Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Filipino caste system and the Wowowee tragedy

I have a theory, but I don't think that you're going to like hearing it. Heck, I don't want to have to be the one to say it, but since no one else is saying it, I might as well be the one to voice it out.

Here goes.

All the pundits who say that the Wowowee tragedy is the result of the extreme poverty in the Philippines is wrong.

Rather, extreme poverty in the Philippines is the result of a Wowowee state of mind.

We have got the whole thing backwards. It's an ugly truth but the sooner we come to grips with this, the sooner we'll fix things.

But whatever do I mean?

Take a look at the buildup to the event itself. For three whole days, you had people camped out like refugees outside the gates of the Ultra stadium. No proper lodgings, no proper sanitation, no proper breathing space; and yet they persisted.

Alright, you may say, but isn't that a sign of how desperate people are? Kapit sa patalim, as the old Filipino saying goes.

I disagree.

The people who massed at Ultra had alternatives. To be sure, not very attractive ones, but they had alternatives nonetheless. Hungry people do not sit around for three days in a festive atmosphere waiting for a ticket to a game show; they go out looking for food.

Yet they chose to sit it out.

They were people of some means, otherwise they would not have made it there at all. They would not have lasted three days without some form of provisions. Again, I agree with you if you say they didn't have much; but I will disagree with you if you insist that they had nothing at all.

They chose to sit it out.

What kind of insane value system prompts such behavior? It is one that banks on patronage and entitlement, that thrives on false hopes and dependency, and that feeds on the simple, immature sense of good and evil in the universe at the same time disregarding the nature of actions and consequences.

This is the world of the alipin, the lowest class of the heretofore conveniently ignored caste system of the Philippines.

Caste system, you say? There is no caste system in the Philippines!

Ah, and that's where you're wrong. As you read these words you are probably sitting in a nice office or a condominium. As you look outside, you'll see the skyline of Makati or the glitzy lights of Greenbelt or Eastwood or Ayala Center or Matina Town Square. The harsh reality of the alipin is several times removed from your own, the product of sordid telenovelas and government mismanagement.

But think back to the time that you personally encountered the worst in your fellow Filipino. What did you see?

My own happened several months ago during a fire in downtown Dumaguete. The blaze was strong, but thankfully, by mid-afternoon, the flames were extinguished and the embers in control.

I stopped by to see how things were going. Already, people were leaving the area, some with disappointed looks on their faces.

I would have chalked that up to my imagination if I had not heard one of them grumble out loud:

"Ay, pota--! Wala nadayon!

Aw, son-of-a---. The fire didn't come through!

I don't know what was going through his mind. Was he disappointed because he wouldn't see the spectacle he was expecting? Was he expecting to come away from the tragedy with some loot? I don't really know.

I am reasonably sure, though, that this is exactly the type of person who would line up outside the Ultra for three days, push the crowd forward in the stampede, and cry foul when they cancelled the show on account of the deaths because that meant he wouldn't get his tickets.

This is not the normal behavior of people we, the more privileged ones, deal with on a daily basis.

Perhaps I should mention some more.

Last Christmas, the squatters' area beside a friend's house burned down. My friend's family was spared, thankfully, but the squatters' houses were totally gutted. Hours after the fire, when the embers had cooled down, they started rebuilding. Nothing wrong with that, just your everyday Filipino resiliency. Indeed, nothing wrong.

What got me was that they actually had the will and the money to spend for fireworks and drinks on New Year's eve. Tuloy ang ligaya! Life goes on.

I don't know about you. For me, the normal behavior would be to take stock of what I still had and what I had lost, perhaps be a little more reflective of life, and start saving up for rebuilding.

Revelry-as-usual, after such a disaster, is not normal for me.

Several years ago, I was having my hair cut in a barber shop near a squatters' area. For some reason, the barber had become my regular one. Though I would sit the session out in silence, I couldn't help but be shocked at the conversation I overheard.

"That Pedro is so hardheaded. He insists on going to the beach with his friends! What if he drowns? It would be better if he were run over by a car; that way we might be able to get some money!"

I don't know if it was a joke or not. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But even if it was a joke, I don't think money would be the foremost consideration in such an eventuality. That is not normal behavior.

