One of the reasons many Westerners give for visiting or moving to the Philippines is the common use of the English language. It makes a person feel at home … or lets lazy people like me neglect to spend time learning any of the common Filipino languages such as Tagalog. But one of the things visitors and potential residents need to understand is, just because English is often spoken (and is, indeed, one of the Philippines “official” languages), do not expect that English is English is English. As the words of a song say, “It ain’t necessarily so”.
Let me look for a minute at a word meaning/usage situation that came up for me starting a few weeks back. A reader left a comment that stated, in part, “… other good qualities of Filipinos are that they are meek…”
Are Filipinos meek? Well that’s certainly open to debate, not one I will open up here, but what I will open for discussion is, just what does “meek” mean? many of the folks reading this are Christians, so it’s common for those of us who are to think of Matthew 5:, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth”. After all, to a Christian, what could be more authoritative than the words of Christ himself?
That is true only if we are very careful in deciding what we really mean by meek. A generally accepted definition of “meek” is to be gentle and considerate of others. In a great many ways you will see this in almost every interpersonal interaction. In fact many Filipinos seem to have mixed up “meek” with “subservient” or even “fawning. This is not only disturbing to Westerners at times … I am not “Sir David” and it does me no favors if I ask if some action is possible or acceptable and I get an “Oh po” (yes, sir) in reply when actually what I want is not the right thing and an honest “Hindi po”, (no sir) is the response that should be made. This isn’t unique to the Philippines, by the way, it’s somewhat of an Asian-wide custom … sometimes “no” is the hardest answer to obtain, even when that’s the answer that will really serve the questioning person most honestly. It is perfectly possible to be both “meek” and “honest”, if you truly understand what “meek” means.
This perversion of “meekness” often manifests itself in the issues I talked about in my last post, where people somehow confuse modesty, politeness and “meekness” with taking advantage of opportunities that are not only their right, but sometimes even their duty.
Let me give a couple examples that ought to serve well. Quickly now, how many who are reading this like taxes and tax collection agencies? Thought so. But how many of us accept that taxes are a fact of life and have their role in an organized society … mainly to provide basic human services. So we pay, and we certainly expect that the authorities charged with tax collection are going to do their jobs.
Now virtually everyone agrees that the Philippines is a poor country and many of the ills of the country in general could be cured, or at least improved upon, by an infusion of funds.
But let me acquaint you with something many people don’t know. The Philippines is not nearly so poor as it is naturally … it’s as poor as it is, to a large degree, by mismanagement. What specific mismanagement? Simple. The agencies charged with collecting taxes don’t.
Take a look at income taxes. Just recently on 5 year “Amnesty Program” just closed out and another is due soon. Amnesty from paying individual or business income taxes. You can pay your income taxes here if you chose too, or, you can just ignore them and wait for the government to include you in an “Amnesty Program” which lets you make a negotiated, token payment and then go on your merry way. Mind boggling. The official stance on these programs? “Well at least we get some money from these tax evaders, otherwise we get nothing at all.” Excuse me? What about the law that clearly determines that people owe taxes and must comply. Doesn’t anyone have the glimmer of a thought about hauling those who make money and don’t pay into court? seizing property, collecting what is due? Is this “meekness” in it’s most perverted form? You be the judge.
Not long ago my wife and I visited a town in the provinces where she and several members of her family own property. We stopped at the Municipio (Town Hall) to bring the property taxes up to date on all the parcels in question. I was pretty shocked to find that some of the parcels hadn’t had the taxes paid in years and years. In another matter we paid some overdue taxes on another property as a favor to the owner (because we might be doing some title work on that property and wanted everything clear and legal). The owner’s response? Oh I never pay until after the taxes are more than 10 years overdue … when they get that far behind the town will send a letter offering a settlement (for a much smaller sum) of what’s due over the past years. So, in other words, why bother paying taxes as set by the law, the tax collectors will settle for less, just ignore it all for now and worry about it in the future, if you have to.
See what I mean about the Philippines being artificially poor? The former governor of our province here, Bulacan, attained national notice during her term for a program she instituted, unique to all the Philippines provinces. This is really a foreign initiative to some. Know what it was?
She required the county tax authorities to a., bill and collect property taxes as they came due and b…, rated job performance, raises and even job security of these officials based on how much they collected.
Sounds a bit simplistic and “so what”? Well it was a very, very unique program in this country, even had a number of TV documentaries produced covering the program, and management staff from many other provinces visiting Bulacan to learn how it was done. So again, you be the judge.
If meekness a desirable quality? Obviously, as opposed to arrogance and insulting behavior it certainly is, but somehow, as it seems to me, “meekness” here in the Philippines has become confused with the definition of negligence and dereliction of duty.
The Philippines might not be considered a rich nation even if all the taxes did get collected, but I do think it would go a long way toward getting the country on its feet and even, perhaps, feeding a few starving people and educating a few children with no present opportunities. What do you think?