This, our kulelat syndrome - Part 4

Last of four parts

Speaking of values, it is high time we critiqued our educational system, the principal channel of transmitting knowledge, skills, and values. Its genealogy goes back to the American colonial educational system and the Spanish colonial educational system. Needless to say, our present educational system is also malformed. For more than 400 years now, the Catholic Church has been running schools known for elitism all over the country. If we use national development as the chief criterion of success, then this religious-run education has been an utter failure. Our state and public schools have also been in existence for a hundred years now, and what do we have to show for it? 
 
What have the top schools of the country—particularly the University of the Philippines,[5] Ateneo de Manila University, and the De la Salle University—done to solve the country’s kulelatism? Practically all our leaders in government, economy,
business, media, culture, industry, etc. come from the country’s top schools. Indeed, the graduates of our so-called high-standard schools are successful in competing with the graduates of low-standard schools within the country. But they are absolutely kulelat in competing with the graduates of other countries in the transformatory race for national development and lifting people out of poverty. 
 
Nurtured by a malformed anti-Filipino, anti-people, and anti-poor culture, our literary leaders, publishers, and writers continue to seek worldwide readership while refusing to reach out to our own people in our own languages. At the very first
opportunity, the brightest of our intelligentsia scramble out of the country instead of helping tear open the proverbial basket.
 
In comparing ourselves with the others, we always look back to the 1950s and 1960s as our golden age, being the second best economy in Asia after Japan. Since then, we have been wringing our hands in dismay as one by one our neighbors outstrip us in overall development year after year. But a second look at our so-called golden age tells us that we were the second best economy only because our neighbors were ruled by more brutal colonizers, with some of them still at war for one reason or another during that period. 
 
The British in Malaya and Burma, the French in Indo-China, the Dutch in Indonesia, the Portuguese in East Timor, and the Japanese in Korea and Taiwan were extremely brutal colonizers who were satisfied with the development of very limited plantation and extractive economies in their respective colonies. After the Second World War, Korea was flattened by an internationalized civil war that ended in 1953, Malaya had yet to transmogrify into Malaysia in 1963, and Vietnam was still trying to kick out the French and later the rampaging Americans up until 1975. During this period, the Philippines had the most developed colonial economy of vast plantations and extraction of minerals in the region. In that sense the Americans were the more efficient colonizers, being able to develop the colonial economy in such a way that it had the unintended effect of uplifting the lives of Filipinos a notch higher than their much poorer neighbors. I say ‘unintended effect,’ because the primary objective of colonization is the exploitation of the colony’s human and material resources for the benefit of the colonial power, never for the colonized peoples. The benefits that trickle down to the colonized are merely side effects, collateral benefits. 
 
However, once our neighbors shook off the hated colonial yoke, they did more than just “overcome the shared handicap of a colonial and an authoritarian history,” as Dr. Maggay puts it. Our neighbors dismantled the restrictive colonial economic framework imposed by their colonizers and slowly rebuilt their economy in the 1970s and 1980s. That is, they refused to be mere adjuncts and suppliers of raw materials to their former colonial masters and so they finally emerged as Newly Industrialized Countries (NICs) in the 1990s. The Kuomintang, despite its reputation as being highly corrupt--that’s why it lost to the Chinese Communists--transformed Taiwan into an industrialized country (or renegade Chinese province) by rejecting the Japanese colonial economic model. The most spectacular transformation was that of South Korea. Emerging from the brutal occupation of the Japanese and the devastation of the Korean War in the 1950s, South Korea embarked on an industrialization program despite the obstructionism of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. The Koreans who, like most Asian peoples, had gloried civilizations in the past swore never to be colonized again and that could only happen if they are progressive and developed.[6] Taiwan and South Korea are now ranked as developed countries.
 
Other economic miracles are also unfolding before our very eyes today. Unthinkable thirty years ago, China, after casting off dogmatic economic models, is now surging ahead, toppling one country after another in over-all productivity to emerge as the second biggest economy in the world today. More importantly, it has also reduced its poverty level to only 2.8 percent of the population as of 2006. Vietnam, almost bombed out of existence in the 1970s, is also poised to overtake the Philippines in a few years. What’s more remarkable is its success in reducing its poverty level from a high 75 percent in 1990 to 58 percent in 1993, to 13 percent in 2008, and to 10 percent in 2010. Meantime, in the Philippines, the poverty level stood at a shameful 32.9 percent in 2006.
 