Let's face it: these people are not like you and me. We live in one world, they live in another.

No, they're not bad per se. In fact, they are capable of suprising displays of tenderness and childlike simplicity at times. They just have a grossly distorted value system.

It's that value system that places material well-being ahead of everything else. It's that value system that defines a benefactor as "mabait, kasi tinulungan niya kami" (he's good because he helped us) on countless TV interviews. It's that value system which looks to immediate benefits, sacrifice for the future be damned!

You object: isn't this sort of thinking the result of extreme poverty?

Perhaps. But to this argument, I would add the element of time.

If every material possession were taken from you today, would you revert to such an existence tomorrow? How about next week? How about next month? How about next year? Would you find yourself lining up at the Ultra? Would you insist on getting your ticket as you stepped over the bodies of dead people?

Ask yourself -- sincerely! -- what you would be doing? Would you be demanding for that ticket?

Ah, you say -- maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not next year -- but maybe after years and years of poverty and neglect, with no clear way out, such an action would be understandable. Maybe even I might find myself crying out for that ticket as I stood over a dead body.

And really, what have we just described -- years and years of poverty and neglect, with no hope, with no clear way out, living an existence that goes from hand to mouth -- but the lowest state in a system of castes?

It's easy to point out to the ineptitude of the government, the greed of businessmen, and the false hopes offered by the Church as the root causes of poverty. It's obvious!

What doesn't quite fit into the pattern is the fatalistic reaction to ineptitude, greed, and false hopes. Adding up years and years of oppression, the normal reaction would have been a bloody revolution. But where is that?

The revolution hasn't happened because the people who have cause to revolt have been inured to think that there is no hope, that the future does not rest in their hands, and that whatever change happens, things will still remain the same. So, indeed, why bother?

It's easy to point out to the Spanish administrators and the friars of the Catholic Church as the cause of this mentality. It's obvious! After all, weren't we enslaved by the Spanish?

Ah, but that's an erroneous fiction. Well before the Spanish came to the Philippines, slavery had been abolished in Europe. The friars, in fact, expressly forbade slavery. The closest that came to slavery was the encomienda system, which was really more of conscription as a defense against the Dutch invasion.

You might not believe me in this regard, but let me ask: if the Philippines was enslaved in the terms that we normally understand it, would Rizal have been able to travel to Europe? Would the ilustrado class have been able to exist?

Of course, this might be open to some debate. What is less so is whether or not slavery existed in the Philippines, because it did.

Slavery existed in the Philippines well before the Spanish came.

It wasn't quite the slavery that we normally associate with American slavery, possibly the nearest conception to the word we have today. It was a system of economic servitude whereby a person in debt would be required to render service to his debtor.

There was the aliping namamahay, who had his own house and who rendered service a few days in a week, a sort of a common laborer. And there was the more uniquely Filipino alipin sa gigilid (hearth slave) who stayed in with his master, a phenomenon which persists to this day with live-in househelp.

And what do you know, it was a class system that in structure was very similar to a caste system. To be sure, it was economic in nature rather than religious, but those divisions were all too real, and an integral part of Malay society then.

So, then, the question: aren't the people at the Wowowee tragedy just your modern-day equivalents of alipin?

Or maybe we shouldn't say modern-day equivalents? Maybe they still are alipin, with all the mental shackles and resulting economic disadvantages entailed therein.

It's not such an encouraging thought. We like to think of ourselves as a modern, liberal, and equitable society that gives everybody a fair shake at things. To a great degree, we are. We might like to think that we left these things behind in 2001, in 1985, in 1946, or even in 1898.

But did we, really? Take a good look. Isn't the pre-Hispanic class system still with us?

The problem, I think, is that we were never really able to address the class issue. The Spanish came and abolished its practice, but those ways of thinking never really left us. The monumental failure of the Spanish and the Church hierarchy was not that they introduced slavery, nor that they failed to abolish it, but because they failed to provide the proper closure to it.

The old class system was resolved by executive fiat, not through a gradual yet complete resolution.

The Spanish are gone, so now that failure lies with us.

The modern alipin class is filthy, disgusting, and does not at all fit within the pristine vision of what we want the Philippines to be. They are lazy, they are dishonest, they are drunkards, they are children of incest, and they breed like rats. They are every sort of disagreeable thing that we can think of. But they are convenient.

