The Hostility of Colonialism

Who would not want a new car or a new SUV?  I mean, in a poverty-stricken country like the Philippines, it is very sardonic to see that while most people still complain about having inconsiderable money to make both ends meet, the majority still quench their insatiable thirst for imported cars, be it by means of installment or cash.

Go to the nearest highway and one would see a fleet of Fortuner, Montero, Impreza, Accent, and many more Japanese, American or European cars passing by the ramshackle jeepney — pure mockery at its very best.

For the coffee lovers and those who are pretending to be such, who can resist a posh place like Gloria Jean’s or Seattle’s Best to get a tall and expensive frap, frape, prafe??  Well, whatever the spelling is and a small and costly blueberry cheesecake.  After all, nobody wants to miss the complicated bar counter, behind where all the blenders and grinders are displayed as if to remind you they really do process your cappuccino. Have you noticed how foreign coffee shops had sprouted all over the archipelago and had slowly but surely taken the place of malls, parks, fast food chains, and even cockpit arenas?

Well, that is just coffee, let us switch to technology. When it comes to cellular phones or other gadgets, Filipinos would never ever be the last human race to use the latest Apple-manufactured piece of communication device, despite the fact that it really is expensive.

A phone is a necessity these days but it makes me wonder why an average Pinoy worker, despite the daily earning of the minimum wage which just suits his payment for house rental, electricity and water bill, and food, opts to purchase this product of the late Steve Jobs over the cheaper phone. A forty-five thousand phone over three thousand worth of locally made phone? Come on, it’s no longer a matter of freedom or choice —it’s already wanton frolic.

English: La Loma Cemetery in Manila (1900) use...
English: La Loma Cemetery in Manila (1900) used as a fort by the Filipinos, shelled by Dewey. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Apart from the purchase of imported cars, brewed coffee, sophisticated phones, there are other things that really violate our sense of nationalism.  A perfect example is those Filipinos who spend their life-savings just to set their feet in foreign countries for vacation. Filipino travelers would often blurt out, “There is a promo for a one-week stay at the Venetian in Macau, let’s grab it” or “I will never ever get to visit Singapore again so why don’t we grab the Cebu Pacific promo”.

Visiting foreign countries and cities more than touring local places like Dingalan, Pagudpud, Puerto Princesa or even the overly abused Boracay gives everyone an idea that there is no decent place to visit in the Philippines at all.  It’s no wonder why travel agencies promote scenic areas in other countries like The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Sao Paulo Beach, and others. They know how to flatter Filipinos because they can see through us.

There really is no accurate rationale as to why we are into anything external or foreign. The closest thing to support the notion of colonial mentality among Filipinos is that we have been conquered by a handful of colonizers. In Teodoro Agoncillo’s book History of the Filipino People (1960), the author stated that long before the arrival of the Spaniards in 1521, we had been in constant trade with the Chinese people. The trade, which was then called the “Porcelain Trade” probably started centuries before the advent of the Sung Dynasty. The Chinese exchanged silk, porcelain, colored glass, beads, and ironware for hemp cloth, tortoise shells, pearls, and yellow wax of the Filipinos. The exchange of goods started as early as 960 AD before the accidental arrival of the Spaniards in 1521. And so it happened.

Original caption (cropped out): Native boats a...
Original caption (cropped out): Native boats and outriggers Description: (cropped out): Boats of the upper type were used to land the U.S. troops at Manila. One of those in which the Astor Battery landed sank in the surf just before reaching shore. The natives carried the men ashore on their shoulders. The lower boat is a fisherman’s craft used by the Negritos, who shoot fish in the clear water with bows and arrows. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The arrival of the European conquistadores brought a new phase and meaning to the lives and mindset of the Filipinos. We learned to integrate the Spanish language into our own even naming the Philippines in honor of the Spanish king. Provinces in the Philippines were renamed with Spanish names such as Nueva Ecija and Vizcaya, Laguna, Isabela, La Union, Antique, Marinduque, Negros Occidental, and Oriental and Valle de Compostela. More than this naming of places, the greatest influence the Spaniards have left us is faith in Roman Catholicism. Filipinos at home set up an altar in the Hispanic tradition, adorned with Catholic images, flowers, and candles as they have internalized observation of fiestas, devotion, rosary, baptism, and many more.

