People’s Champions

Workers on suspended scaffold in Korolyovare appearing in the Senate race: Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada, Samira Gutoc, Gary Alejano, Florin Hilbay, Bam Aquino. Will Villanueva has interviewed nearly all (link) while Samira Gutoc is introduced here (link). Bam Aquino’s Negosyo Centers and his initiatives for improving Internet connectivity are I think known. Each one is different, but each on is about serving the people. Three have a strong focus on improving rule of law: Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada and of course Florin Hilbay. Samira Gutoc has her record in serving the people of Marawi in difficult times. Gary Alejano has his focus on national security and territory as well as avoiding debt traps. Mar Roxas and Macalintal are surely each good in their own ways, but I leave them out as I lack some information.

Community or Command?

All the six I mentioned fit into the people’s champion image Leni Robredo revived. Possibly the first time since Ramon Magsaysay. Probably it was even Mar Roxas who tried to revive it, although the image that remains of him is unfortunately quite awkward. Except for Alejano, none fit into the warrior-like image many Filipinos consider “strong”. And warrior-like would even be OK, in many cases Filipino machismo is just thuggish. From fatal fraternity hazings to UP Regents threatening Ateneo players with injury (link). Or thuggish barangay captains who make the Bagong Lipunan song play inside me. The propaganda art of the Marcos era with strong-bodied datus and their broad swords. Yes, the old barangays raided (each other), traded (with one another) and feasted (link).

From Spanish times onwards, cabezas de barangay and gobernadorcillos (“mayors”) drawn from the co-opted native elite maintained control over their own countrymen in exchange for privileges. Sugar, tobacco and abaca plantations came into play later on. Agricultural and other trade lead to (Spanish- and Chinese-) mestizos getting rich also. The late Spanish period and American colonial times allowed the rich to get educated. Institutions like UP even gave the less affluent but talented access to good education. Seems the idea of bayanihan, effectively a mix of native self-help and American ideas of community service, had its heyday in the 1950s. The barangay, as a more toxic mix of datu culture and Spanish colonial mindset, returned in force when Marcos restored it.

Absolutist or Liberal?

The difference is so very clear when one sees VP Leni sitting WITH the people while Duterte or Imee usually sit on a podium, ABOVE the people. And of course there is a command tone inherent in Marcosian or Dutertian rhetoric. And when one hears how some older-generation Filipino lawyers argue, one wonders how much Spanish absolutism is still in their mindset. For instance the way “sovereignty” is used – more in the old sense of the ruling class having sovereign (or king-like) power than in the sense of asserting national sovereignty by defending borders. One must remember that the Philippines was born in the middle of the Spanish conflict between Absolutists and Liberals. Until the 1950s, you still had Filipino politicians who spoke Spanish fluently.

Whereas (to use a typical Filipino legal word, ha!) Spanish Liberalism was also elitist in nature (link), and the original “liberalism” of Filipino plantation owners seems closer to that than to the ideas of American Democrats. If one wants an analogy of Spanish Liberalism and Absolutism, one just needs to read Rizal’s Noli and Fili. The first is about a snooty elite Filipino who naively tries to apply foreign recipes without thinking about how they can be adapted to local conditions, and without getting local buy-in first. The second is about a Filipino elite master of intrigue and power games who wants to use violence and suppression to achieve his ends. As the adviser to the Governor-General, Simoun is Marcosian/Dutertian, as the one egging on Cabesang Tales, he is a “leftist”.

Arriving in Dapitan

One cannot discount that Rizal’s novels had an element of self-reflection in them. Goethe is said to have avoided killing himself over a young lady by writing Werther. Probably the self-reflection even revealed more about the Philippine character than Rizal intended to. The well-meaning but sometimes condescending tone of reformism from 2010-2016 – and the howling reaction of the “townspeople” – parallels the Noli. Today’s violence is El Filibusterismo – 120 years later. Rizal probably won over his worst instincts by letting them out as novels. By the time he was exiled to Dapitan, he served. The Liberal Party I think has learned from its defeat – and started Project Makinig (link). Probably also the influence of VP Leni, who has continuously been in social work (link).

Quiet, hard work and perseverance instead of showy projects and warlike “heroism”. Tackling the country’s issues one step at a time (Tañada wants to finally pass a Land Use Act, Diokno has great ideas for reforming the justice system – see Will Villanueva’s interviews for more details) instead of building expensive bridges to nowhere (link). Given a clear picture of what the issues are, their causes and the solutions to them, possibly the taongbayan, the citizenry, are ready to listen and return to katinuang-isip or clearheadedness. Even the most warrior type among those I mentioned, Gary Alejano, is not out to jetski anywhere. A man who has truly seen battle is not careless with lives. Yet as a real warrior he knows how to draw lines in the sand. So that people can live.

Vicente Rafael, in his book “Motherless Tongues”, describes the sense of happiness in some villages after some initial revolutionary victories in the late 1890s, and the sense of togetherness when people were on the street in EDSA II. Those who where on EDSA in 1986 know the exhilarating feeling as well. Others will know the anger at things going wrong – the anger of the Katipunan is documented way back to 1892, the anger of left against social injustice, the anger of the masses on EDSA III that Rafael also describes. Neither joy nor anger, nor a sense of unity (which is often short-lived) can build things. “Land of constant beginnings” is what novelist Ninotchka Rosca called the Philippines. Could a new batch of leaders help change that? Are the people ready for that? Hmm..

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 3 December 2018

Rizal and Bonifacio – Polar Opposites?

The Philippine Islands (1899) (14773138935)How much in the discussions about the “Pepe and Boni” is just projection, first of all? How many who say that Rizal wanted to be a martyr actually want to say that of Ninoy? How many who are for Bonifacio’s alleged shoot first, talk later mindset mean right-wing or left-wing characters in the present or nearer past of the Philippines? How many who are against Rizal’s reformism actually mean the February Revolution of 1986 was not really a revolution, and reforms from then were useless? What is their real agenda?

Bayot o Bayani?

How many of those who criticize Rizal for not being a revolutionary also subscribe to Duterte’s criticism of Mar Roxas (link)? “Wala, si Mar, bayot. Hindi niya kaya. Hindi. Kaya ko kasi lalaki ako,.. Hindi ka lalaki, papaano ‘yan? Takot kang pumatay, takot kang mamatay. Eh subukan mo ako. Maghawak ka ng shabu sa harap ko, pasabugin ko ulo mo…Ikaw bayot, ako kaya ko. Hindi ka marunong pumatay?” The gist is that leaders have to “fear neither death nor killing”. Modern, civilized men aren’t seen as “real men”.

Rizal in fact was a good shot and knew how to fence. If the duel between Antonio Luna and Rizal had pushed through, there probably would have been no Heneral Luna (link) as Rizal was by all accounts better. While Bonifacio was, as many may not know, a well-read autodidact, forced to stop going to school by his being orphaned very early. And this was his conclusion in March 1896 (link): Reason tells us that we must rely upon ourselves alone and never entrust our livelihood to anybody else. Unlike Duterte.

Approach the World?

Unlike also like Sikatuna, also mentioned by Bonifacio for his blood compact with Legazpi, or Aguinaldo, who made his deal with Spain in Biak-na-Bato in 1897 and then tried to become an American protege in 1898. Or pro-Japanese collaborators later on. The ilustrados around Rizal still hoped to be treated as equals by the Spaniards, some wanting representation in the Spanish Parliament or Cortes, others wanted autonomy, but still under the Spanish crown. An arrangement like Australia has with England?

According to Charles Mann’s book 1493, there were already Filipino communities in Mexico City in earlier centuries, but most probably never returned to the country, just like the Manila Men of Louisiana (link). The ilustrados of the late 19th century were able to travel back and forth to Europe thanks to the Suez Canal and steamships. Electricity was one of the marvels of that age, as well as photography. Rizal loved to take “selfies”. Aspiring for modernity is still a Filipino obsession. Was the place a backwater too long?

