To each his own

 "I guess I'll never get the 'working against the people' mentality," Dinna told me. "It just does not compute."

"Filipinos never talk of our tendency to think of himself first," I answered. "If you frame it that way, 'working against the people' makes a lot of God damn sense."

Yes, I'll go out and say it: we Filipinos are selfish by nature.

Yes, it goes against everything we've been taught, and what we are and what we should be. What about Filipino hospitality and the spirit of bayanihan? How do you explain that?

And yes, I also acknowledge that what I'm going to say is an extremely cynical point of view, one that you wouldn't agree with at any cost because it hurts you.

And no, I'm not saying that we are selfish all the time. We still do things to help others, without asking for anything in return. Perhaps this point of view is colored by the ruthless nature of living in the city; definitely, it's colored by my experiences and observations. Maybe I shouldn't be generalizing, but I think I've seen enough to take that extra step.

We Filipinos are selfish by nature.

The whole thing about hospitality? The thing our textbooks in elementary school always illustrates with the image of families accepting visitors, even if they have no idea who they are, during town fiestas? We've romanticized that far too much. I don't doubt these things still happen, but I'm certain it's as much about keeping up appearances with the neighbors.

Bayanihan? The thing the same textbooks almost always illustrates with the image of a gaggle of men carrying a bahay kubo down the farm? Same thing. Romanticized far too much. For one, we cite that way too often during times of national crisis that it loses its meaning. It's turned into an obligation: you must help out, do your part, even if you're not in the best position to do so. That means it's also become an exercise in showing off just how willing you are to help.

Take this pandemic. The government's budgetary responses has the bayanihan label plastered all over it, evoking imagery of every Filipino coming together to beat COVID-19 and emerge stronger. Of course, we know the reality, ten months in. We're not really helping each other out anymore. Arguably, it's fatigue. But it's also our nature as Filipinos to prioritize himself over others, to survive, to get ahead, to get comfortable.

But then, perhaps it's a new phenomenon. We have been living in a society where we see some people step on others to get ahead, and get away with it. Certainly most politicians, certainly most businessmen, perhaps the cross-section of both demographics? We've seen it reinforced time and time again, that thinking of yourself first delivers more results. Those stories of sacrifice, hard work and integrity that we see on our televisions are very much anachronistic. In reality, it's as much about knowing the right people than it is about getting things done. It's as much about being backed up with resources than it is about toiling and grinding.

This is why we see the rich and prominent post about their foreign vacations when most of everybody else have to stay at home. (And our news outfits report on this as if it really matters to us. Is a rhinoceros that big a deal?)

This is why we see the comfortable see photos of Filipinos crowding in markets on social media, and then present it as proof about how Filipinos are "undisciplined", from, well, the comfort of their sofas, rage-scrolling on their fancy smartphones.

This is why we see wealthier local governments talk about how much money they're setting aside to buy vaccines for their constituents. All right, yes, they are supposed to do that, and I genuinely do not begrudge them for doing so. But what does that say about the way our society works when you have to wait longer for your chance to have some peace of mind because you happen to live in a sixth-class municipality? What does that say about our leaders, who still can't quite get their gears right? And then you hear about those in closest proximity (or priority) to the men on top literally jump the line and get inoculated before everybody else, even if the drugs have been smuggled in, never mind that they have not been approved for emergency use.

But what do I know? I'm just a guy who believes people do the things they do as much for the sake of looking good. I'm also just a guy who thinks we can't solve the very problems we keep on complaining about unless we acknowledge just how deep they go, deeper than the leaders we elect. It hurts thinking that we're more powerless than we think, yeah?

And your responses...

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