Past, Present, Possibilities

Janus-VaticanAt New Year, one thinks of what was, what is and what could be. The latter we never can truly predict, I believe, even if in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation science fiction books, there is psychohistory, a kind of unified field theory of how groups of people behave. Something like that, with the capability to predict and control, would be most terrible. Imagine that in the hands of Xi Jinping’s China. A thousand years from now with no historical record left of Islam or Catholicism, and his statue worldwide in all sizes? No!

Patterns and Probabilities

It is a bit of a game of chance with probabilities, a bit of chaos theory with unexpected ripple effects like the fall of communism in the late 1980s or the present authoritarian trend worldwide, echoing a similar worldwide authoritarian trend way back in the 1930s. Possibly it is a bit like with fashions which return in cycles, with variations of old themes. Though I doubt the fashion of men wearing powdered wigs and high heels will return. Especially not such men deciding on matters of state and fighting in duels with fencing.

Probably two major human goals of security and freedom weigh in differently each time. Then of course there are human wants like wealth and power that can drive people. Fears of course play a role too, looking at what drives people to believe authoritarians. Resentments can be mobilized, with certain groups of people as selected as culprits. Beliefs – cultural, religious and political –  can be sources of both unity and division. Finally, it can be simple circumstances that make groups of people do certain things.

Resources and Reactions

Resources (available animals, crops, technologies, minerals etc.) also mean a lot. Native Americans had wheels but no carriages – no horses, oxen etc. to pull them. Mongols and Huns on the other hand covered huge distances on horses in Eurasia. What if the originally available animals had been different between the two continents? Mind-boggling to imagine, it goes even beyond my fantasy. What is also clear by now is how important the the heavy plough (link) was to the development of Northern Europe.

What happens when certain technologies come into a place which did not have them? Muskets introduced to the Maori led to the Musket Wars (link) between 1807 and 1845. The most tragic aspect of these wars was the Maori invading the Moriori in 1835 (link). From 1543 onwards, matchlock guns were decisive in Japanese feudal conflicts (link). Cannon technology from the Majapahit era played a certain role in the Philippines (link). Even plants can play a role. Did introducing potatoes help feed Prussia’s armies (link)?

Health and Hygiene

Strolling through the very historical Old Southern Cemetery of Munich, it is surprising to see on some family graves how many kids used to die before adulthood. Within families that had a certain wealth and social status, as only they were buried in that cemetery. Queen Therese of Bavaria (whose marriage celebration on Oct. 12, 1810 became the start of what is the Oktoberfest today) died of cholera in 1854 during a major epidemic. Soon after, Dr. Pettenkofer’s pioneering work on hygiene ended epidemics over here.

Probably it was the scientific tradition established in the 19th century that made Munich a true pioneer in fighting HIV via a policy of information and testing – without stigma, inspite of the generally conservative Catholic tradition in the German state of Bavaria. Contrast that with the Philippines today, with those who opposed reproductive health, the totally irrational Dengvaxia scare, and the rise of HIV which is mainly still ignored. Sarcastically, one might think it is calculation to let many kids die if so many are made.

Mummies and Messages

We can’t fully understand the past, even if the possibilities are increasing – fascinating for example to know that by measuring past air pollution via Arctic ice core samples that the air was very polluted in Roman times, exceeded only since the Industrial Revolution. Or that the highland runners who delivered messages during the Inca empire had the constitution of top level athletes? No horsebound messengers there, llamas too slow. How is this known? Scientists had a look at some mummies. Fortunately not cursed.

How about urgent messages? There were signalling systems (link) in olden days such as flags and signal fires. During my vacation in Sicily, the tour guide told us that the Spanish watchtowers along the coast could send each other signals to warn of pirates. By the time Adalbert von Chamisso visited Manila in December 1817, Corregidor had the capability to telegraph his ship’s arrival (link), possibly by optical telegraph (link) which got started from the mid-18th century onwards, allowing complex messaging.

Learning and Languages

Monkeys, the cousins of human beings, learn by trying out (link) and by watching (link). Experiments show they also imitate techniques that prove effective after a while (link). There are signs that some monkeys have forms of language or at least signalling (link). Enough apparently, like the Spanish signalling towers on Sicily, to warn of danger (link). As for humans, recent theories consider it possible that Homo erectus needed language to cross to Flores island (link) – at least if they crossed the currents there intentionally.

Finally, the capability to describe and imagine things not immediately in front of us allows us humans to learn a lot more. Experiences – and lessons learned – become cultures, essentially best practices for survival based on shared experience of groups. Cultures and languages of course evolve based on the changing realities they confront. Filipinos of 1521 (not called Filipinos yet) knew their leaders and had no elections yet. The word epal, shorthand for one greedy for credit and publicity, was developed later.

