Believing in the Philippines


Senator Young?

What do YOU want for the Philippines?

I read a lot of commentary hereabouts, blogs and comment threads, investigative articles, opinion columns, and news reports shaded with a point of view. There is a strong current of anger to a lot of it, of cynical mistrust of Philippine leaders, of exasperation with Philippine society, and with what has become a rather widespread hunt for people to blame. There is also a lot of criticism devoid of solution.

The debate stage seems to be filled with people arguing black or white, and that contributes to the angers. Those with opposing views may be country-mates, but in debate they are enemies. There are seldom shadings of colors to the arguments. Seldom concessions that “I may be wrong” or “I need more information to draw an informed conclusion”. Given any issue, people are either sharply for it or sharply against it. And it is either “you are with me” or “you are against me”.

Discovery is not on the agenda.

Defense is.

Filipinos take it personally

Debates too often become personal. Participants are drawn away from the issues and take the view that anyone who has a different opinion is intentionally trying to insult me, trying to show me up.

You may think it odd, but I think this penchant for personal involvement in arguments also motivates the cheering and voting for boxers, singers, contest winners and popular people who seem to us rather like brothers and sisters. You see, it is my contention that Filipinos take POSITIVE things personally, too.

And that’s a mistake.

Don’t misunderstand. Take Miss World, Megan Young, featured in the cover photo. She’s great, and great for the image of the Philippines. She WORKED to win her title, through modeling, through numerous beauty contests, by working out, by studying and becoming both smart and poised. She deserves nothing but praise. Smart. Beautiful. Skilled at what she does.

But I don’t want her as my congressman. At least not without a lot more training in law-making and a good deal of practical experience at leading, managing and making decisions.

Unrestrained adoration of public figures is as dysfunctional as taking counter-arguments as personal insult. When we vote for popular people, our vote is emotional, not intellectual. We feel close to these people. They are our family. Would you vote against your sister?

Somehow, we need to get past that blind devotion:

  • We need to get past taking issues personally.
  • We need to get past voting from the heart.
  • We need to get past taking an opposing view as insult.

Frankly, we need to think better. And I am rather convinced that if we learn to do that, we will find that the Philippines is a lot better place than we give it credit for being. When we pare away the negativity and the cheerleading and just look at what is going on, we will see that the Philippines is a pretty regular place, emerging from a period of turmoil, confusion, and inability to act as a unified nation. But today a pretty regular place.

And most of its leaders are regular people, too. With personality, yes. EVERYONE has leaders with personality.

If a person is fundamentally honest, fundamentally earnest, and fundamentally straight with us, we ought to learn to respect his thinking. We can disagree with it, sure. There are legitimate reasons to disagree: (1) we have better facts, or (2) we have better logic, or (3) we estimate that our guess is better than his guess (our assessment of probabilities of outcomes).

These have nothing to do with an individual’s personal character or motive. They are matters of information. Discussing them ought not be insult given, or insult taken.

We might also bear in mind that:

Certainty is for the dead, not the living.

So unless we are intellectually and emotionally dead, we ought to be a little less certain about things. Maybe OTHERS are the ones with the better case. The better information.

It will be a healthier, more productive place if we dump the negativity and find the earnest good will that resides in most people.

Certainly, it resides in President Aquino, but that often gets lost in the noise and criticisms.

Nationalism, patriotism, sovereignty

This theme of being more supportive of people who might think or do things differently than us carries over into how we look at the Philippines.

The distinction between nationalism and patriotism entered a blog discussion a couple of threads ago. Contributors Cha and Andrew Lim were batting it about.