Differences in Perspective

On the other hand, Bonifacio and the like were middle class people working in foreign firms that had been increasingly setting up in Manila for decades. They had a glimpse of what might be out there, they had the stories of Rizal, but no access to those places. Their view was of the abuses perpetrated by colonial authorities, as mentioned in one of the founding documents of the Katipunan (link): this land has been broken from the stem and withered, and shows no inclination to grow fresh shoots or spring back to life.

Even if Rizal’s novels do mention colonial and friar abuses, there is a major difference in wading in a flood that is waist-high versus a flood that is neck-deep. And though the great respect Bonifacio had for Rizal is known, there is one sentence in the January 1892 Katipunan document which shows serious doubts regarding the many in Rizal’s social class:  The pretensions of the enlightened men (ilustrados) who have education and everything they desire, dear ones, but it can be seen that their habits are coarse.

Battle of Katipunan

Even today one can see truly enlightened, cosmopolitan members of the Filipino elite – as opposed to pretentious rich people or pseudo-intellectual schmucks. One can also see ordinary Filipinos who embody good values – as opposed to vulgar, tacky types. The once strong divide between UP and Ateneo, nationalist as opposed to elitist-clerical has faded somewhat nowadays, with student councils of both universities calling upon the audience to wear black during the “Battle of Katipunan” as a sign of protest (link).

The great divide may be elsewhere now, as an observer of the 2016 elections noted (link): Malapit ba si Duterte o si Binay sa pagiging katulad ni Bonifacio?  Si Roxas, si Poe o si Santiago ba ay kapara ni Rizal? Duterte skipped Bonifacio Day yesterday. Meanwhile, more Filipinos are abroad than ever before. Those who have had the privilege of learning good English of course are more at ease in many global settings. Typical OFWs and some BPO workers may see the world much like Bonifacio once did.

Disown the World?

One must try to imagine how isolated from the world the Philippines was around 1800. Possibly the ordinary Filipino was even more isolated from the world in 1800 than 1521, when the small chiefdoms and the collections of chiefdoms called rajahnates at least traded with the world – mostly on their own terms. The sense of having lost something is what both Rizal’s Philippines a Century Hence and Bonifacio’s Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog exude. Learned helplessness might have been an effect of that loss.

Probably that learned helplessness is the key weakness of all three major founding fathers of the Philippines. Rizal who wanted to rely mainly on learning from abroad, Bonifacio who might have glorified the past too much, Aguinaldo who followed the fatal Filipino tradition of relying on foreign patrons – which Duterte is simply continuing. Different from Japan, whose spirit was never broken, and therefore had the confidence to adopt whatever it happened to see fit from foreign templates – yet staying Japanese.

Being less developed than others at some point has happened to nearly every country. Germans learned from the Romans, Romans from the Greeks, Greeks from Persians. The relative isolation of the Philippines had a more advanced civilization crashing in like alien starships, while continental Eurasians had learned from one another for millennia. Filipinos now travel the world. Disowning the world and joining China in anti-Western resentment – Duterte’s way – may not be the wisest course. Rizal and Bonifacio were 120 years ago. The world and the Philippines are both radically different places now. Travel and communication have gotten even faster and more instantaneous than then. The challenges of today are more important, the past offers lessons at most. Let us see.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 1 December 2018

A Nation Dies (?) – and what’s next? (!)

China Philippines LocatorWith a whimper and a few loud protests, the Republic of the Philippines was buried some days ago. Why seemingly so little feelings? One could see one reason in the fact that the nation was an elite project from the beginning, which never managed to get real buy-in. Certainly the “first Filipino” (link) Luis Rodriguez Varela was an elite, a Spaniard born in the Philippines touched by ideas of the early 19th century. The other colonies of Spain were breaking free as an indirect effect of Napoleon shaking up Europe: Mexico (link) from 1808-1821 while General Bolivar (link) was freeing large parts of South America from 1807-1830, finally leaving Spain with only Cuba and Puerto Rico in the New World (link). In the Pacific (link) there were the Philippines, the Marianas including Guam, the Carolines, and Palau. A Filipino soldier to the Carolines (link) is mentioned in Rizal’s Fili.

The first elites

The ilustrados (link) of the late 19th century evolved out of a number of factors, including new money earned in plantations. Tobacco, sugar and abaca were major cash crops introduced from the late 18th century onwards. Spain was in political turmoil from 1833-1876 (link) with a conflict between Liberals and Absolutists. The liberal Governor-General of the Philippines from 1869-1871, Carlos Maria de la Torre (link) was a result of the “Glorious Revolution” in Spain, treated Filipinos (of all races) in a way not known before, but was soon replaced by someone who was his opposite. But the world was growing smaller then. Steamships started (link). Manila opened to international trade in 1834, provincial ports by 1855 (link) and the Suez canal opened in 1869, so there was a critical mass of Filipino students in Madrid by 1888, when La Solidaridad was organized (link).

Meanwhile, Cuba fought for independence thrice (link): 1868-1878, 1879-1880 and 1895-1898. What Filipino ilustrados wanted was relatively tame. Varela had wanted representation in the Spanish Cortes – possibly an idea born out of what the French had given their former colonies during their Revolution – while ilustrados probably wanted a kind of autonomy, at most. Those in Spain fought for being treated as equals. Antonio Luna was known for his challenging a Spanish journalist a number of times. Jose Rizal, who studied in the far more modern Germany of the late 19th century, was probably treated a lot more equally by German scientists of the day (link) than by Spaniards who were far behind up-and-coming 19th century Germany. Did Rizal also read Wilhelm von Humboldt, who considered Tagalog one of the most advanced Austronesian languages (link)?

An aborted Revolution

Did the freer air of progressive Europe outside Spain give the Luna brothers and Rizal the strong confidence they exuded? Probably Spain only really became a modern country after Franco’s time. Parallel to that, Manila was changing as well. A lot of Filipinos got jobs in the foreign companies that were coming to the city at that time. Andres Bonifacio (link), a warehouse clerk at Fressel and Company, a German firm in Manila, was to become a member of La Liga Filipina (link) formed by Rizal in 1892 before his exile to Dapitan. One can only speculate about how Bonifacio’s biography made him what he was. His being an orphaned son of the principalia, the native elite, forced to take care of his siblings from the age of 14 onwards. Unable to continue studying, he remained a voracious reader. One day after Rizal’s exile to Dapitan, he helped found the Katipunan (link).

Rizal returning, heading for Cuba, then brought back to be executed in late 1896. The Katipunan accidentally discovered and forced to act, the Revolution, the chaos within its leadership, the infamous Tejeros convention where a certain Daniel Tirona managed to provoke Bonifacio at his probably most sensitive point, his lack of formal education, the execution of Bonifacio and his brother, Aguinaldo taking over power, the pact of Biak-na-Bato (link) in late 1897, which gave Aguinaldo amnesty and money in return for self-exile to Hong Kong. Aguinaldo returning on an American ship on May 12, 1898. The Spanish-American War had begun in 1896 and was to end in Spain ceding territories to the USA. Aguinaldo still had declared Philippine Independence on June 12, 1898 “under the Protection of the Mighty and Humane North American Nation” (link).

In America’s Image

Aguinaldo’s resistance was pretty much futile in the end, and after his surrender the remaining groups of Christian Filipino revolutionaries like Sakay and Ola were treated as bandits while the US forces afterwards concentrated on gaining control of the Muslim areas of Mindanao, which never had been fully controlled by the Spaniards, even if they had made some headway in the late 19th century.  The Filipino elites were given some self-government with a Philippine Assembly in 1907, the University of the Philippines was established in 1908, the Philippine Senate in 1916. Mindanao was turned over to the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands in 1920. Manuel Quezon, Aguinaldo’s former aide-de-camp, was Senate President from 1916-1935 and became President of the Philippine Commonwealth in 1935. Douglas McArthur organized the Armed Forces by 1941.

