Sunday, March 27, 2011

Do Unto Me

I have been trying to understand the differences between western and Filipino cultures. I have stepped back a pace from outright criticism of Filipino ways and means, for it seems to me presumptuous to think that all cultures should emulate the American culture that frames my perspectives.

It is clear that Filipino Ego is the bottom line determinant of so many behaviors here. Whereas the Golden Rule – “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – drives the courtesy and consideration most westerners grant to others, it is a rule that simply is not prominent in the Philippines.

Filipinos everywhere are motivated by, driven by, personal advantage.
Take the routine lawbreaking that occurs here every day. Skirting the law for personal gain is not condemned. Indeed, people brag about what they get away with. They gain face by cheating and lose face only if caught. The Filipino Ego defines right and wrong not as society’s right and wrong, but as right and wrong in terms of personal power or advantage. The law is society’s definition and it is irrelevant if personal advantage can be gained by ignoring it or circumventing it.

This sentence bears repeating: “The Filipino Ego defines right and wrong not as society’s right and wrong, but as right and wrong in terms of personal power or advantage.”

Therein resides the foundation of broad scale corruption, of over-fishing, of chopping down forests illegally, of lack of courtesy on the roads, of tossing trash in the neighbor’s yard or blasting karaoke into their ears until dawn. Therein lies the stark difference between a community-oriented western culture and a self-engaged Filipino culture.

Right and wrong exist in the Philippines in terms of self-advantage, not in terms of what helps others, what brings about an orderly society, what brings about a productive society.

So what is an outsider to do? Forget about the golden rule and wield all the power his wealth permits? Trample on others? Honk them out of the way on the roads? Treat workers with little mercy, paying them a pittance and working them like dogs? Disregard his neighbors in all things: noise, smoke, pissing in plain view?

It is hard to go there. It really is.



They get turned upside down here, inside out – not in terms of American culture, but in terms of what is good for most Filipinos. Given that government largely sets the tone . . . after all, government officials represent the leadership . . . it is easy to flay them with contempt. So I will . . .

The notion of public good in the Philippines is fantasy, it is bull shit, vended by leaders with little capacity to put themselves into the shoes of those who have less power. When the dominant driving force is “what’s in it for me?”, you can hardly expect actions to occur that are for the good of the community.

Filipinos admire heroes, yet the country’s leaders behave exactly the opposite of how a real hero would behave. What is the opposite of a national hero? You figure out the correct description, for I don’t wish to be that rude.

All I know is that, if I succumb to the culture here, I don’t ever have to put myself out for anybody who has less power than me. I can just emulate the leaders hereabouts. Me first. Everyone else . . . I’ll deal with you when I’m ready . . .

As for those with more power . . . I hide relentlessly . . . duck, dodge, ignore, play victim, offer up every excuse in the arsenal . . .

Just like a real Filipino.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Latin 9.0, the World Language

Our security is tied to that which is familiar. Our home, friends, family, country, cultural traditions, language. Some people like to explore and travel, to move outside that which is comfortable; some prefer the warmth of home. Some people like to jump out of airplanes; some think that is nuts.

The Philippines has been locked at home for centuries. How do you get an entire nation to explore, to set aside the past, to jump? To let go? To feel secure whilst letting go?

It seems to me that Filipinos have to arrive at an understanding that letting go is the safest way, the warmest way, the most thrilling way. They don’t need street riots or guns. They need to jump intellectually, and culturally.

Let’s consider the ongoing debate in the Philippines about English. During the colonial period, use of English became important. A while back, it was yanked from the main school curriculum. Then it was put back. Almost everyone in the Philippines speaks a little English. A great many are fluent. It is the language in which government documents are written.

But adopting English as THE official language is a large leap and bound away because the idea crashes headlong against Filipino pride, Filipino heritage, Filipino independence. Filipino security.

