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Exactly two decades ago on the 1st of November 1987, The Atlantic Monthly released an essay that stirred
controversy and pulled readers emotions to extremes of anger and accordance all over the world, especially in one
particular country²the Philippines. This was ³A Damaged Culture´ authored by the magazine¶s national
correspondent, James Fallows.

In the article, Fallows paints a picture of polarity in Philippine society, of gated neighborhoods and depressed
communities, and equates this to a culture he described as ³damaged.´ For justification, Fallows examined the
different aspects of a culture starting with attitudes and values, specifically the ethic of delicadeza or ³saving face.´
For the author, delicadeza ³encourages people to raise unpleasant topics indirectly or better still, not to raise them at
all.´ Thus, increases the Filipinos¶ tolerance for wrong doings and injustice, compromising progress for the sake of
this so-called politeness. Next, Fallows examines the colonial past of the country. Three hundred years under Spain
and fifty years under Hollywood, a brief moment with the Japanese and considering the archipelagic setting naturally
created divisions or ³a weak sense of national unity.´ He concludes that Filipinos operate in a minute circle. And with
this minute circle, Fallows completes the ³damaged´ culture equation with the current and persisting problem of

In economic aspects, Fallows demonstrated this ³damaged´ culture as a hindrance to the advancement of a naturally
endowed country while on the contrary, its neighbors such as Japan, Taiwan and Singapore have moved forward
despite their lack of resources because of their cultures. Reactor Dr. Michael M. Alba, president of the Philippine
Economic Society questioned the basis of a ³damaged culture.´ Is the primacy of economic growth the main basis in
assessing a culture? It seemed to Dr. Alba that this is Fallows implicit definition. He interprets the Philippines¶
problem by quoting Nobel laureate for Economics, Robert E. Lucas Jr., when he said ³I do not see how one can look
at figures like these without seeing them as representing possibilities... The consequences for human welfare
involved in questions like these are simply staggering: Once one starts to think about them, it is hard to think of
anything else.´ There is a lack of thought and reflection in economic figures. However, even as an economist himself,
Dr. Alba recognizes factors for growth other than economics, taking note that the happiest people in the world are not
necessarily from the richer countries. For change, Dr. Alba suggests a servant-leader on the helm who will use a
system of meritocracy

Moderator Carlo Raymundo, program coordinator of the AIM Policy Center agreed. Indeed there is much more to
culture and economic progress than figures. We have to consider other measures such as quality of life and
governance. Following Dr. Alba is Dr. Jesus P. Estanislao, chairman and CEO of Institute for Solidarity in Asia who
disagrees with Fallows¶ assessment. Foreigners like Fallows only have a short-term view of the country. For Dr.
Estanislao, Fallows failed to analyze the cultural implications of Philippine history. The country has gone through a lot
of transition, from a country of baranggays, to a country of towns, to a country of provinces. Division is natural. The
Philippines is an archipelago that there is no direct point of comparison with its economically developing neighbors.
For Dr. Estanislao, Fallows¶ view of a lack of national identity is not a discovery but already a known reality. Take for
example the different responses to the Asian Financial Crisis. Thais and other neighbors melted their gold while
Filipinos moved their dollars outside the country. Dr. Estanislao presents challenges. First is to accept that we still do
have a feudal culture. Patron-client relationships and special treatments still exist, as what Fallows¶ observed as the
exclusive circle. Next, we have to re-build institutions from the bottom-up. Then, appropriate policy change will follow.

The third reactor was Dr. Amelia Ylagan, a literature and culture enthusiast and a columnist for Business World. Dr.
Ylagan cited some accounts from distinguished Filipino writers to explain the present societal division in the
Philippines. First, she cited National Artist for Literature, Nick Joaquin¶s novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels, an
allegory of the Filipino soul, confused because of the different circumstances it faced. Then, she mentions the
sentiments of another national artist, F. Sionil José, who she has interviewed on the topic of the social idiosyncrasies
of the Filipino and socio-economic events in history that may have caused the decline in Philippine competitiveness.
His latest essays, in Heroes in the Attic, Termites in the Sala: Why We Are Poor, are synchronous with the topic at
hand. ³We are a product of history,´ José says. Agreeing that the shattering of traditions was the main culprit for the
confusion of social mores, he cites four ³watersheds´ in Philippine history that traumatized the Filipino: the departure
of Spain, the coming of the United States of America, the Japanese occupation, and Martial Law. These historical
milestones muddled our psyche, particularly in terms of how we relate to each other. Thus, for Dr. Ylagan, Fallows¶
assessment is very much limited.

The open forum offered a dynamic interaction between the audience and the three speakers. The questions ranged
from the cultural differences of India and the Philippines, as raised by an Indian student, to the current trend of
migration and rising OFW rates that one participant viewed as motivated by the Filipinos¶ love for family above all

In closing, Dr. Federico M. Macaranas, executive director of the AIM Policy Center left some words of wisdom quoted
from the Philippines¶ national Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. ³Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat their
mistakes.´ The Filipino has gone through a lot, but we seem to forget easily. Once we put into heart the hardships our
ancestors faced, then we may just initiate change to achieve equality and unity in our society.

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