Today’s View : Macario Tiu’s Malformed State Culture and the Philippine Kulelat Syndrome (Part 1)

Dec. 18, 2013

By Don Pagusara

[The following reprinted essay written by Dr. Macario D. Tiu forms part of a book titled Nation & Culture, The Proceedings, edited by Thelma E. Arambulo and published by Solidaridad Publishing House. The book was distributed to paying members of the PEN International (Philippine Chapter) during its Annual Conference held at De la Salle University in Manila on December 2- 5, 2013.

The essay is supposedly an omnibus reaction to the views exchanged during the 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference on Nation and Culture held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on December 3, 2011.

It strikes me as a very incisive insight into our society’s malady: a state of continuing underdevelopment and massive poverty among our people. I think this valuable material should be a “must read” for all Filipinos, most especially the youth who shall constitute a significant motive force in reshaping our country’s history.]

WE ALL KNOW the symptoms of the Philippine Kulelat Syndrome, as Dr. Melba Padilla Maggay calls it. To summarize its main feature, we continue to lag behind our neighboring countries in key development indicators, leaving more and more of our people poorer than ever before. This, despite the fact that our country is incredibly rich in natural resources and as a people, we are intelligent, creative, passionate, and hardworking. Many reasons and factors have been advanced to explain our condition. I want to explore the view that the main reason for our situation is our malformed state culture which is a product of our malformed state or damaged government, to use Charlston Ong’s term. In this paper, I will use state and government to mean the same thing.

I am zeroing in on state/government role because I agree with former Defense Secretary Gilberto C. Teodoro’s view that “it is the state and its institutions… that have a direct influence on culture.” He says, “[p]rivate institutions are important but it is the state that establishes the environment for private initiatives to take place,” and concludes that “with other facets of life in any country, the state is the principal role player.”

In fact, I go with the view of Ms Teresita Ang See and the other participants that the key reason we are in a sorry mess is a failure of leadership. Or to put it another way, it is a failure of state.

It is therefore important to dissect this political animal called the Philippine state. Specifically, we should closely study its culture, that is, the Philippine state culture. We should not overlook the fact that the state itself has a culture of its own and that this is our national culture. In this conference, we are always reminded to study our history. And so I will begin with the history of the Philippine state in very broad strokes, as we are all to familiar with it.

The first point I want to stress is that the present Philippine state is the direct descendant of two colonial governments – the Spanish colonial government and the American colonial government. Therefore, to understand our present Philippine state, we need to understand the nature of these two colonial progenitors.

We know that colonial governments are instruments to subjugate and oppress the native peoples and plunder their resources. All colonial projects are ruthless enterprises of conquests waged through piracy, war, massacre, and genocide to achieve colonial ends. All native resistance must be annihilated and the surviving populations (if they themselves are not exterminated) made subservient and submissive by perpetual repression and ideological indoctrination.

As we all know, disunited as they were, our ancestors fought these foreign colonizers again and again, only to be defeated again and again.

By its very essence, a colonial government and all its institutions are, in the words of Louis Althusser, repressive state apparatuses. The Spanish colonial government, the bureaucracy, the courts, the military, and the police were designed to repress the Indios (Filipinos). It was a government of the Spanirds, for the Spaniards, and by the Spaniards. Native elites were recruited in subordinate positions, and the guardia civil was manned by native Filipinos, but they had Spanish overlords who ensured they followed the rules of the colonial game. These Spanish overlords were outright warlords, the governor-general being the biggest warlord.

The repressive colonial state also wielded ideological state apparatuses, principally the Spanish Catholic Church and the colonial educational system, to ensure the natives would remain subservient, obedient, submissive, and passive. The entire colonial structure was anti-Filipino and anti-people. All Spanish government and religious officials, including those who had liberal, humanist, or humanitarian mindsets, had to play within the colonial framework of maintaining the Spanish hegemonic control over the colonial territory. Up to its dying days, the Spanish colonial government threatened, bribed, co-opted, or if these measures failed, jailed, exiled, or killed all Filipino leaders who dared question the colonial status quo.

To repeat, the Spanish colonial state was designed to be rapacious and predatory. That was what made colonial powers rich. As the colonial state was nothing but a plundering machine, the Spanish colonial officials who owed their positions through patronage, bribery, or outright purchase sought to make quick profits by preying on the Filipino people and plundering the government treasury itself. They were arrogant and shameless in displaying and exercising their power. After all, government service meant servicing the Spanish (Peninsular) government and the Spaniards in the country, not the ordinary Filipinos.