Actually, to call the language spoken by America, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, half of the Philippines and most of the commercial world as “English” is itself a part of the problem. I prefer to think of this language as “Latin 9.0, the World Language”. It is a language that is not owned by the English, or the Americans. It originates predominantly in Greek and Latin, but has merged and morphed along the centuries as it has met and been shaped by new words and new cultures. Technology has introduced many new words over the past 30 years. The World Language is spoken just about everywhere.

The difficulty and the beauty of the World Language is its stunning complexity. The exceptions outnumber the rules; that makes it hard to learn. The beauty is you can express complexities and subtleties better than in any other language in the world. You can describe pictures in stunning terms not found in other languages; they have to borrow from the World Language to complete their context. That drives purists, like the French, mad.

You can innovate and build better with the World Language than with any other dialect.

Complex. Subtle. Broad. Useful.

The World Language is the great enabler of innovation and commerce and cross-cultural meetings of the mind.

The World Language is not American.

For sure it is not.

The World Language belongs to anyone who speaks it. It belongs to Filipinos. Filipinos speak it well, and are enlarged for it. They are in no way diminished for having the ability to speak in elegant or complex terms.

I personally think the driving vision of the Philippines should be to become a world class nation. To become relevant in the world community. There is security in that, and excitement. There is nothing to be gained by remaining an orphan, a woe begotten child with no direction and who still needs his ratty Tagalog “blanky” for security. There is nothing to be gained by holding anger toward old colonialists who, frankly, have less and less interest in the Philippines every year.

Security is to be found by leaping past those nations that are bound by dialects that do not serve them well at all.

The Philippines already has a head start. It would be tragic to go back to a dialect that no one else in the world speaks. It would be foolish to continue to muddle along debating the pros and cons of English. It would be wise to leverage one’s existing strength to get even stronger, and to embrace the World Language – not English or American language – as the Philippine national language.

The official language of the Philippines should be the World Language.
The Philippines should take pride that it is a skilled speaker of the World Language and move out into the bright, secure, warm, exciting light with a voice that means something.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Philippines: A Faiths Based Nation

Ambitious Muslims, following a plan shaped mainly by their extremist warriors, are pushing the Philippine government to grant more autonomy to Muslims on Mindanao. Although I personally see this as an unfortunate capitulation of state to faith, I am fully willing to carry the idea forward to its ultimate vision: The Philippines as a Faiths Based Nation.

The advantage of having 1,700 islands is that it is easy to define boundaries for this faith or that, allowing each to stand as a moral ruler of its own island. For example, I see no reason why the Catholic Church should not be granted its wish for greater empowerment and control over the lives of its members. Catholics admire poverty, so give them Samar. It is large enough to hold all the hard-core faithful, and they can establish their own values-based government like autonomous Muslim Mindanao.

Want to eat bread and sip wine, the body and the blood? Samar is your cup of tea.

Want to stone women and yank them from schools? Sail one-way to Mindanao and grab a rock and a hank of hair.

Birth control can be banned on autonomous Catholic Samar on pain of eviction. Tie the heathen condom lovers to a raft and give it a good push toward Indonesia. Those poor teenage girls who desperately sneak out for coat-hanger abortions? Flay and roast them like they did unbelievers during the crusades. Teach them what true faith is all about: the right to life and a whole lot of pain and misery . . .

Hell, we can even gain peace amongst bloodletting Muslim sects by giving Cebu to Sunnis whilst Shiites take over that part of Mindanao south and west of the mountains.

Hindus? Leyte.

Buddhists? Jolo

Zoroastrians. Seventh Day Adventists. Latter Day Saints. Engliches de Crisco. This church, that church. Give ‘em their own plot of island. Give them their own place of rule where they can preach their brains out and the citizens can live in magical fantasy absent of state interference with their fairy tale doctrines.

