Monday, August 31, 2009

The spectre of U.S. military power on Philippine soil

A tribute posted on the Internet to American soldiers fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan praising the sacrifices they have made to preserve and protect democracy has this line written about them:

“You criticize your government, and say that war never solves anything. He sees the innocent tortured and killed by their own people and remembers why he is fighting.”

This is obviously a very one-sided perspective about war and its destructive effects. It dramatizes the killings witnessed by American soldiers but not their own acts of murder. It is not surprising that American soldiers coming home from their military stints in Iraq and Afghanistan are usually troubled by their own horrid experiences of war. These wars have scarred the consciousness of these soldiers and they have to suffer the guilt and trauma left by their personal experiences while the U.S. government and military bureaucrats are conveniently spared of the burden of agonizing over the destruction of cities and villages and the deaths of hundreds of thousands that the wars had brought upon the people of these countries.

The continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines is one clear example of America’s folly in flaunting its military might, especially when the Philippines had already decided to end the military bases agreement with the United States in 1991.

America’s military presence in the Philippines started at the turn of the twentieth century under the pretext of protecting the Philippines as a colony and a friend of the United States. For nearly a century, the U.S. military had use of two major bases in the Philippines, one at Clark Air Force Base and the other at Subic Naval Station, representing for a time the United States’ largest military installation in Asia. This military behemoth crumbled after Mt. Pinatubo erupted and forced the Americans to abandon their bases. Local residents in the area where these bases were located thought that if Mt. Pinatubo had not blown up, the U.S. would have decided by any means to hold on to their military bases even after the bases agreement with the Philippines had expired. It took nature’s wrath to drive away the Americans.

But now under the veil of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, and the RP-US Mutual Logistics Agreement (MLSA), a complementary arrangement to the VFA, the United States has de facto established an informal basing arrangement that virtually extended and entrenched the provisions of the former military bases agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines. In particular, the MLSA allows U.S. troops to use Philippine facilities for whatever purposes during their stay in the country. Out the military bases agreement, but in the VFA and MLSA. So, nothing really has changed.

The government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bears the full brunt of the blame for allowing the United States under then-President George W. Bush to export its bogus war on terror to Philippine soil, thus giving the American military free rein to directly intervene in local internal affairs. Originally intended to train local Filipino troops and leave after six months, the U.S. troops have been in the Philippines for almost seven years now and counting.

The return of U.S. troops in the Philippines is one of those opportunistic interventions made by the United States after 9/11, similar to its forays in the 1991 Gulf War which left behind large military bases in oil-rich Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and basing rights in the other Gulf states of Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. Permanently stationing bases around the Gulf in 1991 also helped the U.S. military in the second Iraq war that led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

The U.S. military interventions in former Yugoslavia in 1995 resulted in new U.S. military bases in Hungary, Albania, Macedonia, and the sprawling Camp Bondsteel complex in southeastern Kosovo.

In the Afghan war, the U.S. military has used its new bases and basing rights in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent, Tajikistan. Using the continued instability in Afghanistan as an excuse to station a permanent military presence throughout the region, the new string of U.S. military bases has become permanent outposts guarding a new Caspian Sea oil infrastructure.

Direct U.S. intervention in southern Philippines, thus, could be seen as the re-establishment of U.S. military basing rights which ended when the Philippine Senate terminated U.S. control of Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, after the Cold War ended and a volcanic eruption damaged both bases. The return of the U.S. military in the Philippines is also an effort to assert U.S. influence in East Asia, as China rises as a global power and other Asian economies recover from financial crises.

One political commentator wrote: “Much as the Roman Empire tried to use its military power to buttress its weakening economic and political hold over its colonies, the United States is aggressively inserting itself into new regions of the world to prevent its competitors from doing the same....The ultimate goal is to establish new American spheres of influence, and eliminate any obstacles—religious militants, secular nationalists, enemy governments, or even allies—who stand in the way.”

