The Philippines: A Return to Eden

The real tree of knowledge?

I was described as a demagogue recently for defending, not the minesweeper that crashed into a cherished reef, but the notion that it is best to await for information before declaring people guilty of lawbreaking or arrogance. Well, I suppose my running to the defense of America is a function of my cultural past, just as Filipinos running so easily to the term “arrogance” is a reflection of the Filipino cultural past.

National Level

The trick in bringing two very different cultures together, for mutual interest, is one part introspection and one part constructive acts.
The US could do more to build a good alliance with the Philippines by looking at the mirror and saying, “yeah, wow, we were pretty insensitive to Philippine interests as we pursued what we thought was right.” And the action follow-up might be to clean up Subic and Clark, and have President Obama visit the Philippines.
And the Philippines can do this by looking in the mirror and saying, “yeah, wow, that is pretty cool that American servicemen would die on our behalf, and we ought not blame them for past American misdeeds.” And the action follow-up might be to grant an award to the American Secretary of Defense to express appreciation for the training and partnership that exists between the two nations at the military level, and have President Aquino visit the States to make a few speeches extolling the high value Filipinos place in American friendship.
If both sides can take those acts forthrightly and without reservation, there is hope for a constructive alliance. Anything short of that assures and enduring, bickering animosity. It’s rather the distinction between a good marriage and a bad one, is it not? The level of commitment and ability to forgive?
Personal Level
I have gone through a passage during the past year. A passage is a phase of life that is very distinct, like child-hood or teen-age years or marriage or military fighting or serious illness or dealing with the death of someone dear.
The passage, I think, is one that is very rare for an outsider, judging from the views I read from Americans or Europeans.
Our natural inclination upon arrival in the Philippines, as we are driven by our cultural bindings, is to see all the shortcomings of the Philippines, and Filipinos, in the light of OUR BETTER WAY OF DOING THINGS.
What we fail to recognize is the error of that highlighted statement. That the judgment is wrong for being a judgment. Western standards do not apply. The Philippines is a different place, a different history, a different now. Philippine acts should be judged only through the looking glass of Philippine culture and history. Judgments of right or wrong by Western standards are irrelevant, other than what Filipinos choose to take from them.
Source of photos:

Here is the parallel thinking that led me to this conclusion.

In publishing blogs on this site, and in accepting open comments, I have on occasion written about the idea that dissenting views are welcome. But I have only recently come to realize it is not just the welcoming of dissent that is important. It is doubly important to RESPECT the dissent and the dissenter. It is important to understand that each contributor comes to the blog with a very unique history. That’s hard to grasp. But extraordinarily important.

And, frankly, respect is almost impossible to get to if a contributor is smack-down blunt or descends to name calling. But it is possible to arrive at respect for almost all views if the dissent is expressed in terms of issue rather than personality. If we can remind ourselves to accept the legitimacy of a different life’s history, and a different life’s view.

