Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes

Yes, we can wow the world 14

Posted on April 26, 2008 by jimparedes

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Consider that almost nine million Filipinos are now living abroad in practically every continent, in every region under every climate known to man, and under different types of political systems. Filipinos have invested their lives, established residence, intermarried with locals, begotten children, put up businesses and built futures in different countries and cultures all over the world. And more will be doing so.

There are more Filipinos living outside the Philippines than all of the people in New Zealand. The number of overseas Filipinos equals half of Australia’s population. It is not hard to imagine that our recent history of massive diaspora should have made some kind of impact on the different cultures of the world.

The Chinese, for example, have made their presence felt in many countries not only through its citizens, but through Chinese restaurants, temples, religion, culture and the numerous Chinatowns that can be found in most great cities. The Indians, on the other hand, have spread their arts, places of worship, food and Bollywood movies which have become recognized, enjoyed and admired everywhere.

But what do we Filipinos have to show for ourselves?

While it seems we may have settled outside our homeland in quieter ways than the Chinese, Indians, Americans and Brits, I am sure that we are also somehow impacting on the world.

Take the world maritime industry. The best, most plentiful and in-demand seamen in the world are our kababayan. Through the years, we have built our reputation in this field, and the world has recognized our competence. Also, consider that during the 1950s and 1960s, many Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians and Iranians were studying architecture, engineering and other professional courses in Manila. It is also a little known secret that the banking industry in Indonesia was professionalized by Filipino expats during the ‘70s.  One only needs to go to these countries to see how well they have learned their lessons. In fact, they learned it so well they have outpaced us in many ways.

In many parts in Asia, the best musicians are Filipinos. Take a look at the nightspots and symphony orchestras in our neighboring countries and you’ll find our kababayan ranked among the best.

In world events, it is hard to imagine that despite our severely flawed politics, our people power experience in 1986 became the template for countries like East Germany, Romania, Ukraine, etc. that moved out of dictatorship into democracy.

But one really has to wonder why it is that despite our numerical presence in many countries, our influence is not as overt as that of other nationalities. There is a dearth of things Filipino anywhere outside the Philippines, such as clear cultural influences, save for a few restaurants, and the crowds of kababayan who get together on Sundays in places where there are Filipino Masses, and Statue Square in Hong Kong that make our presence noticeable.

I venture to say that we have not contributed to the world the stuff that speaks of who we really are. Sure, we have shared our brawn, brains and technology, but we have not given of ourselves except what we have learned from other cultures. We pride ourselves in speaking English well. We have sent our teachers, doctors, nurses, our best and brightest, to other countries and they have done us proud with the universally applicable knowledge they have mastered.

In effect, we have adapted well and blended with different cultures. But we have not, in any big, concerted way like other peoples have done, shared our own original music, cuisine, books and ideas, movies, dances, and our stories for them world to assimilate, enjoy and learn from. When we think of Japan, China, Africa and America, for example, we are bombarded with visual themes that speak of what their people and culture are like. But rarely has the world seen the true face of the Filipino.

When we migrate to any place, we like to blend in quietly, to fit in without fuss and to be “one of them.” That’s not bad in itself. In fact, one can say this formula has worked for us most of the time.

But if we want to move out of the limited image the world has of us, including the derogatory ones like “mail-order brides,” domestic helpers, “Japayuki,” corrupt people, dog-eaters, the “sick man of Asia” and other unsavory epithets, we may have to speak louder and tell our stories with our own voice and walk with a little more swagger and assertiveness.

After all, we do have movies that have won in film festivals all over the world. We do have first-class performers, sportsmen and talents in every field. If we were computers, the Filipino as “hardware” is certainly more than capable. It is our software (culture) that we need to tweak and make available for free download for the world to appreciate.

By “software,” I mean all the good things our culture can offer to the world. All we need is to look at what are  good about us and present these in a bigger way than we normally do. Years ago, the King of Thailand decided to open the palace kitchen and share the official royal recipes with his people, thus setting the national standard that has made Thai cuisine impact on the world in a big way. 

Some of the things Filipino we have wowed the world with tell a lot about who we are as a people — our folk dances through the Bayanihan Dance Company, people power, OPM, the countless choirs that win contests every year in Europe, our cuisine, our hospitality.

