A question of trust (Part 2)

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Friday, February 14, 2014


THIS over-reliance on the inexhaustible resource that is the Filipino family is at once laudable but also problematic. For while we endeavor to keep our families safe from a society on the brink of collapse in so many levels, what we fail to grasp is that all of us are on board the same sinking ship.

How has it come to this? Are we flawed as a people? Are we carriers of a kind of social disease that disables us from practicing sustained and deep solidarity with one another despite our shared mishaps of the past and dismal outlooks for the future?

American journalist James Fallows provided a scathing observation on a visit to this country still in the throes of equal parts euphoria and cynicism after the Edsa uprising. The yellow army was born then and so did an arrogant military establishment who wanted to save us from the scourge of communism. Is this social malaise merely a manifestation of what Fallows once referred to as a damaged culture?

The blanket accusation still stings to this day even though it was written during the administration of the current president’s mother. And I believe that observation must be credited for still predicting the state of affairs at present, almost two decades after, where at the helm is the son. In the final paragraph of his piece, ruminating on the possibility of the coup’s success or failure, James Fallows asked: “… what will happen when Aquino stays in, and the culture doesn’t change, and everything gets worse?” Somehow, I felt my shoulders go limp and heard it fall to the floor as a shameful response to the question.

I remember this article rankled quite a few nationalists in the State University for its unforgiving tone. Five years after it was published it was still being used as an example of a colonial point of view as opposed to the indigenous worldview that was all the rage during my undergraduate years. But while these academic perspectives stagnated and failed to provide a new language to re-describe our stories as a people, the words of Fallows still ring true.

Never mind that it’s a voice from outside relying too much on his personal take on things without the benefit of stringent methods of data gathering in what seemed to be a fly-by-night operation of a couple of months. I believe he got something right in his observations and then left before falling for San Miguel Beer and the crazy chaos that foreigners love about our damaged culture.

Because what he saw is still there – it is not Smokey Mountain anymore but that kind of desperate living still continues in the back alleys of Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, and Quezon City just as there still are gated villages of the rich but now spawned are vertical versions of such enclaves for the wealthy ironically named after a proletarian revolutionary.

So are we sociologically diseased as a people therefore? I would not go as far Fallows to argue there is something inherently wrong with our culture that makes it impossible for a deep and true nationalism to take root or that it has never taken root. But rather just as he intimated, the weakness of the social bonds between us as a people has got something to do with our history.

Nationalism necessitates a degree of trust in the common goals of public life. But it cannot flourish when there are no such common goals. This is where we are right now and where we have always been as far as Philippine society is concerned. Our story as a people has always been characterized by an elite hell-bent to preserve their political and economic interest and a general population struggling to survive under their predatory rule.

I think it is time to place the blame squarely on those who hold the reins of power in this country for the mess we have been in since the birth of the Republic. They are the ones who have mangled our social institutions to the point of disrepair. The practices of distrust and bad faith essentially emanate from this class. Social trust, therefore, cannot take root in such a context.

There must first be social anger.

***

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 14, 2014.

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