Lessons learned after dive training (9040575723)is not a Filipino strength. They are covered up if one’s own (camp) – and punished severely if someone else(‘s camp), at least in politics. Yet skills need time to develop, one has to accept that one botches up things the first (two, three) times and improves if one pays attention to avoiding the old error or doing something successively better. This has been my experience with all kinds of skills in life – yet there are Filipinos who say “you don’t have any talent” if you don’t get it the first time you try. Those who do have talent in things in the Philippines tend to stagnate because of lack of true competition, being big fishes in a small pond – while often refusing to be good teachers to those who have less talent. Some sports teachers in the Philippines just told me to watch how others played basketball instead of teaching the basics. Funny that I learned the basics quickly when a sports teacher in German senior high took the time to correct a few errors instead of letting me persist in them – like in swimming.

Swimming I indeed had learned well in the Philippines, mostly thanks to a Japanese guest teacher at UP Swimming pool. He did push us boys to our limits, often I feared drowning and swallowed I wonder how much water as he kept raising the bar for accomplishment by a few more laps. But in the end he knew how far he could go with us. My feeling was one of growing with each challenge mastered – the only small mistake my German sports teacher corrected was my somewhat hasty breathing technique. That is sports. It can be the same in any sort of domain – even in those domains that seem more theoretical. Science for example thrives on peer review, on errors being found and corrected to hopefully lead to a better result. Each major review of my draft for my master’s degree brought forth a major error – which I corrected to proceed. My career in the software industry showed me a lot of lessons learned – which is the term for mistakes made and analyzed to avoid repeating them (in the same way). 🙂

In a country where blame is given to the one caught holding the wrong end of the stick, the culture becomes avoidance of admitting errors from denial to downright lying. From President Aquino’s evasive stance on his role in Mamasapano down to Foreign Secretary Cayetano’s absurd sophistry on the definition of extrajudicial killings. There are no lessons learned through this. The lowest ranks probably learn the least, because they are in my observation the most exposed to blame games by the higher ups. Usually Filipino higher-ups will come from families with servants, will hardly have any exposure to the kind of work that shapes true grit and character – or the criticism that helps shape true character, that tells you what you are doing wrong, while telling you how to do it right – or at least do better. But those who rise up from below are often just as unforgiving or worse with those they leave behind – witness the recently observed behavior of many new Filipino middle class toward drug addicts and users.

The educational system is in many ways at fault – it is semi-feudal, sneering at practical pursuits while focusing mainly on the status one gets when one graduates, on the school and on the rank in the bar exam for example if one is a lawyer – as if the bar exam was the antiquated exam that the Chinese mandarins of old took – while failed mandarins as they were called sometimes became troublemakers and rebels, the most famous one being the one who started the Taiping rebellion in the 19th century. One person with a positive attitude in general, writing very balanced and good articles in the Inquirer and on Facebook – Gideon Lasco – turns out to have been in a high school (link) where we were assigned a piece of land to till – and you were graded according to the quality and quantity of your harvest. We learned how to use the plow and other farm tools.. Could it be that such experiences shape better attitudes than the school system segmented by “pedigree” which the Philippines now effectively has?

Making Filipinos plow the soil in school – probably a better idea to build character than going back to ROTC, which often degenerated into bullying during martial law. Doesn’t just have to be plowing the soil, it could be fishing – or even arnis. Or civic service, as long as it is led by the right people and not by thuggish barangay captains. You stumble, but you learn to get up. And those who have stumbled and gotten up again are more likely to help someone who stumbles – and not laugh like so very often.  Yes, there was YCAP or Youth Civic Action Program during Marcos times or maybe even before – but that often became a joke, just like Rural Service for professionals. Or Marcos taking off his shirt for photo-ops “working” on the ricefield, effectively predating Putin’s macho posing by decades. So in the end it all boils down to really doing it. Not laughing in the sidelines when serious people try to get things done. Not trying to feel higher and better by blaming addicts and users. Not grabbing credit from others.

Irineo B. R. Salazar

MĂĽnchen, 12 May 2017