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.
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 practised 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 submission. 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 Mr. Jose 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-Filipino 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 truth, 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 flaunting 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 in another way, the President of the Philippines can do many things in the Philippines that the President of the United States can not 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-General 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 barrels 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 goals. 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 the country 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 exposes), 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, etc. 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.
To be continued.
(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)