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Thursday, September 20, 2007
By Antonio C. Abaya - Sept. 29, 2005
The nature of our national insecurity is not that another country wants to invade us. Any country that had the bad judgment to assume the burden of feeding, clothing, housing, educating and finding jobs for 85 million quarrelsome Filipinos would be committing national suicide.
The nature of our national insecurity is precisely that our national leaders, especially since Ferdinand Marcos, have failed to feed, clothe, house, educate and create jobs for our rapidly growing population.
And, more importantly, they have failed to conceptualize and articulate for us a national purpose, a consciousness of a shared destiny, that can inspire us – rich, poor and middle class - to outdo ourselves above and beyond the daily toil for individual survival.
In my article "Why Are We Poor?" (Dec. 14, 2004), I have tried to summarize in chronological sequence the series of economic missteps and wrong choices in economic strategies that have caused us to fall into the rut from which we have been trying, with only limited success, to extricate ourselves.
In my articles "No Soul" (May 29, 2003), "No Brains Either" (June 05, 2003), and "And No Real Choices," (June 12, 2003), I have tried to explain why Filipinos, unique among the people in this part of the world, have such a weak sense of nationhood.
It is my contention that, without a strong sense of nationhood, we will find it difficult to overcome our many debilitating problems. By `sense of nationhood' I do not mean a xenophobic nationalism that feeds on the hatred for and mistrust of foreigners for sins, real or imagined, committed against us or against some of us.
I mean a love of country that transcends love of self, or love of family, or love of tribe, a common enough sentiment in most societies, but which is glaringly absent in ours.
When President Arroyo calls for "national unity," she really means, "Let us unite and forget all about Garci and move on to solve our problems." But "Garci" is the personal embodiment of some of our worst problems (corruption, electoral fraud on a massive scale, and lying by our national leaders) and should not be forgotten.
When Imelda Marcos laments the absence of unity, she really means, "Why aren't people demonstrating in the streets so that I can keep my jewelry?"
When Erap and his lackeys organize a Unity for Truth and Justice coalition, he really means, "Get me out of here so that I can resume my sybaritic life of daily fornication, nightly intoxication and non-stop gambling fixation."
In this essay, I would like to dwell on our concept of national security because it would have some bearing on who we think threaten or strengthen, jeopardize or energize our national existence. It would also have a bearing on our ability, or inability, to develop a strong sense of nationhood.
In the first decade of the 21st century, we do not face any threat of invasion from another country. China may theoretically be the next strategic enemy of the United States, but there is no reason to believe that it is or will be also our next strategic enemy.
China has in recent decades fought border wars with India and the Soviet Union; sent "volunteers" to Korea in 1950-51 when Gen. Douglas McArthur's victorious armies reached the Yalu River border; and tried to "teach a lesson" to the uppity Vietnamese in 1978 but wound up learning a few lessons in humility themselves from them.
The only country that suffered an invasion by the Chinese was Tibet in 1951. But, with all due respect to the Tibetans, this was not anywhere near the scale of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979-89, or the American invasion of Iraq in 2003-0?.
In the 21st century, it is almost inconceivable that China will invade another country, except possibly Taiwan, which it considers a renegade province, not another country. China may instead exert economic pressure or dangle economic concessions to its neighbors (such as access to its enormous domestic market) in order to achieve its geopolitical goals.
Its agreement with the Philippines for the joint exploration for oil in the Spratlys, instead of overpowering the puny Philippine garrison there with its military might, is a case in point.
The only real external threat to the national security of this country would be the expressed intention of the Jamaah Islamiyah to create a pan-Islamic state in the region that will include parts of southern Philippines.
But this will not be in the form of an invasion but rather of a prolonged war of attrition using local converts to its militant brand of Islam and capitalizing on the centuries-old grievances of the Muslim community against colonial rule from Imperial Manila.
The Philippine military is not properly equipped, trained or motivated to fight such a prolonged war, as it would be goaded to if Joseph Estrada were restored to the presidency by the Americans.
Even with increased US military aid, the AFP would not be able to provide adequate protection to the civilian population, especially if the Muslims were to retaliate by bringing the war to Metro Manila. For all their military might, the Americans have not been able to stop or curb the daily carnage in Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq.
The biggest threat to our national security in the here and now is poor governance by the national leadership.
Poor governance is a catch-all phrase that includes all the failures of the national leaders going all the way back to Ferdinand Marcos. Failure to reduce the population growth rate fast enough. Failure to collect adequate taxes, compelling government after government to borrow more and more from international creditors, thus progressively weakening the national currency.
