Friday, April 2, 2010

The miseducation of every Juan

I think I was in the fourth grade when my teacher gave us this exercise, “Draw a Filipino house.”

Right away, I started drawing a bahay kubo fronting a ricefield, a Mayon Volcanoesque rendition of a mountain range on the background, and the picture completed with the ubiquitous carabao parked on what would be, technically, the carabao-port

I was going to this exclusive Catholic school for boys. Matriculation meant that we were all coming from, at least, upper middle class families. But as my teacher would later point out, just about everyone in class had drawn more or less the same picture as mine.

Why? We were all Filipinos. We lived in Filipino houses. Did anyone of us live in a bahay kubo?

“Anyone?” the teacher asked. No one raised his hand.

This was my rude introduction to social studies. As my teacher would go on to lecture, by the fourth grade, and in an exclusive school at that, we were all already miseducated. And not just from school, but from society as a whole.

Ferdinand Majellan did not discover the Philippines. These islands were already inhabited. People of color aren’t allowed to discover things?

Mercator maps are not accurate. It is Eurocentric, drawn by a German cartographer, primarily for European ships to get proper bearings. It is not drawn to exact scale. Southern countries look smaller in Mercator maps.

The Philippines is nowhere near the far-east. From whose perspective is the far-east “far”?

It was one of those radical eye-opening lectures that would stick with me my entire life. And ironically, I got the lesson in a traditional Catholic school run still at the time by Spanish priests.

Much later on in life, I found myself working for a Swedish boss. Nice, very polite chap. He co-owned a production house with his Filipina wife. Being the in-house editor for the company, it was not unusual for me to pull three-day non-stop stretches. “Non-stop” almost literally means just that. I get three hour sleep breaks, around 5 am to 8 am once every 24 hours. And no, there is not enough time to go home. I even time my bathroom breaks so that, at least, the computer is rendering.

My Swedish boss, out of a polite need to stay in the trenches with me, would try to stay awake and keep me company while I worked. He usually gives up after Conan O’Brien. One of my monitors has cable, a minor perk, given the tediousness of my work.

On one of those crack-of-dawn all-nighters, my boss finally commented, if we Filipinos were willing to work so hard, and he wasn’t just talking about me but the rest of our crew as well, he really just doesn’t get why the Philippines is so poor.

Sweden is almost identical in land area as the Philippines with very harsh winters, he points out. And yet Sweden is the second richest country in the world per capita. Clearly, he thought the comment through.

I quickly blamed over-population, Metro Manila alone outnumber the entire population of Sweden. He nodded in agreement.

“But population is not necessarily a negative. Human resource is capital.”

I was stumped. Clearly it was something else. Finally, the grade 4 lecture came back to me. It was our mentality. We are the products of our miseducation. Over three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule, four years of Japanese Imperial occupation, and about a hundred years of Hollywood, and we are all convinced, we are worth less than anyone with fairer skin than ours.

A Swedish boy, growing up, would ambition to top Bill Gates. Subconsciously, Filipinos would be very happy to be Bill’s assistant. Our collective psyche is damaged.

I am witness to the resilience of the Filipino. Driving through Bulacan, Pampanga, Bataan, and Zambales, I have seen farmers re-plant rice-fields two days after being devastated by a storm for the second time in the last three weeks.

We do not cry. We will not die.

But give the same Filipino some comfort, and he is lost. It is almost as if, he accidently stumbled upon his colonial master’s private quarters. It comes from the very same place, I believe, where crab mentality is deeply rooted. There is an ugly part in us that do not believe we deserve a better life. And so we sabotage our chance for success and that of our fellow Filipinos.

Beer commercials do not help. That you’ve made an extra five-hundred pesos over budget is not enough reason to celebrate. Aim a little higher.

And what about Charice? What about Lea? Are they good because we think they are good, or are they good because they’ve earned the approval of Oprah and Broadway? Didn’t Charice lose in a local contest? And Lea, perfect pitch and all, lost in the sea of non-talents in “That’s Entertainment”?

Just a few decades ago, while we were busy aping spaghetti westerns, Hongkong was making their own spaghetti easterns – low budget martial arts movies so bad that it was unintentionally funny.

Oh, we were good. Way better than Hongkong. We had cowboys down to the last detail. Even the bad guys were completely convincing in their black hats and trench-coats. Imagine trench-coats in the heat and humidity of the Philippine countryside.

But fast-forward to the present, and even Hollywood is now adapting Hongkong style fight sequences. The Chinese just believed in themselves, when no one else would. The rest of the world just needed to catch up.