Here are three related definitions drawn directly from

  • nationalism [nash-uh-nl-iz-uh m] noun 1. spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation. 2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own country; patriotism. 3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism. 4. the desire for national advancement or political independence. 5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.
  • patriotism [pey-tree-uh-tiz-uh m or, esp. British, pa-] noun. 1. devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.
  • sovereignty [sov-rin-tee, suhv-]  noun 1. the quality or state of being sovereign. 2. the status, dominion, power, or authority of a sovereign; royalty. 3. supreme and independent power or authority in government as possessed or claimed by a state or community. 4. rightful status, independence, or prerogative. 5.a sovereign state, community or political unit.

These definitions reflect the overlapping use of the words in common discussions. How would Humpty Dumpty distinguish between the qualities to end the confusion? Here is what we find in the Humpty Dumpty New World Dictionary, Quibbler Edition:

  • nationalism: belief that one’s nation is more important than other nations
  • patriotism: love of nation and sacrifice for its growth and safety
  • sovereignty: legal independence of nation and self-contained authority

We can clearly see nationalism in the Philippines. We also see the first part of patriotism (love) but not much of the second (sacrifice). We hear of sovereignty any time another nation treads into Philippine interests in pursuit of their own.


It seems to me that most Filipinos expect the Philippines to pursue Philippine interests yet they have no patience for other nations that pursue their own self-interests. That, to me, is a kind of irrational, self-absorbed nationalism. But it does fit the definition, I suppose.

And it become an insult if another nation does something that Filipinos perceive may not be in Philippine best interests. Like the nerve of President Obama cancelling his Philippine visit. Seem familiar, this personalizing of things?  The ease of insult? Leftists are insulted by most everything a foreigner does. Or anything President Aquino does, come to think about it. I guess Bayan Muna is an equal opportunity insultee.

Negative, negative, negative.

Well, to dig out of this pit of negativity, to understand other nations, and to listen well to what those who disagree say, we must be ready to sacrifice our own mental constructs for a moment. Our own self-involvement. Set them aside. Then reconsider them in light of what the other nation . . . or person . . . says.

That is nationalism with integrity. It is different, healthier, than nationalism based on blind devotion to limited information, rumor, propaganda or insecurity.


Filipinos love their nation, without question. But I’m not so certain about their willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of the Philippines. It takes discipline and honesty to choose not to be corrupt when society rewards corruption. Or to stick to the positive when everyone around is finger-pointing and grousing. Or to respect other nations who are thinking in their own interest, first.

It is parallel to the personal case. The personalizing of arguments also seems to reflect a lack of sacrifice. It takes sacrifice to listen to an opposing view with defenses down, and respect that the person is being straight with us. It takes sacrifice to grasp where another nation is coming from, and accept that it’s interests are usually legitimate, to its people.

Patriotism is an act of GIVING as much as it is an act of taking.


Independence and authority. How can we be independent if we can’t stand apart from others, when we instead react personally to everything they do. How can we project authority if we are so wrapped up in winning and losing, and a sense of face, that we cannot look at a decision based on facts and dispassionate argument? Authority does not mean power, or the Chinese method of thuggish intimidation. Authority means projecting intelligence and good sense.

Our personal case is again parallel. Living from the heart,  personalizing issues, cuddling and coddling of famous people – – – that is a huge trap we have to get away from. We are not independent if we must surround ourselves with cheerleaders.

This is neediness – the opposite of independence and authority – and it is ultimately what risks making us a nation of angry and dissatisfied citizens, of crabby, complaining bloggers and negative journalists who go for the juicy headlines that tear the nation down.

It makes us small people.

Believing in the Philippines

The Philippines is a wonderful place. A great nation rich with history and character and people who are as genuine as they are complex. And the nation is on the rise, thanks largely to OFW’s and President Aquino. And thanks to those oft-slandered rich people at the top, the large corporate owners who choose to make the big investments in malls and roads and farms and energy and ports.

The climb in various global rankings, the improved debt ratings, improved competitiveness, reduced corruption, rising tourism numbers, the booming Manila call center and real estate businesses . . . the good times really are here. The task ahead is to manage it well.

