Bill in Oz has asked “is the Philippines is a nation or an empire”? James Fallows wrote about a damaged culture (link) in 1987.
I think it is an accidental nation. Let us look at how it happened. And then look at how the damage to the culture could be repaired to make the place better in maybe one generation if a critical mass works at it.
Short historical background
This is a simplified view of how LuzViMinda became Felipinas, King Philipp’s islands, run from Manila:
- Barangays under datus, some rajahnates as shifting alliances of datus and their barangays;
- Kingdom of Tondo as a trading empire with a natural harbor, fertile plains, a river and a lake;
- Kota Selurong founded by Muslim Malays from Brunei, called Maynila by the natives in Tondo;
- Spanish conquest, Intramuros was built where Kota Selurong was, Manila became the new capital;
- King Philipp II recognized privileges of datus in exchange for loyalty to him, they became principalia.
Forced labor was the norm for the normal people. There was a racial hierarchy in the islands, the Spanish casta. Indirect rule via Mexico was centered more on extraction than on government. A society based on that perpetuated habits of power and subservience. Jose Rizal wrote in the El Filibusterismo: what if the slaves of today become the tyrants of tomorrow? Little really changed over the years:
- The Spanish modernized in the late 19th century, instituted laws, but they were often misused by the privileged;
- the Americans brought democracy and ordered land titles, but here again the privileged often bent the rules;
- Quezon constituted a republic, but that republic degenerated after the war due to elite group infighting;
- Marcos instituted authoritarian rule, but even he broke his own official rules, his followers as well;
- Cory re-established a republic with more checks and balances, but it got hogtied by infighting.
Finally the true constitution of the Philippines remained that of master and servant, and groups fighting to have their share because they knew nothing else but that in their lives. The short-lived Republic of Aguinaldo, especially if one looks at the movie Heneral Luna and what happened there, lived by exactly those rules, but let us look at the Three Constitutions that are relevant:
- The 1935 Constitution gave the President massive powers, but the postwar republic still degenerated,
- The 1973 Constitution tried another system but that also failed because of the people running it,
- The 1987 Constitution was good in theory, but in practice slowed down reforms and progress.
So it is the people or how they interact that is the problem. As migrants and OFWs we are great when others lead us, but among ourselves we just create a mess.
Miscommunication and ResentmentEven within Filipino overseas associations there are the same phenomena as in Filipino politics that lead to no or little results or even harm, these I think are the following:
- Distrust, because the other will usually try to get what I have, and I might be left with nothing. The harsher types say, OK before I am disadvantaged I will disadvantage others. This leads to miscommunication, because of distrust and because of so many different languages. And because so many people say one thing, but have a hidden agenda behind it.
- Arrogance, because in all the centuries it was the only way to get a somewhat decent life. Humility meant you were nothing, courtesy meant subservience. This of course leads to resentment among those who are humiliated all the time, never can find simple normal pride and recognition – these people either become tyrants or rebels or resign totally.
- In-group formation with a high degree of uniformity. Strength in numbers to be able to get something for the group, but distrust leads to suspicion of other ideas or people with a certain degree of independence of thought or action. The power structure within the group is such that the leader may lord over others as long as he is nice to them, and may of course be arrogant in order to give the entire group more status.
These are summary observations and just my personal opinion. Family groups are still the most natural and human alliances I have observed among Filipinos, religious groups OK, but in political groups, the tone can get ugly because finally it is about “survival” for those involved. There is some degree of trust among groups that have formed naturally such as ex-classmates, co-workers etc. – all good to hold on to in an often hostile environment.
Three foreign ideas – Christianity (Mexico), justice (Spain) and democracy (America) tempered this, but only within the groups that had fully understood them. For other groups, they became tools in the game of power, their stated principles became arguments to defeat others. Or the in-groups used these ideas against the out-groups in a weird continuation of colonial power patterns.
Finding new arrangements
One could live well in the Philippines if one stuck to one’s own and did not care too much about many things. It can be a good arrangement. But it seems discontent is rising among Filipinos. The old ways of doing things may no longer work for them. Possibly many have seen how it can be elsewhere, may even have built better lives than before, and want another level of recognition. Somewhat like the ilustrados who profited from the economic boom of the late 19th century wanted the Spaniards to recognize them as full citizens, starting with recognizing them as people:
- People need to be given opportunities. I like the initiatives towards promoting SMEs, the initiatives to help the poor send their kids to school, and improved public schooling.
- People need to be given true justice. The present justice system is slow and seems to protect simple people little. One can rot in jail for years without trial as a poor man.
- People need to be taken seriously. Those who do not have the capability to express themselves well have not learned it. But their concerns may nonetheless be valid.
Who does it does not matter. The entire elite bear a certain responsibility for this situation. Who bears fault is another question. But responsibility for ones legacy goes back four generations according to Jewish tradition, if I remember correctly. The advantaged, who have the knowledge and the capabilities to change things, are the ones who will have to remedy the situation. Otherwise there may come those who use the situation to their advantage, or even chaos. The accidental nation can only become a healthy nation if all people see they have a part in it.
Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 16. February 2016