Philippine Patriotism: The Absence of Humility

I will write two blogs as follow-up to the article I wrote a few days ago entitled ” A Philippine Ethical Value: Subservience“. This one will deal with the absence of humility in Philippine-style democracy and a subsequent article will deal with aspects of living called “grace, wisdom and confidence”.

I’ve often struggled to discern how patriotism in the Philippines differs from that in the United States. I’ve moved a step closer to clarity on the matter thanks to the noodling I was forced to do to understand why no one in government is championing a woman (Perling Garcia) who is acting for good purposes, preservation of the Philippine ecology. Rather, they are filing libel cases and accusing her of foul deeds. You can skim through that other article to get a sense of this.
As often occurs, I run the risk of offending patriotic Filipinos, some of whom I might refer to as Pacquiao patriots and others who have traveled the world, and still relish coming home. I’m looking for a deep meaning to patriotism. One that is rich and caring, where the reason for being patriotic is not “me”, but “us”, the nation Philippines. For example, people with the kind of patriotism I’m talking about would have no patience for corruption because corruption undermines the nation’s well-being.
When America declared her independence from Great Britain, she was blessed to have a group of well-educated, good-minded people taking charge of the rebel cause and forming it into a new government. Jefferson, Adams, Madison and many others.

Because these intelligent people were smarting from the thuggish, over-bearing, over-taxing authority of the British monarchy, they knew they wanted to give life to  two new ideals: (1) that people matter; that citizens matter. And (2) that to raise your voice in protest is good, not bad. They understood that it is the tension of opposing advocacies, the natural checks and balances that occur during (sometimes  heated) dialogue, that keeps a democracy centered. Stifle the voices, and you have a government that tends toward authoritative extremes.
The Philippines was not blessed with its founding on such ideologically sound terms. The Americans who took over shortly after Aguinaldo declared independence DID NOT EMPLOY American ideals of open expression, but declared opposing thought “subversive” and “treasonous”. And with each new iteration of yet another “independent” Philippine state since them, we have witnessed the same authoritarianism at the top. The same closed-mindedness and defensiveness.
Leaders have been members of the social elite who do not receive opposition kindly. It represents a challenge to their “station”.
Oh, the structure of the government has been democratic, for sure. In its current version, it has a Constitution and the same three branches of government that the U.S. has. It touts the same freedoms, of speech and right of assembly. And boy, does the Philippines bear arms well. Elections are held. The Congress has both a House and a Senate. There are provinces like the U.S. states, each with a governor and set of independent authorities.
It is democracy in action, republic in form.
But not so much democratic in style. In heart.
As the prior article illustrated, the President today, a kind and well-meaning gentleman named Noynoy Aquino, does not appear to grasp the fundamental principle of the Philippines as the PEOPLE’S democracy. He seems to be busy defending his “station” rather than protecting the freedoms that, at least in America, are so cherished.
Oh, he says the right words. “The people are the boss” he said in his 2012 SONA.
But it appears he does not quite grasp what this means.
As with so many leaders of the Philippines since Aguinaldo, missing from the leadership equation is a quality I will term “patriotic humility”.
The Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary defines these important terms thusly:
  • Patriotic. Adj. The quality of being loyal to one’s country.
  • Humility. Noun. An emotional feeling of satisfaction that is gained by relegating well-being of self to a lesser position compared to the well-being of others.
Humility that PRETENDS to favor others is not humility. It is fakery. Deceit. Hubris in disguise.
So what do you see from the nation’s leaders, from the President and the Cabinet and the Congress and the Judiciary?
