I've often struggled to discern how patriotism in the Philippines differs from that in the United States. I've moved a step closer to clarity on the matter thanks to the noodling I was forced to do to understand why no one in government is championing a woman (Perling Garcia) who is acting for good purposes, preservation of the Philippine ecology. Rather, they are filing libel cases and accusing her of foul deeds. You can skim through that other article to get a sense of this.
As often occurs, I run the risk of offending patriotic Filipinos, some of whom I might refer to as Pacquiao patriots and others who have traveled the world, and still relish coming home. I'm looking for a deep meaning to patriotism. One that is rich and caring, where the reason for being patriotic is not "me", but "us", the nation Philippines. For example, people with the kind of patriotism I'm talking about would have no patience for corruption because corruption undermines the nation's well-being.
When America declared her independence from Great Britain, she was blessed to have a group of well-educated, good-minded people taking charge of the rebel cause and forming it into a new government. Jefferson, Adams, Madison and many others.
Because these intelligent people were smarting from the thuggish, over-bearing, over-taxing authority of the British monarchy, they knew they wanted to give life to two new ideals: (1) that people matter; that citizens matter. And (2) that to raise your voice in protest is good, not bad. They understood that it is the tension of opposing advocacies, the natural checks and balances that occur during (sometimes heated) dialogue, that keeps a democracy centered. Stifle the voices, and you have a government that tends toward authoritative extremes.
The Philippines was not blessed with its founding on such ideologically sound terms. The Americans who took over shortly after Aguinaldo declared independence DID NOT EMPLOY American ideals of open expression, but declared opposing thought "subversive" and "treasonous". And with each new iteration of yet another "independent" Philippine state since them, we have witnessed the same authoritarianism at the top. The same closed-mindedness and defensiveness.
Leaders have been members of the social elite who do not receive opposition kindly. It represents a challenge to their "station".
Oh, the structure of the government has been democratic, for sure. In its current version, it has a Constitution and the same three branches of government that the U.S. has. It touts the same freedoms, of speech and right of assembly. And boy, does the Philippines bear arms well. Elections are held. The Congress has both a House and a Senate. There are provinces like the U.S. states, each with a governor and set of independent authorities.
It is democracy in action, republic in form.
But not so much democratic in style. In heart.
As the prior article illustrated, the President today, a kind and well-meaning gentleman named Noynoy Aquino, does not appear to grasp the fundamental principle of the Philippines as the PEOPLE'S democracy. He seems to be busy defending his "station" rather than protecting the freedoms that, at least in America, are so cherished.
Oh, he says the right words. "The people are the boss" he said in his 2012 SONA.
But it appears he does not quite grasp what this means.
As with so many leaders of the Philippines since Aguinaldo, missing from the leadership equation is a quality I will term "patriotic humility".
The Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary defines these important terms thusly:
- Patriotic. Adj. The quality of being loyal to one's country.
- Humility. Noun. An emotional feeling of satisfaction that is gained by relegating well-being of self to a lesser position compared to the well-being of others.
Humility that PRETENDS to favor others is not humility. It is fakery. Deceit. Hubris in disguise.
So what do you see from the nation's leaders, from the President and the Cabinet and the Congress and the Judiciary?
You see certitude. And exercise of authority.
You rarely see the kind of patriotic humility that puts the state of the nation above the well-being of the leadership of that nation. Leader's bristle at criticism. Their inclination is to strike out. The State's decisions are their PERSONAL decisions. To critique a State decision is to criticize them personally.
It erupts in incidents like President Aquino's caddish criticism of ABS-CBN at the network's birthday party. Or his spokesman's defense of the legal act of attacking Ms. Garcia for "Facebook libel". Or sometimes it occurs among peers, as when Senators Enrile and Trillianes make like fighting chickens and play loose with the term "treason".
Lost is the humility that says "our nation is great because we NEED our people to be engaged and active and vibrant advocates for things we disagree with".
No, what we get is oppressive Cybersex Laws that make internet libel a CRIME with double punishment. We get people at each other's throats, no mercy. Well, if you are among the class of lesser power, that's a downright dangerous place to be.
Rather than leaders understanding that a vibrant Philippines NEEDS the good thinking that invariably emerges from opposing ideas rubbing against one another, the leadership takes criticism as an affront to honor. Just about any criticism can, with that attitude, becomes grist for the libel mills.
So the most profound freedom of American democracy, the freedom to have ideas or opinions and state them, even if they are wrong, is cherished. In America.
In the Philippines, contrary ideas are condemned or suppressed or ridiculed. Powerful people don't like them.
The richness of patriotism that comes from knowing that we are all in it together is missing. Because WE ARE NOT all in it together. We are endlessly defending against the angers of others.
Not debating and learning and RESPECTING and growing.
Until the Philippines can master the HEART of democracy, which cherishes each voice, it will be a democracy in form only.
President Aquino appears not to grasp the concept. Nor does Senator Sotto. Some do, I think. Teo "The Fist" Guingona possibly grasps it.
Missing in action is the simple notion that "I matter less than the well-being of the Philippines." Or the well-being of my province, if I'm a governor. Or the well being of my city, if I'm a mayor.
As long as the emphasis is on authority rather than respect for differences, patriotism in the Philippines will always be a little bit hollow. And shallow.
It takes patriotic humility to allow those who disagree with us to be free to disagree. To be respected for having a different perspective and being willing to share it.
- When Martin Nevera can sing the Philippine National Anthem in any artistic, expressive style he chooses . . . rather than as the mandated march . . . and not be called before Congress for it, then we will know that enlightenment is arriving.
- When Perling Garcia can rip the Mayor while complaining about the mining that is cutting into the precious rocks of Cagayan, and be respected for it BY THE MAYOR, then we will know enlightenment is arriving.
- When the President addresses a press conference on libel laws and starts by making clear that Freedom of Expression is cherished in the Philippines, and is what makes democracy work, then we will know that enlightenment is arriving.
And when enlightenment comes, and the Filipino people understand what this nation is, a place that cherishes THEM and their ideas, then patriotism will move to a deeper level.
Patriotism will be more deeply felt. And the Philippine "way" will be held more precious.
I'm not seeing a lot of patriotic humility right now. Hubris, yes. Hard-headedness masking for confidence, yes. Fake humility, yes. Words around the issues, but missing the mark, yes. Concern about "station", yes.
Respect for criticism?
Respect for the principle that free speech keeps a nation free and balanced?