But before we can share more of these and become a major cultural force in the world, there is something that we must do: we have to believe in ourselves. We must believe that we have something to share, as other cultures have. We can’t show our stuff to the world if we have not learned to take pride in ourselves.

For starters, we have to be more accepting of who we are as we are. We need not seek approval from others. We must stop bad-mouthing ourselves and our culture, and accept that there is greatness in us. No more bashing ourselves and doubting our capabilities. Let’s start dreaming big. We CAN do it.

Nine million Filipinos abroad have shown their resilience, persistence and determination competing in the even playing fields of the world, and many have won! We just have to apply the same winning attitude in asserting ourselves and showing the world our uniqueness. It’s time to give our bigger contribution to the world which may turn out to be more valuable than our skills and talents, and this our Filipino-ness.

Nick Joaquin liked to chide us Pinoys for our preference for and obsession with small things. An example is we cut our provinces and cities into smaller parts each time they become economically successful. It’s time to think in global terms.

As much as we have been looking outward, let us also look inward and rediscover our literature, music, arts, theater, cuisine, stories, and proudly share these with the rest of the world. We’ve been trying to fit into other cultures for too long. Let us now invite those cultures to our celebration of ourselves.

When we start taking ourselves more seriously, the world will take notice.

* * *

Do you find yourself stuck in between careers, dreams, loves, and can’t even seem to identify the source of the gridlock in your life?  Have you lost the zest for living? Do you feel your life trapped in a routine? Do you suspect you may be mid-lifing?  If you want to know what you can do to get back into “real living,” join the workshop “Tapping the Creative Universe,” the cutting-edge experience that will unblock you and jolt you back to living again, now on its 40th run. This is a potent, live and dangerous workshop that will lead to self-discovery you never thought possible.

The next TCU Workshop will be held on May 12-16, and May 19, 7 to 9 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The total session cost is P5,000.

Call 426-5375 or +63916-8554303 for a syllabus or any other queries.


If you ran this country… 23

Posted on April 19, 2008 by jimparedes

By Jim Paredes
Sunday, April 20, 2008

I was watching  a video of Al Gore at www.ted.com where he posed a really intriguing question. He asked his audience, “What would you set out to do if the whole world depended on you?’  The question got me fired up and I’m sure my Ateneo upbringing and being my parents’ son had a lot to do with it.  I often ask myself similar questions, especially when I read about the big issues like global warming, world hunger and war. Some people might say I have a messianic complex. But I say it’s a refusal to surrender to such difficult realities.

If last week I was light and flippant in suggesting solutions to national problems, today I will be more serious. But unlike Al Gore, I will peer through a smaller telescope and instead of the global arena, I will focus on a tinier and not necessarily more manageable geographic area — the Philippines. Thus, I will ask and answer the question “If you ran the Philippines and could change anything, what would you change?”

I know there are a million things that are begging to be fixed in our country but for this article I will focus on just a few. I am not a lawyer and so I will not worry about the legal implications of what I intend to do if given the chance. Nor will I flesh them out since I do not have the space to do it. This is simply the idealist in me talking, who, despite all the disappointments, still refuses to give up.

I am not running for office but will support anyone of like mind who will. This is incomplete but it is already  mean list as it is.

Here goes:

1. End all pork in Congress. I suspect that without the pork perks more than three-fourths of the people sitting in Congress now would not care to be there. In a setup without all that unaccounted money flowing, Congress will most likely attract a different set of people who may actually have the people’s welfare in mind and will hopefully do some serious legislating at far less cost.

2. Totally de-politicize the bureaucracy. In other words, absolutely no appointees, interference, intervention and undue influence should sway government workers in the way they execute their jobs. This way, policemen and military personnel will not be forced to pick up people illegally on orders of some higher-ups, or participate in stealing the elections. An honest guy in government will not be forced to play ball to save his job when he reports on corrupt practices.

3. Install an electoral system that is fair, credible and actually counts the votes. No ifs and buts about it. Election results should not take more than 24 hours to report to the electorate. A whole plethora of reforms should be put in place, including mechanisms for the less-moneyed but qualified candidates to actually be able to run and win. And yes, anyone running for national office MUST be at least a college graduate. There should also be strict rules in curbing election expenses by political parties, including proper accountability on where campaign funds come from.