The architecture of the Philippine state was established by then. Tagalog had also effectively been declared to be the language that was to be the basis of a future national language called Filipino. The area around Manila Bay definitely was a central area in the development of the archipelago. Many civilizations and great cities grow in mouths of rivers and natural harbors – Manila has both, and is ideally positioned for trade with the Southeast Asia and Japan, Korea, China. The complex grammar of Tagalog which Humboldt already mentioned shows that a certain level was there. Bahasa, used in somewhat different forms in Malaysia and Indonesia, is by contrast quite simple. There was a lot of resistance to Tagalog in the Visayas, but finally Visayan languages, Bikol and Tagalog are all Central Philippine languages, closely related. Ilocano and Pampangan, not quite.

Defining True Filipinos

While the Americans pragmatically defined everybody who was a Spanish subject on Philippine territory on a certain date in 1902 as Filipino, the Commonwealth had a ius sanguinis definition of nationality. Chinese migration, which had existed since Spanish times and had led to many Filipinos of mixed Chinese origin, had stopped during American times due to the Chinese exclusion act (link). After World War 2 and Independence, Chinese were to migrate to the Philippines again, but it was only in 1975 that there was mass naturalization (link) coupled with Filipinization of Chinese schools in the country. Bonifacio’s Katagalugan defined the Philippines as Katagalugan (link), not Filipinas. The Katipunan also had tried to get help from Meiji-era Japan (link) and the highly anti-American revolutionary Artemio Ricarte (link) lived in Japan and returned in 1942.

While Spanish rule had not taught Spanish to most Filipinos, the American system was to be more thorough in teaching English. Even if Filipino elites clung to Spanish and even used it from time to time after the war, such as in the probably misquoted speech by Jose Avelino (link). The trial of young Ferdinand Marcos for the murder of Julio Nalundasan shows the world of the 1930s, where Spanish seems to have still been in common usage within elites (link). Marcos abolishing Spanish as an official language in the 1973 Constitution and mass naturalizing Chinese immigrants in 1975 was probably symptomatic of the shift in concentration of wealth. Nowadays, one can only find the Ayalas and Razons as Spanish mestizos among the richest families – the rest are of Chinese origin. Anecdotes I heard say that many Spanish mestizos left after the war, not only Isabel Preysler (link).

Migrants, OFWs, datus

I quote from memory a figure of about one million Filipinos having migrated to the United States from 1965-1985, after Kennedy opened the country to non-European migrants – a pull factor – and during the Marcos dictatorship – a push factor. These were products of the American colonial education system which was still pretty much intact in the 1950s and 1960s. Filipinos who went to the still excellent public schools of then learned a better English than the majority speak today. Most of them did not return. In 1975, the POEA was founded to manage overseas migration. The Philippines continued to rely on that source of revenue even after the dictatorship was toppled in 1986, in fact the number of OFWs or overseas foreign workers grew. Nowadays, an estimated 10% of Filipinos are working abroad, not counting those of Filipino origin but with other citizenships.

At home, Ferdinand Marcos re-established the barangay (link), which apparently was just a term invented by Spanish colonialism, its hereditary office of cabeza de barangay an imitation of what the Spanish knew of hereditary nobility. That instrument of micro-management for the poor and rural areas was another fatal continuity after 1986. It seems that the barrio of American times was more democratic, and the idea of bayan (in Tagalog) or banwa (in Bisayan and Bikol) more native. What I have seen so far of Lumad leaders from Mindanao is a far cry from the petty despots that many barangay captains are. Marcos according to Adrian Cristobal (link) saw the Philippines as a “society of tribes” and himself as the “great tribal chief”. This fixed idea of how the Philippines was, is and is supposed to be probably shaped a tradition inherited by the likes of Binay and Duterte.

A nation died?

Yet the past years were not only negative. Massive migration formed a certain consciousness among those who were excluded from the institutions of the Republic (schools like UP or Ateneo, the AFP, government offices, political offices, newspapers and publications) by causing groups that did not meet that much before to meet – and usually speak the Filipino of the media and the street with one another. The Filipino media including movies created common narratives within the archipelago. Common folk idols like Manny Pacquiao. An emotional and visual people is highly media-driven. Would February 1986 have happened if no one had had a videorecorder on the plane that brought back Ninoy on August 21, 1983? Would EDSA 2 have happened without the televised impeachment trial of Erap and text messaging to mobilize the crowd? Going back, would Rizal have been that popular without his many “selfies”? And of course Dutertism without Facebook is unthinkable. Bayan indeed means both village and country. The townspeople cheer and cringe to every event. Magsaysay ruled dancing the mambo. Quezon and Marcos exuded power from behind the mike. Yet finally, real threats have often united Filipinos. The Japanese occupation was one such occasion. But this time, the challenges are greater and Filipino improvisation and resilience may not suffice. Not just China, but also climate change, environmental deterioration and overpopulation. Let’s see.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 Nov. 2018

Set in Stone

Volcanic stonesis what many a Filipino thought or sentiment seems to be. A certain stubbornness in sticking to one’s opinions is even seen as a virtue. In certain circles even arguing against all common sense. Whether one is PAO Persida Acosta insisting that as a lawyer, she knows that Dengvaxia kills, or whether one is Solicitor General Calida maintaining that not being able to find Trillanes’ amnesty application means it never existed. Inspite of footage, testimonies and other indications that it did. Probably a Filipino trickster will have respect for Calida’s grin while defending the obvious untruth.

Truth versus Power

Because that could be seen as higher intelligence than Acosta’s believing the nonsense she states. But that would mean that truth matters little, only power and winning – not learning anything. Because learning means having doubts, making mistakes, verifying assumptions and a lot more. That seems to be seen as a weakness in the Philippines. Or why are unverified drug lists published? That is dangerous in a country were even criticizing the government is now seen as destabilizing. But the chickens have come home to roost. The culture always saw words as instruments of power.

In a passive-aggressive culture (link), criticism can be two-faced as innuendo is used for “attack”. Like the part of an iceberg above the water is smaller than what is below, the facts being discussed are sometimes not what is really meant. Criticism of policies CAN indeed mean “destabilization”. Why? Because whether Filipinos cooperate with someone or not can depend a lot on petty moods. Whether the person is liked or not. Dislike for whatever reason can lead to howling condemnation like the one experienced by President Benigno Aquino III for far less mistakes than Duterte made.

Confrontation with certain types of Filipinos are of course to be avoided, as there are not only the passive-aggressive but also the vindictive types. President Duterte towards De Lima, Sereno and Trillanes. Hinting he would destroy “a female official” just after he started (link) – but for what? Simply for pointing out the obvious about him, for investigating extrajudicial killings? That is a culture were face is far more important than the truth, very obviously. Were being wrong is not the issue, even if everybody knows it somehow – being told one is wrong is what destroys ones esteem.

Truth to Power

Black Box Thinking (link) is a book about learning from mistakes. There are a few examples in the book which show when incapability to speak truth to power leads to fatal mistakes. Co-pilots who are too diplomatic in telling the pilot something critical. Nurses not assertive enough to doctors. Due to inborn “respect” for rank – misplaced in situations were seconds can mean life or death. There can of course be power that refuses to accept any version of reality except their own. That can be dangerous to them, as they can execute or fire those “against” them but not escape from reality.

This is especially true in modern situations where reality is complex and hard to intuitively “see”. That is why seat of the pants leaders like Philippine mayors have difficulty in national settings.  Someone who lives in a city can get a “feel” for it without even being mayor: I can “feel” Munich. Mayors will talk to different people and compare what they see with what they are told and then they can balance their picture, decide and immediately see the results. No need for anyone to tell. Better if, but if the culture is one of face and power (link) better not be “shaimed” (sic) too much.

