“What have you done for the country?” That was the last question a former friend and colleague asked me before he blocked me on social networking site Facebook. I didn’t even get the chance to answer because he already muted me. I thought it was such a lame question anyway. I was shocked he would ask me that because while we have disagreed on some issues, I thought we both subscribed to the same sort of thinking in general. It’s the kind of question a person would ask when one cannot refute a valid point or when one is trying to divert attention from the real issue. It’s the kind of question that would initially leave one stumped because it implies one hasn’t done enough to earn the right to comment on the problems plaguing the Philippines.
I see a lot of people throw this question around very liberally without realising what they are asking. It’s another way of saying “Oh just shut up!” when they can’t stand another person expressing a different point of view. But what do they really mean by the question “What have you done for the country?” anyway? Do individual citizens owe the country or are obliged to do something for the country? It all depends on who they are asking, really. Not everyone subscribes to the view that the country should go to war, for example. Nor does everyone subscribe to the view that giving charity is the solution to fixing poverty.
In war time, at least in the past, citizens were compelled to defend their country from foreign invasions. In some cases, men were drafted against their will to fight a war they didn’t even believe in. Vietnam, anyone? Nowadays some people just avoid the stupidity or violence in their own country and become refugees in other countries. After all, not everyone wants to stick around and watch their house burn down.
In peace time, most people just go about their business and live their lives according to what makes them happy. A typical life would be like, find a job, pay your taxes and spend the rest on trivial pursuits until you die. In other words, the taxes each individual worker pays the government is supposed to be enough to make them shareholders of their country. The system should be simple enough. You pay your dues to the government and then the government uses the funds collected to provide basic goods and facilities for the public. In progressive countries, this system works just fine. Governments in other countries use public funds wisely. Proof of this is evident in their public facilities like highways, airports, other utilities and services. It is also proof of the level of each society’s intelligence. Some societies put a lot of effort into thinking about how public facilities can affect commerce and the future of the nation. That is not something we can say about Philippine society.
In the Philippines, a lot of Filipinos are forced to go abroad and look for jobs or better opportunities overseas. This phenomenon is not exclusive to the lower classes of Philippine society. Even some members of the elite go overseas to escape what they consider mind-numbing stupidity in their country of origin. Some think life is too short to waste on people who are too arrogant to change. Yes, there are a lot of arrogant Filipinos like the Liberal Party supporters who, unfortunately, support public officials who keep them happy in their miserable conditions. They celebrate mediocrity and incompetence like a bunch of morons. This is evident in how they allowed the previous government to run facilities like the international airport the way criminal syndicates would. They celebrate shallow achievements like getting positive credit ratings from credit rating agencies not realising that these can be rigged and that it only encourages the country to go into more debt. Indeed, it is imperative that these people are not put back in power, ever. Filipinos like them make others lose faith in the system and leave the country. They are also the reason why some people avoid paying taxes. Who can blame them when taxes are not being used properly or in a lot of cases, just get pocketed by politicians?
Believe it or not, there are people who don’t even believe in paying taxes. They are called Libertarians. They are the people who object to “paying taxes for government they consider unjustified”. They also hate the welfare system and people who rely too much on the government to survive. They see taxation as a form of slavery. They believe each individual should fend for themselves – be independent.
While I am not a libertarian, I do think that we are not responsible for other people’s welfare. Charity is optional. If we decide to give to charity or offer our services to help others for free, that is well and good, but no one can force us to do so. It is not an obligation that anyone can ask us to do or make us feel “guilty” into doing. So the best response to the question “What have you done for the country?” should be “I live a self-sufficient life and believe in independence from anyone or any government agency”. If majority of Filipinos subscribed to the same views, they can live without other people’s charity.
The problem with a lot of Filipinos is they think other people owe them. They apply what I think is “squatter mentality”. They think the government or the rich members of society should be compelled to provide for them in order to survive. This is why they don’t think about the consequences of having too many children. They think someone will help them anyway. This kind of thinking has resulted in Filipinos just waiting for dole outs instead of looking for ways to make a living. Charity is okay but it is not a long term solution to poverty. It is a band aid solution. In a lot of cases, it just encourages mendicancy – the practice of begging. This is a microcosm of Philippine society.
Because of the new leader, President Rodrigo Duterte, for the first time in Philippine history, Filipinos are forced to reflect on their tradition of relying on foreign aid to survive. Duterte is compelling Filipinos to think about the consequence of accepting help every time the country is in trouble. Indeed, the Philippines have relied so much on the generosity of other countries to the point where Filipinos cannot imagine doing things on their own anymore. This has led to the country progressing in glacial speed. The root of the problem comes from the fact that monetary aid is quite often mismanaged or gets siphoned off to private bank accounts. In short, it doesn’t reach the recipients. Now, if there are Filipinos who seem “ungrateful” for the generosity of other countries in the past, it’s only because the aid never reached them in the first place.
What’s my point? Don’t ask the question “What have you done for the country?” but rather, look at what the person has done with his or her life instead and ask yourself how you can live a life as a self-reliant and fulfilled individual without any help from charity.
[Photo courtesy The Telegraph UK.]