Last update: August 19 2008, 01:21 AM

The soundbite that haunts us

August 18, 2008

MANILA, Philippines - IN a Philippines Free Press editorial dated Sept. 3, 1988, the late Teodoro M. Locsin Sr. looked back at a famous statement: “The late Pres. Manuel L. Quezon,” he wrote, “expressed a preference for ‘a government run like hell by Filipinos’ to ‘one run like heaven by Americans.’” Having witnessed that era, Locsin pointed out, “The government run by Americans was hardly heavenly, what with its colonial economy keeping the country a producer of cheap raw material for export and a market for highly-priced imported goods, and the Filipino people in their place as ‘hewers of wood and drawers of water.’ The Army and Navy Club with the sign: ‘Dogs and Filipinos not allowed.’ And a cultural brainwashing that left the Filipino with one dream: to be an imitation American.”

And having lived through the first decades of independence, Locsin then observed, “If the American-run government was not celestial, the Filipino-run was sure hellish or at least purgatorial. Democracy being the only saving grace, for allowing the Filipinos to kick out their Presidents and representatives and kick in the next hungry pack that turned out no better. Hungry mosquitos replacing over-fed ones, in the words of the late Manila mayor, Arsenio H. Lacson.” But then, Locsin pointed out, the hungriest mosquito of them all imposed martial law. Instead of the usual four years of political famine, we endured a quarter-century, and the political class is still trying to satisfy its hunger.

But it’s a sign of how disordered things have become that a simple articulation of faith in the Filipino has become an indictment of being Filipino. The poet Milton famously had Satan justifying his rebellion: “Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven”; but he was talking of God’s sole domain; more relevant to us is this other line: “He who reigns within himself, and rules passions, desires And fears, is more than a king.” That is independence.

Back in 2007, an entry in Butch Dalisay’s blog made reference to the massive encyclopedia of Quezoniana put together by the late Alfredo Saulo (“Manuel Luis Quezon on His Centenary: Appraisal, Chronology, Reader, Bibliography” commissioned by the the National Science Development Board in 1978), which is massively footnoted.

Here’s the proper quote: “I would prefer a government run like hell by Filipinos to one run like heaven by Americans, because no matter how bad, a Filipino government might be improved.” Saulo cited Teodoro M. Kalaw’s autobiography and dated the statement to 1922.

He (Saulo) also cites another, more contemporary, version: “When we have our unfettered self-rule, I dare say we shall make mistakes, but in that respect we shall not be original or monopolistic. It is by our mistakes that we shall learn. America has aided us to learn much of the art of government, but we can master the art only by self-practice. In politics, as in law or medicine or music or painting, concrete achievement is not in the scholastic sphere, but only in the sphere of scholasticism applied. And, anyway, even in the United States and in England, democracy is still on trial. It is better for the Philippines to be ill-governed by the Filipinos than well-governed by the Americans.” Which came from an exclusive interview with Edward Price Bell for the Chicago Daily News, 1925.

What puzzles me about latter-day criticism of this famous soundbite is that it wasn’t even a point of view uniquely Filipino. As early as 1906, Mahatma Gandhi wrote down the following. “No people exists that would not think itself happier even under its own bad government than it might really be under the good governance of an alien power,” he wrote.

And he went further, pointing out, “No race appreciates a condition of servitude or subjection to a conquering or an alien race.” And concluding: “It is normal for a man to desire to be free, even if, actually, he does not merit freedom. But it is the desire itself that, in ... time, will bring the now impossible aspiration to realization.”

Francis Burton Harrison, in his diary entry for Dec. 23, 1938, wrote that Quezon, in a moment of reflection—and wrestling, at the time, with the difference between the rhetoric legislators love and the administrative realities executives face—said, “The people care more for good government than they do for self-government,” adding that “the fear is that the Head of State may either exceed his powers, or abuse them by improprieties. To keep order is his main purpose.”

But order, for what purpose? He’d answered the question two years earlier, in Tuguegarao, Cagayan: “The Government must be just,” he said, and it “must protect the people from abuses and wrong doings: and if anyone violates the law or commits abuses, it is the duty of the Government officials to go after such man, regardless of who he is. We must have but one norm of conduct in our dealings with the people. The law must be the same for the powerful and for the weak, for the rich and for the poor.” His nephew, Pedro Molina, paid the price for that statement, being expelled from the PMA for hazing in support of this policy point. As for other problems affecting public confidence in government, the late Rodrigo Lim chronicled how crooks were handled in the Philippines Free Press.

This was mature reflection after his having advised his friend and rival, Sergio Osmeña, in the 1920s (as recorded by Teodoro Kalaw): “The problem with you is that you take the game of politics too seriously. You look too far behind you and too far ahead of you. Our people do not understand that. They do not want it. All they want is to have the present problem solved, and solved with the least pain. That is all.”

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For Rodrigo Lim’s article on government crooks in the 1930s, see http://philippinesfreepress.wordpress.com/2006/03/11/how-quezon-handled-government-crooks-august-19-1961/ and http://philippinesfreepress.wordpress. com/2006/03/11/quezon-and-the-judiciary-1959/

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