Finally, it is good to know that we probably can never create a truly perfect society. Being able to face the challenges of the future is probably hard enough as it is already. Groups of people that use available knowledge and organize properly are advantaged. Stubbornly rejecting knowledge – like the Philippines defunding Project NOAH (link) or thinking of reactivating the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant inspite of well-known risks – may take societies to where Rapa-Nui (old Easter Island society) is now. Gone forever.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, New Year’s Day 2019

 

Nakakawalang-bilib

Duterte at the Torotot Festival 2015iyong inamin ni Digong na pagkapa sa kasambahay na tulog. Walang kalaban-laban. Dahil unang-una, halos alipin iyon sa isang lipunang malaki ang agwat ng mayaman at mahirap, maykapangyarihan at wala, may pinag-aralan (pati oportunidad) at wala; pangalawa, dahil tulog; pangatlo, dahil talagang malayo sa kabihasnan ang Mindanao – isang lugar ito na halos hindi ipinansin masyado kaya kulang sa hustisya, lugar ito ng mga lost command, ng mga CAFGU, Wild South ng iba’t-ibang uri ng mamatay-tao.

Sino si Digong?

Malay natin kung nagtulug-tulugan lang ang kawawang kasambahay, dahil takot na baka patayin siya ng anak ng amo niya? O kaya, utusang patayin. Huwag kalimutan: senyorito rin si  Digong, mayaman ang pamilya niya, nag-aral sa Ateneo pero talsik. Porke’t koboy ang pagkilos niya dahil doon siya sa Wild South, hindi siya mahirap. Gobernador ng buong Davao ang ama niya. Mga pamilyang ganyan, nasusundan. Malamang umutos lang iyan sa pagpapatay, hindi man lang siya mismo nakapatay.

Ibang usapan halimbawa si Vladimir Putin – kahit hindi ko rin gusto ang pagkatao niya. Namatay ang ama sa gyera. Lumaki sa apartementong tatlong pamilyang nakatira. Doon sa mahirap na parte ng Leningrad / St. Petersburg na nasa nobela ni Dostoevsky. Pandak na tao lalo na sa kanila. Siguradong utak ang pinairal niya para magwagi doon. Umasenso sa sistemang Sobyetiko na maraming intriga. Ngayon siya ang nasa itaas. Si Digong, ginawang OIC Vice Mayor dahil nanay niya, kilala si Cory. Ganoon lang!

Bilib ka ba?

Ang Alsa Masa, itinayo ni Col. Franco Calida, kapatid ng Solicitor General ngayon. Konektado din sila sa militar na si Lorenzana na Defense Secretary ni Digong ngayon. Kasama yang Alsa Masa sa labanang anti-Komunista noong panahon ni Cory at FVR. Tugma ang mga sinabi nila Lascanas at Matobato sa kasaysayan ng Davao ng 1980s. Maliwanag na minana ni Digong ang mga puwersang iyan, at hindi siya ang nagtatag. Tahimik ang Davao? Siguro kumparado lang sa mga karatig na lugar sa Mindanao.

Tignan natin ngayon ang nangyari nang ginamit ang sistema na iyan sa buong bansa. Nagkaloko-loko. Unang-una, tahimik sa Davao dahil umaalis na lang iyong mga nasa listahan para walang gulo. Imposible sa Pilipinas iyon, saan sila pupunta? Pangalawa, mas tahimik ang mga lugar na nakapaligid sa Maynila bago dumating ang tokhang. Hindi kasi katulad ng Mindanao ang Luzon, paninindak ng Mindanao hindi oobra doon. Mas komplikado, mas maraming tao – at hindi gamay ni Digong ang bawat lugar doon.

Diyos ko po!

Sa mga lugar na tulad ng Davao, madali sigurong maisip ng isang lider na Diyos siya. Kaya pati si Kristo sinabing “nakakawalang-bilib” dahil sinakripisyo niya ang sarili niya sa krus imbes na maglabas ng kidlat para sunugin ang mga erehe. Siguro iyong ganyan na kapangyarihang lubos ang gusto ni Digong, iyong maglalabas lang siya ng kidlat. Wala naman iyan sa Diyos ng Kristiyano. Si Thor pa siguro sa mga Viking noong araw. Pero mas nasa kategoriya ni Loki si Digong. Nakakaloki! Pero hindi rin ito nakakagulat.

Ang laki sa layaw karaniwa’y hubad, sa bait at muni’t sa hatol ay salat, sabi ni Balagtas. Porke’t koboy, hindi ibig sabihin na tulad siya ng mga kumakayod. Masyadong simple kasing mag-isip ang maraming Pilipino. Nakakabuwisit. Dahil walang pumigil sa kanya, nangagarap yata maging Diyos mismo. Sila ang mga makapangyarihan sa lugar nila. Baka Nanay niya lang ang nag-try pumigil sa kanya, kaya galit na galit siya sa babae. Hindi rin ako bilib sa mga panlalait niya. Hindi pa iyan nakadanas ng patas na laban.

Natutuwa ako kung paano niya hindi makaya si Trillanes kahit lamang na lamang siya. Si Hesus naman, bumaba sa antas ng ordinaryong tao para madanas ang hirap nila. Mababa ang loob, kaya mapagmalasakit sa lahat ng tao – kahit siya mismo ang Diyos. Maliwanag na siguro ngayon na hindi totoo na may “Tapang at Malasakit” si Digong. Ang problema lang, kailan makikita ng Pilipino ang tunay at hindi iyong pakitang-tao? Ano ba ang nakikita nila diyan na hindi ko makita? Malalaman ito paglipas ng panahon.