Along came the Americans. After the defeat of the Spaniards at the hands of the Americans led by General George Dewey in the war dubbed as the “Battle of Manila” in 1899, the Americans took the liberty of controlling and influencing the Filipinos. During the first years, there were some conflicts between the US and the Philippines but during World War I, they came together and the Filipinos fought alongside the Americans and their relationship became much friendlier. As we solidify our pact with the land of the free and the home of the brave, we became more attached to their customs and traditions. Nobody can deny that the greatest contributions of Americans are democracy and education. To cite all the things that we inherited from Uncle Joe is impossible for they are innumerable. American influence in Filipino clothing is apparent up to these days. We often see wearing belts, suspenders, tennis shoes, bonnets, high heels, and cosmetics. For food, Filipinos are accustomed to U.S.-based staples like hamburgers, sandwiches, oatmeal, ketchup, apple pie, mayonnaise, hotdogs, steak, ice cream, cornflakes, and many more.

Seventy-one years have passed since the Philippines have tasted true freedom and democracy, yet its beloved citizens are still, or should I say, intentionally glued to anything that is international in concept. Our colonial mentality should no longer be attributed to the colonizers because, for a long period of time, they are gone. After the Second World War ended in 1945, the US declared that we were an independent nation and that we would from that moment stand on our own, build our own nation, govern our people and make ourselves proud of what we could make of our country. Yes, we have been standing on our own. For quite some time, we have been electing our leaders, we have drafted our constitution dedicated to democracy, we have been blessed with job opportunities, we have seen the ingenuity of many of our fellow countrymen in the field of business, arts, academe, and even sports. These things, when accumulated, would entail national pride and patriotism. But the “accumulation” never happened in the Philippines.

English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippi...
English: Depiction of the flag of the Philippines, as conceived by Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo. Created with Inkscape. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Nationalism and patriotism are things not difficult to conceive. It is just a matter of self-worth, confidence in the citizens’ competence, and pride. Just take a look at Japan, its people may be ridiculed for being awful English speakers but nobody can take away the fact that it is a land with citizens deeply attached to their flag, to their country, and to their identity. For despising imported goods, Japan was able to produce products of their own in the field of automotive, heavy industries, and gadgets. Everyone is definitely familiar with brands such as Toyota, Mitsubishi, Honda, Nissan, Subaru, Yamaha, Kawasaki, Sony, Sanyo, and the list goes on and on. The same principle of nationalism applies to countries like Germany, Italy, France, and even China.

While more and more countries are gradually realizing the essence and beauty of selfhood, the story is different here in the Philippines. Here, the culture of the bandwagon is a cliche: We have been deeply in love with anything that is Western in concept. We always want to exclude ourselves in the bondage of traditionalism and although it does not manifest verbally, we always deny our being Filipinos for we love imported goods.

Just how worst have we opposed our being Filipinos? Instead of settling for a more affordable and locally-made brand of leather shoes, a typical Filipino would hand his ever hidden credit card to the ethical staff at the counter in exchange for the expensive and imported Kickers, Hush Puppies, Timberland or Oleg Cassini. I’m sure the reason is not about issues regarding durability and longevity.

What about the means of transportation, particularly cars? Try going to EDSA and anyone would notice that many billboards post inviting marketing strategies like Vios, 20K Downpayment, No Hidden Charges. Car manufacturers know that the Philippines is and will forever be a third world country, yet they still thrive in selling cars to us. And the business is so good that everywhere you turn, there would always be car casas regularly visited by an average businessman, a call center agent, a teacher, and even a college student whose dad is a seafarer. The funny thing is that people purchase cars for the reason beyond practicality – that they work near their residence and they don’t need cars at all, that they know that the streets of Manila are just like a huge parking space during rush hours, that they know that sooner or later they would have their car pulled out by the bank because they could no longer afford to pay for it. Pathetic as it may seem, Filipinos buy imported cars, not for a reasonable cause but to delight their ego.

