Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

We shall overcome

Posted on August 29, 2010 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) Updated August 29, 2010 12:00 AM Comments (2) View comments

There is a toxic attitude or mindset among us Filipinos that surfaces every time we face a major challenge or crisis as a nation. It is the belief in the worst in us as a people accompanied by a self-righteous gloating, finger pointing and blaming when bad things happen.

We delight in Filipino–bashing, a kind of self-flagellation that seems to come from an unwarranted pessimism about the Filipino’s capabilities, or lack of them. And we take a prideful “I-told-you-so” stance as if to explain why things are as bad as they are. We seem happy and affirmed about our being so negative about the Filipino when things go wrong. In a way, one might say it is a distorted self-esteem in motion manifesting as meanness of spirit.

I call this “Philippine Exceptionalism.”

I borrowed the term from an opposite but similar view in the US called “American Exceptionalism.” The American brand of exceptionalism is a concept and phenomenon that dates back to its immigrant roots where its citizens felt the United States was a unique country because of its diversity, and therefore believed it had a special perch among the community of nations. Later, this morphed into something even bigger in its expression, especially when the country began to have colonial ambitions. The US started to believe that it was “above” or an exception to the law, specifically the Law of Nations.

Among the Republican right, American Exceptionalism is the creed by which America has tended to deal with the rest of the world.

In the words of conservative presidential bet Mike Huckabee, “To deny American Exceptionalism is in essence to deny the heart and soul of this nation.” The belief in “Manifest Destiny” is part of this peculiar self-expression and part of the US justification for annexing the Philippines as a colony.

To some Americans, this explains their sense of pride about who they are as a people and justifies their place in the world. For better or for worse, the rest of the world has seen this national pride play out in different arenas of human activity everywhere. It is debatable, of course, whether what is good for the US is always good for the rest of mankind.

While some Americans may argue that American Exceptionalism is a celebration of the American spirit, Filipino Exceptionalism is the absolute derogation or downgrading of the Filipino spirit. It explains why its adherents see nothing right about Filipinos and the Philippines. What they see is proof positive of why we are such pathetic failures who will never rise up and become anything great.

This negative exceptionalism manifests itself in many ways, from the benign and the subtle — like when we make self-deprecatingly funny or amusing comments about our own uniqueness and inadequacies — to out-and-out expressions of disgust and contempt of ourselves as a nation.

There are many examples of this in Filipino humor. One example is the expression “Only in da Pilipins” to explain in a shallow way our inexplicability to others. There is also the joke setup where there are three nationalities involved and they are tasked to do something, and it is the Pinoy who carries the punch line because he is the one who breaks the “rules.” And the Pinoy always wins the game because he avoids the rules through some sort of “palusot.” This palusot is usually a ridiculous, exaggerated response to the situation that is, in reality, a “failed” but funny response.

However, these jokes do not bother me as much as the toxic expressions of disgust and hopelessness that we declare about ourselves when things go awry. We Filipinos are — you guessed it — the most rabid Filipino Exceptionalists.

While watching the tragic blunder of media, the police and government during the hostage crisis at the Quirino Grandstand on TV last Monday, both my Facebook and Twitter accounts were overrun with comments from all over. Many condemned the actions of media, the police and the violence that could have been prevented. That was expected and understandable. But what really bothered me were the comments that implied that such a tragedy, such incompetence and insensitivity could only have come from Filipinos. The failure, in their view, was caused by our very nationality.

During my travels, I have actually met such extremists (yes, they are extremists!) who actually believe that we should kill a whole generation of our countrymen “to start anew” if we are to have a chance to progress as a nation. Unbelievable!

I have always subscribed to what the late historian Horacio de la Costa, SJ wrote that no people have a monopoly of good and bad traits and characteristics. And these characteristics, whatever they are, are not permanently theirs. Societies change, and they do, sometimes, drastically.

It is interesting how many of us take personal shame in what happened last Monday. That includes me. I actually feel that I should personally apologize to the victims who came here to enjoy our country and instead ended up traumatized or even dead. I believe it has something to do with the genuine hospitality we feel towards foreigners. How can something that so defines us go so wrong for our visitors?

But I am immediately sobered by the fact that aberrations like this happen in every society. Every nation has its fringe elements. It just so happens that sometimes they play out big-time, to the shock of its own citizens and the world.

I am not sure if Rolando Mendoza had real reasons for doing what he did. Was he suffering from insanity? Was he a victim of injustice? I do not know. What I know though is it is not justified to take anyone hostage. And in his situation, it was foolhardy. It was just not the way to resolve his grievances. Another thing I know is that Rolando Mendoza and his actions are exceptions to the rule. We are a peace-loving, friendly people and we are generally welcoming towards visitors. And we do condemn his act and the incompetent and crass handling of it by the media and the authorities.

I am confident that we will rise above this national tragedy. While we have a lot of things to learn and internalize, let us not forget that every country screws up at one time or another. In recent history, China had those melamine deaths and Tiananmen, Germany had its Munich Olympics, not to mention the Holocaust, The US has had its school shootings and other massacres that the police could neither predict nor prevent. Individuals in every society can and do act up. We are not an exception.