Manigong Bagong Taong 2019 sa lahat!
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München,
ika-30 ng Disyembre 2018

Different Strokes

Six thousand years of history (1900) (14782335524)are observed in a recent post by Vicente Rafael (link): At Rockwell Makati.. In this affluent mall, the shoppers are always much larger, taller, more portly, often lighter skinned American-English-speaking-designer-bag-toting (with a sprinkling of ex-pats, mostly white, and at times, “Chinese”), while the workers who serve and wait on them tend to be smaller, skinnier, a few shades darker, vernacular-speaking-and-uniform-wearing. For those who know Filipino blogs, shades of Mariano Renato Pacifico.


Part I: Pipol are People

Them or us?

Now certainly MRP’s polemic about rich mestizos versus poor brown-skinned, flat-nosed natives is a bit oversimplified, though in the Filipino psyche, darker may still mean “one of us”. The last article (link) also tackles why the Inglesero/kanluranin classification is also a bit oversimplified. There is of course the let’s make tusok-tusok the fishballs crowd, the Arneo accent, and the Rockwell rich people. But there are middle class people like Alan Robles, Will Villanueva, educated in English yet non-elite.

Yet still the Filipino psyche, sensitive – and vulnerable (c) Karl Garcia, still can easily be manipulated against perceived Inglesero/kanluranin oppressors. Duterte’s hitting at Mar Roxas for allegedly being a fake Wharton grad used both anti-rich and anti-English language prejudices among many. So did propaganda against Aika Robredo’s Harvard scholarship (link) with the clear goal of making people believe: yeah, VP Leni is trying to look like one of the people but she ain’t, she’s just pretending. Now none of this is new.

Saupreißn talking white

Saupreiß – Prussian pig – was what Bavarians often called Prussians who started coming as tourists in the 19th century. Bavaria, though proudly inaugurated as a new kingdom by Napoleon, had a sense of lagging behind highly industrializing Prussia. Novelist Thomas Mann has interesting female character Toni Buddenbrook, a Hamburg patrician daughter, leave Munich in bitterness after her failed marriage to a Bavarian, saying that they would prefer a black man speaking their dialect to a Northerner.

Nowadays the Bavarian accent is – according to some tabloid polls, so be careful – considered the sexiest German accent while Saxon is considered a turn-off. Is it because of the newfound confidence of a state now on the top of the pile over here? Something Filipinos are humoristically trying to find when it comes to their accent (link)? Among African-Americans, “Talking white” (link, No. 3) a term used by an individual who talks ghetto in.. response to a person who talks proper and with sense once had stigma.

Cool and uncool

Now how about a black man talking Bavarian? There are more than one would imagine. Some of them children of African-American GIs from the postwar period, speaking their mother language and nothing more. What isn’t cool are many of the Duterte trolls who seem to take pride in wrong English spelling and grammar to the point of absurdity. Even to the point of stupidity. That is the other extreme to the pretentious intellectuals who think using foreign words makes them sound smart. Like Teddy Boy Locsin (link).

The opposite of pretentiousness is being oneself, which Rafael describes this way:  What’s interesting is being at the mall as it closes. Most of the shoppers are gone. The workers are left behind to clean up. You can hear them talking loudly among themselves, laughing and joking. Casting off the mask of deference. That does have a certain coolness to it. This is the opposite of being “plastik“, it is being authentic. Mimicry, which Edgar Lores has identified as an aspect of the Philippine condition, falls.

A comment on that says (link): Bourdieu’s habitus does give way to bricolage. Interesting how Manila’s underclass appropriate these sanitized spaces to enact their own kind of aesthetics.. a Sorbonne graduate, not just anyone, but one with a top doctorate reacts like this: Ang galing pala ni Burdiyu. Pati Pilipinas ay saklaw ng kanyang kaisipan; unibersal pala mag-isip ang mga Pranses. Was the one quoting Bourdieu pretentious – or himself? At first, I also considered Edgar Lores “highfalutin”.


Part II: What we know and don’t

More than words

The core of Bourdieau’s habitus idea (link) is that the entire behavior of a person says a lot about where he comes from and has been. That includes posture and accent, plus other attitudes to life in general. The concept is strong enough to be used universally. There is a clear difference in habitus between the Lumads in Tu Pug Imatuy (link) and the “colonial Filipinos”. The light-footedness of people used to hunting in the jungle is so clear in the movie. But even the Tagalog Lieutenant and the Visayan Sergeant differ.

Those who believe everything in culture can be derived from words alone deeply underestimate how much we are primates. There are several levels to the human brain and language, especially abstraction is just the tip of the iceberg. What culture does a man of Sicilian origin who grew up in Switzerland that I know belong to? That man speaks real Swiss German – with the body language and emotionality of his forefathers. Some Munich migrants totally absorb the local body language, I have seen. Mimicry?

Mimicry is going through the motions without understanding what things are all about. One can have good manners and right conduct, yet have no real respect for anyone. What can also happen is that the idea of civility, which in a Western context is respect among equals, can be misunderstood in a hierarchical culture as subservience. Some critics of how Prof. Chua was polite to Americans with regards to the Balangiga Bells cited the GMRC lessons of “Urbana at Feliza” (link) as outdated colonial conditioning.

Induction and deduction

Would that be a deductive approach, which Popoy in TSOH often criticized as being too generalizing? Inductive approaches are slower to come to conclusions but see the white carabaos. Black swans also, to go by a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. What we don’t expect. The moment we overgeneralize, the moment we forget the context we are using our mental models for, we might miss the point completely. Yet when Popoy said my comment on “topsoil” (link) was mostly nice words, I could offer a concrete example.

