BY DING REYES OF SANIBLAKAS & KAMALAYSAYAN VIA E-MAIL
SENT OUT BY FRANK WOOLF AND FORWARDED BY THE ATENEO
SCHOOL '70 E-GROUP, AND RECEIVED AGAIN FROM OTHER SENDERS:
Expat's Interesting Observation
By Barth Suretsky
unedited article below was written below by an American friend, Barth Suretsky.
This will still be edited but you will get the gist. I find his observations
interesting. I hope this will make an impact on the Filipinos who read
this article as I greatly lament the worsening situation of our country.
These are not oversimplifications. On the contrary, these are the root
problems of the Philippine inferiority complex referred to above. Until
the Filipino takes pride in being Filipino these ills of the soul will
never be cured. If what I have written here can help, even in the smallest
way, to make the Filipino aware of just who he is, who he was, and who
he can be, I will be one happy expat indeed! -- Frank Woolf, Vice President
for Development, I-Quest Corporation, 6th Floor, World Center, 330 Sen
Gil Puyat Avenue Makati City 1200 Philippines
decision to move to Manila was not a precipitous one. I used to work in
New York as an outside agent for PAL, and have been coming to the Philippines
since August, 1982. I was so impressed with the country, and with the interesting
people I met, some of which have become very close friends to this day,
that I asked for and was granted a year's sabbatical from my teaching job
in order to live in the Philippines. I arrived here on August 21, 1983,
several hours after Ninoy Aquino was shot, and remained here until June
of 1984. During that year I visited many parts of the country, from as
far north as Laoag to as far south as Zamboanga, and including Palawan.
I became deeply immersed in the history and culture of the archipelago,
and an avid collector of tribal antiquities
from both northern Luzon, and Mindanao.
subsequent years I visited the Philippines in 1985, 1987, and 1991, before
deciding to move here permanently in 1998. I love this country, but not
uncritically, and that is the purpose of this article.
however, I will say that I would not consider living anywhere else in Asia,
no matter how attractive certain aspects of other neighboring countries
may be. To begin with, and this is most important, with all its faults,
the Philippines is still a democracy, more so than any other nation in
Southeast Asia. Despite gross corruption, the legal system generally works,
and if ever confronted with having to employ it, I would feel much more
safe trusting the courts here than in any other place in the surrounding
area. The press here is unquestionably the most unfettered and freewheeling
in Asia, and I do not believe that is hyperbole in any way! And if any
one thing can be used as a yardstick to measure the extent of the democratic
process in any given country in the world, it is the extent to which the
press is free.
the Philippines is a flawed democracy nevertheless, and the flaws are deeply
rooted in the Philippine psyche. I will elaborate... The basic problem
seems to me, after many years of observation, to be a national inferiority
complex, a disturbing lack of pride in being Filipino.
the end of April I spent eight days in Vietnam, visiting Hanoi, Hue, and
Ho Chi Minh City. I am certainly no expert on Vietnam, but what I saw could
not be denied: I saw a country ravaged as no other country has been in
this century by thirty years of continuous and incredibly barbaric warfare.
the Vietnam War ended in April, 1975, the country was totally devastated.
Yet in the past twenty-five years the nation has healed and rebuilt itself
almost miraculously! The countryside has been replanted and reforested.
Hanoi and HCMC have been beautifully restored. The opera house in Hanoi
is a splended restoration of the original, modeled after the Opera in Paris,
and the gorgeous Second Empire theater, on the main square of HCMC is as
it was when built by the French a century ago. The streets are tree-lined,
clean, and conducive for strolling. Cafes in the French style proliferate
on the wide boulevards of HCMC. I am not praising the government of Vietnam,
which still has a long way to travel on the road to democracy, but I do
praise, and praise unstintingly, the pride of the Vietnamese people. It
is due to this pride in being Vietnamese that has enabled its citizenry
to undertake the miracle of >restoration that I have described above.
I returned to Manila I became so depressed that I was actually physically
ill for days thereafter. Why? Well, let's go back to a period when the
Philippines resembled the Vietnam of 1975. It was 1945, the end of World
War II, and Manila, as well as many other cities, lay in ruins. (As a matter
of fact, it may not be generally known, but Manila was the second most
destroyed city in the entire war; only Warsaw was more demolished!) But
to compare Manila in 1970, twenty-five years after the end of the war,
with HCMC, twenty-five years after the end of its war, is a sad exercise
indeed. Far from restoring the city to its former glory, by 1970 Manila
was well on its way to being the most tawdry city in Southeast Asia. And
since that time the situation has deteriorated alarmingly. We have a city
full of street people, beggars, and squatters. We have a city that floods
sections whenever there is a rainstorm, and that loses electricity with
every clap of thunder. We have a city full of potholes, and on these unrepaired
roads we have a traffic situation second to none in the world for sheer
unmanageability. We have rude drivers, taxis that routinely refuse to take
passengers because of "many trappic!" The roads are also cursed with pollution-spewing
buses in disreputable states of repair, and that ultimate anachronism,
the jeepney! We have an educational system that allows children to attend
schools without desks or books to accomodate them. Teachers, even college
professors, are paid salaries so disgracefully low that it's a wonder that
anyone would want to go into the teaching profession in the first place.