You see certitude. And exercise of authority.
You rarely see the kind of patriotic humility that puts the state of the nation above the well-being of the leadership of that nation. Leader’s bristle at criticism. Their inclination is to strike out. The State’s decisions are their PERSONAL decisions. To critique a State decision is to criticize them personally.
It erupts in incidents like President Aquino’s caddish criticism of ABS-CBN at the network’s birthday party. Or his spokesman’s defense of the legal act of attacking Ms. Garcia for “Facebook libel”. Or sometimes it occurs among peers, as when Senators Enrile and Trillianes make like fighting chickens and play loose with the term “treason”.
Lost is the humility that says “our nation is great because we NEED our people to be engaged and active and vibrant advocates for things we disagree with”.
No, what we get is oppressive Cybersex Laws that make internet libel a CRIME with double punishment. We get people at each other’s throats, no mercy. Well, if you are among the class of lesser power, that’s a downright dangerous place to be.
Rather than leaders understanding that a vibrant Philippines NEEDS the good thinking that invariably emerges from opposing ideas rubbing against one another, the leadership takes criticism as an affront to honor. Just about any criticism can, with that attitude, becomes grist for the libel mills.
So the most profound freedom of American democracy, the freedom to have ideas or opinions and state them, even if they are wrong, is cherished. In America.
In the Philippines, contrary ideas are condemned or suppressed or ridiculed. Powerful people don’t like them.
The richness of patriotism that comes from knowing that we are all in it together is missing. Because WE ARE NOT all in it together. We are endlessly defending against the angers of others.
Not debating and learning and RESPECTING and growing.
Until the Philippines can master the HEART of democracy, which cherishes each voice, it will be a democracy in form only.
President Aquino appears not to grasp the concept. Nor does Senator Sotto. Some do, I think. Teo “The Fist” Guingona possibly grasps it.
Missing in action is the simple notion that “I matter less than the well-being of the Philippines.” Or the well-being of my province, if I’m a governor. Or the well being of my city, if I’m a mayor.
As long as the emphasis is on authority rather than respect for differences, patriotism in the Philippines will always be a little bit hollow. And shallow.
It takes patriotic humility to allow those who disagree with us to be free to disagree. To be respected for having a different perspective and being willing to share it.
  • When Martin Nevera can sing the Philippine National Anthem in any artistic, expressive style he chooses . . . rather than as the mandated march . . . and not be called before Congress for it, then we will know that enlightenment is arriving.
  • When Perling Garcia can rip the Mayor while complaining about the mining that is cutting into the precious rocks of Cagayan, and be respected for it BY THE MAYOR, then we will know enlightenment is arriving.
  • When the President addresses a press conference on libel laws and starts by making  clear that Freedom of Expression is cherished in the Philippines, and is what makes democracy work, then we will know that enlightenment is arriving.
And when enlightenment comes, and the Filipino people understand what this nation is, a place that cherishes THEM and their ideas, then patriotism will move to a deeper level.
Patriotism will be more deeply felt. And the Philippine “way” will be held more precious.
I’m not seeing a lot of patriotic humility right now. Hubris, yes. Hard-headedness masking for confidence, yes. Fake humility, yes. Words around the issues, but missing the mark, yes. Concern about “station”, yes.
Respect for criticism?
Respect for the principle that free speech keeps a nation free and balanced?
18 Responses to “Philippine Patriotism: The Absence of Humility”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Bull's eye, JoeAm. Hope Pnoy's commgroup read this, chalk this up as "reminder", you guys are not going to be in power forever. So take JoeAm's advice:Be humble, not humbug.DocB

  2. Thanks. It is a simple idea, this notion that argument is good. But hard to grasp by the hyper-sensitive and powerful who fear it puts their power at risk.

