Sabs and I were talking to our friend Sam the other night about the Philippines. I must say it was really quite interesting trying to get a white born-and-bred Californian young man to understand life in a third-world Asian country. He was so used to having some sort of idealistic yet somehow tangible solution for everything. He had no problem believing someone or some system could come in and just turn things around. I envied his optimism but at the same time pitied him for it. Because if you really think about it, the Philippines from 300 years ago is very much like the Philippines of today. Not really very encouraging on the change department.
We have public education systems that will never produce students knowledgeable enough for our top universities and therefore, will never get the jobs that will enable them to remove their family from under the poverty line. And even if they manage to get jobs - they never quite pay enough. So street children work and do even more poorly in their studies, maids and drivers are indentured for the duration of their lifetime, and just the general public don’t make enough to afford a lifestyle with dignity.
We have government officials who are so short-sighted that they can only see the immediate gain of their actions - who choose to steal the country’s money instead of helping it grow and benefit from the fruits of that endeavor later on. They have no respect for their nation - so their nation has no respect for them. We think of our government as a cesspool of evil, we see their rules as malleable, bendable and “not real”. We bribe, schmooze and manipulate the law to benefit us. Therefore, our country has no stable legal system. The Philippines is the perfect place to get away with murder.
We have a church so afraid of change and so close-minded about new ideas that they cling to their every single letter of their teachings, not realizing that they are obsolete and that they no longer apply word-for-word to the world of today. All they are focused on is protecting a reputation that has been flung into the mud ages ago and they refuse to open their eyes to the fact that this has no bearing in alleviating the pains of the people they have dedicated their lives to serve.
We have a populace that demands a solution right NOW. Who expect the rich and the learned to give them money NOW, food NOW, jobs NOW but are not willing to participate in long-term projects because the direness of their plights have retarded their ability to foresee a distant future. They have become hopeless and accept a lower station in life. And how can you blame them? How can be expected to go to their town centers to learn how to fish or weave nets and envision a better future with this livelihood when their children are starving? Their spouses are dying? Their businesses are failing?
I thought the chicken and the egg was bad but really, we are so much worse.
I’m not writing this to tear down the Philippines. Just because I moved to America, that doesn’t mean I love my country any less. It’s home. It will always be home. But living abroad has allowed me to see it using a different lens.
Perhaps if you ask a number of people on the streets of Manila what the problem of the Philippines is, they would probably say something like corruption or colonial mentality or pollution. But honestly, all those things stem from something that lives in the realm of the un-talked about.
We have social classes are still very much pronounced and very alive - no matter how much we try deny it it. Despite what our telenovelas might lead others to believe - Nathaniel, the son of the wealthy haciendero family will NEVER fall in love with Maria the poor farmer’s daughter. Just like you will never hangout with the guy who takes your order at a Jollibee or the saleslady who sells you cheap make-up at SM Megamall. It just doesn’t happen. The higher class likes this divide and our whole society is built to keep the gap between the rich and the poor as monumentally wide as possible. Maybe it’s the power or the entitlement. I don’t know.
But have you ever thought of it that way? Have you every thought of how difficult it is to be a self-made man in the Philippines? To go from LITERALLY nothing to having everything? I assure there is only a one in a million chance - maybe one every few decades - wherein this happens and I’m sorry folks, I think Manny Pacquiao already claimed that spot for this generation. Any success story you know of is somebody who probably didn’t have a lot but wasn’t destitute because the people who were rich in the time of the Spaniards are still the people who are rich today.
So look to yourself when you think of the problems of our nation. Would you start paying your maids an hourly wage so they can afford to send their children to better schools? Would you let them share your meals during dinnertime because, after all, they’re people just like you and me?
Until your answers to both those questions are “yes” - then we definitely aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We seem to think of the “masa” as some faceless crowd that we intelligent people must shepherd into the path of light. But this faceless crows IS our country. They ARE the majority. If they are stupid and petty and baseless, then our country is stupid and petty and baseless. And if they are that way, it is because we made them that way - because we ALLOWED them to become this way.
If any progress is to be had we cannot afford to separate “us” from “them”. We cannot look down upon them and think of them as beings we rule over like gods on Olympus. There should be equal opportunities for Juan de la Cruz and Miguel de Ayala to get ahead in this life. We should take their hands and together lift up our country together and set in on the pedestal it used to gleam upon in ages long past.
That’s pretty damn idealistic but tangible… I don’t know. How do you change a perception that has been engrained in a people since their conception?
But that’s the only way and there is no middle ground.