The desperately unpopular view of our country from an urban curmudgeon
Another year is going by, and as I do each day I am privileged to draw breath, I thank God once again for His funky sense of humor and His attention to detail. Everyday, I find myself thinking: Thank God, I’m a Filipino!
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Heir to the genius of Rizal, the words of Recto, the spirit of Bonifacio, the diplomacy of Sultan Kudarat, the eloquence of Tañada, the bravery of Sakay and Tandang Sora, the style of Moreno and Natori, the voice of Andion Fernandez, the art of Amorsolo and Manansala, the science of Zara and Velasquez, and the exquisite bounty of nature that we never seem to have logged or polluted to shreds.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Vibrantly alive in this vortex of the surreal, where penitents shed blood, decorations are made from rice and nacre, pride in one’s children is broadcast from the trunks of taxi cabs and the mudguards of jeepneys, where people offer you food as a reflex and bow low if they have to pass between two people (or between you and the TV).
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! With a diverse culture that is as colorful and as full of flavor as the halo-halo. Here you can get music from Europe and America, anime from Japan, telenovellas from Korea and Mexico, and pirated versions of everything. Here we have a thriving population: 40% of them singers and dancers, 20% of them vocal impersonators and back-up dancers, which still leaves 16.8 million Pinoys who are better off as audience members!
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! With over-protective, incredibly conservative, “wat kind of a girl comes home at dis time op da nite”, wonderfully flawed and uniquely great parents; with a never-ending stream of relatives; with “Manang” and “Kuya”, with“po” and “opo”; with cantankerous and loving grandparents who would not think twice about conking me on the head with their baston if they thought I was misbehaving; with an extended family by joy and tears if not by blood: our staff, our friends, our colleagues.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! For every bad habit you can name, the other side of the coin is a good one. The only difference is the edge of the coin, which I call discernment and balance. Pinoys love their families and like to get good deals for their friends, which sometimes leads to nepotism and corruption, but is also responsible for filial piety and expansive business networks. Pinoys are ingenious and resourceful, which sometimes leads to intricate schemes and plots, but also leads to creativity and innovation. Pinoys are ambitious, which sometimes leads to crab mentality, but can also fuel our successes. Pinoys take everything personally and are loyal to individuals – not concepts, which leads to a lack of civic duty and nationalism. But if we extended our definition of the family or clan to include the entire nation, we would rule the world. Call me whatever you like and laugh at me for my optimism; but I assert that Filipinos are a wonderful, if ill-disciplined, people.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Because if you want to find someone who can do something well and quickly, it will be a fellow Pinoy – someone who is too busy catering to the demands of his boss, his spouse, his kids, his sprawling extensive family, his barkada, and has a side-line selling used mobile phones to boot. This is the kind of person who will do acceptable work in the most expedient manner possible. And he can do so with limited or no funds, electricity, water and computers!
