When I visited Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia last year, I saw a banner run across the two Petronas towers with the following words in Malay on it:
As soon as I could, I searched on Google what this phrase means. It is more or less the Malay equivalent of the English expression “Long live the King!” that used to be proclaimed in old Western monarchies.
To get up to speed with the federal monarchy system of Malaysia, click here.
I have read blogs and reports that Malaysia’s head of state has changed recently. The rule of the 14th Yang di-Pertuan Agong just began this month. To our Malaysian friends, may your new head of state guide you with wisdom, justice, and compassion. Frankly, I hope some of it rubs off on our head of state at the same time.
This write-up, however, is not intended to be a commentary on the politics and people of Malaysia. Instead, it is about a sequence of three (3) totally random thoughts which came to mind after remembering the above, and which I will elaborate on below. Note: they are all about the Philippines.
The concept of nobility in the Philippines
In Tagalog/Filipino, we have more or less an equivalent to Daulat Tuanku. Mabuhay ang Pangulo/Presidente ng Pilipinas! (Long live the President of the Philippines)! Doesn’t ring a bell? Be honest with yourself: can you scream this at the top of your lungs, without absolutely any second thoughts or impending feeling of disgust whatsoever? If you can, good for you. If not, you’re in good company with many other Filipinos who find that their loyalty to their head of state is not as absolute as it should be.
In monarchies, you will find two concepts that seem alien to us Filipinos but in fact have mutated into sinister forms here: noblesse oblige, and lese-majeste. Noblesse oblige, literally nobility obliges, is a guiding principle for descendants of nobility to act accordingly with their status, e.g., to help those less fortunate. Lese majeste, on the other hand, is a principle wherein criticizing the ruler of the monarchy is a strictly prohibited crime. It is considered an offense to the dignity of a sovereign or state.
Noblesse oblige is supposed to be a good thing. Uncle Ben in Spiderman said it best: with great power comes great responsibility. However, as only in the Philippines proves, it turned into something detestable. The first manifestation: the privileged in our society use their position and power to make themselves even more powerful and richer. A clear example: the oligarchs. The second manifestation: balato mentality and mendicancy. There are many Filipinos who, after seeing another person with money that they don’t have, immediately feel some sort of inggit (envy) and can’t help but say “pa-burger ka naman“ (buy me a burger), as if it’s their entitlement to be treated. It’s so disgusting it makes me want to stuff those bills in their mouths. Gusto mo pala ng balato ha (So, you want a dole-out, hmm?). Mendicancy – the more you help certain Filipinos financially, the more they cling to you like you’re a blessing from above to them (hulog ng langit). Need I say more? Eh kung ihulog kaya kita sa bangin para matauhan kang kumayod? (What if I drop you in a ditch to convince you to work hard?)
We don’t need any lese-majeste laws here in the Philippines; the ostracism that critics to the Aquino administration face from Noytards can make jail time seem tame by comparison. “You don’t support Noynoy? You are a paid-hack. You are a disgrace to the Philippines and its people!” Needless to say, we don’t have a royal family here in the Philippines but all these pathetic Aquino sympathizers worship that family like one. Hell, they even worship Noynoy Aquino and his mother as divine beings that could never do wrong. PNoy himself is not exactly very forthcoming about his mistakes either; at least the King of Thailand has accepted that criticism is vital to improving the monarchy. Note that Thailand has some of the strictest lese-majeste laws in the world.
I believe that one of the responsibilities of people of privilege is to help bring about stability to their respective societies. This brings me to the second random thought.
Status quo should not be mistaken for stability
There are a few Aquino apologists who insist that PNoy is bringing about stability to the nation. You can be almost inclined to believe that, except for one thing. If it were real stability, how come many Filipinos still don’t feel that their lives are getting any better? Why did the prices of basic commodities and gasoline keep shooting up for quite some time? Why did transport groups necessarily have to ask for a fare increase? Why is Mindanao unsatisfied with the solution presented to them with regards to their power situation?