Gadgets are undeniably a necessity nowadays. For living in a fast-paced world, people need to have smartphones for easy access to emails, messages, and important and unimportant calls. We are not Amish people whose contentment is based on how they shrug what is contemporary. But while it is clear to us Filipinos the vitality of possessing gadgets particularly cellphones, it is still an enigma as to why we settle for expensive and imported brands. Is it the speed? I bet locally made phones are equally fast in processing. Is it the being user-friendly of the phone? I’m certain it is also easy to write text messages on My Phone, Torque, and Cherry Mobile. Is it the design? The size? The weight? The color? Or is it the brand?

To realize just how strong our attachment is to Apple, Samsung, Asus, and other foreign brands, just look at the students, people in the BPO industry, people in the corporate world, service crew in a fast-food chain, construction workers, and even the jobless and the bystanders. They all have this phone with an apple with a bite at the back. Parents would give their kikay daughters an imported phone on the latter’s birthday saying, “You deserve nothing less, anak”.  A service crew would avail of an iPhone 7 even if it means paying it for the whole twelve months with a staggering thirty percent interest. Truly amazing. What is funnier is that the same things that are provided by these imported phones can also be given by locally made ones…for a cheaper and reasonable price.

Then we have our fellow kababayans who love to travel, as discussed earlier. They go to France to see that tall, metal structure in Paris. They travel to Hongkong to have a seat at the roller coaster in Disneyland and to have a picture taken with Mickey and Donald. They travel to Cambodia to see the largest religious monument in the world, to see the lovely bones of the victims of Pol Pot, and to see where the film “The Killing Fields” was taken. They travel to London to ride The Eye, to have a selfie with Big Ben at the background, to walk at Trafalgar Square, to watch the concert of Ed Sheeran at Hyde Park, and to feel the bloody English weather. They travel to Kenya to pose with the African children, to ride a Land Rover and see the animals at the Serengeti plain and to hunt and shoot poor antelopes to get their antlers. The farther they travel, the happier they become. As the number of countries, they have visited increases, the more satisfied and proud they become.

Ancient Filipinos utilized terrace farming to ...
Ancient Filipinos utilized terrace farming to grow crops in the steep mountainous regions of the northern Philippines. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The author does not see any problem with these explorations and escapades for travel equates to education. When one travels, he’d have a first-hand experience and account of what really is going on around the world. After all, it is their money they are spending. What is bothering is that while these Filipinos crave the elegance of international tourist spots, they fail to notice the grandeur of the Philippines. What about visiting Camarines Norte for surfing, Baguio for the cold weather and for upland fruits and vegetables, Puerto Princesa for an underground river tour, Ilocos Norte for sand surfing, Quezon province for a series of pilgrimage, and even Intramuros for a look back at how our beloved Rizal spent his last few hours. It is painful to see how Filipinos would flock to distant lands for a leisurely visit and neglect the scenic places of our realm. It is as atrocious as not wanting mom’s home-made adobo and preferring to eat at a swanky restaurant.

Why Filipinos are suckers of anything that is western in the concept remains a riddle. Youngsters who play basketball in the streets of Manila are often seen wearing Nike. Yes, Nike, the company that employs minors in China. Ask them why such brand is chosen and not MSE or Natasha and you will be bombarded with answers like “It’s light, it’s durable, it’s classy, it unleashes the athleticism in me, blah, blah, blah”. True enough, the aspect of toughness is unquestionable. The catch is that, why do some kiddos and teenagers wear the imitation of Jordans and Kobes? I’m sure it is not a matter of the reliability of the shoes because class A’s are made with substandard materials. The painful truth is that we are only after the brand – to be noticed, to be sighted as prosperous, to be on the bandwagon, to wear what the wealthy people wear, and the worst, to be accepted.

For automotive enthusiasts, it is almost taboo to purchase a Cavite-manufactured owner-type jeep. A typical dad could never force his teenage daughter to be taken to the school riding in a filthy owner jeep because for the poor girl, it is baduy. A typical white-collar guy would not want to go to Starbucks, parking his stainless owner jeep next to Foresters and Ecosports. For sure, it will be photographed by the Conyos and it will be ridiculed for being a “fly in a glass of milk”.

