Archive for category Challenges

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

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As “National Parent”

President Rodrigo Duterte 080816Duterte says he can order rounding up “tambays” (link), citing the parens patriae doctrine (link) – the power of the state to “intervene against an abusive or negligent parent, legal guardian, or informal caretaker, and to act as the parent of any child or individual who is in need of protection.” Yet one wonders what kind of parent or guardian would put children in jails like those shown in a recent Al Jazeera report (link) which says that “Philippine law prohibits jailing minors but in the absence of separate detention facilities for them, they usually end up in the same jail cells..”.

The same government wants to administer mandatory drug tests to minors starting 10 years old – and not even the Church seems to oppose it (link). If that is parenthood, it not just conservative, it is reactionary. It makes every child a suspect, born with original sin but without any grace of God. One might be tempted to think that the government and church are back in the early 19th century, and that the Spanish in their palace are saying “nothing good will ever come of these Indios”- except that some supporters of Duterte proudly call him “Indio” (link) for his anti-Catholic rhetoric.

There are even ideas being floated that could scrap the 4Ps (link) which have proven effective in reducing poverty, giving poor children more of a chance to go to school. No child should ever be disadvantaged for the circumstances that made its parents poor – it is not the fault of the child. Unfortunately, the anti-tambay measures, the so-called drug war and more marginalize especially the poor Filipinos. There are those who say that as intelligence is mainly inherited, the poor will most likely be poor because of stupid genes – some are even those smart enough to know better.

Some people may be poor because of bad luck. A sickness they could not pay for, no large enough family, no OFWs or corrupt officials in it to help out with the costs – and savings can be depleted. PhilHealth coverage as it is today in the Philippines is new. Or weaknesses of personality that lead to gambling or drug addiction, dragging everybody down. The medieval mindset in the Philippines sees mental illness and drug addiction as stigmata. Add to that the Social Darwinism of the rich and the new middle classes. The old middle classes may just look away – or at most offer their prayers.

Lowering the age of criminal liability is dropped for now (link) but the mindset is still there. Native wisdom says the children have a mind of their own (may isip) at 7 years, which corresponds to what Jean Piaget (link) says. Almost all earliest memories we have start around that age. But is a child of 10 aware enough to know the full scope of all of its actions? Even teens can be a bit amoral at times. Guiding the young means teaching them to be part of society. Just punishing them teaches them:  “don’t get caught. If caught, don’t admit”. Are these the only “values” that “Punishers” really have?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 30 June 2018

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A Big Mess..

Dirty dishesis not just Boracay nowadays. The whole Philippines looks like one. But how does one clean up? Doesn’t look like a leader with a short fuse cuts it. Terminating the contract with all of Miascor nationwide over a few (link)? Closing Boracay and destroying livelihoods to “clean”? Or maybe indeed just to drive everyone away and put up a casino? Threatening to shoot drivers of colorum (unlicensed) public vehicles? Challenging the Maute to burn down Marawi? Of course there are promises like promising to end crime in 3-6 months. Who believed that sort of crap?

Short-term mentality

Instant gratification seems to be an issue with a lot of Filipinos. Thinking problems can all be solved quickly, like in action movies where heroes do exactly that. Long- or medium-term work, real work on improving fundamentals isn’t that visible, so it is not rewarded with social prestige. Maintenance is even less prestigious, and overhauling badly maintained systems is even worse as blame can be attached to it. Often the solution is just to buy something new. Nothing has really been fixed with the MRT3, but the Metro Manila Subway is all set to be built (link). Will it also rot?

The Luzon railway lines built by the Spanish and the Americans practically no longer exist today. The Bicol line still somehow worked in the 1970s, though it was rotting. Plenty of railway lines in Europe are as old as or older than the Bicol line – built in the 1930s – or the 1890s line to Dagupan. EDSA, the circumferential road around Metro Manila (also called C4 by planners) has at least survived from the times of Quezon – a leader with real long-term foresight. Just like the structure of government dates back to his times – and probably could use a massive IT-based reorganization.

Just details

But many of the entitled in positions of power and privilege tend not to care much about detail. That is something underlings do for them – at home and in the office. Politicking is important. Getting real work done is beneath them. Except possibly for soldiers and housewives. Why? Because soldiers have to take care of details from Day One of their training, down to their boots. Housewives because they also have to take care of details some more entitled men might scorn. There will also be elite housewives who just order maids around of course, but also hands-on ones.

