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Our real enemy is self-interest

In a paper, “Cultural Diversity and Education in an Increasingly Globalizing World,” Dr. Mina Ramirez of the Asian Social Institute writes: “In developing countries, particularly in the Philippines, the crux of social problems lies in the taken for granted reality that institutions—polity, economy, education, communication and religion—have largely been imposed on colonized people.”

She further explains that “with commercialized globalization which is but an accelerated pace of colonialism, the dominant culture revolves around a lifestyle that is characterized by ‘the good life’ that commands a monetary value and communicated by subliminal messages through media.”

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Undeniably, that position, which, Ramirez says, comes from the perspective of an observer from the Third World, is hard to disagree with. Globalization, it can be argued, has done a considerable amount of damage to our local culture. Many of our youth today may have already lost that sense of Filipino identity, having become strangers to their country’s rich cultural heritage. Given the reality of social media and the influx of a Western culture industry, Filipino children out there may no longer know the greatness of Juan Luna or Francisco Balagtas. They may know who Ariana Grande is, but they are alienated from the beautiful literary works of Edgardo M. Reyes and Quijano de Manila.

Ramirez has also pointed out in another study that there seems to be a lack of fit between our basic institutions and our Filipino values. For instance, utang na loob takes a different meaning when it defines the manner of relations for people in the bureaucracy. The notion of pakikisama may be interpreted culturally as simple bribery. The padrino system, or that system which facilitates transactions with ease, connotes no more than influence-peddling and patronage. Indeed, these things are a symptom of the Filipino people’s perceived political immaturity.

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The Philippine Constitution says that we are a democratic and a republican government. Both of these political concepts emanated from the West. But while the idea of a sovereign democratic society may be western in terms of origin, our way of life—or local culture, for that matter—is not really incompatible with the very ideals of freedom and human dignity, two of the most cherished values in any democratic society.

The basic problem in the Philippine bureaucracy, as Paul Hotchcroft and Joel Rocamora have so clearly pointed out, is the weakness of its institutions and, therefore, the inability of the bureaucracy to meet the strong demands of a growing population. But I think our democratic deficits do not only come from the lack of transparency in government. They also come from our lack of solidarity. We have remained regionalistic in terms of our approaches.

We simply have to determine for ourselves as a people what we mean by democracy. Simply put, democracy means freedom from oppressive rule. But we have to ask ourselves as Filipinos how valuable this freedom is for us in terms of our desire to achieve the common good. First World democracies have given their citizens a high standard of living. Systems can be studied, designed, applied, assessed and remodeled in order to fit our local needs. We need to continue to learn from the good aspects of Western culture if we want to preserve our own. Nothing prevents us from transforming our country from political incompetence and economic backwardness except the useless pride of some of our leaders who have actually benefited from the goods made in advanced societies.

Our problem in this sense is not globalization per se or the products of globalization. Rather, it is our inability to adapt and take advantage of the good aspects of a globalized world. While we may not strategically position ourselves yet because we cannot compete with China or the United States, we can begin with meaningful improvements in terms of attitude. For example, while millions of our youth now have access to the Internet, they are actually wasting their time doing useless things online instead of making meaningful online research. There is a great world out there that waits to be explored. Thousands of books are available in our libraries, but only a handful of students are reading them. Reading should be an enjoyable experience. When a teacher requires students to read, they will feel that they are being terrorized. But when students love to read, they expand their freedom.

The principles of good democratic governance—e.g., rule of law, public accountability and subsidiarity—are not the enemy of Filipino culture. Ethnic culture is also something that can be embodied and emboldened by a free society. Our real enemy is self-interest. For as long as there are little monarchs who continue to take advantage of the powerless, the poor Filipino will remain oppressed and without a future.

Christopher Ryan Maboloc is assistant professor of philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University. He is the former secretary of the board of trustees of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute.

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TAGS: bureaucracy, Filipino identity, Globalization, social problems, values
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