Admiral Timothy Keating, the chief of the US Pacific Command told a meeting of the Atlantic Council on June 29, 2009, that “we’re [the U.S.] not entirely sure that there are terrorists” in Mindanao.

Pressed by a New York Times reporter for an assessment of the Joint Special Operations Taskforce operating in the Philippines, Keating admitted that the Pacific Command was directed to provide forces in conjunction with the United States Special Operations Command to help the armed forces in the Philippines in their struggle against violent extremism principally in the southern part of the country—citing the Abu Sayyaf Group and Jemaah Islamiya in particular.

This is what Keating actually said: “While there are still kidnappings, we’re not entirely sure that there are terrorists. A little bit of a blurry line in some areas of the Philippines between criminal activity and terrorist activity.”

The VFA and MLSA are worse than the previous U.S. bases agreement because of their vagueness. For instance, under these agreements an unlimited number of U.S. troops can stay in the Philippines for an unlimited time, even if there are no joint military exercises.

As Admiral Keating said: “We’re there for the foreseeable future and I think the benefits we gain in spite of significant tension on Special Operations Forces are important enough that we maintain our posture and presence in the Southern Philippines.” This only means that the U.S. military is gearing for a long-term presence in the Philippines, whether or not there are terrorists in the country.

Which is why Filipinos are up in arms against the continued presence of U.S. troops in the Philippines. The VFA and the MLSA violate the Philippine Constitution which bans the presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil. For Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to tolerate the unconstitutional presence of the U.S. military in the country is a blatant act of treason against the Filipino people.

At the rate human rights abuses continue unabated under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and abetted by the U.S. military forces, the more reason there is to oppose American armed intervention in the Philippines and for peace-loving citizens of the world to join and unite with all Filipinos in their struggle.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Who is a National Artist?

We are truly a nation that prides itself in giving awards or titles for any reason. The present controversy regarding the selection of our country’s National Artists for 2009 is just one of these awards that have become almost as meaningless as Miss Philippines or Miss Manila.

At least for Manny Pacquiao, to be regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world is more significant because he earned it fighting in the ring. So, why don’t we bestow a lifetime recognition award in honour of Pacquiao as our National Pugilist? Or perhaps, a National Leader for best-president-of-the-country-ever? Who would like to nominate Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo? Or perhaps her husband Mike Arroyo as National for-Better-or-Worse Partner?

Even the highest court of the land has joined the fun. The National Artist titles would have been conferred were it not for the intervention of the Philippine Supreme Court which ordered Malacanang to stop the awards until it has ruled on the dispute. At the heart of the dispute is whether President Macapagal-Arroyo disregarded the selection process prescribed by law.

It is now a legal issue and less about the artistic body of work that the conferees represent to entitle them to the recognition of National Artist. This is really the saddest chapter in our history when the highest court is asked to referee a dispute about our country’s culture that is in a calamity, as one local writer would call it.

It may be worthwhile to refresh ourselves with the history of the National Artist Award.

The award was first conferred by Ferdinand Marcos on Fernando Amorsolo four days after the latter died on April 26, 1972. Five months later, Marcos would declare martial law that would keep him president for almost twenty years.

Artists and writers were important to the Marcoses as they would memorialize them in writing, painting, music, dance and other art genres.

The New Society needed artists to depict the Marcos dictatorship in a gentler and kinder light. So, in exchange for a cheque for ten thousand pesos, a monthly stipend of two thousand pesos during the life of the artist, and an official funeral fully paid by the government, the National Artists chosen didn’t mind being prostituted and bastardized by the Marcos regime. The cash award has gone up to one hundred thousand pesos and medical and hospitalization benefits are added to the monthly life pension. Not bad if you were a starving artist.

National awards for artists are common in other countries, too. But these are national competitions, much more like the Oscars or FAMAS awards.

