Why greatness will continue to elude the Filipino people


So we want to be a “proud” people, do we? Well perhaps it is time we took the bull by its horns and ask ourselves: Proud of what exactly?

You see, this is the 21st Century. Old notions of one race being superior to another or an entire people being anointed as blessed above the rest by one deity or another no longer serve as credible bases for greatness. And yet here we see a world where the divide between the planet’s greatest and most powerful societies and its most dismal impoverished failures remains a gaping “issue” in the company of the politely politically-correct.

Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

The reality is that the three key ingredients in the cultural DNA of the greatest societies — both current and past — the world has seen have remained the same — might, wealth, and brains. Even today, the world’s pillars of greatness are countries with deeply-ingrained martial traditions, apply a collective aptitude for commerce, and lead the species in innovation. Warts and all, the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, and China remain the planet’s movers and shakers even today and they score high marks across all three. No coincidence there. Great nations accumulate what they shrewdly acquire, are entitled to keep what they are able to defend, and cleverly capitalise the ideas they think up.

Of course not all societies can take their place in this rarefied space of macro achievers any more than everyone can be rock stars. But most ordinary people do manage to turn into decently clothed, fed, and sheltered adults and not end up living off alms in a cardboard box.

From that perspective, where is the Philippines as far as the more reasonable aspiration of becoming a decent and dignified society goes? Well, consider the national obssessions of the moment — we look up to grotesque role models who practice various modern versions of voodoo, are transfixed by the latest political tele-circuses, and bicker amongst ourselves over how to turn precious minerals buried under our land into instant cash.

We aspire to be “stable” yet set ourselves up to forever teeter upon a spindly base of ill-thought-out initiatives. While the rest of the world hooks their digital pipelines into the torrent of world-class ideas mostly articulated in the scientific,cultural, and economic lingua francas of our civilisation, our public school system is hooking up the young minds of our country into an academic drip-feed channeled over a handful of intellectually-barren national “languages”. While the rest of the world measures wealth on the basis of how much of it each of its citizens enjoy, we look to the arbitrary year 2050 which a bunch of bank “analysts” have chosen as the target for our ascent to the rank of 16th in terms of economic size — never mind that our enormous numbers may by then continue to crush the per capita share of that wealth. And while neighbouring countries point their guns, missiles, and listening devices toward the seas, our country’s armed forces remain geared for the next internal squabble and “adventure”.

Before we can answer the hard question of what exactly we as a people can be objectively proud of, we need to ask ourselves an even harder question — whether or not we have so far collectively succeeded at something of consequence that can serve as a clear basis for said pride. But hardest of all questions, however, is the question of whether we have been, are, or will be setting ourselves up to succeed.

For success does not just happen. Finding sustainable success is a systematic endeavour. It is like building a pyramid. The first layer is vast and boring. But as you build upon each layer you lay, the rise gets faster and the structure gets sleeker. That we have so far failed to see ourselves through the boring part of our development as a nation and instead celebrate the vacuous circuses that our politicians dazzle us with makes our chronic failure to launch as a credible global player less a mystery.

* * *


The prosecution team in the impeachment trial of Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona flew high, burned brightly, then flamed out — in the process supplying ample fodder for an attention-deficited Philippine Media to fire into its zombie audience. Now we find “journalists” lamenting the “boring” pace of the defense team’s approach to building their case. But as defense attorney Tranquil Salvador pointed out after yesterday’s session, they are presenting their evidence systematically — layer-by-layer starting with a vast foundation of data.

Filipinos can be forgiven for failing to appreciate this approach. The cultural baggage of their tradition and history does not make systematic approaches easy for the Filipino mind to grasp.

23 Replies to “Why greatness will continue to elude the Filipino people”

  1. Thank you as usual for an excellent article. It just saddens me what is happening to our society and where we are headed. We not only have a misguided nationalistic arrogance… but I see that the majority still does not want to admit the reality that we are where we are because of our collective failure.

    You are absolutely right in pointing out that maybe the problem is that there is no singular act that binds us together as a nation…that we can all be proud of. And I keep thinking why is this?

    I think it is mainly because we do not have an idea who we are as a people. We do not have one social identity that defines us a nation. We are still all fragmented by our regional identities. The attitude driven by “kanya-kanya”…”tayo-tayo”…”sila-sila”. We do not recognize that we nation building is a collective effort…a collective discipline…a collective consciousness. We will succeed as a group or fail as a group. One Manny Paquiao or Jennifer Sanchez do not define who the Filipino is. We all have to pitch in…we all have to change or we will die.

