Our people’s journey

by Jose Ma. Montelibano

No matter which way you cut it, a country’s poverty is basically caused by an inequality applied by societal leaders, often affirmed by the acquiescence of the majority population. It may seem funny that many or most of those who acquiesce are themselves prejudiced, yet they submit or are resigned. There are a few exceptions, and I refer to countries that suffer from a scarcity of natural resources. By and large, though, these are truly exceptions.

The Philippines is a naturally rich country, one of the richest in natural resources on the planet. Or it used to be, at least. Fertile land, abundant fish in its seas, lush forests, freshwater lakes and a climate seemingly dedicated to further nourish the wealth of the land and nature. That our country has endured centuries of poverty is a testament to a mandated inequality, mandated by the force of arms and authority. Worse, its poverty has been extended way beyond the exit of colonial masters whose influence continues to linger strongly in the minds of our decision-makers.

Before the advent of the foreign conquerors, history tells us that tribal authority emanated from the central leadership, often personified by the datu. Yet, the central authority did not result in a dictatorial state of affairs although central authority was almost absolute. More than a political system, it was more of a family governed by the head of the family. The datu, in fact, was mostly an elder of a tribe, the leader of the biggest clan, and only secondary that his fierceness and prowess in battle had much to do with it. Bravery, yes, nobility, yes, wisdom, yes – much more important than being the best warrior.

Because the head of a clan was basically the ruling datu as well, governance was paternalistic. And because of culture, then that has extended to the present times, the woman of the home was no less revered. That culture, too, assigned much of the healing to women, as in the Babaylan-influenced area. The woman as a second-class citizen does not come from our native culture, but 400 years of foreign masters can adulterate what was originally native. A damaged culture is the most destructive long-term effect of being a conquered people. That, however, is already a given and it is useless to cry over spilled milk. What remains our continuing challenge is how to learn from the trauma and recover from it.

We also cannot return to the original culture before its trauma. Going forward is to accept that the past cannot fully return, but its spirit can, its values can, and its protectiveness over the people can. We have to create new ways and new expressions, but paternalistic or maternalistic governance is not only possible, but it is also strongly advisable. A parental perspective sets the motivation and tenor of governance that remains fully in tune with our culture. Even though the idea of democracy as a format of governance is with substantial merit, it does not prevent the rule of a wise and loving parent.

Our government today or for the last 100 years has been a copy of the American system. The efficiency of American production, manufacturing or agriculture, enhanced the reality of democratic governance. And what was once a fundamental sense of justice or fairness within its own society allowed democratic governance to prosper. Yet, even in its most sterling history, glaring injustices were there for all the world to see. As late as the ‘60s, Americans had to struggle with racial inequality. If we are to believe eve current allegations of the prejudiced, racial inequality is not yet a totally solved problem of American society.

Filipinos as subjugated people but being tutored to soon accept its independence from America apparently romanticized democracy in its ideal form. This is easy to understand when we consider that we had longed for our freedom for centuries and agreeing with our foreign masters as to the form of governance they wanted us to adopt was so easy. We did not only wag our tails, but we also nodded our heads vigorously. To gain our freedom. To rise above our poverty by managing our own resources. We did not study well how American democracy would blend our Filipino culture – if we studied it at all. Maturing people are emotionally inclined, and our native culture encourages this.

A time will come when reason through the exercise of an active intellect will hold more weight. Until it does collectively, let us keep our emotions on a high note, giving and caring as culture teaches us.

And what are those mature people, what defines them? For one, the attitude is fraternal, first to each other as one people, then to everyone else as one humanity. Strangely, it is not technology. Rather, it is understanding. The technology used the wrong way can be the most destructive tool ever created by man. Understanding, on the other hand, simply deepens respect and sets the course for human creativity to serve, not to dominate, life for all.

What prevents us from that fraternal relationship is its opposite – the partisan relationship. This is where we are, where we have been stuck ever since the divide-and-conquer mindset was not only applied to subjugate us but to weaken us as subjects of our masters. Too long we wallowed in it, first as victims, then as perpetrators as well when we adopted it as part of our own lifestyle. We wanted so much to be the masters, not the slaves and thought that to be so meant our emulating their behavior. It did not occur to us that our bayanihan was superior to their competitiveness, that looking out for one another was far more refined than beating one another, that peace trumps war.

As we journey to our emancipation from destructive partisanship to fraternity among sons and daughters of one motherland, let us struggle to be aware that rising does not mean stepping on someone. It can be us doing the good and right thing.

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