Higher education for poor Filipinos: Two Cents from a ‘Filipino Traitor’

public_educationMy last article got me accused of being too anti-Filipino for my stand against giving poor Filipinos the opportunity to get a university degree. I was told that to deny the poor Filipinos the same opportunity that I had, to get to where I am in life right now, is not only cruel but also unpatriotic. Education will pave the way to uplift the lives of many poor Filipinos and ultimately the country, as claimed by my critic. In addition, the fact that I chose to contribute my skills and knowledge for the benefit of another country instead of the Philippines, where I benefitted from public education, makes me a traitor to the Philippines. I submit that too much idealism and patriotism is non-sense.

First let me be clear. I am not about denying the poor Filipinos the opportunity for higher education. What I am against is the State funding of higher education (for the poor or otherwise). The opportunity is always there. Financial constraint is merely a roadblock but it isn’t a show-stopper. There are other avenues one can take to get to a destination. State funding of higher education does not necessarily have to be the only avenue for the poor. Anyway, going back to the topic of my “treason”, I am reminded of a Youtube video that went viral a few years ago showing Professor Winnie Monsod’s last lecture prior to her retirement from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Here is the video:

When I first viewed the video, I was entertained by the Professor’s way of teaching her students an ideal she holds very dearly. If I was one of the students in her class, I would have been quite attentive because of the energy and humor of her litany. Nevertheless, although I admire the Professor’s delivery, I do not support her contention as I do not see any solid philosophical and moral ground on her arguments nor do I see any sense in heeding her call on a pragmatic view.

The fundamental question, I guess, to ask is: ”Do Philippine public scholars have a moral obligation to stay in the Philippines and use the knowledge they have acquired from public schools to benefit the country that supported their education?” To ponder on this question, I would like to use an analogy that is simple yet close to our senses – the relationship of parents and children. With this, of course I am equating the Philippine government as the parent and Philippine public school scholars as the children.

Most parents value and love their children. As a parent myself, I want the best for my kids. So I work and invest time, money, and energy on ventures that would result in the greatest benefit for my family, especially my kids. Is this an admirable “selfless” thing of me? Well, it is admirable but I do not think it is entirely “selfless” although there is a great deal of work on my part for the benefit of others (my wife and kids). I find my act rooted on “self-interest” because my wife and kids are what I value in life and I will do everything to take care of them. Because of my love for them, I will do everything to ensure emotional, financial, and psychological support for them. So really, my love, itself, is a “self-interest” emotion.

So given that “self-interest” isn’t inherently bad, should I ought to hold it against my kids if they choose to do something that would benefit their own family first (when they have their own kids to take care of) instead of mine, considering that I took care of them when they were still young? I do not think so. Surely it will be nice if my kids would take care of me in my twilight years but I also recognize that they have their obligation to attend to their self-interests first (i.e. to take care of their own family) before mine. I certainly would not label my kids as traitors for choosing to attend to their self-interest first before mine.

So the point is – I think it is absurd to take it against State scholars who choose to leave the country to seek better opportunities or a better life. Surely it would be nice on the Philippine scholars to remain in the Philippines and use the knowledge they have acquired from the country’s public schools for the benefit of their homeland. But where should a person prioritize his or her moral obligation – to self or country? If a Philippine scholar has a family to support and a better life for his family lies outside of the country, why would the choice to leave the Philippines be morally wrong?

A schoolmate of mine (from one of the Philippine Public schools I attended when I was still in the Philippines) contends that Prof. Monsod’s stand is supported by “Christian and Buddhist philosophy” which morally obligates the “rich” to help the “less fortunate”. If that is the case, then shouldn’t Professor Monsod have addressed the students of the De La Salle University and the Ateneo de Manila University, instead? Given that most products of these universities come from the Philippine society’s “rich”and given that these universities come from the religious fold – Christianity? But what makes someone “rich”anyway? Suppose I make $150,000 (USD) a year and Jollibee Foods makes $1.7 Billion (USD) a year, should Jollibee be morally obligated to give me free “Chicken Joy Meals” or hamburgers, at the very least, considering that I am “less fortunate” compared to it? So why should I be morally obligated to help someone who makes, say, $125,000 (USD), considering that the other guy is “less fortunate”than I am in terms of money? Is there a definitive line drawn on what separates the “rich” and the “less fortunate”? Is there a Biblical verse or a Buddhist chant that we can refer to that shows this definitive line?

What is in it for me to follow this purported Christian moral obligation if I do not subscribe to the idea of my soul’s eternal salvation come “Final Judgment Day”? What’s in it for me if I do not subscribe to the idea of attaining a higher form of life in my next life when I get re-incarnated? Why should I even prioritize the benefits that I will supposedly get from these fantastic religious claims on what lies ahead of this yet-to-be-proven afterlife over the immediate benefits for myself, my wife, and my kids? Again, even with a religious twist, I find my schoolmate’s contention absurd.

