Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Fundamentalism vs Extremism

We have to realize that Islam and Christianity are significantly different only in their practices, rather than beliefs. It is largely because of the practitioners that conflicts exist between the two ideologies, both in the past and at present. As usual, it is the disordered nature of man that allows these differing perceptions how the ideology should be practiced. And it is man's predisposition toward violence that accounts for all the deaths and destruction wrought over the ages. This should aptly explain the Crusades, the Moors overrunning Europe prior to it, the Inquisition, present-day ethnic cleansing, and of course, the present stand-off. We should remember that man left on his own is predisposed toward violence and evil, even Catholic theology would confirm this.

A growing body of nascent scientific studies about consciousness, point to how man has over the ages evolved and developed his own individual consciousness from a prior well-ordered group consciousness, necessitating the formulation and implementation of codes of rules and punishment to keep him in check. It is society's role to mete out punishment when man strays from the norm. While the US has initially pre-empted this role, it has now involved the entire civilized world with the coalition that it has formed and its open declaration of war against worldwide terrorsm.

We also have to be discreet and quite discriminate when we use the term Islamic fundamentalist for the practitioner’s understanding of fundamentalism is quite different from the connotation we have popularly assigned to this term. For them, fundamentalism is adherence to traditional beliefs and mores of their ideology - thus, the continued usage of traditional clothing, the use of facial hair as a symbol of piety and reverence, avoidance of alcohol, traditional rituals, temperance in most things we take for granted, etc.

Any practitioner who advocates hate and violence as a valid means for promoting causes, even righting past wrongs, cannot rightly be called fundamentalist. He has to be an extremist at least, and at worst, deranged.

In Cagayan de Oro: Of Squatting and Squatters

This symbolic defiance of law and order, expressed as squatting, is not unique to developing countries like the Philippines. Some years back but already into the administration of the last mayor of San Francisco, the Civic Center area of SF did become an "encampment" similar to what one witnesses in our own city, replete with tons of used tires, derelict vehicles and carts, and what have you. It took almost two years to completely remove any traces of such a travesty.

And if one is familiar with the beauty and grandeur of SF's Civic Center with its ornate and Gothic structures, one would find it that much more difficult to imagine what it must have been like during the "occupation" by homeless people of all sorts of persuasion and background. And that much more difficult to imagine the ugliness that visited that revered place. But it did happen.

We have to realize whether we want to or not, that the very physical and social blessings that made Cagayan de Oro a very ideal and idyllic place to live in have become its bane. Relatively quiet in terms of peace and order; nice geographic location relative to Mindanao and the rest of the country; easy accessibility; warm, friendly, and almost subservient people; good schools, etc, etc. These are the very things that have made it a "haven and refuge" for most dispossessed and displaced people in that area of Mindanao and beyond. And people cannot be faulted for that.

The perennial problems of squatting and mindless disregard of petty laws are almost endemic to that place. It would be unkind and unfair to lay the full brunt of the blame on the present administrators. One needs only to recall the Macabalan area during our grade school and high school days. A good part of the pier area was squatters’ haven. Most everybody living in the immediate areas of the pier, including along the highway were squatters. Most of those areas were considered foreshore areas and thus owned publicly. I guess nobody raised much of a howl then, maybe because it was not in anybody's neighborhood, meaning anybody who found that objectionable or unsightly. And this, of course, was not the only area squatted on. But now, this pernicious practice has grown unabated and is now in everybody's neighborhood, including Divisoria Park. What to do! What to do!

The deadly combination of widespread poverty and ignorance is so disruptive and contagious that pretty soon, the whole society stagnates and festers. I believe Cagayan may only be feeling the initial pains and throes of this social contagion.

One optimism I personally harbor is in the area of grassroots economic empowerment. I continually harp about credit unions, especially those attuned to the common people. And just recently, the Bangko Sentral has allowed rural banks to be converted into "micro-finance" banks. So there are areas indeed, where meaningful changes can originate from. Why not more programs for economic investments, rather than on campaigns or missions to provide palliative relief for the sick and infirm? Why not go for the long run, rather than short term?