More recently, Bollywood dance sequences is gaining ground and slowly winning the same kind of worldwide recognition. Of course, we Pinoys do not want to get too far ahead of this curve. We wait for Hollywood to embrace Bollywood totally. Only then do we conclude, finally, it is not baduy.

And where are we in all of this? Right now, we are remaking Koreanovelas and feeding the same inferiority complex we grew up with to the next generation.


  1. Good article! I couldn't agree with you more. Yes, I also believe we Filipinos have the potential. It's just that we don't aim harder.

  2. Thanks K. Congratulations BTW, that was the very first comment on my blog. LOL! Other comments were either done on my FB, email, or the other thread were I am a member. Hope to see more of you here. :)

  3. Do I get a free payong or something? Or maybe a 2010 calendar? LOL!

  4. I sent your "payong" reward via private message. If you used a fake email account to register, then your payong is lost somewhere in cyberspace. Haha.

  5. a country with two hundred days of rain; a country with half of its land below sea level, a country with the oldest and least fertile soils; a miniscule country that grows its land area by land reclamation -- all these way more prosperous than a country with such vast fertile land that you need only throw seeds at their backyards and the pods break at the kiss of morning dews. and i'm itching to blame history, and the men and women before me.

  6. Why do we "celebrate" the Fall of Bataan but totally ignore the day when Lapu-lapu totally kicked Majellan's ass?

  7. your insights are good about the miseducation of the filipinos. but my take on this goes far later than spanish colonial rule, the japs occupation, and the early hollywood invasion.

    manila was the new york of asia even before singapore learned to reclaim land to expand its territories. we built and operated the first international airport in asia even before cathay pacific was the airline to beat in the world. as a kid, i watched old sampaguita pictures and i was awed by the beauty of manila and the pristine rural areas of the country folks in the black and white movies. (although, german moreno shattered the idea of the provincial perfection in old sampaguita films when he disclosed in a recent interview that the farm shots were, in fact, taken at the LVN studios in san juan.)

    and there was a time in known history when our peso was equivalent to a dollar. or something close to that.

    my parents talked about the good old pre-marcos days. my grandparents reminisced with them about the beautiful new dawn after the second world war. my worry then is what to tell my kids about the post EDSA 1 philippines. good thing, i don't have kids.

    if you ask me where i think the filipinos started ruining things for this coutry, it is when our brothers and sisters, in blinding euphoria, discovered working overseas to earn money not in our currency. in the old films, it was often shown that filipinos would go to other countries only to either study or travel for pleasure. these days, we have films that tackle caregiving by our ofw's to the baby boomers of the western world, our mothers leaving behind to (bad) fate their own children to take care of the children of the eastern world.

    the collapse of the filipino family did all of us; the family which is the fundamental, most important unit of this land. brain drain kills. children left with unchecked, unguided moral values are the first victims.

    while the chinese see this land as a land of honey and the koreans view the taal volcano as an island of opportunities, our OFWs mock us all who stand by the philippine islands, never leaving it hoping we can still make it. while your boss salutes us for our industry and passion, our OFW brothers call us stupid for the kind of people we put in our government.

    it is not those who invaded us that did this to us. it is the discovery and belief of many of us that opportunities are everywhere except here. as og mandino wrote: “It is a sorry day for those who cannot see any opportunities where they are, but think they can do better somewhere else.”

    think of the advanced economies in asia - singapore, japan, and korea. their people stuck it out when their country hit rock bottom. but us filipinos? i cannot count the number of people who told me that if erap wins again in the elections they would definitely move to another planet. in my book, the farmers who till the soil after each ondoy are more deserving to be called true filipinos. and those are the people i gladly call my brothers and sisters.

    but of course, these are just pieces of opinion from a non-practising litt major.


  8. Hi Don Dee, in the 1980s James Fallows, who was a speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, spent time in the country and wrote a series, "The Philippines: a damaged culture," that the Washington Post published.

    Basically, he wrote that our experiences (tribes and barangays in an archipelago; then western colonization, subjugation, divide and rule, inferiority before colonial overlords; then the devolution of power to an indigenous ruling class, the oligarchy that wields highly disproportionate economic and political power even today, which they naturally want to perpetuate - i.e., whoever becomes president should not upset our apple cart), this cocktail had resulted in a damaged culture, in which we don't think and behave as a nation, putting national interests and the common good ahead of our own, but as families and other smaller groups with narrowly defined interests.

    The manifestations big and small: from manipulating elections to be able to use the powers of government for self-serving ends, to throwing trash out the car window because it isn't our property and someone will clean up anyway, so why should we care?

    Whether Jim Fallows was correct or not, we are the product of our history, but i agree that we should not blame the past because it's an incentive to inaction and will not help us move forward.

