For four days, I was in Bangkok with colleagues from the Cagayan State University. We made the institutional decision earlier to internationalize the curriculum and the university’s academic delivery program. Obviously, we had to meet regional, Asean, standards first—and that is the reason that we turned to the Asean University Network-Quality Assurance program. Ambitious, for a provincial university like ours, but “provincial” should be a geographic indicator—in fact, a suggestion of accessibility, never a pejorative label. “Provincial” is used in spite only from so-called Manileños for whom the provinces are the outback—that nonetheless feeds them and keeps them from starving. In the Philippines, only one university is “institutionally accredited”: De La Salle University. Some other universities have submitted their programs for accreditation: UP, UST, Ateneo de Manila, CEU. CSU is among the first in the country.
The facilitators of the training program for institutional assessment were from the National University of Singapore—without debate, one of the very best this part of the world. And we joined a class of more than 30 academic administrators and heads coming from Thailand, Vietnam, Timor Leste, Indonesia and Malaysia. There was one delegate from the Central Luzon State University. Having been with academe for such a long time—virtually all of my priestly and professional life—accreditation and its demands are not new to me. But this was different: standards and criteria were several notches higher. This was Asean accreditation, after all, something I had dreamed of only a year ago. But my university president, Dr. Urdujah Tejada and our Board Chair, Commissioner Lilian de las Llagas, were enthused with the prospect. They not only gave me the green light. They amply provided me and my team with the wherewithal for this venture! In fact, President Urdujah made it part of the priority development thrusts of the university.
All throughout the training seminar, it became clear that the four of us from the Cagayan State University had become leaders of our respective groups (no two representatives from one institution in the same group). We did not seek to be leaders, but we did not shirk from the responsibility either. In many respects, it was because our colleagues—vice-presidents, deans and department heads—recognized that we knew of what we spoke. And then too, they found our facility with English helpful for the purposes of the delivery of reports. (And I hope, we remember that familiarity with English rewards you with benefits that the popularity of Tagalog will never be able to offer, no matter that it masquerades as Filipino—something that the drafters of the Constitution might want to re-visit.)
In sum, we earned the respect of our peers—and we came out of that experience enriched by the wealth of insight shared by them and by our facilitators, but also more confident of ourselves as key players in the higher education sector in the Philippines because of the affirmation that came to us through our colleagues representing our Asean bloc-mates! But what left an indelible mark on us, Filipino delegates, was the courtesy in the demeanor of the Thais: the charming, endearing and beautiful way they fold their hands and bow to a visitor and even to each other. It was just wonderful. Even the very tone of their beautiful language bespeaks of a deferential attitude that is certainly not submissive but that which is the antithesis of domineering and imperious!
By contrast, in the Philippines, there is an invidious obsequiousness to American mores that we think it “in,” “democratic,” “liberal” and “progressive” to do away with the last vestiges of the respectfulness that used to be demanded of students and that they ungrudgingly exhibited towards teachers, superiors and elders. Not too long ago, some self-proclaimed prophet of modernity announced—and advocated—the demise of “sir” and “ma’am.” But what is wrong with these appellations of respect? If the Americans find it offensive, let them wallow in the growing heap of “resented” terms they consign to their cultural backyards, proscribed by the peculiarly perverse version of modernity and democracy that they have made theirs. Feminists take offense at “human” because it contains the particle “man.” How much more stupid can one get than that? I once was willing to give the arguments for “political correctness” a kindly hearing. I have only spite for it and for its hypocrisy now. And if freedom means for them the right to keep the weapons by which schoolchildren are slaughtered, why should we tread the same path of their perdition?
And I am worried about us, because we have become increasingly tolerant of disrespect, rudeness and uncouthness. When high officials of the land throw cuss words about without so much as a hint of regret for behavior most unstatesmanlike, then soon, cursing and the routine recourse to expletives become “in” and “acceptable”—and the few, remaining strands of decency fly out the windows! Recently, Acting Commission on Higher Education Chairman Popoy de Vera recounted how a party-list representative of the youth and her cohorts in the Lower House (where lower is particularly apt in this case) demanded answers of him like he was a heretic facing trial by the Inquisition. Where did these youngsters, many of whom can have hardly anything more said of them than distressing shallowness and pathetic mediocrity, find such gumption? The highest officials of the land are fair game—first, by the media that, has adopted a particularly perverse reading of the constitutional guarantee of a free press. Reporters and anchor persons who can ask the most insulting and offensive questions without trepidation or reticence are lauded as brave, acclaimed as fearless. And so goes the entire nation. We compete with each other at rudeness to assure ourselves that we are truly free. Maybe, Plato and Aristotle were right after all, about their fear of a democracy—especially when the “people” fall far short of the thoughtful and self-respecting citizens a good democracy demands!
It shows too in the way we act towards each other. Our CSU team boarded the evening Philippine Airlines flight from Bangkok on Friday night, April 7. The flight was scheduled for seven in the evening. It was delayed—and with the delay came one more distressing signal that we are losing self-respect. A Philippine airline did not feel itself obliged to explain to its passengers the reason for the inordinate delay that had us landing in Manila way past midnight. The reason was not too difficult to surmise: Most passengers were Filipinos and overseas workers, with only a sprinkling of foreigners on board. The PAL management, I surmise, did not find the need to explain to compatriots, especially not to the OFWs on board, why their already long flights from the Middle East, probably even from Europe, had to take longer than scheduled. Filipinos were expected to accept with docility the travails visited on them by a mighty airline. One Filipino flight attendant serving in the economy section was particularly uncouth. He all but flung dinner trays at the passengers, and poured water into plastic glasses hardly taking any care not to cause any of the liquid to spill on the passengers.
We are not a stupid people. In several respects, we have proved ourselves to be brilliant, intellectually superior and capable of works of high culture and artistry. In the sciences, in industry, in art and the whole gamut of culture, in education—we are in the higher echelons. But why this perverse delight in self-deprecation? Why this willingness to lose respect for ourselves? If one advances the opinion that the West’s influence on us—the US, in particularly—is to blame, that explains nothing but only heightens the question, for why should we be willing to take as paradigmatic and normative for our own nation the decadence and moral bankruptcy of another?