Thursday, August 4, 2005


"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots." So said King Edward the Longshanks, in the movie Braveheart. While the words were spoken with bigotry and hatred by a British monarch seeking to conquer the former independent state by force, the statement rings some truth when applied to the Philippines.
Of course, to say "the trouble with the Philippines is that it's full of Filipinos," would be politically incorrect, and could easily be misconstrued as advocating ethnic cleansing. However, taken in the context of over-population, the statement is not entirely inaccurate. 82 million Filipinos living in an unstable infrastructure that can accommodate no more than half of that number is a more than self-evident indication of this long-suffering disease that afflicts our country.
In any case, beyond the burgeoning number of Filipinos being born everyday, I think it is more important to point out a sentiment I once heard from a lecture given by Washington Sycip many years ago. To paraphrase him, "the problem with the Philippines, is not so much that there are too many Filipinos, it's that there are not enough Chinese." According to Mr. Sycip, the Chinese here are too few in number to influence the majority. And the few Chinese who are here are so well assimilated into the local population, that they are the ones who have lost their identity.
His statement brings up two issues. First is demographics; the lack of numbers. Second, the erosion of Chinese culture, heritage and philosophy among the native Tsinoys.
In addressing the first part with regard to population, it is important to have a comparative list of our closest ASEAN neighbors. In other more developed Southeast Asian countries, the strong influential presence of their ethnic Chinese played a major role in the economic progress of their countries.
In Singapore, their Chinese population is almost at three-quarters, at 70%. (Of course these days, to call them Chinese would be to commit a cultural faux pas, as they proudly declare themselves as Singaporeans.)
In Malaysia, the Chinese make up for more than 25% of the entire population. And they boldly admit that their current economic success as a nation is due, in no small part, to the influence of Chinese culture and business. Dr. Mahathir Mohammad has on more than one occasion told the ethnic Malays to emulate the example of their industrious and enterprising Chinese brothers.
Thailand's Chinese population is only at 11%, and yet they are slowly but surely becoming the next rising superstar of the region.
In the Philippines, if the local statistical census is to be believed, the ethnic Chinese population is a mere 2%. Factor in the illegal aliens, double or triple the number and it would still be a very small percentage, as compared to our neighbors.
If one were to simply analyze the proportion of a country's Chinese population to the level of economic success, one cannot deny the correlation of the latter with the former. Albeit inconclusive, I am tempted to declare this relationship as cause and effect, the evident existence of the proportion of Chinese population presence and national economic success is undeniable. Therefore for purposes of conjecture, let us hypothesize: the more Chinese = the more chances for sustainable, national economic success.
In our country, although Chinese physical presence is only 2%, it can safely be posited that we contribute to more than 70% of the nation's economy. Perhaps more. It is a monumentally incredible feat, but before we start patting ourselves in the back, there is the second, and I think more important point to Mr. Sycip's theorem.
The second part of the statement addresses the erosion of Chinese mores. The Tsinoy has become more Filipino than he is Chinese.
For example, most of the new generation Filipino-Chinese today have even lost the ability to speak in Mandarin, and their grasp of our provincial dialect of Hokkien is bastardized, at best. I too am guilty of this. Whenever I am abroad, it is a handicap that shames me when I have to speak with another ethnic Chinese in, of all languages, English.
While mastery of the Chinese language is a major, not to mention very basic, issue of concern, perhaps equally important are the many life lessons and guidelines that have been handed down to us by our ancestors. Concepts and beliefs that are the foundations of being Chinese. Principles that have withstood the tests of time and braved international waters, as they were brought here by your grandparents and mine. Some of the simplest and inherently Chinese beliefs include: The virtues of thrift, hard work and enterprise. The philosophy of spending ten cents for every peso earned. The Buddhist wisdom of minimalism, of buying only the things you need, not the things you want. The concept of being the first in and the last out of the workplace in contrast to others who work eight to five. The hunger for undertaking new and bold ventures rather than be contented with eternal employment. And hundreds of other concepts that have been force-fed and hammered into our hearts and minds by our Angkong's and Law-pe's (grandfathers and fathers).
If we cannot share with the local populace our language (because we ourselves speak better Tagalog than we do Mandarin), then we have to at least share with our Filipino brethren these innately Chinese concepts frugality, foresight and sharp business sense.
While insofar as the Chinese contribution is evident in terms of commerce, it may well be the only tangible contribution the Tsinoys have had on the country we call home. Economic factors are fleeting, it is dependent on many other dynamics, and can change over the years, from administration to administration. A better and more lasting pamana or heritage the local peoples can benefit from, with truly long term effects, is the imparting of Chinese attitudes. The infusion of what we call "old school" beliefs of Confucian morals would better serve the Filipinos moreso than any physical wealth. It is not enough to provide employment, to donate schools, to provide free medical assistance to the poor, or feed the hungry masses.
As a favorite mantra of our Anvil Business Club goes, "you give a man fish, and you feed him for a day. You teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."
If we, as Filipino citizens, want to help this country, which is the land of our birth, the land of our grandfathers, the only land we have ever called home, and the land that we will bequeath to our children, then we have to share with it all our powers, all our talents and all of the positive high ideals of our culture. To keep such valuable treasures to ourselves would be selfish and unpatriotic. Perhaps in sharing our ethnic culture's wisdom with them, we may help Juan dela Cruz to be more discerning on what to believe, and not just continually be pawns to politicians, and clergymen with their outdated concepts that are detrimental, if not fatal, to our continued survival.
Change in the political world is nothing. Change has to come about from the grass roots level. And the potential for change is in the average Filipino. All he really needs is direction. I reject the forgone notions of Juan Tamad, of Ningas Cugon, of the Talanka mentality and other bad traits that Filipinos themselves admit to being afflicted with. While these factors do exist in the Filipino persona, they can be rehabilitated with the infusion of Chinese moral medicine.
The only possible obstacle, and the painful fact of the matter is this. The reason all these Chinese concepts failed to be handed down to the local people, is because many of the new generation Tsinoys ourselves have lost these beliefs. And one cannot give away what one does not have. We have to re-discover it inside ourselves first, if we are to be useful to our fellow Filipinos.
That, perhaps, will be the greatest Tsinoy contribution to our country.

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