PETER WRITES ON THE INTERNET, “I sure hope he dies soon enough so he is relieved of all his burdens and that I am relieved of calling him a fellow Filipino.”
No, he was not referring to some bandit, cult leader or Philippine president. That wishful thinking was for me.
Peter’s reaction mirrors the kind of comments I got when I wrote “Who wants to be a Filipino?” some years ago. In the essay, which was well-circulated in both print and electronic media, I asked, “If you were reincarnated and given the choice, would you want to be a Filipino again?” I said no. I would rather be a Frenchman in my next life, what with our tradition of mediocrity, identity crisis, inhumane level of poverty and never-ending episodes of turbulence.
Reactions poured in from Filipinos here and in many parts of the world. To many, I am an ingrate, a prodigal Filipino, an insecure young man. Some reactions were sympathetic, but most were agitated and some beyond reason.
With this experience I realized that we Filipinos are extremely sentimental about our nationality but our love of country does not go beyond the simple fact of acknowledging that we were born in this part of the world. Ours is a blind nationalism, definitely not an enlightened one. For what is in the Filipino that is superior compared to other peoples of the world? What is there to hold our heads up high for? What do we do to make our nation proud?
I have to say that while I did wish to be reborn in a better nation, I also promised to do everything I can, at least in this lifetime, to be the best Filipino that I can become so that at the end of the day, they can call me an ingrate but not one who has not done his part. Thus, since then, I have tried to look closely into the Filipino situation, with a strong desire to help bring about change and reform.
In humble ways, I have attempted to identify where and how we could effect change in our national life so that the next generations of young Filipinos will, at the very least, won’t have to write essays like this one. I certainly do not entertain illusions of getting close to being the next E. San Juan, Paulo Freire or Randy David, but I am determined to go on despite my pragmatic side’s whispering that I might be shooting for the stars.
For where should change begin? Should it begin with the government? With a President who is generally distrusted and whose moral authority to govern perpetually remains suspect? With the military and police who have become the very elements they should fight against? With the judiciary that is inutile and corrupt? With our legislators? (No explanation needed.) Or with COMELEC officials who arrogantly show, not without minor injury to our already benighted land, critical symptoms of second childhood? Or maybe change must begin with the church? With bishops who turn a blind eye on excesses while accepting money from the devil? With religious ministers who dictate on their followers the politicians they should support, lest they be cast in hell? Or with Mike Velarde and his psychedelic suit? (Emen? Emen!)
One is tempted to say that our hope rests with the youth. But where are the youth? They are in the malls salivating over the latest models of cellular phones, in computer shops playing the most violent network games. The more unfortunate ones are in the streets, numb to the realities of drugs, crime and sexual exploitation. For their part, supposed youth leaders exploit the first political agency of corruption and ineptitude—The Sangguniang Kabataan which, unfortunately, escapes abolition until today.
They say education is the key but I have some doubts. Top schools dominate our national academic life and so we hold them largely responsible for all the chaos in our country today. Universities and colleges have willingly become, and proudly so, pimping stations for the interests of greedy multinationals and colonial powers.
Yet, the greatest failure of our educational system is that we train young people to be good doctors, lawyers, IT professionals or whatever, but in the process fail to make them good and responsible citizens.
So where do we start? Every now and then, our political leaders float the idea of dancing the ChaCha to solve our nation’s many ills. Changing the constitution, however, assures as of a future less dim only as much as changing the wordings of a marriage contract assures a blissful marital life. Raul Roco, the best president we never had, was right to remark that it is not the paper, but the people we must reform.
Ahhh, change… I have engaged in long and exhaustive discussion and debate with young writers, journalists, academicians, public transport drivers, farmers, friends, and just about anybody who has anything to say on this matter. But no one could tell me what to do. We always end up saying, always with ambiguity, that change should start in each one of us in our own ways no matter how small. It makes sense. But how do we unify 90 million individual efforts and make them material at a national level?
I am still in search of answers to my questions. But others obviously are not as patient; thousands of them jump off from the sinking ship by the day. Shortly after he received his nurse’s license, my friend Dindo, a medical doctor, went to the Embassy of the United States. He got a working visa. And there was a sparkle in his eyes. Meanwhile, my relatives scattered in many parts of the world dread the idea of coming back, except for a vacation.
My heart is with the overseas Filipino workers but I refuse to call them “modern-day heroes.” For if they beef up our economy, thanks to their dollar remittances, it’s only incidental that they do. No one goes abroad for the national economy. One leaves the country for personal needs, interests, whims and caprices. And no matter how noble their intentions, OFWs are not heroes, definitely not the catalysts of change. Victims they are of either need or greed.
But many of those who stay, either by choice or by circumstance, are not any better. They are obsessed with whitening soaps and concoctions and exhaust all means to camouflage everything that marks them as Filipinos. They live in the realm of soap operas and game shows. What better way to take relief from this dog-eat-dog world?
Sometime ago, I fell victim to a holdup man in Manila. Oh, how bad I felt when the culprit pointed a knife at my side and took my jewelry and some cash. But there was something more that hurt me.
I realized that the most painful part in being Filipino is when you have to assume that everyone, be it in the streets, in church, or in the state halls, will do you harm. It breaks my heart that one has to look at his brother Filipinos always with eyes of cynicism and distrust. It’s difficult but it’s the only way to survive. With no one trusting no one, the idea of a concerted effort to bring about change lurks in the dark. Everyone cries for change. But where and how do we begin?
I can stay here and spend my whole life just pondering on and trying to resolve these questions. Or, like Peter, I can move to another land, pledge my allegiance to another flag and, to mitigate my guilt feelings, proclaim to the whole world, via the Internet, how big, noble and unadulterated my love is for the Philippines. For whatever reasons we consider ourselves Bayang Maharlika, I am clueless.
But in the spirit of noblesse oblige (nobility obligates), I take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and stay.
Reader Conrad Llaguno writes via email, “Your article making parallel comparisons to 2 Glorias was a very touching masterpiece. Keep up the good work. By the way I would like to call your attention to this website, www.paoay.com I think what these Paoayeños do is truly very remarkable!”.
Herdy’s Riknakem: If you want to be inspired by what little things simple persons like you and me can do to make the world a better place, even if you are not from Paoay, go visit their site. To the organizers: agbiagkayo apo!