There was no public service to speak of, and government workers, who most probably got their positions through patronage, were lazy, inefficient, and corrupt. The common people could not do anything about it, and in order to transact business with the colonial government, they had to bribe or to approach padrinos to get simple things done.

Greed, thievery, corruption, and vicious infighting suffused the entire Hispanic colonial bureaucracy. If anything united them, it was their utter contempt for the Filipino people.

When the Americans seized the Philippines from the Spaniards, they also waged war, genocide, and germ warfare against the native Filipinos. We are all familiar with the hamletting, barbaric tortures, and massacres they perpetrated against those who resisted them. When they finally “pacified” the country, they essentially retained the Spanish colonial structure, using it to pursue their own colonial objectives. To complete their “civilizing and Americanizing” mission, the Americans grafted onto the malevolent Spanish colonial state a malformed version of democracy which, as practiced back home in America, meant the effective marginalization of native Americans and the continuing segregation and maltreatment of black Americans.

Again, I want to stress that the American colonial government in the Philippines was a government of the Americans, by the Americans, and for the Americans. Like the Spaniards before them, they had nothing but contempt for the Filipinos whom they brutalized into utter submissions. They reconfigured the degenerate Spanish colonial state at will to suit their objectives, allowing pliant Filipino politicians to play government while retaining the power of the veto. And just to be sure the Filipinos didn’t go beyond the limits of this warped colonial democracy, the Americans continued to station their own troops, even as they had created the Philippine Scouts, the Philippine Constabulary, and other native armed forces, to hunt down all Filipinos who refused American rule. According to General Almonte, at one point in his life as a military and intelligence officer, he wondered why he was killing fellow Filipinos.

I offer this historical answer.

Applying genetics in the study of politics, we find that what the Americans birthed in 1946 was a monstrous Hispano-American state that inherited all the bad political and cultural genes of the Spanish colonial state and the American colonial state.

From the very start, the genetic codes of this malformed state spelled anti-Filipino, anti-Filipino nationalism, anti-people, and anti-poor. As we never successfully defeated and expelled our colonizers to freely create our own Filipino state, this malformed Hispano-American anti-Filipinos and anti-people state continues to engender pernicious “durable habits” that have malformed our national culture.

The worst manifestation of this malformed culture is “reverse ethnocentrism”, or simply, self-hate, which is the lot of defeated peoples who look up to their colonial masters as the models of the true, the good, and the beautiful.

Former Senator Leticia Shahani says we should not be onion-skinned when discussing issues, so I will be straightforward. Today, our leaders who fill up government positions designed to be rapacious become drunk with the residual, but still potent, powers of colonial rule. With no direct colonial overlords to hold them accountable as in the past, government officials rule as much as they please, checked only by inter-elite rivalry. They behave like warlords, or are outright warlords, exactly the clones of their colonial progenitors. And as they wield so much power, they plunder the government coffers whenever and wherever, and flaunt their ill-gotten wealth shamelessly, too. Concerned with their own enrichment, they have no cogent development plans, or if they have any plans at all, these are all paper plans, all for show.

Senator Edgardo Angara says there’s need for voter’s education as the people elected these officials. But we all know too well that government elective positions have become so lucrative that politicians cheat, bribe, steal, and fight with guns, goons, and gold to win government positions. Rather than voter’s education, what is clearly needed is leadership education. Or to be more precise, leadership values education. After all, our leaders are generally the brightest and the smartest in our country. Practically all our past and recent presidents were/are highly intelligent. The same goes true for our senators. I don’t think any member of Congress has an IQ below sea level.

It is said that the power of the President of the Philippines within the Philippines is greater than the power of the President of the United States within the United States. Or to put it in another way, the President of the Philippines can do many things in the Philippines that the President of the United States cannot do in the United States. This is so because the Philippine president retained the powers given to the head of the colonial governments — the governor-generl who, in order to keep the colonized peoples under control, was given broad powers to deal with any problem in any manner he deemed necessary.

One power in its present form that the President of the Philippines wields as his magic weapon to win allies and punish political enemies is his control of the release of approved budgets, particularly the so-called pork barrel involving hundreds of millions of pesos allocated to government officials supposedly to implement certain projects, but which have become a major source of graft for many of them.

