The Filipinos’ sense of country

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RETIREMENT makes one more conscious of his own country. No longer burdened by the cares and pressures of office, one is better able to observe and reflect on the affairs of his country and their conduct by its leaders and people.

And when as in my case, one retired from a career in the foreign service which took him to various countries, he is acutely more aware by a process of comparison what it is that we, the Filipino people, lack and  can learn from the experiences of more successful countries.

What seems to me  to be critically missing among Filipinos is nationalism or a sense of country. I have realized this from just  observing how Filipinos and other peoples sing their national anthems.

We cannot even wear our nationalism on our sleeves. I went to the mall to watch a movie recently. When the national anthem was played, the moviegoers could hardly stand erect. I could not believe that I was the only one mumbling the lyrics of our anthem with my right hand placed on my left breast.


This is a far cry from the way people of the countries where I served and often visited as a diplomat sing their anthems. In Hungary, a former communist country, my wife and I made it a point to attend the Sunday Mass at the ornate Catholic church in downtown Budapest. The end of the Mass was always accentuated by the singing of the Hungarian national anthem. We would be simply overwhelmed by the fervor with which the churchgoers sang their national  anthem. So it was, so it is  with the South Koreans and the Japanese.

The singing of the Philippine national anthem in malls was started in 2004 by then Mayor of Manila Lito Atienza, with the objective of inculcating nationalism among mallgoers. Atienza was obviously acting on the wrong premise. Nationalism cannot be forced upon anybody by executive order or legislation. It comes naturally from the heart. It is an emotion or feeling that needs no inducement.

For that matter, the economic success of countries does not appear to be dependent on the form of government they adopt or even on the natural resources that they have. What is more germane is how the form of government adopted is able to draw out from the population sense of country.  What is more germane is how the sense of country allows the country to progress making wise use of its natural resources or progress nonetheless despite their shortage or absence.

The emergence of several of our neighbors from underdevelopment has been widely attributed to those countries having been, at least during their transformation  period. under an authoritarian leadership. This notion of course ignores the fact that countries could and do progress under democratic, libertarian dispensations. The outstanding example in our vicinity is the recovery of Japan under its postwar democratic Constitution.

Anyway, as everybody knows, the authoritarian model was followed in the Philippines under President Marcos with ultimately disastrous consequences. The failure of authoritarianism in the Philippines manifests the element that the Marcos experiment lacked and that was clearly  at the core of the successful leadership of Lee Kuan Yew. Until his death the people trusted his leadership to be totally dedicated to the good of their city-state.

The search for a redemptive form of government continues in the Philippines. A shift to a parliamentary system, for instance, has found many advocates who point out that Asia’s economic tigers have parliamentary governments. We have to look at such proposals and their proponents more deeply. We certainly must judge them by the measure of sense of country.

It seems to me that the then president of the Catholic Bishops Conference Archbishop Angel Lagdameo hit the nail on the head when at the Prayer Rally at the Luneta in 2007 he called for “educative and moral change in all of us” instead of Charter change. He said there should be a “reform of morals, renewal of values in all of us so that our country could be on the road to change.”

I  was envoy to Seoul from 1999 until my retirement in 2003 and saw how nationalism contributed to South Korea’s economic growth and dynamism. During the financial crisis of 1997, South Koreans spontaneously demonstrated their nationalism by donating gold, jewelry, money, and various items in kind to help their country overcome the crisis.

Japan which spearheaded the so-called “flying geese”  formation of economic achievers in Asia  relied on the values, attitudes and behavioral patterns of its people to recover from World War II and then emerge as the second greatest economic power in the world. At a certain point in their education, those virtues are inculcated in the Japanese. They are taught that humility, modesty and group consciousness are necessary so that there will be harmony in life. During my several visits to Japan, I observed that the Japanese attach great importance to two words namely, One, “GIRI” the obligation to keep one’s name and reputation unsullied because honor commands respect, and, Two, “SHINYO” trust generated by sincere behavior.

A Senate study in 1987 revealed that extreme personalism was our foremost weakness. This must be extreme enough  that it has been obvious to foreigners.

American journalist James Fallow described the Philippines as having a “damaged culture” afflicted as we are by extreme personalism, quarrelsome behavior and attitudinal problems.

