I WAS GETTING some air last night with my cat Persia when a neighbor emerged from his home. I called out a brisk “Good evening!” but this fellow, once friendly enough, unsmilingly looked at me, stared hard to declare he was ignoring me, then haughtily looked away.
No one saw my dismissal save Persia, but my cheeks burned with embarrassment and, yes, I admit, anger. This man had recently experienced an upturn in life and obviously no longer considered me even a nodding acquaintance. In fact, from his treatment, I would say he considered me riffraff.
Well, well. What status can do.
It made me think about the recently concluded APEC summit.
Shortly before the APEC week, I received this message, which was apparently forwarded all over the country:
I prayed as requested, of course, though I was bothered by the line, “Our country’s reputation as a people is at stake.” I didn’t think this was so.
I did not feel any connection with the big show being staged at our expense, and you may take that in all ways it applies. I am not belittling the long-term benefits hosting the APEC may deliver, but I was of the mind, and still believe, that we could have matched the event to our means. We have other concerns, lives and livelihoods to serve and protect, and in view of our recent setbacks, these deserved priority.
We could have honestly said to the APEC organizers, “You are welcome and please do come, but this is all we can afford as we are reserving the best for our people.” I am convinced that had we taken this option the world would have paid equal attention to us – maybe more – because we would have displayed strong values and deep wisdom.
I think “our reputation as a people” rests on that and not on whether we can successfully host a gaggle of VIPs and #APECbaes.
I fear we are becoming too enamored with status and increasingly deprecate the more substantial qualities that should matter most. We have been independent since 1946 yet vestiges of a colonial mindset remain. We are impressed when foreigners find our destinations amazing, but must we really hie the homeless into temporary shelters just to get their thumbs up? I recall how Imelda Marcos built concrete fences along the South Super Highway to hide the homes along da riles when the International Film Festival was held here. Heaven forbid that Brooke Shields and George Hamilton should catch a glimpse of the warren of shanties there. The Film Festival was a success and the world took notice of us then too. But for the Pinoys, things pretty much stayed the same.
There are those who feel that despite the dubious benefits of APEC and the obvious detriment of hosting it, it is still worth it to have the eyes of the world on us. That sounds very much like the little boy bustin’ with pride that his older, taller, better-looking, richer brothers deign to give him the time of day. I understand the need to woo investors to our land, but this smacks of something else. It feels like we are hankering for their approval. It sounds like we require their affirmation.
Almost a century ago, Senator Jose P. Laurel counseled Filipinos to “think for themselves.” Our heritage is good enough, he said, to stand on its own and our identity demands no further validation from foreigners. Why then do we seek it? It is unnecessary to court the patronage of A-listers, whether economic or social, if we have enough self-esteem to stand tall. It is more likely that they would be seeking our favor if we but evince our substance.
Thus rather than gurgle with delight that the foreigners like us, we should be thinking about how we have been treating each other, and whether our behavior would be considered moral.
This crab mentality we like to charge each other with, what are we doing about it? This snobbery of the nouveau riche, is it to be tolerated? This exploitation by the poor – yes, by the poor – of their own poverty, fostering a culture of mendicancy that is one of the largest roots of corruption in this country, shall it not be adjured?
We are all too quick to fawn over foreigners and all too ready to cast each other in a ditch. We may achieve status that way, but not character.
As for that neighbor of mine, I choose to forgive him; he knows not what he does. He may think he is something because his significant other is now a VP or whatnot. He may think that by dissing me, he has revealed my lack of worth. Actually, he has made it quite clear to me what he is worth.
I hope that our leaders, in their desire for the Philippines to be something would not make it a habit to inconvenience our people and make them bear the financial sacrifice as they did last week. Status and wealth mean much, but they are not everything. I maintain, they would have benefited us more if they had held the general welfare of our people above the pomp and pageantry of the APEC summit.
“He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble.”