Artists, if they turn out to be the best in their field, don’t need to be recognized as National Artists. Their works speak volumes for themselves. Van Gogh was never recognized as his country’s National Artist. The same with Claude Monet, Renoir or Gauguin. Or Winslow Homer, Jasper Johns or Jason Pollock. Or Maria Callas or Luciano Pavarotti.

Why do we have to elevate our artists by decree?

The guidelines for the selection of the National Artists of the Philippines state that the recipients should “have made significant contributions to the cultural heritage of our country.” Doesn’t the work of all great artists enrich our cultural heritage?

That the artist’s work is an “an artistic accomplishment at the highest level” and that it promotes “creative expression as significant to the development of a national cultural identity.” Is this not much different from the previous sentence?

Even the guidelines are so muddled and so repetitive as to confuse those who select the artists for the award.

One criterion for selection states that the award shall be given to “artists who, through the content and form of their works, have contributed in building a Filipino sense of nationhood.” How does a painting or piece of music contribute in building a Filipino sense of nationhood? This is purely subjective, which is what art really is. That’s why awards in other countries are given in competitions. An artist’s work is compared with the work of other artists. One’s work rises to the top in relation to others. A body of work is not simply recognized because it has more Filipino landscapes or the music reminds one of the kundiman or the dance reminds of the Tinikling or Ati-atihan.

The Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) has criticized the government’s selection of artists for the National Artist awards as a reflection of a longstanding severe crisis in Philippine culture and the arts. This is apparent in the present government’s commercialization of native and minority cultures and customs for the sake of promoting foreign tourism in the country. The Arroyo administration has also brazenly suppressed freedom of expression by censoring numerous films with social commentary, yet allowing films that promote pornography.

If a National Artist is measured by his or her contribution to nationhood-building, then every artist will fail this test. The artist’s work is first and foremost the product of a creative imagination, devoid of politics but not necessarily of social consciousness or empathy with social malaise. It is loyalty to the art form that drives artists to create, not their alliances or allegiances to political parties or platforms.

It was the primary purpose of the New Society under Ferdinand Marcos to enslave the artists to its sense of nationhood, to make artists surrender their creativity and imagination to the goals of the New Society. Evidently, the yardstick for selecting the National Artist has not changed.

Can anyone, therefore, fully blame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for her choice of artists who will best portray her notion of culture and the arts?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Curing melancholia

Palm readers and fortune tellers (in addition to genuine medical/neuro practitioners) have been grappling with the problem of depression for centuries. New psychiatric drugs and therapies have come out of the market like mushrooms, including non-drug placebos that promise to provide relief from depression and anxiety without the unpleasant side effects of the most commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs.

Yet, the solution is really that simple and you don't need to be a shrink to figure it out. Be happy. Take the cue from Bobby McPherrin. Of course, everyone will agree that this is not an option.

You wake up in the morning feeling the blues after a hard time at work the previous day, or wondering what the hell happened to your former self (read: machismo and sex machine), don’t think for the first time that you need to scour your medicine cabinet for serotonin reuptake inhibitors or even call your doctor-friend for a favour you have been meaning to ask him about that Viagra or Cialis option.

Ponder about the side effects: nausea, diarrhea, agitation, headaches or even sexually related fears like loss of libido, failure to reach orgasm and erectile dysfunction. Or the more serious but rare side effects like hepatitis, heart attack, stroke and seizures.

Remember that God must be punishing you for being so critical of others, for being heartless at times when ignoring a homeless person who kept nagging you on the street for a paltry dollar. If this is the case, then it’s time to go to church as quickly as possible. Pray for absolution of your sins.

But wait. Did you hear the angelic voices of the choir singing from the church loft? Eureka, you just have found the way back to youth and happiness! Jamming sessions, that’s it. Clean up the house basement that you have been putting off for years, and search for the drums you used to play wild like Ringo Starr. Summon up all your geriatric friends this weekend, and the next weekends until you get sore and tired with your hands banging the drums, and your vocal chords hoarse and crackling like frogs from your garden in the back of the house, and suffer another relapse and feel the blues again.