The other extreme to a naive approach that denies the local context are those who see the Philippine context as uniquely unique (my own words) and for example call the ex-President of Colombia an idiot (link) for saying that a war on drugs does not work. Those who refuse to look at what worked in Portugal are the polar opposite of those who thought applying recipes from UNDP or UNESCO without thought of local context would manage everything. “Only a Filipino can understand the Philippines” is also false.

Top-down and bottom-up

Joe America for example sees the Philippines from the ground level, as he lives there. Some of the best exchanges we have had between his view and my top-down view. Natural for me to have a top-down view as a former resident – now looking outside-in. Will Villanueva once described an article I wrote as being a bit like a flight in a drone. Without the interviews of Will, which take one really close to the people he speaks to, without the accounts of Joe, I might be seeing only clouds and a few houses below.

Though of course it helps to have similar frames through which one sees the world. Otherwise you get the confusion they allegedly had at Mamasapano, with one group using Google Maps and the others real GPS coordinates. Joe’s view is clearly through Western lenses, but the occasional native term like “diskarte” (link), might be discussed. Looking at Liberal and Leftist FB groups on my webpage (link), I try to see with what lenses they look at the world, hopefully filtering out some biases which everybody has.

Not seeing the forest for the trees versus just having a helicopter view – is that the only choice one has? Don’t think so, even if a complete and perfect view of anything larger than a village is impossible. All knowledge is a good enough approximation – for now. Best limited by the purpose for which one seeks the knowledge. One purpose can be to understand the present better to be able to shape the future accordingly. Real leaders need to have this understanding. Today, Filipino leaders can’t even agree on a budget.


Part III: How we learn

Stand your ground?

Vicente Rafael (link) admits in a post just after the first one, which had a lot of shares, that his FB post is of course pretty cursory: observational, descriptive, unsystematic, less than empirical, even glib the way most FB posts are (vs. refereed journal articles, which obviously it is not). Far from definitive, it was meant to spur reflection and discussion. The Filipino 100%er idea is rather different: it is that you don’t admit any weakness, that you stand your ground even if wrong, as if discussions were Erap flicks.

In that respect, Vicente Rafael is refreshingly un-Filipino. There are no demeaning tirades against those with different opinions or similar. There is no flock of followers, which is the way typical Filipino Lodis (“idols”) appear, surrounded by “devotees”. Backing down is seen as weakness by many in Filipino culture, so someone like Vicente Rafael might not be believed, while some might believe “firm” Persida Acosta. Confirmed nice guys like Prof. Xiao Chua can be seen as “prey” in such a culture.

Flames and feuds

Joe America, a keen foreign observer of the Philippine condition, writes (link): I’ve found that this black and white positioning, “you are for me or against me”, is common in the Philippines. It is an outcome of the notion of “face” which overlays fact and reason with a quality of personal engagement that is highly defensive and often irrational. So you have clans and families fighting one another to the death and bloggers running around as little totalitarians. Chua was flamed for being “too nice” to the US re Balangiga (link).

Not that there were no feuds among European thinkers. Robert Koch and Max von Pettenkofer had a feud about disease and bacteria that made the latter drink a bouillon with cholera bacteria to prove Koch wrong (link). Now that is much braver than the bluster of many a Filipino “one hundred percenter”, as Joe America calls them. It is in fact “Skin in the Game” which is also the title of a new book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Marxism and Neoliberalism were both proposed by theoreticians, not by practitioners.

Preliminary conclusion

Miguel Syjuco, though an English-speaking upper class kid, took on the risky business of helping cover the police night shift in Manila, when bodies appeared on the streets. Lumad teachers, human rights lawyers and social workers – also VP Leni – take risks. What risk do I take? The risk of being seen as silly. Some of the stuff I wrote before I would not write again today, but I don’t remove it from this blog. Why should I do that? Knowledge does not spring from a well of divine perfection. It grows out of curiosity

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 16 December 2018

 

Wir sind Helden

Aagostini donquixote 01is the name of a German band (link) and means “we are heroes”. In a somewhat ironic sense, because they said that they wanted to reclaim the word for antiheroes. And somehow also inspired by David Bowie’s well-known “Heroes” song. Helden or heroes became a bit unpopular in Germany after 1945, because Wagnerian pomposity had ended in a Götterdämmerung (death of gods) for many who thought they were being saviors of Europe and ended up destroying half the continent.  People rebuilt quietly from ruins in Adenauer’s era of “Keine Experimente”, or no experiments.

Heroes with doubts

The muscular statues of 1930s heroes of fascism and socialism were outdated. The American heroes of the same generation were Superman and Batman, but the German public I think preferred Donald Duck, or maybe even more Looney Tunes, with more Schadenfreude than tame Disney. America still had no doubts at that time, no conflicted heroes like today’s Jason Bourne, who knows many things are wrong in his country but still is a patriot, according to CIA agent Heather Lee. That was before Vietnam and before the War against Terror, wars which made America doubt itself.