The last former soldier to be President was Ramos – and he did fairly well. So did a lot of those who were Presidents after the war who passed through the challenges of wartime. They knew hardship. They knew situations where you are dead if you don’t watch the details. Even Marcos was a much better-organized leader than both (entitled) civilians Erap and Duterte. And there was a housewife who was President and did fairly well (link), inspite of coming from a very privileged family. But probably the challenges of bringing up her children while her husband was in jail steeled Cory.

True stewardship

A soldier, a housewife – or a former jeepney driver like President Magsaysay was, among other things – will know how to take care of stuff. Will know that details matter, not just ordering people. Many of the entitled just act like one consul who had a half-door removed that allowed his employees to talk to applicants without letting them into the office immediately – because his wife got caught in it with her Imeldific hair. The result was that all just walked in, making work much harder. Get whatever bothers me out, at once. And don’t complain to me. Or else – I will “jetski”.

You can’t do that as a leader I think – unless of course you are the kind of general who lets his enlisted men carry him over the water, who do exist in the Philippines. A real leader gets details from those working for him to get the big picture – and acts on it by delegating work back to all. Threatening to shoot or accusing people of being funded by imagined enemies is simply the petulance of a brat (link) who never truly faced a rival. Who is to help those who mistake tantrums for “leadership”? Who look down upon system thinking, attention to detail and perseverance?

True stewardship means having the drainage fixed so that waters return to clean and stay clean.  It means getting the MRT3 working again like it is almost new.  It can mean getting factories – not casinos – to come to the country to give jobs to the people. Didn’t Aquino manage to get Japanese, German and other factories to come to the Philippines? One good point not even critics can deny! But it didn’t get him much respect. Swearing, threatening and punching walls is what some see as “leadership”. VP Leni doing her work (link) is true stewardship. When will that be valued more?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 29 March 2018

A concerted effort against him

Passion of Christ-Bearing of the Crossis what Duterte calls the ICC preliminary investigation (link). Isn’t that a bit like a counterflowing driver in Manila who sees everybody driving the wrong way around? Funny though that in Manila, those who insist on their right of way against such jerks can be seen as obstructive. So it might well be that Duterte might get sympathy for effectively showing contempt of court, painting himself as a victim of oppressive foreign forces – even if he is seen as a coward by many already. That might just be my “yellow” (Westernized, educated) bubble though, just like those who sympathize with Chief Justice Sereno. Who knows what the typical man on the street or the OFW in Saudi Arabia thinks of CJ Sereno, does he see her as an arrogant bitch who refuses to leave even if “many people” (link) don’t like her as a boss anymore? Or didn’t people ask Maggie Dela Riva once “how it feels to be responsible for the death of four men”? (link) Her answer was: “I’m not responsible for the death of four men. They did it to themselves. They had the power of choice. They chose to be evil. They had to meet the consequences of their action.” They had raped her, a famous actress, back in 1967.

Facing the Consequences

Dela Riva’s idea of people having to face the consequences of their actions seems downright quaint if one looks at the sad state of the Philippines today. The President himself, quintessential Filipino everyman, shirks the consequences of his actions. Leaves the ICC, tries to impeach a Chief Justice who admonished him due to drug lists that included judges, puts a Senator who tried to investigate extrajudicial killings in jail based on testimonies of alleged drug lords who now have been released by his own Secretary of Justice, gives the mastermind of the pork barrel scheme Witness Protection and will most probably use her testimony against political rivals – while many of those originally accused are free. Or isn’t there a Vice-Presidential Candidate over 60 who still acts like a petulant, spoiled dictator’s teenage son who refuses to acknowledge obvious defeat in the last elections? He may well be still able to rig things, much like Admiral General Aladeen of Wadiya in “The Dictator” (link) who has servile minions rig a sprint for him while shooting down those who get too near. Counterflowing drivers, wang-wang politicians, children of dynastic politicians – similar attitudes.

Even in middle-class families it can be bad enough. One woman who dared take her philandering husband to court for bigamy in the late 1960s was vilified by her husband’s folks – he got pity. Spanish colonial accounts of Filipinos in court mentioned that each side tried to show up in as large as possible numbers to make it look as if their own side was right. For me, one of the biggest culture shocks when coming to Germany was reading that courts really give smaller sentences when a culprit shows a sense of regret. Filipino courts might see it as drama and give a greater sentence. Friends might tell the culprit what kind of fool are you to admit, stupid enough if you get caught! There is no true presumption of innocence in the culture. And indeed – corruption, extortion and dishonesty prevail. Mila Aguilar said in a Facebook post that the Juan Pusong (link) or trickster attitude is quite common among Filipinos and that Duterte is a prime example of that Visayan folk hero. And there is a certain disbelief among many that the Daang Matuwid government of former President Aquino could ever have been that honest. Some examples of possible bias are mentioned.