Nowadays, what is cool should be the possession of pick up trucks ridden by the tough guys in Texas (even though pick up trucks are built for farm or ranch and not for urban areas like Manila), possession of a muscle car that is a prototype of what Vin Diesel used in his famous movies about racing, possession of Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini even if these cars were designed only for wide freeways, something which we do not have. Can you imagine what it is like driving a Lambo in the chaotic and narrow streets of Manila? The Philippine-made owner-type jeep is really the perfect toy to roam our dilapidated streets. Again, when it comes to cars, the concept of colonial mentality overpowers our sanity.

Readers might question the author’s dislike for buying imported stuff. Critics would say, “It is our hard-earned money after all, and we have all the liberty this world has to offer when it comes to purchasing whatever we want to buy”. True enough, we are entitled to our decisions and nobody has a right to tell us to buy this and not that, to do this and not that.

But, the underlying dangers and drawbacks of colonial mentality are as bad as self-destruction. Naïve are people who love to sport their Jordans, Ford Everest, Fire Floss from Le Couer de France, and Sperry Top-Sider without directly realizing its effect on our economy and our morality as Filipinos. By buying Jordans, we strip our local shoemakers of their chance to show their creativity, their brilliance, and their chance to earn. By buying iPhones, and not Cherries and Torques, we are backhandedly telling our homegrown electronics engineers, technicians, and IT experts that their toil does not merit our applause and support.

We always degrade locally made gadgets and we often complain about them being difficult to use. But we should also have a realization that the very reason why local companies could not manufacture better versions is that they lack the support of the Filipinos. Should we buy their Cherries, the company would generate enough funds to upgrade their phones and tablets. Moreover, by buying Fortuners and Monteros, we are closing the doors to the possibility of producing our very own brand of automotive.

If you visit the Sarao Jeep Company factory in Las Pinas, you would see how grubby and sordid the place is. Workers are without sophisticated machinery, without definite buyers, and worst, without hope. But just as dirty and blackened the hands of these patriotic workers are, Filipinos’ hands are also dirty. We can never wash our hands off the dirt of our distrust in the capability and competence of our local car makers. How I wish that in my lifetime, I will be able to drive a vehicle made in the Philippines and manufactured by the Filipinos.

The damage of colonial mentality does not only sprawl on the economic aspect. More than currency, colonialism deeply cuts through our sense of national pride which will leave us bleeding until the death of our morality. By buying goods from the other countries, the notion that the Philippines cannot produce anything good will boomerang to us and it will haunt even our posterity.

Colonial mentality is a vulgar display of our dislike for anything Filipino, which reflects our self-hatred. But worse than patronizing anything international, we are already longing to be what we are not. We Filipinos, for a long period of time, have done idiotic things to escape our beautiful identity. We blonde our hair, we apply skin whitening lotion, we imitate the accent of the stupid newscaster from the BBC news and we indirectly deny our being Filipinos. This reality crushes me in pieces.

We may not possess the wealth of superior countries, we may not have those Ferrari, Aprilia, and Ducati factories that are regularly featured on National Geographic Channel. We may not have the tallest building on earth, the fastest train, the cable ride overlooking the snow-capped mountains like the ones in the Rockies of Denver, Colorado. We may not have the pointed nose, the so-called superior white skin, or the “bloody” British accent.

But Filipinos are superior in a different sense. We are a beautiful people whose resiliency had defied and thrown oppressors in the past. We are a beautiful people whose soil is blessed with fertility to grow delicious fruits and vegetables. We are beautiful people who, despite the hardships of life, flaunt contagious and genuine smile to encourage others. And since we are beautiful, it is not impossible for us to produce beautiful things in the field of science, arts, economics, technology, and the like.

There is no need for colonial mentality, for self-hatred, or for distrusting our potential.

We are beautiful.

(Ronald B. Polong is a frustrated writer who removes his dentures before he sleeps and places them in an empty Cheez-Whiz bottle, with water, of course. He currently lives in Nueva Ecija with his wife, twin boys, a brood of roosters and hens, ducks, and an old dog.)