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! While in England, people thought I was loving – simply because I didn’t confine my affection to dogs and horses. While in America, people thought I was cute and “too nice” – simply because I was short and treated others with respect. And now in Manila, people are so unused to a reasonable level of initiative, efficiency, accountability, compassion, and the open declaration of a win-win agenda that I have fooled other people! Were I of any other nationality, I would be mediocre; in Manila, I am a refreshing oddity.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! One of 84 million curmudgeons who laugh because it is too painful not to, who know we will never have a fiscal crisis because it would run counter to the oligarchy’s interests, who know that we should never drive around at 4pm lest we run into hungry traffic cops, who know that our government is corrupt and our countrymen are petty, but find ourselves donating to relief efforts, paying taxes and helping each other out anyway. The idiotic optimism of our people is responsible for paying for my high school education and subsidizing my six years in college. The knowledge I learned – both in success & failure, within the classroom and outside it – enabled me to study abroad.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Because speaking of idiotic optimism, if there’s one other thing that Pinoys have in common its insanity. Don’t believe what the media tells you – bad news sells. There is a large and growing number of people who are not only crazy enough to stay here, they actually love it! Who else but a Pinoy could thrive in the Philippines? Lunatics like my long-suffering teachers, unsung and paid a pittance their entire careers, but dearer to me than I could ever express. Basket-cases in the public sector: rural doctors, honest government workers (they do, indeed, exist); Weirdos in the private sector: the charities and foundations, the Brain Gain Network, thousands of enlightened entrepreneurs and business owners. Senseless acts of kindness and honor happen everyday and an incredible amount of money is made honestly in this country; unheralded and unnoticed by all.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Our unfinished revolutions – which are actually grand parties where fictional speeches are made, singing, dancing and prayer go on into the night and you invite everyone via text to participate – are a remarkable display of democracy. A democracy that may not be working very well, but saves us from being invaded in the name of “liberation”. A democracy that preys on its own people and will eventually force everyone to wake up, keep praying (and complaining) but CHANGE. Eventually it will be so detestable that we will realize that to try to change the system is like trying to boil the ocean, but to change ourselves (pain in the butt that it is) is the only solution. Thank God, that you drive us so relentlessly towards personal responsibility and integrity. Without the avarice and incompetence around us, we would remain the teenagers of the earth: possessors of freedoms we misuse and abuse, civic duties we neglect, and consciences we openly deride.
Thank God, I’m a Filipino! Thank God we suffer so! No nation or individual in the entire course of human history has become great without suffering. Thank God for the pollution, the crime, the poverty, the squalor and the misery. Thank God for all the people who moan and bitch and complain, thank God for all the people who pray and weep and proclaim: “Something has to change!”
Filipinos are not grateful or optimistic, we hate ourselves because we see nothing good in our country. We laugh because it would hurt too much not to, we complain because it would be too risky to act. So we should make it a point to remember our history and teach it to others. Not merely our centuries old struggle against colonialism but also the more recent fight for justice, fairness and prosperity. We should visit the newly re-opened Ayala Museum, and take our kids with us. We should pass on good news, and there is a lot of it to be found! Though the infidelities of artistas are more newsworthy than the years of hard work of Dr. Carmencita Padilla and our Lingkod Bayan awardees or the laudable conduct of our relief and rescue workers, there is more good news than bad. The bad news is just more fashionable. But something has to change first!
Filipinos have no self-discipline, we do not follow the rules because no one else does. So we must do the right thing, adhere uncompromisingly to our moral standards. We cannot control the behavior of others, but we can control what we do. We are a country rich in faith, both in quality and in diversity, but whether we proclaim the Apostle’s Creed or the Shahada, there is one thing I’m sure we would all agree on: If we are only good because of fear of punishment and hope for reward, then the faith we posess is hollow. If we were better Catholics, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists; we would be better Filipinos. If we were to say: “I do the right thing and I do it for myself, no matter what the conduct of others”, then you would see a renaissance. But something has to change first!
Filipinos are petty, so we must stop being petty ourselves. We have shot down ideas and shut down programs, not because of their quality but because they were born in the minds and built by the hands of a rival or a predecessor. Our definition of success is individualistic, even though our own history teaches us that no radical change has ever occurred in this country that did not incorporate the goals of the powerful with the goals of the many. The government cannot be depended on, so we must think of public-private partnerships, of entrepreneurship for economic development. But something has to change first!
Filipinos are corrupt; our government is incorrigible, our children are gambling, cheating each other on Ragnarok, addicted to whatever drugs they can afford, our graduates do not meet the standard of education that industry requires; so we must donate to our schools, both public and private. We must give back to teachers the luster of their profession and the dignity that comes with a proper salary. We must think of win-win situations, of living in integrity. But something has to change first!
That something is me.
That something is you.
So to hell with what the world, the media, the millions of cynics may say! Because “yes, the Filipino can” and soon the Filipino will! I refuse to lose hope in the Filipino, because I refuse to lose hope in my family and friends, I refuse to lose hope in myself. Thank God, I can change. Thank God, I can work, inspire, lead, act and care!
Whatever else the future brings, thank God, thank God I’m a Filipino!