The Indolence of the Filipino
by Rosalinda N. Olsen
Indolence is defined as the disposition to be idle or, put another way, the lack of inclination to work. More than a hundred years ago, Jose Rizal wrote a brilliant essay in defence of the Indio, whose Spanish colonial master had called indolent. With flawless logic and irrefutable examples, Rizal demonstrated that the supposed indolence was an effect of the dehumanising conditions in which the Indio was forced to live. Still following the logic of cause-and-effect Rizal, in fact, twisted the knife back to the accuser and showed that the Spanish colonizers were the indolent ones. Thus, Rizal added one more definition of “indolence”: the inclination to live off the labor of others.
The Spanish colonizers were the indolent ones, not the Indio, because the Peninsulares and the Filipinos preferred the good life without working for it. It was justifiably easy to enrich themselves because they could always say, “What are we in power for?” Let the Indio work for the honor of Spain and for us who labor to see that Spain and Mother Church is obeyed at all times and without question.
The hapless Indio had to secure a permit in order to work their farms. Quoting Morga, Rizal wrote, “The natives were not allowed to go to their labors, that is, their farms, without permission of the governor, or of his agents and officers, and even of the priests. Rizal also quoted Gaspar de San Agustin who wrote that in 1690, the people of Bacolor had fewer people because of the uprising during Don Sabinianano Manrique de Lara’s time, and because of continual labor of cutting timber for his Majesty’s shipyards, which hindered them from cultivating the very fertile plains they have These two quotes show clearly that 1) the Indio was totally controlled by the Spanish which included forced labor but, 2) the Indio was capable of rising in armed rebellion against their colonial master.
It is strangely curious that when the natives succeeded in breaking the chains of slavery, they were no longer the “Indio” and took the name of their colonizer, the Filipino or the Spanish who were born in the Philippine islands. One would think that the enslaved would take a name farthest from the memory of the hated master. Instead, the Indio became the new Filipino and one wonders if the Indio inherited not only the name but its master’s cultural characteristics too, particularly indolence.
Shakespeare wrote that a rose is a rose by whatever name it is called. Even so, the Peninsulares who came direct from Spain held the Filipinos in lower esteem because they were born in the colony and therefore “less Spanish”. They had the same Spanish blood flowing in their veins but the accident of birth made the Peninsulares feel more superior. The ilustrado class—the Indio with wealth and education—personified by Emilio Aguinaldo, took over the revolution from that poor Indio named Andres Bonifacio whom they believed should not have aspired to be other than cannon fodder. Well, the ilustrado class won the revolution and, therefore, it is to the ilustrado class that present-day Filipinos owe that dubious honor of being named after the colonial masters. The descendants of that ilustrado class and of the original Filipinos continue to be the ruling class in the Philippines; sharing what power they will with the Catholic hierarchy. What about the descendants of those below the ilustrado class, are they still Indio? No, of course not, they are Filipino citizens. However, since the socio-political structure has not changed except for the takeover of the ilustrado class from the colonizer, the Indio is still an Indio by whatever name he is called. The present-day Indio comprises about 80% of the population. No matter, there is no loss of face in that, for as Rizal had proven, the Indio is not indolent. In fact, the Indio shall redeem the Philippines from the enemy within—the affluent and the politicians who make a mockery of democracy and justice.
As it was then, so is it now. Separated from the rest of the population by an insurmountable wall of wealth and political power, the Filipino ruling class easily make a great show of benevolent paternalism under the guise of democracy in order to hide the indolence they have inherited. They wrote a Philippine Constitution by and for themselves, which, of course, they invoke or subvert according to how it serves their interest. Obedient and trusting as always, the masses continue to believe that they actually elected a democratic government despite the chronic cheating in the polls.
It was easier then to identify the enemy because it was foreign. First came the Spanish colonizers and then came the Americans. With the declaration of Philippine Independence in 1946 the Filipinos were finally free to determine how the country shall be governed. It also removed the excuse of blaming a foreign power for the idiocies and the greed of the new political cliques. In the early 1950s, the Philippines was considered the richest nation in SouthEast Asia with the highest GNP per capita. Today, the Philippines is second only to Bangladeshthat is at the bottom of the list of the ten most impoverished countries. What has happened, or what did not happen? Who made this happen, or who did not make it happen?
Scapegoats are necessary where nobody wants to face the truth of their own failure. It is ridiculous that the Marxist groups in the Philippines blame everything on the USA, as if everything that is wrong or evil in government is due to American machinations, blithely ignoring the direct hand and the initiative of the corrupt politicians. Ang Bayan, both the print and the online editions, continue to mouth the “party line” of revolution and the overthrow of the American stranglehold on the Philippines. The sad fact is there is no stranglehold except that made by the government officials, from the President down to the mayor of the smallest town.