For politicians, they are a convenient and malleable source of votes, happy enough to exchange the future of their nation for a doleout here and a fiesta there once every three years. For the entertainment industry, they are a convenient and malleable source of ratings, happy enough to line up in droves at the promise of a prize or a glimpse of their favorite artista. For the well-meaning well-heeled, they are convenient balms to the conscience, ecstatic and smiling at receiving donations. And so we erect structures, consciously or not, to make sure that this alipin class persists.

Well-meaning members of society will forever be wondering why such a situation exists. After all, haven't they given enough values education? Haven't they handed out the contraceptive pills? Haven't they given this alipin class sufficient opportunities?

I say: you can't fix this problem until you understand its historical roots. You can't fix this problem until you recognize it for what it is: a persistent caste system that hangs on to our society like an overgrown cancer.

Like I said, this is just a theory. Like I said, you won't like hearing it. I don't like saying it myself, but I think it has to be said.

If you think all that I'm saying is pure baloney, you're welcome to send in your opinion. The comment button awaits.

But do try to think of what I'm saying the next time you read of some sordid tale in the tabloids. Is it really the product of economic desperation? Or is it something more deeply ingrained?

See also: The Last Wowowee Post


  1. good piece. (jove, new site)

  2. I think you're on to something, Dom. I'd been wondering about that difference for the longest time. In fact, Diane P had asked me about it. I thought it was only a matter of education and exposure, rather, the lack of them.

  3. Thanks, Jove and Danah, for your comments.

    Danah: Bill and Diane are on the right track with the solution. They're opening the kids to a whole new way of thinking. It's a slow process, but it's a sure one.

    See http://villageidiotsavant.blogspot.com/2006/01/one-candle-schoolhouse.html for the story on One Candle Schoolhouse.

  4. I have been in a discussion with my professor and classmates in Pol Sci 14 back in college about such matters and I can agree with you that there is something wrong with the thinking that there is no caste system in the country. It's not necessarily just the game shows that perpetrate it but also the politicians who give to their constituents via a feeding program, etc etc. *sigh*
    Am thinking of writing about the matter too. Once my thoughts are organized.

  5. Perhaps I've been too long here in the US, and lost an essential Filipino trait: a relentless cynicism about our own country. But a quality that I greatly admire about the Americans is their great faith in the common person. "Ordinary people do extraordinary things every day" is a phrase that I just recently heard.

    While there are many truths to this article, I find that too often we overlook the fact that most Filipinos are hard working. For every egregious example of a person camping out 3 days in advance for a small chance at "instant yaman" there are thousands of people going about their quiet lives.

    Maids and factory workers, teachers and farmers, jeepney drivers and labanderas... millions of people were *not* camped outside the set of a TV show, they engaged in their daily labor, working to make the best out of their situation in life.

    The hundreds of thousands of Filipino maids, construction workers, engineers, nurses, etc. who go abroad to work every year shows that a great number of Filipinos *are* willing to seek opportunity -- wherever it may be.

    This is not to say that there isn't a segment of Filipino society with the alipin culture. I would go so far as to say that all of us imbibe in this culture of slavery to a greater or lesser extent. Perhaps a first step to solving this problem is to examine what we do to encourage this alipin mentality in our personal lives.

  6. Hi, Roy, good to hear from you. This was never meant as a blanket indictment (as you might have read in my very last post) of hopelessness. In fact, recognition of the trait and of the thinking is the first step to finding a solution.

    As I said, people need to be able to write their own story (and I mean that literally) of the best possible world for the.

    The presence of 30,000 people at Wowowee, I'm afraid, points to the number of people who cannot.

  7. Hi Dom, excellent insight. If there is indeed a Caste System or an underclass of 'slaves' in our society, what do you think the upper castes or free men should do? Shouldn't we have our equivalent of Mahatma Gandhi who would strive to abolish such a system...or at an Abraham Lincoln who would lead them into emancipation?

  8. Thanks, CVJ. If this theory is correct, it's been hard for a Gandhi or a Lincoln to arise because we've all been looking at all the wrong factors. The problem has just been so well-hidden.

