POSTSCRIPT / August 3, 2004 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mired in mutual misunderstanding

HARBORING TNTs: When I was publishing a FilAm newspaper in the San Francisco Bay Area during the Marcos dictatorship, I had many occasions to chat with US Immigration officials on the (their) problem of overstaying Filipinos.

One point we discussed endlessly was the penchant of many Pinoy residents to shelter and assist compatriots who linger beyond their authorized stay.

Our American friends would say that harboring illegally staying aliens made us accessories. They expressed amazement that we did not seem to mind the legal implications.

I would spend hours explaining (or was I misrepresenting?) Filipino values, but American officials could not cross the cultural divide and come to terms with what to them was plain and simple harboring of criminals.

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UNPARDONABLE CRIME: It is an unpardonable crime, I said at the risk of exaggeration, for a Stateside Pinoy who is in a position to help to deny aid and comfort to a friend or relative in trouble in America.

The folks back home, I said, would not understand why we refused to help a relative who had missed his scheduled departure. We are expected to give at least temporary shelter to these kin until they are able to sort out their problem.

The other variety of Pinoys who also expect the same hospitality consists of friends who are passing through. Many of them presume to find lodging at your place even if they show up on short notice.

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SO AMERICANIZED: If word got around in the old hometown that I turned away a cousin or nephew who missed his return flight, I would never hear the end of the line that having lived in the States, I have become so unapproachable and swell-headed, so “Americanized.”

I told US Immigration friends that if harboring an illegal alien is a crime to them, refusing to help a relative in trouble is a bigger crime to us Pinoys, particularly to the folks back home. But the explanation never impressed them.

I mention this quirk in the Pinoy psychology in relation to President Arroyo’s helping a Filipino in trouble in Iraq even at the risk of courting the collective condemnation of President George W. Bush and the warlike cabal around him.

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MASS DEPORTATION: But this is not an attempt to draw a parallel between the two incidents or to use one to justify the other. It was just that the President’s action reminded us of the problem of overstaying Filipinos in the US.

More so, because of a report days ago that 89 Filipinos had been deported after they had served time for various offenses. There are reportedly about 300,000 Filipinos who are potential deportees.

The same report quoted unidentified officials hinting that such deportation of large numbers of Filipinos was part of retaliatory measures for President Arroyo’s having withdrawn the Philippine contingent in Iraq ahead of schedule.

Well, if there is legal and humane basis for the deportation and if there are similar batches of deportees of different nationalities and not just Filipinos, so be it. It is their country and it is their law being enforced.

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PAKISTAN WINDFALL: Filipino observers cannot help noticing also another report last week about the US writing off $495 million in debt owed by Pakistan, the first country the US recruited in its war on terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf abandoned his support of the Taliban, cracked down on Islamic militants and handed over hundreds of al-Qaida suspects to US custody. Pakistan shares a border with Afghanistan, a US target.

In return, the US has cancelled and rescheduled debt and offered Pakistan billions of dollars in aid. The US made a $600-million cash transfer to Pakistan in November 2001, rescheduled $3 billion in bilateral official debt in 2002, and wrote off $1 billion in bilateral debt last year.

President Bush has also requested $3 billion from Congress for Pakistan over the next five years.

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PINOY REACTION: You can guess what goes through the minds of most Filipinos when they read such reports.

While Americans may assume there is a tinge of envy and maybe some dissatisfaction with our leaders’ handling of RP-US relations, they must be told that there is also a swelling of anti-American sentiments.

Rightly or wrongly, Filipinos generally feel that their country has been a loyal lapdog of America but does not get more than an occasional pat and crumbs thrown its way.

That is why the US ambassador’s telling us to know who our friends are cut deep. Most Filipinos would throw that back to Americans, if only to remind them that they should know and appreciate their true friends.

Like our friends from Immigration, American leaders — including their ambassadors — should try to know more about Filipino psychology if they hope to improve relations.

On the other hand, Philippine leaders and negotiators should master the American game of horse-trading to get value for value.

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‘SENTIMIENTO’: As we said in an earlier POSTSCRIPT, the pained remarks of Filipinos are not as much an expression of grievances as they are of “sentimiento.”

We have not found a satisfactory English equivalent of “sentimiento.” Loly Pichel Mara, sister of the late movie writer Manny Pichel, said in a text message it is “hard feelings.” We say, not quite.

In this connection, reader Vicki Jugo-Litiatco said in part:

“There has never been a sincere effort by the American government to address, and correct injustices committed by America through the decades against the Filipinos as a nation and as a people.

“I remember then US representative to the United Nations Jean Kirkpatrick saying that ‘American interest (involvement) in a country goes only as far as American interests go.’ That, I think, says it all.

“His surprisingly candid statement not only reinforced the American government’s bewildering inconsistencies in its treatment of true and loyal friends like the Philippines, but also revealed that altruism is not a factor in its action and inaction.

“For years, we have been our own villain. The Americans’ condescending attitude towards our country and people — and its government’s disrespect and non-recognition of our dignity — are fanned and continue to be nurtured by our own lack of patriotism and love of country.

“I can count with the five fingers of one hand the authentic, uncompromising leaders and patriots -­ in other words, servant leaders -­ in government and in the private sector in modern-day Philippines. Crab mentality and selfish interests (the eternal premise is always ‘what is in it for me?’) dominate Filipino life and politics.

“As with big brother America, our ‘public servants’ are not energized by selflessness and altruism but by greed for power and love of money.

“The private citizen and common tao who perennially asks what the country is doing for him and not what he can do for the country is guilty no less.

“I do not foresee any change at the way things are going. Unless there is a genuine change of heart, of character, in our leaders (who should lead by example) and its citizens, we will continue to wallow in uncertainty, poverty and strife.

“The change and deliverance will only happen if we all stop thinking and acting like the fallen Lucifer — arrogant, prideful, selfish and power-hungry — and moving on our own steam and through our own strength.

“The only way we can and will be delivered from the rut we are in is to travail in prayer. That means selfless praying — with sincerity, repentance, conviction, and a commitment to help effect a change by a witnessing lifestyle.

“To pray not for the sake of praying, but to pray with a pure heart and bended knees (figuratively and literally) in our vulnerability, and seek God — asking Him to convict and humble our spirit, to transform hearts of stone into hearts of flesh; and to start the change with us, in our own hearts.

“With moral renewal and regeneration, deliverance will come.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 3, 2004)

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