    Well we can trace this back to the 300years of spanish-catholic colonial rule that made sure the master-slave mentality would be so intrinsically woven into the fibers of our collective consciousness that breaking it may have to take a bloody social revolution.

    Marcos and Imelda having felt the condescension of the so-called “master class” tried to form the initial basis of an egalitarian society…and maybe they would have succeeded if not for Marcos getting sick and Imelda’s irrational fragile mental state.

    I thought EDSA 1 was our defining moment…I was wrong because Mrs. Aquino did not champion democracy she only furthered the cause of the oligarch-church union. It fostered elitism and divisiveness. If you are not for us you must be against us. It was “sosyal” to be seen in rallies and instead of parties in grand houses within those gated communities…the party went to the street. It also gave rise to new breed people that saw political office as a means to gain wealth that would buy them societal approval.

    My apologies for ranting…it is the musings of a curious housewife who sometimes feels like giving up.

    I am trying like you to provoke people to think differently…but it is not an easy task. Hopefully by beginning with ourselves…we are able to spread this like a virus…and maybe just maybe the next generation will have a slightly better chance.

    It’s all we can really do…

    1. Nice rant, actually. Yes, I wonder what is that missing element that makes a people feel whole, makes them want to take care of their neighbors as well as themselves. And if it is something like what America has, a belief in oneself and building for the future, how do you inspire it here? Filipino pride is passive, attached to others – entertainment stars and boxers. How do you get it attached to the nebulous idea that we need to work hard to build a nation. Here, people work hard to tear things down. Their neighbors, their president, the foreigners who speak bluntly. They work for themselves. It’s strange, this missing element. The drive to build . . . together.

    2. I recall enjoying immensely the book Rocketmen which I mentioned briefly in my piece Great nations achieve great things:

      Craig Nelson introduces his book Rocketmen, with the story of a 1969 Senate briefing (shortly after Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon) where Fermilab physicist Robert Wilson is asked how a $250 million atom smasher he proposes be built will contribute to the security of the United States. Wilson responded by saying that it will contribute nothing, but that the American people’s capacity to undertake endeavours like those is what makes the United States of America worth defending.

      Perhaps from that simple anecdote we can begin to understand why Filipinos feel they owe nothing to their country. It is because they see in it nothing to be objectively proud of — nothing to serve as basis for pride that is of substance.

      1. It’s all because we don’t know who we are, or refuse to acknowledge our true identity! Plenty of shit stems from this very issue!

  2. with pacquaio announcing he will run as governor of sarangani in 2013 (and no doubt win) you can be sure that nothing changes, people do not learn, and that the elite wants to maintain the status quo and class/wealth divide.
    this is simply indicative/symptomatic of a broken system where the worst possible people buy their way into power, and with singson running the show then corruption is not far behind. god help the country when pacquaio and his masters run for senate and then vice-president – a heartbeat, or bullet away from the big prize.
    a feudal society in the 21st global technology centric world is not only an anachronism but becomes largely irrelevant and condemns itself.

  3. I look at the picture differently. The Filipino character they say is like the bamboo. Flexible and pliant enough to survive the storms of life in the Philippines. We have survived wars, disasters, crisis and emergencies. We have gone through political clowns and their circuses, challenged political ideologies harmful to our democracy and at the end of every year face the fireworks and bullets with hope towards a better new year. We continue to survive despite it all. I see this as greatness of spirit and character. The spirit of Bayanihan still lives in the hearts and minds of many Filipinos. It is a moving force to be proud of. It is part of the national character. Despite all the ugliness in society, despite the stupidity or madness of political leaders we have prevailed. Greatness lies within. They say that in times of great crisis heroes arise. Perhaps our time for continuing national greatness has not yet come. We have to conquer our selves to reach this elusive dream. We had times of greatness in our rise through history. We had also had bad times. It is only the Filipino who will make the difference.

    1. god will provide!, or american aid.
      no pride in being the housemaids, & hookers to the world and the hustlers of the world.
      serving false ‘gods’ and passing the blame only results in being a doormat.ignorance is bliss. not a 21st century recipe for progress and prosperity

  4. benign0,

    To comment on your epilogue, I also would like to add my observations in various commenting blogs, that anti-due process/ant-Corona commenters become fewer and fewer as time goes on.

