I can imagine the reactions of many of the Filipinos reading the title of this blog entry; all a-quiver with self-righteous indignation, the nerve of this gaga to be insulting the Philippines in this way, especially a Filipina insulting her own countrymen in lieu of the Quirino Grandstand hostage situation that had left eight dead, and at least seven other Chinese tourists traumatized. Filipinos do one of two things when their culture or their race is being insulted – they make excuses, or they call you names; anti-patriotic if you’re a fellow Pinoy, or a racist if you’re a foreigner. So why am I writing when all it’s going to do is cause me trouble?
I have never driven a car in the Philippines, and I continue to refuse to do so. When I was younger, a friend tried to give me instructions. “If the car’s bigger than yours, may as well let him go ahead, even if he’s in the wrong.”; “Make sure you’ve got some fifty and hundred peso bills every time you’re driving. That way, if you’re ever stopped by a policeman, you can bargain down his asking price to let you go without taking your license.”; “If you hit a pedestrian or a kid you’ll have to stop, but if you run over someone’s pet just floor the gas and take off.” As I grew older, this last advice became “If you can get away with it, just drive away. If you kill a child on the road, you’ll have to pay the parents some thousands of pesos. In fact, it might be cheaper if you ran the person over and killed him, since medical bills are more expensive than a death payment.” I learned that the average price of a Filipino was four thousand pesos ($100). But it is what it is.
When I was younger, my friend was killed by the Philippine military. His name was Mark Welson Chua, and he was the main reason ROTC for many of the boys here has become optional rather than mandatory. He was investigating corruption within the ROTC military command with his girlfriend, a newspaper writer at the University of Santo Tomas, when he was beaten up, rolled inside a carpet, and then dumped in the trash-ridden Pasig River. When he was retrieved, his face was bloated, and the water in his lungs indicated that he was still alive when they threw him in.
And all to help the scores of boys who have taken ROTC since then, most of whom never take it seriously, or never question why it’s now an optional service.
The known mastermind, one of the higher generals within the military, was never arrested, or even charged. But it is what it is.
I initially wanted to pursue a career as a journalist. Many friends and parents soon disavowed me of that notion. The Philippines was until recently ranked the third in number of journalists killed, behind Afghanistan and East Timor, and the only country with the highest number of casualties during what is considered peacetime. To earn enough money, many journalists have to rely on blackmail – I won’t write these things about you if you pay me this much money. Succinctly put – if someone powerful enough didn’t like the way you were writing about him, or if you were asking for too much money, he’d hire someone to have you killed. A journalist’s life generally costs P10,000 ($200-250).
The Philippines is no longer third in rank. It is now ranked first, after the Maguindanao Massacre the previous year, where fifty or so journalists were killed while accompanying the wife of a local warlord’s political rival to submit her husband’s candidacy for election. The warlord in question, Ampatuan Jr., is still awaiting trial, the trial itself being prolonged. Many of his allies and cronies have already been found innocent.
But it is what it is.
Early this week, an ex-cop took a busload of Chinese tourists hostage, demanding his job back. The police involved were not equipped with the right kind of weapons, used an ax to smash down the windows of the bus, attempted to throw tear gas inside the bus without bothering to use a gas mask of their own, and failing to activate the gas twice. Most were not wearing any protective armor.
The media reported and interviewed the police officers, who divulged most of their plans on air. What neither failed to remember was that the bus had a television set, accessible to the gunman inside as well. So when the gunman’s brother was arrested in full view of the cameras as an accessory to the crime, gunshots inside the bus were heard.
It was an hour before the police decided to break down the doors and return fire. They killed the gunman, but not before the gunman had succeeded in killing eight of the tourists inside.
Donald Tsang, the Executive Chief of Hong Kong, spent hours frantically trying to get through to the Philippine president, Noynoy Aquino, without success. Noynoy himself had been absent from the public eye throughout the whole ten hour hostage siege. Aftewards, he appeared at a press conference with a smile on his face, telling reporters that had he called for a media blackout, people would have complained of his censoring them, so he decided against it. Many Chinese people – and a large number of Filipinos – were disgusted by how unaffected and uncaring he seemed.
It is what it is.
The number one reason why the Philippines suck, is because it is what it frigging is.
Filipinos learn to deal with a lot of things. Suffering seems to be a part of our genetic makeup, so we laugh and smile and wave at the camera even as the flash floods are sweeping away houses behind us. When something tragic happens, we grieve for awhile and we are angry, but we put them all behind us to prepare for the next tragedy we know is lurking on the horizon.
We’re a hopeful people, optimistic. We always believe that change is going to happen tomorrow if we wait long enough. We’re so busy waiting for other people to change we don’t think about changing first. We don’t realize that the change that can happen tomorrow should be the change happening today.
