Wow, Philippines

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Those who can, do. Those who cannot, teach.
-George Bernard Shaw

Thailand, where thousands of protesters have occupied the main airport to force the current prime minister to step down, not only learns from other countries. It also puts what it’s learned into practice, unlike the country we currently inhabit–which teaches, but doesn’t practice.

The Thai government sent hundreds of students to the University of the Philippines in Los Banos in the 1960s, and then proceeded to put into practice what they learned by turning Thailand into the world’s leading rice exporter (it exports some 10 million tons of the staple annually). Since then, the Philippines, where hundreds of Thai agriculturists and agronomists studied, has become a net rice importer.

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Ups and downs

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Only a few weeks are left of the University of the Philippines (UP) centennial year celebrations. UP was founded by the US colonial government in 1908, and after a century of wars, crises and political upheavals, one would have expected the 2008 celebrations to lead to an evaluation of where UP has been and has done, and where it’s going in a country where poverty and crises have been as perennial as grass.

A fundamental question suggests itself a hundred years after its founding: established as a colonial instrument and as part of the US arsenal of conquest, has UP become a Filipino university, or even a people’s university? Unfortunately, say critics, the question hasn’t been widely raised. The commemoration has been anything but an occasion for self criticism and examination and has mostly been a relentless saturnalia of self-praise — as reflected in the awful, self-congratulatory, uncritical centennial motto, “UP, ang galing mo!” (UP, you’re great!)

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No, we can’t

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If, like Miriam Defensor Santiago, you’re too busy laughing over Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay’s announcement last Tuesday that he’s available as a candidate for President of this unhappy republic, you might be missing the point.

The chief pol of the United Opposition announced his availability for the 2010 elections in a rally in which, among other highlights, some of his supporters carried streamers declaring him the (Barack) “Obama of the Philippines.”

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Green with envy

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The contrast with Philippine elections couldn’t have been sharper. It wasn’t just the speed with which the results were being tallied that was the source of much head-shaking over our own slow-as-molasses count, nor with the way the US media were providing information on almost everything related to the elections, including a celebration in the village in Kenya where Barack Obama’s paternal grandmother lives.

More critically was the grace with which both winner and loser greeted the results a source of near-wonderment. In Phoenix, Arizona, the Republicans’ John McCain quieted his nastier supporters by calling his rival “my president” and noting the significance of his victory to US racial relations. Unlike Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who once declared that she was president only of the Cebuanos who had supposedly given her their votes in 2004, in Chicago, Illinois, Democrat Barack Obama praised McCain’s service to country, and vowed that he would be the president of those who didn’t vote for him as well as of those who did.

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