On Independence and Colonialism

I’m writing this by the ocean, staring at the mountains piercing through the horizon line. I look at all the green – the Palawan local government has made environmental sustainability one of the key areas to work on. It’s not uncommon to see the different business establishments display signs about how they’re trying to be ‘sustainable’. Hard to say how many actually care about sustainability, and how many are doing it as a marketing ploy. Sustainability has been a buzzword in the private sector nowadays, one that I sometimes question if people understand. Still, the existence of forests is refreshing, considering most of the trees in Metro Manila have been torn down and replaced with concrete-urban jungles.

If you look at the ,UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, they highlight reduced inequalities, quality education, and access to clean water and sanitation as signs of sustainable development. If these are indeed signs,- then the Philippines has a long way to go.

On June 12, 2021 the Philippines celebrated its independence after more than 300 years of being a Spanish colony and 48 more years of American rule after the USA purchased us from Spain. Sometimes I wonder how independent we really are as a nation, though. I see the echoes of colonial rule still flowing in the undercurrent of our everyday lives.

I think of the constant selling of whitening products – in things like soap or lotions – marketed to women in the country because we’ve been taught that being white means you’re beautiful. This subtle level of white supremacy carries into family gatherings where older relatives usually encourage the young girls in the family to find a white husband so they’ll be set for the future. (Because of course only white people can be successful and financially stable.)

I think about how often we undervalue Philippine-made products and pass them over as cheap. You are more likely to find Philippine-made products in lower-end malls, or on stalls along the streets, while imported products are marketed on billboards and found in every major shopping district.

I think about how companies hire expatriates with the same experience as some local professionals, but still pay them higher than they do the locals. If they do hire locals for those jobs, they tend to be those that graduated from prestigious universities – a luxury not many can afford.

Quality education isn’t something that’s particularly accessible to everyone. If you want to get a really good education you’ll need to get into very particular private universities – which tend to be incredibly expensive. Public schools – even universities – tend to be under-equipped and under-funded (and if not under-funded, those funds seem to get lost along the way). Usually the only way to get into these prestigious universities is through scholarships. Otherwise, you’ll need to have a good amount of cash – which is something that usually comes from jobs that require a quality education (mainly a degree from one of the top private schools).

I remember going to my first internship (as part of our On the Job Training requirement in college). The HR recruitment officer would usually throw out CVs for higher paying jobs if they weren’t from the big four universities in the country (only one of which is a Public-state run university). I wonder how we’ll lift people above the poverty line if we keep up the loop of unequal access to quality education which leads to unequal opportunities for employment. If we keep this up, then the income gap will get wider and wider.

I look at the juxtaposition of life in this country: The luxuries that expats and rich locals can afford versus what the majority of the country can. The contrast of the small homes cramped on small overcrowded streets against the towering residential skyscraper condominiums of the business districts. The small locally run businesses operate out of little backroads, since the business district’s rent is so high that only international chains can afford it. Most business centers are filled with bigger international chains – your KFCs and TGI Fridays.

I wonder how much more talk our politicians are going to throw out there about empowering our people and increasing the quality of life – then continue to attract local investors by displacing indigenous peoples to build expensive business centers that most of the country can’t afford to live in (the most recent case was the ,displacement of an Indigenous peoples group so they could build a Smart City in the Clark area).

I understand that foreign investors bring in more money which drives the economy, but do we need to attract them at the expense of our people and our environment? Can we get out of the cultural mindset that puts our own products and people down in preference for international products and people? Can we stop teaching children that they’re not beautiful with their brown skin? Can we stop teaching little girls that they need to get married to a white man to ‘make it’ in life? Can we move past a social system that was established by white Western colonizers to dehumanize and devalue the Indigenous culture – and instead move to empower the voices we’ve for so long silenced?

ACTIVATING A GENERATION