The Philippines I want to inherit
Oh, so you’re from the Philippines. What can you say about your President?”
I am tired of answering this question from practically every person I meet here in Hong Kong. I have even considered writing a script so that I can effortlessly answer the question. Any other Filipino here who is asked the same question would perhaps try to say good things instead of the bad ones that these inquisitive people seem to know much more about. After all, whatever I say about President Duterte almost automatically becomes what they would think of the 100 million or so Filipinos back home and spread all over the world.
As a Filipino in a foreign country, I know that anything I say about the President would also reflect on the kind of Filipino that I am in my inquisitors’ eyes. Anything bad I say about him would aggravate the wound that all those issues back home have created in the perception of these nosy folks.
And so, I try my best to give a neutral answer. I feel that as a Filipino in a foreign country, I bear the responsibility of clarifying what is happening back home, deciphering and interpreting every statement of the President, and explaining myself—or perhaps even apologizing, if need be—to the international community. And I have to do this in a way that will favor the 100 million or so Filipinos more than just the one who heads them.
Before Mr. Duterte took on the presidency, I seldom received questions of a political nature from the people I met in foreign countries. And whatever questions were overshadowed by declarations of fond memories of our country. I listened to their stories about how Boracay looked like a paradise, how Palawan was the best thing that had happened to them, or how the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban was the world’s happiest festival in their eyes. And some could not even locate the Philippines on the map.
No one asked me about the traffic congestion in Manila, the poverty incidence, terrorist attacks, exploited or ill-distributed human capital, corruption, and questionable political decisions—until the Duterte administration began. Questions concerning these issues come almost automatically, without any trace of sarcasm. And all the good things I mention in response to their first question somehow make me a liar in front of them. Of course, not all of those who ask have the intention of only confirming the negative points. But most of them expect me to give them answers that will make the President’s acid tongue justifiable and understandable.
The 16 million or so Filipinos who voted for Mr. Duterte last May may have gotten tired of “good-mannered” politicians who will tolerate corruption and favor only the rich and powerful, I tell them. All of a sudden, here was a mayor of a city dubbed as one of the world’s safest. Many voters may have thought that he could replicate this kind of governance on a national scale, I say finally, in a matter-of-fact tone. It’s almost the same lines that other Filipinos I meet here would say when questioned by a curious foreigner.
The attention I now receive from people of other nationalities just because of the immense popularity of our President is indeed surprising, but at the same time discomforting. Very often, they liken him to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and comment that the United States better learn from the “fate” of Filipinos who elected someone like Mr. Duterte. This is not the kind of popularity I want foreigners to note the Philippines for.
We are a nation with a high regard for human rights, basic forms of courtesy, hospitality, respect for stone-hard alliances that bring mutual benefit, and healthy disagreements for the public good. We express displeasure in public in a civil way, not by swearing or cursing, because our parents taught us that that is the way of the savage. Some of us even cringe after accidentally saying offensive words, and express remorse for doing so.
We do not badmouth former masters who have atoned for past sins through an unrelenting display of good faith to become a good friend and strong ally, in exchange for forging new friendships. A Filipino will always be a good friend even after a long period of distance, and even in difficult times.
Though it is not rare among good friends to insult one another, they do so only within their circle, and in a way that serves the purpose for companionship, other than a display of chauvinistic tendencies and of imagined supremacy among other friendly groups. We value mutual respect both inside and outside our circle because our forebears taught us that, whether friends or foes, they will be there when we need strong and capable hands and shoulders to move our home intact to a better and safer place.
So I strongly urge our President to seriously consider the effects of his words (and even actions) on the 100 million or so Filipinos who are mostly in their youth, living in the Philippines and elsewhere in the world. I have high respect for this man because of his conviction to fight the trade in illegal drugs in order to give the next generations of Filipinos a drug-free Philippines and to establish an independent foreign policy that safeguards the interest of the country and its people.
As a young Filipino, I strongly hope to inherit a country that has not only better conditions anchored on the fundamentals of human rights but also a good international reputation.
Nicanor Legarte Guinto, 28, is pursuing the Joint PhD in Sociolinguistics and Discourse Analysis program of the University of Hong Kong and King’s College London as a postgraduate scholar of HKU and a K-to-12 transition partial foreign support scholar of the Commission on Higher Education. He is on study leave from his job as instructor at Southern Luzon State University in Lucban, Quezon.
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