How can we appreciate this, enjoy this, if we behave as small people? Isn’t it better to be a great people of patriotic wisdom and willingness to sacrifice a little of ourselves for the well-being of community? To build a community that respects disagreement and diversity? To build an individual character that embraces people who are earnest and good who might take a different choice than we might take?

Or will we insist on nit-picking their every move if it is different than what we would have done?

When we are confident in the “larger nation”, the whole of us, we will find it in our best interest to point out mistakes, but not raise them all to headline status, as do many in the press. Not paint the entire nation as dysfunctional because one aspect of our complex, active, vibrant nation went bad.

And when we believe the Philippines is on a rewarding path, we will likely find that we have less need to judge other nations critically because they are not operating with the Philippines first in THEIR minds. Our national neediness will ebb.

Let me restate the path the Philippines is on:.

  • OFW’s provide a large, stable flow of income that other nations cannot match.
  • Corruption is on the way out. It is a 20-year project.
  • Infrastructure is being upgraded with major investments in roads, airports, trains, ports and transportation.
  • Tourism, casinos, hotels, beaches, retail, transportation. All upward bound.
  • Call centers and construction, upward bound. A real middle class is developing in Manila.
  • Foreign investment, upward bound. Trade, upward bound.
  • Agribusiness getting its act together, pulled up by a hungry planet.
  • The seeds of manufacturing being planted, a lot from Japan.
  • Funding of human services – health, education, welfare – upward bound.
  • Resolving centuries-old Muslim disenfranchisement.
  • Standing up to China in pursuit of a peaceful, law-bound solution to disputed seas.
  • A vibrant, healthy democratic process with checks and balances working as designed.

Now if you can’t go down this list and feel proud, and willing to sacrifice, and feel absolutely sure that this nation is a nation, and is standing on its own. . .

Well, there’s not much I can do for you.

Sorry ’bout that.

25 Responses to “Believing in the Philippines”
  1. ikalwewe says:

    Ad hominem, probably the most common fallacy.
    The Philippines is a young nation,we don’t have much experience in self rule as a whole nation. We’re still learning! Hopefully this learning doesn’t take forever. I read somewhere someone surmise that at the going rate, it’ll take another 100 years for the Philippines to ‘catch up’ to other nations. If we also believe studies, sea level will have risen at least 1meter by then and much of the country’s cities as coastal towns will be under water. Let’s get our act together now.

    • Joe America says:

      When I first arrived in the Philippines in 2005, I pegged the Philippines as being about 50 years behind modern social values, technology, and economic productivity. Today I peg it at about 25 years and shrinking. So I think the learning curve is sharp and figure it will be 15 to 20 years to be substantially caught up.

      The Australian mapping project is a tool communities can use to get caught up, and ahead of, the global warming game. That this tool is available now is encouraging. (Note to self: add link to library)

      • ikalwewe says:

        It’s a good thing that you are optimistic about it. I have faith things will get better – which is why I bought a property over there and intend to keep buying more. It’s in my best interest to have a progressive Philippines within my lifetime. But it’s not only me, it’s us as a whole nation. We have something greater at stake here, not just pride and glory, but our country literally being wiped off the map. Thanks for the link.

  2. JoeAm champions: “Filipinos take it personally.”

    You just nailed it again. I think we need to pool money so that we could put up a billboard along EDSA that that says: “Pinoys, don’t take debates and arguments personally.”

    Some Pinoys, including those highly-educated politicians, believe that defending their arguments is a matter of life and death, of dignity and honor. Irritatingly, It’s about preserving an image for the next election, I guess, and not thinking about solutions.