The 2004 movie “Troy” has Odysseus telling Achilles (link): War is young men dying and old men talking. You know this. Ignore the politics. That is probably even more true nowadays than in the olden days, when kings often rode into battle themselves. But were Greek heroes really heroes? Basically Troy was a civilized city raided by pirate upstarts who were still to become a civilization. The Romans who were the next to become civilized did not pretend to be heroic, in fact they had a very clear language: vae victis. Woe to the conquered. And the Germanic tribes who were next?

Jetski to Windmills

They had more of a warrior religion in which those who died well went to Valhalla (link). This mixed with Christian beliefs in righteousness may have led to the idea of the knight in shining armor. The Spaniards had their own pompous variant of heroism, brilliantly ridiculed in Cervantes’ Don Quixote. Like the German words Heldentod (hero’s death) and Heldentat (heroic deed) may also have ironic meanings today. The first can mean overexerting oneself for something that isn’t worth it (not literally dying) and the second can mean creating a fiasco or catastrophe (link).

President Duterte might have had quixotism in mind when he said he would jetski to the Spratleys (link): “Matagal ko nang ambisyon na maging hero ako. Kung pinatay nila ako dun, bahala na kayo umiyak dito sa Pilipinas”  (I have long had the ambition to be a hero. If they kill me there, it is up to you to cry in the Philippines). The sarcasm was so clear then, I wonder how anyone believed it. Obviously there is a jadedness with the idea of heroes among some Filipinos. Senate President Sotto wanted to remove references to dying for the country from the national anthem (link).

Fine, Sunny Days

The last words of anti-Nazi activist Sophie Scholl were (link): How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us, thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action? The question is: what if hardly anyone cares at all? There have been thousands of deaths in the Philippines in the past two years and I really wonder. What I wonder is whether belief in righteousness, in interests outside one’s own group, exists there.

Or maybe the overloaded quixotic Spanish connotations of “heroe” made hero something that Filipinos couldn’t quite relate to. Add the strutting self-aggrandizement of most Filipino elites who will never make a sacrifice themselves, doesn’t have to be death, but at least take some risks also. Magsaysay’s guerrilla past could have been one factor in his popularity, since he walked his talk. But so did Rizal and Ninoy Aquino, who took the risks and faced the consequences of their actions.  Some current discussions insinuate they looked for death to become famous with posterity. What?

The Malay world

Bayani (link) is contrasted as the native, “better” concept of hero who is truly part of the bayan. The closest thing to that in Europe would be Volkshelden (popular heroes) such as Tyrolean rebel Andreas Hofer, or the legendary Swiss Wilhelm Tell, whose story Rizal translated into Tagalog. The story of Kabesang Tales / Matanglawin in El Filibusterismo has elements of a typical Volksheld or Schützen (marksman) story, including the tragic shooting of Tandang Selo by his grandson Tano. Wilhelm Tell of course does not accidentally kill a relative. Being Swiss, he did not miss the apple.

Indonesia also has its folk heroes: http://filipinogerman.blogsport.eu/jago-and-preman/In Indonesian popular culture, the jago is often romanticized as a champion of the people whose acts of violence are motivated by a deep sense of justice, honour and order.” Fernando Poe, anyone? But Indonesia also has its political thugs (same article): The Pancasila Youth that played a major role in the 1960s killings in Indonesia were considered preman or political thugs. There are stories of different kinds of Filipino guerrilas in World War 2, good and bad. It isn’t always that clear.

The Balkan world

The Balkans have the Hajduk (same article): who “is a romanticised hero figure who steals from, and leads his fighters into battle against, the Ottoman or Habsburg authorities…. In reality, the hajduci of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries commonly were as much guerrilla fighters against the Ottoman rule as they were bandits and highwaymen who preyed not only on Ottomans and their local representatives, but also on local merchants and travelers.” Whether a hajduk was considered good or bad may well have been a matter of how one was advantaged or affected.

In Serbia, a collectivistic, ethnic hero cult (more similar to bayani than to individualistic heroe) based on a national mythology plus paternalism led to this (p. 85): Decision-making was left to omnipotent rulers, those personifying heroic martyrs of the Battle of Kosovo, who promised to rule in the best interests of collective Serb society. Paternalism impeded the spread of democracy, the implementation of the rule of law, and the development of constitutionalism. The fierceness of hajduks plus ideology. No place or time is the same, outcomes differ.  But some patterns do exist.

Wir sind Helden

Alltagshelden is a German tabloid term: “everyday heroes”. Non-everyday heros are for the 911. “Pity the country that needs heroes” said Bertolt Brecht. I think it makes a country a lot better if most people are just plain decent. Not “disente“, another lost in translation Filipino word which often means “dressed up to the nines” or “clean-cut”. I once was carrying disente pants on a hanger, coming from a dry cleaner. They fell off, somebody noticed it, picked them up and gave them to me – in the middle of Munich city. Very decent people! Small acts of goodness add up in society.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 17 November 2018

When Bridges Collapse

Bridge ruins through the Donskoy Chulek Riverand people mostly get wet like in Zamboanga today (link) – just rebuild them. Diplomatic bridges burning like those to Kuwait recently (link) are more serious. The EU-Philippines bridge still stands, even if there have been differences (link) – with most of the drama on the Philippine side. One should remember that the EU Parliament represents the people of Europe, and that there is a sizable segment of the population that does not want to fund governments that harm their people. And of course the EU has strings attached to its help – it wants to develop allies with similar values. Every major player in the world does. And so do major political groupings. Why does the Naumann Foundation, close to the German Free Democrats (Liberals, also color yellow over here) invite the Liberal Party with VP Robredo to Berlin? Why does Akbayan partner with European Socialists?