4. I would impose a national ID system to simplify all transactions, as it is done in many democratic countries. In Australia, every ID is given an equivalent number of points. To rent a house, for example, one needs a 100-point ID. That means a driver’s license and a passport. Activities can be accounted for and everyone is identifiable.

5. Put in place a justice system that is swift, fair and relentlessly carried out until justice is served. People should fear the law. This should include no pardons without serving a minimum of four years, and if pardoned, a convict must make a public apology and show true remorse.

Added to this, I would like to borrow a concept from some European countries that implement proportionate fining. The idea is that all fines and financial penalties should be based on an individual’s capacity to pay in order to make them true deterrents. The poor and the rich violators should both suffer proportionately for breaking the law.

6. Ban all signage that identifies politicians and officials as the source of public works or infrastructure. Politicians should simply do their jobs. Too much money has been spent on self-promotion.

7. End all political dynasties. A public trust is not an inheritance to be passed on to family members. We have to get out of a feudal mindset and into a democratic one. There are many other talented Filipinos that should be given the chance to serve.

8. Accelerate the devolution of power from Manila to the rest of the country.  The planning and progress of local government units should not be dependent on Manila and the president for things to get moving.

9. Offer an aggressive and choice-based family planning program.  This should lower our population growth to half within five years. Abortion should still be illegal.

10. Modernize the economy, commerce, agriculture and lift curbs to economic growth. Cut down bureaucratic red tape to two or three signatures. Simplify and systematize all revenue collection efforts and faithfully execute these. Promote the culture of growth to create employment, competitiveness, productivity and the creation of wealth and value in all endeavors.

11. Revolutionize the educational system so all Filipino children finish high school. A private sector-led corresponding movement in education in the mold of Gawad Kalinga should be initiated to tie up with government efforts. This should include modular curricula that are highly functional and easily transmittable even in the barest of classroom settings. There must be more emphasis on quality and trades training leading to employment.

12. Lead a cultural revolution that will encourage the serious and enthusiastic appreciation of both our traditional and contemporary culture and all types of art forms. Every Filipino should be knowledgeable, proud and have an emotional connection to his past and how it connects to his present. A vibrant culture makes a people secure in their identity and allows them to dream of a future that will take them to a greater plane than where they are now.

This will also mean harnessing media for real nation-building. At present, the media are too entertainment-oriented and exploitative and do not transmit the values that even their owners and operators would wish to transmit to their own children.  Too much airtime is wasted on gossip and trivia. We must look at the BBC in Britain and SBS TV in Australia as models of television that can deliver riveting documentaries and great entertainment that do not demean the public or foster a mendicant sensibility in their audiences.

13. Aggressively protect and nurture the environment. Our biodiversity is the envy of the world and we should be protecting this national treasure. We should also bite the bullet now with regard to pollution because the longer we wait, the more expensive it gets. I also believe that we can re-allocate a lot of our land resources for greater food security.

As I gaze at the presidentiables who are hogging the  media these days, I am more than ever concerned about what is in store for us. None of them seems to be bold enough to deliver the grim message of real change and reforms that will demand sacrifice from everyone before things get better. I believe our next leaders should not be just the usual successful operators from within the system but the discontented outsiders who harbor enough disdain for the system itself to want to change it. And I am confident that our society will produce the leader we will need.

Lastly, I wish for leaders who are in a hurry and who look at the opportunity of public service as their one great shot at saving this country, even at the risk of their own lives and treasure, leaders who will act as if the salvation of the Philippines depended on them — entirely.

* * *

“Tapping the Creative Universe,” the cutting-edge experience that will unblock you and jolt you back to living again, is on its 40th run. This is a potent, live and dangerous workshop that will lead to self-discovery you never thought possible.

The next TCU Workshop will be held on May 12 to16, and May 19, 7 to 9 p.m., at 113 B. Gonzales, Loyola Heights, Quezon City. The total session cost is P5,000.

Write me at emailjimp@gmail.com for a syllabus or call 426-5375 or +63916-8554303 for any other queries.

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