Status quo and stability are two entirely different things. Implicit in the concept of ensuing stability is that some sort of upheaval necessarily precedes it. The race riots that happened in Malaysia in 1969 are such an example of this. While the New Economic Policy that was formulated after this was not perfect, it was one of many steps taken to ensure that Malaysia was on the road to a brighter future. Look where they are now.
In business circles, a question often asked is: how do you differentiate between a manager and leader? One of the most emphasized answers is that a leader creates positive change in an organization. Ask yourself: has PNoy created any positive change? Has he tried to quell all doubts about his decision making? How has he dealt with people who do not necessarily agree with his ideas? I can guess that many of you will answer: no, no, and he ignores them, respectively. So in effect, PNoy is just maintaining the status quo: and he’s not even doing a good job at it.
It is often said that your character defines your leadership. PNoy was reluctant to run for the presidency in 2010. Read another way, I can infer that he wanted only to be left alone in his happy oligarchic life. Flash forward 2 years and change later, he still doesn’t look into it. The pictures that Malacañang had to run to counter the Noynoying fad are indicative of this. He seems to be wishing for the good ol’ days, in other words, the status quo.
Even without knowing the results of the psychiatric tests of PNoy, one can easily tell that he doesn’t seem very stable. Here is a guy telling everyone about coup attempts against him that even the military was not aware of. Here is a guy implying that he would throw another monumental tantrum if Chief Justice Corona is not convicted. So, how can you expect him to bring about stability? The way he handled the Mindanao power situation and the aftermath of the summit is very telling. He basically told the people to shell out more money or live in hot darkness, and wagged his middle finger at them. The picture below says a lot about his stability and approach to solving the energy problem:
If PNoy, and by extension, the Filipino people, is incompetent, mediocre, dense, narcissistic, extremely sensitive to criticism, unable to forget the past, unable to think out of the box, and unable to embrace change, then that makes you wonder about the following:
Saving grace: do Filipinos have any?
Simply put, saving grace refers to any redeeming qualities that people have.
Filipinos are hospitable, friendly with a smile, compassionate, and very good with English compared with our neighbors. That gets them visitors in the door. The question is: are we able to maintain their interest and keep them in the room? Well, if your house is messy, dirty, stinky, and in a general state of disrepair, then you can expect your visitors to want out of the house as quick as possible.
PNoy, on the other hand, had a potential saving grace: a clean slate. His “hindi ako magnanakaw“ (I do not steal) platform in 2010 had a chance to make itself into something better and bigger had he substantiated it with an actual platform underneath. What came out, instead, was “galit ako sa magnanakaw ng lugar ng pamilya ko” (I am angry at those who steal the place of my family, in the spotlight). What came out instead was “ngunit hindi ko mapipigilan ang mga ibang magnanakaw“ (but I am unable to stop others from stealing). Taking a cue from one of my favorite Filipino essays, Emil Jacinto’s Ningning at Liwanag (Glare and Light), I can categorically say that many Filipinos were fooled by the glare into thinking it was the light.
Maybe PNoy has one current saving grace: that he is in fact, “saving Grace (Lee)” from an otherwise humdrum existence of not being attached to a politician (read: rich man). The price she has to pay, of course, is that every time they see each other she has to deal with situations like the one below:
If the rumors are true that they’ve broken up, then PNoy has got to be crying in the corner again. “Can I really not do anything right?!”
I want to bring back a little bit of discussion about Malaysia. Despite the similarity between our two countries (multi-cultural society, an ethnic Malay group whose aversion to work is a problem), it is very apparent that how the two countries turned out now is as different as chalk and cheese. I guess, to a certain extent, that you could say that the colonizers both countries had was a sort of luck of the draw. The Malaysians got the British, who were possibly the more notable colonizers, and arguably invested in preparing their former colonies for life without them. We, on the other hand, got the Spaniards, who brought about disease, simply looted and plundered their colonies, and kept up a general policy of keeping the indios illiterate and under their control.
It didn’t hurt that the ethnic Chinese in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Philippines, were all hard-workers themselves. The Bumiputra of the Malays and native Filipinos, have been described as lazy, and unwilling to take risks.
The Spaniards didn’t invent Juan Tamad nor Juan Tanga; they simply gave them names.
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