    How to solve this problem? Not financial in nature. We all need to redefine our identities, the Wowowee caste most of all. And for that, they need to be able to express themselves and find themselves first of all.

  9. Dom,
    I thought you were onto something when you noticed that these weren't the poorest of the poor at all since they could afford to camp out for two or three days waiting.

    But how did the wowowee folks end up being remnants of an ancient alipin class again?

    There were a lot of fat people in the audience (at least the ones who survived!) and not badly dressed I would say. Plus they were clapping like they wanted the show to go one and the prizes still be given away!

    I think the truly poor, desperate folks were out earning a living the hard way that day. No one deserves to die in a stampede. But "poverty" or "slavery" doesn't have anything to do with it. If anything it's like a Casino held a special day in which the "pay-out" was guaranteed to be much bigger than usual.

    But who says only the poor can stampede? Maybe that's why we have to insist on the "poverty" card -- to assure ourselves that OUR caste is not capable of being stampeded?

  10. Hi, Carlos and Dean, thanks for dropping by.

    Dean, I'm really flattered -- I loved reading your column back at the Inquirer (though sometimes it infuriated me when I didn't agree -- that's how effective you were).

    As I mentioned in my followup, it's not so much a distinction of economics as it is a mindset. One only has to read the interviews with the survivors to see what I mean. And let's not forget the sordid tale of the P49,000.

    Unfortunately, the poverty line is the most obvious distinction, the most ready culprit, and it blurs the real causes. I am sure it is not the right one. One does not lose his decency just because one is poor. In the same vein, one does not become decent just because one comes across money.

    So what else is there? I cannot think of anything else in our culture or history to have caused such a divergence, except for those ancient class distinctions.

    In fact, these class distinctions -- if they do still exist -- are not the only remnants that persist: one only needs to look at the superstitions and pre-Christian beliefs that are sometimes so prevalent here in the province. (Two weeks ago, my very honest and hardworking handyman, for example, said matter-of-factly that he caught a fever because he disturbed a nuno-sa-punso.) If these superstitions can persist, then why not class distinctions, albeit even in just the subconscious? But understandably, we don't like talking about it.

    Yes, I know: my theory would fail Occam's razor. But I think history and culture are not entirely simple as simple as that.

    The question still stands, then, regardless of Wowowee: are we still subject to the dictates of an ancient class system?

    No one deserves to die in a stampede. But what deserves thought is the reason behind the stampede and the events leading up to it. If we just chalk it up to plain old greed or carelessness, I think we are not giving it the thought that it deserves.

    I reiterate that I have never used the poverty card as the reason for the stampede. But if there are still doubts about my claims of other-ness between "them" and "us" (believe me, I hate using this distinction. but I find it necessary), then I would ask if I am the only one who has noticed:

    How come no one has given a first-hand blog account from within the stampede itself?

    I am still groping for answers.

  11. Which do you prefer?

    A. sumbmissive poor masses

    B. middle-class-hating poor masses

    Thank God our poor are submissive, or they will start taking over us rich minority.

  12. Also, one thing you may not know about our "caste" system, is that, unlike the Indian caste system whose caste are sealed and permanent (i.e., an untouchable will always be an untouchable), aliping sa gigilid's and aliping namamamahay's can step out of their caste. In some cases they were even given land. THE PRE-HISPANIC ALIPIN SYSTEM WAS VERY HUMANE. The recent phenomenon that you observe is a by-product of the SPANISH SYTEMS of polo and vandala.


