(Source: The Brownraise Movement, http://www.thebrownraise.org)
WHY ARE FILIPINOS SO POOR? In the ’50s and ’60s, the Philippines was the most envied country in Southeast Asia. What happened? [An Excerpt] By F. Sionil José In the Fifties and Sixties [the Philippines] was the most envied country in Southeast Asia. Remember when Indonesia got its independence in 1949 it had only 114 university graduates compared with the hundreds of Ph.D.’s that were already in our universities. Why then were we left behind? The economic explanation is simple. We did not produce cheaper and better products.
But this physical poverty is really not as serious as the greater poverty that afflicts us and this is the poverty of the spirit.
Why then are we poor? More than ten years ago, James Fallows, editor of the Atlantic Monthly, came to the Philippines and wrote about our damaged culture which, he asserted, impeded our development. Many disagreed with him but I do find a great deal of truth in his analysis.
This is not to say that I blame our social and moral malaise on colonialism alone. But we did inherit from Spain a social system and elite that, on purpose, exploited the masses. Then, too, in the Iberian peninsula, to work with one’s hands is frowned upon and we inherited that vice as well. Colonialism by foreigners may no longer be what it was, but we are now a colony of our own elite.
We are poor because we are poor — this is not a tautology. The culture of poverty is self-perpetuating. We are poor because our people are lazy. I pass by a slum area every morning – dozens of adults do nothing but idle, gossip and drink. We do not save.
We are great show-offs. Look at our women, how overdressed, over-coiffed they are, and Imelda epitomizes that extravagance. Look at our men, their manicured nails, their personal jewelry, their diamond rings. Yabang – that is what we are, and all that money expended on status symbols, on yabang….
We are poor because our nationalism is inward looking.
And finally, we are poor because we have lost our ethical moorings. We condone cronyism and corruption and we don’t ostracize or punish the crooks in our midst. Both cronyism and corruption are wasteful but we allow their practice because our loyalty is to family or friend, not to the larger good.
I am not looking for a foreign power for us to challenge. But we have a real and insidious enemy that we must vanquish, and this enemy is worse than the intransigence of any foreign power. WE ARE OUR OWN ENEMY. And we must have the courage, the will, to change ourselves.