My last article got me accused of being too anti-Filipino for my stand against giving poor Filipinos the opportunity to get a university degree. I was told that to deny the poor Filipinos the same opportunity that I had, to get to where I am in life right now, is not only cruel but also unpatriotic. Education will pave the way to uplift the lives of many poor Filipinos and ultimately the country, as claimed by my critic. In addition, the fact that I chose to contribute my skills and knowledge for the benefit of another country instead of the Philippines, where I benefitted from public education, makes me a traitor to the Philippines. I submit that too much idealism and patriotism is non-sense.
First let me be clear. I am not about denying the poor Filipinos the opportunity for higher education. What I am against is the State funding of higher education (for the poor or otherwise). The opportunity is always there. Financial constraint is merely a roadblock but it isn’t a show-stopper. There are other avenues one can take to get to a destination. State funding of higher education does not necessarily have to be the only avenue for the poor. Anyway, going back to the topic of my “treason”, I am reminded of a Youtube video that went viral a few years ago showing Professor Winnie Monsod’s last lecture prior to her retirement from the University of the Philippines in Diliman. Here is the video:
When I first viewed the video, I was entertained by the Professor’s way of teaching her students an ideal she holds very dearly. If I was one of the students in her class, I would have been quite attentive because of the energy and humor of her litany. Nevertheless, although I admire the Professor’s delivery, I do not support her contention as I do not see any solid philosophical and moral ground on her arguments nor do I see any sense in heeding her call on a pragmatic view.
The fundamental question, I guess, to ask is: “Do Philippine public scholars have a moral obligation to stay in the Philippines and use the knowledge they have acquired from public schools to benefit the country that supported their education?” To ponder on this question, I would like to use an analogy that is simple yet close to our senses – the relationship of parents and children. With this, of course I am equating the Philippine government as the parent and Philippine public school scholars as the children.
Most parents value and love their children. As a parent myself, I want the best for my kids. So I work and invest time, money, and energy on ventures that would result in the greatest benefit for my family, especially my kids. Is this an admirable “selfless” thing of me? Well, it is admirable but I do not think it is entirely “selfless” although there is a great deal of work on my part for the benefit of others (my wife and kids). I find my act rooted on “self-interest” because my wife and kids are what I value in life and I will do everything to take care of them. Because of my love for them, I will do everything to ensure emotional, financial, and psychological support for them. So really, my love, itself, is a “self-interest” emotion.
So given that “self-interest” isn’t inherently bad, should I ought to hold it against my kids if they choose to do something that would benefit their own family first (when they have their own kids to take care of) instead of mine, considering that I took care of them when they were still young? I do not think so. Surely it will be nice if my kids would take care of me in my twilight years but I also recognize that they have their obligation to attend to their self-interests first (i.e. to take care of their own family) before mine. I certainly would not label my kids as traitors for choosing to attend to their self-interest first before mine.
So the point is – I think it is absurd to take it against State scholars who choose to leave the country to seek better opportunities or a better life. Surely it would be nice on the Philippine scholars to remain in the Philippines and use the knowledge they have acquired from the country’s public schools for the benefit of their homeland. But where should a person prioritize his or her moral obligation – to self or country? If a Philippine scholar has a family to support and a better life for his family lies outside of the country, why would the choice to leave the Philippines be morally wrong?
A schoolmate of mine (from one of the Philippine Public schools I attended when I was still in the Philippines) contends that Prof. Monsod’s stand is supported by “Christian and Buddhist philosophy” which morally obligates the “rich” to help the “less fortunate”. If that is the case, then shouldn’t Professor Monsod have addressed the students of the De La Salle University and the Ateneo de Manila University, instead? Given that most products of these universities come from the Philippine society’s “rich” and given that these universities come from the religious fold – Christianity? But what makes someone “rich” anyway? Suppose I make $150,000 (USD) a year and Jollibee Foods makes $1.7 Billion (USD) a year, should Jollibee be morally obligated to give me free “Chicken Joy Meals” or hamburgers, at the very least, considering that I am “less fortunate” compared to it? So why should I be morally obligated to help someone who makes, say, $125,000 (USD), considering that the other guy is “less fortunate” than I am in terms of money? Is there a definitive line drawn on what separates the “rich” and the “less fortunate”? Is there a Biblical verse or a Buddhist chant that we can refer to that shows this definitive line?
What is in it for me to follow this purported Christian moral obligation if I do not subscribe to the idea of my soul’s eternal salvation come “Final Judgment Day”? What’s in it for me if I do not subscribe to the idea of attaining a higher form of life in my next life when I get re-incarnated? Why should I even prioritize the benefits that I will supposedly get from these fantastic religious claims on what lies ahead of this yet-to-be-proven afterlife over the immediate benefits for myself, my wife, and my kids? Again, even with a religious twist, I find my schoolmate’s contention absurd.
Why should Philippine scholars who graduate from publicly funded schools in the Philippines stay in the Philippines especially if there is little opportunity for a fulfilling job in the marketplace or a decent quality of life there? Why should Philippine scholars be obligated to endure a less promising and secure life in the Philippines when the Philippines does not necessarily foster a culture of fair play?
During one of Noynoy Aquino’s earlier visit to the United States as President, then-US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said:
“Let’s be honest here, too many of Filipinos feel that they cannot progress in their own country. Too many of them feel that the elite in business and politics basically call the shots, and there’s not much room for someone who’s hardworking, but not connected. Too many of them believe that even if they get the best education they can, that there won’t be an opportunity for them, and so they take that education and build some else’s economy, very often here in the United States!”
That message was right on the money! If a scholar has no prominent political or business pedigree there is very little chance for the person’s talent to be rewarded and for the person to move ahead on equal ground.
Filipino-American doctor, Joy Antonelle De Maracaida, says that:
“Filipinos overseas are self-exiles. We chose to leave our homeland when this became intellectually, politically, financially, artistically or philosophically limiting or oppressive. We are drawn to another country because of the vitality of its intellectual, scientific or artistic scene, its support and tolerance for innovation, progress and intellectual energy, and by its high regard for the immigrant who brings in new talent and skill, allowing him or her the freedom to achieve success, find his or her identity and express his or her ideas. Self-actualization in another land is not a crime. And Filipinos back home, who seek their own success, would be well-served to rejoice in ours. We are no different. We are just far from home.”
I agree with Dr. De Maracaida. In addition to promoting our self-interest in achieving “Self-Actualization” (amongst the highest form of need according to Maslow), the life lived abroad by a successful Filipino scholar will produce much needed financial support to the Philippines from the remittances sent to loved ones in the country. Why these Filipino scholars, who choose to live and work away from their homeland, ought to be deemed as “traitors” is beyond me.
I feel that Filipinos (such as Prof. Monsod and my schoolmate) who hold too much idealism and patriotism are simply out of touch. Not only is their idealism standing on shaky ground, it is also very unjust. A system that binds someone to a duty to forego self-interest in order to pay back the education it provides, I think, is oppressive. A nation that dismisses as traitors its people who choose to live and be successful elsewhere is seriously misguided in my book.