    They were called aliping sea guiguilir. This term comes in strict Tagalog to mean the servants below stairs; for the term guilir signifies "the lower part of the house," or "its lower entrance." These were bought and sold, or acquired by war, although those who were born in a family were seldom sold, for affection's sake. Such served their master in all things; but the latter would give them some portion of his field, if they were faithful and zealous in their labor. If they gained anything by their industry, they could keep it. If they were slaves because of debt, a condition that was very frequent among them, when the debt was paid they were free; but they were also obliged to pay for their support and that of their children. At times it was usual to transfer the debt to another, for the obtaining of some profit; and the poor wretches remained slaves, even though such was not their condition. Much of this is found yet, although not with the rigor of slavery, but by the force of obligation; but these poor pledged creatures suffer a certain kind of slavery in their continuous and toilsome service. The authorities ought to employ all their care for the uprooting of so keenly felt an abuse. 471. If perchance these slaves sa guiguilir acquired any gold through their industry, they could ransom themselves with it and become pecheros; and that ransom did not cost so little that it did not amount to more than five taes of gold, or thereabout. If one gave ten or more, then he became free from every claim, and became a noble. For this purpose a certain ceremony took place between the master and the slave, namely, the division be tween the twain of all the furniture that the slave used-and that with so great strictness that, if a jar was left over, they broke it and divided up the bits; and if it were a manta, they tore it through the middle, each one keeping half. 472. From the time when our brother Plassencia explained this difference of slaves, many acts of injustice which the Indians practiced on one another were remedied; for they made slaves of those who were never so, because, as the term alipin is so confused, and the alcaldes-mayor did not know the secret, they declared one to be a slave in all rigor, because the Indians proved that he was alipin, which signifies "slave," being silent, in their malicious reserve, as to whether he was namamahay or sa guiguilir. There were many such acts of trickery. 473. Those born of father and mother who were mahadlicas were all also mahadlicas, and never became slaves except by marriage. Consequently, if a mahadlica woman married a slave, the children were divided. The first, third, and fifth belonged to the father, while the mother had the second, fourth, and sixth, and they alternated in the same way with the other children. If the father were free, then those who pertained to him were free; but slaves, if he were a slave. The same is to be understood in regard to the mother and her children. If there were only one son, or if there were an odd number, so that one was left over in the division, the last was half free and half slave. However, it has been impossible to determine at what age the division was made, or at what time. The slavery of these children followed the native condition of their parents in all things, and the
    children were divided as they pertained to them, whether they were male or female, as they were born. The same thing occurred when one was poor, and did not have the wherewithal with which to endow or buy his wife for marriage; and then, in order to marry her, he became her slave. Hence it resulted that the free children who belonged to the mother were masters and lords of their own father, and of the children who belonged to the father, their own brothers and sisters. 474. If the mahadlicas had children by their slaves, mother and children were all free. But if the mahadlica had intercourse with the slave woman of another, and she became pregnant, the mahadlica gave the master of the slave woman one-half tae of gold because of the danger of the death of her who was pregnant, and because that her legitimate master was deprived of the services of the pregnant woman, by reason of him. When the woman gave birth, one-half the child remained free, and the father was bound to take care of its support; and, if he did not do that, he meant that he did not recognize the child as his, and it remained all slave. 475. If any free woman had children by any slave who was not her husband, all were free. If a free woman married a half-slave, the children were slaves only to the one-fourth part, and they considered that in the question of their service. The service was divided among all those who were considered as masters, by weeks or months, or as the masters might agree. But they had the right because of the parts that were free to compel their masters to free them for a just price, which was appraised in proportion to the character of their
    slavery. But if one were wholly slave, he could not compel his master to free him for any price, even if he became a slave only for debt, provided he did not pay the debt at the expiration of the time. 476. Another form of servitude was found among them, which they called cabalangay; it included those persons who begged from the chief who was head of their barangay whatever they needed, with the obligation of serving him whenever they were summoned to row, work in his fields, or serve at his banquets - they helping to meet the expense [of these] with the tuba or quilang, which was their wine. Thus did their headman give them what they needed, with this agreement. 477. This tyranny of slaves was so extensive in this archipelago that when our Spaniards conquered it, there were chiefs with so many slaves -of their own nation and color, and not foreign-that there were those who had one, two, and three hundred slaves; and most of these were not slaves by birth, but for slight reasons, and even without reasons. For since their best kind of property, after gold, consisted in slaves, as their own conveniences were increased considerably by their services, they expended care in nothing to a greater extent than in increasing the number of their slaves; now by usury and interest, in which they had no respect for their own parents and brothers and sisters; now by petty wars and engagements among themselves, in which the prisoners became slaves; now by the punishment for some slight crime such as for not having observed the interdict on speaking during the funeral obsequies, or if anyone passed by the chief's wife while she was taking a bath, or if, while the chief was passing by the house of any timava, some dust accidentally fell on him. Or they were made slaves because of other reasons, as tyrannical, as trivial, such as are natural for those who have not the light of the holy gospel.

