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The Colonial Syndrome

Itinerario legazpiwas mentioned by President Duterte just hours ago in Bacolod – I watched the end of his speech. It referred to some of his pet peeves, but still sounds more like his problem and that of many Filipinos. From skin whiteners so many Filipinos use (looking like too pale ghosts) in the Philippines, to the silly memes some Duterte supporters made showing “Hillary supporting Duterte”. The thin-skinned nature of Filipino pride when the foreign press reports on the country, or a foreign commenter says something not so nice, is the other aspect of the Filipino colonial syndrome.

The teenage nation

The immature aspect of that syndrome is that is takes the foreign, especially the “white” view of things, either as something to be followed or to be opposed. A lot of the anti-Western rhetoric of Duterte recently is similar to things one has heard both from Filipino nationalists and leftists for many decades. There is of course the new aspect of wanting to be allied with Russia and China, which is of course stark opposition to the formerly very pro-American course of the Philippines, somewhat like a teenager wearing exactly the clothes and saying things parents do not stand for.

“Wir sind die, vor denen unsere Eltern uns immer gewarnt haben” – was an activist slogan in Germany before: “we are those whom our parents warned us about”. Duterte’s provocations remind me of some of the provocations of that crowd from the 1960s to 1980s, which used leftist slogans. From the 1990s onward, Nazi and nationalistic symbols were used to provoke, by a new crowd. That Duterte’s Hitler provocation was taken seriously – the Philippine Ambassador was summoned on Friday – but not commented on by higher-ranking German officials at all is not surprising.

Colonialism and independence

A Filipino commented on Facebook that it is interesting that Duterte seems to take a “white man” – Hitler – as a role model, isn’t that very colonial mentality? It is indeed also very colonial to rely on the army and the police in controlling the archipelago – the Guardia Civil already did that, just like its American-era successor, the Philippine Constabulary, which Rafael Crame helped build up. It is also very colonial to lean on a new sponsor – very possibly China this time, much like Aguinaldo decided to gamble on the United States who did bring him to Manila from Hong Kong.

It would be independent foreign policy to strengthen regional alliances like Indonesia and Vietnam, which is one good thing being done already. Overcoming colonialism would also be helping the people in the slums achieve a better livelihood, instead of just conducting the usual drug raids at night (evidenced by videos widely available) and thereby causing many casualties among the poor. Allying with resurgent powers like Russia or rising powers like China may lead to more dependency than working with no longer colonial powers (the EU) or the overextended superpower USA.

Overcoming 400 years

In his Bacolod speech, President Duterte mentioned 400 years of colonialism. The Philippines indeed became a colony very early, a collection of chiefdoms that submitted to a colonial government in Manila, which is the inheritance of the Republic. The President’s powers are similar to those of a colonial governor, and every Philippine President so far has sought the allegiance of local politicians, much like Rajas sought the allegiance of datus in the past. In fact former allies of Mar Roxas have recently moved to PDP-Laban, much like datus flocking towards a new overlord.

And there are still a lot of hang-ups, especially in the relationship of Filipinos to “white people”, who are often alternately admired and hated. Or by some, liked when they come with money or lend money to the relatives of their Filipina wife for example, but secretly seen with disdain especially when they ask for repayment of debts. Or even openly threatened with a bolo or a gun. Strangely enough, there are many Filipinos who bully or deride those nice to them, and submit to those who bully them – foreigner or local. The datu culture in its peculiar, colonial deformation.

Then there is this strange oscillation between trying to ingratiate foreigners and then being rude to them. Something I have observed in many Filipino-foreign contexts, not just recent outbursts. This is of course also an offshoot of the deformed datu culture, where you are either master or servant, never just simply friend or ally. In these aspects, President Duterte truly reflects a lot of Filipino attitudes in a certain segment of the population. Acting just normal, not domineering or submissive, is that possible at all in the future? Time will tell. Filipinos will have to sort that out.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 2 October 2016


8 comments to The Colonial Syndrome

  • Mariano Renato Pacifico

    Why do they blame “colonial mentality” as the bane of Philippine Society? They are wrong!!! The last remaining carrier of colonial mentality who are now industrialists and in Forbes Wealthy Asians are extremely honest. Not one brave University of the Philippines journalism graduates ever poked fun nor accused them of bribery & corruption at descendants of Lima Hong and Spanish colonist because they are extremely honest.