Just leave my island alone so that there is one place where thinking Filipinos can reside unburdened by values based on superstition or rules that lag several centuries behind our modern God-given knowledge. Give me a place where people band together respectful of law and order, courtesy, privacy, free expression, security and healthy commerce. And even respectful of those spiritually attuned to a God who blessed them with brains enough to comprehend that we should live according to reason, not fiction, fantasy, magic, superstition, or imagination detached from its foundation of knowledge.

Let the faith-based lunatics eat the pudding they whip up. Let them stew in their own juices on their isles of self-flagellating choice. Just mandate that they leave the rest of us alone to enjoy our secular peace and good will.

I figure give everyone five years to move to their island of choice and then get on with what is likely to be a hilarious if tragic total capitulation of the weak Philippine state to the will of the faithful.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

"Ilustrado" by Miguel Syjuco

I just finished the book “Ilustrado” by Filipino writer, Miguel Syjuco. The book, published last year, won the Man Asian Literary Prize.

I admire people who pack a big dictionary in their brain. Syjuco’s writing is rich with the intricacies of expression that can only be found in free-thinking and well educated minds. The style is scattered and hard to catch at first, but the book ends with a grand twist that draws two lives together as one. It is a striking portrait both of the Philippines and man’s enduring battle with age and relevance.

Filipinos living abroad may find the book particularly poignant. Those living here in the Philippines will be jealous that an overseas Filipino can be so incisive, profound and unrestrained, and they are likely to come up with the standard excuses as to why Syjuco should be dismissed as irrelevant. After all, he lives in Canada and writes in English, fer crissakes. No cred . . .

Never mind that he is a world class artist who thinks in layers of subtlety and intricacy that would make Hemmingway’s square jaw drop.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


An American in the Philippines is an entertainment treat for most Filipinos. We white or black skinned foreigners stride the malls under a constant gaze of amusement or awe or distaste. Because I stand 6’ 4” and – what can I say – look the way I look, I get a lot of teen aged giggles, catcalls from men and smiles from women.

I have come to like the “Hey Joe” call that greets me when I walk about on the streets or beaches. I return it with a smile or a greeting. We are friends, it seems.

I prefer to ignore the exceptions.

The one I don’t quite get, or if I think too much about it, don’t like, is when young people from age 6 to 25 pass by and cry out “Daddy!” They don’t do this when they are alone, only when they are with others whom they seek to impress or amuse. Too often the cry comes from youngish girls. They make the call then burst into giggles of . . . what . . . delight?

The point they are making, I suppose, is that foreigners often like to liaise with Filipinas, and the outcome is frequently kids. The foreigner has money so if you are one of the kids, you are lucky enough to claim some.

So I am “Daddy” to those who want some of my money, or who know they can’t have it and want to slur me with a “you sex maniac” comment, read between the lines of the “Daddy” and the giggle. It’s bizarre.

I also get treated better than a lot of Filipinos in banks, government offices and stores. That is also weird in the extreme. This is a country with values that discriminate against its own. Indeed, I dislike whitening creams, for they suggest that Filipinos need to hide or erase their brown skins, which I find more attractive than my pasty white one. And a lot more practical under the heat of the tropical sun.

It is easy to conclude that this is a nation in need of mass psycho-therapy so people become content with who they are, and content with who others are, even if they are different. There should be no need to frame the differences with stares or catcalls that reveal too much about the person doing the staring or calling.

As my Mama used to say, “Son, it is not polite to stare” and “Son, it is not polite to point” and “Son, if you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say it at all”.

And as my Pappy used to say, “Son, go get a Coke while I flip through the Playboy magazine”.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Irony and Associations

I appreciate the posture of some blog sites to moderate comments. It is their right as publishers.

There is a move afoot to establish an association of bloggers. One of the pushers is represented on a web site "tonyocruz". I offered up a comment on the site and it has been in moderation for over 24 hours.

I suspect that anyone truly interested in the well-being of the blog community would understand the importance of timiliness in the application of "editorial judgment". In other words, I don't see why my comment has been delayed for a day.