Them or Us

There are pressures to be biased. There was even once a Filipino overseas association where the clique of its President tried to pressure him to rig a raffle so they could win the main prize. There can be enormous petulance and even a sense of being treated unfairly if one is not favored. The massive incompetence of most Duterte appointees is an extreme manifestation of this attitude. At least most appointees of the previous President were competent, even if there always will be some favoritism in this world, even in the corporate world with its harsher, more competitive winds.

And though there may have been some rigging the game in the previous administration, the present administration is downright antisocial in its ways, just barely even minding the legality of matters. The pre-Marcos elites were monopolistic and exploitative for sure, but a certain sense of decency and at least keeping appearances kept things polite. Even the Marcos era tried to maintain a certain veneer of legality and propriety. Nowadays one has a sense of piranhas in the water, biting away. And a constituency that mostly does not seem to mind if poor people die – for their peace of mind.

Do Others Matter?

Possibly not much different from their President in showing (link“gross indifference, insensitivity and self-centeredness”. One only needs to look at the dirt in most Philippine urban waters – notable exceptions like Iloilo City prove the rule. Or also a “grandiose sense of self-entitlement” – or what do barangay councilors have who build their houses on allotted green spaces as I recently read? Or wang-wang convoys, or counterflowing drivers. My way or the highway. Sing My Way the wrong way and you might even get killed. When is the point reached where society barely exists and most people act in an antisocial way? Rule of law becomes a farce the moment everybody cheats, from top to bottom. Where the call for violent solutions is sheer desperation. That all did not happen overnight. A society where people become ruthless, ready to “violate the rights and feelings of others” (also in Duterte’s psychological report) may already have started to develop in times when people laughed at a child made to dance ridiculously at Wowowee. It may have been there when people took smiling pictures of themselves in front of the bus where Hongkong tourists were killed.

The roots of it may even go as far back to people reelecting known rapists like Mayor Sanchez and Governor Jalosjos. There is not necessarily ruthlessness there, but indifference that tolerates evil. Or that accepts evil as good if it is for one’s own convenience, like for example “clearing the streets”.

Such a system eats itself up at some point. Rules become merely tools for winning instead of being there to guide the fundamental consideration for others that should be at the heart of any society. Yes, others. Even those – whose heads one hunted before. Culture and civilization are about that.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 17 March 2018

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Others thinking you think you’re better

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Serenoare dangerous – in the Philippines and elsewhere. Sara Duterte about EDSA veterans (link), Supreme Court Justices about CJ Sereno, probably many about President Aquino’s handling Dengvaxia – which may have proven successful given recent indications (link). Damn, time for Martial Law and censorship! Increase the number of dengue cases, as yellow must be made bad! And they deserve hatred that is deep and personal, just like Harry Roque wishing Leila de Lima a life in jail (link) – yes, they messed up some things, but what did they do to deserve all of that?

Pakikisama and Schadenfreude

One accusation hurdled against Chief Justice Sereno is lacking pakikisama towards her colleagues in the Supreme Court – again a propaganda strategy that is very Filipino. Pakikisama often means subduing oneself to fit into a group. You don’t like the movie everybody in the barkada has seen? Bad enough if you weren’t there to see it with them. Worse if you say you think it is a stupid movie. An individual opinion against the assumed majority opinion – wow, does he think he is BETTER? Put a UP graduate into the midst of some working-class OFWs without escape. What could happen?

They might probably wait for the first slip-up of the UP graduate, and then display Schadenfreude. Sara Duterte brought the word Schadenfreude into the Philippine vocabulary (link) with regards to Mariel de Leon not topping Miss International – because she criticized the present administration. The sentiment against “yellow”, the previous administration and all related to it, is however more like the Serbian saying Da komsiji crkne krava – “If only the neighbour’s cow would die” (link) – related to the Serbian concept of inat: spitefulness, vindictiveness, hardheadedness + much more.

Spitefulness and Feindbilder

There is a similar spitefulness visible and audible among those who hate Aquino, Sereno, De Lima. Aquino? Sure he messed up certain things. But is the present government doing so much better? Sure it was easy to make him – and Mar Roxas – bogeymen due to their plantation owner origins. Feindbild is the German word for a cluster of prejudices and fears pertaining to a given group. There is also the Feindbild of the English-speaking elite, easy to trigger among common Filipinos. Why otherwise would Mocha focus on Leni Robredo’s US visits and her daughter in Harvard?