    If “colonial mentality” has seeped thru the head of Filipinos they’d be honest like the last remaining Spanish colonist and descendants of Lima Hong that is for sure.

    Problem is they do not want “colonial mentality” they want “Filipino mentality” and “brown power”!

    • “brown power” just like “black power” has the “white people” as a frame of reference.

      why can’t people just be themselves and stop alternately imitating and opposing others?

      • sonny

        Yes indeed, PiE, why can’t we be ourselves.

        We do not need to operate in the vacuum in order to do this. Good and bad values and circumstances do surround us but we have also the good sense to choose what will be our own pathways. And we will overcome. We can develop by our own bootstraps and by imitating the good in others and opposing the bad in others. The wheel in all its variations has long been invented. The range of humanity has been studied, tried and vetted: a righteous life is its own reward and evil has its wages.

        • Indeed, present circumstances in the Philippines are a test of practiced morality. The choices people have in doing good and opposing evil are very immediate. The next years will be very testing times for sure – the consequences of decisions will be very visible, and some choices extremely difficult to make.

          • sonny

            PiE, I’ve just come back from Manila. I also had a chance to see Clark, Subic and the Ilocos/Baguio.

            Of note, in Manila I got to verify the expanded commute times of people who have to go daily through MetroManila traffic. It is a hard fact. This particular instance I had to take an Uber cab, w/GPS, shelled out PhP 1,000 for a trip from Makati (Paseo de Roxas/Ayala Ave) to Shaw/EDSA because my pickup was stuck in traffic (3hrs) coming from NAIA. Also noted, the time-share we stayed at in Ortigas-Shaw we shared with a good number of call-center employees working nearby. Suspected the BPO employer must have contracted for some suites for US time-zones employees. Along the way to visits to Nasugbu & Tanauan, via Tagaytay and Talisay (mini-Zigzag) I noticed more than a few Korean touristy establishments along Taal Lake shores.

            The NLEX, SCTEX, and TPLEX highways are fully operational; the northernmost exit on TPLEX is Binalonan, Pangasinan, very close to the planned final terminus at Rosario, La Union the approach to Baguio and the rest of the Ilocos region. The access roads to the Cagayan Valley provinces on the Pacific side are solidly in place.

            The Luzon greenery is plush and candy to the eyes, contrast this to the brown of dry March season. I like.

            The commerce of Clark (air) and Subic (maritime) is sadly underutilized, I feel. Both are huge. Subic reminded me of Gdansk. Of note at Clark, we stayed at what seems to be the only full facility for international tourism. The occupancy at that time was 90% Chinese.

          • Thanks sonny – this gives more of a feel to things… I have seen some pictures of the highways, and it seems most of the “Lingayen-Lucena corridor” is one urban region by now.

            Of course the presence of Koreans, Chinese etc. is also part of the economic rise of Asia. Also of the (re-)Asianization of the Philippines – Sinification is not necessarily a given.

            What I really wonder is how Manila can be decongested – it is simply operating over capacity.

          • sonny

            PiE, as far as decongesting is concerned, the country can help itself by assisting/encouraging business enterprises/employment at the 200+ lst class municipalities and the 150+ component cities in the country. Looks like we can do this if we survive our current crises of leadership and look again at our macro-economic picture.

          • Mariano Renato Pacifico

            Building permits. Environmental Clearance. City Hall permits. A plethora of permits before putting up a condominium and office buildings. BUT NO TRAFFIC IMPACT STUDY CLEARANCE. NO CONGESTION IMPACT STUDY. Something is wrong. Totally absolutely unequivocally undeniably wrong.

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