Leave it to Filipino politicians to miss the point and to say the patriotic thing when Filipinos are insulted, or seem to have been insulted.

It doesn’t matter where the insult or seeming insult came from. Whether from a respected and much awarded writer like the US magazine Atlantic’s James Fallows, or some hack in Hongkong — where, despite decolonization, the English- language newspapers are still edited by US, British, Australian and New Zealand expatriates — the country’s pols will react in the same way and practically in the same terms.

As if it could be enforced, congressman urged a Philippine ban on the online version of the Hongkong magazine where a certain Chip Tsao said in a column that the Philippines was a nation of servants and had no right to press its claim on the Spratlys. As if Tsao cared, another government worthy said Tsao should be declared persona non grata and barred from entering the Philippines. The professional patriots in the op-ed pages also weighed in with the usual invectives, while the morons who infest the blogosphere threw at Tsao the typical epithets from their limited vocabularies that they trot out in place of arguments.

Almost the same reactions had greeted the Atlantic’s James Fallows’ “damaged culture” article in November 1987. In trying to account for the Philippines’ continuing decline into poverty, Fallows found a cause far beyond the Marcos kleptocracy, which had fallen a year earlier. He found it in Philippine culture.

“It seems to me that the prospects for the Philippines are about as dismal as those for, say, South Korea are bright,” said Fallows.

“In each case the basic explanation seems to be culture: in the one case a culture that brings out the productive best in the Koreans (or the Japanese, or now even the Thais), and in the other a culture that pulls many Filipinos toward their most self-destructive, self-defeating worst.”

Fallows cited the corruption, the selfishness, the culture of mediocrity (manifest in the “puwede na” mentality), the total lack of care for the environment, for neighbors and community — even for the entire nation itself — among Filipinos whether rich or poor.

It was Chip Tsao recently. It was Fallows then. The self-anointed patriots in government, the media and even a few from academia got on their high horses to excoriate Fallows, accusing him of making sweeping generalizations, of arrogance, and even racism. But Fallows’ piece was well-researched and thought out, and seemed genuinely interested in finding an explanation for the Philippines’ lagging behind its neighbors, where Tsao’s was no more than an effort to get a laugh at an entire community’s expense by pandering to common prejudice.

Never mind the huge difference between the Tsao and Fallows pieces. Both received the same expressions of anger. The outrage would have been touching had it been driven by real concern for the country, and if (1) neither Tsao’s nor Fallows’ allegations were true, and (2) if many of the very same “patriots” who’re so quick to rise to perceived insults were not the very culprits responsible for the country’s current predicament as well as its beneficiaries.

Hardly had the dust settled on the mini-controversy Tsao’s piece had generated when Our Great Leader, the patriotic Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was reported to be on the prowl in the Middle East, begging for jobs for Filipinos, at least some of which would be for nannies, housemaids and other domestics.

The usual suspects, led by Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, who everyday he’s in office shows us how badly English — especially the pronunciation of it — has deteriorated in the Philippines, announced Mrs. Arroyo’s being assured that thousands of jobs would be available for Filipinos in Dubai and other countries.

In their exuberance, neither Arroyo nor Remonde displayed any familiarity with Republic Act 8042, or the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1994, which declares that while it recognizes “the significant contribution of Filipino migrant workers to the national economy through their foreign exchange remittances, the State does not promote overseas employment as a means to sustain economic growth and achieve national development.” (underscoring provided).

And yet there they were, Mrs Arroyo and her subalterns, glorying in having been assured those jobs, declaring how beneficial they would be to the economy, etc., etc. — in short speaking as if promoting overseas employment rather than employment at home were national policy.

Which it might well be. So incapable is the Philippine political class of creating the jobs that would keep Filipinos home and spare them the insults that scrubbing toilets and mopping floors inevitably provoke that promoting overseas employment is de facto policy.

It’s a quick way out of the unrest mass unemployment breeds. It’s also a means of keeping the country afloat — and its officials in multiple houses, limousines, mistresses and dollar accounts abroad. And yet it is individuals from this same political class who inveigh equally against the imbecilities of people like Tsao (who argued that he was just being satirical, as if that excused racism) and the insights of a perceptive observer like Fallows.

Fallows after all gave expression to something many thinking Filipinos have long suspected as to the reason why, alone among all Southeast Asia countries, and despite its being ahead of its neighbors from the 1950s to the 1960s, the Philippines has not only remained poor but has grown poorer. And it’s not because of its putrid leadership alone.

But Fallows did fail to consider the US factor. It was after all the United States which has contributed significantly to the making of the “me first” culture of selfishness, mediocrity and dependence which finds expression in the exit mentality that’s made millions of Filipinos servants abroad rather than masters at home.

In validation of Fallows’ thesis on their damaged culture, Filipinos and their so-called leaders rant and rave when someone tells them what they don’t want to hear. It’s their way of denying the truth and evading the urgent need to do anything about their sorry lot.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. this country is not yet ready for satire…

    this country who searches and thirsts for the truth is ironically does not want to hear the truth.

  2. No question that the Filipinos have a damaged culture. Blame it on hundreds of years of colonization matched by the hundreds of years of co-optation of our half-blood elites.

    Ours is indeed a land of unfinished revolutions, and 1 degrading elite-led “revolution” (the infamous EDSA 2).

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