There is I think deep envy about what is perceived to be a privileged life, as opposed to one’s own.  Why otherwise make a big deal about Leni’s dresses, like some have done – yet admire the dresses of Isabelle Duterte at a lavish debut? Of course, Leni Robredo has already been identified as part of the other tribe, those who have “had it all” (not true for Leni who lived in the dormitory when she studied at UP) while “we” never had anything and now have the right to luxury and the good life. Even if no one can claim that Leni is lighter in color than most, or Sereno’s nose way too sharp!

Country and town

are both called bayan in Filipino. In a town especially a small one, there is a certain conformity. There is indeed a certain sameness, anywhere in the world. You are ruling a quite homogeneous group of people. The Philippines is a country – forced upon a collection of small communities. Countries need specialized people to be governed properly. The probably first specialized people in the Philippines were the town scribes the Spanish friars trained. More sophisticated governance and business brought about the present “elite” universities that are in international rankings (link).

That the provinces and the poor were left behind is an effect of this development until today. But the present government is playing a dangerous game in mobilizing envy of those left behind against those who had better chances. Mayors can still run their cities by sheer instinct, like Duterte did. For larger entities like countries you need truly competent people – unless you want to return to olden days with plenty of epidemics, pogroms and witch hunts. Isn’t the Philippines getting there? Measles spreading due to fear of vaccines. Pogrom mentality against drug users. And witch hunts.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 3 March 2018

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The ruler always means well

MuseumMalacanan9714 23and how dare anyone doubt that! Especially if the ruler is a narcissist, hooked on being admired. Surely there have been benevolent rulers, no matter how they were called in the past. But there are two factors which kept rulers from seeing only their own interests – popular and ethical pressure.

Pressures upon rulers

Ethical pressure could be social standards as to how a good ruler should be – whether he was a Christian King in Medieval Europe, held at least theoretically to standards the Church set for him, or an Islamic Sultan especially in the Arab world, held to ideals of the Islamic religion, a Chinese Emperor held to Confucian ideals of a balanced and harmonious society, a Japanese Emperor bound by ancient rules of honor, or tribal leaders held to honor the memory of their ancestors.

Popular pressure would be groups of people seeking that they have their share within society. Whenever the natural balance, a certain satisfaction with how things are, was disturbed, history has shown that people eventually react – more often than not constructively if their voices are heard and especially if their needs are met. Aggressively if they are not heard and their needs are not met. Passive-aggressively if the channel of aggression is blocked – even to the point of social stagnation. The passive aggressivity was very obvious in Eastern Europe of the late 1980s, just before the anger at Communist repression finally boiled over – from Berlin to Bucharest. People simply did what they had to, were cynical about nearly everything. Nothing moved forward anymore as a result.

Golden Age coming?

Well, maybe I am wrong about the Philippines. It could well be that President Duterte is the future. That the country will return to a golden age, when rulers loved their people like strict fathers and the people loved them in return! Not like the “ungrateful” and “un-Filipino” reporter Pia Ranada Robles, who was let into Daddy Diggs entourage and still dared to criticize him, and when given the punishment she deserved, still dared ask and ask the Praetorian Guard of the Philippines WHY!?

Why isn’t the kind of question traditional authoritarians in the Philippines like. Why is like asking what the hell are you doing to them, challenging their authority. Everything is so very personal. That however keeps things from advancing. Because someone always has to be the scapegoat. Insufficient focus on fixing issues like for example the MRT 3, instead the current group of datus and rajas tries to pin the fault on the ousted yellow datus or rajas. To completely isolate from the society all those who are not on the side of the ruler. Which is what Marcos did during Martial Law.

The Rude Awakening

Yes, and what happened, finally. Much like the Communist rulers in Eastern Europe, the rulers of the Philippines in the 1980s usually got to hear what they wanted to hear. Their regimes imploded. Yet Duterte’s Philippines seems to not even need formal dictatorship and full censorship for that. The warning signs – political, economic, social – are there to see yet people choose to ignore them. There will be demonstrations again this weekend, in memory of the two million on EDSA in 1986. Yes, I only recently was reminded they were that many. But that desperate remembrance may fail. The comfortable illusion of a national barangay with a jovial chieftain which is at the same time as progressive as and orderly as Singapore, a kind of Malay Wakanda, is political shabu for many. In reality China surrounds it, mines its vibranium, and will give it overpriced loans. Still dreaming?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 24 February 2018

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Kneeling before Duterte

RamsesIIEgypt(his picture) was what two youths in Davao were forced to do by police recently (link). MAYBE they should be happy they were not shot in today’s Philippines. But MAYBE not. Is it normal to make young people revere a President like a God-King? Did the Philippines ever have its own Pharaoh? Datus in smaller communities, rajahs in bigger agglomerations like Manila or Cebu, but rajahs were basically paramount chiefs controlling an alliance of chieftains. There was certainly a hierarchy. It is documented that commoners had to prostrate themselves before datus. The most complex hierarchy probably was in Manila and the surrounding Tagalog regions. The Tagalog language itself has not only “po” (also documented by early colonial chroniclers) but other forms of courtesy in it, and is probably the most complex of all Philippine languages in its pure form.