Comparing Filipino and Indian Nationals

The Indian and Filipino nationals may be said to share only in common geography, and may indeed be fierce competitors in most other areas, be they in ICT jobs or the like. The toss-up in call center location, for example, though now shared with China, had been initially between the Indian and Filipino counterparts, with the Filipinos usually getting the shorter end of the deal.

Having lived in the Bay Area for over 25 years, it is my personal perception that indeed, by and large, the Filipino or FilAm still has a lot of reorienting and catching up to do with the Indian nationals. At the height of the tech boom, at least 46% of H-1B visa holders were from India and the Philippines was not even remotely close.

Surprisingly, even in the area of language (especially, oral), it has been my personal perception that the manner that the Indian national speaks English has been more acceptable to the general populace, than the typical FilAm who learned his English in the Philippines. In other words, people are more comfortable and understanding listening to the English of the Indian national and unfortunately where I live, comfort is associated closely with acceptance. Another example of this "bias" is the English spoken by a Frenchman. Most would find it cute, interesting, and even romantic; but not many would have negative comments about it, enough to be turned off listening to it.

Having grappled with this issue for too long, I have come to the realization that the crux of the matter may be in enunciation. Filipinos reflexively speak English in the same manner that they speak their dialects. The result does not usually sit well with the typical native listener. Unlike the other nationals, there may be a need to speak English in a manner closely approximating the manner the natives use. One needs only listen to the bilingual and US-grown FilAms as they cross-navigate between their two languages.

Thus, while the typical Filipino, or the entire Philippines for that matter, may enjoy the inherent advantage of "understanding" English, there may be a crying need to improve in the area of oral expression.

Pray Tell, Which Language To Use?

So much has been written about the discussion on whether English should be removed as the "unofficial" language in the Philippines, thus making it optional in education as a medium of instruction and as a means of communication in the country's conduct of its political, social, and business life. Many have written impassioned essays in favor of the removal, prose that impressed me as good and lighthearted reading; but I do not believe that the advocacy of removing English in the Philippine setting itself as proposed holds enough substance to be tenable.

Arguments in favor usually are premised on some assumptions, which mostly are not backed by any reliable data and/or authority. Secondly, since they not provide any viable alternative, they suffer gravely in feasibility. It is not enough to suggest that the vacuum will be filled either by the national language, Tagalog, or Pilipino which is its "official" name, or any of the extant dialects within the archipelago. The babel of vernacular tongues has traditionally caused a lot of disunity and regionalism within this "islands" state. To cite an example of late (post-Marcos?), the Bisayan speakers led by a Congressman. Cuenco started a language revolt, refusing to accept Pilipino as the national language, since Bisayan is spoken by more Filipinos than any other dialect. The movement obviously fizzled out, but the point had been amply made.

English has been a uniting force. It could have been Spanish, had the Americans not waged the Spanish-American War. A national politician desiring full coverage and mileage for his messages does so in English, rather than attempting to learn and contend with the multitude of dialects spoken by his constituents.

One assumption is that the use of English as the medium of instruction has resulted in a sub-standard education for the Filipinos. But one cannot safely and justifiably assume that the cause of substandard education is the use of English as a medium of instruction, since given the realities it is the prevailing education system itself that is flawed. We find this even in a cursory comparison between the public and private elementary schools. By and large, the standards and systems available in these private schools are without doubt and debate much better than those in public schools, and the results bear this out. Drop-out rates in public schools are astronomically high when compared to the private schools. We can, of course, point to poverty and government neglect as the twin causes. But clearly one cannot necessarily deduce that the use of English played the dominant role in sub-standard education. Improve the system and make it accountable for delivering sufficient education to each public school student and without a doubt English speaking, too, will dramatically improve.

