Depending on who you are talking to, you either hear that Filipinos seem to have no sense of the common good in exercising their freedoms and are hard to be disciplined, or that they are easily attracted to strongmen and tyrants and that’s why it’s so easy for them to give up the concepts of freedom, human rights, and democracy.
Filipinos do not easily follow authority, it is said. Yet we see some of our countrymen equate love of country with love of leaders, to the point that, in social media, some will even lash out at their own countrymen in the name of their chosen leader.
This sense of loyalty and obedience, however, does not seem reflected in societal discipline. Our institutions are still chaotic.
Most observers will blame the educational system. What are the teachers teaching? Are good manners not being taught anymore?
But what are good manners, anyway? And discipline?
The confusion seems deeply rooted not so much in education, but in our experience as a people.
Once upon a time, our ancestors, headed by datus, lived in progressive communities with sophisticated cultures, and traded with different peoples. Life was not perfect, but certainly they were living their lives as they should.
Then, more than four centuries ago, the Spanish colonizers came and conquered our ancestors. In terms of culture, the Spanish showed us a lot of good things. We accepted their religion of Catholicism and made it our own. But, on the other hand, the foreigners who replaced the datus did not show Christian charity toward the indios and imposed very harsh colonial policies. Leadership by example was nowhere to be seen. This kind of system existed for over three centuries — a system of harsh discipline and unequal treatment that, in time, led to obedience being equated to subservience.
José Rizal, our National Hero, warned us that without the correcting power of education, we will just imitate our masters. “The slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow,” he said. President Andres Bonifacio created the Katipunan not just to start the revolution, but also to shape and forge the nation after the characteristics of our ancestors — virtues such as kabutihang loob (goodness), kapatiran (treating your fellow as your brethren), and pag-ibig (love). General Emilio Jacinto wrote about the concept of Kalayaan (freedom) as a force for unity: “Napagkakaisa ang mga tao at kinalilimutan ng bawat isa ang pansariling pakinabang at walang nakikita kundi ang higit na kabutihan ng lahat” (Men unite, each one forgetting his own personal interest, and seeking nothing but the common good). For Bonifacio and Jacinto, freedom is not an enemy of discipline; rather, each one’s sense of discipline makes all of us free.
We hadn’t had much time and chance to shape our own destiny when the Americans immediately followed the Spaniards by conquering us and telling us we needed to be civilized. With the krag, the Americans killed thousands of Filipinos before they gave us a public school system that gave us a colonial education, which eventually made us look at our societal problems always in comparison with the West.
The Japanese, on the other hand, who said we needed to be cleansed of Western individualism and tried to instill in us the value of discipline and the common good, ended up destroying our country and massacring our people.
Like parents who turn into worse examples of the parents they hated, this kind of national trauma, of wounds that we were never able to deal and come to terms with, made us produce leaders who would go on to appropriate the good characteristics of utang na loob (gratitude) and pagmamahal sa kapatid at sa pamilya (love for siblings and family) into something sinister for their corrupt, selfish ends. That is how we spawned leaders who would oppress legitimate dissent in the name of discipline. And that is why we have such ambivalence about the concept.
The datu, being a bagani, was far from the autocratic leader imagined by latter-day tyrants. He was a protector, provider and public servant — a bayani.
Because we have had very few examples of good leadership, we tend to be content with leaders who show that they can get things done whatever the cost, even at the risk of some of our freedoms, purportedly all for the common good. And the mob gravitates to such a leader, who captures their hearts and imagination by latching on to their legitimate fears and aspirations and speaking to them in their own voice and culture. Those who see differently will be told by the mob: “Sumunod ka na lang!” (Just follow!). If you have grievances, you are now deemed a traitor to the common good and will be discredited, while you see your country go up in flames of division.
Under strongman rule, we are told that human and individual rights are not as important as the common good, and that Filipinos have no concept of human rights. Supporters will use history to justify their claim, citing the old datu as an autocratic leader.
But studies by historians and anthropologists using Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino Psychology) have revealed that the old datu was anything but an autocratic leader. The datu was a consultative leader. He consulted the elders and the babaylan, and he was a good listener. He might own the boats and the lands, but he provided opportunities for the bayan under him to use such resources for the people’s comfort and survival. The datu was seen as tagapagpamudmod ng ginhawa (giver of comfort and well-being) and tagapangalaga ng buhay (protector of life). These were basic human rights enjoyed by those under the datu’s realm that led not just to personal freedoms, but also to a sense of kaginhawahan (comfort).
While leadership was hereditary, it was not so at all times. The children of the leader must also be batikan, or the most skilled warrior in the bayan. The datu in ancient Filipino society was not just a leader but was also the best bagani or most tattooed warrior (batikan). Failure to be such a figure was an invitation to be challenged, and a new leader could arise. Thus, the datu, being a bagani, was far from the autocratic leader imagined by latter-day tyrants. He was a protector, provider and public servant — a bayani (hero).
If some of our leaders who steal public funds, oppress the people and commit crimes with impunity are caught red-handed but are still able to get away with their misdeeds, then any sense of karangalan or honor is lost on everyone.
It is good to look at good governance practices abroad, but many times our leaders fail to consider the kaginhawahan of people in formulating solutions to societal problems. The everyday violations of traffic rules by pedestrians, for instance: These happen because rules and infrastructure were built without what should have been the primary consideration, the kaginhawahan of people.
Why do Filipinos seem to have little sense of duty, unlike, say, the Japanese? Because if some of our leaders who steal public funds, oppress the people, and commit crimes with impunity are caught red-handed but are still able to get away with their misdeeds, then any sense of karangalan or honor is lost on everyone.
In the end, we must choose and vote for leaders who will genuinely work to unite the nation through kapatiran and pakikipagkapwa-tao. A caring leader will see himself or herself in the other and will give the people kaginhawahan, rather than just merely work for selfish interests. However much we speak of good leadership in our schools and in our public discourse, if we do not see karangalan in our leaders, then those would just be empty words.