This, our kulelat syndrome

How has our colonial history shaped our present? Historian and academic Macario D. Tiu examines what went wrong as we collectively struggled as a fledgeling nation, in the following treatise delivered in December 2011. His views then, shared at the 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference on Nation and Culture at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, reverberate to this day.

First of four parts


(Brief background:  What is wrong with us? This is the exasperated question posed by National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose in organizing the 150th Rizal Anniversary Conference. Some fifteen papers were presented on four key topics: art and culture, culture and society, media education and new communication technologies, and culture and the state. There were around 150 participants--government officials and former government officials, educators, media people, and cultural workers. It was hoped the conference would lead to the development of a mass and state-supported cultural agenda to reverse kulelatism and propel the country toward progress and development. Senator Edgardo J. Angara chaired the conference.)    
 
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,[1] 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 Charlson 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 initiatives 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 why 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 state culture not only influences, but more importantly, determines 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 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 Spaniards, 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[2] 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. 

(Prof. Tiu won the prestigious National Book Award in 2005 for ‘Davao: Reconstructing History from Text and Memory.’ A recipient of three Palanca golds for Short Story, he teaches literature at the Ateneo de Davao University. The original title for this piece was ‘Political Genetics: Malformed State Culture and the Philippine Kulelat Syndrome.’ —editor)