Another assumption is that the use of Taglish is proof of the failure of English as a medium of instruction; that because English is the medium of instruction the Filipino, unable to learn this Western language properly, has opted instead to incorporate whether little he has learned into his dialect, or vice-versa, i.e. interject his dialect into his English speech. This, of course, takes a dim view of the ability of the average Filipino to learn a language and/or dialect other than his own, whether it is Western or Oriental. The fact is the average Filipino from early childhood is already exposed to and has learned to survive in a multi-dialect setting, in school and in the real world. Learning English has not been an exception. But more importantly, we cannot assume that the use of Taglish is the inevitable consequence of the failure to acquire English properly when in fact it is a deliberate and conscious attempt of a people to creatively incorporate a foreign tongue into its indigenous dialect(s). One can just imagine the multitude of reasons why people do it, but it is phenomenon one can find in any corner of the globe. But are they aware and know what proper English is? Of course, they do. Take a look at the countless national, regional, and local English dailies, weeklies, or monthlies, one can find in the country. I know for a fact that they are sold everywhere from offices to marketplaces, from cities to towns. Their readerships run into millions. Taglish may be prevalent in speech, but the Filipinos can distinguish that from proper English, which they learned and continue to read in.

A third assumption is that because English has no importance and/or relevance to the typical workaday life of a typical Filipino, it can be dropped and replaced with another language/dialect at will. But most definitely, such is not the case. The use of English for more than 100 years has so ingrained it in the country's social, political, and economic life that at this point no Filipino, whether a sari-sari store owner or jeepney driver is completely isolated and/or insulated from it. That bottled bago-ong one buys from Aling Mareng's sari-sari store has a label written mostly in English, including the list of ingredients that health-conscious Pedro might want to read and find out. The street signs and notices are in English. At this time, the use of English has soaked in almost to the very core of the typical Filipino's thought and soul. It would be most difficult to both ideologically and physically remove him from it.

Lastly, with regard to its feasibility, to deconstruct and dismantle a system in place for over a hundred years is a gargantuan task, which even if called for and with justifiable reasons, would unduly tax a country already reeling from political and economic woes. No amount of political will and determination from all the so-called elitist decision makers could change that. What happened to the country in the past is past, and its history cannot be revised. It has to work and work effectively within that framework. In other words, make the most with the cards one is dealt with.

A Priority: Poverty Alleviation

The PCIJ blogsite dealt on the deteriorating conditions of poverty in the blighted island of Mindanao.

Here’s a related essay I wrote that dealt somewhat on a direction to take, toward poverty alleviation:

Indeed, with the current advances in technologies, we are beyond the cusp of just being able to gather/sift through information generated from all possible sources around the globe at dizzying speed, since this facility is already available to just about anybody, equipped with the earnest desire to make a difference in this world we live in.

Thus, it is quite easy even for me who lives at least 7,000 miles away from the Philippines and having left it more than 25 years ago, to make an adequately reasoned analysis and determination as what would be the most pressing problems in that beleaguered country.

In a country then which has been micro-analyzed and polled by innumerable agencies, both local and international, incontrovertible evidence/reports point to more pressing problems requiring more immediate attention.

Admittedly technology, particularly in the field of electronics, comprises a very significant portion of the country’s exports. Available stats show that 60% of exports are in electronics, and 50% of destination ports are in the US and Japan. And the current slump has greatly reduced those numbers. However, there are more insidious stats that cry for more immediate attention and solution. About 40% of the country’s population exists under very dire poverty conditions, Mindanao being home to a good percentage of this sorry lot. Unemployment? Maybe in low double-digits. But in the same vein, there seems to be no issue of challenge on an underemployment rate of 20% on those employed. In tandem, these are very scary stats, and this deadly combination of poverty and underemployment weighs even heavier on an already fragile society and economy, greatly emaciated as a result of world-wide economic and political upheavals.

Thus, while the varied concerns of IT and its ramifications in the Philippines are grave, poverty alleviation undoubtedly takes first priority.

Can we feasibly channel our IT discussions here toward the greater task of economic empowerment of those most dispossessed in that milieu?

Let me end by adding the following statements below, culled from various sources:

”…..three major issues were tackled: poverty, unemployment (or
underemployment as is most common in the Philippine context), and
social disintegration. While not all problems of unemployment and
social disintegration can be traced to poverty, it is very clear that
these three issues are closely related.

It cannot be denied that social problems which lead to the
disintegration of the social fabric like criminality, drugs, violence
especially against women and children are linked to poverty. This is
not to say of course that all criminals, drug addicts and violators
of women and children are poor.

Aside from economic, financial and social costs, poverty has
political costs as well. Chronic and unresolved problems of poverty
tend to translate into political issues which threaten stability. It
is not surprising that the regions in the country which are
identified as among the poorest are also hotbeds of rebellion."

