Ramon Tulfo and Rodrigo Duterte
Newspaper columnist Ramon Tulfo and President Rodrigo Duterte are shown in this screengrab from RTVM's coverage of the oath-taking of Mr. Ramon Tulfo, Jr. as Special Envoy for Public Diplomacy of the President to the People’s Republic of China.

To believe and argue that black people are inherently violent or that all Jews are money-grubbing scoundrels is to presume that race is the determinant of certain vices and virtues. It is nothing but racism, and those who harbor that presumption qualify as racists.

Themselves the subjects and targets of racism, Filipinos can be racist as well. Many in the United States disdain African Americans. Some secretly despise Arabs. People of color are often the subject of racist taunts in the Philippines, where there’s a long list of epithets directed at other races. Some Filipinos have succumbed to the use of racist epithets in their outrage over the Duterte regime’s refusal to do anything about China’s occupation and militarization of the West Philippine Sea. The regime’s coddling of workers from China illegally working in the Philippines has also revived the old prejudices against the Chinese, to which even some presumably learned newspaper columnists are not immune, that go back to the Spanish colonial period.

Because they’ve been made to hate themselves, the colonized think their colonizers superior to everyone else.  But as vulnerable to the virus of racism as many Filipinos are, it is rare for them to disparage their own kind, as the Duterte regime’s Special Envoy to China was doing last week.

Defending the influx of illegal workers from China into the country he’s supposed to be serving (that’s the Philippines, in case it has slipped his mind), Ramon Tulfo said that unlike the hardworking Chinese, Filipino workers are lazy and take too much time to do their jobs.  The Trade Unions Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) asked him to apologize for, and to retract that remark, but Tulfo refused, and even said on Twitter that Filipino workers are “basically lazy.”

Tulfo’s claims fly in the face of evidence that, as both the president of the TUCP and Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III pointed out, many countries prefer Filipino workers. Their contribution to the building of the economies of the countries where they work has also been widely acknowledged. It is also Filipino workers who daily generate in city and countryside the social wealth from which Tulfo and everyone else benefits — or should, although the irony is that it is workers themselves who seldom get a just share of the fruits of their labors.

What should be evident to anyone with an IQ above 10 is that being lazy or being anything else is not the attribute of an entire race, but of individuals.

In addition to being racist, the presumption that race decides one’s failings is also colonial. Writing in the reformist paper La Solidaridad in Madrid, Spain, in 1890, Dr. Jose Rizal took issue with the same claim in his essay “La Indolencia de los Filipinos.” While made in reference to all Filipinos, the main targets of the racist jeer spread mostly by their Spanish overlords that Filipinos are lazy were “Indio” workers. 

Rizal admitted that some Filipinos were indeed indolent, but pointed out a number of factors responsible for it, among them the colonial system in which  “Indios” from 16 to 60 years old were forced to labor for 40 days without pay in the Spanish colonizers’ shipyards in the practice known as polos y servicios.  Although he did mention the tropical heat as another factor, his main argument was that it was colonial rule that made slackers of some “Indios.”

Just as it doesn’t make much sense to work so hard for nothing, neither does it make sense to work beyond what one is capable of only to see much of the harvest from one’s labor go to one’s landlord, which is what the country’s land tenancy system still mandates.

It was the Western colonial powers that propagated The Myth of the Lazy Native, the title of one of the books of the Malaysian intellectual and author Syed Hussein Alatas (September 17, 1928-January 23, 2007), who pointed out that the myth was meant to justify colonial and imperialist rule over the peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America. One result of that myth is the persistence among the peoples of former colonial countries of the belief in their own inferiority.

Most likely as unbeknownst to Tulfo, even the Chinese were similarly disparaged by the Western powers (Germany, France, England, the United States). Having divided China among themselves, to justify their occupation of vast areas of that country they argued in pre-revolutionary times that they were bringing progress to China, which would otherwise have remained poor and backward because the Chinese were lazy and incapable of achieving anything. As the poet of British colonialism, Rudyard Kipling, said in verses urging the United States in 1899 to colonize the Philippines, it was “the white man’s burden” to civilize  “sullen peoples,” who are “half devil and half child.” 

Despite Kipling’s belief in Caucasian superiority, what the Western powers brought to China was neither peace nor progress, but guns, opium and war.  The Chinese people have since proven how false are the Western assumptions about the “lazy native.” Not only did they oust the imperialist powers in 1949 when the Communist Party of China won power nation-wide. They also transformed the once feudal, backward economy of their vast country into the world’s second largest — which only seven decades since is already on the verge of catching up with that of the United States.

As Special Envoy to China, Tulfo might also want to look into the current Chinese government’s dismissing some 250 “lazy” officials for not meeting targets, failing to spend funds intended for certain purposes, etc. It doesn’t prove that Chinese officials are lazy — only that, as in other countries like the Philippines, some officials are, and that’s not because of their race but their character.

Those Filipinos who still care about this country’s future should be worried.  Tulfo’s defense of the Duterte regime’s encouragement of the continuing deluge of illegal workers from China while thousands of Filipinos leave the country daily for work under alien skies only reiterates, although only implicitly, what President Rodrigo Duterte himself and his spokesperson have been saying.

Mr. Duterte had earlier dismissed any attempt to deport the illegals because he said the Chinese government might do the same to Filipinos in China. His spokesperson Salvador Panelo then excused the illegals’ presence in the Philippines by saying that the Philippines doesn’t have skilled construction workers.

Mr. Duterte, Panelo and Tulfo are saying in so many words that the real wealth of nations, their workers, are actually liabilities rather than assets and that, despite their outstanding presence in the work forces of other countries as engineers, seamen, carpenters, masons, teachers, nurses, doctors, hotel managers, bank tellers, cashiers, nannies, etc., etc., the Philippines is nevertheless still one of those countries that need foreign workers for such tasks as construction and running online casinos.

What the development histories and economic and social gains of other countries have established is that it is their workers who transformed them from pre-industrial feudal societies into what they are now. Only on its own people, principally its workers, can a country rely in achieving the progress and changes it needs.    

Belittling the country’s workers can only reinforce their  already existing doubts about their capacities and  drive  them to despair, or into the arms of other countries where they’re more welcome than in their own homeland.  By defaming Filipino workers before the world, Tulfo and company are demonstrating how much they loathe the very class that produces the goods and services they themselves enjoy, and dismissing any possibility that the country of their birth, through its own people’s efforts, can ever better itself.

First published in BusinessWorld. Screengrab from RTVM.


Luis V. Teodoro

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. Oversea Filipino workers are making a big influence in our economy.We need to correct our infrastructures so people can go to work instead of waiting in traffic everyday to go to work.We are not lazy,we need to get to work!

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