Damaged and small Filipinos

... is the first article for the year in my Trade Tripper column appearing in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld. Just this once, an article posted in its entirety (for the rest of the year, please buy BusinessWorld!):

"As a lot of you know, it’s been almost two decades since James Fallows wrote A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines? Some pundits have recently dissected this essay, with all the usual sound and fury signifying nothing. Many Filipinos - in one form or another - nevertheless still believe in this damaged culture theory, with differences essentially arising on whom to blame for the damage (i.e., inherent damage or foreign influenced?).

Another essay that a number of Filipinos love referring to is Nick Joaquin’s A Heritage of Smallness, where the respected writer has been found to say that “society for the Filipino is a small rowboat”. This has sent a lot of Filipinos happily shaking their heads at the mediocrity of their countrymen. In fact, googling this essay would find a horde accepting our so-called “smallness” as a people. One person actually referred to it as his “favorite”.

This is nonsense. I agree when one academic once said that there are no “damaged cultures but only damaged individuals”. For me, these damaged individuals are “Filipinos who believe and encourage others to believe that Americans, Japanese, Europeans, or Chinese are better than us.” Worse are those who reject their being Filipinos and imagine themselves as American or Chinese.

As for the “heritage of smallness”, many people seem to forget (or want to ignore) the fact that Joaquin wrote another article entitled “Junking the Heritage”, where the national artist pointed out that Filipinos are moving away from their peasant attitudes, discarding timidity, and becoming more and more worldly in outlook.

We should therefore stop putting ourselves down. We should stop apologizing for who we are. We should stop thinking that other cultures and countries are superior to ours.

We should stop doing all that for the simple reason that they have no rational, factual, historical, actual basis whatsoever.

We have a great history, a beautiful culture, an enviable set of values, and a truly admirable character. As much as I can illustrate into this 800 word article: we pioneered republicanism in Asia, we wrote the Noli, we have the happiest Christmas celebrations, our family relationships are the healthiest, our ability to laugh in the face of adversity is unsurpassed [our suicide rate is among the lowest in the world and we've always ranked among the highest in happiness indexes], our food and entertainment are an amalgamation of the world’s best, our effortless creativity and stylishness miles away from most. We produced Flash Elorde, Eugene Torre, HV Dela Costa, Florentino Feliciano, and Bata Reyes.

Sure we have our downside but which country doesn’t? For every accusation of crimes here, other countries would have crackpots shooting up malls or serial killers collecting victims. We have human rights violations? Watch In The Name of the Father or Schindler's List or remember the My Lai Massacre, then ponder the fact that post-colonial Manila never suffered a race riot. We have corruption? Watch Serpico or American Gangster. Our vegetables and fruits no good? Then why the billions on farm subsidies or SPS measures applied by those you know who just to keep their farmers above water. Our politics stupid? Watch The Daily Show. Or Leno. Our politics violent? We’ve never had a presidential candidate or president assassinated, or ethnic cleansing or genocide. [Gender equality is not as big an issue here as in other countries. Women relatively have always had prominent public roles in our society. Unlike some countries, we have no qualms or make a big deal of having a woman as lead news anchor or president] And you have to be deranged to think we’re the only country that has smog, traffic jams, and rude waiters. I can think of one rich country that is actually proud of their rude waiters.

Here’s an interesting Wiki fact that Filipinos need to know:

“The first Austronesian speakers are believed to have originated on the island of Taiwan x x x [From there] settlers landed in northern Luzon in the Philippines. x x x their descendants started to spread south to the rest of the Philippine islands, Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi), northern Borneo, Moluccas (modern-day Maluku), and Java.

The settlers in Moluccas sailed eastward and began to spread to the islands of Melanesia and Micronesia between 1200 B.C. and 500 B.C. respectively. Those that spread westward reached Sumatra, the Malay peninsula and southern Vietnam by 500 B.C.

The oceanic Austronesians had reached Remote Polynesia by 1000 B.C and spread to its three extremities Hawaii by 400 A.D. New Zealand by 1300 A.D. and Easter Island between 300 A.D. In the Indian Ocean they reached Madagascar.”

From the above one can see that it was the Philippines that gave a number of countries the basis for their language and perhaps culture. We gave. From there, to being among the first democracies, Christians, people power advocates, to our overseas managers, workers and nurses, we keep giving to the world and the world keeps on becoming the better for it.

So, be proud of being a Filipino and be proud of your fellow Filipinos. Remember, people get the leaders they deserve. If you want to finally have a leader that will love and work hard for this country, we have to love and work hard for this country first."