It seems clear that poverty alleviation should be the first order on
any agenda for reform. Or phrased negatively, one could rightly blame poverty for declines in moral and social values; and not just of the poor, but society in general.

The Theology Of Wars

The continuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be hot-button issues that not only roil but divide people from across global boundaries. And discussions are pregnant with busted emotions, which will need to be tested under the cold and unsparing eye of logic and reason. Most of the time when one side is devoid of sufficient logic and/or reason, the appeal to the emotions is a very good and effective substitute. However, those who want to continue to appeal to logic and reason should not be discouraged to silence and inaction. Thus, let us continue the discussion, on a civil and dispassionate tone catered by logic and reason.

Because of the wars’ overarching reach, most if not all of us have personal and/or vested interests on the events and outcome. My third son’s Marines reserve unit participated in it. Thus, for a while he had to leave behind a wife and two little kids. Others are in similar situations and thus would probably want to lend or add moral perspectives to the issue so that these young soldiers at least know why they are finding themselves in these precarious situations.

I believe the following general statements are given, and accepted as true:

1. War by its very nature is evil. Nobody wants or desires war, except in the cases of crazed individuals or tyrants. Anti-war protestors know that Bush himself does not like war. He said so many, many times.

2. Though evil, the history of war has shown some good coming out of it. WW2 is a supreme example that cannot be debated.

3. This constant tug between the evil that war is and the good associated with some of them, has brought about a whole body of work delving on the various moral and ethical issues surrounding it. Thus, we hear the words, a just war, or an unjust war.

A little Christian history reveals the following. The beginnings of the just war tradition point to St. Augustine, who carries the title of Doctor of the Church in the RCC. He postulated that rightly-constituted public authorities have the moral duty to pursue justice, even at the risk of themselves and their constituents. Another Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas developed it and brought in the broader issue of charity.

At present most Christian denominations now follow the same guidelines which developed over the centuries.

Two criteria divide the entire discussion:

1. The War-Decision Law criterion (or in Latin, ius ad bellum):

In this part, the following questions have to be addressed and resolved:

a. Is the cause a just one?

b. Will the war be conducted by a responsible public authority?

c. Is there a right intention? (Which among other things, precludes acts of vengeance or reprisal)

d. Is the contemplated action “proportionate”, i.e., appropriate to the just cause?

e. Is the good to be accomplished likely to be greater than the evil that would be suffered if nothing were done?

f. Or if the use of armed force were avoided for the sake of other types of measures?

g. Have other remedies been tried and found wanting?

h. Or Are other remedies prima facie unlikely to be effective?

i. Is there a reasonable chance of success?

2. The War-Conduct Law criterion ( or, ius in bello) Positive answers to the above, bring on the following questions:

a. Questions of Proportionality, which requires the use of no more force than necessary to vindicate the just cause.

b. Questions of Discrimination, which require the observance of the moral principle of non-combatant immunity.

Hopefully, the path of future discussions will converge around these criteria.

Of Computers and Technology

Ever since I first landed on these sainted shores, I have always been fortunate to have been exposed to computers and its technology, not that I now have this expertise to run circles around anybody, but that I have just been around them that long. I was initiated into it through a Datahost system serviced by dumb terminals in a hotel setting. A quantum leap was made in 1984 when we converted to an IBM System36 mainframe/minicomputer but still with dumb terminals attached to it. Later on, we upgraded to an IBM AS400. Then prior to my leaving, we garnered the leading edge with our PC workstations with Windows95 operating system and Novell Netware, attached to two servers running Windows NT.

The Bay Area’s close proximity to Silicon Valley has in large measure also contributed to this prodigious exposure. The purveyors of the latest technology in electronics and allied industries usually find San Francisco as the likely beta-test market to proclaim and hawk their latest products.

The intent of the above attempt at narrative is simply to state that electronics has created a brand-new world for everybody! One cannot honestly think of any single individual living in society who is not only exposed to it but is required to be literate about it and be able to acquit himself or herself decently in its proper use. Its presence and usage have become so pervasive that one can safely equate its importance to education as say, learning to speak English in order to communicate. The existence and extent of the newest medium, the blogs, is loud testimony to this new frontier that everybody is required to blaze.

