I’ve come to realise that much of Philippine history was really all about a monumental effort to counter centuries of butthurt. The Philippine “revolution” of 1898 was an epic reaction to 400 years of butthurt in the hands of Spain. The arbitrary re-defining of the 4th of July, 1946 from “Philippine Independence Day” to “Philippine-American Friendship Day” originated from former President Diosdado Macapagal’s butthurt reaction to Filipinos’ incurable colonial mentality at the time and successive presidents’ efforts to appeal to their respective constituents’ “nationalist” sentiments. Then there was the kicking out of the US’s massive military presence in the Philippines in 1992. That was the Philippine Senate’s epic butthurt reaction to perceptions that the Philippines could not stand on its own two feet and take care of itself.
Even way back in the early 2000’s Filipinos were already renowned for their chronic national butthurt condition. The late consultant Clarence Henderson wrote an extensive treatise on the subject of Pinoy butthurt in his seminal 2002 essay Cyber-Flamings & Onion Skins: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the Pinoy Dream. Even back then, there were excellent case studies on what, at the time, was termed Filipino onionskinnedness.
The Probe Team: The Probe Team, a GMA news magazine and the longest running public affairs TV program in the country, also airs in Singapore. In early 2001, in prototypical reality television show format, certain stories dealt with sensitive topics: pedophilia in the provinces, the sex tourism business, the Payatas mountain of garbage, and college students dying in fraternity hazings. The new segments were accurate and reflected objective realities of life in the Philippines.
A group of OFWs promptly organized a vocal protest and did all they could to keep the show from being shown in the Lion City. Their bone of contention, of course, was that it made the Philippines look bad in the pristine city-state of Singapore. Why air dirty laundry when those things could be so easily ignored?
Live Show: In The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I described the uproar that occurred in Manila when Jose Javier Reyes’ cinema verite piece, Live Show (originally known as Toro) was released. This existential and engaging film told the sad story of young people whose extreme poverty led them to perform live sex on stage in order to survive.
The critics were all over the film, which was soon repressed with the blessing of Cardinal Sin and the devout Philippine President. Their argument was that the film encouraged promiscuity and painted an inappropriately sordid portrait. In reality, it was a well-done work of art that called attention to an unfortunate social reality. But that was not acceptable.
Claire Danes’ “Ghastly Manila” remarks: About four years ago, Claire Danes came to Manila to film Brokedown Palace. After returning to the states, she made several not-very-flattering remarks about Manila in the pages of Vogue and Premiere magazines. Specifically, she described Manila as a “ghastly and weird city,” said that the city “smelled like cockroaches”, and noted that “rats were everywhere”.
The whole country, led by the Manila City Council, was immediately inflamed and up in arms. There was a major move to ban all of Danes’ films in Manila and her name is now considered synonymous with “Ugly American”. Very few politicians or commentators were brave enough to note that Danes’ comments were basically accurate and that something badly needs to be done about the state of the Philippines’ capital city.
Top American thought leaders were not spared by non-thinking Filipinos’ butthurt tirades. Henderson also recounts how then US Ambassador Frank Riccardione earned the ire of Philippine government and media honchos when he candidly pointed out before Manila-based journalists how the Philippines continues to fail to attract significant amounts of foreign investment due to “widespread” corruption.
The most famous of all American inducers of Filipino butthurt is journalist James Fallows whose famous 1987 article A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines? published on The Atlantic attracted the modern-day mother of all Pinoy butthurt. In that article, Fallows made his most pointed assessment of Filipino society in these words: “Because the boundaries of [decent] treatment are limited to the family or tribe, they exclude at least 90 percent of the people in the country. And because of this fragmentation–this lack of nationalism–people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.” Since then, Fallows had been the favourite “whipping boy” of Filipino “nationalists” and “patriots”. Yes, Philippine “nationalism”, indeed, is an oxymoron in a country described by Fallows as one where “people treat each other worse […] than in any other Asian country.”
To digress a bit, it is interesting to note that Fallows, in a brilliant stroke of prescience, made this observation as well in that article:
BECAUSE PREVIOUS CHANGES OF GOVERNMENT HAVE meant so little to the Philippines, it is hard to believe that replacing Marcos with Aquino, desirable as it doubtless is, will do much besides stanching the flow of crony profits out of the country. In a sociological sense the elevation of Corazon Aquino through the EDSA revolution should probably be seen not as a revolution but as the restoration of the old order.
Remember, those were words written back in 1987 — which, as it turns out, probably highlights an important point — that;
A lucid understanding of the Philippines’ issues at a cultural level provides a better lens through which one could regard its politics.
Fallows, back in 1987, showed that building a thesis on Philippine politics using culture as its primary intellectual foundation yields motherlodes of timeless principles. This is made even truer when one considers that a democracy where officials are elected by popular vote necessarily yields leaders and representatives that directly reflect the character — the culture — of their constituents.
See this now in the context of how the most popular of Filipinos’ butthurt reactions to critics of their society involves pointing to their crooked politicans as the supposed source of all of what makes the Philippines the chronic failure that it is. This highlights one of the more disturbing aspects of the Philippines’ butthurt culture — that Filipinos are prone to missing important points (such as the point here that they elected their crooked leaders and representatives) because of the dulling effect this inclination to butthurt has on their abilities to think clearly. Hardly surprising then that Filipinos keep making the same mistakes over and over again.
It’s high time that Filipinos end this cycle of using butthurt to mark important points in their history and, instead, look to objective achievement to mark the key milestones in the histroy they are yet to make.
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