Speaking to a mammoth crowd representative of all colors, ages, creed, gender, and political affiliations, Obama began his victory speech with these powerfully historic words:
“If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.”
Watching the television coverage of the US elections led me to envy and resentment. Envy because clean, peaceful, and honest elections—such as the one Americans just had—remains a dream for Filipinos, and resentment because the country of stars and stripes gave us democracy but failed to teach us how to conduct our elections well (makes me wonder if they did that intently so they can continue to manipulate our government).
In this state of envy and resentment, I was reminded of an essay I wrote when I was eight years more carefree and less bald. This piece, borne out of anguish over the chronic hopelessness and despair in this country that I love, gave me my twenty seconds of fame as a national kontabida. The response it elicited was huge—from the angry call I received from a Philippine president’s son to the thousands of mail I got from readers, some sympathetic, but mostly hostile.
If Obama were Filipino, how would he respond to this essay?
IF YOU WERE TO BE REINCARNATED and given the choice, would you opt to be Filipino again? It was in 1998, at a forum of top schools at the University of Asia and the Pacific, that I raised this question. As expected, everybody, except me, gave a resounding yes for an answer.
Hypocrites! I could see from the way they talked, from the clothes they wore, from their ideas of what was good and beautiful, that even in this lifetime they were dying to camouflage their being Filipino. Thanks to Ralph Lauren, a colonial education and “trying hard” American accent.
I told them I want to be European, a Frenchman more specifically. Yes, Europe — with its rich history, solid identity and all the luxury and elegance this world can offer.
I have been there once for the World Debates in Greece. But being Filipino, I was a disaster then. During socials, I would befriend the Jamaicans so I would stand out. But it was a wrong move because Jamaicans, notwithstanding their darker skin tone, are very secure with themselves.
When I and fellow Filipinos were walking in downtown Athens, a young Greek approached our group and casually told us that he wanted to go to the Philippines to f–k Filipinas. Then he kept on asking us: “How much are Filipinas?” Did he expect us to adore him because a fine European like him wanted to visit a country whose people they officially defined as domestic helpers? Or was he simply being mean? I wish he were just referring to the controversial brown biscuit.
Hellish traffic, hellish climate, hell-sent politicians, gangsters in uniform, hoodlums in robes, massive unemployment, inhuman poverty, identity crisis, a tradition of mediocrity. Get real. Who would want to be a Filipino?
Maybe the Cojuancos, the Sys, the Tans and the other demigods whose surnames do not sound Filipino at all. But this Yumul, no.
My uncle Jessie is lucky: he and the whole family migrated to the United States in the early 1970s to graze where the grass is greener and live there as second-class citizens but occasionally come home like gods crowned with sparkling dollars.
Then there is Me-Ann, one of the tinderas [shopkeepers] in our small business. She thinks that her main purpose in life is to go to Taiwan and earn money she will never earn in a lifetime of labor in the Philippines. I feel sad to know that Me-Ann and millions of Filipinos have to leave the country just to live decently.
Some say that despite our material poverty, we should take pride in our spirituality since the Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia. But it continues to puzzle me why this Christian nation has produced only two saints so far while Thailand, Japan and China — all non-Christian countries — have more. Maybe, unlike Filipinos, people from those nations have more sensible things to do than creating miracles by desperately looking for images in the stains of tree trunks and forcing statures to shed bloody tears.
I have always been pessimistic about the fate of the Filipino. But there was a break. I gave in to ht e nationalistic spirit during the Centennial celebrations. When fireworks, worth millions of pesos, lit up the skies over the Luneta, I had high hopes that the Philippines would be better and I decided to junk my pessimism. I thought a new era of Filipino pride had dawned.
In my college years, I was also influenced by San Beda’s thrust of molding young men in the image of a true Filipino like some of its alumni whose ranks include Ninoy Aquino, Rene Saguisag, Ramon Mitra and Raul Roco, who should have been the president of this country.
Yes, for some time, I was deluded into being proud of being Filipino. But thanks to President Erap, I have recovered my senses. His Excellency has betrayed the people’s trust so many times that I need not elaborate. Erap has become for me the symbol of everything that is bad in the Filipino. In his administration, corruption and chaos have become the norm so that writing about it would only bore the reader. It’s just too bad for the nation, but good for me since I got back to my precious pessimism.
Now I am firmly convince that Erap has to resign to save what is left if our dignity as a nation and what is left of my optimism as a young man. But I guess he will never do that. Congress is dominated by honorable “galamays” so impeachment is an impossibility. A military coup could save the day for the country, but, in that case, Uncle Sam is sure to defend his friend who handed him the Visiting Forces agreement. Now, we are left with assassins to play heroes. If someone saves the lives of millions, would he not go to heaven?
But then Erap need have no fear about an assassination plot. Imelda Marcos, despite all the crimes her family allegedly committed against the Filipino people, is still alive and beautiful. Her regal hairdo continues to stand with pride.
According to Hindu philosophy, what you sow in this life, you will reap in the next and whatever you are now is a reaction to your past. Could it be that all Filipinos were crooks in their earlier incarnations? If there is any reason I try to do well in this life, it is in hope that in my next, I would be a Filipino no more.
If it isn’t too much to ask, I would like to be a Frenchman or a Jamaican, before Jinggoy Estrada becomes president of this wretched land.