This essay does not at all mean to be an apologist for the late President Ferdinand Marcos, but he was really the only president who had a vision for the country. He was brilliant. Marcos had an iron will that could turn to ruthlessness, and his enemies were powerless against his wit and charm. One morning in September 1972, Filipinos woke up to find that there was no radio and no newspapers. Martial law has been declared. Everyone was in the grip of fear, and because they were afraid, they obeyed. Marcos called for discipline and he believed that “this nation can be great again”. At first, corrupt officials curbed their greed, for fear of being arrested. Then they became what was called the “backsliders” and then more and more went back to their old bad habits, until the usual cycle of graft and corruption was back in place. In 1986, the Filipinos went to the streets and ousted the 20-year dictator through what has been called “People Power.”
For the first time since the Philippine Revolution in 1896, the masses rallied to the call of the leaders and again put their lives in the hands of those in power. Once again the people were betrayed. No sooner were the Marcoses out of the country than the old politicians and the oligarchy came crawling like worms out of the woodwork. As the masses went to the streets and created what could have been a real revolution called EDSA People Power, the disenfranchised politicians appeared on television and gave speeches by radio, clearly meaning to take over the vacuum. They did. Today, it seems that the people no longer care or perhaps they are now in the depths of hopelessness and helplessness. So, the question arises, is the Filipino indolent now at the time when they could least afford to be so?
Clearly the Filipino masses have lost faith in politicians and they clearly indicated this by voting an actor as President of the Republic, Joseph “Erap” Estrada. According to an exclusive article written in October 30, 2002 by the Daily Tribune editor and publisher, Ninez Cacho Olivares, a group that calls itself “Omerta”, “composed of representatives of business groups and Catholic Church leaders as well as representatives of celebrated personalities, came together and met formally early this month to fine tune the plan to “constitutionally” oust President Estrada under “Oplan Excelsis.” They succeeded. Gloria Arroyo, who was herself also under impeachment charges at the time, now occupies Malacañan. Now, the Philippines is worse off than under Estrada and everybody believes that the solution is in having a new and incorruptible president.
Nobody seems to realize that it is far more difficult to eradicate corruption in the government institutions like the BIR and the DPWH, than it is to oust a duly elected President. Apparently, most Filipinos believe that the Philippine President should be no less than a superman and a miracle worker who will put everything to right. Nobody seems to ask himself what he should do as an individual and as a citizen of that country. Governance is every citizen’s business, particularly in a democracy. It’s like everybody is to blame except himself. A corrupt system will not continue unless the people knowingly or unknowingly support it. The corruption is so ingrained that if one were to give all civil service employees a test on corruption, very few will pass it. This only means that the citizenry tolerate this corruption in one way or the other. Here is an anecdote to illustrate this.
A young man was driving his mother to her appointment when a traffic policeman stopped them. The young man was sure he had not violated a traffic law but he stopped and, before the policeman came to the car, he took out a one-hundred pesos bill from his wallet. Aghast, the mother asked him if he were thinking of bribing the policeman. Calmly, the son said, “I have no choice. You know, I know, and that policeman knows that I did not violate any traffic rule. But if I let him give me a ticket, they will simply make it harder for me and I won’t be able to drive through this area again without being victimized by that same policeman or his colleagues.” The young man then folded the money and inserted it in the plastic holder of his driving license. The policeman came, wrote something on a little notebook, told the young man to be more observant of traffic rules, and left. The young man then showed the plastic holder to his mother; the money was gone.
It would not be a distant analogy to compare this incident to what an Indio farmer would have done if confronted with similar circumstances. The feeling of helplessness against prevalent corruption has gone from bad to worse that, really, nobody quite knows where to begin. The Indio of today is not powerless like the Indio during the Spanish colonial period, but the same feeling of helplessness prevails. According to statistics, the Philippines has an 83% literacy rate, but how much of this is functional literacy? Each year, schools and colleges graduate thousands of young people, but how many of them can and actually use what they have learned?
Today’s Indio is not helpless. He has, in fact, more education and access to modern and traditional technologies that would give him a fighting chance to battle against the socio-political evils that has dragged the Philippines deep into the muck. The problem is that individual and group efforts have not been coordinated into one united front.
In Part 3 of his long essay, “The Indolence of the Filipinos”, Rizal wrote,
Man works for an object. Remove the object and you reduce him to inaction. The most active man in the world will fold his arms from the instant he understands that it is madness to bestir himself, that this work will be the cause of his trouble, that for him it will be the cause of vexations at home and of the pirate’s greed abroad.
Filipinos are not lazy, nor are they indolent by whatever definition. Even so, it is apparent that they work only for themselves and their family, not because they are indifferent to the fate of their country. It is because they see no object worth their labor. The present socio-political structure has robbed the Filipino in the same way that the Spanish colonizer had robbed the Indio of an object to work for. There are no scapegoats available, except those in the fantasy of Ang Bayan; there is no bogeyman either as the Church would have the Filipinos believe. There is only the Filipino individual who should work together with his countrymen. There is no lack of Filipino individuals and groups working for the betterment of the Philippines, but they must organize. In short, they must put their act together. Only then can we truly say with Rizal that the Filipino is not indolent.