Without the strictures of physical travel, the use of computer technology has allowed us to depart from our earthbound existence and travel through the ether or call it cyberspace as it is now known popularly. It is accomplishing for us what our earlier journeys, which seems a lifetime away, did for man and his kind.

This realization has not only given us great joy and expectation, but also fresh challenges and opportunities that bode well for the future.

The message is short and straight. Let us each one impress upon our wards and ourselves the paramount importance of this parallel world and how we may be able to thrive in it. This is the new religion. Practice it.

Crab Mentality: A Philippine Phenomenon?

The FilAm papers here are forever referring to this crab mentality when something goes bad with the local FilAm communities.

I must confess I was not familiar with this phrase until I left the old country. I was made curious to no end since some people mention it with the same bluster and passion as though expounding dogma or doctrine. Thus, piqued by curiosity, I decided to do a little research on its origins and usage. I couldn’t decisively determine where it originally came from, but I know that its usage is not limited to Filipinos. Our Indian neighbors also use this expression. Even the African-American community is not averse to using this expression to carry across maybe the same sentiments. And who knows which other groups. And so it has to be left as such – undecided as to its origin.

But in the Philippine context, what exactly are its common connotations or meanings?

One hopes that everybody would be interested to learn about them, especially because anybody given that description is sort of invested with some kind of stigma; by the same groups that revere it as gospel truth. It probably does not do justice to the crab as a creature since this crustacean carries considerable nutritional importance and value; thus, in the food chain it commands a godly price, both in the Philippines and everywhere else.

Some Filipinos or FilAms here have a quite loose interpretation of it. In a group discussion decrying the general state of FilAm businesses here, this mentality is attributed the blame. They concur that Filipinos do not patronize their own; but as is common, they instead compete with any successful established business of the compatriots to the point of over-saturation. One can point to the overcrowded forwarding businesses scattered throughout the continent. Some pointed out though that comparative prices could be a big factor for the non-patronage.

In some legal discussions read, this mentality is mentioned in the same breath as witch-hunting, a rash to judgment of guilt, a disregard for the presumption of innocence principle in law, etc.; and is thus blamed by the government for the slow development growth of the country.

Still, others would use it for any and all adverse criticism directed toward another Filipino or FilAm, especially against another person or business, who or which may have attained some degree of prominence or success in the community. Regardless of motives and/or reasons? Unless explicit and expressed, or blatantly obvious, motives are hard to discern. Thus, who makes that determination for judging adverse and/or critical comments advanced as a sign of the crab mentality or just that, a constructive critical criticism?

The analogy of typical Filipino behavior is casually described as reflective of the behavior of crabs in a bucket; the others pulling or dragging down any crab trying to climb out of the bucket. One can also witness this phenomenon in the live crabs section of one’s local wet market. When you try to pull one out of the batch, the closest one will attempt to lock its pincers on the one you have lifted and will cling to it tenaciously. I have tried to violently separate the two, ending with one set of pincers being ripped off its socket. Quite gruesome.

Here’s a quite different spin. On my first days here in San Francisco, before embarking on my first job, my first “gainful employment” was “crabbing” with my wife’s relatives. Armed with crab nets (they typically are shaped like buckets of intertwined rope), we would spirit away on those biting-cold August days under cover of midnight and make our way under the Golden Gate bridge. Secured on some outcropping of rocks, we would drop our nets and hunt for those delicious Dungeness crabs, quite popular and quite expensive in these parts.

I had wondered then why we had to do it around midnight. Until much later, I found out that we were not just to trying to avoid frostbite; but more importantly we were trying to elude any warden who could be patrolling the area.

Anyway, bait for the crabs was chicken legs or necks tied at the center of the net. One had to buy these from wet markets. But I would notice that while we would only have one bait per net (part of the reason was cost) if we kept that net submerged long enough, one could come up almost always with two or more crabs.

Thus, any budding social scientist could interpret that behavior of the crab as showing its sharing mentality. While most animals would fight for a morsel of food, the crab typically shares it with others. You have seen dogs and even pigs growl at others trying to share in their meal.

There you go. So the next time somebody tags you with the crab mentality label, think of this least-known behavior of the crab and find solace in it.