We have a war in Mindanao that nobody seems to have a clue how to settle.
The only policy to deal with the war seems to be to react to what happens
daily, with no long range plan whatever. I could go on and on, but it is
an endeavor so filled with futility that it hurts me to go on. It hurts
me because, in spite of everything, I love the Philippines.
it will sound simplistic, but to go back to what I said above, it is my
unshakable belief that the fundamental thing wrong with this country is
a lack of pride in being Filipino. A friend once remarked to me, laconically:
"All Filipinos want to be something else. The poor ones want to be American,
and the rich ones all want to be Spaniards. Nobody wants to be Filipino."
That statement would appear to be a rather simplistic one, and perhaps
it is. However, I know one Filipino who refuses to enter a theater until
the national anthem has stopped being played because he doesn't want to
honor his own country, and I know another one who thinks that history
stopped dead in 1898 when the Spaniards departed! While it is certainly
true that these represent extreme examples of national denial, the truth
is not a pretty picture. Filipinos tend to worship, almost slavishly, everything
foreign. If it comes from Italy or France it has to be better than anything
made here. If the idea is American or German it has to be superior to anything
that Filipinos can think up for themselves. Foreigners are looked up to
and idolized. Foreigners can go anywhere without question. In my own personal
experience I remember attending recently an affair at a major museum here.
I had forgotten to bring my invitation. But while Filipinos entering the
museum were checked for invitations, I was simply waived through. This
sort of thing happens so often here that it just accepted routine. All
of these things, the illogical respect given to foreigners simply because
they are not Filipinos, the distrust and even disrespect shown to any homegrown
merchandise, the neglect of anything Philippine, the rudeness of taxi drivers,
the ill-manners shown by many Filipinos are all symptomatic of a lack of
self-love, of respect for and love of the country in which they were born,
and worst of all, a static mind-set in regard to finding ways to improve
the situation. Most Filipinos, when confronted with evidence of governmental
corruption, political chicanery, or gross exploitation on the part of the
business community, simply shrug their shoulders, mutter "bahala na," and
let it go at that.
is an oversimplification to say this, but it is not without a grain of
truth to say that Filipinos feel downtrodden because they allow themselves
to feel downtrodden. No pride. One of the most egregious examples of this
lack of pride, this uncaring attitude to their own past or past culture,
is the wretched state of surviving architectural landmarks in Manila and
elsewhere. During the American period many beautiful and imposing buildings
were built, in what we now call the "art deco" style (although, incidentally,
that was not a contemporary term; it was coined only in the 1960s). These
were beautiful edifices, mostly erected during, or just before, the Commonwealth
period. Three, which are still standing, are the Jai Alai Building, the
Metropolitan Theater, and the Rizal Stadium. Fortunately, due to the truly
noble efforts of my friend John Silva, the Jai Alai Building will now be
saved. But unless something is done to the most beautiful and original
of these three masterpieces of pre-war Philippine architecture, the Metropolitan
Theater, it will disintegrate. The Rizal Stadium is in equally wretched
shape. When the wreckers' ball destroyed Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial
Hotel in Tokyo, and New York City's most magnificent >building, Pennsylvania
Station, both in 1963, Ada Louise Huxtable, then the architectural critic
of The New York Times, wrote: "A disposable culture loses the right to
call itself a civilization at all!" How right she was! (Fortunately, the
destruction of Pennsylvania Station proved to be the sacrificial catalyst
that resulted in the creation of New York's Landmark Commission. Would
that such a commission be created for Manila...)
there historical reasons for this lack of national pride? We can say that
until the arrival of the Spaniards there was no sense of a unified archipelago
constituted as one country. True. We can also say that the high cultures
of other nations in the region seemed, unfortunately, to have bypassed
the Philippines; there are no Angkors, no Ayuttayas, no Borobudurs. True.