      1. In this blog, well, it’s not my intention that other commenters have just left. Perhaps I’m too harsh with them (read: calling them as what they are).

        Then, the active anti-due process left are JCC, Maher boy aka Joeamerica, and Vincenzo (correct me if I’m wrong with this dud’s name).

        Actually, this Maher boy and JCC are Vincenzo’s counterpart. No difference. They have the same thought.

        The only difference is the “eloquence” in expressing the opinion in English.


  5. you only have to watch the impeachment trial to see the paucity of intellect on display. presumably these senator/congressmen were university educated – but obviously not oxford/harvard ( my alma maters) or anywhere of note.
    they are a disgrace to the country for their lack of principles/integrity and to the education system for their lack of intellect. i will make an exception for enrile and santiago. the rest dont seem to understand or listen and are a blemish on the image of the country.
    3rd world country with 4th rate people in power is destined to systemic poverty.

  6. when i was at oxford that was no 1 but i took my MBA at harvard as the no 1 business school.
    that apart, i know i would generally never consider anyone from a philippine university.
    there may be exceptions but in a career with ibm and microsoft never met a filipino unless cleaning the toilets, so to speak.
    tell me of high flying execs in the corporate corridors.

    1. Based on your reply, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Harvard Business School, as brilliant as they are, does not specialize on proper punctuation.

      1. I am sorry for the grammatical error, as I didn’t graduate from an Ivy League university, I would like to edit my post before this one. I should have said,
        “that the Harvard Business School, as brilliant as it is, does not specialize on proper punctuation.”

        From my understanding, not everyone who comes from Harvard is a shining example of an upright citizen.

    2. One of the product of Harvard is Barack Hussein Obama. The dud who is being ridiculed as “if Al Qaeda wants to destroy US of America, they must hurry. Obama is beating them to it”.

      But then, it’s not Harvard. It’s how Obama managed to get in to that school.

      From http://www.westernjournalism.com/exclusive-investigative-reports/the-mystery-of-barack-obama-continues/


      “What’s more, there are questions about how he paid for his Harvard Law School education since, despite a claim by Michele Obama, no one has produced any evidence that he received student loans. The Obamas will not release any student loan details despite repeated requests from the Chicago Tribune. However, it appears that his Harvard education may have been paid for by a foreign source. Khalid Al-Mansour, an advisor to Saudi prince Al-Walid bin Talah, told Manhattan Borough president, Percy Sutton, that he was raising money for Obama’s Harvard tuition. Incidentally, Prince Tala is the largest donor to CAIR, a Muslim group declared by the U.S. Government in 2007 as an unindicted co-conspirator in a terrorist financing trial. At least three of CAIR’s leaders have been indicted for terrorist activities. Al-Mansour’s admission opens up speculation as to whether Muslim interests have assisted Obama’s career in the hope he would eventually be in a position someday to promote their interests.”

      1. Yikes, thanks for the info Trosp. I’ve never trusted Obama, I knew something wasn’t right since he went to Jeremiah Wright’s congregation.

  7. One thing I believe is that people who are great usually don’t look for greatness. They’re actually just looking for solutions to their own problems.

  8. BenignO: But there’s one thing that can be said of the Filipino (if this can qualify as that) is this: Although colonized for close four centuries by Spain, Filipinos were never “hispanized” in the sense that we retained our indigenous languages or dialects while those spoken in the South and Central American countries similarly colonized during the same period of the Spanish Empire were virtually replaced by Spanish.

    And these countries include: Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

    The Philippines, of course, is a country of over 7,000 islands, but the huge mountain ranges and densely forested areas in South and Central American countries were also equally as difficult and as hazardous to traverse. Besides, the presence of Church edifices in virtually all small municipalities attest to how far Spain’s influence and language penetrated far-flung areas of the country.

  9. Why? Because most have been conditioned to think small, act small, and (worst of all) expect little or none at all.

  10. We have yet to produce pinoys who are like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King? You know, people who’s achievements who are actually worth mentioning. What do we have to brag to the world? A boxer who makes more then he should and a youtube sensation who was discovered by Oprah.

    The only great one we had was Dr. Rizal.

    1. true, i find it weird when Pinoys are saying “world class ang pinoy” because of pacquiao or charice. Ang babaw.LOL pwede pa sana kung nagka gold medal sa olympics,nobel prize..etc

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.