Bridges and Respect

Bridges are important in this world. Some may be at times heavily guarded and seldom crossed, like in Cold War days the Glienicke Bridge or Bridge of Spies between West Berlin and Potsdam. Bridges between people and groups are even more important. One major bridge is mutual respect. The Mogadishu rescue operation in which German commandos stormed a Lufthansa plane held by Palestinian terrorists only got to “roll” when the Chancellor’s Chief of Staff – who was onsite at the airport in Somalia – personally asked the Somalian President for permission by phone, and got it. Ever since borders have fallen in Europe, police may cross borders in hot pursuit of criminals – but must radio their colleagues in the next country to take over the chase. Italian police help out on one particular weekend of the Oktoberfest when many Italians come – to keep them in line as guests.

Now what would happen in the case (highly improbable) that Italian police saw it fit to interfere in a fight between, let’s say, drunken Italians and equally drunken Australians protecting their girls from Italian advances – a kind of fight which is indeed possible given the ways of both countries? Not just mediate and talk to the Italians, separating the crowds, but dealing with the Aussies also? Forget it. No more Italian police in Munich next year, I am sure. But that isn’t happening for now. Serbian police hitting Albanian soccer fans (link) is more likely – the Balkans are a lot more tribal. Now how about maids in Kuwait? Yes, one died. Many may want to leave, but already seemed to have been some cooperation in place between Kuwait authorities and the Philippine Embassy. If escapes were necessary, there are discreet ways to do that. But it seems Mocha wanted a presscon.

Bridges and Borders

Fools. Kuwaitis have dealt with a real occupation by Saddam Hussein. And Arabs have their pride. Cayetano’s strangely worded “apology” saying (link) “We are apologizing for certain incidents that the Kuwaiti view as a violation of their sovereignty” in combination with the arrogant demeanor of Cayetano sounds somewhat like saying “oh, we didn’t know you were that sensitive”. Coming from a country, the Philippines, that is known for hypersensitivity to foreign criticism – not only during this administration but even before, even making a big fuss about Spanish biscuits or American TV. But that same country is arrogant, even pushy when it comes to defending even Filipino criminals in other countries. Now things have gone beyond the usual wars of words. Filipinos have crossed a real red line and ACTED in a foreign country. And not just caused shame to Kuwait by filming it.

There is allegedly a story in the Middle East where two sons allow the neighbors to steal their goat. The father tells them to get it back. More bad things are done to the family, every day. The father keeps repeating to them to get back the goat. Meaning: restore respect, restore old boundaries. Europeans also have their boundaries – the deportation of European politician Giacomo Filibeck was specifically mentioned in a speech of a partymate in the EU Parliament (link).  The attack on him was seen as an attack on all. Strangely, Duterte has not reacted with his usual personal slurs. The warning of possible trade privileges being taken away (link) was part of the recent resolution. No need for drama at all. What else is there to deal with except Duterte and the Philippines? Well, there are millions of refugees, restive Russia, troubled Turkey, a now-difficult USA, and Syria and..

Bridges you burn

True, a Filipina was killed in Kuwait. Might have been that some wanted to leave their employers. But if you already agreed to work with Kuwaiti authorities, you stick to it. Lodge a protest if they don’t let certain maids go. And the EU? If you sign agreements that your dried mangoes, among other things, may be imported without customs duties into the EU and one of the conditions is that you adhere to human rights, then don’t complain. Nobody in the EU is telling Duterte what to do. Simply giving a fair notice – something Boracay never got – of consequences to the relationship.

There was a woman from Mindanao I knew who liked to say “that’s unfair!” in a mock-sissy tone. Fairness is for sissies some do think. Fair or not, “you have to die one death”, they say in Bavaria. Meaning you have to make some choices. Tokhang or sell your dried mangoes duty-free to the EU. Be decisive. “He who dies earlier is dead for much longer” is another Bavarian saying. Real strange. But maybe it means eternal life and rest in peace. And at some point decisions are forced upon you. It is fair if you know your choices well in advance. In contracts, laws, treaties. In daily life as well.

Mutual trust is the second aspect of bridges of understanding. Fairness and predictability breed it. Even if the Philippines miraculously were able to get rid of Duterte, many might not trust again. Even an intact bridge might not be one people cross if they are unsure of what is on the other side. Unpredictable and unfair shakedown artists – or reliable partners of all sorts? A bridge can have gates that are closed on one side. Kuwait has temporarily closed its gates. What is most likely next. Which bridges will still collapse? Which bridges will be burnt, built, restored? Or even abandoned?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 27 April 2018

Defamation

Vitaliano Aguirreis what Marine Le Pen is being investigated for (link). Simply alleging things without proof, like in the Philippines, is not the norm in Europe. The report says “the center-right mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, filed suit against Le Pen for accusing him of associating with Islamist militants in 2015”. In the Philippines, a Justice Secretary can allege similar things about opposition parlamentarians, or a President can tag mayors in drug lists just like that. In Germany, Section 187 Criminal Code says (link):

Whosoever intentionally and knowingly asserts or disseminates an untrue fact related to another person, which may defame him or negatively affect public opinion about him or endanger his creditworthiness shall be liable to imprisonment not exceeding two years or a fine, and, if the act was committed publicly, in a meeting or through dissemination of written materials (section 11(3)) to imprisonment not exceeding five years or a fine.

