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In the course of time, I accumulated a list of questions I wanted answers to about my native Philippines and its history. I’m aware that some of these are difficult to settle. I will raise those questions and discuss them, hoping that some like myself have those questions in mind but never pursue them. I’m not going to try to be politically correct in expressing my views and opinions, but I’ll try to minimize injecting my personal bias. I don’t expect my readers to agree with me, and if I have provoked you to think, that’s what really counts. Here we go . . .
“Why did Dr. Jose Rizal decide to face the Spanish firing squad in December 1896 when he could have escaped to Cuba?” Whether the Cuban escape plan was viable or not was the issue. Rizal was adamant about his desire to look at Spain in the eye through the barrel of its gun. But why, when he could have been more useful alive than dead to the cause of Philippine liberation from the colonial clutches of Spain? Did Rizal realize the futility of it all, knowing that the liberation movement itself lacked solidarity, that the inexperienced Filipinos were not ready for the difficult task of nation-building (a possible reason for him asking representation by Filipinos to the Spanish Cortez, instead of outright independence), that an armed rebellion will pit well-armed Spain against the bolo-wielding Filipino revolutionaries, resulting to a horrific bloodbath? One thing was clear: his greatness rested in his genuine love for his country and people.
“The Philippines is the only predominantly Christian country in Asia, but why is it also one of the most corrupt governments?” How does one reconcile Christian values with the pervasive greed that characterizes its politics and government bureaucracy? Does the Philippine kleptocratic political culture have roots in its colonial past where material depravity was the norm and the only antidote for the natives’ predicament was hoarding, when possible, to survive? Is this a vestigial pattern of adaptation handed down through generations that molded the Filipino thinking process, shaping its national character? If this is a valid argument, it shows that the imperative of survival adaptation has primacy over religious values and beliefs. It partly explains the incongruence between faith and how people conduct their lives.
“How does one reconcile Christian values with the pervasive greed that characterizes its politics and government bureaucracy? Does the Philippine kleptocratic political culture have roots in its colonial past where material depravity was the norm and the only antidote for the natives’ predicament was hoarding, when possible, to survive? “
Marcos had the chance to turn his rule of the Philippines into a “benevolent dictatorship,” reigning on divisive forces but encouraging debates on how best to guide the country through the rough waters of politics and an uncertain economy, strengthening national infrastructure for an eventual return to the robust democratic process. “Why didn’t he do it when it was within his reach?” Instead, he succumbed to the corrosive influences of absolute power, which corrupted him and those around him totally. Marcos was no Lee Kwan Yew, who he looked up to. He failed because he lacked character and the greatness that defined a Rizal. He did not only fail, but he left a country in tatters.
“Why didn’t Cory Aquino send to the gallows his mutinous detractors when she could have?” She was the People’s President who had an unequivocal mandate to govern for better or worse. Many self-righteous putschists, who felt they did not get enough credit for helping drive Marcos out, vied for power and influence in the name of self-interest and hid behind pseudo-nationalism. These people got away with murder for their seditious acts, which encouraged others to stage their coups at the expense of the faltering Philippine economy. I remember Cory, who was more comfortable with her religious persona than putting on a no-non-sense face of a national leader, invoking forgiveness and mercy while dealing with her enemies. She failed to understand that her Christian faith is a “faith of engagement,” not some reclusive, transcendental, not-of-this-earth sort of faith.
The practice of Christianity, with its tradition of engagement in earthly life and the messy, mundane affairs of imperfect men, must balance mercy with justice. Forgiveness and mercy, lofty ideals they are, can sometimes be an inappropriate response to managing the political or social affairs of men without the long stick of justice at its opposite end. Did anyone ever wonder why Michael the Archangel wielded a sword in one hand and a scale in the other?
“Why are China and South Korea still demanding a public apology from Japan for atrocities committed during the Second World War, while the Philippines never insisted on the same?” Nonetheless, through its ambassador, Toshinao Urabe, Japan made its public apology to the Filipino people in April 2014 for brutalities against Filipinos during the war. It’s a gesture a little too late coming because we never pressed Japan for it. More than material compensation, the Chinese and the South Koreans are demanding redress for their wounded national esteem. They are fighting for self-respect. Restoring the self-respect of a nation trampled by an aggressor is an abstract idea that was not at the forefront of the Filipino psyche and never clamored redress in the same passion as the Chinese and South Koreans. Why?
“Why do Filipinos have a short memory of the egregious crimes committed by politicians who were supposed to uphold the law, protect the country, and lead its people, but who instead breaks the law, loot, and betray their country, and kill their people?”
“Why did the Philippines ask the Americans to close their military bases in the Philippines, and several decades later ask desperately for American military assistance against Chinese incursions to Philippine territories?” The Philippines looked not only foolish but weak for such misjudgment? Who and why did the country put in this predicament? Some, driven by hallow nationalism, thought the military bases were an affront to Philippine sovereignty and decided to close them in a display of nationalistic pride. They also thought that as long as the bases were around, the Americans would not stop meddling in the country’s national affairs. That response was short-sighted and the policy misguided. In international politics, respect counts for something, and countries earn them by the quality of their self-governance.
Judging from the Philippine political history and records of self-governance, I’m not sure if it has done enough in nation-building to earn the respect of the global community, let alone America. Let’s not forget that several countries home to American military bases are also economic powerhouses with strong democratic institutions. They also rely largely on the American military for protection in the event of a serious attack by enemies.
But who can say that the Japanese, or the Germans, or the Koreans love their country less and are less than nationalistic than Filipinos and that the U.S. is running their country simply because the U.S. military is there? Don’t get me wrong, the U.S. has an obsession with protecting its own interests and will go to great lengths to protect its hegemonic worldwide interests. However, the nation and its people also espouse values that the free-world shares. It may come as a surprise when I say that the U.S. has ambivalence towards its imperialistic impulses. It was a reluctant participant, at first, to both world wars, but in the end, it played a crucial role in their victorious prosecutions.
“Why do Filipinos have a short memory of the egregious crimes committed by politicians who were supposed to uphold the law, protect the country, and lead its people, but who instead breaks the law, loot, and betray their country, and kill their people?” What national guilt do people carry or level of personal esteem they hold themselves to inflict such repeated self-punishment upon their gullible selves? Filipino voters keep these characters and their families in the political scene when they should be rotting in prison or resting in peace. These monsters even have their own fan clubs.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Dr. Fernando B. Perfas is an addiction specialist who has written several books and articles on the subject. He currently provides training and consulting services to various government and non-government drug treatment agencies regarding drug treatment and prevention approaches. He can be reached at email@example.com.