  3. Edgar Lores says:

    1. Kapow! That was a hard-hitting one. Which hyperbolic metaphor do you prefer: Dickens on steroids? Or Pacquiao with Einsteinian brain grafts?2. The second thing that strikes me is why did the “Americans who took over shortly after Aguinaldo declared independence DID NOT EMPLOY American ideals of open expression, but declared opposing thought ‘subversive’ and ‘treasonous’…” Why is this so?2.1. Today, the US attempts to export the ideals of democracy, individual rights and freedom of speech to every corner of the globe. Yet the methods it sometimes employs are violative of those ideals. Some of the methods are imposition by armed force, water-boarding, the use of drones, illegal detention (Guantanamo) and government-sponsored assassination.2.2. Is it because illegitimate means must sometimes be used to accomplish legitimate ends?2.3. It seems that every time we analyse an issue, we find that paradox lies at its core. Like in fostering freedom and democracy, freedom in the some form – of, say, political dynasties – must be limited.3. There is a gulf between the concept and the practice of an ideal. As T.S. Eliot enunciates in “The Hollow Men”, “Between the idea / And the reality … / Falls the Shadow”.3.1. I think the President does grasp the concept that the well-being of the people is of supreme primacy but the Mayor of Gonzaga does not.3.2. He may not grasp, as the Mayor of Gonzaga does not and the honourable members of the Senate do not (with one sterling exception), the concept that freedom of speech – and the refinement of ideas that such freedom brings – lies at the heart of democracy.3.3. I keep asking myself, why are people so afraid of words? "Sticks and stones etc, etc, etc".4. Going back to the “The Hollow Men”, there is a verse that starts with “Here we go round the prickly pear…”4.1. All Filipino politicians are either in their infancy or juvenility, and they are all prickly pears. Witness the Enrile / Trillianes showdown. None have developed the ability or wisdom to detach themselves from issues, such that legitimate criticisms of fact are not seen as illegitimate criticisms of Self. All criticisms are ad hominem. There is the widely used term “personalan”or “nagiging personalan” which describes this disability.4.2. As far as I can see, only Robredo preached and practised humility. Possibly Abaya has humility? May their tribe increase. 4.3. The tribe – the Society of Honor – has spoken. So let it be.

  4. 1. Dickens on Kickapoo Joy Juice.2. (a) We all have amazing capacities to rationalize and become hypocrites (your 2.2), and (b) Americans were quite racist at the time; they did not countenance being criticized by their "lessers".3. I agree with 3.1 and 3.2. The answer to 3.3 is that no one teaches us the skills of comprending (a) where others are coming from, and (b) how to dissassociate our personal selves from argument. Many of us are juvenile in that regard. Ignorant. Un-taught. Unskilled. Argumentatively obtuse.4. "Here we go round the prickly pear . . ." That shall become the second tier motto for the Society of Honor.And so it shall be.

  5. Cha says:

    That Lacierda guy needs to go. The President needs someone with expertise who can show him how to and guide him in handling his press conferences. He also needs someone who can help him sell his policies and position on key issues of the day. Lacierda's performance in either role is far from satisfactory.

  6. Coco says:

    This is one of the few colonial states still existing. The colonisers have formally the Filipino nationality now, but their real interest and money is directed elsewhere in the world, all guidance from their mental motherland(s) blatantly accepted. The embryonic struggles for Philippine independence were smothered by bad luck, the Americans first, the Japanese later.The only interest of most colonisers is to generate money as fast as they can, fearing that their reign will not be forever. In a few exceptions, they are paternalistic leaders, believing that they possess the country and that they now best. As they are omnipotent, they are surrounded with subservient lackeys. (read Rizal and understand that nothing is really changed. Is the Society of Honor telling anything new?) The colonized people don’t really mind, read the diary of a Flemish friar on Magellan’s ship, telling that the Indio’s only real interest was roasting a good pig. Also today the nation is something far away for them and they will not interfere with something that is not their business, feeding the pig or roasting it is the real important thing at hand. Sounds pessimistic? Only if you don’t like lechon.

  7. I'm reminded of the way our city does traffic police. It takes guys off the rice farm and says "now you have a job, and this intersection is yours." They are indecisive, try to govern from the shade on the corner, and equate blowing a whistle as giving a driver good instruction. They make the situation worse, more confused. Not better. Seems a lot alike to me.

  8. Wow, what a powerful perspective, that of the dynastic leaders being of a different state, an occupying state, than the rest of the nation. I read Rizal, and hear echoes of my own blogs and writings. Not because I can write like Rizal, but because nothing much has changed in 125 years. The Church, the self-serving powerful, the cheating and corruption and exploitation of the people.Do you think the CHURCH sees that it is the same? Or the Senate? If not, they are extraordinarily stupid. If so, they are manipulative in a very horrendous, sinful way.Nice close. I like lechon, myself, but prefer humba or my wife's menudo.Now I'm hungry . . .

