A response to the question “What have you done for the country?”

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“What have you done for the country?” That was the last question a former friend and colleague asked me before he blocked me on social networking site Facebook. I didn’t even get the chance to answer because he already muted me. I thought it was such a lame question anyway. I was shocked he would ask me that because while we have disagreed on some issues, I thought we both subscribed to the same sort of thinking in general. It’s the kind of question a person would ask when one cannot refute a valid point or when one is trying to divert attention from the real issue. It’s the kind of question that would initially leave one stumped because it implies one hasn’t done enough to earn the right to comment on the problems plaguing the Philippines.

I see a lot of people throw this question around very liberally without realising what they are asking. It’s another way of saying “Oh just shut up!” when they can’t stand another person expressing a different point of view. But what do they really mean by the question “What have you done for the country?” anyway? Do individual citizens owe the country or are obliged to do something for the country? It all depends on who they are asking, really. Not everyone subscribes to the view that the country should go to war, for example. Nor does everyone subscribe to the view that giving charity is the solution to fixing poverty.

In war time, at least in the past, citizens were compelled to defend their country from foreign invasions. In some cases, men were drafted against their will to fight a war they didn’t even believe in. Vietnam, anyone? Nowadays some people just avoid the stupidity or violence in their own country and become refugees in other countries. After all, not everyone wants to stick around and watch their house burn down.

In peace time, most people just go about their business and live their lives according to what makes them happy. A typical life would be like, find a job, pay your taxes and spend the rest on trivial pursuits until you die. In other words, the taxes each individual worker pays the government is supposed to be enough to make them shareholders of their country. The system should be simple enough. You pay your dues to the government and then the government uses the funds collected to provide basic goods and facilities for the public. In progressive countries, this system works just fine. Governments in other countries use public funds wisely. Proof of this is evident in their public facilities like highways, airports, other utilities and services. It is also proof of the level of each society’s intelligence. Some societies put a lot of effort into thinking about how public facilities can affect commerce and the future of the nation. That is not something we can say about Philippine society.

In the Philippines, a lot of Filipinos are forced to go abroad and look for jobs or better opportunities overseas. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the lower classes of Philippine society. Even some members of the elite go overseas to escape what they consider mind-numbing stupidity in their country of origin. Some think life is too short to waste on people who are too arrogant to change. Yes, there are a lot of arrogant Filipinos like the Liberal Party supporters who, unfortunately, support public officials who keep them happy in their miserable conditions. They celebrate mediocrity and incompetence like a bunch of morons. This is evident in how they allowed the previous government to run facilities like the international airport the way criminal syndicates would. They celebrate shallow achievements like getting positive credit ratings from credit rating agencies not realising that these can be rigged and that it only encourages the country to go into more debt. Indeed, it is imperative that these people are not put back in power, ever. Filipinos like them make others lose faith in the system and leave the country. They are also the reason why some people avoid paying taxes. Who can blame them when taxes are not being used properly or in a lot of cases, just get pocketed by politicians?

Believe it or not, there are people who don’t even believe in paying taxes. They are called Libertarians. They are the people who object to “paying taxes for government they consider unjustified”.  They also hate the welfare system and people who rely too much on the government to survive. They see taxation as a form of slavery. They believe each individual should fend for themselves – be independent.

While I am not a libertarian, I do think that we are not responsible for other people’s welfare. Charity is optional. If we decide to give to charity or offer our services to help others for free, that is well and good, but no one can force us to do so. It is not an obligation that anyone can ask us to do or make us feel “guilty” into doing. So the best response to the question “What have you done for the country?” should be “I live a self-sufficient life and believe in independence from anyone or any government agency”. If majority of Filipinos subscribed to the same views, they can live without other people’s charity.

The problem with a lot of Filipinos is they think other people owe them. They apply what I think is “squatter mentality”. They think the government or the rich members of society should be compelled to provide for them in order to survive. This is why they don’t think about the consequences of having too many children. They think someone will help them anyway. This kind of thinking has resulted in Filipinos just waiting for dole outs instead of looking for ways to make a living. Charity is okay but it is not a long term solution to poverty. It is a band aid solution. In a lot of cases, it just encourages mendicancy – the practice of begging. This is a microcosm of Philippine society.

Because of the new leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, for the first time in Philippine history, Filipinos are forced to reflect on their tradition of relying on foreign aid to survive. Duterte is compelling Filipinos to think about the consequence of accepting help every time the country is in trouble. Indeed, the Philippines have relied so much on the generosity of other countries to the point where Filipinos cannot imagine doing things on their own anymore. This has led to the country progressing in glacial speed. The root of the problem comes from the fact that monetary aid is quite often mismanaged or gets siphoned off to private bank accounts. In short, it doesn’t reach the recipients. Now, if there are Filipinos who seem “ungrateful” for the generosity of other countries in the past, it’s only because the aid never reached them in the first place.

