Perhaps at the root of all the factors that contribute to the Philippines’ continued and foreseeable failure to prosper is a deeply-entrenched cultural artefact: victimhood. Filipinos like playing the victim card. It is the heart of its politics — a “victimised” people to whom populist appeals to hero rhetoric resonate. As such, Filipino politicians win and lose elections on the basis of success or failure to push a single button — the Victim Button.
President Benigno Simeon ‘BS’ Aquino III, for example, won the presidency in 2010 by successfully pushing the Philippines’ Victim Button — by painting Filipinos as “victims” of their favourite historical bogeymen: (1) the previous administration of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and (2) the “dictatorship” of former President Ferdinand Marcos. Aquino just happened to be in a rare political sweet spot when the 2010 presidential elections loomed in the horizon. His father, the late former Senator Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino Jr was Marcos’s most famous nemesis and the leader of the Opposition during “The Dictatorship”. He was also “martyred” in 1983 and credited for the rise of ensuing unrest that would eventually topple the Marcos “regime”. President BS Aquino was also fortunate enough to be a presidential candidate that followed the nine-year-long tumultuous rule of Arroyo. This afforded him a wellspring of hunger for “reform” upon which his campaign surfed.
President BS Aquino has since remained consistent to the forumula through the last four years of his term and will likely continue to remain true to his It’s-Arroyo’s-Fault and It’s-Marcos’s-Fault bukang bibigs over the remaining two.
Filipinos finding comfort in being a victim has become a self-fulfilling attitude. The attitude lays the groundwork for the results (actual chronic victimhood) and the results enforce the attitude (perceived victimhood) — a psychological poverty trap at a national level that Filipinos need to escape. Will Filipinos be able to escape this Victim Mentality that imprisons their minds and keeps them mired in the idiocy of their country’s traditional politics? It is becoming quite evident that doing so has become a matter of national survival.
A model for victimhood as foundation for success can possibly be found in the Jews. Because the long-persecuted, shunned, and stateless Jews were reviled by their European hosts and barred from engaging in commerce for centuries, they turned their efforts to mastering a business craft their Christian hosts found detestable — banking and money lending. The rest is history, Jews now control many industries thanks to their willingness to venture to where other men were unwilling to go.
It can be argued that Filipinos are, at present, where the Jews used to be back in the Middle Ages. Filipino Overseas Foreign Workers (OFWs) now toil in jobs that people in their host societies refuse to do. When will Filipinos produce the equivalent of the banking industry’s Jewish Rothschild family in the industries and job sectors they currently are in the process of cornering (or so, we would like to think we are)? The idea that that may happen anytime soon, for now, seems farfetched. Indeed, a key difference is that the original Jewish bankers and traders directly managed and traded in the underlying capital of their trade and fledgling enterprises. The Filipino OFW force (and its cousins, the BPO and outsourcing industries), on the other hand, are mere employees of the world’s capital.
For now, a rather unsavory habit of self-described victims is that they always manage to find excuses for their victimhood. So it will take a monumental change in mindset amongst Filipinos to start extricating themselves from the vicious cycle of self-imposed victimhood and start refusing to be victims. A key to this change lies in reforming traditional Philippine political discourse which, for decades, has been built around strategies that re-enforce Filipinos’ feelings of victimhood by convincing them their poverty was “caused” by an “evil” external force and then selling them one form of hero-based notion of “hope” or the other that so-and-so messiah will swoop in and rescue them from said force.
It’s high time each Filipino step up and shout — perhaps in mass unison, someday — the words I am NOT a victim, and end the intellectual bankruptcy of the traditional campaign rhetoric their politicians have become comfortable with using as a tool to con them election in and election out over the last several decades.
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