Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Random Thoughts From An Ex-Pat

This was the hot topic this week, ignited by the plaintive musings of an “adopted” son of Lupang Hinirang. It was all that was needed, an “outside” spark to ignite our collective “engine” of thought and comment. Quite expectedly, the quick discernible reactions came from us, the expatriates. Personally, I was quite willing to hold my peace, since I was convinced that everything I had in mind had already been very eloquently brought out by other members. Not until, I read the piece of Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, presenting the entire country and culture as one abundant “cornucopia” of ironies.

The points at issue, as subtly laid out and bared by the adopted son, centered on the following issues. The national pride, or lack thereof, of the Filipino with regard to his country and culture. The Filipino’s measure of his self-worth. His love of country and its rich history(?), democracy, and freedom. His awareness of his identity.

And without reservations, we did, and should, give positive remarks about the issues raised by the “foreigner’s” innocent and sincere call for awareness and change. But adding to and validating Nakpil’s collection of ironies, the early and timely defense came from us, expatriates. It came from those of us who had decided to leave the country to live and earn a livelihood away from the Philippines, and not from those who continue to exercise their inborn rights to live, to love, to be happy, and to prosper in the country of their birth. Is it maybe because uncomplimentary comments made by “foreigners” who regard themselves as adopted citizens have become so passé to the resident Filipino that they do not elicit any more response than a dismissive wave of the hand? So why have we instead, the expatriates, become very keen and responsive to the issues about the old country as presented above?

Anyway, going back to the points raised above. I, myself, can also irrefutably declare my love and pride for my old country and its culture. I can also declare without debate that the Filipino’s identity is closely tied up with its tumultuous history of countless years of colonization and subjugation. And its self-worth is derived from the tight and neatly-bundled product of all these factors. And since these are judgment calls, nobody should be able to effectively challenge these assertions.

But the proof of the pudding still is or are the consequent actions/deeds brought to bear as testimony/ies. When we became American citizens, for example, we declared under oath our sole allegiance to the USA, carrying with it sole fidelity, loyalty, and obedience to the exclusion of any other state (the Philippines included). As a matter of fact, should the two countries be on opposite sides of a war, we are counted upon to bear arms in defense of our new country.

Additionally, being physically detached from the old country, our abilities to express our love and pride for it are extremely limited. The giving of oneself which is the supreme expression of love and pride unfortunately cannot be easily given either remotely or vicariously. Unless, of course, if our plan within our lifetime is to eventually go back there and replant our stakes for good - for ourselves and/or our progeny.

Other side issues were also expressed. Like, what exactly do we mean when we say love of country? Or, the distinction between the Filipino poor wanting to be Americans and the rich wanting to be seen as Spaniards. Or, the seemingly national Filipino traits of acceptable bribery, falsifying documents, etc.

Let me venture my own guesses. I have a deep feeling that when we, expatriates and first-generation Filipino immigrants, declare our love for the home country we unknowingly refer to the collective baggage of nostalgia and countless childhood/adolescent/adult memories we lugged with us coming here. A way to test this is to ask our kids, who still “pure” Filipinos are with regard their bloodline, what they think of the old country. Especially kids who were born here or were brought here at very tender ages. In all likelihood, they will not be able to associate anything there that they can like or love. Love presupposes knowledge of something or somebody before love can blossom. Also, we may continue to love that old country since it is still the place where most of our dear relatives and friends are.

The Spaniards impressed upon us a social structure that was very steeped in the caste system, with the “illustrados” and the “indios” delineating the lines between the Spaniards, the mestizos, and the Filipinos; and even amongst themselves, isolating those born in Spain from those born in the islands (the insulares). Since the indios were kept in ignorance and penury, the rest prospered and became the rich elite. It is not a great stretch to understand why the present remnants of the rich elite pine for their storied past, the grandeur of imperial Spain. And to live comfortably there with their acquired wealth.

And the poor can only look up to the next colonizer who initiated its arduous task toward enlightenment. Thus, the axiom sounds true. It is also Monarchy versus Democracy. Lastly, if you are a poor and struggling Filipino, why would you choose Spain over America, where the opportunities for improving your lot are much more open and available in the latter?

Aside from Nakpil reporting it in her piece, I also have my own anecdotal evidences to show its truth. And it is that any aptly educated, sufficiently motivated, and young Filipino if given the opportunity would like to come to the States or similar country to work and reside at least for a time, or a lifetime.

It seems from personal contacts and stories that every family in the Philippines has a member living here in the States, or if not, planning to come and live here. From almost every person I spoke to on this last trip I made, the first piece of conversation topic was about his/her child or relative living here in the States. When I left, 5 young nephews/nieces of mine had eagerly asked about their chances of working here in the States. This definitely is more than just about economic reasons. We may have to factor in issues about one’s personal identity, national pride and honor, and even self-worth within the milieu one is born in.