Or, maybe it’s too much to act like a child, especially at your age during the swinging sixties. Perhaps, going to a picnic in the park will soothe the troubles away. Join the barbecue contest. This shouldn’t be difficult, because you’re fond of red meat anyway. But then, your doctor has reminded you to stay away from red meat to avoid episodes of gout and all the inflammations you dread.

Remember the last time you were on antidepressants? Your weight ballooned because the medication made you crave and unable to feel full despite consuming enough calories. So you fell into binges of overeating and became too lazy to exercise, which then led you to ingest more calorie-laden beverages. You kept wondering why your brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin to control your appetite and balance your moods.

Aside from antidepressants, you’ve tried most alternative therapies available, yet the blues keep coming back. You’re now left with only two choices. Perhaps, it’s time to take the first remaining option: Siberian ginseng, an adaptogen or tonic plant shown to have significant antidepressant effects in rats. But then, would you put yourself in the shoes of a rat? Rodents wearing shoes? Maybe not.

The final option is to go back to your first love, the one thing you would like to touch again. That reminded you of the first essay you wrote in your freshman English. It’s not what you’re thinking about. It’s only the barrel of a gun. You can go back to pistol shooting just like your old college days when you were one of the school’s top marksmen. Who knows, you may even make the team for the next Olympics this time.

But what if all those serotonin inhibitors you ingested over the years had left traces of lethal hypertensive reaction in your system? Think about how much you love eating mature cheese and cured meats, anything that has high levels of tyramine. Your Glock is so accessible. It may be under lock and key in your bedroom drawers but that’s to prevent your children from accidentally finding and playing with it. You’ve got the keys and imagine what could happen if one of those mood changes suddenly swings again.

Ah, you’ve made up your mind. Jamming is much better than anything else. Move back the hands of time. Forget the sore hands, shoulders and back—even that hoarse throat, ignore what those grumpy old losers would think about you. Keep banging those snare drums. Nothing beats the company of The Beatles, The Eagles, Cosby, Steels & Nash, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Eric Clapton, Van Halen, or Queen.

Don’t worry. Be happy.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Consolation for unpopularity

Socrates was condemned to death by his accusers during his trial. The charges were so severe – failure to worship the city’s gods, introducing religious novelties and corrupting the minds of the young men of Athens.

Human civilization has gone past the barbaric notion of convicting to death those who espouse contrary opinions. On second thought, maybe not.

Although today one does not get the capital punishment for expressing views opposite to public opinion or against the state, public censure or ostracism that befell most critics in some ways would have almost an equivalent effect. In ancient Greece, they had the practice of banishing anyone by a popular vote because that person is regarded as dangerous to society. The same could very well be true today, e.g., extra-judicial killings or disappearances. A similar result happens when a critic is publicly rebuked. The same pain is felt by a critic when the public showers him with boos of displeasure. When a critic becomes a social pariah, it is almost like being banished.

What then is good from being a social critic?

Alain de Botton, in The Consolations of Philosophy, wrote about the consolation for unpopularity:

“But it is not only the hostility of others that may prevent us from questioning the status quo. Our will to doubt can be just as powerfully sapped by an internal sense that societal conventions must have a sound basis, even if we are not sure exactly what this may be, because they have been adhered to by a great many people for a long time. It seems plausible that our society could be gravely mistaken in its beliefs and at the same time that we be alone in noticing the fact. We stifle our doubts and follow the flock because we cannot conceive of ourselves as pioneers of hitherto unknown, difficult truths.”

Writing about Socrates’ self-intransigence, de Botton spoke of true respectability not being conferred by the majority, but something that comes from proper reasoning. If Socrates sounded like elitist in his attitude, it did not have any trace of snobbery or prejudice. In the views of those who listened to him, Socrates might have been guilty of discrimination, but such discrimination was not on the basis of class or money, but on the basis of reason, which was an ability accessible to all.