  3. Joseph-Ivo says:

    In a related article explaining the water hose and snake fear, my newspaper explained new research finding that malnutrition during childhood influences emotionality. Scientist compared brain MRI’s of adults that were well nourished and stress free in their childhood and others that were not. They found a remarkable difference in some areas of the “slow” frontal brain, the same areas that suppress the “fast” emotional impulses of the amygdala, on “old” central part of the brain. An immediate emotional response is to be expected of the first group while the second will have more second thoughts as “is the true”, ”are their alternatives”…

    Poverty and one sided nutrition, with a lot of rice and little vegetables might explain some of the more emotional Philippine culture of taking thing personally, an emotional reaction. Another part might be some inherited temperament of the Spaniards. The catholic religion is more emotional too, candles, insincere and over-decorated churches, Protestants are more rational, cold white and undecorated churches, only the Word of the bible.

    • Joe America says:

      Cultural psychology crossing over into physiology must be a fascinating field. The Latin temperament, the MIddle Eastern logic system, the Germanic order.

      Geert-Hofstede says cultures don’t change much over the years. So I suppose the trick is to make sure the cultural proclivities are productive and not dysfunctional. That will be a bit of a challenge in the seemingly ever-bickering Philippines.

    • pussyfooter says:

      in sum–risking oversimplifying and as only one way to put it, among many–poverty impairs development of the prefrontal cortex. I wouldn’t go so far as to label it “Protestants = rational, Catholic = irrational”; there are many processes that factor in. also, how exactly would you propose the “temperament of the Spaniards” to have been “inherited”? because if we’re talking genetics, it may be safe to say there are too few people of Spanish descent in the Philippines to dominate the culture as much as we see.

    • Budi sonata says:

      The Philippines desperately needs population control. Governments can only do so much in terms of providing jobs with living wages and providing safety nets for the poor. The two poorest countries in Southeast Asia are the Philippines and Indonesia and what they have in common are large populations. Too many people Is simply unsustainable no matter how much others bleat that the poor have very low consumption footprints. Whether rich or poor a large population still need to be fed, provided with the basics like education, shelter, water, clothing. And Mother Earth is running out of resources while Climate change is accelerating. Take Egypt, a country with a high population projected to increase and they are running out of water and arable land for farming. The source of the river Nile, Ethiopia are constructing dams for irrigation as their population is set to double. This will deprive Egypt of one of their most important resource in an arid land, water. I see the same scenario for the Philippines because we are one of the top ten countries going to be seriously affected by climate change. We have very limited land and along with HongKong have one of the most expensive real estate in the world. How are we going to feed a burgeoning population?

  4. Joseph-Ivo says:

    Of topic, a nice NYT article on the South China sea. China’s being pro-active, planning with the end in mind. The Philippines more easy going, tenacious even without means.

    • Joe America says:

      Well, actually the article is very ON topic. The guys camping out on a rusty boat to stake out their nation’s territory. THAT is the kind of sacrifice we all need a little of, I think.

      Thanks for the link. A visually striking profile of Filipino commitment to cause.

  5. pussyfooter says:

    Thanks for this post. It’s true and serves as an important reminder for me and others. 🙂

    “OFW’s provide a large, stable flow of income that other nations cannot match.
    Corruption is on the way out. It is a 20-year project.
    Infrastructure is being upgraded with major investments in roads, airports, trains, ports and transportation.
    Tourism, casinos, hotels, beaches, retail, transportation. All upward bound.
    Call centers and construction, upward bound. A real middle class is developing in Manila.
    Foreign investment, upward bound. Trade, upward bound.
    Agribusiness getting its act together, pulled up by a hungry planet.
    The seeds of manufacturing being planted, a lot from Japan.
    Funding of human services – health, education, welfare – upward bound.
    Resolving centuries-old Muslim disenfranchisement.
    Standing up to China in pursuit of a peaceful, law-bound solution to disputed seas.
    A vibrant, healthy democratic process with checks and balances working as designed.”

