Quite by accident, I read a letter emailed to the editor of one of the Manila dailies (not the Business Mirror) last week. Judging from her name and email address, the letter writer’s a Filipina married to a Belgian national. But I’m sure her husband looks nothing like those bandy-legged, balding and toothless specimens of Caucasian manhood we often see in these parts fighting off 18 to 30-year old Filipinas who want to marry them so they can relocate to the prosperous West.
In any event, you could sense the anger in this Filipina-married-to-a-Belgian beyond the actual words she used, which by themselves were already quite pugnacious.
That’s an interesting theory and probably true, and our letter writer goes on to urge the nation to “come to its senses,” because its “own government has just threatened to utterly destroy an already wobbly Republic…” What’s more, she wants “the media and the intelligent people left in the country (what with over 8 million Pinoys of better caliber having left for greener pastures abroad) [to] train their guns on this corrupt government before it transforms the country into another Rwanda.”
While I hope she doesn’t mean that last phrase about guns literally, it’s not what she said about the Arroyo government or even what Filipinos should do that struck me (others have said it before, believe me), but the phrase “the intelligent people left in the country,” which she elaborated on with the parenthetical statement that the ten percent of the population who’ve left the country are “Pinoys of better caliber.”
I could also sense the exasperation in her declaration that “The nation should come to its senses”. Apparently she can’t understand why “the nation” isn’t doing what she seems to think is obvious to “intelligent people” such as herself. I could almost hear her saying “What dolts you are, not to see the obvious!”
Our letter-writer’s attitude is probably typical of those Filipinos who’ve “left for greener pastures abroad,” particularly for Europe and North America, although I have only anecdotal evidence to support that suspicion.
Filipino Americans, for example, sneer at the traffic, the pollution and the way their relatives pronounce English words, and never run out of suggestions about how to get the economy running again or how to elect better officials. Nannies from the United Kingdom carry on about how the trains run on time “back home” while you can’t rely on Manila buses to follow any schedule. Some Japayukis have been known to opine that the Metro Rail Transit could save on salaries, if only it had the technological savvy that enables Tokyo trains to run automatically without operators.
Apparently they’re all patriots like our letter-writer and those Filipino Americans the broadsheet she wrote to has hailed as heroes for dying in Iraq in the service of the US armed forces. They’re only pretending to have abandoned the country of their birth in exchange for lives of (relative) comfort. “Back home,” whenever these “intelligent people” get together so they can brag about the car they just bought, junior’s American accent, or the pretty dress they’re wearing, they know exactly what’s wrong with the Philippines (they don’t mention the brawn, brain and body drain) and what to do about it.
I once knew a Filipino in the US who believed parking meters would solve Manila’s traffic problem. There were others who insisted during the martial law period that the first thing the anti-Marcos resistance should do is read what Americans have to say about getting rid of tyrants (they didn’t know the US was supporting Marcos).
All that readiness with advice is premised on the assumption that those Filipinos still hanging on in the country of their sorrows just don’t know any better–and are, in fact, less intelligent and of lesser caliber than those who’ve left the country.
If you asked a Filipino why he immigrated, the most common response is “so I can eat what I want.” I suppose that’s true of women too. It makes sense to imagine that one’s being able to gorge on pig knuckles in Germany– where one’s husband may be as old as the hills, snores, and drinks enough beer daily to float the Seventh Fleet, but can afford a BMW–means that one is more calculating at least. Meanwhile, those fighting corrupt governance, trigger-happy policemen, taxation without representation, and general idiocy in the Philippines in the hope that a better country could somehow result from it would look like fools.
By that standard, Japayukis in Tokyo, truck drivers braving suicide bombers in Iraq for US dollars, doctors scrubbing bedpans in nursing homes in the US, janitors sweeping up offices at 2 a.m. in Italy, and mail order brides sitting out winters and colossal depression in Canada would be “the intelligent people” and of “better caliber” than the 90 percent of Filipinos still in this country.
Thus do most of the ten percent abroad think they know better–better than journalists and university professors, better than revolutionaries and reformists, better than those Filipinos able to survive all sorts of adversity including TV shows like “Wowowee,” and certainly much, much better than senators or party-list congressmen.
When living in another country in the late 1970s, I used to think that I didn’t have the right to tell Filipinos in the Philippines what to do. They were at risk of torture, rape and death fighting the Marcos dictatorship daily, while I was only at risk of not making the car payments on time.
I didn’t think I had the qualifications and the knowledge either. Not only because things aren’t always what they seem from afar– oversimplifying complex issues is also the occupational hazard of the exile.
Apparently I was wrong. Like our letter writer from Belgium, like mail order brides, entertainers, janitors, construction workers, doctors, nurses, real estate agents, car and insurance salesmen and prostitutes, I was one of the intelligent people and a Pinoy of better caliber because I was abroad.