Therefore, careerists, sycophants, opportunists, and all varieties of political flies flock to the president in power to be able to get hold of funds. We are witness to this shameless phenomenon of presidents forming their own personal political parties that flourish while they are still in power but soon collapse once they are out of power. We are witness to the shameless rigodon of politicians jumping from one party to the other to advance their personal interests and fortunes. They have no national ideology, they have no national program of government, they have no national development plans. There is clearly a need to slay this vestigial governor-general masquerading as the Philippine president so that all of our leaders can focus on developing and lifting our people from poverty.

In the meantime, appointive officials, government bureaucrats, and government employees in all branches of government also do their own ransacking of government resources like what their colonial counterparts did before them. The tax and other government collectors take a cut in the collection, and whatever money that goes into the national treasury is lost through scandalous deals, ghost projects, ghost employees, kickbacks, overpricing of instant noodles and coffee (to mention the more recent exposés), wasteful spending, and a manifold of other corrupt practices. Even direct dole-outs to the poor have become sources of graft. It is no wonder that government buildings, classrooms, and hospitals are rundown, or unfinished, or non-existent; roads are potholed; airports stink, etcetera. Ad nauseam.

As in the past, the entire bureaucracy is lazy and inefficient. As in the past, government service means serving the rich, the powerful, and one’s self. As in the past, the common folks have to bribe, look for padrinos, or deal with fixers to get things done.

Every year, various government departments and agencies compete for the notorious dishonor of the most corrupt, but they don’t feel shame. Those who flaunt their wealth and power, those who wang-wang their way around know that people view them with contempt, but these officials don’t care. They’re in power, exactly the same attitude of their colonial Spanish and American progenitors. The more powerful they are, the more shameless they become. “Hindi mo ako kilala?” they’d bark arrogantly to get special treatment or get away from any wrongdoing. Government rogues charged with corruption even run for election. here are occasional convictions of corruption, but the big fish get away, because the culture of corruption has its own code which states that the thieves, grafters, and plunderers protect each other.

This degenerate malformed state with its built-in degenerate malformed culture is what drags our country down.

To be sure, there are still honest and sincere government officials and workers, but their dedication is overwhelmed by systemic corruption. Many of our government officials and workers are honest folks in their everyday lives, but when they enter government, they are transformed into thieving and arrogant bureaucrats. A lot of well-meaning reformers, activists, even revolutionaries who join government end up being swallowed by the system, too.

During the conference, a staffer of the Cultural Center of the Philippines happened to mention that when it rains, a waterfall suddenly materializes inside the Bulwagang Pambansang Alagad ng Sining, the venue of the conference. I mention this not because I want to prove that government buildings are rundown, but because I am reminded of a friend who uses the waterfall as a metaphor for government. Government, he says, is like a waterfall. Bring any container to get water as often as you want — a tea cup, a[pitcher, a gallon, a tanker. Ironically, those who use a tea cup are the ones caught.

This is common knowledge. We all know about government corruption. Even after a short stint in government, officials suddenly own palatial homes and other properties not only in the country but also abroad. Deep in our hearts we are outraged, but as a people we are totally helpless. For centuries, our people; have been disempowered, neglected, and ignored. The bureaucrats do not fear the people; as the system makes it so difficult to boot out government thieves. Even government bodies set up to investigate and prosecute government offenders are corrupted and need to be watched too.

And that is the nature of our malformed state and our malformed state culture which continues to produce very negative values among our people. One such negative value is the so-called talangka mentality, the corrupt fruit of state failure. When crabs are put together in a basket with only one opening at the top, they will naturally scramble over each other to get out. The same is true of the people. When there are too many people, and there is little food and few job opportunities, especially if it is a persistent condition like in the Philippines, people will scramble over each other to be first to get food and to get employed. Obviously the solution is not to lecture to the people about values. The solution is to produce more food and create more jobs — or applying it to the crabs, to tear the basket open.

To be concluded (

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Macario D. Tiu is a fictionist, historian, and educator. He is a four-time Palanca awardee for the short story in Cebuano and a National Book awardee for history for his book Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory (2005). He writes a regular column in Cebuano entitled “Bisag Unsa”. Recently retired from the Ateneo de Davao University, he is currently the Director for Research of the Philippine Women’s College of Davao.

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