Looking at us again
by Teodoro C. Benigno
Philippine Star 10 January 2002
In retrospect, the year 2002 was a terrific learning year for this writer.
After more than half a century of journalism, I figured I knew the Filipino
by heart. I was after all a "child of the century" � the 20th � venturing into
a century � the 21st � that would simply validate everything I had stuffed
into my duffel bag of knowledge and experience. Surprisingly, the 21st
was a bonus for me. I welcomed the Centennial just like everybody
else, hopeful the Philippines would now be racing through the dark
tunnel to get to the light at the end.
Everything would just go boom-boom. The whole can of worms would
empty its contents, and voila, we would be in the clear. The Filipino,
after decades of lagging behind his neighbors in East and Southeast
Asia, would finally redeem himself. Yes, he would wake up and bolt to
action, unlock his long hidden talents and genius, and show them:
Kaya natin iyan! The Filipino can!
Well, that just isn�t happening.
EDSA II, which we had all expected to tear a big hole into our rotten
world and guide us to our dazzling future, did no such thing. It overthrew
the brazenly corrupt government of Joseph Estrada by pealing street
thunder that promised so much but achieved so little. The thunder
turned out to be a pop. Estrada vamoosed from Malaca�ang. In came
Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo with impressive credentials. But the situation
� politically, economically, socially � became worse. Her approval
ratings plummeted dismally after two years.
A woman who felt she was scorned, GMA knew what to do. December
30, 2002 she renounced her presidential bid for 2004, and that was
that. If the nation was floundering, it was floundering even more now.
The only shriek piercing the air is the current commotion for shift from
presidential to parliamentary. To me, this is a non-subject. I have said
my piece, which is no, the whole thing is silly, and again the Filipino is
wasting his time. There are more important things to attend to. It won�t
solve the problems dragging the Philippines to the pits.
The only pathway today with lights is the road leading to the 2004
What indeed have we learned? In a series of columns titled "Why
Filipinos fail", we sought to get inside the skin of the Filipino, his heart,
his psyche, his culture. It was uncanny, stupefying. Once a model for
many Asian countries in the 50s and early 60s, the Philippines had
fallen far behind, a stick in the mud where once upon a time it was oak
on rich grazing land. What happened? Why had South Korea, Thailand,
Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China and now even
Vietnam streaked to economic and near-economic tiger status in just
about 30 years!
Our system of course was wrong. We were following in the path of
America, Western Europe, a democratic model that took about 250
years to nurture and develop through the minefields of slavery in the US
south, through two world wars, imperial colonization, revolutions, civil
wars, racial upheavals. Until finally, economies with a golden touch
emerged, because science and technology increased productivity a
hundredfold, a thousandfold leading to huge affluent middle classes,
highly educated citizenries, who clamored for democracy and got it.
Still, even when we discovered the system was wrong, there were
many other things wrong.
The Filipino was not responding to the challenge of the times as other
countries in Asia were. In fact, we were retrogressing, Our population
leaped from just about 17 million after World War II to 80 million today,
a possible 100 million in the year 2010. And yet, nobody seemed to
care, certainly not the church whose record in alleviating poverty
emerging from an exploding population is virtually nil. Blessed are the
poor. Blessed is poverty. And all that hogwash.
Graft and corruption went into a quantum leap. The Philippines was
officially denominated as the eleventh most corrupt country in the world.
Did we care? We did not. Public looting, private looting became the
national pastime next only to the manufacture of babies. Councilors in
many suburban towns amass about P240,000 a month from gambling
and other spooky sources. So did crime and violence pole-vault. The
murder of Nida Blanca remains unsolved, the murders of Bubby Dacer
and his driver Emmanuel Corbito, the murder of police superintendent
John Campos, now the murder of Supt. Teofilo Vi�a, oh yes the murder
of Ninoy Aquino, thousands of slayings and salvaging every year.
