I'm sure some are likely to reject this notion without consideration: “What an arrogant twit. And we thought that Chinese dude was bad.”
Well, let me exercise your brain a little, limber it up, rather like stretching before the basketball game. See if you can get in the mode of thinking before you do the concluding. I know it is sometimes hard to do that, but the discipline is good.
I'll pose five questions that set the scene. And as always, I must apologize for painting in generalities, as they unfairly include those who ought not to be so painted.
What is a foreigner living in the Philippines to do? He is a leper, an outcast from the rightful caretakers of Philippine society. He has few rights, little respect among skins of onion, and little power. But he sees things differently because he carries a different historical and societal telescope.
I wonder, do our fundamental premises agree? Do Filipinos, in the main, want a modern, productive, clean, honest society? Or do Filipinos opt for their culture, as it is, because it is their culture, and they are proud of it?
If they want a progressive nation, do Filipinos understand that things have to change in order to change? Or do they believe things can both change and stay the same?
If they understand that things have to change, do they agree on the general direction of change, or are they forever locked in the inertia of debates that paralyze action?
Can those with power let go of their power for the empowerment of the people?
Here are my answers:
He must do his best for the Philippines, and not join the inert.
We agree. A modern, productive, clean, honest society assures a longer and richer life for more Filipinos.
Filipinos in the main understand that things must change, but they also want to retain the unique identity that is “Filipino”. They like being different from other Asian or Western cultures. They are proud of their heritage, tortured though it may be.
Here things get difficult. Filipinos are a self-confident people. That often translates into hard-headedness and a firm insistence that there is only one way to do things: my way. Compassion, concession and generosity are not stalwart characteristics of cultural norms. Power, if available, will be wielded, and there is not a great deal of concern about how others might be affected.
No, they can't
Government is deeply infested with men and women of power who use this power for their own gain, first, and the gain of the state, if it is convenient.
These people sacrifice the nation's well-being for their own gain. This treachery is not carried out by some ambitious, ego-stoked general wanting to stamp his iron fist into the history books. It is not spirited away in the middle of the night by some sneaky spy in a trench coat creeping down the back stairs with an arm-load of secret government documents.
These villains simply walk in and sit down at their desks. They are everywhere, in the Palace, in the Legislature, behind court benches, and in every nook and cranny of government from the LTO to the Ombudsman's office to the barangay Captain's chair. Yes, even there.
Let us define our words, as Humpty Dumpty would expect no less. Humpty had no Wiki, but we are blessed . . .
Treason: The crime that covers some of the more serious acts of betrayal of one's nation.
Traitor: A person who commits treason.
Sovereign State: A political association with effective internal and external sovereignty over a geographic area and population which is not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state.
Betrayal of one's nation! Understand that notion in all it's profound meaning.
Originally, treason applied to assassins who would seek to execute a head of state. But then it became political, and, under totalitarian regimes, anyone who disagreed with those in power could be hauled off and executed for treason.
But in the Philippines it is neither murderous nor political. It is societal.
“Wha? You threw a blank at me, Joe.”
Yes, that statement is so obtuse as to be meaningless. So let me explain.
Treason is societal in that the means for bringing down the state are accepted by society. Indeed, most who participate in the Filipino brand of treason are just doing what has long been done: exercising their personal power. They do, however, commit a gross sin of omission; they fail to connect their small private acts to the ruination of the Philippines.
But, make no mistake, they are bringing down the state, one stolen brick at a time.
These men and women, oh so invisible, black of hat and shady of eye, don't trade in coded messages or smuggled micro-diskettes loaded with megabytes of classified information. They trade in favors. One after another, piling up like so many demons in hell. They gather as the accumulated demons of a nation and overwhelm the honest trade of commerce and virtue.
Favors are an exchange of private benefits. They are outside the official mandate for public service and outside the oath of office that government officials swear to.
This sinister trading of bad values for good undermines the wealth and honor of the Philippines. It is insidious for the way it is wrapped in acceptability and carried out right before the public's eyes. It is an overt act opposed to the best interest of the Philippines and it is done without a twinge of conscience or ounce of regret.
The exchange of a nation's well-being for personal gain is done so surreptitiously that you are more likely to get angry with me for insulting your esteemed culture with words than rail at those who would tear your beautiful nation stem from root with deeds.
The king is very, very naked, and he has not been on the treadmill lately. It ain't a pretty sight.
Two values anchor the well-being of a nation. Wealth and Honor.
