“U.S. Marine” or “U.S. Military”, what do those words mean to most of us? For the typical Pinoy at least, those words either refer to a group of soldiers or military men who are probably some of the best in the world, able to quell rebellions and defeat terrorists at a moment’s notice or they’re those raunchy white (or sometimes black) foreigners eager to get laid in the Philippines. Unfortunately, very few Pinoys ever realize that these foreigners are really not that different from them and are also doing most of what they do to make a good living.
Well, just so you know, I was also raised by a military man myself. My grandfather was in the U.S. Navy and he taught me most of what I know about the English language as well as world history from the many books that line our household. I am willing to say, and proudly at that, that I learned more from my grandfather and our talks rather than the typical crap I got from my “formal” education.
Anyway, on to the point, American servicemen receive a mixed image here in the Philippines. However, views towards them are often severely polarized and somewhat even dehumanizing in its own right. They are either seen as squeaky-clean heroes trying to protect freedom and all it entails or greedy villains who sate their wanton desires on third-world countries like our own. This is especially true with U.S. marines with some thinking that they are the key to the Philippines winning the war with China and the MILF or they are openly demonized by the media because of what happened to Jeffrey Laude and a certain rape case that happened not to long ago. But then, what I’m about to recount here might give you an alternate view of them…
It was late one evening not long ago while I was busy working out at a gym. The gym was almost deserted save for me, about two others and, of course, the gym staff. Then about eight guys and two girls came pouring into the gym. They wore t-shirts labeled with “USMC”.
They quickly got to working out, lifting weights and chatting while they were at it. The subjects of their talk altered here and there with some complaining how they were being literally “ambushed” by hookers and peddlers to the somewhat vulnerable state of the Philippines thanks to its inept government. But then, they started talking literature, particularly King Arthur and that’s when I surprised them.
When one marine was asked about the three “Grail Knights” of the epic and could only remember Percival and Galahad, I answered “Bors” for him and they all looked at me. Soon enough we were talking gleefully about King Arthur then moved to American literature where we talked about Tom Sawyer as well as Edgar Allan Poe. After the gym closed, we all went to a 24-hour branch of McDonalds’ and continued our talk there.
The talk soon took a turn towards more unpleasant topics. Well I won’t bore you with details, but here are the major points of our conversation:
Actions Will Always Speak Louder Than Words
The thing is, while we struggle to deny that the Philippines is a country of slaves and prostitutes and take offense to such statements, there is no denying the fact that this is what most foreigners see when they come to the Philippines or when they see Filipinos. While a lot of us may not admit it, there are enough prostitutes and peddlers in the Philippines to make a lot of tourists assume that this is all we are. With all the Filipinos taking menial jobs outside the country, it becomes easy for many foreigners to assume that these are the kind of jobs that we prefer.
“Show don’t tell.” said one of the two female marines.
We can say all we want that Filipinos are well-educated, smart and efficient but with so few of these to see, it becomes fairly easy to assume the opposite. Indeed, the marines went on to tell me that not all marines are “killing machines” and that some of them are IT professionals, cooks or generally non-combat roles (one of the ones I was having dinner with turned out to be gay even, despite being an intimidating black dude) but it is often their more aggressive brethren that are seen and are therefore the stereotype.
However, unlike the marines who must maintain their image of being highly efficient killers, we Filipinos can change our image of being slaves and prostitutes. Unfortunately, no one in the Philippines seems to be too interesting in changing our national image. We can call ourselves anything we want and “claim” that we are a noble people but, when we do the opposite, is it any surprise that the international community continues to laugh at us?
Respect Begets Respect
After stereotyping, another big problem with typical Pinoys is their constant demand for respect. Instead of earning respect the right way (which maybe difficult but is actually more awesome), we simply jump at people criticizing us and use our “Persona Non Grata” card. If we really want respect, according to the marines, we must first learn to respect ourselves, our laws and then others.
Above all else, we must learn to respect ourselves first. While there are beggars and prostitutes all over the world, we must first learn to explore other options before taking the easy way out all the time. It’s true that life is often hard and that many of us have to make do with what is given to us, but it’s another thing entirely to fall back on easy solutions all the time.
How can we present ourselves as the “respectable” people we claim to be when the typical Pinay’s idea of a “success story” is marrying a rich foreigner for his money? How can people see us as a “noble” and “brave” people when the best thing we can do about foreign invasion is whine about it?
Your Enemies Might Not Share Your Ideals
Another of the authors we discussed was Robert Heinlein, more specifically his book Starship Troopers, which featured a Filipino protagonists. However, going beyond that point, the idea behind the book is that while pacifism is good, it might be nothing more than “wishful thinking” in some respects. Going back to Benign0’s article here, it’s quite clear that some of us, especially people like De Lima and Ferrer, don’t exactly understand that the MILF and PRC don’t share our values and ideas.
Sure, they’re people too, I know that. But it’s like some of our “pacifist” officials seem to think that the Chinese military and the terrorists of the south will somehow stop antagonizing us because they will suddenly have a change of heart and pity us. To believe in God or the goodness of humanity is not a bad thing, but expecting it to solve everything is naivete or outright madness.
Like one marine said before we left: “Be nice and smile but keep your rifle as an insurance policy.”
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