It has been inspirational to read what Filipinos from all over the world have written in response to What We Can Learn From the Empathy, Humility, and Grace of Manny Pacquiao — 717 responses on this blogsite alone and thousands more on FaceBook and elsewhere. Some comments have moved me to tears — others have prompted me to think about the situation in some new way I hadn’t previously contemplated. I’m a listener as much as I’m a writer — and with so many quality comments, there has been much to listen to, and think about.
The sheer intensity of national pride as expressed in many of the comments has been breathtaking. I’ve been thinking about why the reaction is so intense — and not coming up with a satisfactory answer.
Then today this comment came in from Jean Dragul:
You surely are bringing out the latent and untapped pride and nationalism of some of us, or all of us, …..especially during these times of silent and peaceful but palpably extreme dissatisfaction. What we all are seeing now with these tremendous surge of emotional expression of national pride, because of your Pacquiao write-up, which will continue to grow more during the following days and months, is actually frustration for our country, which is almost on the verge of failing as a state, and us continually suffering the consequences. What your work drew out from us is actually a longing for a long-due upliftment from perennial poverty due to uncaring and incompetent government leaders. Mr. Sellers, we are actually crying our hearts out, voicing out our national frustration and, with your … article as the catalyst for our collective reactions, unabashedly putting it forth…..
The comment immediately struck a nerve with me. Throughout my life there has often seemed to be an inverse relationship between the extremes — the more the pendulum swings one way — the farther it will travel when it swings back. Was the intensity of the joy expressed in the comments a reflection of the intensity of the frustration that preceded the joy? And if so, what was causing that frustration?
I realized that previously I may have been looking in the wrong place for the answer. I had been “noodling” the idea that the reaction was somehow an expression of joy that after years of foreigners not “getting” the Filipino, now someone had given voice to a recognition of “Filipino-ness” that was at least approximately accurate. But in light of Jean’s comment — this suddenly seemed like a hugely inadequate explanation. I mean, truly — who really cares what Germans or Americans or Brits or Australians think? It matters a bit, don’t get me wrong. But does it matter this much? Enough to cause this reaction? On reflection, and with the help of Jean’s insight — I thought: No. There is something much more basic and stronger at work here than crankiness toward foreigner shortcomings, something that hits a lot closer to home.
I want to form my own opinion about this but as I struggle to do so, I feel pretty far removed from “the scene” of day to day politics in the Philippines and thus it’s hard to feel today’s “pulse”. It wasn’t always that way for me. Back during 86-89 when I was working at the US Embassy, like everyone immersed in the scene I greeted each day with copies of Manila Bulletin, PDI, the Star, Malaya, and Today, on my coffee table. As a result, in those faraway days I felt like a had a pretty good handle on the day to day rough and tumble of Philippine politics. But today I can’t claim that level of intimacy even though I’ve been following Philppine politics one way or another for a quarter of a century. I do know that throughout the period I’ve been connected to the Philippines, the pervasive popular sentiment seems to have been a sense that in the Philippines politics is overwhelmingly dirty; that those in power are in power mainly to reap benefit for themselves, their families, and their business associates — and that no one at the top is in it for deeply felt desire to be a bona-fide “public servant” with all that that implies. And a true “public servant” is, it would seem — precisely what people want. Even if imperfect, even if saddled with educational deficiencies — what would you rather have, people seem to be thinking — a brilliant, educated leadership that briefly provides hope but ultimately turns out to be cynical, self-serving “trapo”. Or a famously hardworking, earnest, sincere, humble, servant of the people? Many seem to be saying they would be willing to take their chances with the latter.