From the Beautiful Rice Terraces of Batad to the Slums of Manila and All the Way Back Home - The Final Blog
I learned a significant amount about the Philippines that I would never have learned about if I hadn’t participated in this study abroad program. I always knew that the United States, Western countries and their corporations have exploited people and as well as realized the low standard of living that a lot of these people live in, but seeing the urban decay that is Manila definitely made my awareness a lot more real.
I don’t know if my thinking has entirely changed, I’ve always made a conscious effort not to support businesses that utilize sweat shop labor and simply for health purposes I try to avoid fast food. Of course like anyone else I can’t entirely avoid supporting sweatshops. I found part of the experience a little oxymoronic considering the amount of Nike and McDonald’s products that we either directly or indirectly supported. Of course we had to eat cheap but we were doing the same thing abroad as we do at home, which is supporting the system, every time that we went into a McDonald’s for instance. The experience has humbled me though and since I’ve been back hanging out at my Mom’s house, which is a pretty average house without air conditioning, I’ve been thinking about how great it is. I’ve always been fond and appreciative of what I have but I feel like I am a little more so as a result of going to the Philippines.
I decided that I wanted to do some research revolving around communism, since the theory of communism was probably the most widely and prevalently discussed theory over the period of the trip. Since groups like Anakbayan advocate a switch to communism in order to uplift the poor people of the Philippines I went ahead and looked to see if there was a correlation between countries with socialist policies and a better standard of living. In addition I’ve considered whether a worldwide switch to communist principles would address day to day problems that marginalized people deal with such as colonial mentality and feelings of ethnic inferiority.
I went to the socialist party website and one immediate qualm I have with them is their comment directed towards Bill Gates in which they state that it would be nice to have some of his $36 billion. Gates has pledged to donate 90% of family’s wealth as well as convinced other billionaires to donate huge sums of money to charity. On their website they state that it would be impossible to create socialism in a country surrounded by a worldwide capitalistic market. Whether or not this is true there are countries who have implemented socialist policies and these are the ones I would like to discuss. Only Spain, Portugal and Greece still have socialist parties in office (everyone knows how Europe is doing). As we all know Europe is in a debt crisis that is worse than the United States right now and some have attributed that to government spending. Since socialism requires an increase in the size of the government an increase in government spending is also required. With debt issues in the Philippines I can’t say what the likeliness of expanding the government would be and likewise how possible increasing spending for social welfare programs is. I also can’t say how much of a tax rate would be necessary in the Philippines to achieve this standard of living but considering how low of an income Filipinos already have I don’t see where there is room to increase taxes in order to improve social welfare programs. My general problem with the communist solution is that implementing communist/socialist policies such as free healthcare and education is extremely expensive and I can’t help but wondering where that money is going to come from. The cost may be worth it (although I can't propose how to handle the debt that would come with it) considering that the majority of countries with the top 25 highest standard of living offer free health care in some form or another (TrueCost). Countries with widely accessible higher level education also have higher standards of living (Usher, Cervenan). In essesnce, as far as a world wide scale is concerned I simply don’t think that it would be feasible to have a worldwide government instituting communist polices. I do believe if all countries were equal then feelings of colonial mentality and ethnic inferiority would be lessoned but not completely wiped out. Overall I think that the best thing that can happen would be free healthcare, education and internationally recognized wage standards which can lead to healthier people who have opportunities to carry out their lives in a way they can appreciate and be proud of.
In regards to the effects of colonial mentality, I believe that minorities in America and abroad truly may feel inferior. The “skin-whitening” soap that I saw all around is a sure sign of this. I’ve personally never been so bothered by a product, I find it despicable that some company is profiting off of people’s feelings of inferiority in such a blatant and shameless manner. We learned that text books in the Philippines throughout history have been wrought with subliminal messages that make western civilizations and also the white people who head them seem superior. In response to this I believe that re-educating Filipinos and other minorities is important. It may not be happening full force but the very fact that changing educational policies in order to help minorities foster pride in their ethnicity is the beginning of creating change.
Ultimately, I believe that internationally recognized and enforced human rights are the solution. Standards of living revolving around an internationally recognized wage level as well as standards for quality of housing, education and access to safe food and water. This would lift many out of poverty and reduce, though it may only be a slight reduction, the international gap in wealth. In accordance with recognized human rights Filipino women and other minority women working in reproductive labor such as at home healthcare and maid services could not only earn more money but could even work these jobs at home in the Philippines for livable wages that many women seek elsewhere as described by Chang. It could even allow small businesses in the Philippines to rise up and succeed which I think is essential to fostering pride among the people because it is without a doubt disconcerting to see local businesses fail while businesses from outside of the country succeed. Personally, I have trouble being proud of Longview (the largest town next to my hometown) when half the buildings are empty and many businesses are struggling and I would guess that many Filipinos feel the same way about their local economies. The presence of successful Filipino owned businesses would without a doubt encourage Filipino's faith in their own abilities to succeed. Just look at the national pride that is bestowed in Manny Pacquiao. Imagine what successful local businesses would do to eradicate colonial mentality!
