Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Rise of the Indignant Filipino

I think one of the values we mere humans strive mightily to attain, but fail at, is that of dignity. An alien arriving on our planet would see the shortfall clearly just by looking at our bodies. Soft gangly extremities emerging from a blob of a core with no discernable beauty. Fingers that look like 10 big worms. Splotches of hair serving no useful function. Many people with lice in that hair, or other bugs and diseases crawling about the blobby gelatinous body. Emissions of various gases, liquids and solids. It is not a pretty picture.

Then there is our method of solving problems, which is even uglier. People who don't know much about anything slash and trash talk their way to some kind of hopeful win. Not reconciliation, not knowledge, not solution. But win. Each of us is so arrogant in the views that we hold that we can't comprehend we might be wrong. What emerges is the kind of ugly tear-down debate that you see in the US about the debt ceiling, or what you see if JoeAm and Ilda have the unfortunate occasion to arrive in the same blog thread at the same time.

But I have always liked the word dignity, for it suggests there is a higher plane of behavior that we ought to subscribe to, and aspire toward. Integrity fits well with dignity. So does honor. And courage. And humility, to the extent it does not introduce obsequiousness or subservience.

As with batteries and magnets, polarities sometimes cause an instrument to work well. And in the case of values, indignant is the angry inside-out expression of dignity. Where dignity is a calm, quiet passion of manner, indignant is its angry and abrasive counterpart. Applied to errant behavior, it can clean things up. Like soap, I suppose. Or Lysol.

Can you buy Lysol in the Philippines? It is a powerful antibacterial wash useful for sanitizing bathroom fixtures. It will also clean your nose if you get too big a whiff of the stuff.

Being indignant is rather like scrubbing something with Lysol, but you apply it to sanitize human failings.

Indignant means angry, up in arms, offended, in a huff, resentful, incensed, put out, annoyed, piqued, cross.

This mood is on the rise in the Philippines. It was good to see Bishops fretting before the Senate Blue Ribbon Panel, brought there by tax-payers being indignant over fancy cars given out by PCSO. PCSO is the government's lottery funded "Special Ops" department that exists outside the normal oversight of the Department of Finance. The Bishops are leaders of the Catholic Church, normally granted polite and uber-respectful "hands off" treatment. Alas, the Bishops of this era seem to relish challenging the secular government, getting down and dirty, as it were. . . and so they were summoned . . . not like God's representatives on earth, but like children who had misbehaved.

It was good to see Senator Santiago's indignant blast aimed squarely at PCSO in a tirade that must go down as one of her more accomplished rants.

Well, the testimony revealed that the cars were in fact not all that fancy, and they were being used to help a lot of people. A better use than most of the cars on the road, I would suspect. Only one of the priests seemed so close to President Arroyo that politics may have entered the equation, a legitimate reason for some pique directed toward the Church.

One of the priests characterized the happenings succinctly. I'm sorry I can't provide his name or exact words because I was sitting watching with awe instead of taking notes. But he said, with no little regret: "Things have changed."

Yes, indeed, and that is my point here.

More Filipinos are starting to watch the nation's institutions with a critical eye and speak up with an indignant voice. Filipinos have historically been subservient to an autocratic government and powerful private and religious institutions that hold little compassion for the burdens and limits they impose on ordinary people. Now Big Brother's cameras are turned around. They are probing the errant ways of the . . . heretofore . . . mighty.

The impetus for this is twofold:

(1) The internet is influencing the influential. One-third of all Filipinos access the web, a great many engaged in social media . Their complaints reach the press, and from them, the masses. Complaints also reach government officials, and from them, the lawmakers.

(2) President Aquino's loud, visible hunt for corrupt officials has opened the door for scrutiny of all government deeds, even his own. He probably had no idea about the power of the dynamic he would unleash, a flame-up of civic expression that toasts his own toes from time to time.