Wealth is represented in the sum of all economic activity over the whole of history, the equity arising from money raised through taxes less money spent on infrastructure and services aimed at taking care of the people. Wealth-building requires high productivity to care for more people in a better way. Wealth is represented in the vibrancy of the business community and the availability of technology and financial instruments such as loans and investments. It is represented in stability and protection against disasters and nations or people of bad character. It is represented in jobs and opportunity and food on the table.
Honor is represented in the moral fiber of the people, in trust, in honesty, in valor during battle, in dignity, in compassion, in bravery, in caring for those who can't care for themselves: the children and the old people, the sick and the disenfranchised. Honor is represented in the will and courage to do the tough deeds necessary to protect one's family, neighbors and fellow-citizens; it asks that some give their lives to protect the greater community.
The trade of favors undermines all of this.
Favors are not real values. They are not earned in the marketplace of ingenuity or competition. They are cheaters' values. They destroy wealth rather than create it. They undermine honor rather than cherish it.
Sometimes favors are a manipulation of the machines of power to keep legislative or mayoral positions in the family. Some families have been locked in offices so long that the Manila street signs bearing their names have rusted away. These entrenched scions block innovative thought. They block skilled work, crisp rational decisions and progress. They thrive in the mediocrity that is their offal, the very fertilizer of their foul deeds. They don't have to try hard because they are blessed with title.
Even the President - perhaps ignorantly, perhaps with intent – works against the well-being of the nation. When you stock the cabinet, the armed forces and the supreme court with cronies, you expect favors and obedience. You don't expect skill or commitment to public trust. Any appointment based on a criterion other than capability creates an IOU of favor. It suppresses the appointee's honesty. It puts personal power and gain ahead of the nation's well-being. How does the country ever get to excellence if its leaders fill positions with pals instead of experts? How does it achieve wealth if economic might is replaced by personal IOU's. How does it achieve honor if the trade of favors is itself dishonorable?
The President behaves as if she were a housewife who has appointed her coffee klatch friends to power. She does not act as an executive, intent upon skilled appointments, good management and productivity. Productivity for her is a new evening gown to wear at an Obama dinner.
It would be better to sell the nation out to the Koreans or the Japanese or the Chinese, or, praise Mary, even those dastardly Americans. They at least understand the importance of productivity. They know how to honor achievement and they know how to honor honor.
Every favor granted or called in the Philippines undermines the nation's well-being. It is treason, soft and innocent of cloak, but black-hearted of soul.
Every job filled by a friend, family member or favorite – outside of their proven ability - is a job that is not filled by an ambitious, capable person working diligently for a career and an opportunity to grow. National success is by definition the sum of all individuals' contributions to achievement.
That is what is being side-tracked and stolen every day in the Philippines. The power to achieve.
Therein rests the mediocrity of the Philippines, and its grand collective treason. It is the trading of favors and the swapping away of productivity for personal gain. It is trading the future down the tubes so our children have only chaos and poverty as their inheritance. It is the denial of the right of the people to be ambitious and productive, to have skills and a career path, to rise by making good decisions instead of bad ones, to find deep satisfaction in achievement.
It is the nation's wealth, stolen, and its honor, corrupted.
It is the trade of favors. It is the suppression of ambition and skill. It is treason.
Now some of you are probably doing the old water off a duck's back “big deal” shrug. “Another arrogant foreigner trying to pretend he knows more than us.”
Before you dismiss me, at least let me remind you what the trade of favors brings to the Philippines and you tell me if those who enable these outcomes undertake “serious acts of betrayal of one's country”:
The selling of young girls. Construction kickbacks funded with public money. Heavy taxation of the poor and tax concessions for the rich. Dirty, unhealthy living conditions for children and the elderly. Clothes-hanger abortions in the dark alleys of squatters villages. Deaths; deaths in poorly equipped hospitals, in ferries, on the riverbanks of flood-swollen rivers, in political killings and massacres, in extra-judicial murders of journalists; deaths in the home from diseases that the poor do not even know, for there is no medical care there. It is a killer society that frets over condoms, offering that up a laughable pretense of high moral value.
Make no mistake about it, when an official charged with public service engages in a trade of favors for personal gain, he is stealing value from the economy and from the honor of a nation. He is enabling these horrible flaws to flourish.
The trade of favors is serious business and it is betrayal of the Philippines.
It is treason.
Dedicated to Mama Dora who died March 10, 2010, on the floor of her shanty in the fishing village that was her home all of her short life, of an illness unknown and untreated. Government officials traded away her well-being for their personal advantage. They did not notice her passing.
It was a serious act of betrayal.