In finding respect for dissent and the dissenter, the mind opens wide. It is absolutely the best condition for learning.
That is true for cultural crossovers as well.
And, indeed, we outsiders generally go about with our minds sealed shut by our cultural biases. By our cultural misconceptions.By the artifices, the fictions we make up in our mind.
My personal passage this past year has been the discovery that the Philippines is extraordinarily rich. Rich with history, with passion, with heart, with hang-ups, with achievements, with dysfunction, with smiles, with anger, with good intent, with vengeance, with swagger, with tears, with labor, with sacrifice, with capability, with insensitivity, with heart. With soul.
This is not a drive through the suburbs of America, oh, no. Nor should it be. A bamboo hut built by hand from scraps, where people live real time, is more authentic than a carbon copy house built to fit someone else’s idea of stylish and where people live mainly to gain the approval of others.
This is not a drive across the plains or through the mountain ranges of America. Nor should it be. It is a bone-jolting drive over potholes somehow related to the Grand Canyon, or a hike through snake infested jungles with more bugs per square meter than anywhere on the planet.
Ahhh, but then I step into my backyard at night and see a swarm of those bugs, fireflies, about 300 strong hovering about one tree, and realize the bugs here are precious. And the snakes are precious, even the cobra that killed my German Sheppard dog. For this place is one-of-a-kind, Spanish-American-Native Asia, so ecologically rich that no one can possible categorize all the species of creature inhabiting the place. Where there really is no Filipino “race” because it is so plastered with cross fertilization that everyone is here.
The Philippines may lead the world in that regard. Everyman is here, and everywoman. If Adam and Eve populated the planet, and it divided into disparate tribes that fought and bled and grew apart, then these peoples all merged, and grew back together again in the Philippines. The Philippines is, in its own distinct way, a return to Eden.
So this past year, I stopped couching every comparison in terms of “what I can do for the Philippines” and started looking around at “what the Philippines is doing for me”. I owe this new perspective mainly to manuelbuencamino at Pro-Pinoy and Edgar Lores, here at the Society. “MB” would not let me get away with my cultural biases and Edgar taught me the depth of the Filipino mind and the richness of the Filipino soul, which may be anywhere on the planet but forever seeks its own kind of peace, not in Australia, but back home. Other contributors also chipped relentlessly away at my misconceptions.
With my need to lecture set aside and my mind opened by newfound respect, I was amazed at what I found. I found a President who is just like Robredo, only I fear that it will be only upon his passing that Filipinos will recognize it. I found professionals working hard to build this nation independently, without need of excuse or handout from America or self-condemnation, such as that you read at Get Real.
And as America has her dysfunctional congressmen, the extremists of either direction elected by special interests, so the Philippines has her Enrile and Sotto and dynastic barons, elected by special interests. But the great leveler, the great revealer, has arrived in the Philippines. It has cut mass media, that star- gazed batch of journalists of weak professional principle, owned by land barons, out of the picture.  Social media have modernized the Philippines and helped President Aquino remove corrupt politicians from the cigar-smoked back rooms and get them into the light of responsible oversight.
Enrile is naked now. It is not a pretty sight. It is almost sad. And Corona is gone. And Arroyo is cooling her heels in a clink of some better class than most.It is somewhat strange, given the power of social media to call out injustice, that President Aquino would back an internet libel provision that would surely suppress whistle-blowing expression.
As I drive the rough and twisty roads of the Philippines, the roads that are always too narrow and too cluttered with stray dogs and clattering vehicles held together by a fine coat of determined rust, I find myself at extraordinary peace. I could watch those green mountains all day, and sometimes I do. I could smile across those blue or gray seas all day, and sometimes I do. I can hike the city streets, always aware of eaves and signs prepared to whack my head as well as holes prepared to break my leg, always aware that people are watching with some amusement and curiosity as a tall white dude ambles along, and I think to myself that this is really a very, very good place to be.
It is genuine in the Philippines.
One can grow rich, of character, in the Philippines.
6 Responses to “The Philippines: A Return to Eden”
  1. JosephIvo says:

    Nobody could express my feelings better… I would give a fortune for the one who can explain me this mysterious force here that can drive us back to Eden. The sun is shining so brightly and my coffee tastes so well!

  2. Ah, see, you nailed it in one line. I have to chuckle because I horde the Siete Baracos "Black Gold" coffee, a blend of Batangas Barako and Arabica beans, when it comes available in the Tacloban Robinson's supermarket. It is a budget buster but ohhh so fine.

  3. Ella Tovara says:

    Another thing thast makes the Philippines unique is the ready smile of the people, even when they are in the midst of floods and other disasters, they always find time to smile to somebody or make a joke about something.

  4. Ah, so right! I'm sorry I missed capturing that, because it is the amusement that is everywhere that takes down the edginess of dealing with traffic or poverty or, as you point out, disasters. I've not been to another place with that kind of open easiness.

  5. Attila says:

    It reminds me a scene in the movie called Amigo with Joel Torre. The Spanish friar who was previously imprisoned by the revolutionaries tells to an American lieutenant that the Filipinos are very clever people, always smiling but never forget what lies behind their smile.

  6. Ahahaha, well, Attila, I always appreciate your balancing presence here. Yes, one does walk with wariness as well as amusement.

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