Anti-intellectual attitude a roadblock to Philippine progress

There is something really strange about Filipinos who look down on intellectuals. Even more bizarre is when the person insulting the intellectuals is a university professor and a so-called political “scientist”. In his article in GMANEWS online, Mr. Antonio P. Contreras referred to those who belong to the elite intellectual class of the Philippines as “bullies” and “insecure”. Contreras arrived at this conclusion after reading a few analyses and comments in various online forums regarding Harvey Campos.

No time for small talk: Singapore elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew
No time for small talk: Singapore elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew
Campos was the Filipino student whose question was shut-down and dismissed for being too personal by former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at a forum held in Singapore. To those who have not watched the video of the incident, be advised that it is one of those cringe-worthy-I-wish-the-ground-would-swallow-him-or-me-up type of video.

The part that made some people say Campos acted arrogant and stupid was when he insisted on asking the “personal” question again even after Lee politely explained that he doesn’t want to answer any personal questions simply because he didn’t attend the forum to answer personal questions.

But like a knight in shining armor, Contreras came to Campos’s defense. He too agreed that it was a good idea to ask Lee how much his wife influenced his politics:

I would personally be interested to know how in the public representation of such an esteemed, even feared, powerful figure one can be pleasantly surprised to discover a place for an emotion as a loving husband and a doting father.

In other words, Contreras was as curious as Campos to know who was really behind Lee’s strict laws like banning chewing gum, littering in public, and giving lashings to those who violate these laws. Both Campos and Contreras probably would have loved to have heard Lee confirm that, “Yes, it was my wife who came up with the idea of forbidding people from chewing bubble gum after a gum got stuck on one of the heels of her favorite pair of shoes”. And maybe they dreamt of hearing Lee chuckle like one of their beer buddies while narrating how his wife got fed up one day from picking up the mess in the house and told him “From now on, littering will be against the law to help tired housewives!”.

Yes, unraveling the “human” side of Singapore’s strongman would have been quite an accomplishment for Campos. He would have been the “talk of the town”. He would have been hailed as a “hero” by people like Contreras. In fact, it baffled Contreras why the “elite intellectuals” of the Philippines were not supporting Campos “for his boldness to ask what Singaporeans may consider improper, even heretical”.

Contreras wanted every Filipino to stand behind Campos because the latter “was just being a typical Pinoy who would begin an interrogation with a personal note” and because according to him, the question Campos asked Lee is something that is considered quite normal in our society or something anyone would throw at Filipino politicians, really. Furthermore, he said that “the incident between Mr. Campos and Mr. Lee was a case of two different cultural worldviews colliding – one was very personal and the other very impersonal”.

Singapore bans chewing gum while the Philippines bans thinking.
Singapore bans chewing gum while the Philippines bans thinking.
Cultures collided, indeed but until now people like Contreras still don’t understand why. One simply should avoid asking personal questions in a public forum especially when high profile personalities in politics are involved. This rule should apply not just in Singapore but also in the Philippines. One can try asking a personal question but if the person being asked doesn’t want to answer it, one should respect that. It’s called privacy.

I mean, who cares how a politician came up with his or her policies? Who cares if the politician suddenly had an epiphany after an argument with his wife, which inspired him to write his policy? Obviously, Filipinos like Campos and Contreras do. But what’s really more important is to ask how a politician’s policy would work and if it would deliver results that the people want.

The problem with our society is that we Filipinos put more emphasis on the personality behind our public servants. Instead of focusing on what matters, we care more about the trivial stuff, which are irrelevant in our goal to bring our country from Third World to First. We care more about our favorite politician’s girlfriend or wife, what they wear and what kind of car they drive. It’s as if knowing that we voted for someone who is dating a celebrity or someone who is driving a Porsche would actually help us feel secure that the country is in good hands.

A product of Filipino anti-intellectualism: President BS Aquino
A product of Filipino anti-intellectualism: President BS Aquino
This is why every time an incompetent public servant like President Benigno Simeon “BS” Aquino or any of his staff commits gaffes or worse, violates the law, all they need to do to divert people’s attention from the issue is to publish personal details about himself or someone else’s sex video and voila! People will quickly forget about the issues. It works all the time. This is why our public servants get away with stealing public funds in broad daylight and treat the country like their personal fiefdom. In short, Filipinos love being entertained.

Contreras was correct in saying that Campos was just being a typical Pinoy, indeed. But, this “typical Pinoy attidude” needs to be eradicated. Otherwise, we will forever be focused on trivia like people’s personal information and circumstances, which all of which are irrelevant to the issues surrounding our country’s march to progress.

Unfortunately, Contreras’ long-winded explanation failed to convince a lot of his readers. Despite calling the country’s intellectuals all kinds of unflattering names like “mayordomo”, most of the feedback he got from some of the country’s “intellectuals” still say that Campos was wrong in asking Lee a personal question. Sadly, Contreras, the professor and political scientist still insisted that those who disagreed with his views are just being insecure about our culture and engaging in self-flagellation. Never mind that personal questions have no place in a forum where serious issues are being discussed.

Obviously, arrogance is another Filipino trait that we need to get rid of as soon as possible.

Contreras has an issue with his fellow Filipinos who criticize their own dysfunctional culture. He also has an issue with foreigners like Lee Kuan Yew who criticize Filipino culture. Contreras does come across as someone who is unwilling to accept that there is a problem with our culture. Someone who is unwilling to accept his weaknesses along with his strengths is someone who will not evolve into a better person. Regrettably, there are many Filipinos who do not want to accept our weaknesses. No wonder the Philippine society has not evolved into something better.

It’s only in the Philippines where intellectuals are ostracised. That could be the reason why some folks would rather go with the flow than risk being shamed for using their heads.