This is what I wrote with respect to an association of bloggers and the proposed "manifesto" that tonyocruz is pushing:

"The term manifesto creates images in my mind of a pack of brown clad soldiers with red stars on their caps marching in unison down Roxas Boulevard claiming they are for free speech whilst trying to hammer all the wayward thinkers back into line.

The manifesto itself is not specific and so filled with what we ‘Merkans call “motherhood and apple pie” that I don’t exactly know what the purpose of the organization is, nor the responsibilities, nor the obligations. Am I expected to pony up dues, or is it a free ride? What will we argue for in the legislature? That we be allowed to say anything we damn well please? What, really, are we after? More broadband cable in Manila or better grammar or more Tagalog writers? Seems like a purpose in search of a need . . ."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Tsunami of Little Beasts

A tsunami of kids is being birthed in the Philippines, rising through the nation’s schools like unrelenting swarms of hungry piranha mashing toward the job and food markets with mouths open wide and angry teeth flashing, threatening the security of every Filipino. Arrogant priests drive their overpopulated flocks toward the brutal truth, the torment of the real Revelation, that angels cannot protect this massive flood of lives the priests hold up as precious. This is misery on the rise, spawned by an outdated Catholic doctrine formulated by man as God’s will centuries ago when the limits of resources were defined by the limit of man’s productivity. Today the limits of resources are defined by the earth’s inability to support a greedy and violent mass of ravenous beasts.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Spratleys and Envy

Are you ever surprised at what comes out of your mind? It is amusing to me that certain words pop out onto the keyboard with no thought attached. They are simply an alignment of word to context, unconsciously. Two words that popped up recently were “temerity” and “flaccid”. I never use these words, but they emerged onto the computer screen in perfect union with the meanings I was driving at. I suppose because I read relentlessly, they are recorded in some wayward sector of my hard drive, and my central processing unit has a good contextual search engine.

The alignment of words is similarly amazing to me. On a good day, some profound alignment or another will simply emerge from my brain and flow onto the paper. On other days it is a struggle to write anything at all.

One of the recent gems that flowed forth had to do with an assessment of China’s bellicose stance toward the Spratleys and other islands in the oceans hereabouts. A bloggist on the Pro-Pinoy site commented that the Philippines has a defense agreement with the US, and presumably the US would ride to the rescue if the Philippines got into a pissing contest with China.

That led to some amusement on my part, for I know how much resentment is held in the Philippines toward the US. Usually, it is couched in terms that the prior colonial rule by the US was racist and brutal, and all the problems that exist in the nation today somehow derive from that imperialist thuggery. Well, no question, American rule was racist and brutal. But, also no question, since then, the acts of Filipinos have something to do with what the Philippines is today.

I wrote something like “the hate that arises from envy is within the envious person, not the person being envied, so the solution must come from the envious person.”

My enlightenment on this originates from having discovered how envy drives a lot of the bad behavior of Filipinos. Sensitive egos get bent out of shape and the urge to knock down others becomes the profound driver of behaviors. So there is a lot of tearing down, and not a lot of building up hereabouts.

The interesting thing is how envy results in a denial of responsibility for one’s own bad behavior.

If Filipinos are envious of the US because of its power, and Filipinos issue up hateful or critical comments as a result, there is little the US can do to respond unless the US decides to become less powerful. Then the hateful Filipinos would ridicule the US for being weak. And the US would be less able to defend its own citizens, and the Philippines.

The more constructive approach is for envious nation to assume responsibility for the failures that drive the envy, and to change ITS OWN behavior.

It seems to me that the Philippine nation, and Filipinos in general, are masters at denying responsibility, at tearing down instead of building, at finding excuses or casting blames. When the rubber hits the road over China and the Spratleys, you can bet that the Philippines will play its US card. Never mind that the Philippines was the first nation to flee Iraq when the bullets started flying there. The US was not allowed to play its Philippines card because envy is a one-way street. Responsibility is a two way street.