MANILA, Philippines -- Wednesday?s Senate hearing brought out into the open whatever latent racism lingers within the Filipino soul. The irony is that we are a nation of migrant workers, who are often victims of racist bigotry in host countries abroad, and those of us in the old country protest each time we hear a derogatory stereotype against one of our kind.
If only for that reason -- and there are other and better reasons -- the anti-Chinese remarks by no less than the chair of the Senate committee on foreign relations have no place in the records of the Senate or, for that matter, in any conversation in the Philippines.
Many of the senators have cast personal affronts against the dramatis personae in the National Broadcast Network (NBN) scandal. I lament them all, these terrible slurs against individuals: Chairman Benjamin Abalos? friendship with a woman (only his friendship with ZTE officers was at issue), Jose ?Joey? de Venecia III?s past drug habit (he smoked and did inhale while in college), or Secretary Romulo Neri?s credentials to chair the Commission on Higher Education (he lacks a PhD, a job requirement, but then he holds office merely in an ?acting? capacity).
These insults cross the line on what questions are proper for a Senate inquiry. If President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo earlier had the gumption to issue Executive Order 464 to shield witnesses from inquisitive and inquisitorial senators, it was precisely because of these public displays of arrogance by the senators themselves. They grate against the Filipino sensibility. The personal questions asked during the NBN hearings -- and for that matter, the probing into the love life of the amorous former T/Sgt. Vidal Doble during the Garci Tapes hearing on Tuesday -- merely remind the public why Malacañang was so cocky that it had public sympathy for its gag orders. The Senate must not give the Palace more ammunition in this battle.
But it was the wholesale attack against Chinese the world over that takes the cake. Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago proclaimed: ?China invented civilization in the East and corruption for all of civilization.?
Sure the Senate must not be used to enforce honor among thieves -- and it was this that infuriated Santiago -- and the NBN debate truly has elements of a ?squabble over kickbacks,? as she says, or a ?battle among commissioners,? in Sen. Joker Arroyo?s words. And it can also be fairly said that the Chinese government?s sweetheart deals with local predatory elites are part of its charm offensive that pushes ?tied aid? one step forward; it ties the donee to the donor state, and the donor state to the local political lords. But this does not allow us to impute corruption as a national trait, indeed, as ingrained historically in the character of a people, and worse, to use the pejorative label ?Intsik.?
The insular Filipino must be reminded that the Middle Kingdom can very well claim to have the world?s finest civilization, and -- while racial discrimination exists all over the world, against foreigners, in general, and against Asians, in particular -- it is only in Southeast Asia where a specific form of anti-Chinese bigotry persists. In other words, it is mainly in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines where we find the potent cocktail of an ethnic group that is economically well-placed but politically excluded.
To be fair to the Philippines, our record on this score is much better than our Asean neighbors?. Malaysia has racial quotas in school admissions and even faculty appointments, and yet has managed to stay below the radar screen that could have easily spotted a clear case of apartheid. In Jakarta, as recent as the May 1998 riots leading to the fall of President Suharto, there were genocidal attacks against the ethnic Chinese, committed by gangs of men prowling freely while the police looked the other way. In contrast, the Philippines has elected as president no less than Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino, a second-generation Chinese, and has long hailed as its national heroes Chinese ?mestizos? [of mixed blood] like Jose Rizal.
There is a classic 1957 Supreme Court decision upholding the exclusion of all foreigners from the retail trade, when in fact the target was Chinese storekeepers. The Court adopted the nationalist credo that ?alien control and dominance [endangers] the national interest.? The alien ?owes allegiance to the country of his birth ? his stay here is for personal convenience ? gain and profit.? He does ?not invest [his earnings] in industries that ? increase [our] national wealth? but instead remits them to his family back home. But let us ask ourselves: Don?t OFWs today do exactly the same thing, and aren?t we all the better for it? Or is it just karma catching up with the narrow-minded Pinoy?
But the real peril of racial prejudice is this quote from the Court?s decision. Citing all the ?pernicious? trade practices, the Court concluded: The Chinese have ?cheated the operation of the law of supply and demand.? Whoa! Hold your horses! So finally we have met Adam Smith?s nemesis, someone who can defy the law of supply and demand and, along the way, maybe even the law of gravity as well!
The Philippine Congress has wisely repealed the retail trade nationalization law and I hope that Filipinos have gotten over the racism of the 1950s. The Chinese-Filipino community has prospered even more -- thanks to the retail nationalization law, they abandoned their ?sari-sari stores? [variety stores] and invested in banks and manufacturing. ?Chinoy? [Chinese-Filipino] culture has thrived and, in my reckoning, has already mainstreamed.
We are stereotyped as illegal aliens in First World capitals, and we fight it. But we cannot fight invidious stereotyping if we ourselves engage in it. We must put an end to this bigotry once and for all.
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