Blame It On Yaya

Israeli girls doing mandatory military service

Let’s admit it. We’re soft. By we, I am talking about us urban middle class and upper-middle class Filipinos. There are many reasons for this, all imbedded in Philippine culture. I submit some obvious ones for your consideration:

1) Growing up with maids — From birth, we have relied on our poorer countrymen to literally wipe our ass. This has made us inutile, dependent, and passive. It also leaves us feeling superior to others. Look at our politicians, including a certain ex-candidate for president who had a “boy alalay” chasing after him, ready to hand water or a wet ones tissue after he goes to the bathroom. How many senoritos and senoritas have servants carrying an umbrella after them to shield their tender, soft skin from the sun? Remember that picture of the Philippine general who rode piggy back on his aide’s back so as not to get his boots wet?

2) Filipino parents are overprotective of their kids — In some countries, once you reach the age of adulthood (generally, ages 18 to 21) you are supposed to leave your parent’s house and strike out on your own. In this country, we still see full grown men being taken care of by their mothers (or their yayas). Some rich scions do not even work, and just live off their parent’s allowance.

Watch when a Filipino toddler falls down and scrapes his knee. The mother panics and shrieks at the yaya; the yaya panics and scrambles to pick up the little senorito. The little senorito bawls like a baby even though he is not really hurt, because…hey, falling down is obviously a big fuss, right? Now look at what happens when a foreigner’s kid falls down. Nothing. They are left to pick themselves up.

3) Our educational system does not impart the correct values — the faults with our upbringing at home are not corrected in school, in fact, the faults are reinforced. Forget meritocracy, our education system teaches us that you can get by on the strength of your last name and family reputation. Professors base their grades on favoritism (usually based on looks and pedigree), and give tests based on memorization of facts instead of understanding of principles.

Such softness and maladjustment actually alienates us from the rest of the country. While us soft upper classes in our elite Catholic schools hone our skills at going to mass, prayer sessions and choir singing, our poorer countrymen are toughened out of necessity. They become Manny Pacquiaos and Hidilyn Diazs. They become seamen and domestic helpers battling the giant twin foes of loneliness and physical danger. They learn sacrifice and get tough; we do not. And so a national dichotomy and disunity is born and perpetuated.

It is not hard to see why such an upper class Filipino upbringing leads to several negative traits easily observed in Philippine society: 1) lack of national identity; 2) loyalty to the family, instead of a broader sense of loyalty to fellow citizens; 3) the inability for critical and independent thought; 4) poor and immature decision making skills; and 5) a feeling of patronage, entitlement and hubris — which in turn translates to impunity (and a whole lot of whining).

What can be done? Does government have a role to play in social engineering?

ROTC seems like a natural solution. In fact, if you look at other countries like Israel, Singapore amd Korea, some form of mandatory military service is used not only for national defense preparedness, but also to foster a national identity and shared experience across social classes.

Since the Philippines has a big population with a professional army, and it is not under immediate external threat from its neighbors like Israel or South Korea, it can arguably afford to not have mandatory military service. Obviously, in modern warfare, manpower needs are less. Still, as mentioned previously, that is not solely what ROTC is for. Singaporeans, for example, see military service as a way to toughen up its new generation of boys that are used to just playing video games in aircon rooms. It is treated as a 2-year rite of passage, and if you don’t do it, you face stiff fines, jail time and no one will hire you.

Remember too that there is currently in place the National Sevice Training Program (NSTP), of which the ROTC is but one of three options. The other two options are community service and literacy service. Since this was way after my time, I can speak about ROTC alone, but my hopes and recommendations should apply to the other two branches as well. God knows, with a professional army and the realities of modern warfare as I mentioned above, the value of an additional reserve soldier should be weighed against the value of another reserve community helper, or another reserve community teacher.

To be successful, ROTC has to be improved and implemented properly. My own recollection was that it was a profound waste of time, made up 98% of marching and drilling in formation during Saturdays. There were two special events: one was when we camped out in the “jungle”, jumped from a 20 foot height into a sandbox, and got lost with our Scout Ranger guide. The other time was when you got to fire a rifle (only one bullet each due to budget constraints). You had to go to one of the army camps, and I was unfortunately absent. Thus I missed one of the two highlights of the whole Philippine ROTC program.

To be successful, ROTC has to be practical. It should emphasize jungle survival skills, disaster preparedness and relief, hand-to-hand combat basics, guerilla tactics and firearms training. There should be an emphasis on basic physical fitness. Given the disaster prone nature of the country, ROTC should be tapped for real world disaster relief. On top of that, and most important, there should be an explanation of why students and citizens are required to do it–which is to defend the homeland and our families. There should be supporting informercials about the Philippine military, its heroes and tradition. To use a “bad word” in the Philippines, there has to be “propaganda” to make ROTC cool.

Proper implementation and rollout are very important. The Philippines should look at the models in other countries and outstanding private programs. For example, The Peace Corps in the US is an interesting model, but instead of going abroad, make it mandatory for college seniors to serve in the Philippine countryside. The Jesuit Volunteers Program (JVP) may be another useful model.

There are so many things that can be done, with a government that has political will (e.g. vouchers to fund a semester of college at public universities in exchange for a semester or two of service as a volunteer teacher or soldier). The country’s youth can be a rich and vast resource in improving the country in the areas of community development, disaster relief, social services and defense preparedness. At the same time, with a properly designed and implemented national program, our pampered youth can learn more about their country and their countrymen. They can be more independent, less pampered, more nationalistic, less whiny, and healthier. Then we will have real adults and real citizens in our middle class and elite, people who have put in real time and effort in nation building, instead of trolling on Facebook.

Charles Englund

August 2016

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Originally published at notesfrommyphilippineisland.wordpress.com on August 29, 2016.