I had initially painted three scenarios where Filipinos might use the phrase to depict a particular situation.

From solicited comments made, it does not appear that Filipinos patronize Filipino businesses any more or less than other ethnic groups. There may even be a predisposition toward patronage due to familiarity and commonality of language or dialect. I myself, partly because I live in an area of high concentration of FilAms, bought my first house from a FilAm agent. Another reason for the choice was that the familiarity with him emboldened me to ask for bonuses one would not normally ask from strangers.

On the legal front, this claim of rash to judgment reaction, or witch-hunting, or even disregard of the presumption of innocence principle, may not be justified for assigning this label. They are just too fraught with legalese and may be too complicated.

Thus, the most oft-used reason this label may be used is when a compatriot renders adverse criticism to another Filipino/FilAm, especially one of note and prominence. And it is usually assigned by the target of the criticism or those directly involved or associated with him/her. A quote from one post ascribed this heightened sensibility to criticism to the Filipino’s amor propio. But translated, amor propio means self-respect. Can self-respect be damaged by any and all adverse criticism? Could be affected but not necessarily? Or do we interpret amor propio to mean pride of self or ego? Or worse, false pride?

I still do not see the proper correlation or connection. If such were the case, then maybe we as an ethnic group should refrain from liberal and gratuitous (?) use of such label?

"Crab mentality" takes on a new meaning for the Bugueyanos. They do not buy the traditional negative connotation that crabs, when placed in a pan, tend to pull one another down as they try to reach the top, Antiporda says.

Cooperation, unity

Instead, they say, crab mentality should connote cooperation and unity. In a literal sense, crabs, in a similar situation, get on top of one another to form a makeshift ladder to help them reach the brim."

Of Praying and Prayer

Praying is one ritual the typical Filipino resorts to quite often but also rather paradoxically assumes and takes for granted, having been born in an unchanged environment where more than 80% of the population are Christian, specifically Roman Catholic, and where rituals and ritualism are most prevalent.

The idea of praying collectively is very much ingrained in religious culture. Rituals provide the forum to focus our collective energies in prayer. Having studied parapsychology on my own, I rather lean toward this spiritual exercise which others in both academia and elsewhere swear is quite effective in getting things and actions done. Even Charismatic movements within the Church resort to these means for healing and getting requests fulfilled.

But what is prayer, or how does one pray? In its most universal application, praying is the raising of our hearts and minds to God, or the Supreme Being. In school, we had a formula prayer, called the Morning Offering, which we recited daily at either the start of school or when one woke up. Essentially, it offers to God all our good thoughts and deeds of the day as prayer. Our day then became one big prayer. Those who pray in meditation simply go into some kind of trance and connect with the universe by crossing the boundary of self.

How should our praying be? Setting aside time in solitude and reading passages from the Bible or other religious books?

Or should we be more intense and specific. Pray for exactly what we want to happen and focus our collective will toward its fulfillment with the assistance of Divine Providence? But this is what St Ignatius said about praying:

That we must pray as though the matter we desire depended entirely on God and then work on it as though it depended entirely on ourselves.

Thus, praying can be a very taxing exercise. Maybe more taxing than we ordinary ascribe to it.


I have no doubt that most of us here realize the “need” and “importance” of prayer, because most of us here believe in the existence of a higher being somewhere out there, who watches over all our actions and more importantly, makes us accountable for each of them. As a consequence then, prayer becomes our communication with that being not just to explain ourselves, but also to seek for assistance on how this life might be lived in a manner acceptable to him. Scriptures and other holy books confirm and validate this.

Prayer needs to be explained and given its rightful place in our lives and taken away from its present commonplace parlance.

Though not wishing to be flippant, let me portray how it is presently viewed in common parlance by using the Hail Mary pass to illustrate. Most are probably aware of the Hail Mary pass used in professional football. This is how it got its name. It is a desperation pass from a great distance to the end zone amidst great coverage during the waning seconds of a game with only one intention. A receiver catches it and wins the game for the team. If not, the game is ended and lost.

Unfortunately and sadly, this typifies how prayer is viewed commonly.

One’s last minute option for deliverance or salvation. Desperate and against overwhelming impending odds.