Let’s not beat ourselves up so much that we lose hope. The thing to do is to make sure it does not happen again. We have many things going for us as a people. We will learn from this and we will move on to achieve greater things that will restore our collective sense of national pride.

Like other peoples in the world who have undergone such crises, we shall overcome.

* * *

I will be holding three workshops. Two are in Cebu and on is at The Fort:

1) “Creative for Life Workshop” (one-day run) is a cutting-edge course to permanently awaken your creativity. It will be held this Sept. 17 (Friday) 8:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. at the Grand Convention Center of Cebu. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks and lunch.

2) “Basic Photography Workshop (The Second Run)” on Sept. 18 (Saturday) From 1 p.m. – 7 p.m. at Mountain View Nature Park. Registration fee is P1,000 (non-refundable). Workshop fee is P4,000 inclusive of handouts, snacks, shuttle back and forth from JY Square. Call (032) 415-8056 or cell no. 0909-1112111. Or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for reservations or queries.

3) “Creative For Life workshop” at the Fort (six session run). Sept 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 27 at 7 to 9 p.m. Venue is at Meridian International College, 1030 Campus ave., 2F CIP Bldg, Mckinley Hill, Fort Bonifacio. Call 223-6468/ 426-5375. Also 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for inquiries.

16 to “We shall overcome”

  1. Why then did you immigrate to Australia?

  2. randelirious says:

    Sir, if I may share:

    A Land of Critics

    We are a vast plane wanting to be (re-)explored, ( re-)conquered:

    A step on our cultivated soil brings brains, eyes and nerves to foil. Some are scalded to the bones, scolded, as some are swashed with sashes, enthroned. The stepping and stomping are very active like the holidays squeaking in our calendars. The waves on the water however are untouched; for a land made out of more liquid than solid, we harden like dry clay in the heat of it all – immobile and mute. Then we slew and slush like loose mud as the typhoon brings it on. A step away from this constitution that we call our own nonetheless brings us to pails of tears. We wrench and wring until nothing is left. We languidly linger in the distance with our desperations to come back, knowing that home is still under construction.

    We are a huge ball of voluntary or imposed acts caused by unsolicited financial and cultural situations:

    Baudrillard would have been one of us all along with our VCDs, Guccis and Havaianas. Dystopia has never been as dystopic as the Japanese had with our soap operas, news and reality shows. Our American “half-/quarter-/eighth-brothers/sisters” rehash identities into things we don’t (wish to or are afraid to) understand. So we fake it by giving an impression of us already having something on our own (when in fact we’re just to lazy to present what’s already us and ours). “Fake” is unreal in our world. Unless it’s about love and the kundiman of it. We like 48-hour debates as our lolos loved balagtasan. Then we do our siesta time. We leave Act 1 to piss, eat or drink. And we do it beyond the intended time of the break. Act 2 then becomes unclear and we have to fidget our fingers at our seatmate’s shoulder or back to ask how progress happened. We always tried to love to hate, but the result is still too corny…

    We are a grand reverb of another’s cacophony:

    Words erratically flutter and like banderitas, they spew over roofs, above lampposts and between the bamboo rods. Insights – neither lame nor intelligible for they were trained to be oh so “relativistic” like your aunties and uncles who are in LA or your daughter’s mother in Dubai or Hong Kong – shoot out from mouths and hands like Superlolo and Roman Candles. We laugh at dangling edicts, terrible intonations and wretched dictions. Then we sing as sweet as Barbara Streisand or as cool as Elvis. Salutations and insults mimic and mesh as they submit themselves to the highways and eskinitas of the senses of everyone’s today. It is a cosmos of chismis and (re-)creation, a fiesta born by and on its own. It reveres itself and nothing else.

  3. Well, G’day, mate!

  4. ange says:

    One of the things that my fiance says is that some criticisms that we have for others are most likely (pretty much very super likely) insecurities that we have for ourselves, whatever degree they may be. The ability to recognize something we don’t like about another person stems from possibly something that is from ourselves, projecting it onto others.

    American Exceptionalism… Oh boy. I think I could probably be surrounded by it where I have moved to. It’s interesting.

  5. BrianB says:

    Better than what most columnists have to say about the situation. I like it: Philippine Exceptionalism. But I feel differently. Though I’m not as callused as those smiling photo takers, I feel less anguish than perhaps I should have, due mainly to recent events, including the ampatuan massacre, where Mindanao police also took part, while the military turned a blind eye. I’m reminded of the father-daughter victims in a Paranaque incident and the torture video.

    Like you, I do not believe Filipinos are bad as a whole. I even believe we are less bad than other people. What we have against us is a leadership, past and present, that have no interest in leading at all. They are more interested in trying to keep the old Spanish colonial culture where our governors are interested in merely pacifying the population and putting themselves on a higher ground than the “indios.” Some are even worse, thinking themselves the direct heir of the datus while shirking responsibility and using democracy as alibi.

    The result, indeed, is a culture without a head.

  6. Roy Advincula says:

    Thank you very much. I hope that many Filipinos will read this.

