POSTSCRIPT / January 3, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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What’s wrong with us? Here’s another theory

WE came upon this discussion in the pinoycityusa website titled “The Religion of Blame” of unknown authorship, submitted by a certain L. Sibal. We’re sharing it, because it’s a timely piece to ponder at the start of a new year. Also, we happen to agree with much of what it says.

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THERE are as many theories about the causes of the malaise that afflicts the Philippines as there are contradictions in our culture. We were the first to declare independence in Asia, but find ourselves among the last to achieve economic freedom for our masses. We are the only Catholic country in our region, but have a higher crime rate and more child prostitutes than Muslim Indonesia — a vastly larger archipelago.

We were the first to write a Constitution for ourselves and embrace democratic traditions and institutions, but decided only last January, in the first year of this new millennium, to replace a sitting president without benefit of elections or impeachment.

We were the first in Asia to be introduced to the wonders of the Industrial Revolution, among them mechanized farming and corporate commerce, but find ourselves competing with Bangladesh to be the region’s poorest country. We had the highest per capita GNP in Asia in the early ‘50s, but have become the world’s largest exporter of domestic labor.

There are a myriad reasons why we are in dire straits, to be sure, but I will focus on one that no one, to my knowledge, has addressed: our conversion to the religion of blame, whose twin canons are demonization and victimization. Simply put, demonization is Judas kissing Jesus on the cheek: identifying the enemy for the purpose of crucifixion. Victimization is the state of mind that invariably follows; it’s Judas saying, “I’m innocent — the Devil made me do it.”

Rizal blamed the Spaniards for exploiting the Indio’s body and corrupting his soul. Quezon preferred a country run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by Americans — and got his wish. Magsaysay blamed the Hukbalahaps. Garcia, blaming the Chinese, retaliated against them with his “Filipino First” policy. Macapagal blamed “canine devotion” to America and unilaterally changed Independence Day from July 4 to June 12.

Marcos claimed that Macapagal’s nationalism was nowhere near as patriotic as his own, but the first thing he did as president was to send a full battalion of Philippine Marines (euphemistically called an “engineering battalion” to Vietnam). In 1972, to justify martial law, he blamed a conspiracy between the communists and the oligarchy.

Corazon Aquino blamed Marcos for all the woes she faced — whether inherited or self-inflicted. Ramos blamed the “remnants of the dictatorship” (wasn’t he one?), the NPA, and the Muslim secessionists for having stopped him from making us “Asia’s newest tiger.”

Estrada blamed Ramos and the arrogant elite, Arroyo blames Estrada and the ignorant poor, and Cardinal Sin blames everyone who disagrees with him.

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FILIPINO historians and writers blame the Spaniards for making us indolent, the Americans for making us materialistic, the Chinese for introducing opium, gambling, and bribery to our shores, and the Japanese for making us brutal.

Teodoro Agoncillo and Carmen Guerrero, for instance, in “The History of the Filipino People” claim that WWII “left ugly scars on the people and made (Filipinos) callous,” and conclude that “the national and individual experiences during the occupation are no doubt largely responsible for this tendency (to commit crimes). The extreme poverty that appeared in the backwash of that war has given rise to criminality.”

Every freshman student of Political Science, Sociology, or Criminology knows that the last apostles of the long-discredited “poverty causes crime” theory died in the 1880s. Nowhere in the history of nations has war or poverty caused a rise in criminality. Most scholars and specialists assert and acknowledge that it is inequality — not poverty — that leads to crime.

But the religion of blame has always been at war with truth. Laying blame is not only necessary, it is healthy — but not when it serves to cleanse the accuser of all culpability. Not when it becomes demonization.

To Corazon Aquino, for instance, absolutely nothing that Marcos did was good. I paid a price for opposing his regime, but have to acknowledge that, among other things, he dismantled private armies and empowered our barangays.

As for Cardinal Sin — whoever disagrees with him disagrees with the teachings of Christianity; one cannot disagree with his political views without offending God. I sincerely admire and respect their contribution to the great collective endeavor of restoring democracy in our country, but they have become the country’s foremost evangelists of the gospel of blame, and to that extent have contributed immensely to the ethical confusion that characterizes our times.

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TO demonize is to ascribe to the accused — which is not to say that all the accused are the proper parties — much more guilt than they actually deserve; to depict the accused, to the extent possible, as the source of all evil. No wonder that it logically sires victimization, the tenet that teaches, “Something’s very wrong, somebody caused it, and it’s not me.”

The unscrupulous logger then, becomes the Devil — but not the kaingero. The prostitute is arrested, charged, and publicly humiliated, but never the man who engages her services. Huge fleets are blamed for depleting our coastal fishing grounds — but never the “poor fisherman” who uses dynamite or cyanide — he’s merely “eking out a living, for God’s sake.”

Factories are demonized for their pollution, but not the citizen who dumps motor oil into a ditch. Law-abiding rent-payers, in effect, are punished every time squatters are first on the list on every single government-funded low-cost housing project. The honest are penalized; the dishonest rewarded.

