When I posted that photo tweeted by former Bureau of Customs chief Ruffy Biazon of the rubbish mess left by passengers in a lounge at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) Terminal 3, I didn’t realise what a big wave it was going to make. Indeed it was interesting to note how deeply-revolted many Filipinos feel about kalat. It raises the question of why that revulsion cannot seem to be channeled into focused action.
Suffice to say, Metro Manila remains a filthy metropolis. No less than bestselling author Dan Brown described Manila in his book Inferno as akin to the “gates of hell”. The city is pretty much an open sewer and used as a dumping ground by both locals and even by foreign entities.
Nonetheless, that NAIA Terminal 3 photo sparked widespread interest, practically eclipsing during its 2 days of fame those other trumped-up outrage fads currently gripping Filipinos’ collective attention-deficited intellectual faculties — ‘Binay-gate’ and ‘Pemberton-gate’. The irony here, many have observed, seems to be in how Filipinos would, on one hand, be raising a stink about a severely-littered airport terminal lounge while, on the other, elect crooks into their government and then idly watch while they criminalise the entire nation with impunity.
That common Tagalog lament encapsulates a uniquely-Filipino cultural trait when used to respond to an affront to one’s sensibilities. In this case, perhaps it is because of the location and circumstance surrounding the rubbish on exhibit in Biazon’s photo — at an international airport terminal for all the foreign world to see.
Nakakahiya sa mga Kano!
Filipinos, it seems, are driven by hiya. They only take significant offense and, possibly, act when they are humiliated (or are at risk of humiliation) before a foreign audience or, for that matter, people they look up to. It is related to the “Pinoy Pride” thing when a compatriot makes it big in a foreign setting — like that recently-promoted “Filipino” naval officer, or any one of those “international” singing contest winners.
This may explain a long-observed quirk of the Filipino. Many observers have highlighted how Filipinos are exemplary employees or staunchly law-abiding citizens in other countries. But within the Philippines, Filipinos remain (or revert to being, in the case of returning overseas expats) selectively-compliant to even the most basic laws that govern the most basic decencies.
Why are Filipinos good citizens in other countries and bad ones within their own?
Look no further than Filipinos’ general notion of personal cleanliness and hygiene. Most Filipino homes are spotless. But take a walk along the country’s public streets and parks and you will find them anything but. Filipinos spit, throw their trash, and urinate as a matter of routine all over public spaces. Yet these are the same people who will demand that you remove your shoes or sandals before stepping into their abode.
Could it be that Filipinos reserve their highest acts of respect to “foreigners” and only have forced token gestures to offer their own compatriots? The evidence seems to support this rather sad hypothesis on the core nature of what makes Filipinos tick. Perhaps therein lies the solution to the Philippines’ seemingly untenable national psychosis. Until Filipinos learn to respect their own, they will continue to elect criminally-insane senators to “represent” them, vote for inept presidents to “lead” them, and regard their public spaces as their personal toilets.
Then we begin to question the whole point of being a “nation”. If Filipinos are at their best apart and at their worst together, why then should “the Philippines” persist as an independent “country”? We may be better off outsourcing our government to a foreign power.
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