Well, I did think that Duterte was a good leader originally, because of his “listening tours” (link) at a time when President Aquino was criticized heavily for being insensitive to the common people. But was he? Possibly he also had a hard time, as Filipino culture sees criticism as form of attack. Probably even his statement that the people are his boss was the worst thing he could have done. Filipino bosses can be demanding to the point of unfairness, many Filipinos prefer foreign bosses. Some people probably thought they could nitpick on practically anything, thus abusing democracy.

Powerful Truth

A recent article by Dr. Gideon Lasco on The Scholar as a Rebel (link) does stress the importance of challenging received wisdom as an essential aspect of learning: the best thinkers of their day were called “revolutionary” precisely because they helped build their societies upon ideas — ideas that were nurtured in universities, and viewed as rebellious at the time of their inception. Of course not every trollish social media commenter who says “ugok ka” and “mali iyan” is a useful “rebel”. Dissent must be based on proper reasoning – even if it may come from a new and fresh angle.

Criticism of the policies of a leader does not have to mean disrespecting the authority of a leader.  Protests are a necessary corrective to smugness that can weaken a ruling group after some time. Unfortunately the Philippines is still built on face and power, not on ideas, so sophistry rules. Dengvaxia might be OK, but that can’t be, it is yellow as eggyolk, just like the new MRT wagons! The mentality still “be like”: “look at Panot! Poe lectured that WEAKLING about Mamasapano! Our Digong deals with critics quickly!” Actually, mistakes that happened in every administration could have been used as opportunities to learn how to improve the system as a whole – not in finding a culprit. Even the question “why EJKs” could have been an opportunity to learn, as the reason might have been “police investigations too inefficient, courts too slow, customs too porous”. Yet the culture loves finding a culprit or culprits and punishing them in whatever way possible. Those perceived as weak often become the culprits and those perceived as strong assign blame. Truth would make everyone more powerful. But the perspective of many is so short-sighted.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 12 October 2018

 

 

Do you remember?

UP Activists during Martial Lawthe 21st night of September? The Earth, Wind and Fire Song that starts with these lyrics came out during the Martial Law period, in 1978. I was 13. The official declaration of Martial Law was not on Sept. 21 though, but on Sept. 23, 1972 if one is to look at Manolo Quezon’s account of what happened (link):

Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, PLDT, the airport, were shut down in the early hours of September 23. Media, political, and other personalities and activists were rounded up also in the early morning hours.

This is why martial law was announced with silence: people woke up to discover that TV and radio stations were off the air. Later in the day, some stations started playing easy listening music and some stations aired cartoons. But Marcos’ speechwriters were slow, then the teleprompter broke down, and the speech had to be hand-written on kartolina. So it wasn’t until dinnertime that Marcos finally appeared on TV and the country found out martial law was in place.

I do remember – vaguely – cartoons the entire day on TV. At seven years, one starts remembering. Our old black and white TV in a wooden casing. The Bagong Lipunan song on TV accompanying torch marches. Placard for a referendum saying “YES na YES”. Was it the ratification of the 1973 Constitution or was it the 1975 referendum giving Marcos more powers (link)? I don’t remember. In fact even as a child I did not feel like asking. In UP Campus, the sense of danger was present.  Much of what happened I found out only later, in “another life”, already in Europe far from that.

Simpler times?

Unlike in the Philippines today, there was hardly any news in Manila papers about “the provinces”. It was vaguely known that there was a conflict in Mindanao. Samar (link) was spoken of in hushes. Many people were jailed at the onset of Martial Law, and I think most were happy to be let out. Foreigners could be subjected to reprisals similar to those Sr. Patricia Fox is going through today. Though the thoroughly manipulative Marcos regime knew how to dose fear and reward very well. Marcos killed less people than have been killed in Duterte’s drug war, though more were tortured.

And many disappeared, or were subjected to different forms of harassment. And unlike today, there was hardly a way of making things known to a large crowd. No social media, not even Internet. Fax machines came in the 1980s. Try concealing a cassette recorder of those days to record threats. And there was a largely indifferent – by then – population. There had been a First Quarter Storm in the early 1970s, a Diliman Commune, strong opposition. And still, as Joel Pablo Salud writes (link):  Money was a means, not an end to most Filipinos. Martial Law changed that, as Salud writes:

Corruption, once a crime, had turned into practice. In so short a time, Marcos had transformed anti-materialism to a wholly materialistic mindset from top to bottom. Again, it was money for money’s sake. This bought the dictatorship more time..

..the general public had begun to heap scorn on most calls to dissent. Protest marches were marked as a menace to society. The words of the intellectuals, powerful though they may have been, fell on deaf ears.

It would be safe to assume that with the advent of Marcos’ New Society, which showcased, above all, his achievements in the area of infrastructure, economic development, and relationship with the superpowers—all paid for by the taxes of the people—the all-too-visual spectacle turned the public’s attention from any talk of reforms to such pageants as military parades, global events, virtually the sights and sounds and wonders created by this conjugal dictatorship of Ferdinand and Imelda.
The crass, even cold-blooded materialism of the Martial Law era is clear in my memory. The Filipino got his bread and his circuses. Miss Universe in 1973. The Thrilla in Manila: Ali vs. Frazier in 1975. UNCTAD V in 1979 (link) – which we smart ass kids connected with Voltes V (link):
Each day of the week, different robot shows were aired—“Mazinger Z,” “Daimos,” “Mekanda Robot,” “Grendizer” and “Dunguard Ace,” to name a few. They captured the imagination of a predigital generation..

..It was a wonderful time to be a kid then—until they were seized through a directive by the Marcos government. “Voltes V” and the other robot animes where banned from airing nationwide because of their alleged “excessive violence.”..

My [Toym Leon Imao’s] anger was trained on then President Ferdinand Marcos, who my young mind labeled as the Philippines version of the evil Boazanian Emperor.

Many from the generation that grew up during World War 2 and the Japanese occupation had another attitude to the Japanese warrior spirit shown in those anime. There were indeed protests from some parents and Marcos had responded to them. There was also a videogame ban (link).

Not all that glitters is gold

What I also know by now is that my mother joined the UP Cooperative in the early 1970s, when the first rice crisis hit the country, shortly before my brother was born. The UP Coop had NFA rice.  Good place to buy the basics. Only place with cash registers that also worked during brownouts.

Brownouts were frequent and so was lack of water. It is not as if frequent blackouts were something that started in the Cory years. Things were often experienced during Martial Law, hardly reported. The U.P. Fire Brigade went around distributing water to everyone one hot summer, 1975 or 1976.

When was it that the NAWASA in Balara, the ones in charge of water supply, got foreign money to improve water supply in Manila – but just built a fancy new headquarters on Katipunan? Hmm. Don’t remember the year but I know that it happened that way. Saw the fancy new building.

Just like I recall the often half-empty concert hall of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. And a story of how a foreign conductor stopped in the middle of a performance when Imelda’s people started filming him without a contract. The story I recall is that she herself came down with one.

So she didn’t dare treat him like the Beatles were treated in 1966 (link) after “snubbing” Imelda. Her showing off got a spooky note though when the Film Center accident happened in 1981 (link). Even if international friends of Imelda like George Hamilton were able to add to her glitter then.

It is only a paper moon

But then again, didn’t George Hamilton play in the vampire movie “Love at First Bite”? It is true that Filipinos until today are obsessed with appearing sophisticated and wordly. Even Napoles’ daughter buying her way into the Hollywood party circuit (link) in recent times reflects that. Colonialism I guess created an obsession with trying hard to be like those who came, conquered – and spread the word that their ways and looks were superior. Imelda Marcos’ shoes (link) are an example of the ostentatiousness of people who want to prove something at all costs, to the world.