Failure to enforce laws, consistently and equitably, in private and public life. Failure to join the export boom in the 70s and 80s and failure to ride the tourism boom in the 90s, thus causing us to fall further and further behind our more aggressive neighbors. Failure to curb corruption, which is a function of the failure to enforce its own laws consistently and equitably.
Failure to create enough jobs in the domestic economy, which is a function of the failure to adopt the correct economic strategies in the 70s, 80s and 90s, all the way to the present, thus forcing millions of Filipinos to seek employment overseas. Failure to end the long-running Maoist insurgency, which is a function of both the failure to enforce laws and the failure to adopt the correct economic strategies.
But the biggest failure of all is the failure of our national leaders to articulate and propagate among the broad mass of the population a sense of national purpose that even the poorest of the poor can relate to. This has nothing to do with a poverty in treasure; it has all to with a poverty in credible and inspiring leadership.
When Vietnam, then as now one of the poorest countries in this part of the world, was struggling for its survival and honor against foreign invaders much more powerful than it, its leaders, led by Ho Chi Minh, were able to inspire the broad mass of the population to fight back and triumph, against overwhelming odds, in the defense of their country.
So, if I were asked what constitutes the biggest threat to our national security, I would not hesitate to say that it is poor governance on the part of our national leaders, including but not limited to President Arroyo.
This is really the basis of our national insecurity, beside which a theoretical threat from the Jamaah Islamiyah and the present nuisance from a sputtering Maoist insurgency pale in comparison. A putative invasion from China or any other country is not even in the radar screen.
And this threat to our national security cannot be neutralized by the mere expedience of hurriedly holding a constituent assembly to amend the constitution in order to give the incumbent a graceful exit from her disintegrating presidency.
Such a rushed make-over will be merely cosmetic. Without a major, surgical operation that cleanses our political culture of its deep vein infirmity, the trapos and the political dynasties who control the present political system will control the new political system as well. So nothing substantial will really take place. So why bother making such superficial changes at all?
What our body politic needs is a purgation, a peaceful and non-violent revolution similar to what took place in Eastern Europe in 1989, when millions of Poles, East Germans, Hungarians, Czechs, Slovaks etc – including their intellectuals, their civil servants, their artists, their students, their workers, their housewives - literally walked out on their governments and forced their communist regimes to collapse….with hardly a shot being fired in anger against anyone.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
I’m jumping into the Malu Fernandez melee just as it’s supposed to be ending with her apology and her resignation from the publications she wrote for. A triumph for overseas Filipinos and bloggers, it has been hailed.
But it doesn’t end there, does it? This isn’t just about OFWs. Pinoy angst about class divides has been simmering for a long, long time. Two decades of "democracy" only seem to have made it worse. You need only to look at how names for the poor have evolved: they used to be masa (a political, though somewhat clinical, description of the majority), now they’re jologs (poverty as synonymous with bad taste).
So let me, for a few moments, join in the lynching of the Anti-Poor.
First of all, a "socialite" called "Malu" is an oxymoron. Wrong name, wrong pedigree. Second, she can’t write. Hell, she can’t even tell prejudice from wit, which is just like being unable to tell your ass from your esophagus. Third, if she wants to avoid OFWs, she should fly to the moon. She went on a holiday to Greece, a country full of Filipino domestic workers and sailors. And Dubai—duh. "I wanted to slash my wrist at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them," she wrote. Travel with a blade, Ms. Fernandez.
Okay, that feels good but it was too easy. This controversy affords us a good opportunity to unpack our hypocrisies, mine included. So having indulged ourselves, let’s now turn to the more difficult questions.
But first, my class credentials, which I think give me a unique vantage point: I’m neither rich nor poor. My parents are retired professionals, who only one generation ago were poor. So poor that my mother and her siblings had to dig for clams for their dinner. All seven of them went to university, two of them becoming lawyers, one a physicist. My father’s paternal relatives are landlords but his mother was a peasant. He sent himself to law school by working at the Manila pier. My folks clawed their way out of poverty, sent us to good schools and thus gave us a leg up. Of that, I am fiercely proud. I believe that many Pinoy families got to be middle class this way.