  9. Third choice, they are incompetent, and can't design and implement forthright change. Like, God God Almighty, what does it take to understand the extreme importance of a Freedom of Information bill in a land that is inherently corrupt and operating in dark back rooms?

  10. Coco says:

    I think that the church is getting irrelevant. They never could change the believes in the first place, they could change some rituals, rename some of the spirits guiding us, but nothing more. Similar as in Europe 50 years ago they lose their appeal to most energetic and brightest, they were attracted by foreign (=American) universities and innovative employers. Who wants to become priest those days? Do you like celibacy and male companions or do you want an easy access to authority? Look at the majority of the current bishops. May be the new cardinal is an exception, I have no first or even second hand information. Also as a political institution they are losing ground, they miss the leverage of a believable layer of lay “elders” that can lead by example, the devotion of Arroyo is not really believable. In the Philippines more than 10,000,000 of the most dynamic and brightest are abroad, nothing left for the church to build on.The senate is a mix of opportunist, paternalists, a few started as idealist but got blinded by the limelight and some actors liked the limelight so much that they sought the national visibility of the senate. Most are puppets of the colonial powers (with Filipino nationality). I think that some are clever enough to know this and thus manipulative, others are just too naive or extraordinary stupid as you call it.Indeed, time to eat and then we will feel more optimisitc again. See what hunger can do?

  11. Yes, it makes one really really cranky. So after lunch, I piled on with a huge brownie, and after a slight snooze, I shall soon be cheery and rosy once again. Or at least reclaim a bit of humor.

  12. Absence of patriotism and nationalism among Filipinos is because Filipinos have no meaningful bloody revolution.What I read in the Philippine history textbooks are just skirmishes not Revolution. Betrayals and sell out. Philippine historians are just making the Filipinos feel good that they have had revolution.EDSA Revolution was not revolution. It was fiesta of sidewalk vendors and unemployables of some sort that Marcos misread us Revolution. If Marcos had fired just one howitzer shot, those EDSA Revolutionaries would be cowering away in 60 seconds.

  13. " . . . skirmishes not Revolution . . .Interesting characterization, for sure. I know there was a lot of in-fighting among rebel generals (who really killed Luna?) and arguments between the Manila elite (who wanted close ties to America) and the outliers. America was brutal in putting down the uprisings so did not allow fighting to become cohesive. The revolution certainly had no staying power. Not like Viet Nam's revolt against the French and Americans. I don't think the concept of "one nation" was particularly strong, nor is it today.

  14. andrew lim says:

    Before the age of email, I enjoyed spam for breakfast.I was going to post here something on that landmark ruling in China where a man who discovered his wife had cosmetic surgeries to improve her appearance, but was not told about it, and now complains to the courts that his daughter is ugly because of this. The court agrees with him, grants him divorce and awards him damages. So many angles on this one. False advertising. Privacy rights. Grounds for divorce. Bioethics. We'll have a feast on this.But I saw the next topic is on insults, so I will reserve it for that. This is not spam!

  15. andrew lim says:

    previous post should be in the latest topic, not here.

  16. Ah, Spam the canned meat remains a regular on my breakfast menu.That China case is wonderful. It shows the absurdity of humans and, within, the Chinese. They are better at finding excuses than Philippine senators.Insults are generally not spam. They are facts with a twist, kinda like daggers work.

  17. Attila says:

    I think some Filipinos may be embarrassed or even demoralized by the example of some of their own heroes. After I read about Aguinaldo I was surprised to learn how he switched sides back and forth and even supported the Japanese. I asked my Filipina wife to read about him. She was in disbelief that a person like him ended up as a national hero.

  18. He also enriched himself off the people. But he is symbolic, rather like the Alamo in the United States, a battle that was lost, but remains to this day a symbol of courage. Aguinaldo is a symbol of independence. People just scrub off the tarnish and use it. It is also why Rizal is generally held in such high esteem. He symbolized the desire for independence and freedom and fair treatment, and generally lived it properly. Bit of a womanizer I fear, but hey, I don't hold that against anybody . . .

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