Why should Philippine scholars who graduate from publicly funded schools in the Philippines stay in the Philippines especially if there is little opportunity for a fulfilling job in the marketplace or a decent quality of life there? Why should Philippine scholars be obligated to endure a less promising and secure life in the Philippines when the Philippines does not necessarily foster a culture of fair play?

During one of Noynoy Aquino’s earlier visit to the United States as President, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:

”Let’s be honest here, too many of Filipinos feel that they cannot progress in their own country. Too many of them feel that the elite in business and politics basically call the shots, and there’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking, but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them, and so they take that education and build some else’s economy, very often here in the United States!”

That message was right on the money! If a scholar has no prominent political or business pedigree there is very little chance for the person’s talent to be rewarded and for the person to move ahead on equal ground.

Filipino-American doctor, Joy Antonelle De Maracaida, says that:

”Filipinos overseas are self-exiles. We chose to leave our homeland when this became intellectually, politically, financially, artistically or philosophically limiting or oppressive. We are drawn to another country because of the vitality of its intellectual, scientific or artistic scene, its support and tolerance for innovation, progress and intellectual energy, and by its high regard for the immigrant who brings in new talent and skill, allowing him or her the freedom to achieve success, find his or her identity and express his or her ideas. Self-actualization in another land is not a crime. And Filipinos back home, who seek their own success, would be well-served to rejoice in ours. We are no different. We are just far from home.”

I agree with Dr. De Maracaida. In addition to promoting our self-interest in achieving “Self-Actualization” (amongst the highest form of need according to Maslow), the life lived abroad by a successful Filipino scholar will produce much needed financial support to the Philippines from the remittances sent to loved ones in the country. Why these Filipino scholars, who choose to live and work away from their homeland, ought to be deemed as “traitors” is beyond me.

I feel that Filipinos (such as Prof. Monsod and my schoolmate) who hold too much idealism and patriotism are simply out of touch. Not only is their idealism standing on shaky ground, it is also very unjust. A system that binds someone to a duty to forego self-interest in order to pay back the education it provides, I think, is oppressive. A nation that dismisses as traitors its people who choose to live and be successful elsewhere is seriously misguided in my book.


Post Author: Hector Gamboa

Calling a spade, a spade...

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52 Comments on "Higher education for poor Filipinos: Two Cents from a ‘Filipino Traitor’"

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The best possible education is not only critical for the individual but clearly beneficial to the future growth and prosperity of the country – providing it is planned, of sufficient quality, and harmonises with macroeconomic/development strategies. Integrated and holistic approaches, whether in education or other government functions are largely non-existent in the philippines, so it is no surprise that the country has a mis match of over and under-education, both of which are undesirable. Low skills = bad job Wrong skills = no job High skills = foreign job The philippines as one would expect takes the easiest route, when… Read more »
Aramis Alvarez

I agree with this to a point.
My thing is this, if there is financial assistance PROVIDED BY THE GOVERNMENT, then one should damn well better stay and pay off that debt either financially or through services.

If one succeeds ON THEIR OWN without nary a peso of help from any governmental entity at all, please,
feel free to wave bye and seek better opportunities elsewhere.
Shit, I’ll help you pack.


I’d say, college and university education are for getting *better* jobs. But if even high school graduates could still get better jobs that make ends meet, that would be fine. That was how US society I believe had operated since then. College in the Philippines is more of a prestige thing, “payabangan,” following the Filipino cultural flaw of amor propio or high sense of pride.

Rhyan Medina
This is where Filipinos prove how they do NOT read and understand what they read. To quote Act.14 Sec.1 of our constitution: “The State shall protect and promote the right of all citizens to quality education at all levels, and shall take appropriate steps to make such education accessible to all.” All have the right to education, in the sense that schools could not deny students (unless they do not have money to pay). And education IS accessible to all people. What people misread and misunderstand is that education is not WHOLLY the obligation of the state to the point… Read more »

Agree! I used to believe before that ‘skolar ng bayan’ should stay in the Philippines to serve or help first our country’s needs. But thing got changed, Filipino who self-exiled themselves can help the country through their remittances. Obviously and we cannot deny the ‘impact of remittances’ in our economy despite of recessions in Western countries, Philippines is resilient and less affected.

Most, not all, countries view a Bachelors degree from the Philippines to be about as good as a High School diploma.That is really too bad. I have seen the business calculus texts-books that filipino students need to master to get the B.A. in Business Management. It every bit as technical as those in the West’s schools. But , then again, I have also seen Nurses who have come out of the Philippines with a B.S. in Nursing who are unable to draw blood or pass the board licensing exam in the country they arrive in. So until the Philippines imposes,… Read more »
Hyden Toro

We have too many educated people; working as OFW household servants…
Higher education is not a guarantee, as believed…
I found a Doctor of Medicine here in the U.S., working as a Salesperson in a Furniture Store. He cannot pass the U.S. Board Exam. Another works as a Hair Stylist.