What’s my point? Don’t ask the question “What have you done for the country?” but rather, look at what the person has done with his or her life instead and ask yourself how you can live a life as a self-reliant and fulfilled individual without any help from charity.

[Photo courtesy The Telegraph UK.]

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15 Comments on “A response to the question “What have you done for the country?””

  1. Those people who ask “that question” probably don’t even lift a finger to perform such simple good deeds like buying sampaguita from a street child. No wonder some nations brand Filipinos as hypocrites.

  2. In my country it is impossible to be a libertarian. Or is VAT exempted? On almost all products and services that a consumer buys, every consumer pays 21% VAT, whether he/she likes it or not.
    And because every individual is officially registered (from/since the moment he/she was born), he cant escape paying income tax (and other taxes for that matter).

  3. What have I done to my country ?

    I became a useful human being, capable of supporting myself and my family. I have a good job, and a good family. I work in the U.S. Sometimes, I send money to my relatives, especially during Christmas time.

    I did not become, a politician, who would have been tempted , to enrich myself, at the expense of the Filipino people…

    Inspite of the burden of earning a living in a foreign land. I blog at GRP, to inform my countrymen, whatever important information, I can give, in this website. Hoping, that it would resonate to the minds and hearts of the Filipino readers !

  4. We are in the pondering Stage. The faster we realize our individual obligation as a citizen, the faster we step up on another stage of development. The president chose to be a catalyst rather than posturing himself as a model, at least that’s how I see him.

  5. Just being a law abiding citizen is already an accomplishment for a Filipino to do something good for his country. It is noble for parents or guardians to toil and labor in order to send their children to college so that when they finish their courses they will become another taxpayers.

    Since all Filipinos (including the beggars, criminals and rebels) buy food and drinks, reload phones and gadgets to communicate, pay gas to travel privately or commute and want to have pleasure/entertainment then we have to pay VATs whenever we spend our money which shows that everyone helps in the economy.
    Ironically, whether your condition is healthy or sick or dead the system demands that you pay and paying is a sign that you abide with the law of the land.

  6. The profound paradox is that the great man became more confident in his approach to others, including the man of his own cabinet, but he recognized that his major confidence was not himself but in another.

  7. “What have you done for the country?” …Like seriously? What a question. Having someone asking me that question when expressing my ideas that is not parallel to his views imply that I am only entitled to express my views and criticisms when I did something good, beneficial or heroic for the country. But then again, what defines a heroic deed? or what are the benchmark of something good that you must have done that will give you that sense of entitlement to express your views? What if I didn’t meet that benchmark? Meaning I will just shut up without saying a word as I see the nation fall due to corrupt politicians? I still believe that people express their thoughts and maybe , criticism because they care about the country. They want their country to progress, move forward. In any case someone has views contrary to mine, I still believe that I have to respect it. After all, we are living in a democratic country. And that’s what people fought for in ’86. Democracy. Freedom of Speech. You do not mute, block, kill someone just because he has views contrary to yours. Freedom of speech doesn’t end with specific group, individual, race,class or political party.Freedom of speech is an entitlement to every citizen but must learn to take responsibility to every word they utter.

  8. About criticism itself, I’ve seen this question often thrown at critics as if criticism adds more burden to the nation, “Puro ka reklamo, eh ano na ba nagawa mo?”

    A lot of Filipinos cannot accept criticism in any form, but if I recall correctly wasn’t it Jose Rizal’s criticism of the Spaniards that inspired Bonifacio’s revolt? Wasn’t criticism of NAIA Terminal 3 that resulted to its renovation?

    Why do many Filipinos fail to realize that criticism is another means of helping the country?

    1. >> Why do many Filipinos fail to realize that criticism is another means of helping the country?

      From casual observation, I’d say there are two answers to that:

      1) Filipinos are raised from their earliest years with Pinoy Pride drummed into their heads. It is impossible for a Pinoy to be wrong about anything, because … well, because he’s a Filipino. QED. Those who criticize what Filipinos do are wrong by definition. If a Filipino criticizes a fellow Filipino, he’s the lowest of the low: a race traitor.

      2) Filipinos do not accept the idea of self-improvement. As one is born, so one remains. This, again, is taught to children when they are very young. There is therefore no way to react to criticism except with anger. The civilized option (analyzing the criticism to see if anything can or should be changed) is simply not available.

      The underlying reason behind all this is very simple: if Filipino children were raised to understand the nature and purpose of criticism, it would expose the country’s thieving, incompetent leaders to a lot of critical attention, and Filipinos would expect them to respond by either fixing their shortcomings, or resigning. Far better, then, to convince the populace that (a) Filipinos are all inherently good, clever, and talented and (b) it’s rude to criticize. This ensures the oligarchy are completely untouchable: literally beyond reproach.

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