Courtesy and Dignity

Not quite as complex as Javanese with its Kromo (polite), Ngoko (informal) and Madya (medium) styles of speech, but effectively similar to Chavacano (link) which although it is a Spanish-based creole has distinct formal and colloquial forms of speech. Now is Duterte speaking Ngoko to all? Someone told me that he indeed sounds more like a gangster boss speaking to subordinates than a street person talking to other street people. He lacks something traditional Filipinos, even some of the most simple peasants used to have – BEARING. Most traditional Asian people still have it. Indonesians for example have nearly the same polite body language as traditional Filipinos, I just recently observed. Duterte tells Middle Eastern nations to treat Filipinos with dignity (link) yet exudes little of it. In fact he gives OFWs the signal that it is OK to be sloppy, rude and plain stupid.

Contrast that with Vice-President Leni Robredo. Recently, she said that Lorraine Badoy is not worth talking about (link) – and that Mocha Uson is not a good example of a government employee (link). With the simple good breeding that is hers, and is far from being artificial or “plastic”. Contrast Duterte with Ombudsman Morales, who refuses to implement a patently illegal order by the President to suspend her own Deputy (link) and is now being threatened with sanctions by Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo (link). Contrast that also with Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who has so far defied all attempts to make her appear before the dubious impeachment proceedings against her in Congress. Women who will not kneel before Duterte. Now when will Congress find time to impeach Morales? Too many fronts to fight on.

Bilibid or not

Meanwhile, it seems Chinese drug lords have taken over Bilibid (link). Prof. Vicente Rafael says: “Far from being a site of discipline and punish, of panoptic surveillance and reformation, the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinglupa is a haven for privileged drug lords and other gangsters where they enjoy the protection of guards and other higher ups to run their rackets. It is like a country within a country, or better yet, a mirror reflection of the country itself, where wealthy boss-criminals live in comfy apartment-cells with expensive lounge chairs and special rooms for conjugal visits, keep lots of cash and guns, and govern the place while the lesser con men, petty crooks and the innocently framed know their place and follow orders.” Speaking of innocently framed, the case against De Lima looks flimsier each day. Shouldn’t Aguirre be blamed this time?

Crazy suggestions like having Chinese ships patrol Sulu and Celebes Seas are being slammed by Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano (link): “I agree that we should have a hardline policy against piracy and terrorism. However, rather than immediately running to China, let us instead develop maritime cooperation with Malaysia and Indonesia. Their borders are included in the Sulu and Celebes Seas, so it would make more sense geographically for them to be involved,” he explained. Aside from the fact that even Machiavelli already recommended alliances among equals as smarter. With regards to Benham Rise, oceanographer Jay Batongbacal of UP in a long post (link) debunked the statement of Presidential spokesman Harry Roque that “Filipinos cannot afford to explore Benham Rise” – making clear that Filipinos had done plenty of expeditions by themselves for years.

Do not complain

Towards leftist UP students protesting, Duterte threatened to replace them with Lumads or children of soldiers (link). The reaction has been to stage bigger protests next time. The interesting thing is that Duterte had threatened to bomb Lumad schools (link) before for alleged leftist links. The kind of ideal Filipino that Duterte seems to want is a non-complaining, non-thinking person. Probably even beholden to him via utang na loob – a value which was valid in the older settings from which it originated as a cement for personal loyalties as well as cashless give and take, in times when communities were still small and intuitively manageable. An instrument for making people subservient in early colonialism, and increasingly unbearable as modern times approached, because the key factor in modern societies is merit, not indebtedness. Like at UP – ever since 1908.

The Philippines is in a major crisis these days. Struggling with plenty of legacies and hang-ups. But to reject practically all institutions including UP, the Constitution and democracy – for all their imperfections and contradictions to the already contradictory and confused Filipino culture – and then throw away even natural dignity and bearing, yes even respect for one’s fellow man in the culture itself – to finally have a gang-like rule backed by the Chinese both legally and illegally – is WHAT? National suicide, and I am not even talking about ill-conceived, rushed, fake Federalism. There is a lot more to keeping a country together than forcing the young to kneel before Duterte. Even the Japanese emperor always knelt before Amaterasu, the Sun-God (link). Even Kings knelt before Popes in medieval Europe. Higher principles always guided good rulers. Not just EGO.

