This has remained the single most consistent question directed at the owners and contributors to GetRealPhilippines.com and its network of affiliated sites (which we shall, for the sake of efficiency, henceforth in this article simply refer to as “GRP”). This has always been a topic embraced by GRP and we will, for the umpteenth time (this quaint “debate” goes back a long time — back to 2001 to be precise) explore this interesting query.
But first thing’s first. Whenever an assertion is made, any effort to evaluate said assertion should start with an examination of the terms employed in said assertion. One excellent body of legislation defines unlawful “racial vilification” as such:
It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group.
The question, in light of the above, therefore is quite simple:
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Do people feel a sudden rush of hatred and serious contempt for and/or feel compelled to ridicule Filipinos and their culture every time they consume GRP content?
Hardly. There is nothing about the message of GRP that will give some half-brained hollow-head ample reason to go on a racially-motivated rampage against Filipinos while flying that iconic guava-over-gaping-mouth flag. This is because GRP is, at heart, Filipino. And to understand the full nature of the Filipino condition it really helps to be Filipino at heart or, at the very least, to have the Philippines in your heart.
GRP has always had a very simple thesis — that certain aspects of Filipino culture serve as fundamental hindrances to any effort to succeed to the standards defined by Western civilisation. The Atlantic columnist James Fallows put it quite simply: Filipinos are beset by a damaged culture. This simple realisation reverberated across the Philippines’ philosophical landscape and all but shattered the sugar-coated cocoon of Filipinos’ misguided sense of their own greatness across three main fronts:
(1) A damaged culture puts to question whether “democracy” suits Filipinos.
When that other brilliant thinker Teddy Benigno adopted this very same damaged culture thesis, he wrote about Fallows’s seminal evaluation of the Philippines in a Philippine Star column of his own back in 2002…
We Filipinos indeed have a damaged culture, more damaged even than we think. Thomas Hobbes, the philosopher of stern social discipline, of crowding humankind into a disciplined cage, was certainly describing the Philippines, among others, when he said without order, life was “nasty, brutish and short.” Ferdinand Marcos had a sense of smell better than most when he said the Philippines was “sitting on top of a social volcano” and that was more than 30 years ago. Historian O.D. Corpuz (Roots of the Filipino Nation) wrote in 1989 that civil war, revolution or a coup could break out in a matter of years. Any day now?
Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino Jr. in 1983 sought a “rendezvous with history” — meaning a heart-to-heart talk with President Marcos — because as he confided to me in Boston, “along the way, the Philippines can explode into bloody revolution and that will take us back 20 years.” At one time, the great nationalist Claro Recto intimated that Philippine democracy was a bad case “of the blind leading the blind.” That was long ago. Of course, another foreigner, Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore, predicted our “exuberant democracy” of fiestas and good time would come to no good end.
Even the eminent Teddy Benigno deferred to the timeless words of Fallows who minced no words in observing: “Individual Filipinos are at least as brave, kind and noble-spirited as individual Japanese, but their culture draws the boundaries of decent treatment much more narrowly. Because these boundaries are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at any given moment 99 percent of the other people in the country. Because of this fragmentation, this lack of useful nationalism, people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen … The tradition of political corruption and cronyism, the extremes of wealth and poverty, the tribal fragmentation, the local elite’s willingness to make a separate profitable peace with colonial powers — all reflect a feeble sense of national interest. Practically everything that is public in the Philippines seems neglected or abused.”
Without the benefit of a naturally broad civic mind and a sense of national solidarity, Filipinos will continue an ironic struggle to make their not-so-new-found “freedom” to choose their leaders and representatives work for the greater good of the society. So far, the results have been, shall we say, mixed (to put it mildly).
(2) A damaged culture makes it difficult to ensure money poured into presumptive initiatives to create opportunities for Filipinos is well-spent.
One of the key pillars of GRP’s thesis is how a an atrophied capacity for imagination is at the heart of Filipinos’ long-consistent inability to capitalise on an abundance of resources and opportunity. Ambeth Ocampo described how a lack of an ability to imagine and dream is readily evident in Philippine industry in an Inquirer article he wrote in September 2005 after a visit to the marble-producing Philippine island of Romblon.