A Korean who has lived and worked in the Philippines has expressed his admiration for the kindness, good nature, and friendliness of the Filipinos and the beauty of the country. His only regret is that “Filipinos do not love their country.”  He is absolutely right. If we love our country, we should be like Japan or Korea.

When he assumed the presidency in 2010, Benigno S. Aquino 3rd unveiled a program of government seeking a sea change in the cultural as well as political orientation of our people. He vowed to lead us on a “straight path” and eradicate corruption because “if there are no corrupt people, there would be no poor people.’’ Indeed corruption in government and society is antithetical to love of country and is at the bottom of the country’s  stagnation and backwardness.

Has President Aquino chalked up  some success in promoting good governance and curtailing corruption. It remains to be seen how much leadership by example or transformational leadership will have amounted to in terms of cultural and social change.

The “straight path” hangs in the balance in the coming elections. Accusations and allegations of corruption instead of being rebutted are being blamed on politics and answered by libel suits. Glowing promises for a better life are being bandied about without indicating how this could be achieved. A common wager is that  populist and patronage politics will as usual prevail.  The end of political dynasties is nowhere in sight.

Frank Zappa has aptly said, “Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible.” Come May 2016, I will join those willing to storm the heavens for a deus ex machina that will prevent our country from going back to square one.

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5 Comments

  1. I have lived in the Philippines for 8 y s and married Filipino–They are such a wonderful people..They extend true hospitality ..They by and large; show respect to their elders ..The west could do well to emulate this

    The Filipino, loves.his /her country…Sadly this love does not seem to be returned …The leadership–Time and again kicks them in their posterior..

    Filipino have strong faith;and charitable nature ..Time and again we see this abused !

    We see that the O.F.W; Is an industry now..because the Filipino cannot earn a decent wage ; in their own country .

    Yet the Filipino will rise to a challenge;Like their boxing hero..they have a ready smile and a willingness ..”To never give up !”

    “God Bless them –And give them what they truly deserved ! ”

    Dr David M Meyer {PhD Psych}

  2. To Ex-Ambassador Jarasa,
    Thank you for this insightful letter. Our coiuntry has had the chance in President Aquino to start the transformational change after he was elected. But in my opinion, 3 major things hindered his leadership. One, having been a former politician himself made him realize that he couldn’t just do it on his own. He relied on his friends and or patrons recommended by people close to him and appointed them as cabinet officials. Because he is single, no one really closest to his heart could give him insights as what a wife could do on a personal level. Unlike Cory Aquino, he did not get a closest relative as his aide but his best friend. His loyalty to these friends brought partiality to his political decisions.
    Two, He was NOT decisive enough to a level that can be compared to Lee Kwan Yew to move things around, risk a career and begin the needed CHANGE.
    Some politicians who have known him in Congress probably are also questioning his leadership ability.
    Three, because of climate change, our country has been battered by disastrous calamities within the past three years. More people lost their resources/properties. The government has not established a truly authentic program to help the really ,really poor and those who just lost their farm produce and have to start but there are no loans available because the government does not want to risk loaning them to farmers. The contractualization in most industries has enabled the oligarchs to really make it BIG in the Philippines. Just read over the papers who among the richest people in the world at present are and in what country they’re from-the PHILIPPINES.

  3. I agree that there must be a change to parliamentary form. Our system put too much power on the president and too much power corrupt absolutely. I have been abroad for a very long time, I totally agree that Filipinos, or most of us, do not love our country. There is no road courtesy, no cleanliness , dishonesty rampant, prostitution all over even in the provinces, robbery and unabated riding in tandem murders. But all is not is not loss. We need a good manager to run the government . We only need ONE to change our so called damage culture. Long live the Philippines even with all it’s short comings and defects. I LOVE this country of ours.

  4. We are too westernized for our own good. Nationalism simply means to love our own, but westernization means to love the West, especially America. Filipinization is the answer. Ang tunay na maka-Diyos ay maka-Tao, ang tunay na maka-Tao ay MAKABAYAN.

  5. Edgar G. Festin on

    Okay rin naman itong retired ambassador na ito. Kay lang maka Abnoy yata. Baka may hope itong mabigyan ng deranaged president ng trabaho.