Because we’re a prickly sort of folk. We don’t like to admit things when we’re in the wrong. We blame it on outside environments and external factors; we blame our poverty and our economy and our government, but we don’t blame ourselves. So when other countries call us out on our flaws, we are quick to always give offense, to make excuses about how this is not our fault.
I want to be an author. I was told that there was no market for it here in the Philippines; everyone prefers mass-produced Filipino romance paperback novels (and even they still struggle to get by) or Western books. No modern writer currently living in the Philippines has ever achieved any great lasting popularity. Oh sure, we say we take pride in our national artists; Francisco Balagtas and Felix Hidalgo and Fernando Amorsolo. But most Pinoys don’t even know which paintings Hidalgo and Amorsolo are known for, or three books F. Sionil Jose had written, or the last time they’ve read Florante at Laura, or even Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere outside of school (many cheat and use the comic book version of the novels instead). We mouth platitudes and say we have good artists, but only because we are told that they are.
If I wanted to be popular, I was told, I’d have to do it outside of the country first. Because Filipinos usually pay closer attention to their fellow countrymen when they’ve made it big abroad. Lea Salonga after she performed in Broadway musicals and voiced Jasmine in Disney’s Aladdin. Charice Pempengco after her singing was featured in Ellen. Manny Pacquiao only after he’d defeated known boxers outside of the country. Reynaldo Lapuz, singing ‘You are My Brother’ on American Idol. They’re Filipinos Who Made It Big, Just as Good as the Americans Are. Even local celebrities feel different from those who’d been successful abroad. We’re so very quick to claim that Batista is half-Filipino, that Vanessa Hudgens is half-Filipino, even that Filipina girl who played a minor role as Psylocke in those X-Men movies. Even Jasmine Trias, who has stated time and time again that she looked to Hawaii as her home, not the Philippines. That our lives here suck, but we can at least live vicariously through the successes of these other people. Filipino pride.
Am I mistaken? Then name me at least seven national artists, and what they’ve done to become national artists. Without using google.
There is a very good Philippine website called the antipinoy.com. Its writers frequently criticize Filipinos and suggest a multitude of reasons as to why the Philippines continue to stagnate in comparison to its other wealthier neighbors, and point out flaws in the Filipino character itself. Many Pinoys take offense at this. To call their website the “Antipinoy” was most likely a deliberate choice and a form of irony I fully appreciate, because pointing out defects in the Filipino nature does not make them anti-patriotic, and they know it. Someone agreeing with Claire Danes when she says the Philippines is a smelly place, or Mariah Carey when she calls Regine Velasquez a monkey, does not mean he also agrees that Filipinos are scum.
Why? Because many places in the Philippines ARE smelly, and Regine Velasquez IS a bitch.
When Filipinos complain about their government, their poverty, their economy, nobody seems to mind. But when a foreigner makes that same observation, they rise up to engage the enemy, their prides sorely wounded.
Because we’re always so downtrodden. We’re always the underdogs, the ones who have to live through a lot of suffering that, eventually, good things would have to come their way. And the underdogs are always encouraged, the ones people always root for. Underdogs are allowed to drive like madmen through the streets, because it isn’t their fault; the police will try to extort money out of them no matter how they drive, anyway. Underdogs can complain that the current Miss Philippines lost the Miss Universe pageant because it’s not her fault; the question was too ridiculous, English isn’t her native language, the pageant has been Americanized because of Donald Trump, Obama was asked the same question and he couldn’t answer it in 22 seconds either, etc. Noynoy Aquino wasn’t smiling at that press conference; he was just trying to be optimistic, he was hiding his sorrow inside, his mouth has a defect where it’s always crooked, so it looks like he’s smiling when he’s not, and so on. Underdogs shouldn’t be criticized for underlying flaws, because – after all – they ARE the underdogs!
When A Filipino, an underdog, loses, or is shamed in the eyes of the world, there’s always supposed to be an excuse why they are not to blame. That’s what’s wrong with this nation.
A former friend posted on his Facebook account about why the Philippine president shouldn’t be blamed for the deaths of the Chinese tourists. I called him out on this claim, pointing out the flaws of the man he was defending in relation to the tragedy. He deleted his previous comment to make my reply sound nastier without the provided context. He forgot that I received Facebook email notifications containing the relevant comments, and when I re-copied the one he had removed to defend my stance, he responded by deleting the status and blocking me from his facebook page.
In the Philippines, there are millions like him.
Admitting that yes, the Philippines sucks but that doesn’t mean I don’t love it, is the first step. And until we all realize that the truest love for one’s country is to understand its flaws and the flaws of its people, and to acknowledge those flaws rather than making excuses for our mediocrity – then nothing will ever change.
It is what it is.