Today I find myself in England as an overseas Filipino, though not quite an overseas Filipino worker. In fact I’m poorer than most OFWs because I have gone back to being a student. However, I have traveled more extensively than most Pinoys and I have been an activist all of my adult life. My family, my education and my politics have conspired to make me egalitarian to the point of neurosis. As far as I’m concerned, I am as good as anyone else, no matter how much more or less money they may have.
The condescension—the hatred, even—that I see among the upper classes in the Philippines towards the poor makes me nauseous. The only country I have seen with worse social cleavages is Nepal, where’s there’s a caste system. Elitism has become unfashionable in most places but in the Philippines it flourishes like a colony of bacteria in a petri dish of shit.
There’s something surreal and gut-churning about the rich and pseudo-rich lounging about in faux bistros, sipping lattes, pretending to be somewhere cosmopolitan when they’re in a city festering with garbage, surrounded by slums and crawling with starving, prostituted children. I’m not saying that we be paralyzed by these grim realities, though some level of social conscience would make the situation a little less disturbing. Instead we have a callous elite blaming the poor for social ills and political turmoil.
One example that makes me furious every time: calling the poor lazy (and therefore responsible for their own misery). Lazy? Working 12 hours a day and earning barely enough to feed your family is not laziness, it’s injustice. Another prejudice that ticks me off, as in the Fernandez article: What’s wrong with being a maid? For me it is a source of pride that my countrywomen are willing to scrub toilets for a living but will never beg. That’s way honorable compared to the drunks and junkies hereabouts who would rather leach money off working people.
What do Philippine upper classes have to be proud of anyway? In other countries, there have been "modernizing elites" who kick-started reforms to defeat chronic poverty and move their societies into the 21st century. In the Philippines, our leaders—who have always been from the elite, including Erap-- can’t even do land reform properly. So who’s lazy and greedy and inept?
Malu Fernandez is not an isolated phenomenon; her views are shared by many of her ilk. Just a couple of months ago, there was an entry in fashion journalist Cecile Zamora’s blog suggesting proper etiquette for beggars whom she found offensive. All in jest, she claimed. I’ve read another ludicrous website suggesting that poor Pinoys be sterilized to prevent them from breeding further. I didn’t hear too many objections to these.
The indignation that spread across the blogosphere over this issue is heartening, though some of the ripostes are worrying: Malu Fernandez is not truly posh because if she were, she wouldn’t be flying coach. She’s fat. She has fake boobs. And if her breasts turn out to be genuine, would that make her insults more acceptable? What if she had a proper old rich surname, was slim and flying first class? Would the responses have been as vicious? I suspect not. Because that is the flipside of the snobbery coin: the admiration and obeisance extended by the lower and middle classes towards the truly rich.
Let’s examine the behavior and aspirations of the middle classes in particular. (And by middle classes, I mean the professional classes, as well as those with a certain level of education and income.) There’s the fixation with brands and designer clothing. The brandishing of late-model mobile phones as status symbols. Extolling the lifestyles of the wealthy. Dyed hair and nose jobs to get the mestiza look. Speaking in phony American accents. Scorning and ridiculing the jologs. Ever seen the disgraceful treatment of maids in many middle class households?
It is all well and good to expose snobbery and shame those who indulge in it, but what if they turn out to be us? We go a few rungs up the socio-economic ladder and we’re aping the worst traits of those above us. If we really abhor class prejudice and inequality, why don’t we reject those values ourselves?
Which is not to say that we should exalt the jologs and whatever qualities we associate with them. The cultural gap is vast and I’d be lying if I said I could hang out with anyone who watches Eat Bulaga. We can’t homogenize taste or outlaw snobbery. However, we can equalize rights and cultivate attitudes around equality so that when it comes to matters like the law and access to education, it shouldn’t matter whether one is jologs or conyo or something in between.
On the way there, we ought to probe our own biases. Are we ready to forego the airs, privileges and deference we get because we have a bit more money and education than the rest of our countrymen? Class-based advantages are the first things to go as a society becomes more equitable. Can we swallow that? If the answer is no, then we’re not ready for democracy.
As for the OFWs, I’m not too worried about them. They’re industrious, they’re tough, they’re becoming more assertive. They don’t need us patronizing them with that bagong bayani crap. What they need is the protection of the law, a functioning government and a better economy so that those who wish to return home can. Nothing extra, really. Just the entitlements of all law-abiding, tax-paying, passport-carrying Filipinos. In the end we’re all Pinoys working hard for a better life. Let’s not be Malu Fernandez to each other.
taken from: http://www.abs-cbnnews.com/storypage.aspx?StoryId=90896