Law in Germany is understandable not only to lawyers. Therefore I know that my previous article did not violate Section 104 (link) even if some Filipinos saw the use of a tattered flag as a provocation. Only tearing up a real Philippine flag, especially in front of an Embassy, would qualify. Somewhat like in this conservative country, I cannot do what Pussy Riot did in Russia – or Carlos Celdran did in the Philippines – insult ANY religion inside a place of worship. One need not be ignorant of the rules here.

Village gossip

Back to defamation. Of course there is the usual gossip in villages and in parts of town over here in Germany. “She’s a bitch, everyone knows her second kid isn’t from her husband”. “He stole money from the lotto club”. As long as nobody bears witness to such conversations, no prosecutor or judge touches that. And I wonder about people who constantly say bad things about others, how bad they must be inside to bear such ill-will. In fact people of that sort tend to be avoided by the more educated in society.

But stuff about De Lima and Bilibid drugs was in the Facebook feeds of some college-educated Filipinos for years before she was – in my opinion – framed up by Aguirre. Now I am labelling my opinion as an opinion, not as a fact. Not even Aguirre could take me to court under Section 187 if he wanted to – for all I know he might be right! There is a principle in modern societies that is called fairness. Something I guess we had to learn the hard way, after centuries of Inquisitions and witch hunts of all sorts.

Summary justice

The extreme was called Feme (link) by which murders of prominent Jewish politicians in the 1920s were preceded by public defamation of the worst sort. Feme used to be the term for summary courts which could even condemn people in absentia (link). For outlaws killed due to a Vehmic court order, a knife was placed beside the person. Not a gun, and definitely not cardboard or masking/packing tape. That was from the 1200s, mostly in the 1300-1400s, until finally abolished in the times of Napoleon.

In the Philippines, there is a prosecutor making death threats against Vice-President Robredo (link) which is even more than just defamation. Or Sass Sasot who says Carlos Celdran is supporting Leni to get help on his court case (link) just because she thinks it is so, no proof offered whatsoever. The assumption that a President can influence courts, against the separation of powers, is interesting. Isn’t like that on paper in the Philippines. But that Sasot thinks it is possible is very interesting. Hmm.

The Truth

Truth is hard to find out. In the village or in a part of town one knows, one can indeed verify with some horse sense whether the things people are saying are likely. One can then decide to avoid the person – or those spreading the gossip. In a larger context, one cannot be sure. This is why modern laws protect people against vile insinuations. This is why there is such a thing as due process. Even in villages, I wonder how many women were stoned or hanged as witches just because they were not liked by many.

“Perception is only truth to those without deductive reasoning” (link) says not Sherlock Holmes, but Gang Badoy Capati. There are a few representatives of rationality in the Philippines, which has mostly not yet gone through the Enlightenment. A place where some far out arguments pass muster which would elicit amazement even in one of my favorite old TV series, Königlich Bayerisches Amtsgericht or Royal Bavarian District Court (link). So is the fear of an EU rule of law audit (link) understandable?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 16. July 2017

 

 

Poke niyo, poke niyo mabaho!

Sigmund Freud LIFEsigaw ng manyakis sa mga babae bago siya umalis – noong bandang 1975 ito sa harap ng UP Swimming Pool. Uso na yata (link) sa iilang babaeng OFW ang panalitang halos ganoon: The west use tissue to wipe their “pekpek”. The Filipina used tabo. There now you know why the Filipina “pekpek” smells so good. We do it the Asian way”. Ang itinutukoy pa man din, iyong si Dr. Agnes  Callamard ng UN na kabibisita lang sa Pilipinas. Ang ambassador naman ng Pilipinas sa UN, ganito ang isinulat (link): I was right after all and people thought I was flippant: never argue with people who don’t shower at least twice a day. It clears the mind. Buhok kaya ni Dr. Callamard ang itinutukoy niya? Parang bagong gising nga tignan, pero ganyan talaga ang buhok ng maraming dalubhasang pranses, style nila. Sana iyon lang – pasalamat po tayo na may class at diplomasya si Ambassador Locsin.

Balik tayo sa istorya ng manyakis sa UP. Lumalabas kaming mga bata sa swimming lesson. Bigla siyang tumayo sa harap namin at nagsabi ng “gusto niyong makita ang titi ko – heto!” sabay labas ng titi sa pantalon niya. Hindi namin alam kung ano ang magiging reaksiyon namin. Pero noong araw, bandang 1975/74/76, parang inosente pa ang Pilipinas. Totoong may bold movies na. Tuwang-tuwa ako noong lumabas iyong cover ni Rio Locsin sa Philippine Panorama na naka malaking T-shirt lang siya.

Ngayon Mocha na, boring sa kabataan ngayon siguro ang kaaliw-aliw para sa amin noon, halos iyon na ang suot ng marami. Pero saan ito lahat napapunta? Sabi ni Dr. Sigmund Freud: (link) – Der Verlust von Scham ist das erste Zeichen des Schwachsinn. Anong isprakenheit iyan? Sige Pilipino na: unang babala ng pagiging tanga ang nawawalang hiya. May mga preso raw sa Pinas, siraulo na sa tagal ng pagkakulong, kapag may nakita silang babaeng dumaan nagjajakol na sila kaagad sa harap.