Nowadays there exist members of the Filipino upper class who truly appreciate culture when they travel (link) – unlike some especially Marcos-era Filipinos who thought it was cool to sneer at, for example, how little Western Europeans spoke English. Or spoke it with an accent, how terrible! Quiet self-esteem looks different from grandiosity and constantly having to insult other people to prove one’s worth. What was also obvious during Marcos times was the huge difference between the too-perfect pictures of places and the real disorder and dirt around them. Only a paper moon.

Lost Golden Age?

Unfortunately the distorted picture of Martial Law seems to consist, among many, of the news that never reached Manila – meaning a seemingly less complex, chaotic world than today – and of the airbrushed pictures of the regime’s “accomplishments” which were mostly hollow – or not lasting. True, there were some good things, for example how Commissioner Mathay ran Metro Manila. Or the Metro Manila Transit Corporation – which unfortunately went bankrupt very quickly. But a regime that lasted 21 years should have done at least a few good things, it would be awful otherwise.

Could it be that the yearning back (among some) for a supposed Golden Age is that the travails of the past 32 years since 1986 have obscured how things really were during the Marcos era? One thing I see is that the Filipino middle class was much thinner back then. Sometimes I wonder if we are bad at counting our blessings, or curse even our blessings until curses come upon us. The 1960s were an economically expansive time, but somehow the dream of Martial Law seduced so many. Same with the Second Aquino Presidency (2010-2016) – it was laying the groundwork for more.

The moment you take your luck for granted, you might lose it – this is a life lesson many can learn. People can tend to forget the bad things about the past and forget how much better things are now. Probably with me, the reason why I don’t forget Martial Law – and I have left out very many things – is that I left in 1982. Maybe some things even got worse after 1986 – but I think because many things just went on due to inertia. Labor export since 1975 instead of industrial build-up. Brain drain since the 1960s. Reactive, not proactive politics. Worst: money as an end, not a means.

Symptoms and Causes

Policies that went at the symptoms and rarely at the root causes of anything. Latest example – EJK or tokhang as what many people thought would create peace and order. Just like Martial Law may have reduced street crime in the beginning (it came back later) but burglary increased, I do recall. But what to do with a people that love show over substance, like Marcos, for whom a “communiqué was the accomplishment itself, the implementation secondary”, as Lee Kuan Yew observed (link)? A people that often place their false pride first and refuse to accept criticism that could be helpful?

Well, I partly understand that sensitivity. Gossip and damaging criticism can damage you badly in a country where many people don’t form their own judgement about a person, but follow the crowd. Which is why trolls have played an important role in keeping President Duterte where he is now. What I myself admit that I was influenced by certain commonly held opinions also. Surprisingly until recently about Mar Roxas. His recent suggestions on rice policy show a man who analyzes very thoroughly (link) and with a realistic focus, not a bumbling theoretician with “analysis paralysis”.

What will happen?

Today is going to be a day of protests in the Philippines. I wonder how many people will come now. What Filipinos finally will decide. Because, as Joel Pablo Salud also wrote (link), the once proud Filipino was again reduced to the groveling, finicky and fearful crofter of Joaquin’s “The Heritage of Smallness” ..by Martial Law. And this after the 1960s.. had began shaping Philippine society into the vibrant, energetic.. constituency it was always meant to be. Or like contributor caliphman on Joe America’s blog more or less wrote, will they decide to stay carabaos? Or will they say no?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 21 Sept. 2018

Quo warranto et ab initio in saeculo saeculorum

Wikipedia scale of justice3Social media is full of memes since the attempt to void the amnesty of Senator Trillanes.  Just like the lack of a birth certificate does not make a person unborn, a missing marriage certificate does not annul a marriage, and whether one has the death certificate of Rizal somewhere in a museum or not, Rizal (and Elvis) are dead. Will quo warranto and ab initio go the way of in saecula saeculorum (“now and forever” in Catholic liturgy – link) which became colorum (link) due to use by cult-like rebels?  Has Solicitor General Calida crossed the line, offended Filipinos?

Laws as commitments

His predecessor Florin Hilbay asked whether anyone sent to buy vinegar (Robin Padilla) can just arrest someone now. There are even memes that ask if a marriage is annulled if the marriage certificate is missing. One thing very sacred to Filipinos is marriage, not just a legal document like so much else but a sacred commitment made. Just like an amnesty is a commitment by a state to a person. Laws are also a form of commitment, like contracts between people are commitments. Morality is also a form of commitment to restrain one’s own baser instincts, and be nice to others.

The left is also defending Trillanes, not because they like him, but because the principle that an amnesty stays is essential to the safety of many former rebels among the left. Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo says that (link) “The State cannot be shackled by an act of clemency it has given to a political offender when the latter pursues subsequent acts inimical to its interest..” which betrays an idea of government “for the powerful, by the powerful for the powerful” not the people. Government should keep its commitments, not be captive to the whims of groups or factions.

Patronage and Impunity

Of course the old rules of malakas and mahina (link) or strong and weak worked out in Filipino politics for a long time, possibly even in pre-Hispanic barangays. The losers possibly even left on their own balanghai (link) to new settlements if the arrangement was too odious – there was space. Then it became convincing the powers that be that one is “right” – leading to phenomena like split-level Christianity (link) or trying to curry favor with the higher power of the time by pretending to adhere to whatever one thought would please them, even if it was only a simulation not reality.

Reagan’s Vice President Bush (senior) told Marcos (Sr.) in 1981 “We love your adherence to democratic principle and to the democratic processes” (link). Marcos must have been very pleased. The system of master pleases patron, even if only for show, to be allowed impunity downwards. Years later, Marcos was to be surprised that American society had eventually developed to also care whether human rights were adhered to abroad, away from the principle of “our SOB” (link). Thus he was “very, very disappointed” when Senator Laxalt told him to “cut, and cut cleanly” in 1986.

What does the Filipino want?

One could defend the old system as “Filipino culture”, but some recent memes show some beliefs might be changing: police ask for your driver’s license application instead of your driver’s license, or POEA wants your passport application instead of your passport.  Are they tired of impunity? There is a major principle that makes rule of law both real and yes, even pleasant for those with less power: legal certainty (link), defined as “a principle in national and international law which holds that the law must provide those subject to it with the ability to regulate their conduct.”

One could argue that the unwritten rules of Philippine society, basically the rules of patronage and impunity, are predictable to those who grow up in them. But is it a nice life having to always watch out who you might offend? Especially the Filipino entitled, who often are unpredictably grandiose? The President with his obvious narcissism is just an extreme manifestation. The others who shout “do you know who I am” to anyone they think is in their way or otherwise offended them are more. Might be that the Philippines is on the road to hell if those who dream of being like that are more.


Does the majority really think the Philippines is meant to be ruled by impunity, by face and power, and by rent-seekers forever? Quo warranto, or what gives the entitled to rule the country after all? Though some Marcos loyalists call the so-called yellows “pretenders” (link) which is a term used for fake royalty and some even say that Bongbong Marcos will soon “wear the crown” of Vice President. As if that dynasty ruled the country ab initio (from the beginning) and had the right to do so in saeculo saeculorum (for ever and ever). Mind your betters, or Magistrate Calida will punish you!

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 8 September 2018

 

Soft and Forgiving?

Lee Kuan YewWhere is that Filipino attribute gone? Lee Kuan Yew said it in this context (link): It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. There is not much softness and forgiving attitude among those who are OK with poor people getting killed as drug suspects. There is downright malice towards the family and those associated with the political color that helped bring down Marcos, including recent unsubstantiated claims against the City of Naga (link) aimed at damaging Vice President Robredo. “Those who claim to be better should be measured by higher standards” a Duterte supporter once told me.

