebook Group by Filipino migrants in Europe, with Tagalog articles that tackle everything from rules and regulations to culture in their host countries. Highly intelligent and well-written. The new batches of Filipino diplomats to Europe, I have observed, are different from those before. More knowledgeable about their host countries, and not acting superior to Filipino migrants.

How this helps

Mechanic/manufacturing trainee, K-12+ (Source:

Mechanic/manufacturing trainee, K-12+ (Source:

The new openness of many Filipinos is an advantage. Let us look at how it is useful:

  • Call centers in Mindanao are already looking for Chabacano speakers to train Spanish for the Latin American market which is booming. Spanish is easy to learn for Filipinos anyway.
  • The ASEAN market will further grow. Reviving Bahasa, which used to be spoken as a lingua franca for traders even in the Philippines, could be an advantage for business as well.
  • I wonder how many OFWs in Saudi speak Arabic, which is after all a UN language. There should be more Filipino diplomats speaking Arabic and Chinese – also to observe these areas.

Revive two languages as electives which are part of the Filipino legacy anyway – Bahasa and Spanish. Two other electives – Arabic and Chinese – to observe and know potential enemies better.

And what also helps is being able to compare solutions from different countries. The Philippine system is partly Spanish, partly American in legacy. Not all of it fits, other examples exist. What makes me particularly amazed is that PNP has been intensively helped by the Hanns-Seidel-Foundation of Munich and the Bavarian State Police since 2009.

And the DOJ Criminal Code draft is a Filipinized version of the German Criminal Code, in fact even more modern. Codified law is easier to handle than American and English precedent-based law and would speed delivery of justice. Now it might be that this draft, finished in 2014 by the DOJ, has not yet passed through Congress because it is too strange for them. I really don’t know.

But German Dual Training is presently being adopted in the Philippines via TESDA, especially in the K-12+ project. Vocational training in Germany is better than in the USA because theory and practice are combined – it is one of the keys to German industrial success. Also respect for blue-collar workers here is higher than in both the USA and the Philippines. But that is another topic.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 9 January 2016



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