But the story of Socrates has a redemption, too. Soon after his death, the mood in Athens began to change. People burst into tears, his accusers were eventually lynched, and the Athenians denounced his accusers. Out of despair after being socially shamed, his accusers in the end hanged themselves.

Alain de Botton warned us, however, about the danger that Socrates’ death may seduce us for the wrong reasons, that it may engender a sentimental belief in a positive nexus between being hated by the majority and being right.

De Botton, instead, wrote: “This was not Socrates’ intention. It would be as naive to hold that unpopularity is synonymous with truth as to believe it is synonymous with error. The validity of an idea or action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.”

Another sympathetic figure who passionately questioned the status quo and state authority was Dr. Jose Rizal, Philippine national hero. Rizal assailed the atrocities and corrupt practices of the civil and ecclesiastical authorities in the Philippines that the Spanish colonial government and the clergy hated him so much. They had him arrested, banished to Dapitan, then tried by a military court and sentenced to be shot to death.

Rizal was ambivalent about the revolution and was a man of contradictions. Miguel de Unamuno described him in “Rizal: the Tagalog Hamlet,” as a “soul that dreads the revolution although deep down desires it. He pivots between fear and hope, between faith and despair.” This contradiction was clearly evident in Rizal’s two novels where he opposed violence in Noli me Tangere but appeared to advocate it in El Filibusterismo.

Nonetheless, Rizal was a towering figure in the Filipinos’ quest for self-determination. If his criticisms of the Spanish colonial government stung his enemies, it was because he spoke the truth. Just like during the time of Socrates, Rizal’s accusers found it most convenient to put Rizal to death in order to stifle criticism.

A consolation from studying and reading the works of great critics is that we learn, according to Alain de Botton, that philosophy offers us “a way out of two powerful delusions: that we should always or never listen to the dictates of public opinion.” To follow the example of Socrates and those critics after him, we will be most recompensed if we do our best instead to listen always to the dictates of reason.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why social critics are unpopular

To be unpopular is quite easier than being its opposite. This is true for people who may offend the status quo by posing upsetting questions or expressing opinions that are contrary to more popularly-held beliefs. When someone persistently challenges people who are in power, the status quo, or a popular opinion, he or she attracts an avalanche of hate from the majority or most of the people who are afraid to disturb the conditions of things around them. By their nature, people hate disturbance, commotion or even something novel because the unfamiliar upsets them.

Socrates is a great example of those whose political convictions were drastically at odds with the popular views of the day. He cared deeply about the good of his polis, the city of Athens, yet his idiosyncratic practice of examining his fellow Athenians in order to find flaws in their arguments irritated his accusers who trumped up charges that Socrates was poisoning and corrupting the minds of the young. In his defence, Socrates had to expose his accusers as scoundrels who were corruptly willing to undermine democratic practices.

As one writer puts it, for Socrates, “doing good meant acting as a social critic: questioning fundamental Athenian beliefs in conversations held in public and private spaces of the city.”

But at the end of his trial, while he had established himself as a dignified individual rather than a pandering politician, Socrates learned that an active life, including speaking out in the citizen Assembly was impossible for a just man. That true dignity was not a social matter at all, but rather an affair of the individual soul.

The internal contradictions that beset Socrates are not uncommon for most social critics. A social critic’s dignity based upon the wisdom or its absence in his or her arguments does not attract the sympathy and approval of the community or the larger society. True dignity or self-worth is largely an individual matter a social critic must wrestle on his or her own terms, and at most times, the social critic is left alone and drowned by the voices of those he or she has managed to upset. That’s why most social critics are lonely people, despised and scorned by those around them.

Take the example of the criticism hurled at the organizers of Philippine Independence Day in the city of Toronto last June 12. The organizers were extremely upset that they were denounced for holding a Santacruzan and a parada ng lechon during the festivity instead of, say, a more relevant celebration such as a parade of revolutionary flags or Filipino costumes representing our country’s different regions. Those upset by the criticism argued that they were simply pining for the good old days, that they were just feeling nostalgic of the past, for anything that reminds them of Filipino festivities in the old country.

