Ignorance and Confidence

Ignorance is bliss - shortbread cookie with a smileseem highly intertwined among Filipinos, according to a recent social media survey (link). This is not really surprising. Who has not encountered the obstinate kind of ignorance that many Filipinos mistake for firmness? And who has not encountered the phenomenon that Filipino groups very often believe the person perceived as most “firm” in his or her beliefs? Or finally the phenomenon that what the own in-group believes in is seen as true by many Filipinos? “Everybody I know says that Leila de Lima is corrupt!” is something I have literally heard, with the corresponding firmness. More exactly, the study (link) has the Philippines among the Top 3 that are mostly wrong – and among the Top 3 that think themselves mostly right at the same time. Norway on the other hand is among the Top 3 that are mostly right – and among the Top 3 that think themselves mostly wrong!

Hard knocks

That a country like the Philippines is admiring of a President who says he will “personally defend” himself before the International Criminal Court (link) is a given. Or wanted to have a public debate with UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard (link) – which probably would have ended up similarly to the way an interview with Pia Ranada Robles went (link). Seen as a victory for him by those who are confident in their ignorance and see blustering confidence as a proof of superior knowledge. There are unfortunate comparisons between Bonifacio and Rizal that are part of this attitude – Rizal is seen by some as insecure for often questioning himself in his search for knowledge – which is even attributed to his having grown up with sisters, while Bonifacio is seen as strong and decisive – which is attributed to his having been the oldest brother, who took charge when his parents died.

I have personally seen similar attitudes to those attributed to Filipinos among people of peasant or working class origin – from different nationalities. In their spheres of life, what matters in order to succeed is to intuitively and quickly grasp the situation you are in and to act and decide similarly. There often is not that much time to think about the different aspects of possible wrong or right. Bonifacio, whose parents both died at 14 years of age, had no time to finish his schooling (link). That he was deeply insulted by Daniel Tirona questioning his lack of formal education during the Tejeros Convention (link) was understandable given his struggles. But it is also documented that Bonifacio read voraciously and that the Katipunan had a library for members. President Duterte was on the other hand too lazy to use the possibilities for education that his rich family provided.

Formal education

Sometimes, the formal education that is provided to the very rich does not necessarily help them understand life better. This is especially true for those who live a too sheltered or privileged life. This was not Rizal’s life though, even if he studied in Europe there were also difficult times there – and also difficult times for his family in Calamba, Laguna, which form a searing arc through his novels. There is a terrible prejudice in the Philippines that sees all educated people as elitists or as social climbers. This is fatal as it puts anyone who tries to improve himself in a bad light. Former Solicitor-General Florin Hilbay (link) comes from Tondo – same part of Manila as Bonifacio. To study law was a struggle for him, unlike for Duterte. Hilbay is the exact contrast to Duterte, shows how Filipino good-heartedness plus human rights education make for promising legal philosophy.

Life experience and proper education can make people and society as a whole better. If education has been misused by charlatans or by privileged classes as a status symbol – Rizal has a few asides at the Dominicans of UST in his novel Noli Me Tangere (link), showing that he disliked their conservatism and preferred the more progressive Jesuits – then resentment against it can exist. Additionally, a language very different from what is spoken at home can be a social barrier also. Recent reforms like MTB-MLE “Mother Tongue – Based Multilingual Education” in K-12 (link) –   may improve things for good: “Research stresses the fact that children with a solid foundation in their mother tongue develop stronger literacy abilities in the school language.”. There is often a gap in the thinking of many Filipinos, as if theory and practice inhabit separate worlds entirely.

Real learning

The language gap is only one factor I think. Rote is another, and even worse reactionary attitudes. Hopefully the kind of teacher with an attitude and stance similar to that of Persida Acosta is not as common anymore today – the kind that sees asking why as an offense, not a search for knowledge. Or the high-hatted type of teacher that ridicules students who make mistakes to prove “superiority” and thereby possibly creates anti-intellectual rebels. Or the kind that treat practice with disdain, seeing theory as the only field for the truly learned. Fortunately modern Filipino scientists like Dr. Mahar Lagmay of Project NOAH are the exact opposite of this. But the old reactionaries that looked down upon practitioners did help create the cesspool of resentment that dismisses the likes of Project NOAH as “useless”. Only societies that link theory and practice seamlessly win (link)!

It is good that voices like those of Dr. Gideon Lasco are also there now, who has among other things written about Dengvaxia (link) and the necessity to explain things properly to the public, even such difficult principles like “correlation does not imply causation” and dealing with large numbers. Because the issue of the Philippines remains one of insufficient public education, even if the literacy rate is nominally high and there are a lot of college graduates, one sometimes wonders what they really have understood and what they just memorized on time for examinations – unfortunately. What use will it be to oust Duterte now if in a few years the likes of Pacquiao or Sotto take over? Maybe even the likes of Persida Acosta and Mocha Uson? How to get the confidently ignorant on the trail of curiosity and learning? Stop laughing at them for a start. After that – don’t quite know.