  13. Jamby, thank you so much for your research. I think you have just proven my point.

    "This tyranny of slaves was so extensive in this archipelago that when our Spaniards conquered it, there were chiefs with so many slaves -of their own nation and color, and not foreign-that there were those who had one, two, and three hundred slaves; and most of these were not slaves by birth, but for slight reasons, and even without reasons."

    As to your question: which I would prefer, sumbmissive poor masses or middle-class-hating poor masses? Neither. I would rather have people who can assert their individuality and can determine their own course in life.

    Don't think that just because "they" seem submissive that "they" don't hate you (and I assume you consider yourself the middle class). And believe me, they're not going to be submissive forever.

  14. ...oh, yes, and I'd rather if "they" express their hate, it be in the form of words that "they" can express themselves with some equality. Rather than a more primal and more violent equality.

  15. I just learned a lot about the ancient alipin guiguillar. Thanks for this conversation.

    Dom, perhaps you'll do a follow up on the religious aspects of that ancient realm.

    My own take has been that this is a case of MAMMON IDOLATRY all around, with each caste denying membership in that religion.

    One thing for sure, Abe Lincoln was right: "A nation cannot long endure half slave and half free, for either we shall all be slaves or we shall all be free!"

  16. Thanks, Dean, for engaging in the conversation. Helps in shaping the thought.

    I have some more ideas and I'll get them down on paper later this week...but first I have my store to mind and a new business to start ;-)

  17. That's one way to look at it...
    as a caste system..

    The "cure" is to change society...make all the easy going fun loving luck loving Philppinos into good American protestants who preach hard work, not luck, is the way to change one's life for the better...

    (and I say this as a good Yankee Catholic)

    For example: my traditional husband pays the help a poor salary, but is constantly giving them gifts or paying their hospital bills etc...out of noblesse oblige. They are family members so if they "borrow stuff", or slack off at times, it is ignored..and they tend to stay with him for years...

    My stepson's business, however, hires people as a cold business proposition...he pays better than my husband, but expects them to work very hard... and fires people for minor things...

    But unlike the American model of economics, there is no recourse for the worker in this...

    Modern economies only are "just" if they provide a living wage...and a way for workers to have some protection in their jobs...(My father in the USA was a union member...they would go on strike for a living wage, and the laws helped them in doing this)...

    But in the Philippines, the unemployment rate is so high that a strike by the "untrained" workers would never succeed...so people are essentially powerless against the strong...so they revert to the old customs and ideas...that hard work won't change their life, but luck will...

  18. Hello, Dr. B, thanks for dropping by. No, I don't mean that Filipinos should turn into good old American Protestants because that would be...well, boring. ;-) But I'm hoping that we manage to manifest what is good in our identity while leaving behind the bad.

    As to your husband and your stepson, surely these are not the only two available choices. Surely there must be a golden mean where one need not be so patronizing nor so unforgiving.

  19. I just read your piece on the stampede, and although it's a little late, I would like to comment. As a Ducth social scientist doing research and living in the Philippines (with my Filipino husband), it is obvious to me that poverty and slavery are almost synonymous here. For example: the household helps of one household I come often work from five in the morning until 11 or later at night. They are often denied their day off. They are paid a wage that does not allow them to invest in anything other than a small contribution towards the education of their younger siblings. They are not allowed to go on a holiday to visit their family because then 'they might not come back'That kind of reasoning floored me: isn't it logical that the solution to this problem would better working conditions so they would want to come back? To me, this looks very much like slavery, because people are denied their freedom and kept dependent. Whether it has to do with the pre-hispanic 'fluid hierarchy' is an interesting question, but I wonder if it will allow anybody to adress the causes. As another person commented here: as long as there are so many poor people it's impossible to claim rights, humane wages, in short, to get out of the position of dependency people are in. The poor either have to be patient and endure abuse in return for small rewards, have something to blackmail a richer person, or win the lottery. Perhaps it is those who do not like dependency or blackmail who set their sights on winning the lottery. However you look at it, all three strategies are an insult to human dignity. It's no wonder some people are cynical and ruthless about how they get their money. What can be done about this? I don't know. I am from a social democrat country, a welfare state. We pay half or more of our wages in taxes, but we have a good social secuity system that aims to give everybody an equal chance, levelling the playing field. Every wage is supposed to be enough to feed and house a family, and access to quality education is guaranteed for all income groups. What strikes me here is that the Philippines is essentially capitalism combined with a sort of feudalism. Without land or other property you are nothing, and without claims on the persons 'above' you in the social hierarchy you are even less. I know that the Philippines has many laws that intend to level the playing field, and even redistribute assets. In terms of laws, the Philippines is pretty progressive. But in terms of implementation, they are feudal. For example, whenever the government departments and elected officials do something, they advertise it with enormous signs. As if to brag: we are doing our job, so be grateful! As if it's something special: look, we are employing the budget the wya it was intended instead of putting it in our own pockets! But in effect, they are still trying to 'bind' people to them, as evidenced by the sudden change in the quality of roads and other essential infrastructure in barangays that did not vote for the current representative. Perhaps it would be more revealing to put up signs whenever the government did not do its job.
    By the way, of course I don't think the Philippines is all bad ;-) I love it here, but as a foreigner I can't help being shocked at things that Filipinos are already used to since birth.