One must be clear, however, about the difference between historically-informed social criticism and plain nostalgia. A trip to the past just for simple reminders of things as they once were is not enough. Holding a Santacruzan or even a parada ng lechon could be value-neutral, especially if it does not offend our understanding of history and culture. Celebrated in an event other than during our country’s Independence Day will certainly not stir up criticism.

Thus, social criticism informed by historical inquiry (such as questioning the relevance of Santacruzan and parada ng lechon to Independence Day), unlike nostalgia, sees the past as capable of teaching those living in the present some very important lessons about the ways their forbears once lived. A social critic takes the risk of unpopularity or even public condemnation if, in being critical he or she helps others, especially our younger generation who do not have a clear appreciation of our country’s historical and cultural traditions to see such traditions from a well-informed perspective.

Social critics find themselves at greater risk when hatred degenerates to malice and nastiness. It’s the end of civilized intellectual discourse when dialogue crosses the line of decency and self-respect. We are seeing this now in the current health care reform town hall meetings in the United States where angry opponents of the Obama administration’s proposal to provide health insurance coverage to every American citizen (apparently orchestrated by Republicans and their rabid followers) resort to name-calling, or accusations like “death panel,” or even bringing handguns to the meetings.

This kind of risk is also present even in smaller organizations where relationship is well-bonded by the intimacy of friendship or personal alliances that can be exploited to belittle and disparage criticism and traditional civil dialogue. It is in these smaller organizations that praise, instead of critique, becomes a cheap verbal drug for the psychologically needy and unloved. Praise is the easiest thing to do, but also the most useless exercise.

But in the best intellectual and prophetic tradition, social critics continue on with their lonely but well-meaning crusade to bring out the best in humanity, not to validate, like the cynics among us, our worst fears about ourselves.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Denying discrimination

Sometime ago, I received a letter in my inbox here in Toronto saying that “the new Filipino can compete very well with citizens of even first class countries who’ve had first class education in Ivy League schools.” The letter-writer was quoting from an earlier report published by a Philippine business advisory firm who interviewed the CEO’s of top companies in the Philippines about their assessment of the country’s economy.

Later, I was told that he was organizing a new group of young Filipino professionals in Toronto for the purpose of rebranding the group as part of the new and successful global Filipino, which corresponds with the Philippine government’s latest plan to market Filipino knowledge workers overseas. This group is heavily steeped in information technology and many of its prospective members are equipped with MBAs and PhDs.

It was gratifying to know that young Filipino professionals migrating to Toronto are on the rise. Thirty years before, most Filipino immigrants to Canada had only a BA or BS under their belts but many of them weathered the pitfalls and traps that gathered along the uneasy trail of the new immigrants’ transition period and eventually made inroads in their careers, whether a second one or in their original career path.

But what continues to perplex me was the seeming confusion among these young Filipinos about their integration in Canada’s workforce. At one point they lament that their academic credentials—those diplomas earned from Philippine schools—are not being recognized by Canadian employers. They also bewail their work experience in the Philippines not being given due credit because Canadian employers prefer actual work experience in Canada.

An advisor for the group further explained that these newcomers are having problems in adjusting to Canadian society and corporate culture because their schools [in the Philippines] did not prepare them for work in Canada where their degrees would not be recognized.

Something appears dissonant in this group’s argument or purpose for rebranding themselves.

If today’s young Filipino professionals can compete with those armed with foreign academic credentials or foreign citizens schooled in their backyard, why do they have difficulty convincing Canadian employers about the worth of their education?

Why are they blaming their schools in the Philippines for not preparing them for Canadian integration?