A person with real talent would strongly prefer a system and culture that value talent and genuine meritorious activity rather than pedigree and pathetic circumstance. BS abNoy Aquino highlights precisely the latter—It’s not because of any real talent or ability, but because of his pedigree and pathetic circumstance (i.e. his mother Cory died), that he was catapulted into office. Consequently, he now depends on aggressive underhanded political tactics (using internet trolls and media connections for example) to keep up appearances and promote an image at the expense of other people’s (especially his predecessor’s) accomplishments. Instead of real talents who could… Read more »
“Do Philippine public scholars have a moral obligation to stay in the Philippines and use the knowledge they have acquired from public schools to benefit the country that supported their education?” First of all (and with deep regret) most newer generation of Filipinos are not taught by their parents of deeper sense of responsibility much more of deeper sense of gratitude. As broadcast by GMA News last night regarding the survey conducted specifically in Butuan City, Agusan Del Norte, was depressing but never surprising. Most young voters aged 18 to 30, are most willing to sell their votes only for… Read more »
It seems the endless media stories of overseas filipinos/ofw’s doing well ( compared to filipinos here), are almost designed to subconsciously tell people – ‘ life is better abroad – please go ( and support your family through remittances)’. Few stories feature the hardship of the vast majority or even practical advice on adjusting to life abroad. Just as dick whittington thought the streets of london were paved with gold, filipinos seem to think the sidewalks of the US are covered in greenbacks, or cruise ships in endless dollar tips. Stay or go you are screwed. It is just a… Read more »
The Philippines should be looking up to Finland for the best educational system in the world. Their schools cost less and school hours are even shorter than most countries- and yet produce the best out of their students. Their teachers there are really highly respected and government always prioritises education and as a result you have a productive society. Teachers there are experts in their fields and this is why they earn a high status in Finnish society. Look up Finnish education and you’ll see the urgency of why Philippines should really make radical reforms in the quality of our… Read more »
@hector i checked the page from the u.s. department of state website where you lifted the clinton quote, “But let’s be very honest here…very often here in the United States!” i just find it funny to find out that you forgot (or ignored?) these first three sentences, “I know how SMART the Filipino people are. I know HOW HARD THEY WORK. I’m not sure there’s any group of people anywhere in the world that work harder than FILIPINOS.” (CAPS are mine) and of course, this insertion, “(Applause.)” i just noticed, is there a strict protocol or a signed manifesto here… Read more »
@hector fyi, i have no problem with filipinos working abroad to find greener pastures or whatever. it’s their choice and no one can impose them to stay in this country. so i also disagree with prof. monsod on that issue. about your “tone” (or literary device as one of you here mentioned), it’s already obvious so no need to stress that out. and i didn’t categorically say that the Filipinos are the “best”, but hillary clinton surely implied the filipinos were the most hardworking people in the world. read again her “complete” quotes from the u.s. state department website. 🙂… Read more »

There are some people who take the stance “I rather be good in my own country than somewhere else. Admirable. Question is, does this country reciprocate? As much as the Its More Fun In The Philippines slogan annoys me. The truth is, there is less work.

@hector i’m sorry to hear about the unexpected unavailability of your malaya article link as what happened to your unavailable multiply blog. they say, god works in “mysterious” ways. or whatever. the other nestor mata and boo chanco’s articles, and the u.s. state department page are still accessible. and from the latter, you’ve read the missing “I know how SMART the Filipino people…” lines, and realized that the “magical” exclamation point is without a doubt, non-existent. i’m glad you’ve finally seen the light, brother. hallelujah! lol and so for thanking me, i say, you’re welcome. you’re much grateful than the… Read more »
“The Philippines HATE critical smart people. They HATE efficiency. They HATE order and organization. They HATE the concept of strength and unity in diversity.” I agree with Johnny Saint that even the moron Filipino embraces this concept – at the tip of their tongues only. And for the hope that by “saying” that they support these concepts they would be called heroes – which they so fantasize most of the time even with their mumbling stomachs. Every time they blabber that they are the “most efficient and hard working” race in the world all these concepts got spit out with… Read more »
Ben Tumbling
the analogy to parent-child relationship is misplaced. the state’s instinctive objective is self-preservation, the parent’s instinctive objective is lineage preservation. so no analogy there. your parents care about you because that is how nature made them. your state care about you because you have something it needs. do you have any capital contribution to the philippines? like investments there? then you should be absolved. if none, you gotta work harder. also, jollibee pay taxes. that is how the state ensures it will last longer than jollibee itself. no need to demand charity – that is the state’s problem. btw. this… Read more »