  20. Hello there. I've a reaction to your post here.

  21. I disagree with something here: revelry, for me, after a disaster is not normal. I disagree--we Filipinos are resilient. We take calamities in stride. It's normal for us to still have time to have some merriment even after a disaster. It's our way of coping. Imagine if we Filipinos don't have that--we would be a miserable race. Thankfully we're not. We love to be happy. Some might think this is an easy-go-lucky way of living, though even those who are well-off have this mentality as well. It's this that gets us by through hardship. Of course, in your piece, the extreme form of it is that lazy, no good people who would sit it out and just let life pass them by. That is extreme, and yes we do see a lot of Filipinos with that attitude. How many times have I gone to the provinces and see people sitting at the side of the road, doing nothing? Yet, like I said, I'm still thankful that most people here are jovial, still able to smile even when life kicks you down. Long ago we should've made a revolution, but foreigners are amazed that we have not gone to that route. It's because of this, our ability to cope through life's tragedies.

  22. hello. I stumbled onto this blog while researching "alipin sa gigilid". good work, good working theory and, to me it does not fail Occam's razor.

    I liked what you said about our society during the Spanish era. As a kid studying Phil. history, I've always wondered how Rizal, and other like him, have somehow managed to "exist" under colonial rule. It didn't make sense to have history writers damn them peninsulares, insulares and assorted mestizos as arrogant sons-of-you-know-whats, and claim that we were oppressed, while Rizal et al. went to university, in Spain at that. It didnt' add up. I'm glad I'm not the only crazy person around ;-).

    As to the meat of your essay, I think your on to something, although it's hard to wrap my brain around it; can't believe I had it ass backward before. That an invisible caste system exists, to which people are trapped.

    Much like the theme of The Matrix. Many people are, as the script goes, "so hopelessly inured" to the "slave" system they were born into--that of a slave.

    My grandfather pulled himself up by his boostraps from the marshes of Ibajay, Aklan, to the lush residences of Diliman, Quezon City through sheer hard, back breaking work. He had a dream, and he had hope. He was therefore not of the caste system; in fact, it didn't exist for him.

    The people you have described didn't seem to any dreams.

    As part of our research, my team and I walked the darkened streets of the opulent Greenhills shopping area, looking for the unwashed masses you spoke of. We talked to this cigarette vendor of about 15 years of age, and asked a simple question; "Ano ang pangarap mo sa buhay?"

    He was stumped. He had no ready answer. Unlike little kids who would quickly say "gusto kong maging duktor!" he had no idea what he had to look forward to, nor any hope for himself or his siblings. He mumbled about how he wanted to live in a good house, but seemed too frightened to think about how he would get there.

    Perhaps he, too, was hopelessly inured to this invisible caste system. In his mind, there was no hope of escape. Maybe you're right. Maybe we, who are not of this system, are ensuring that they stay there. So that we are assured of a steady supply of maids, drivers, bus conductors and yes, even cigarette vendors.

  23. Interesting piece. As a foreigner I've being trying to understand how Pinoy society works and thinks about itself in my blog http://keirastephenson.livejournal.com/8834.html


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