A common feature of East and Southeast Asian countries with successful economies and a reduced number of poor people is that they succeeded in destroying the colonial state structures and replacing them with their own state/government
structures. They also have activist states taking the lead in their economic life even as they promote private initiatives to enable them to compete globally. Vietnam may be corrupt, but the Vietnamese government is a government of the Vietnamese, by the Vietnamese, and for the Vietnamese. Thus, even if they started from scratch in the 1980s, they quickly caught up with the Philippines which is a malformed Hispano-American state creature with a malformed state culture that is essentially anti-Filipino, anti-Filipino nationalist, anti-people, and anti-poor.   
 
What is to be done? I will not hazard prescriptive details. All Filipinos, particularly our leaders, have to come together and agree on our future trajectory as a nation. But I will have to disagree with Dr. Maggay’s view that we already have the “hardware,” and all that we need is the “software.” What I know about computer hardware is that it obsolesces very fast and can only be upgraded up to a certain point. At its birth, the malformed Hispano-American-Philippine state has been an obsolete colonial hardware with no capacity or capability to accept Filipino software. That is why no matter how many times we have conducted Constitutional surgeries and performed macro- and micro-economic acrobatics we still have not propelled our country forward to eradicate shameful poverty in our midst. 
 
I believe that we can lick kulelatism and become a highly developed country if we establish a Filipino state which is pro-Filipino, pro-nationalist, pro-people, and pro-poor.[7] Despite our malformed national culture, our people have retained many shining values such as bayanihan and pakikipagkapwa-tao at the grassroots level. The Filipinos in the Diaspora show that we can excel if we get out of the Hispano-American crab basket. In fact, according to Mr. Samonte, when Lee Kuan Yew saw how intelligent, creative, passionate, and hardworking the Filipinos were in Singapore, he was moved to say that, if only Filipino leaders will listen to the people, there’s nothing in the world that the Filipinos cannot do. I can’t agree more. 

(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) 


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[1] “Passionate” is one admiring adjective reportedly used by Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore to describe Filipinos.
[2] The Spanish Catholic Church was a major target of the Philippine Revolution of 1898. Recent economic studies increasingly point to the Counter-Reformationist culture propagated by the Spanish Catholic Church during the heyday of Spanish colonialism as a major causative factor in the general backwardness of Latin American countries as well as of the Philippines. See Robert H. Nelson. “The Philippine Economic Mystery.” July 2007.   
[3] “Colonial democracy” is, of course, a sugar-coated dictatorship of the colonizers.
[4] Corruption is not a unique trait of Philippine government officials. Our neighboring
countries are also viewed as corrupt (I still need to know the type of corruption and to what degree), but unlike the Philippines, their leaders and the entire people have, in the words of Ha-Joong Chang, a “strong national determination” to improve their countries.
[5] A UP joke goes this way: There are only two schools in the Philippines, UP and the
others. My favorite retort: That’s why the Philippines is kulelat. UP should really reexamine its genetics. Founded as the American University of the Philippines in 1908, it was meant to be the principal ideological tool to “civilize and Americanize” the Filipino elite. Although like all government institutions it is rundown and plagued by infighting, it is still the country’s “premier university”, with the mostest and bestest in practically all fields of endeavor – from academic freedom to activism, and from the arts to politics.
Among other achievements, it has produced seven out of fifteen Philippine presidents. If so, it should ask why UP-bred leaders have been miserable failures in leading our country out of poverty.
[6] To this day, the South Koreans are unrelenting in decolonizing their country scarred by the abuses of Japanese colonialism. In 2006 the South Korean government sought out the descendants of Koreans who collaborated with the Japanese from as far back as the 1890s and confiscated their landholdings. 
[7] Being pro-poor means making poverty a thing of our Hispano-American colonial
past. We must throw into the Bankerohan River the defeatist attitude that the poor will always be with us. Eradicating poverty is a doable task as shown by our thoroughly decolonized neighboring countries.