Brazenness is Strength

So much for soft and forgiving. Probably those who don’t “claim to be better” are given a free pass. Maybe those brazen like the Tulfos (link) with their 60 million are admired for their “strength”. What I do understand is that all places where there used to be oppression have some degree of admiration of sorts for bandits. Oppression made ordinary people take shortcuts, go against the law, and those who were especially bold at it had the people’s sympathy. But the Tulfos are NOT Robin Hoods. Especially this is NOT worthy of Robin Hood or Zorro and especially not my idol Batman (link): He relates how his driver bumped a little girl in Navotas and how they had taken her to the ER, only to be seen by a doctor who refused to give the girl first aid. Nothing in the video reflects this.. The video also shows Tulfo harassing the medical staff and saying “gago ka!” 

Unrepentantly, Imee Marcos has told Filipinos to move on (link) from the past. The New York Times article also says this: Thousands of people were killed and tortured during the Marcos era, and the Marcos family was accused of stealing roughly $10 billion in government treasure to enrich itself. There is a bit of a counter-reaction now, with reminders that Marcos debt will take until 2025 for the Philippines to pay. But I wonder how much that reaches most Filipinos. Money that belongs to the government I think is an abstraction to most Filipinos, and I concur (to borrow a term used by many emergency room doctors, in honor of those harrased by Mon Tulfo) with Edgar Lores in this (link): Filipino thinking is concrete thinking [not abstract thinking]. State money is to most just as endless as the money of relatives abroad, not my money, why bother?

Utang na loob

Those who have understood that it is the sum of the money paid as taxes are usually middle class. People who have worked hard for their money – and to the typical Filipino may appear as stingy or even worse, “ambitious”. The Filipino culture is one of sharing, but that sharing also has a bad side, meaning relatives and “friends” who borrow money or other stuff, never to give it back. Probably a holdover from the times were nobody had much and a lot of things were handled via an economy of favors and counter-favors, something still reflected in the idea of utang na loob. From overseas, the capitalist economy came and gave people with certain skills opportunities. Andres Bonifacio was warehouseman of Fressel & Co., a German company, many Katipuneros had similar jobs in Manila. The American period and afterwards brought more opportunities – outside of the old barangays.

Another aspect of utang na loob is indebtedness towards a patron. Probably a fair deal in the times of small settlements. A capable leader helped his supporters, who demonstrated loyalty in return and vice versa. It probably became a lopsided arrangement as the original chieftains became part of the colonial system as principalia with hereditary status, something they did not have before. Late 19th century agribusiness like sugar, tobacco and abaca made the local elites more powerful, together with the new mestizo elites. American-style democracy favored these elites even more. Finally, these elites controlled local governments and a national government to dispense favors in return for loyalty and vice versa. Commercial elites also had similar arrangements with underlings, except that a certain efficiency was also expected, at least compared to typical government service.

Ways to prosperity

Very typically, a UP graduate would tend to gravitate toward government while an Ateneo graduate would usually work in “Makati”, the private sector. The times where the difference was very pronounced is gone, when every public high school valedictorian and salutatorian automatically got a UP scholarship, just as the times are gone when UP was typically either leftist and/or nationalist and Ateneo was typically liberal and internationalist with its many rich mestizos. Marcos, Binay and Enrile all went to UP while Benigno Aquino Jr., Benigno Aquino III and Mar Roxas all went to Ateneo, but Leni Robredo and Florin Hilbay went to UP while Senator Gordon went to Ateneo. Probably BPO and other international firms coming to the Philippines also broke the unwritten rule of old that you had to usually be from Ateneo or La Salle to make a big career in the private sector.

Things went well for a while with Marcos’ system, even under Martial Law. The middle classes continued to prosper, the promise of order in the streets of burgeoning Metro Manila was kept at least on the surface, although the more covert forms of disorder like break-ins went up. The walls around houses that did not have walls before went up, and gated communities, originally a preserve of the rich, were built more and more for the middle class. Growth of slums will have accelerated then as well, as Manila did not give everybody the same access to its elusive dream. But in 1975, POEA was founded, and year by year more Filipinos were sent especially to the Middle East. Also, Export Processing Zones were created to attract foreign factories, for example Germany’s Triumph. Rice shortages or violence in the provinces hardly affected Manila, as little became known then.

Not only because the media barely reported, but also because Filipinos stay in their own circles. Also they tend to care little about circles outside their own, even if nowadays there seems to be a new crowd that has a more encompassing sense of right and wrong, outside of the usual “kami”. Kami being the “exclusive us” that means “us without you”, where you are the one being spoken to. Prof. Zialcita, a Filipino anthropologist, says that (link) in societies where the State and the City are absent, individuals live in organizations that are largely kin-based, leading to a sense that the primary moral obligation is only to the kin and not to a broader, abstract community. Corollary to that, the nonkin tend to be regarded as a potential enemy or a potential victim. So there was not much of a reckoning with Marcos in 1986. OFW export continued. So did migration to Manila.

Towards more Community

The origin of the Filipino is in barangays. There were the beginnings of cities like Manila and Cebu. And going back to the 19th century, the formation of national elites with money and education, which became the power elites of the American-era Philippines, and then those who studied to become government and private sector employees as well as military officers and intellectual elites. Those who left their own barangays last to join the teeming mass of what is now called Filipinos were the OFWs and also some BPO workers. Of course a lot of the teeming new middle class of the 1970s did not hear about the human rights victims of the Marcos dictatorship, who were often UP or Ateneo students, often left-leaning but not always. Yellow confetti falling into Makati streets fell for recently widowed Cory Aquino, not for most of those now named at Bantayog ng mga Bayani.

The new middle class of now cares as little about others as their newly arrived predecessors in the 1970s, who were usually OK with things as long as their prosperity went up. When that failed and Benigno Aquino’s murder shocked the country, a lot of those formerly indifferent became “yellow”. Not so strangely, liberals and leftists nowadays, and the graduates of the major universities as opposed to the diploma mills many OFWs come from, have a lot more common ground today. There is still some distrust, but within the different parts of the opposition the discourse is quite lively and interesting – usually taking place via social media. This is not surprising, as Edgar Lores already noted the Filipino mind is concrete, not abstract. And my corollary to that is  – it is visual. EDSA I was due to videotape, EDSA II due to text messages, recent upheavals due to social media.

Owing the Community

Facebook memes that say “why not steal from Marcos loyalists and then ask them to move on” or “why not borrow money from them, not pay it back, then say move on” show abstraction though. Certain Filipinos now have a sense of something maybe even their parents may not yet have had: that the state and the nation are a common venture of all, not just some abstract entity, or a milking cow once owned by the colonial powers and assumed to be a piggy bank for whoever is in power. The new middle classes whose came up mostly due to OFW remittances  and whose roots according to Mila Aguilar are still in the peasantry (link) might have another view of things. They might even see the older middle classes and the graduates of better universities as strangers (possible enemies or victims?) and gravitate to the same kind of patronage politicians their parents knew. Let us see.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 25 August 2018

Resiliency and Readiness

Tropical cyclones 1945 2006 wikicolorseem like opposites but aren’t. There has been a vibrant discussion on social media since yesterday on resilience as a Filipino attribute. A 2013 article by Ninotchka Rosca (link) says:  “To say that Filipinos are resilient is an assurance for those who have imposed upon them – much and repeatedly. It is to say to themselves that we shake off tragedy much like ducks shaking off water.” Miyako Izabel twitters (link) “I’m sorry, there’s nothing wrong with Filipino resilience. Why are you attacking it? Filipino psychology is observable. You can see how Filipinos use tawa to conceal hiya and ngiti to hide takot. It’s our coping mechanism. We process hopelessness and helplessness differently”. Tawa or laughing to conceal shame, and smiling or ngiti to hide fear – I don’t think this is Filipino-specific. Many Asians conceal embarrassment with laughter. Smiling to hide FEAR sounds like a response towards those that one must not anger. In 2014, Shakira Sison wrote (link) that “The problem with our resilience is the speed by which we transform trauma into acceptance. Instead of solving problems, we simply cope or wait for the problem to pass.”

Anong magagawa natin?