With regard to bribery and falsifying documents, these are either due to a cumulative breakdown in moral values, and/or a misperception of morality and moral values. I cannot accept a premise that as a people, Filipinos are just so calloused as to continue to allow this to happen, knowing it is a grave moral wrong. I cannot imagine a whole country collectively losing sleep every night, feeling the gnawing pangs of remorse of conscience. But then, again, some say, that callousness can and does deaden the pangs of conscience if an act is repeated one time too many.

On Civility In Our Online Communication/Discussion

Either as a result of acting like a fly on the wall in my countless online travels, or maybe because of having read that book on Internet Psychology, I sense that in group interaction whether in blogs or similar venues, as in most normal interaction, we invariably fall into a tendency to put everything in neat boxes or categorizing everything we read and write based on our own preconceived beliefs/attitudes. And we act and respond accordingly. This is to be expected, I guess, since this is how we humans act and react. But the realities of human thinking are not that cut and dried. Having differing ideas and opinions is more the rule than the exception.

In the past, social scientists advanced the idea of brainstorming sessions to allow the freest collation of ideas on a subject by allowing liberal encouragement to every participant to contribute ideas, unfettered by inhibitions and other pressures that might cause participation bottlenecks. But now they are saying that collected data would seem to suggest that the touted benefits of brainstorming have not really been realized as a result of the dynamics of certain pressures that continue to hinder its effectiveness.

What this suggests to me is that maybe we really have to go through the exacting gauntlet of finding out exactly, or at least reliably, where an idea proponent is coming from beyond the words that he/she uses to flesh out his ideas.

Knowing this, I believe our replies or responses would not only be more responsive but kinder and more civil, and thus engender and court more exchanges from other sources. I know that it is difficult but I think it makes for better and wider participation. if we each make an honest and diligent effort to do so.

Goes to show it is still easier to attract flies with sugar, than with vinegar.

The Chinese Yuan and the Philippine Peso

Right now the Chinese yuan is pegged against the US dollar, i.e., in effect the yuan derives its value as compared to the value of the US dollar and not to any other currency. At this time one US dollar is worth about 8.28 yuans.

But everybody is saying that the yuan is undervalued, i.e., it should take less than 8.28 yuans to make one dollar, or it should be 4.97 yuans to a dollar (40% of 8.28 is 3.31 minus to 8.28 is 4.97).

If you are the Chinese manufacturer and/or producer and you are exporting your products, right now you are receiving 8.28 yuans for every dollar of export. If revalued, you will receive only 4.97 yuans for every dollar that you export. Thus, you will receive less for doing the same thing. You will need to add 40% to your production just to keep up. You lose 40% of your gross receipts without doing anything. And the main engine of Chinese progress is its exports

To the outsider, it does seem strange that the Chinese do not want to acknowledge that its currency is worth more as compared to the dollar. But the export angle is the reason.

But the case of the Philippines is different. For one it is not a great exporting country and secondly, it needs a lot of imports just to survive. Thus when the peso value deteriorates against the dollar, then it needs more pesos to import the same goods for the same dollar values. True, its exports get cheaper for those importing them but the Philippine exporters receive lesser amount of dollars. But worse, because the Philippines is a borrowing country, with debts denominated and payable in dollars or other foreign currencies. You will then need more pesos just to service your existing loans.

On US Deficits and China’s Progress

Runaway deficits in the US would not be sustainable over a long period of time. Some things have got to give. And there is no end in sight for the government expenditures that are causing these deficits – the wars, homeland security, even illegal immigration, etc.. So who knows what the future holds.

We can only try to monitor these deficits as we move along and try to find any rationalization. During the Reagan years the deficits peaked at 6% of GDP and fortunately this has not been reached yet. This economy continues to grow robustly. Just for this current year alone, quarterly figures show 3-4% growth of GDP. Thus, while in dollar values the deficits are record highs, they still have not reached that percentage peak during Reagan’s terms.

What can any country do, not just the US, under these very uncertain times? Countries under the EU continue their very anemic growth in their economies, mostly at 1% or even lower. They cannot compare to China’s sustained growth of about 9%.

Thus, while China continues to be frowned upon by the supposedly more civilized countries of the world as having such a repressive government, its sustained growth continues to bring employment, progress and hopefully, enlightenment, to its billion people.

I believe that that is a silver lining.

And re the US economy, figures are hard to dispute. We continue to see good figures for jobs created, and the unemployment rate has not moved much. As a matter of fact, the dailies here show the rate moving down in some counties.

True also, the stock markets have not been encouraging. Quite volatile. And I had thought it would break into the 11,000 mark. But again we cannot close our eyes to these uncertain times. The price of oil and consequently, gasoline prices have been big dampers to the economy. The players in the markets are easily scared and unnerved.

Many may find causes to fault the US economy at this time, but in so doing one needs only to see its reflection in the mirror to realize that whatever the US is going through ripples through the entire world.