Carvajal: Cultural chains

Break Point

ON LABOR day, a friend posted on Facebook a sign that tells workers:”You are not free, your chains are just long.” Filipino workers are indeed able to move up in society but only within the limits of the cultural chains that drag them down.

Spanish colonial masters modeled how rich, educated, professional people on top treat poor, uneducated, non-professional people below as less than equal occupants of society’s lower rungs who, to survive or progress, must submit to the wishes of people on top.

Filipinos assimilated this culture’s unspoken message that to attain freedom and prosperity they have to get to the top. Nothing wrong with it really, except that those of us who managed to buck the system and got to the top treat subordinates exactly as how the Spaniards showed us, as less than equal.

I grew up being told stories of the cruelty of Spanish civic and religious lords to their Indio wards. Yet today we still see Filipino masters treating people lower to them in social status, like their workers, not much better, sometimes even worse, than our legendary cruel colonial masters.

The Catholic Church, as the only surviving institution left behind by former Spanish masters, unfortunately promotes this culture by practicing it within the Church organization. Highly educated clerics who are supposed to minister to the needs of people are instead the ones served by dutiful lay subordinates.

The Catholic Church cannot preach against the inequality in our pseudo-democratic society because there is even less equality or democracy in the Church. What the pope says, what the bishop says, what the priest says goes and that’s it.

The Christ of the gospels (not the Christ of theology books) taught us to treat one another as equal in dignity and worth by the mere fact that we are children of the earth and creatures of God and more so because He has redeemed us with his suffering and death. But a deep-seated colonial attitude has instead blinded us into measuring the worth and dignity of fellow humans by their profession, by their position in government, business, church or school, and ultimately by their wealth.

Many business, government and Church bosses who insist they cannot afford to give living wages to their workers are in fact buying more cars and condo units and going to exotic places for leisure. This means they can afford higher wages but would rather spend for the luxuries that a colonial culture says they deserve.

It’s not the swoosh of money then that you hear in the background but the rattling of chains that tie workers down to the lower rungs of society where they are presumed to belong. We just have to work to liberate ourselves from this dehumanizing culture.


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