Miyako Izabel does add this to the discussion later: The self-projected resilience of Filipinos is a coping mechanism embedded in their consciousness or psyche. The politicians’ dismissive nonchalance–“nevermind Filipinos; they’re resilient to hardship, hunger, poverty, persecutions, killings, calamities”–is an oppressive insult. Just like another netizen tweets (link): “We’re only resilient because we have no fucking choice.” or Inday Espina-Varona who tweets (link): “Walang masama sa resiliency. Helped us survive centuries of disasters (and colonisers and abusive leaders). The important point is, not to rely on it as solution to problems. Resilience is no substitute for accountability and reform.” Anong magagawa natin becomes may magagawa tayo. Indeed the improvisation by private parties and LGUs, as well as the higher degree of preparation by LGUs such as Marikina and Cainta, turned out to be a highlight of yesterday and today. Kudos. The Filipino is not as helpless and hopeless as it seems, after all. The President was hardly missed. Resiliency in the sense of excusing lack of preparation was not at all evident in those doing things.

The bayanihan spirit of spontaneous helping one another (Ateneo, CBCP and a number of other groups launched drives to collect relief goods) plus the contemporary spirit of for example having highly modern evacuation centers in Marikina (link) combined to deal with a perennial scourge. There were some of the netizens who did remember that overbuilding – even over canals and streams as well as natural flooding areas – and garbage clogging drains were part of the causes. Certainly there is more than can be done here, especially to avoid Manila Bay spitting back. Possibly the key is “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,  Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.”. Another of course is to start with what is necessary, then do what is possible – another basic principle in setting priorities. That easy?

Barangays and polders

Far-flung barangays, especially 500 years ago when the Philippines had only 600 thousand people, relied on their own resiliency to survive. Probably even 120 years ago, with not even 10 million Filipinos, it was similar. One still had to take a steamship to get to storm-ridden Bikol or Samar. The strength of storms hadn’t increased yet due to global warming though, and it could be that people still followed some old native wisdom not to build in certain places. Anywhere one goes in the world, the poorest parts of cities were usually those near the river – even Au in Munich, which in southern German means a low lying meadow near the river. Even scientifically minded people should not look down upon, or underestimate folk wisdom. Tribes on the Andamans and Nicobars survived the 2005 tsunami by moving to higher ground (link). There are stories of Bikol people having similar strategies with storms. For all we know, native healers noticed patterns in clouds and wind before storms came and were the ones who warned the chiefs to keep the village safe. Practical adaptations like houses on stilts were part of a culture which was both ready and resilient.

Need is the driver of invention. A Filipino visitor to Europe recently noted that many trash cans here have no lids and windows have no screens (link) – leading to a lot of flies in the recent heat wave over here. On the other hand, houses here have tilted roofs – to keep snow from piling up. Romans described what later became the Netherlands as a country that was neither land nor sea. Yet the Dutch made the most out of it. Waterschapen or water boards were among their first democratic institutions to take care of water in every respect (link): “Punishments meted out by water boards were fines for misdemeanors such as emptying waste in the nearest canal; however, according to various historical documents, the death penalty was used more than once for serious offenders who threatened dike safety or water quality.” The collective effort of making one’s own land – very literally – can be compared with what it took to build the Banaue rice terraces, or the Inca irrigation systems in the Andes. The Afsluitdijk (link) crowns centuries of work, and fulfills the motto of its chief engineer Cornelius Lely, that “a people that lives builds for its future”.

Up and Down the Country

American officials in the early 20th century described the Tagalogs as one people. There is some sense in that as they spoke the same language with several dialects (like the marked Batangas dialect) already then. Tondo as the settlement at the mouth of the Pasig river in the large natural harbor of Manila Bay existed for centuries, even before Malays established what became Maynila or later Intramuros. Certainly the economic links with the fish-rich Laguna de Bay already formed a country in the sense of people who constantly interact with one another. Probably Spanish times helped spread Tagalog upwards all the way to Nueva Ecija. Certainly if an archipelago is not yet fully united in an abstract sense, ecological and economic areas are practical ways of dealing with common interests and resources. The Pharaohs of Upper and Lower Egypt certainly had an important role in resolving how water was distributed between the fertile delta and the upriver communities. At the very least, leaders should try to work for the collective prosperity of a common area  – unity often arises out of that. For that, leaders need a sense of the whole and the future.

Going up and down the Isar river near Munich, one senses how an entire river was tamed for those who live along its banks. From the Sylvenstein reservoir upstream, whose water is sometimes let out preemptively before heavy rains – in order to be able to keep those from affecting Munich with its 1.4 million people. Canals along the Isar help regulate the river before, in and after Munich, but also have a history as passageways for timber chopped down in the mountains – an old industry. Likewise many small hydroelectric plants – still in use – interrupt these canals, including locks. Munich’s central heating plant takes up water from the river before the city, heats it up and puts int back into the canals after it has heated large parts of the town. The canals and creeks within Munich are laid dry in early spring, before the water in the mountains melts, to clean them. There is a large artificial lake north of Munich to help regulate water flow, additionally clean the water coming from the city – even if Munich has a huge sewage treatment plant which cleans the dirty water from the city before it goes into the river, in a process involving algae and bacteria.

The Babaylan of Christmas Present

Rizal in his novels describes the Pasig River and the Laguna Lake including Talim Island very well. One feels that he knew his terrain, his countryside. Do Filipinos still know their terrain that well? One cannot immediately get to the level of Munich, which is like cleaning a toilet with a toothbrush. But it isn’t impossible to clean up things. Iloilo managed to clean up its river. Could be, or course, that many inhabitants of Manila don’t truly see it as their home. Many people who just came there. Short-sighted, narrow self-interest and greed have not helped. Nor has petty politicking helped.  Previous admins always had their mistakes. But the population density – and the newfound affluence – of today makes strategies that worked for barangays even 120 years ago unrealistic. According to a Bloomberg news report (link), 54 thousand were now evacuated in Metro Manila.

Looking at the cars that landed in the Marikina river hurts. Owning more means more to protect. Filipinos who work in international firms will know the value of the time lost due to those floods. That is a far cry from the sense of time we had in the Philippines of the 1970s, when hours went by. Resilience is good. Readiness is better. Foresight is needed. System thinking. Who will be up to it? DOST Project NOAH, very useful in predicting flood levels, was defunded by the present admin (link) and had to retreat to being a mere UP research project, bereft of its national sensor network.

One may be tempted to dismiss the fake Manila Bay clean-up drive of Manila Mayor Erap Estrada as the foolishness of an old clown. But unfortunately it isn’t that simple. Mila Aguilar, who has experienced decades of Philippine history closely, describes the present situation like this (link):

..Failure to maintain that flood control system in the past two years has been the result of:

1. Focus on divisive politics instead of good government.

2. Extreme focus on a fake drug war that kills instead of rehabilitating the poor, whether they be real addicts or not.

3. Return of gross corruption and 60 percent commissions on road projects, resulting in sloppy work that fills up culverts instead of emptying or building them, and a flurry to start them even in the midst of the rainy season.

4. Utter failure of local governments to clean up culverts and creeks of garbage, the money probably not being there.

5. Widespread demoralization among the urban poor, who because they are the primary targets of killings, price increases and insults on their persons, will naturally not cooperate in cleaning up their surroundings.

The garbage that floats out of culverts and creeks all over the National Capital Region is but a symptom of the vomit that the nation feels in its gut over the present greed..

Babaylans of old may have felt disaster coming in the wind and clouds. Raja Duterte has no seers. Yet this is visible for all to see: a hanging bridge in Rizal demolished by a flashflood. Serious masses of water coming down the river. Anyone who knows rivers knows the sheer power water can have.