Of this island’s craftsmen, he wrote:
What did the people in this sleepy town do with their marble? They made them into tombstones, mortar and pestle. As a tourist, I asked myself: How many “lapida” [tomb markers] and “dikdikan” [pestle] do I want? How many lapida and dikdikan do I need? Come to think of it, how many lapida and dikdikan do they sell in a year? Here is a region that has skilled manpower and an almost inexhaustible natural resource, but their products are unimaginative. If culture comes in to introduce new designs and new uses of Romblon marble, that would go a long way in developing the industry and the province.
Indeed, one can draw similar analogies in the Filipino entrepreneur’s penchant for following a “me too” approach to getting into business. There is an almost lemminglike behaviour in the way Filipino entrepreneurs get on a business model bandwagon. This behaviour accounts for the lechon manok (roast chicken) and shawarma (Mediterranean wrap) booms in the 80’s and 90’s. The proliferation of jeepneys and tricycles also illustrates how such safe but low-returning (and, in the long run, unsustainable) ventures are among the favourites of individuals with a bit of capital to apply.
Compounding this is an “aversion to the large venture”, something that noted Filipino author Nick Joaquin expounded upon in his seminal piece A Heritage of Smallness…
The depressing fact in Philippine history is what seems to be our native aversion to the large venture, the big risk, the bold extensive enterprise. The pattern may have been set by the migration. We try to equate the odyssey of the migrating barangays with that of the Pilgrim, Father of America, but a glance of the map suffices to show the differences between the two ventures. One was a voyage across an ocean into an unknown world; the other was a going to and from among neighboring islands. One was a blind leap into space; the other seems, in comparison, a mere crossing of rivers. The nature of the one required organization, a sustained effort, special skills, special tools, the building of large ships. The nature of the other is revealed by its vehicle, the barangay, which is a small rowboat, not a seafaring vessel designed for long distances on the avenues of the ocean.
Suffice to say, the Philippines today is so backward and so far far behind what were once its peers in the region that huge leaps rather than little baby steps are required for it just to keep apace, much less catch up. Thinking small simply will not cut it.
And last, but not least;
(3) A damaged culture hinders approaching development of solutions with a healthy regard for what is real as its foundation.
A big part of having a healthy regard for reality is an ability to deal maturely with criticism. The late Philippine-based consultant Clarence Henderson had much to say about Filipinos aversion to facing critical evaluation courtesy of their renowned onion-skinnedness…
Basic books on Filipino culture (and a number of Pearl columns) emphasize just how sensitive Filipinos are and how important it is to avoid open criticism. I would refer you to such sources as Alfredo and Grace Roces’ Culture Shock! Philippines, Theodore Gochenour’s Considering Filipinos, or any of F. Lando Jocano’s excellent intercultural books (in particular Filipino Worldview: Ethnography of Local Knowledge and Working with Filipinos: A Cross-Cultural Encounter.)
While I am always conscious of this issue in interpersonal relationships in the Philippines, I hadn’t really thought that much about how it plays out in the broader context of intercultural debate. Now, however, the bruises incurred in the battles described in “1. The Facts” have made me acutely aware of how much Filipinos hate being criticized and (especially) how much they hate foreigners (or other Pinoys for that matter) being critical of the Philippines.
And this is where GRP steps up for its turn to run with the baton of bringing to light the Philippines’ challenges as far as its national collective character is concerned — a fortunate position for us to be in today when we respectfully consider the groundwork laid and the foundations built by great Filipino and American minds that had come before us (and in some cases, briefly worked with us).
Coming back to that excellent body of legislation I referred to at the start of this piece, a part of it that is singularly relevant in answering the question Does GRP vilify Filipinos and their culture? is where it clearly stipulates what is NOT rendered unlawful in any act under its tenets to uphold universal respect for people of any race, culture, or creed. Included in what it deems NOT unlawful is…
(c) a public act, done reasonably and in good faith, for academic, artistic, scientific or research purposes or for other purposes in the public interest, including discussion or debate about and expositions of any act or matter.
GRP has always stood for open and sound debate around the hard questions Filipinos need to face if they are really serious about building any substance into their “hope” of seeing a better and prosperous Philippines in the future.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.