The above questions may sound being too critical but necessary for us to gain a fuller understanding of the issues at hand. We have to open up the issues in order to engage in an honest and intelligent dialogue which will help in illuminating our perception of what besets our young professionals in their job or career search and what practical advice we, their elders who have walked on the same paths before, can offer.

It is quite obvious that the group is ignoring or does not heed the results of various studies that have been conducted by reputable organizations concerning the impact of racial discrimination in employment of minorities, especially newly-arrived immigrants. A Ryerson University study, for instance, pointed out that racial discrimination in employment in Canada is an affront to the principle and aspirations of equality for all its citizens.

The study also highlighted that minorities, although they constituted the largest number of new entrants to the workforce, have not fared well in the labour market. New immigrants, according to the study, continue to sustain a double-digit income gap and higher rate of unemployment.

“Not only does it rob the economy of a valuable resource in a competitive global environment, it undermines the competitiveness of Canadian business at home and abroad,” the study underscores.

To be in a state of denial will not help this group effectively identify the ways through which young Filipino professionals, with only Philippine credentials to bank on, can fully integrate into the Canadian employment sector where their qualifications are given due weight and their compensation fairly corresponds to their skills. At most, the group will become a weekly or monthly get-together over a few drinks. The leaders of the group may not have great expectations in the outcome of their efforts since they have their Canadian MBAs in the first place, thus they are marketable and in demand, compared to their poorer Filipino cousins who were trained in Philippine schools.

The other inconsistency about this group’s initiative is their avowal that the Philippines did not prepare them in joining the Canadian labour market, hence why their academic credentials are not recognized.

This is a preposterous argument. The Philippine educational system, in the first place, is not designed to produce graduates for overseas employment. If that were the case, then all Filipinos who find work overseas or migrate to foreign lands or their foreign employers should be asked to reimburse the Philippine government of its expenses in providing them with their training and education. This would also make it even easier for foreign governments to simply reduce their education budgets and rely more on foreign hiring, which is similar to rich countries poaching on the rich manpower pool of poor and developing countries. Shoppers Drug Mart, for one, has been criticized for its practice of targeting skilled pharmacists from South Africa and bringing them over to Canada. The same with the practice of the United States and Canada of raiding Philippine schools for nurses to fill up the shortage of nurses in many of their hospitals.

Opening up opportunities for employment in the Canadian labour market must begin with the conscious recognition and acceptance that racial discrimination is still prevalent in the employment of minorities, particularly new immigrants. Until such time that all vestiges of racism are eliminated, equality in employment will always remain an elusive dream, a noble policy, yet unattainable.

At the same time, new immigrants and minorities must always be vigilant in demanding equal treatment in the workplace and anywhere in the whole spectrum of Canadian society. The success of a few professionals is not the most reliable yardstick for integration; at most, it only shows cracks in the glass ceiling because the whole barrier to equality remains intact.

Many second-generation Filipino-Canadians have tasted the sweet smell of success in their chosen careers, whether in government or in the private sector. There is no doubt that their upbringing and education in Canada positioned them well to achieve success. However, it is the plight of the new Filipino immigrants, professionals or skilled workers that really causes a big concern, because like the Filipino immigrants of old, they have to struggle against discrimination in employment and in the workplace.

The idea that we are discriminating against ourselves borders on the ludicrous. That we are the ones to be blamed for our own sorry mess. This kind of thinking which is being perpetuated by this group of new Filipino professionals is very worrisome. For one, it goes against the grain of truth exposed by the findings of reputable surveys about discrimination in employment, and puts down people whom they brand as “losers,” those who are victims of discrimination. They don’t realize that most victims of discrimination are real and actual casualties of a racially biased and inequitable system and not mere concoctions of the imagination, or what they call “victim mentality.”

We should not allow success to turn us into behaving like beasts, without compassion for those who lose or fail or fall in between the cracks. The recent collapse of well-entrenched Wall Street companies that thrived on greed should be a constant reminder to all of us that winning or amassing wealth is not everything.