No longer are Filipinos constrained to being indignant over glitzy actors gone bad, or bad girls and bad boys like Nicole and Private Smith playing out a contrived micro-drama in major fashion on the front pages of the Inquirer for three years.

Now their annoyance is turning to matters that matter.

They are indignant about 7,000 hectares of stripped coral. About DENR's poor management of the forests and the washing away of cities, resulting to a crackdown on unlicensed logging. About President Aquino's soft work schedule. About the handling of the bus massacre. About Willie's abusive practices towards children; advertisers revolted and television stations are introducing new policies regarding kids appearing on their shows. About PCSO. About a zoo that causes animals to suffer.

This pinpoint, collective anger can be a culture-changing force in the Philippines.

I hope it is. I know indignant Americans substantially ended racism and gender discrimination in the US, and powered a lot of changes in civic regulations, from anti-smoking laws to regulations mandating improved vehicle gas mileage.

The Philippines is becoming less and less a closed society, demonstrating the kind of growing social awareness that we saw emerge in the US in the 1960's through 1980's. I mean, anti-smoking laws in the Philippines? That is downright modern. Divorce? Amazing.

As an aside, I observe that President Aquino is not the pawn of the Catholic Church that I thought he would be when he went off on his famous prayer retreat before deciding to become a candidate.

President Aquino is hugely responsible for the change in who is watching whom . His multiple inquiries into corruption fulfill a campaign promise. His critics call it a vindictive witch hunt against former President Arroyo, almost as if they were for doing nothing about corruption or pardoning the past president even before the inquiry starts. But no matter. President Aquino's effort is much broader and substantial than a one-pony show, examining potentially corrupt acts of present and past lead officials of DENR, LTO, Ombudsman, Customs, Military, Governorships and Judiciary. Now add PCSO and the Zookeepers. It would be a horrible expression of indignity to go only after underlings and let the top official, if she is shown to have been corrupt, escape the rigor of inquiry.

The rise of indignant expression is rather like a light bulb going on in slow motion, one of those with a variable switch that gets brighter as you turn it up.

I hope it cranks ever brighter. For it will carry into the private sector, too. And it has the potential to create the forces that can clean up the Philippines and make its institutions more productive and responsive to those being served. It may cast enough light that Filipinos will see clearly the path to a better Philippines. Wrongs do not have to be tolerated. Like smoke in public places, or trash out the bus window, or 25 minutes of commercials per television hour, or dogs killing motorcyclists, or negligent practices in the seas. It doesn't have to be that way.

Thus, the Bishops squirm, PCSO officials swear and sweat, and Willie snivels and complains much like a crying kid; government officials far and wide cease the small graft and resign before the big graft grabs them by their blobs. Tobacco companies throw giant hissy fits. Nabobs run about scouring and cleaning up their books, and hopefully, their acts.

The indignant Filipino rises.

Hail to the modern, socially aware Filipino.


  1. "President Aquino is hugely responsible for the change in who is watching whom."

    You hit the nail on the head Joe. President Aquino is the Catalyst for change. It is up to us to SUPPORT him in his vision for a BETTER nation.

    I am still bemused on why your Anti-Pinoy Friends still refuse to give President Aquino credit where credit is due. They seem to be obsessed on taking him down. What gives Joe? I don't understand their hatred? Are they campaigning for Villar (it was never Gordon really) this early already?

  2. L, perhaps self-justification, still trying to prove they are right even though the electorate picked Mr. Aquino. Or perhaps they don't like the guy for prior issues (la Hacienda). But I agree that they are pushing agenda, not objectivity.

  3. All we ask is fairness and objectivity.

    If Gordon or Villar won and they did some things right and some things wrong, we will gladly point out their successes or failures.

    But these Anti Pinoys speak as if Noynoy is ALWAYS wrong, a failure no matter what he does. Where is the objectivity of these self-proclaimed intellectuals?

    Anti-Pinoys have no more credibility. Let them spin their webs of lies and deceit. They hurt nobody but themselves.