Saturday, July 19, 2003

The Nationalism of the Filipino Elite

Dean Bocobo quotes former Philippine Secretary of Tourism Gemma Cruz-Araneta as saying that the escape of Fathur Roman Al-Ghozi "is not about us Filipinos being extremely nationalistic, nor us being in denial, about terrorism, anti-American, anti-Nato, etc. This is the product of corruption, plain and simple thievery, vulgar, vulgar sale of anything for the right price, not caring about the country's image, to say the least."

But since everybody knew that the jail was a sieve and a cesspool of corruption before Al-Ghozi's "escape", what reason can be given for keeping him there, rather than elsewhere, except nationalism and denial?

Max Soliven in his opinion column in the Philippine Star datelined Tuesday, July 15, 2003 noted that two notorious gangsters had "escaped" from the same "high security" jail just months before. Jarius Bondoc of the Philippine Star related how the hearts of US law enforcement officials sank when they saw where Al-Ghozi was detained, and pleaded with Filipino officials to move him to a more secure cell. The corruption was ignored because it was Filipino corruption, familiar and acceptable; the pleas ignored because they were American pleas, alien and strangely out of place; and the impending escape inevitable, because things are inevitable in the Philippines.

What would have been easier than to move him to a jail in Singapore? The Philippine elite have no difficulty going to Sloan-Kettering when they feel their cancer may not be successfully treated at the Marikina puericulture center. They do not agonize over sending their children to MIT when they feel that Guzman Tech might not provide a satisfactory learning environment. But they would rather release a monster who mangled a trainload of lower class commuters and children than admit that their shambolic government is in certain respects inferior to its foreign counterpart. "Better a country run like hell by Filipinos than a country run like heaven by Americans", was how Manuel Quezon put it. Lose your pants, but never lose your face.

A recently-arrived observer from Mars might be forgiven for thinking that the operative definition for nationalism in the Philippines is 'a state where nothing is too good for the elite and nothing too disgusting for the ordinary people', and why nationalism in the vernacular is "nagpapakabayani" -- a word best rendered in English as Dilbert Quixotism.

In the carriage blown apart by Al-Ghozi were the pitiful remnants of children's toys. Gifts from Santa a few days before. There were little scraps of the colorful clothing that children wear when they are doing the rounds of their uncles in the days after Chrismas. This was the act of which this Islamic bravo was so proud. This was the deed of which he nightly boasted to Allah. This was the man that Filipino officials allowed to go free, even though they knew ... Well, Dmitri, in the Brothers Karamazov, describes to Alyosha the strange feeling of knowing that he is going to succumb to carnal temptation before he actually does, as if he could stand outside himself and watch events transpire with an awful foreknowledge. He asks Alyosha whether a sinner like himself could ever be saved, could ever be free. The question which the Philippines must ask itself is whether it deserves to be saved or free when it knows in advance that it will accept the bribe of the killer of children.

Gemma Cruz-Araneta is wrong to draw a distinction between between "nationalism" and corruption. For most Filipino officials, corruption was the point of independence. The whole point.