Flashflood destroyed the Hanging Bridge connecting Sitio Wawa and Sitio Sto. Nino. Large part of Sitio Wawa is inaccessible by vehicles and people need to find alternative routes by foot to reach their homes. The Barangay San Rafael staffs are already assisting and on the move to help those who are affected.These footages were captured to help the LGU assess the situation and see the extent of the damages caused by the flash flood.Stay safe everyone and lets pray for the rain to stop.

Gepostet von Edzon Sison am Samstag, 11. August 2018

The Babaylan of Christmas Future

Famous author Ninotchka Rosca would probably have been a babaylan in the old Philippines. Her common sense about both the past and the present give her a good sense of what might happen. She says this on Facebook, and it sounds almost like a scary vision of the future to come (link):

Shortly after super-typhoon Hai-yan (Yolanda) hit the Philippines, I wrote a piece for Yahoo on how the word “resilient” was actually an insult; that to apply it to what Filipinos were undergoing was to minimize the disaster which had claimed lives, wiped out towns, villages and at least one city, driving them to starvation and helplessness and the prostitution even of children… And dang, hundreds of Filipinos took umbrage. So dearies, because you are resilient, nobody’s fixing your canals, your waterways; nobody’s stopping construction and over-development; nobody’s fixing your garbage disposal system; and the mega shopping malls are building over what should’ve been rivers flowing to the sea, the mouth of the sea itself is being stoppered through land reclamation… Because being resilient means you can survive the worst and the worst will hence be your condition of existence. .

“Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me.” is Scrooge’s reaction to the future in “A Christmas Carol”. Would a Filipino just laugh?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 12 August 2018

Debasing the Filipino

Mocha Uson 2017is there anything else Mocha Uson’s recent Pepe Dede Ralism (link) show could have been about? Especially with the lewd dance number of the young man at the start? Granted that there has been a bit of a Kulturkampf (link) against the norms of the Catholic Church for a number of decades.

Granted that pre-Hispanic Filipino sexuality was by all accounts less repressed than after Spain, and that America may have brought some modern ideas but also is repressed about sex at times. Something like Nipplegate would not have been worth noticing in most parts of modern Europe.

Granted that it was hard to get the Reproductive Health Law through. And that a Senator Sotto was able to attack a former activist like Judy Taguiwalo for having children out of wedlock (link) when it was the Filipino left that was second to attack certain forms of hypocrisy. Rizal’s Noli was the first.


Even in outwardly more prim and proper days some decades ago, Filipino migrants already had comics with somewhat lewd jokes, including a fairy with spells like “Abra ka dabra, panty at bra!”. Probably Kris Aquino, at the latest, did away with the old prim and proper by rebelling against it.

By the time of Erap, everybody even the papers spoke about his No. 1, No.2, No. 3 etc. so that an alien from Centauri could write into his notebook that “the chiefs of these islands are polygamous, and it is accepted by the natives”. In addition “simple men often just leave their wives for younger”.

Priorities are so clearly wrong. A divorce law and clear rules that a man has to pay at least until his kids are 18 if he leaves his wife would be better than pretending monogamy always works in reality. Proper awareness would help more against teen pregnancies and HIV – that could be Mocha’s job.


But instead of raising awareness, Mocha fools the people. That isn’t new – debasing them I think is. Federalism is important, it ain’t about what pussies (pepe) and tits (dede) you have in each state. Talking to citizens about the big F as if it was not Federalism, but Fucking just talks down to them.

What was that about, making the Philippines Asia’s Red Light District, take your pick of pussy?  What do you want to buy, Marawi or Boracay? Normal or perverse? With or without tokhang porn? Putang Inang Bayan, for sale by Pimp Daddy Duts? Big D, is that what your front seat bitch means?

Duterte and Mocha have catered to a lot of Filipino inferiority complexes – and to crab mentality. What I wonder is if a rest of a sense of national dignity will be awakened by this line now crossed. Now if most Filipinos prefer that treatment, a point of no return may already have been reached.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 5 August 2018

Idols, Villains and Martyrs – the Endless Philippine Cycle

MorionsRecently, Senator Trillanes was deprived of his PNP security detail, leading to speculations that Duterte might make a martyr that will finally mobilize the people. Edgar Lores has mentioned idolatry as a major Filipino weakness (link), but I think that he mainly tackles the aspect of living idols. Figures perceived as strong like Bonifacio, Quezon, Magsaysay, Marcos and Duterte – or figures perceived as compassionate like Tandang Sora (link) and Corazon Aquino. Martyrs that mobilized the people like Gomburza (link), Rizal and Ninoy Aquino are also an aspect of idolatry.

Hoping for magicians

The father of one of my German university classmates said that Filipinos are “voodoo Catholics”. A bit true, especially if one looks at how Edgar Lores relates split-level Christianity and idolatry. Pro forma most Filipinos are Christian but in daily life it seems many forget the rules they learned. Same with democracy and rule of law – the entire system is gamed from top to bottom while lip service is rendered to its principles. The Preamble of the Philippine Constitution is the “clean kitchen” while the “dirty kitchen” is what one sees if one walks through Manila with open eyes.

From time to time, Filipinos want stern figures to force them to clean the dirty kitchen. Strongmen. They may be hated after a while, especially if they fail to really change things – or the economy fails. Martyrs are revered, but to some extent I think they, like Jesus, “wash away everybody else’s sins”. Large parts of the middle class that threw out Marcos were the same class that put him in power. Their materialism at the expense of society as a whole did not change after they ousted Marcos. Pointing at Marcos as a villain does not change the fact that they enabled him in his early years.

Same old song, once again

Kind and honest figures like Corazon Aquino and her son may rise to power after people are fed up with excessively ruthless and dishonest leaders like Marcos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But they become culprits much faster than the ruthless players, as there never are miracles in real life. The economic progress during the time of President Benigno Aquino III was respectable but not fast enough for many who said “they did not feel it”. The painstaking rebuilding of democracy in the time of Cory was considered a failure as well by many. Easy to blame idols of all sorts, I say.

  • Will a strongman make me stronger? Only if I learn self-discipline.
  • Will a good person make me better? Only if I learn to act better.
  • Will a martyr wash away my sins for good? Only if I forgive myself.

But changing oneself takes self-knowledge. Most Filipinos lack that, prefer pretense to reality. There is a story about how a lady guest professor from Russia got into trouble for saying most Filipino students cheat during exams. Just like many people got mad at recent tarps calling the Philippines a province of China (link) – more than at so many de facto violations of sovereignty. “Filipino pride” is often a stubborn kind of denial. Probably because of too many pontificating hypocrites in the country’s history. Sometimes, those who mean well also turn into naggers.

Be good – enough!

Expectations of perfection and saintliness make people cheat, because they can never be fulfilled. So many Filipinos admire dead heroes while living examples of virtue make them uncomfortable. The defense mechanism of many is call them “hypocrite”, to try to topple the idols of morality. While playing the split-level games most people play in a country where the system hardly works. And the system hardly works because people play games. Sometimes to avoid being blamed. Usually a culprit caught is blamed for the sins of the world, shamed for life, no holy martyrdom.

How about just being good enough for a start? Because in most modern countries, people are not heroes at all. They just do their job and follow the rules. And they mostly don’t game the system. Gaming the system is a clever workaround if you are under oppressive rulers who steal from you. The more people have been under unfair rulers, the more you will find game-playing, which is a spectrum with many shades of grey. People who have seen little fairness often don’t act that fair. Unfortunately, this is like the prisoner’s dilemma (link) – who is bold to take the leap of faith?

Possibly more would take the leap of faith if the priorities in Philippine society were the right ones. Concentrate on drug lords instead of drug users, for examples. Waive bank secrecy to investigate (not in general) instead of having that laborious and ultimately useless exercise called SALN filing. Otherwise, Passion Plays with idols, villains and martyrs will keep repeating themselves uselessly, with the same dysfunctional behavior on the ground and in the dirty kitchen of national reality. Society as a whole is required. Grown-ups who act, not children who wait for the magic of idols.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 14 July 2018