    We cannot look to anyone else to build a better future for us because only we can do it for ourselves, with all the good and the bad that are in and around us.

    For myself, i really have no grand answers, except for some half-baked observations: we need to develop a true sense of cohesion and respect for one another as a nation, and we can only say we're on our way to true nationhood when we can actually do things not because they are good for a few, but because they are the right things to do, and they are good for most Filipinos and for our shared future. Patriotism is not waving the flag but doing hard things that are truly good for our countrymen, not our own selves or families.

    Just for perspective, perhaps we are no better off or no worse off in the long run, compared to other countries. Each country travels its own past, present and future. There is evolution and there is revolution. Hell, Europeans were barbarians for centuries, and they were butchering each other not too long ago. The U.S. is still dealing with the consequences of slavery that led to a bloody civil war, so bloody in fact that they stopped reporting casualties. Closer to home, in the last 100 years, China very painfully transited from dynastic monarchy, to a brief republicanism, to a socialism in which millions were killed in the Cultural Revolution, before it embarked on a course of modified capitalism which is propelling that country to preeminence in the 21st century. The countries of Indochina endured decades and decades of war, marked by untold suffering and sacrifice. Now Vietnam's development is a phenomenon to behold as it overtakes ours.

    Come to think of it, maybe a country must undergo a crucible of conflict, violence and bloodshed before its people get their priorities right. We can only hope it isn't so. Maybe for us, it is an evolutionary process, frustrating in its own way, but in which we somehow can grow the economy so that the middle class will grow and poverty will decrease. Maybe Noynoy - one of the oligarchy, incidentally - can provide the leadership to enable that, because the quality of our leadership is crucial.

    Other than that, we are faced with decisions that we must make everyday, that build or destroy nationhood.

    What do we do? No easy answers. But we can think and try.

    Maybe it's possible to correct our mis-educaton.

    Do we really have a choice?


  9. Thanks for the very intelligent and well thought out responses. Perhaps that is the first step we must all take. Self-realization. Much like the AA 7-step program, perhaps we, as a nation, must begin by admitting to ourselves that there is a problem. And that we are that problem. The colonial masters have all long gone. We have no more excuses. We can only now blame ourselves. And yes, we can't/shouldn't blame history.

  10. Final thoughts before I turn in for the night. My alarm is set for 3 am, and I've just finished off the little things I need to do to make life a little easier for the girlfriend I shall be leaving alone for 3 maybe 5 days. I am tired, so you will have to bear with my long unpolished sentences.

    The task is overwhelming. It is enough to paralyze anyone into inaction. Maybe it is not for any one of us, to cure what ails this nation. All we can ask of ourselves, is to better our own lives, understand history, strive to correct the course of our own personal destinies, and maybe, even affect the next person to us. As the old song goes, whatever will be, will be. But having done all that we possibly can, at least, we can say to ourselves, HONESTLY, we've done our part. We are no longer part of the problem. We are now part of the solution.

  11. The posts here make me proud to state that I have refused every and all offers I had which involves working overseas. Kudos to all of you.

    I personally believe that I should use my talents here in the Philippines. If I try hard enough, I could end up earning what I would've earned as an OFW or more.

    Partly, I'd also like to point out the involvement of mass media in our social brainwashings. People are poor because they want to be poor. They want to keep their rights to rant about being poor because it has been a Social Stereotype. (Subconsciously) They don't want to be better off than they are now since other people would look at them with prying eyes.
    You see the effects of the soap operas on these idle minds.
    For example: My Dad had a Mistress. When time came that he had to let her go, he made sure she'd get a good enough life after that. He got her an apartment. Paid six months in advance then he set up a small "Sari-sari' store for her income. Back then, the stores were few and far apart and it was still in a crowded area so the store was meant for sustainability with good income potential.

    What happened was that the store closed up because she was too "Poor at heart and in mind." She kept giving away credit and the people took advantage of the fact that if you tell her a story about how hard life is for you, she'll scratch off your debt from the list. Naturally, people took advantage of this.
    She didn't want to manage her own finances. She wanted my father to keep providing.

    They (my parents) ended up with the decision to absorb the two kids and to raise us together. Sad part is that he had to be unfair to me when it comes to my relations with my half-siblings.

    I suggest there be better and more responsible media available to the people. Not just the ones which sell but should focus more on inspiring the people to move forward.

  12. I'm a li'l bit too late but great read, nevertheless!

  13. Thanks for the compliment OCEANNE. And don't worry about being late. While I only started blogging this year, I think I wrote this one when Erap was still president and me and a friend were part of an online campaign to unseat him (with ex DOT ASEC Vicente Romano). Romano started ELagda, me and the friend handled the message board linked to it.


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