Datus of old had people prostrating themselves before them. But they did not have guns and gold like Filipino politicians from the 20th century onward. Not even goons, as ancient warriors had to take real risks in battle – and only had bladed weapons just like peasants had their bolos. And even in Spanish times it was easy to go up the mountains. Today people have less escape and recourse. But Filipinos have also been known to be like carabaos – patient until “enough is too much”, like Popeye famously says before eating his spinach. And modern developments have created a society more complex than in 1521. Professional elites may have more chances of leaving the country, and what if more than the MRT will break down? Will Mocha and Tulfo fix things? Will Dante Jimenez and Persida Acosta cure diseases like modern-day witch doctors? Will Robin Padilla teach Tagalog?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 1 February 2018

 

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The Philippines has never stood on its own feet

Philip II's Law on the PrincipaliaA Bavarian once told me. Was he right? China claims sovereignty over Panatag (link). Duterte seems to trust China (link) just like Aguinaldo trusted the USA in 1898 (link), proclaiming independence “under the protection of our Powerful and Humanitarian Nation, The United States of America”. One wonders how the datus behaved who were made into principalia by decree of King Philipp II (picture). Did they behave like today’s Congress supermajority? There was a sizable group that resisted in 1574 in Manila (link): “all punished with some put to death and others exiled”.

Remontados and Rebels

There were rebels like Bohol’s Francisco Dagohoy (link) – a cabeza de barangay (basically a chieftain coopted into the Spanish system) who initiated an 85-year revolt from 1744 to 1828, with the mountains as protection. Heading for the hills was probably a common way of avoiding the colonial state,  with the topography of the country as an ally (link), one probable example being the Cimarrones of Bikol who: “inhabited the slopes of Mount Isarog and forested hills of Siruma and Camaroan. These groups were cultivators and hunters but were most renowned for the raids they conducted on those in the lowlands. As their names suggests, they were probably fugitives from Spanish control, and as such emerged as a distinct group only in colonial times.” Cimarron means wild cattle in Spanish and was also used for escaped black slaves in the Caribbean, called Maroons (link) in English.

The 19th century brought ideas of nationalism into the Philippines, groups like Filipino priests and Filipino intellectuals (link) brought about the First and Second Propaganda movements. The short-lived Liga Filipina may have been the spark that started the Katipunan, which combined ideas of Rizal which were European in origin with native ideas, including cultic amulets or anting-anting. Revolutionary brotherhood inspired by Western examples plus the kind of brotherhood one sees during the Black Nazarene was the fuel of the 1896 revolution, even if it started only in 8 provinces, only one of which (Pampanga) was not Tagalog-speaking. Aguinaldo, a former cabeza de barangay, quickly made the revolution his own, had Bonifacio killed, and pacted with the Spanish in 1897. The Biak-na-Bato pact even included payments to him in exchange for his voluntary exile in Hong Kong. Aguinaldo came back on an American vessel, later fought with the Americans, probably had his best general killed (link) before finally being captured. The Philippine Republic was completed later on under American tutelage (link) – but that was not its major flaw. Blaming others is easy.

Cuba vs. Collaboration

It was, I believe, the Filipinos themselves. After all, Cuba had its own Republic from 1902 (link) even if was occupied for three years before that and again from 1906-1908. And it aside from its own war of independence from 1895-1898 (link), it fought from 1868-1878 and 1879-1880. Same colonial powers before and after 1898. And possibly the Philippine revolution was also simply a bit opportunistic as Spain was already weakened – and the Spanish-American war made that worse. Manolo Quezon’s “Malakas at Mahina” (link) shows how Filipino politics plays out based on who is “strong” or “weak”. Going back to the beginnings of Spanish rule, it helps to remember that Manila was allied to Brunei, even through family ties. Was the Castilian war of 1578 (link) wherein Spain defeated Brunei decisively the more motivating factor for Filipino datus to fall in line. Malakas!

Or how quickly the Filipino ruling class, with notable exceptions, fell in line to collaborate with Japan when they occupied the Philippines. And then fell back in line before McArthur in 1945. Even Diego Silang (link) – whose wife Gabriela is better known for taking over when he got killed – was allied with the British in his quest for Ilocano independence in the 1760s. There is a Filipino saying about the bird on the back of the carabao – are most Filipinos just that after all? The few dramatic outbursts of nationalism just that – drama – and often just bullying easy targets (link) like Robin Padilla with the Korean recently. Would Padilla dare say that to a  Chinese ambassador? The Filipino UN delegates who once annoyed a Soviet into taking out his shoes probably felt strong as UN founding members and close allies of the USA. Just like I personally experienced how Filipino diplomats acted rude to Germans – when Germany was still divided and they hobnobbed with American diplomats, for example at the US Embassy club in Bonn. Birds on a really big carabao. Not much difference to Duterte being rude to the EU (seen as mahina, documented comments by Andanar on Brexit show that attitude) but subservient to both Xi Jinping and Donald Trump.

