Independence: To be ‘run like hell by Filipinos’?

“I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans.” That’s the famous statement by the Philippines’ second president Manuel Quezon, quoted in so many emotional speeches extolling nationalism.

I’m sure some smart aleck would post in his Facebook page: “Careful what you wish for. We have a government run like hell.”

But Quezon’s affirmation does challenge your rational mind. With one life to live, or a family to raise, why on earth would you want to live in hell?

Quezon’s is a view obviously not shared by the 15 million Filipinos who migrated abroad (the bulk to the colonizing country Quezon referred to) or by workers overseas who are spending their entire working lives there. Another 15 million probably want to live abroad, and have just been thwarted in doing so.

And these aren’t — except for the first wave of migrants to Hawaii and Alaska in the early 1900s— from the poor. They’re from the lower middle class to the rich, or else they wouldn’t even be able to afford the visa fees, plane fares and other migration or “deployment” fees.

More than half of my batch-mates at the Ateneo de Manila high school and college— mostly from the upper class —also didn’t prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos, and have migrated to the US and Canada, many straight from college.

Even many of the best and brightest of my generation of journalists are now working abroad. Take a moment to think: how many of your college classmates or office mates in you first job are abroad?

Most of our upper class now have permanent-resident status in or are citizens of the US, Canada, Spain, and Australia and many of the second and third generation of our elite have spent much of their youth abroad in secondary schools and college, that they can’t speak straight Pilipino, just, “yaya Tagalog”.

History nearly made a cruel joke, and would have ridiculed Quezon if presidential candidate in 2004 Fernando Poe, Jr. (Ronald Allan Kelley Poe), with a Spanish father and an American mother, had become president. With Estrada actually running an FPJ residency, would we have had a government run like hell by an American (or Spaniard?).

I wonder if Senator Grace Poe, who spent nearly all of her working life in the US, is a US citizen, which she could have very easily acquired, invoking having 1/2 American blood.

Would our third woman president be an American?

Manuel L. Quezon 3rd in a 2004 Philippine Daily Inquirer column pointed out that what his grandfather actually said was as follows, which he implied made it a very rational view:

“I prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to a government run like heaven by Americans. Because, however bad a Filipino government might be, we can always change it.”

I don’t think that’s right. If we were a US state, I’m sure that with America’s recall laws involving governors, it’ll be easy to change the state governor if he runs government like hell, and we won’t worry about poll fraud.

And we did change extra-constitutionally Marcos and Estrada. We in fact change our presidents every six years. But we still have a government run like hell by Filipinos.

Quezon quoted his grandfather at some length to convince us that “preferring a government of Filipinos run like hell” is a noble idea:

“Your country is a great country. It has a great past, and a great future. The Philippines of yesterday are consecrated by the sacrifices of lives and treasure of your patriots, martyrs, and soldiers . . . The Philippines of tomorrow will be the country of plenty, of happiness, and of freedom; A Philippines that is a mistress of her own destiny, holding in her hand the torch of freedom and democracy.”

Before you start hearing in your mind Freddie Aguilar singing “Bayan Ko,” note that Quezon made those statements over radio in the 1920s, nearly 100 years ago, and his grandson Manolo quoted him in a column published 10 years ago. The Philippines of tomorrow is still nowhere in sight

“A republic of virtuous and righteous men and women all working together for a better world than the one we have at present,” Quezon described his vision of the then future Republic.

That sent shivers down my spine. Instead of a republican utopia, we have a dystopia, one of the poorest nations in Asia now, a republic of the corrupt, the inept, and the hypocrite.

Fate seems to be mocking us that this year’s Independence Day celebration coincides with the indictment and arrest of three senators representing two generations, with many more legislators charged with the same crime, which reminds us of how deep we have sunk as a nation.

And we have a President running away from it, pretending to lead the Independence Day celebrations in Naga, but simply obviously afraid of the mass demonstrations scheduled on Independence Day, June 12, in Luneta in the capital city, the symbol of our independence.

Rather than cursing Filipinos though, that our characters are just so flawed, consider a different framework explaining the nature of societies and nations.

Society is a class-divided one, consisting of those owning the means of production, the ruling class who by virtue of that ownership claims ownership of the entire output, and those who don’t.

The means of production were predominantly land before, which evolved into capital, e.g., our landlord class created by the Spanish and the Americans evolving into today’s finance and industry magnates.

The rest, those who don’t own land or capital, are the exploited, whose shares in production are determined not by what is fair but what the ruling class wills.

Nation-states are not really associations or communities of equal citizens, a notion the ruling class has brainwashed all its members to believe. Rather, nations are creations of the ruling classes of a particular territory, just as a medieval baron would block off a vast tract of land as his fiefdom.

The notion of a nation has indeed been a very powerful and even necessary fiction for the ruling classes.

In pre-modern society, it was religion that put the exploited in its place, so that they’d never dreamed of breaking their chains—Christianity in Europe and in its colonized territories, Sons-of-Heaven kinds of crap as in Japan and China. Never mind if your land was confiscated to make up a friar estate, never mind if the colonizer demands you turn over to it half of your crops as taxes. After all, you are part of a bigger entity, the Kingdom of God.

In modern society, the opium is membership in and fealty to the nation. Never mind if you are a landless farm worker, a mall saleslady given only a three-month contract so the magnate can evade mandatory workers’ benefits, or an unemployed factory worker with a family to feed. After all you are part of a bigger entity: the nation.

In rich nations, the ruling classes at least managed to make their economies so productive so as to enlarge the shares income of the working classes. (The recent best seller Capital in the 21st Century by Thomas Pikkety however argues on a mountain of data that this wasn’t because of capitalists largesse but the result of political factors and forces, the ruling class even tried to block.)

The assumption of Quezon’s view was wrong. It isn’t a government by Filipinos that we can talk about. It is a government by the elite, of, and for the elite.