This culture of blame, which has become as prevalent as it is pernicious, explains why Filipinos celebrate every time an NPA Sparrow Unit assassinates notoriously corrupt government officials, abusive “matons,” a tyrannical hacendero, or undisciplined military men. The immorality of a government that cannot provide justice is replaced by the worse immorality of summary execution.

This also explains resort to “people power,” which is becoming a dangerous social habit. What the government cannot accomplish the majority will accomplish for them, the rationale being that democracy means majority rule.

Does it?

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ATTILA the Hun was very popular among the Huns. Majority rule? Yes. Democratic? No. Philip II’s Spanish Inquisition burned thousands of Moors, Jews, and heretics at the stake and dispersed ten times that number, but he was adored by his people. Majority rule? Certainly. Democratic? Certainly not. Hitler was an idol to the Germans, Lenin to the Russians, and Mao to the Chinese. Majority rule? Absolutely. Democratic? Absolutely not.

The problem with the Sin-Aquino-Arroyo argument — which, as we know, is also the vastly predominant view — is that it upholds majority rule at the expense of the rule of law. But one cannot be divorced from the other without debasing and ultimately destroying the very essence of democracy itself. If “Edsa II” were both moral (as Sin and Aquino say) and legal as Arroyo claims, then huge crowds surrounding city halls and provincial capitols should be able to replace, whenever they see fit, any sitting mayor or governor whenever they’re popularly perceived to be abusive, tyrannical, or corrupt… Where and how does it end?

Simply put, majority rule without the rule of law equates to mob rule. As for its results being near-universally popular, I respond with the adage that a noble end is not justified by ignoble means. Ousting Marcos was one thing: his regime, beyond a doubt, was illegitimate; ousting Estrada — though I despise his conduct –is another.

True, a majority can take the law into its own hands whenever it pleases. But it cannot pretend to be democratic. Thomas More, the “man for all seasons,” soon after becoming Chancellor of England, was prodded by his son-in-law to arrest the town thief. The dialogue, it is said, went this way:

“On whose charge?” More asked. “Everyone knows he’s a thief,” the young man said. “Bring me a victim, or witnesses, and I will prosecute him.” “But you don’t need them — you’re the Chancellor!” “If our laws were trees, my son, and the Devil hid behind them, and you had in your hand the Sword of Righteousness, would you chop them down?” “By God, I would — if it were indeed the Devil I were after.” “Then surely you would slay him. But what of the next time? Should the Devil, when you encounter him next, snatch your sword from you and seek you out, and you had by your own hand laid the law to waste by chopping down every tree that might have given you refuge and protection, what would you do? Tell me, where would you go? Where would you hide?”

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JAPAN, Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore suffered immensely more devastation than we did during World War II. And it isn’t true that Japan received more rehabilitative assistance from the US — on a per capita basis — than we did; this is a myth created by demonization/victimization.

Look at these countries today. I submit that one of the fundamental reasons they’ve prospered — unlike ourselves — is that they refused altogether to wallow in the religion of blame. They had neither the inclination nor the time for demonization and victimization.

Closer to our times, if any nation has suffered even more severe devastation — physically, economically, and in terms of loss of human life — in Asia in the last quarter-century, it’s Vietnam. But go to Vietnam and you’ll be surprised to find less anti-Americanism in the entire country than you would on the campus of UP. That’s not to say that they’ve forgotten the crimes committed by an arrogant and misguided world power on their poor and puny nation.

It’s to say, rather, that the Vietnamese have no time to waste on recrimination — they’re much too busy rebuilding their culture, government, and economy. Which explains why they’re exporting rice to us. And why their GNP is expected to overtake ours in less than five years.

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ESTRADA was ousted for allegedly profiting to the tune of hundreds of millions of pesos from illegal gambling. What this tells me is that millions of Filipinos must have purchased jueteng (masiao or bagdok elsewhere in RP) tickets over an extended period of time for Estrada to earn this much in “commissions.”

Placing jueteng bets — according to Philippine law — is just as illegal as earning “commissions” from the game. Will this legion of gamblers ever be prosecuted? I doubt it. Because they’re the “victims,” and victims in the religion of blame are forever innocent.

Even when the run-of-the-mill criminal is caught red-handed, his spontaneous, instinctive response is not admission of personal responsibility, but total evasion. To the query, “Alam mong krimen ‘to — bakit ginawa mo pa?”  he invariably says, “Sapagkat ako’y tao lamang.”

Finger-pointing, which has replaced cockfighting, mahjong, basketball, or gossip (take your pick) as our “national sport” will continue to delude, distract, and defraud the people while the economy staggers, peace and order deteriorate, the population burgeons, and the gap between rich and poor becomes an unbridgeable chasm.

Until we acknowledge this debilitating religion of blame, the width, depth, and breadth of this crippling cancer — honestly and fearlessly — there is no hope for our society. What hope is there for a fatal, undiagnosed disease?

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 3, 2002)

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