Bietnamese bersus Balimbings

Contrast that to Vietnam, which fought the French, then the United States, then the Chinese. Inspite of enormous sacrifices they never gave up. Pretty rude people, not friendly Filipinos. Somehow though I would trust the word of a Vietnamese more, I am very sorry to say by now. Filipinos often are subservient when they think they can get an advantage or think they are weak (mahina) then turn around to be rude, act as if you exploited them when they think they are strong (malakas) – probably with a new ally or backer or someone they have ingratiated themselves with.

Gago, anong year iyan (Asshole, what year was that?) was Senator Gatchalian’s answer to netizens who criticized him for being highly critical of former President Aquino now and praising him to high heavens in 2012 (link). Balimbing, the fruit that easily changes sides, was one analogy used. My first memory of hearing balimbing was in 1986. Well, yes, I guess it is gago to assume that a typical Filipino politician will NOT praise the one who is malakas at a given time. Fool me twice. Even among Filipinos overseas I have seen the kapit mentality of hanging on to people for favors – and dropping them like hot potatoes once these people lost access to resources they could dispense. Possibly I am too Germanic by now, preferring people who deal straight, not caring about favors. Not lick the boots of the current patron and bark at its enemies – or all who are not that powerful.

Aso o Astig

To be a really tough guy, stop being a lapdog. Stand on your own two feet like a human being. Indonesian death penalty is not something I like – but it has due process and therefore much more character than secretly killing people via most probably staged “nanlaban” (fighting back at police) or masked vigilante groups which are most probably off-duty cops (link). Shouting down a lady reporter (link) like Pia Ranada Robles is seen as macho by some (or many?) Duterte supporters.

That is about as macho as the slum bullies who go home to beat up their wives and rape their stepdaughters in Filipino classic movies like Insiang (link) – one good and observant movie. People who laugh at necrophiliac rape jokes like the famous one Duterte made are clearly dysfunctional. Only few admire those who stand up to power like Trillanes. Would Filipinos cheer Tell or Gessler? Yes, Landvogt (bailiff) Gessler as opposed to heroic Wilhelm Tell of Swiss revolutionary legend. Sure, Filipinos have their heroes and are proud of them. But how much solidarity do their heroes get while alive? My impression, more and more, is that Filipinos prefer their heroes DEAD.

Pride Chicken is not Preedom

Because living heroes remind them of their mostly deficient characters? Put heroes in cement and put them in Rizal Park instead of sinking them in Manila Bay, but still letting the next scoundrels rule the country as always, while the majority, as Rizal already noted in the Fili “feel privately ashamed, hearing the growl of their rebelling and protesting conscience, while in public they keep silent and even join the oppressor in mocking the oppressed.. wrapping themselves up in their selfishness and praising with forced smiles the most despicable acts, begging with their eyes for a share of the booty”. Collaboration with a new empire in 1571. Revolution against a fading empire in 1896, as one of the LAST remaining colonies. Quick collaboration with the USA, then Japan, then USA again. What Filipino pride? Pride chicken. Fuck the EU, Mr. Duterte? Bend over for China.

Patriotically deny the French access to research in Benham Rise (link) while letting China (link)? Rizal also said in the Fili: “we must win our freedom by deserving it, by improving the mind and enhancing the dignity of the individual”. But, oh well, he was a Westernized elitist. Not counted. But then again, both fraternities and state often seem to breed subservience, not character (link). The powerful have all the rights (link) and are usually spoiled because they are rarely challenged. True, the frontier elites of Mindanao have faced more challenges  which made it easy for them, in my opinion, to take over Manila (link). But what would Duterte have become without his goons? Datus of old had to prove their mettle in the old warrior tradition, last manifested in Northern Luzon mountain tribe headhunting. Centuries of comfort and hereditary rank, first established in Spanish times and indirectly continued by political dynasties of later on, weakened their class.