    Maybe it’s the Pinoy thing to doubt rather than to dare, but I really hope your optimism is well founded. Me I unfortunately keep seeing, say, the unlikelihood of corruption being truly combated given our apparent political choices come 2016 (Binay vs. Pacquiao vs. Marcos?), and how advertising and marketing tends to far outstrip actual quality of services rendered, in terms of tourism–unless the place is run by an MNC. I also keep wondering how industry will continue to fare given our labor laws (was it here or somewhere else that somebody criticized our labor laws as self-defeating?).

    I appreciate your appreciation (hehe sorry couldn’t resist) of our “vibrant, healthy democratic process”, but I can’t help resenting the fact that there are too many voters too ill equipped to make good on those processes. Hello, Erap as No. 2 for President in 2010.

    I must also keep in mind, though, that this country just started its formal independence about 70 years ago, after a horrific 400+ years of hugely conflicting imperialist brainwashing, so there will always be growing pains. And un/fortunately we’re right smack in the middle of that process. We’re putting in the needed hard work in the nitty gritty–well, some of us anyway 😉 –for outcomes we hope will be positive but will materialize long after we’re dead and gone.

    At the same time, I can’t really blame those who go abroad to be better people (as opposed to those who go abroad to be just the same shitty people, just in better-run countries). I expect it’s no more deserving of condemnation than anybody who migrates from a backward small town in the boonies to the city, hoping to actualize their potentials more fully.

    Sometimes when I see things from foreigners’ perspectives though, I realize there are certain things to appreciate about our culture after all. For example, we’re sexist and machismo-addicted and shallow, but we generally and even officially maintain a respect for females that other societies don’t. (It’s our failure to follow up on official lines that’s the problem.) Also, for the minority (and possibly no less or more a minority than in other countries), there are genuine values such as hard work, integrity, helpfulness, open-heartedness. Good Pinoys are hard to find, but they’re there.

    • Joe America says:

      Well, for me, your last paragraph nails the point I’m making. The Philippines has its peculiar strengths and its peculiar weaknesses, and is, on balance, just a “regular” nation doing its dynamic thing. Certainly, the US has sunk into a morass of carping and anger and ineffectiveness. I think the speed of information these days contributes to this, because we get bits and pieces flying at us and judge before the entire case has been made. Sometimes that case takes months, but we want to judge NOW.

      Indeed voter education in the Philippines is a flaw in the electoral ointment. I wrote a comment elsewhere earlier today that the Philippines has a good democracy, with certain rules to promote fairness. But the culture of politics will push those rules to the limit. In the US, it is big corporate donations (legal). In the Philippines, in is vote-buying (illegal but not enforced). Politicians will go where they want to win, even if it means not passing laws that would benefit the state (FOI). It’s good to keep the cynicism, but also the recognition that there is no purity of government anywhere.

      • pussyfooter says:

        True. Although one might say that’s another frustrating cultural norm here–the unrealistic, impractical insistence on, frankly, unattainable purity/perfection. I’d say that adding to the overall cynicism though is the fact that we can see other countries literally already developed. It’s bad enough that we’re still in the very slow process, but as a non-individualist people it totally stresses us out that we can compare ourselves with other nations and find ourselves lacking 😉 It’s like intercultural Facebook, with all the judgment and self-comparison and insecurity that brings on.

        Oh and re good people–case in point might be those 8 Pinoy soldiers holding the fort in the Spratlys as wonderfully written up in that gorgeous NYT piece. We’re still fumbling with empowerment, but disempowerment we tend to do very well at. Probably being used to it and all.

        • Joe America says:

          Don’t know why your remarks wandered into the spam bucket. I apologize on behalf of the Spam Patrol.

          Yes, I found the NYT article uplifting. I like to camp, and I like to snorkel, but . . . big Chinese boats over there tend to destroy the ambiance.

          Short term reactive thinking doesn’t move the country ahead. Even educators appear not to get it, and there resides the discouragement we attempt to offset with wild irrational optimism. 🙂

          • pussyfooter says:

            Haha I was wondering why my comment kept disappearing. I kept reposting it too, so sorry if that messed up anything! Haha.