Centuries of contact with the "high cultures" of the Khmers and the Chinese
had, except for the proliferation of Song dynasty pottery found throughout
the archipelago, no noticeable effect. True. But all that aside, what was
here? To begin with, the ancient rice terraces, now threatened with disintegration,
incidentally, was an incredible feat of engineering for so-called "primitive"
people. As a matter of fact, when I first saw them in 1984, I was almost
as awe-stricken as I was when I first laid eyes on the astonishing Inca
city of Machu Picchu, high in the Peruvian Andes. The degree of artistry
exhibited by the various tribes of the cordillera of Luzon is testimony
to a remarkable culture, second to none in the Southeast Asian region.
As for Mindanao, at the other end of the archipelago, an equally high degree
of artistry has been manifest for centuries in woodcarving, weaving and
the most shocking aspect of this lack of national pride, even identity,
endemic in the average Filipino, is the appalling ignorance of the history
of the archipelago since unified by Spain and named Filipinas. The remarkable
stories concerning the Galleon de Manila, the courageous repulsion of Dutch
and British invaders from the 16th through the 18th centuries, even the
origins of the independence movement of the late 19th century, are hardly
known by the average Filipino in any meaningful way. And thanks to fifty
years of American brainwashing, it is few and far between the number of
Filipinos who really know - or even care - about the duplicity employed
by the Americans and Spaniards to sell out and make meaningless the very
independent state that Aguinaldo declared on June 12, 1898. A people without
a sense of history is a people doomed to be unaware of their own identity.
It is sad to say, but true, that the vast majority of Filipinos fall into
this lamentable category. Without a sense of who you are how can you possibly
take any pride in who you are?
|Response from Flor Caagusan
to Gil Quito and shared shared it with the Plaridel e-group)
Hello, Gil! Hi, Lee! I intend to mail this to all my
other friends. Tell me what you think. Cheers! -- Flor
Recently I received an essay written by Barth Suretsky, an expat
who in 1998 decided to live permanently in the Philippines. It was forward
by two friends of mine, one in Baguio, the other in New York. I'd have
let it pass as freedom of expression but for the fact that it's circulating
in cyberspace with this snooty-foreigner's stereotype: The average
Filipino's "inferiority complex" or "lack of national pride" is the root
cause of the country's flawed democracy.
gropes in a dark alley with his limited notion of democracy. Sure,
press freedom is an important benchmark. But, lest he's forgotten, all
sectors of our society fought hard during the Marcos dictatorship and even
last year against President Estrada for this freedom. As for a legal
system that "generally works" compared to others in Asia, that's according
to an expat's own interests, not for the poor who need it most. The
democracy he loves is a more complex political and developmental
process than he imagines.
to know "the Philippine psyche", he blames and criticizes the Filipino
"patient". By any psychological school, that's a no-no if he really
wants to help cure so-called ills of the Filipino soul, "even in the smallest
way", as he says. To illustrate the Pinoy's "inferiority complex", he presents
a litany of mixed impressions-facts:
behaviors and social ills ad infinitum; sweeping comparisons between Manila's
post-war deterioration and Hanoi's reconstruction after the Vietnam War,
and against the architectural achievements of Tokyo and N.Y.
ignoring country conditions and global politics. His critical stance on
our flawed democracy, therefore, rests only on his own short-term observations
and biased standards as a jetsetter.
he mean by "the average Filipino" whom he diagnoses as afflicted with inferiority
complex? I suppose, the people he mentions: street people, beggars, squatters,
rude taxi drivers, pupils and teachers; colonial-minded Filipinos, rich
or poor. Symptoms of inferiority complex: they want to be anything but
Filipino and have no sense of history.
examples (a friend's cynical opinion, a museum incident) do not necessarily
apply to all the people above. And what is his own sense of Philippine
history besides touring the archipelago and collecting tribal heritage?
If he hasn't listened to the stories of community folk or of activists/advocates
involved in various causes, then his notion of history is merely academic.
intelligent political analysis, even if only with a basic understanding
of the conflicting forces in Philippine society. And, at least, with
a recognition that the democracy he loves was fought or by countless "average
essay demeans our struggles and even the cultural achievements he himself
mentions by judging Filipinos, especially the poor and powerless, as afflicted
with "a static mind-set in regard to finding ways to improve the situation"
and "doomed to be unaware of their own identity".
from your ivory tower, learn that Filipinos have political and ethnic identities
far richer than whatever homogeneous image in your fantasy, and make up
your mind -- whose side are you on?
From Gil J.L. Quito (E-mailed
to Flor Caagusan who shared it with the Plaridel Papers e-group)
The article had immediately struck me as short-sighted.
It didn't address the reasons for the so-called "inferiority complex" of
some Filipinos he's met. Perhaps his exposure to Filipinos has mostly
been among the elite who want to be Spaniards. Neither did his essay
include the rich variety of Filipino attitudes that he has perhaps not
encountered. The essay seems hearfelt to me, and if this is so, I
hope it will make him meet
more Filipinos like you!