Filipinos are culturally hobbled by a compulsion to assert class dominance over the other. Much of the priority pursuit of the average Filipino involves decking himself in the latest branded t-shirt, sporting the latest mobile device, and uttering the latest hollywood catchphrase. Nothing new nor nothing surprising about this. Much of what contributes to the impoverishment of the Filipino is driven by a neurotic susceptibility to the Jedi mind tricks of clever marketing, and a vacuous regard for the substance behind truly excellent brands. The engineering brilliance that purrs underneath the understated exterior of a Mercedes Benz automobile, for example, is simply lost on the Filipino mind’s fixation on the three-pointed star that is its mere symbol. Indeed, Filipinos are huge patrons of fake branded products — a testament to this renowned lack of depth in our sensibilities. The brand is the be-all-end-all. What it symbilises is of no consequence to the average Filipino consumer. For us quality is a magically mysterious property of a product. The thinking and diligence that goes into engineering an excellent product <back stage simply does not register.
The venerable Micheal Tan in his masterpiece “Pinoy Kasi” article laid it out quite eloquently:
For the Filipino, this is usually done by over-dressing, decking himself with what he thinks are the symbols of wealth: flashy jewelry, brand-name accessories.
It is amazing how this training to be immodest starts early in life. You see it even in school among the children of the rich and powerful, in the way they dress, in the latest electronic gadgets they carry. These kids don’t walk, they strut around. Neither do they talk; they boast, they order people around.
The swagger, the insolent voice, the conspicuous consumption of wealth are all part of an assertion of privilege, a long-playing ritual to intimidate others into “modest” silence. In countries where such a culture dominates, like the Philippines, progress is slow. There is little room for innovation or creativity since individual merit is rarely recognized. The only way up, besides being born into privilege, is to join the circle of sycophants that sing daily praise to those in power.
Such an unsavory character burnt straight into the very fibres that make up the very fabric of Philippine society, possibly explains why our best-intentioned efforts to exhibit a bit of humility more often than not comes out like a badly-executed comedy of errors. Not only is Pinoy kayabangan (arrogance) so deeply-ingrained, the already tiny philosophical landscape of the Filipino lacks a rich enough conceptual framework around humility in the true sense of the word.
Again, Michael Tan explains:
Our language says it all. We do not have words for “modest” and “modesty” in Tagalog, except in the sense of how a woman is supposed to behave. We do have a word for “humble” – mapagpakumbaba, which emphasizes the way we are supposed to lower, even prostrate ourselves, in relation to the powerful.
Indeed, in the same way that a lack of a concept of efficiency in Filipino native dialects reflects the pathos of our industrial prowess, an inability of the vocabulary of Pinoy languages to capture the the many dimensions of humility explains why our efforts to be “humble” simply fail. The Filipino brain is simply not wired to be humble.
Knowing all of the above, it is now quite easy to see the cultural psychology behind the way President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III painted himself into a corner in this whole issue about him declining to avail of his “wang-wang” privileges.
The Law is quite clear about who is entitled to what with regard to this:
Under the law, only the president, the vice president, the heads of the two chambers of parliament, the Supreme Court chief justice, police, military and emergency vehicles can use sirens and drive through red lights.
The issue surrounding the abuse of sirens and motorcades is more around an atrophied ethic of application and enforcement of the Law in Philippine society. Indeed, ours is more a culture of crime rather than a society of law-abiding citizens. It is a systemic issue, and wang-wang‘s are mere symptoms of this broad-based cancer that famously afflicts Filipino society.
The trouble with a people possessing a well-developed ethic of arrogance and a stunted understanding of humility is that an attempt to be humble often results in an over-compensation. It can be likened to the sorry performance of a bad actor trying to portray a complex character. When complexity is far beyond the ability of a mind to internalise it, there can be only one result: epic fail.
Look at what false humility is costing Noynoy Aquino today as evident in this AFP report:
Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda admitted on Thursday that Aquino’s insistence that he be treated like every other Filipino in traffic was causing a massive headache for his bodyguards.
“That’s a concern. Either he wakes up earlier and just observe all these traffic rules or, since he’s allowed to use sirens, he can use the sirens,” Lacierda said.
Sayaw, Pinoy, sayaw.