            I agree, education really doesn’t seem to be doing what it should in that respect. I’m not sure exactly why at even the best institutions here. Incidentally, I’ve had a couple of American classmates in my postgrad classes recently. At least one of them expressed impatience with how by-the-book the lectures were (i.e. nothing in the lecture that wasn’t in the prescribed textbook) and it was an interesting change of perspective for me. I mean, I liked that I didn’t have to actually pay much attention during class (ehehe), but yes, maybe there are some concrete things our schools should be doing in order to push innovation forward. Then again, in this culture that really tends to smother anyone threatening the status quo–unless they have money to protect and insulate them–maybe there really is only so much even the schools can do.

          • Joe America says:

            ” . . . in this culture that really tends to smother anyone threatening the status quo . . . Interesting that you would mention this. I’m working on next Wednesday’s blog about the hierarchical Philippine culture, and it is the relentless smothering that keeps people in their proper order. Be sure to read that one. I’d welcome your insight as to if I see things right or not.

  6. “Filipinos take it personally”, very true (and I sometimes am guilty of it but it wouldn’t go past voting for Manny Pacquiao). This is probably one major reason why many want to bring down the president. I observed that many of those who want to bring him down and who blind themselves to anything positive that he has done are those who passionately voted for his opponent in the presidential elections. It is difficult for me to grasp when I see educated and reasonable people actually believing those columnists saying that the president was with Napoles at a certain time when there is empirical evidence that shows he was not. The only reason I could come up with it that they took it very personally when their ‘intelligent’ and good looking candidate lost. I do wish an academician or a psychologist makes a study on this phenomenon.

    • Joe America says:

      Hi, Adrian, good to see that you get around in the blogging community. 🙂

      That their “intelligent and good looking candidate lost”, ahahahaha. I’m thinking Teodoro not Gordon. I’ll be writing about this more on Wednesday, the negativity that comes from always having to define winners and losers in order to raise oneself up over other people. I do see the failure to support the President (unable to look past what we might consider mistakes and keep a broader perspective) makes for a weaker Philippines. It’s like, where is our patriotic sacrifice and dedication to what he is doing for the Philippines, overall???

      • pussyfooter says:

        “where is our patriotic sacrifice and dedication to what he is doing for the Philippines, overall?”

        unfortunately (as I’m sure you’ve already noticed), there generally seems precious little sense of patriotism in these parts. a little more probing and you find not uncommon lamentations for the lack of a sense of nation altogether. by contrast, the little parochial circles of family, friends, relatives, and schoolmates (and fraternities, where applicable) are very strong.

        presumably it is primarily our education system’s failure for not having drilled the myth of nationhood properly into children’s brains. for example, (off the top of my head) we are presumably less ethnically diverse than in the US, but we haven’t got half the sense of “God Bless America” that seems to be so effectively taught there. do correct me if i’m wrong on that though.

        • Joe America says:

          It’s a very interesting subject. Filipinos do feel love of nation, I believe. I get that at the mall when people stand respectfully during the national anthem before the doors are opened. What seems to be missing is a willing sacrifice to get outside oneself to BUILD nation. The sacrifice part. Not courage. Filipinos are courageous and face hardship with a smile. But the “give” that is stated in the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated. It just isn’t there for some reason, in an active way. Everyone leaves it to someone else, then criticizes when a mistake is made.

  7. Randy C says:

    I wonder about the income from the OFW’s. I know the Philippines economy relies heavily on it, but that income fluctuates with currencies, in addition to the fact that most I know don’t really send that much.

    It seems to me that for the Philippines to ever really become viable that it needs to develop and keep its talent here, not send them overseas to do domestic work so they can send money back to raise the children they left behind.

    I’ve read that the Philippines currently has the youngest average age in the world. The goal of most of these hong people seems to be to get a job outside of the Philippines. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t see that improving or growing the country.

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