Pananalitang “na-ano lang” at “dapat Mayor ang mauna”, pang-Senador at Presidente na yata ngayon, hindi lang para sa nag-iinuman sa may kanto. Iyong mga pagkilos namang panahon nila Maria Clara, sobrang ipokrito talaga – pero huwag din naman sana mapunta sa ugali ng mga aso sa bakuran ang ugali ng kasalukuyang Pilipino.  Sa bagay, uso na ngayon iyong kulungan na parang babuyan, o kaya kung hindi, gusto ni Bato na itali na lang ang mga taong hinuli sa poste (link) na parang mga kambing.

Anak ng tupa, paano ba iyan? Si Leni Robredo, plastic daw (link) – tingin ko friendly lang talaga ang natural niyang ugali. Tulad ng natural yata kay Mocha ang mukhang masungit at matapang, palibhasa hindi niya maintindihan ang ugali ni Leni plastic o peke na kaagad iyon? Pilipinas ngayon, ganyan. Gusto ko na bang umebak o umihi?

Irineo B. R. Salazar, 7 ng Mayo 2017, Munich

 

Charles Dickens novels come to mind

Costumed man hangingwhen one reads of Filipinos cheering about killings, like in Singapore recently (link). Executions in 19th century England were public spectacles (link) even if there was due process involved. Justice originally developed out of a need to sate the very human need for retribution – the dark but very real side of human nature of course – in a manner controlled to avoid law of the jungle. Rewriting Oliver Twist to make Fagin a drug lord and Oliver a drug pusher in Manila would not be hard, I think. Punishment in 18th/19th century England also affected the poorest people:

During the 18th century, the number of crimes that were punished by hanging rose to about 200. Some, such as treason or murder, were serious crimes, but others were what we would call minor offences. For example, the death sentence could be passed for picking pockets or stealing food.

These were the kinds of crime likely to be committed by people in most need, at a time when many families lived in poverty. Towards the end of the 1700’s, the number of people hanged for petty crimes was causing public unrest.

Of course in the Philippines, things don’t happen institutionally but in a personality-based way. Let’s face it, institutions are often just a rubber stamp for what personalities in power want. This includes the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which seems to go by what the President wants, or the Congress, which is for sale via pork barrel. A non-commissioned Filipino officer who experienced the coup attempts of the late 1980s told me that for enlisted men and non-comms, the choice was simple – one followed the orders of one’s higher ups and fought on their side.

It is allegedly barangay officials who help draw up drug lists in the Philippines (link). Setting aside the matter of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) right or wrong, how does one guarantee that these officials do not abuse their power to harrass people they don’t like? Power in the Philippines is often narcissistic, abusive and petty. Not ordering, nurturing and constructive. Can that change?

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

Studying its villains

Ravanamay have brought Germany much further than the Philippines studying its heroes, buried or not. Are those unworthy of emulation – “huwag tularan” – more important in teaching national lessons? The Philippine cult of heroes always was suspect to me. During martial law, it was suspected that some supposed leftists were mere agents provocateurs to get idealistic youth to show their colors. Working part-time at the Philippine Embassy in Bonn in February 1986, I saw how the new government telexed straight from the Wack-Wack golf course – while people were still at EDSA.

For every young idealistic Isagani or Basilio, there have often been enough jaded, cynical Simouns using them for their own agenda. This has cut through all ideological fronts in the Philippines. Culture of entitlement in fact makes this nothing special for many – it is very much unlike kings of old who led their men in battle, or captains who had the ethic of leaving their own ship last. Good people often get sacrificed in the Philippines – Andres Bonifacio and Heneral Luna, anyone? Or sidelined when no longer needed – think of Mabini, who unfortunately couldn’t walk his talk.

Many in the generation that experienced February 1986 are disillusioned by how the groups that then came into power, and afterwards, continued to mismanage the country. Were the “yellows” too far from the common people, was the left too ideological and power-mad, the right too corrupt and Macchiavellian? I don’t know. But principled leaders were few and usually too weak, I think. Germany also created a new constitution in 1949. It had less lofty-sounding ideals than the Philippine 1987 Constitution. But Germany’s leaders saw to it that its goals became reality on the ground.

Mistakes are there to be learned from. Airline pilots have said that the safe flying of today is due to lots of crashes that happened in the past – and how many lessons were learned by analyzing them. What is good about the present crisis in the Philippines with regards to the burial of Marcos is that the history of Martial Law is being reviewed – what happened, maybe not enough what led to it. The analysis of how post-1986 governments continued Marcos-era mistakes like wholesale labor export and allowing Metro Manila to grow uncontrolled – to learn, not to blame – hardly happened.

And it takes sustained effort to build a country. How often have Filipinos run after mere hope? Or mistaken leader’s vanity for “willpower”? The Filipino youth of today, the Millenials, seem to be more concerned about the future of the country than many had hoped. Now I hope they are less naïve than generations before them. I hope they do not let themselves be used by any group or person. It will be after all their future they are deciding on in times to come. How they will live when they are around 45-55, around 30 years from now. All I can do is wish them strength and perception.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 20. November 2016