Character and Charisma

Strangely, those who criticize the faults of former President Benigno Aquino – which do exist and are because of his growing up in that kind of elite – do not see the even worse spoiled brat faults of both Bongbong Marcos and President Duterte. In fact, Aquino has shown balls on occasion, like showing up at the Dengvaxia hearing – even if there were occasions like after Mamasapano where he did not. Yet many Filipinos take the barking of Bongbong and the bluster of Digong for bravery. Or the stupidity of Robin Padilla for patriotism. For sure, President Duterte has his charisma. It is the charisma of a trickster and a joker. The German word for that is Schlitzohr, a “sly fox” or a “shark” depending on the context. Many Filipinos still believe Duterte is a trickster with the best interests of his people in mind, just wait. Yet to me it seems character and perspective is missing. His “hidden qualities” seem more like wishful thinking of those who do not wish to see what might be the painful truth – that character is mostly missing in the Philippines for lack of being cultivated. Further self-delusion might lead the country to a point of no return. If it has not yet been reached.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 21 January 2018

 

 

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What real effect

Rappler Logowill #StandWithRappler and #BloggersForFreedom (link) have for the Philippines? We shall see. The Black Friday Protests today were well-attended by journalists, students and others (link) but will that even reach the general Filipino public? Will they care at all. Or will it be more like (link): Ayaw nilang makarinig ng ibang balita. Palakpak ang masarap sa tenga nila. Makuntento na sa mga balita sa patayan, naholdap, nagahasa, nasunugan at tingay ng baha, buhay ng artista at drama sa telenobela. Pagkatapos, makinig sa update nina Mocha, Andanar at Roque… This is about the so-called masa, the majority that Presidential Legal Counsel Panelo sees as “not educated” enough to vote on Charter Change (link) and who Speaker Alvarez claims to truly represent (link) – but who threatens provinces that do not cooperate with “no-funds” (link).

But even most of the “educated” Filipinos might care more about their material comfort and security than their freedom. In a country of rote learning, most lessons probably never were more than skin-deep – Christianity, rule of law, democracy. Maybe what stuck was more like this (link): “Many of the things you heard about Davao were about extrajudicial killings, but look at Davao. I invested a lot. Lives? Yes. You have to kill to make your city peaceful,” Duterte said. Rest in Peace. Recently, 2 hit men who killed 2 jail guards in Muntinlupa – turned out to be policemen (link).

Charter Change may be the point of no return for Philippine democracy, as local politicians may want to secure their rule by keeping populations misinformed and intimidated. This might after all be what Filipinos really want, who knows? A smiling population ruled by a dirtily smiling Alvarez.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 19 January 2018

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Black and arrogant

Obama Portrait 2006is what Duterte called Obama (link). Or what he said to jeepney drivers (link) makes it even weirder. Misguided pro-poor, pro-Filipino officials, journalists and academics have gone too far at times in blaming the rich, educated (link) or white people (link) for everything, reasoning with “oppression”. But this is more like the attitude some Filipino upstarts show, claiming higher rank where possible. Lorraine Badoy’s (link) or Krizette Laureta Chu’s (link) towards Pinoy Ako Blog are very similar. So much for a group ostensibly against “elitism and pretentiousness.”

The Duterte crowd looks more and more like a group of wannabes who want privilege without any of the usual reasons for it: performance in the case of a meritocracy, service to the people in the case of a truly pro-people movement – or self-control and bearing for traditional, aristocratic elites. Duterte will have seen the degree of self-control the Japanese imperial couple exercise at all times. He will have seen the performance of Prime Minister Abe, what a work schedule he keeps, while Duterte is reportedly often two hours or more late for speeches in Manila (link) for no reason.

What remains if there is no performance, service or bearing. Pure force? Possibly intimidation. Force will hardly work since the military is not going to help with a revolutionary government (link) while low-key intimidation through continued “drug” killings and political chicanery might work. And Philippine territory shall not remain protected, as recent events are showing (link) – and now? Those who voted him will have to ask themselves whether all of that was worth a few junkies less. The economic situation may even go to worse (link) and if it does, what was this bumpy ride all for?

To hit back, even if it is just with jokes, against the “colonialists” of yore (link). Or to feel like the “white man” just for a short time by making stupid comments about Obama? Or feel like oligarchs by making comments about Jover Laurio of Pinoy Ako Blog who looks like – an average Filipina!? To feel like the sidekicks of the rising superpower China, when all they want is access to sea lanes? Which is what everybody coming to the islands wanted – Brunei, Spain, England, the USA, Japan – and China. Is basking fake victories satisfying – while all one has for the MRT is a prayer (link)?

That is as fleeting as the high of a drug addict. Based on the assumption of no real achievements. This includes the constant misleading nonsense propagated by trolls. And the planned reliance mainly only loans from abroad, and trains one has no capability to maintain, like with the MRT. Why not work in small steps and enjoy the small victories, like VP Leni with her programs (link)? That finally leads to solid successes. But many a Filipino has a wounded ego, similar to Duterte. Dislikes confidence and basks in mediocrity as if nothing else were possible. But is that a solution?

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 11 November 2017

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