Nuffnang ad

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Eternal National Amnesia

I've made no secret about my admiration for Singapore.

It has steadily transformed itself into one of the most stable economies in the world. As a result, the people enjoy a standard of living so unlike our own - that is to say, well, well above ours.

The country cannot claim to boast the many "natural wonders" that our islands seem to just be so blessed with, a "fact" that has been drilled into student in every Social Studies class of every classroom in our country. (Could it be this knowledge that has spurned and emboldened some of our citizens to wantonly debase the very things we are supposed to be known for?) Yet, they have clean water, (relatively) clean air,  lots of green spaces.

Public transportation is a dream. And for someone who knows the dark side of this particular topic (think of the intoxicating fumes from dilapidated jeepneys that should have been discarded 2 decades ago, the bus drivers who think EDSA is a giant race track that they can swerve from first to last lane at will, or delivery motorcycles who see nothing wrong banging the side mirrors of cars because they want to get ahead), I do not say that statement lightly at all. In fact, their government makes it very difficult (read: expensive) to own cars so as to encourage almost everyone to take the (economically and ecologically efficient) public transport system in place.

The environment of stability has been very conducive in attracting both capital and talent from other countries, making it a true "mixing pot" of cultures.

Ah, culture.

Merriam-Webster defines culture (one of many, but the one relevant to this post) as "the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group; also : the characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life} shared by people in a place or time <popular culture> <southern culture>". (

I bring this up because Lee Kwan Yew, past Prime Minister of Singapore (and generally acknowledged as the alchemist responsible for transforming Singapore into the modern day miracle that it is today) has pinpointed our "soft, forgiving culture" as one of, if not the, biggest stumbling block to our development as a nation. He expounds on this in his book "From Third World To First". Here is the particular excerpt of interest:

"The difference lies in the culture of the Filipino people. It is a soft, forgiving culture. Only in the Philippines could a leader like Ferdinand Marcos, who pillaged his country for over 20 years, still be considered for a national burial. Insignificant amounts of the loot have been recovered, yet his wife and children were allowed to return and engage in politics. They supported the winning presidential and congressional candidates with their considerable resources and reappeared in the political and social limelight after the 1998 election that returned President Joseph Estrada. General Fabian Ver, Marcos’s commander-in-chief who had been in charge of security when Aquino was assassinated, had fled the Philippines together with Marcos in 1986. When he died in Bangkok, the Estrada government gave the general military honors at his burial. One Filipino newspaper, Today, wrote on 22 November 1998, “Ver, Marcos and the rest of the official family plunged the country into two decades of lies, torture, and plunder. Over the next decade, Marcos’s cronies and immediate family would tiptoe back into the country, one by one – always to the public’s revulsion and disgust, though they showed that there was nothing that hidden money and thick hides could not withstand.” Some Filipinos write and speak with passion. If they could get their elite to share their sentiments and act, what could they not have achieved?"

Stinging words, yes, but as someone who isn't mired in our system, our culture of "OK na yan" (that's passable), "pagbigyan naman natin ang iba" (let's give a chance to others), "haven't they suffered enough?", "even if we don't forgive, we must forget", and all those other "wonderful" adages that make me want to reach for a barf bag, as well as leading by both words and actions, and dealing with our nation and national leaders for decades, he is in a more objective position to tell us what's "wrong".

When this came out, some people called Lee's statements as vile, damaging, one even accused it of being "out of touch with Philippine reality", and that he is pompous enough to say it only because Singapore is a First World country now.

Did I miss something? Since when did honesty become synonymous with pompousness?

Lee Kwan Yew hit the bullseye with his statement. We ARE a nation that prides itself on being happy, and while there is very little wrong with that per se, corollary to our "happiness" is our unwillingness to admit an ugly truth. And so we continue piling up one ugly truth after another. And another. And another. Until all we are left with is the stench and stink of denial.

Public money was stolen? "That's the way it is."

Bribes needed to process government documents? "It will never get done if we don't."

Politicians with their faces plastered over public projects? "Nagpapapogi, eh." (They're trying to look good.)

And so, in order to cope, we forget. Let's skip the forgiveness part and just go straight to forgetting what just happened. What is still happening. What is going to happen. We just want to forget. We block the hideous, the audacious transgressions, the irreplaceable millions - no, billions - stolen from our nation's coffers, the mock piousness and the nose bleeding morality of those whom we know are responsible for the systematic dismantling of our public moral compass.

One of the most haunting statements I have ever come across is one that we should be reminding ourselves on a daily basis: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." (George Santayana)

And just like any 12 step program, the first step is admitting we have a problem.

I suppose the next question is, which problem to admit and tackle first.

Here is a handy reference for THAT particular question.

Go. Read. NOW.

1 comment:

  1. Oh yeah? And what does a Lee Kuan Yew know about the Phils. He based his opinion on what he read in the papers that anti Marcos journalists wroted.