01 October 2004

--- An Interesting Question

In today's issue of the Inquirer, Raul Pangalangan asks an intriguing question:

"Why (do) Filipinos sacrifice for family but not for nation?"

This question has also been haunting me for the longest time. I have even entertained negative thoughts bordering on being a hypocrite and a fraud as possible answers.

Excerpts from the full column of Pangalangan:

"Why then do we find it so difficult to sacrifice for the nation? During the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Thai and South Korean governments got voluntary donations of personal wealth, including jewelry, from their caring citizens. Certainly, those Thais and Koreans cannot match the Filipinos who blocked the tanks at Edsa I with their own bodies. What are a few trinkets offered to government, compared to dear life ceded to eternity? Thus the dilemma. We live for the family, though we die for the nation. We give to the family, but we take from the nation."

Long before the UP economists came up with their fiscal crisis report, I remember Tito Rolly posting a proposal among Filipino bloggers to contribute whatever amount they can to some sort of Bayanihan or Freedom Fund to help the government pay off its ballooning debts. Most of his commenters at the time were willing to donate their hard-earned money but were at the same time cynical and doubtful as to who and how the accumulated fund will be handled.

Pangalangan offers two answers --- a practical and an academic answer:

"The practical answer is, we prefer the family to the state because the family will always be with us through life's trials and crises. Its support is bankable, so to speak. In contrast, the government cannot guarantee returns on our 'investments' because there are cheaters and free-riders every step of the way.

"Indeed, that is so true. But bankability alone cannot explain stories of OFWs and parents who keep on toiling for thankless progeny, or stories of the Ate, a nurse in some desert kingdom, who keeps on sending hard-earned dollars to bum siblings who live profligate lives. Certainly there is more to the Filipino capacity to sacrifice for kin, and his urge to translate every meaningful friendship into kin-like relations, like 'ninong' (godfathers) and 'ninang' (godmothers) in baptisms, and the ever-broadening circle of 'kumpares' and 'kumares.'

The academic answer is that we disbelieve the government's call for sacrifice because the Philippine state does not symbolize for us the public interest. Historically, the Philippine state did not emerge organically from villages and townships, but was from the beginning alien to our day-to-day lives, the legal device for either alien or elite conquest. We are a republic only in name, but in reality, a loose confederation of tribal fiefdoms. For us, the state does not represent Jean-Jacques Rousseau's notion of the General Good. For us, rather, THE STATE IS NOTHING BUT AN ARENA FOR THE PURSUIT OF PRIVATE PROFIT, where narrow-minded, single-issue interest groups lobby for their selfish agenda. For us, the state exists so that competing elites can have their turn at the till without cutting each other's throats."

Do you agree with his answers?

I tend to agree more with his academic answer. I believe that most Filipinos do not really have a true sense of nationalism in the same way as a Japanese for his Japan or an American for the US of A. "Kanya-kanya tayo" or "to each his own," before anything else. Of course, it is not totally bad as it protects the immediate loved ones, but it is also not good for the nation as a whole.

Pangalangan ends his piece by saying that:

"....what I find more worrisome about the President's call for national sacrifice is not that it will fail but that it will succeed, because that will up the ante in public expectations and raise the bar that government must clear."

But he ends it nicely and optimistically, noting that this might be the long-awaited "break" Filipinos are waiting for, in the sense that "people pay the true cost of governing themselves and, finally, earn the right to demand their money's worth."

I wish it were that simple. But I see a problem.

Because corruption and the temptation to be corrupted cannot be erased overnight, I am also in a state of doubt and distrust as to who, when, and how this Freedom Fund will be handled. I'm betting that I am not alone in feeling so. Because of this, if and when this Fund finds its way to the wrong hands, what will happen to the already eroded trust and confidence of the Filipinos?

Call me pessimistic but I also do not see us putting a dent to the gargantuan national debt with whatever Freedom Fund we can manage to gather. And then what will happen?

Will they again ask us to sacrifice?

It will be the same scenario over and over again, a deadly cycle of corruption and distrust, while the national debt grows ever bigger and bigger.


Here's one: how about teaching all of us first WHY AGAIN should we care for this country and for this government?

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