    It’s about time we give our country some slack and accept that fact that we’re not the worst country in the world. It’s just sad that many of us tend to bring our country down thanks to this Filipino Exceptionalism way of thinking.

  7. Jet Pampolina says:


    This isn’t new, ask the Yellow Hordes who never saw anything good with the (past) GMA administration …

    I hate to oversimplify, but this tragedy is plain and simple a function of Leadership. P.Noy wanted this to be “an isolated and internal incident”, how can it be an internal incident when the hostaged are foreigners. P.Noy doesn’t want to micro-manage, but there is a world of difference between a Micro-Manager and an Informed, Hands-on and Decisive Leader.

    I agree with PDI’s August 25 editorial, this is simply “Dangerous Naivete”, unfortunately its the same PDI that loss all its ryhme and reason few months back helping this candidate win the elections… 🙁

  8. Bem says:

    I know the frustration a lot of us feel. To inculcate to us Pinoys the value of what we can learn from our own history takes time to reach the very depths of our senses. We shall overcome, although I may not live to experience it, what matters is we’ve started a movement that calls for recognizing the ills of our society. Something we can contribute to the next generation. Thanks Jim for sharing us your view.

  9. aangron says:

    I am of the same opinion. I have written about it in my blog as well. Here’s part of what I said:

    I understand how appalled everyone is of what happened. Some are even saying they are embarrassed to be called Filipinos because of it. Why? Why should we be embarrassed to be called Filipinos? Why are we so defensive about what happened? Do we think so lowly of other nations we immediately conclude that they will generalize that all Filipinos are like that hostage taker? Do we think so lowly of ourselves, our nation, that we immediately conclude that this ONE incident will define our country?

    It’s time to change our culture. We have to lift each other up instead of pulling each other down.

  10. combobreaker says:

    APO rocks!

    We’ll be able to move on from this. Both parties. The important thing is that we’ll then be moving towards a better, brighter tomorrow. (Heard that from an ad somewhere)

  11. I certainly watched these incident you referred to played out on my late night news bulletins here in Sydney Jim concerning this event, and believed the comment made by one of the senior police officials who said simply we were unprepared for such an event. There are very few countries outside the USA who are might I add.

    On a different scale certainly, but remotely similar, when the recent stabbing and beating of an Irish national happened at Kings Cross in Sydney, the incident brought with it a mixture of shame, incredulity and sadness, and all the words our officials offered did and could not salve the hurt of parents who had to fly to the other side of the world to collect their son who is now permanently brain damaged from the incident. Sometimes people do some things that defy description, but I liked that we as a city / nation did not beat ourselves up over the stupidity and violence of a few. And neither did Ireland for that matter either.

    In my brief experience with the Philippines and Filipinos generally, is that they are a very loving people, very hospitable but even I have noticed with some confusion the apparent ease in which Filipino’s so easily bash themselves in that self-flagellation you referred to. But for me, I can never forget the pride that I witnessed in 1986 that transformed the Philippines into a nation of possibility and pride who was the only nation to have a bloodless Coup. As I said to you at your dinner table one night, I dont know what all the words meant when I first heard Handog but I had tingles when the strength of the song that you wrote reached across language and touched my soul – and might I add still does. Wouldn’t it be nice if that could again be heard and embraced by the masses.

  12. jimparedes says:

    Thanks aangron, combobreaker, Craig and everyone.. That was expressed so wonderfully and reassuringly.

  13. Bass Poet says:

    Hi Jim,

    Thanks for the excellent account on Filipino exceptionalism. I agree with you that we Filipinos have a culture of criticizing each Filipinos deeply and with no remorse such as the statement ” I told you so…” And yet when it it is time take positive actions to rebuild our beloved country, a lot of us cannot even move an inch to help the Philippines. Inaction is tragic, our country needs all of us to be positive movers and shakers of the Philippines.

    I would like to leave all of you 2 interesting quotes:

    “To reach troubled souls, you have to go where they are.”

    “God has not called me to be succcessful. He has called me to be faithful.” – Mother Teresa

    I love my beloved country, I truly love the Philippines. Banangon tayong lahat muli!

    Hanggang sa muli,

    Bass Poet

  14. Jason Perez says:

    You know what’s funny, this post is almost an example of Filipino Exceptionalism. While it’s trying to avoid sounding like one, the essence of it, that Filipinos feel they have a special lowly place in the community of nations, is apparent. The mere labeling of this behavior as _Filipino_ Exceptionalism IS an example of it.\n\nIs it really a trait unique among Filipinos, or could it be a trait of human beings that only manifests itself when in a society, community, or large group of individuals are so disenchanted with the current status quo? I think it’s the latter and therefore, it’s unfair to use the term “Filipino Exceptionalism” on it. Call it something else, but don’t make it sound like it’s unique to us.\n\nAnd by the way, this post misses the point. It’s not the hostage-taking part itself that was embarrassing. It was how the whole thing was bungled by the government. As you said, we take pride in our hospitality, and yet failed to take proper care of our visitors when an untoward incident occurred.

  15. Nick Lopez says:

    Thank you very much for a very meaningful and inspiring post.

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