In the past several weeks, many things have happened that rocked the globe and will likely have ramifications over the next six to 12 months that we can only begin to understand today. Consider that even so-called experts struggle to piece together a picture of what the world might look like in the mid-term under a severely weakened Japan, an Arab world reeling from civil strife, a suddenly inward-looking America, and an increasingly-assertive China. In that context, perhaps we can forgive for a moment the usual small-minded way that Filipinos regard the world.
Then again, let’s see what we’d find on a tour of the Philippine landscape of awareness and concerns that came to shape polite conversation over the last several weeks.
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Overseas foreign workers (OFWs) in the desert
Every government worth their salt scrambled to repatriate their nationals from countries that suddenly turned dangerous. How the Philippine Government performed compared to all the rest is now beside the point as any sane Filipino had already learned over the last 50 years not to expect much of any system or undertaking that is run by their compatriots.
The real point is around how an even bigger liability OFWs had now become to Philippine society. Indeed, OFWs even when employed and based overseas where they could do no further damage to a homeland that is already suffocating under the weight of its locals’ lack of economic output already presented complications to Philippine foreign policy. The fate of OFWs as employed labour of their host countries’ economies never failed to handicap the Philippine Government in any face-off it had gotten itself into with Greater China, for one. And all the while failing to see a connection between an albeit less-than-ideal stability in the Arab world and the plight of OFWs making a living there, “social media” “activists” blinkered by their melodrama-induced cognitive biases doted upon what they regarded as fledgling “people power” “revolutions” in the Middle East.
Social media chatter over Arab “people power” simply illustrated (1) just how tall an ivory tower separates the pundits from the Filipino masses, and (2) just how wide the insight gap is between the herded emos and the shepherding Vulcans. For many, the Oh shit! moment came when the astounding number of Filipino nationals who required repatriation as the Libyan situation rapidly degenerated came to light. The experience illustrated the dangers about being too geeky about “protest movements”.
Panic attacks over radiation and anxiety attacks over earthquake preparedness
As the Japanese people faced the grim task of recovering and burying their dead, rebuilding their physical infrastructure, and reconstituting their shattered spirits, Filipinos went into shrieking fits over rumours of radioactive fallout and contaminated food. We also took stock of our inherent ability to respond to similar disasters, and found nothing where decades of experience with earthquakes should have built something.
This plus the fear mongering about nuclear energy surrounding the fate of the mothballed Bataan Nuclear Power Plant and its ultimate (true to Pinoy form) politicisation makes for a textbook study of the stark difference between truly great nations and the mere wannabes…
[Japan], a nation that had been history’s first and so far only targetted victim of a premeditated nuclear bombardment simply went on to develop a vast nuclear energy generation capability regardless.
That puts a bit of context behind the laughable sight of Filipinos running around squealing and shrieking over rumours of radioactive apocalypse. Japan’s ability to look to the future with unmatched lucidity even as it faces the challenge of coming to terms with the immense tragedy of today is a bright beacon of courage and grace shining upon all of humanity. Certainly it is a grace that puts Filipinos’ utter lack of grace in perspective.
…which brings us to that favourite topic typical of a people famously deficited of an ethic of self reliance…
As if the focus on the impeachment of Ombusman Merceditas Gutierrez as the lynchpin of our aspirations for a peachy future of good governance nirvana weren’t enough, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III recently hailed two “solons” as “heroes of the day”…
President Benigno Aquino III Tuesday hailed as â€œheroes of the dayâ€ two lawmakers who were among the 212 members who voted to impeach Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.
The President made the accolade in acknowledging the presence of Quezon Rep. Lorenzo TaÃ±ada III and Bagong Henerasyon party-list Rep. Bernadette Herrera-Dy at the World Water Day 2011 celebration at Mall of Asia in Pasay City.
… effectively casting that timelessly effective emotional hook that Filipinos are renowned for snapping at like ravenous tilapia — our renowned victim mentality. Noynoy, of course, would like us to believe that we are all “victims” of a sinister plot to keep government systemically corrupt and inherently malevolent.
What obviously flies over the heads of the vacuous lot of those who consume the products of the hopelessly inbred Philippine Mainstream Media is the flawed notion of heroes being the silver bullets to cure what are essentially profoundly-ingrained properties of the very character of the Filipino. For the moment, the impeachment of Gutierrez had succeeded in distracting the Filipino public from the reality that beyond this focus on people, Noynoy and his team lacked concrete ideas to underpin any attempt at describing what a corruption-free Philippines might look like. Mapping a plan to get us there? Ask again in a month or two. Barring any further creative excuses being formulated by Noynoy and his henchmen, Ombudsman Gutierrez for the moment stands as the one last thing pitched by MalacaÃ±ang as a “roadblock” to supposedly fufilling it’s campaign promise of a poverty-free Philippines.
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Step back now from the detail and behold the future as seen from the eyes of a people with a strong tradition of failing to help themselves out of a paperbag:
(1) Unemployable ex-OFWs sitting around drinking Tanduay around Manila’s sari-sari stores;
(2) Churches brimming with Filipinos who can only look to belief systems that promise everything in death and nothing in life as we are reminded of our utter helplessness in the face of the randomness of Mother Nature’s wrath; and,
(3) A consistent focus on the droll, the unintelligent, the trivial and the irrelevant, even as the bigger issues, the systemic solutions, and the obvious paths to tangible salvation compete for attention in a society fixated on bread, circuses, and heroes.
Our prospects for prosperity, lie within ourselves — not in a messianic bunch of leaders and exceptional few who are yet to come and not in the altruism of the more fortunate. What we need is the courage and open-mindedness to understand clearly what we need to do to re-tool our culture, mindsets and thought processes, and approach to doing things so that a nation-building machine that is truly able to compete could emerge out of the collective and quiet achievement of the majority.
Recognising achievement is different from lionising personalities. It takes well-thought out efforts (that requires serious evaluation of fundamental truths about ourselves) to realise sustainable development. When one recognises achievement, one expresses admiration and seeks to emulate said achievement. When one lionises personalities, one places said personality on a pedestal to worship and pin their hopes on.
We’ve already had our fair share of heroes. It is clear today that, for many of them, the size of their sacrifice has not been commensurate with the willingness of the people they sacrificed for to help themselves.
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