Reasoning entails doubt – reasonable doubt. Confident ignorance creates people who believe that certain people are guilty without sufficient evidence. Confident ignorance makes things very much black and white, like in the discussions about the Dengvaxia matter centered mainly on blame, not on finding systemic reasons for certain failures. What shocked me more than the 14 children who allegedly died of vaccination but in fact didn’t was how many children still die of simple diseases in the Philippines, showing that the public health system might need a lot of improvements, still. Systematically improving public health in Europe took centuries of both practical policies and scientific findings. Fanatical screamers who accused Jews and witches and whatnot did not help. But if the Philippines wishes to repeat centuries of experience, that is its stubbornly sovereign right.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 8. February 2018



Ignorance is Blessed

Leni Robredo's family July 2016 (cropped)seems to be what those bashing Aika Robredo believe. Do they think it is better to be Sandro Marcos, studying abroad because of his father’s money? We all know the attacks at Mar Roxas for allegedly not being a Wharton graduate, when all he did not do were graduate studies, which you do after you become a graduate. Before that you do undergraduate studies and get a Bachelor. Obviously Roxas is no longer a bachelor. He is married to Korina. But Aika Robredo is a Harvard scholar. That is in itself a mark of excellence. Knowledge is a significant national resource. The USA imported exiles from Europe to build the atom bomb, and Wernher von Braun’s team for the space program. That Russia still is where it is now in international terms is due to the enormous respect they have always had for the learned in their culture. Yet the Philippines today shames the smart, following the US/Trump trend.

Education versus Snobbery

Part of the hatred against the educated comes from how education was misused by many in the Philippines – as a mark of status, not as a tool for life. And of course quality education is hard to attain for those who are poor or where no English is spoken at home. MTB-MLE in K-12 (link) tries to fix that by teaching children in their mother tongues in the first years of school, which is “meant to address the high functional illiteracy of Filipinos where language plays a significant factor. Since the child’s own language enables her/ him to express him/herself easily, then, there is no fear of making mistakes. It encourages active participation by children in the learning process because they understand what is being discussed and what is being asked of them. They can immediately use their mother tongue to construct and explain their world, articulate their thoughts and add new concepts to what they already know.” To put it simply, they know better WHAT they are talking about – thereby truly learning.

Theory and Practice

The significant gap between theory and practice, concrete and abstract in the Philippines is due to bad quality education. Some theorists might truly believe that the Philippine Constitution is really applied in practice – even though the realities of impunity and armed groups negate that. Or long jail times for the poor, bail for the rich. There are the split-level Christians who pray to God in Church, just after having been to their mistress the night before. Hopefully they at least confessed Sunday morning. There are the total pragmatists – to whom the President belongs – who believe in quick-fix solutions that have no permanence. Theory is thought of as unnecessary, only (short-term) results count. I actually hoped that he would at least see that the justice system needs fixing, and use his position and his power in Congress to get that done. Or to fix the laws which are old and cumbersome. But he does not see beyond his experience as Mayor, where he had no other choice (in his thinking) except quick fixes.

Engineering for Results

The engineers are rare. Those who bridge the gap between the theory of scientists and the daily work of technicians. Engineers do not seem to be highly respected even. Somehow the class-based thinking in the Philippines dictates that you are to be either a scientist (higher, clean) or a technician (lower, dirty). And please don’t tell me nobody needs applied science for results. Drive a BMW X3 or X4, and appreciate that it does not fly apart at 200 km/h to know intuitively that it DOES matter. Or rely on software with the length and breadth of SAP on which major corporations worldwide run, and you know what an investment in a properly designed system means. I could start lecturing about how duplicate checks for incoming invoices – with corresponding payment blocks to prevent accidental payment – reduce risks in SAP FI (finance). One wonders if there was something similar to prevent or at least mitigate the risk of duplicate transactions in the bank software of BPI (link), mentioned very recently.

How about the project engineers? Secretary Abaya of DOT, inspite of an intelligence that let him enter Philippine Science High School, may have lacked certain skills. Those who manage even parts of large technology (or building) projects really well have my respect. You have to coordinate multiple experts and non-experts, even workers, make them summarize their stuff, understand it, summarize for others, prioritize, push people, reward good performance and more. Then stuff like the overnight move of the Munich airport in 1992 (link) becomes possible. Just one-third of that in the Philippines might end in a bonfire of Filipino vanities, both educated and less educated – and a Senate hearing. With the engineers blaming the drivers, the drivers hating the arrogant engineers and managers, and politicians trying to grandstand. Somewhat like after Mamasapano. Skilled workers, engineers, top scientists – is is any wonder so many never return? Will that get worse in today’s de facto bobocracy?

I wonder about how much – or how little – exchange of data, information and knowledge takes place between police, public prosecutors, judges and legislators with regards to the drug problem – in order to really solve it. I have read of police complaining about public prosecutors throwing out their evidence after long investigations. Why not cooperate in advance to avoid that? Doesn’t necessarily have to be like in Germany, where public prosecutors offices are in charge of investigations and the police work for them after a certain stage. I have read that Duterte’s blanket protection to cops is because they are removed from the service, without pay, as long as they are under investigation for anything. Is it not enough just to suspend them? Intelligence does not have to mean lack of common sense, or vice versa. In the Philippines, it seems to.  Running a really modern state (that is more than a facade) requires applied knowledge, at every level and skill. Will the Philippines get that on time to get its act together?

Irineo B. R. Salazar

München, 29 June 2017