Oh yes, we do give a ritual damn but nothing happens. Our system of
justice goes jauntily along, our police, our NBI nailed to the wall by
criminals within. We can only catch low-level pickpockets, bag and
cellphone snatchers, prostitutes in the act and in the nude, lowly
drug-pushers buying their stuff from the police. Watch helplessly as the
BIR and Customs do their thing, Malaca�ang thieves and profligates.
The bigger thieves of the Makati business community. The jeweled
whores of high society. Its robed pimps. Its bald and bodacious gays.
It is a situation so dire it should make every Filipino mad.
It does not. And this is what discombobulates me no end. Through it
all, the Filipino smiles. And so long as he continues to smile, shrugs
off the evils of this world as the acceptable burdens Fate imposes on
him, he will not mutiny, he will not revolt. Oh that smile. Many of my
compeers in media lavish praises on the Filipino smile, one even
saying I shouldn�t bash the Filipino too much, another that this smile is
the weapon the overseas Filipino will use to "Filipinize the world". To a
man, they say this smile is the safety net of the Filipino � and so he will
Endure? That is precisely what I do not want the Filipino to do � endure.
If to endure means taking all the suffering and the shocks of everyday
life with a sick sempiternal smile, then, damme, that smile should be
cast to limbo. We can only progress, get out of the swamps if the
Filipino gets angry, if he realizes he is being conned, gulled, rolled,
robbed, skinned, skimmed, creamed, exploited daily by the politicians
and the powers-that-be. The Japanese hardly smiled at all during the
blood-streaked Meiji Restoration as they set out to re-invent their
mediaeval culture through blood, tears and sweat. Japan became an
economic superpower, next only to the US. The Chinese looked at their
proud and lofty past, ran their fingers through their contemporary ugly
sores, boils and excresences, gunned their grim faces to the future and
in 30 years catapulted China to where it is tody � a great economic
power, soon to be a superpower. Dr. Mohamad Mahathir recalls how
ashamed he was of Malaysia three decades ago. Hurt, humiliated,
abashed, he and his new breed of activist Malays vaulted to action, and
look where Malaysia is today. A model for the Third World.
Priests tell me there is nothing wrong with the Filipino. If he suffers,
okay, that is only physical. He will get his rewards in heaven.
Ignoramuses abound even among the educated. Get our leadership
going, and everything will be all right. How does one get the leadership
going? Oh, that will occur one day, is the fatalistic answer. Hardly
anybody dreams. About the only Filipinos taking to the streets are the
factions of the communist left, their jargon worn thin by old, hoary
expletives against American imperialism. The only civil society group
that does something good is the Couples for Christ with their
impressive, relentless housing for the poor projects.
Go to the slums, the squatter districts. You would expect the people
there to be miserable, at the end of their tether, bowed and bent,
bawling out the miseries of Job. On the contrary. They look and
possibly are happy. Where I lived during my boyhood, Lourdes St. in
Pasay, a crawl-creep of slums have taken over, disgorging men,
women and children playing, lazing, gambling, smoking, drinking,
boozing, not working at all, whooping it up when relatives die with
wakes that reverberate like fiestas instead of vigils for the dead through
the whole night.
This is the Filipino?
This is the Filipino many misguided educated Filipinos are proud of
because they smile? Because they are resigned to their fate? Because
they don�t make trouble by organizing themselves into vigilante groups?
Because they have walled themselves from the past and the future?
And as they die this slow cultural death, we Filipinos thank God and our
lucky stars we can gut it out. Since there can be no icons, no models for
our ignorant poor (masang tanga, Tony Abaya calls them), they can only
salaam in praise of movie celebrities like Joseph Estrada and
Fernando Poe Jr. And more than that, gun them for the presidency. Can
you imagine the American electorate gunning Tom Cruise and Clint
Eastwood to the White House?
And yet I persevere. Daily, I walk my own bumpy, twisting road,
remembering Rabindranath Tagore�s counsel to those with dreams:
Walk alone, walk alone.
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