My personal experience in the Philippines was mixed but very good overall. As far as the course material and learning experience that I had The University of the Philippines campus was a fine place to study at as was Balay. We read about the effects of U.S. colonialization and saw the McDonald’s employees working for the equivalent of a cheeseburger a day. We read and learned about the wealth gap and we got to see miles of slums and the extensively developed downtown. Our class room experience was good because we spent enough time in the class room that we were academically engaged but were also able to still have a legit experience by actually being immersed in the culture. However, I wish that we would have had class with undergraduate students because the grad students in our class were plenty friendly but they weren’t about to come and hang out with us or invite us anywhere, whereas we were at Ateneo for about an hour and got invited to a house party and met tons of kids our age. Of course the experience is a lot deeper than partying but the scenes we were at were generally older crowds and for me personally, a big part of travelling is getting to meet people.
The group was excellent; I have absolutely no complaints about anyone in it. There was no conflict between any of our members, everyone was supportive and I feel fortunate that group was as awesome as it was. There were a few days where I wasn’t enjoying myself and was being pretty negative and everyone in the group made sure everything was all right with me and honestly a big reason I tried to turn my attitude around was because I felt I owed it to the group after they showed such consideration towards me. When there were some issues with the way our group was behaving during Arnis training, we had a meeting about it and said what we had to say and left the meeting better off than when we got there with the issue behind us. As far as the coordination of the trip went, everything was on lock. The tours, the plane trips and getting around always went smoothly and the advisers all did a great job. My only complaints would be the van size on the trip to Batad, which actually made it more fun and memorable than it would have been if the van fit everyone comfortably so I guess it’s not even really a complaint.
While Cebu, Borocay and Batad were amazing and three of the coolest places I’ve ever been, I have to say I was disappointed by being in Manila. It wasn’t necessarily the congestion, or traffic, or pollution that was disappointing but the city itself was. Honestly, I didn’t look too much into Manila before I committed to the program but if I had grasped it as I do now I don’t know what my decision would have be. All we could really do there was visit malls and there weren’t exactly many nice places to hang out at. I’m not a mall guy and the malls were just like malls in the U.S. so going to malls all the time definitely made the experience less cultural. Also, although it was my fault that I didn’t look into the weather during this time of year, the rain definitely brought my experience down.
In engaging with Anakybayan, I thought it was cool that we were able to meet with an activist group; however I think that they need to look at revolutions in the past and take lessons on engaging their audience through fiery, charismatic speeches. I hate to be a downer but they aren’t going to engage anyone by talking them to sleep. In addition to this I would be interested about what degree of communism they advocate how the system would work. Should the government own everything or just certain commodities such as resources? Will the people who have actually and fairly earned the vast amounts of wealth they have be able to keep their money? If everyone is paid the same amount of money regardless of the service they preform then what is the incentive for people to take on more challenging and stressful jobs? Also, with the doubts that I have about the likeliness of converting the world to communism, I think that they should focus their efforts elsewhere because they do have the ability to create change, but that change is going to have to happen by utilizing the potential of the foundations of the system that is already in place.
When it came to being a Caucasian in the Philippines I never really felt uncomfortable or like I stuck out, even though I did. I didn’t realize coming in that the trip was a “voyage” of sorts for Filipino Americans to discover their roots and themselves. It was moving to see my class mates evolve and connect with their roots, but this left me feeling like “what am I doing here?” This feeling was created only by myself as not a single person in our group contributed to it, but I thought I’d mention it in case other non-Filipinos apply next year. All in all I’m glad I participated in the program, I got to spend six weeks with some very great people, had a lot of fun and got to see some really cool things. I wish everyone in our program the best in life and hope we all stay in touch!
1.) Chang, G. (2004). The Global Trade in Filipina Workers. In Kirk and Ozawa Women’s lives 3rd
Edition. Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.
2.) "Socialist Party FAQ." Socialist Party. Web. 22 Aug. 2011.
3.) TrueCost. "List of Countries with Universal Healthcare « True Cost – Analyzing Our Economy, Government Policy, and Society through the Lens of Cost-benefit." True Cost – Analyzing Our Economy, Government Policy, and Society through the Lens of Cost-benefit. Web. 22 Aug. 2011.
4.) Usher, A. & Cervenan, A. (2005). Global Higher Education Rankings 2005. Toronto, ON: Educational Policy Institute.