Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Globalizing Pinoy's manners

THE Philippine economy is highly globalized whether we like it or not. The next thing we should do is “globalize” our Pinoy habits, traits and manners as well, if only to improve our image abroad as a people.

Close to 60 percent of the country’s gross domestic product—the value of goods and services traded within the country’s borders—are accounted for by the country’s merchandise exports and dollar remittances from overseas workers. And close to 70 percent of the country’s exports is electronics, proof that we have become an important player in the world’s production of trade of electronics and semiconductors. Of course, the top generator of jobs these days are call centers and other outsourcing industries, globalization’s latest and the most tangible metamorphosis.

Anybody who watches CNN or BBC each day would notice that for all the world’s misfortunes and mishaps (e.g., hostage-taking in an oil rig in Nigeria, bombing in Indonesia, tsunami in Thailand, war in Lebanon, a shipwreck in Korea), at least a Filipino is always involved. Yes, that’s how the Philippines has become so globalized.

Right now there are more than 8 million Filipinos working and living abroad. Every day, close to 3,000 Filipinos are leaving the country for foreign jobs. And each year, they send back home at least US$12 billion that translate to spending on food, education, cellular phones, and the building and repairs of houses. That in turn has buoyed the country’s factories, banks, restaurants, school, and shopping malls. And that trend will continue for as long as the country’s domestic productive capacity remains constrained by ruinous politics, sloppy governance and slow growth.

With all these adventures abroad, Filipinos have developed quite a reputation as good finance managers in Indonesia, smart technical guys in Vietnam, efficient nurses in Florida and California, and hard-working engineers and technicians in oil rigs and oil platforms in Nigeria and Gulf States, and “courageous” mercenaries in Iraq. The flipside of this, however, is the negative perception of us Filipinos because of some bad habits that some of our countrymen bring with them when they work abroad. There are only a few of them but it takes one rotten tomato to spoil the entire basket.

We hear embarrassing stories of some Pinoys in the Gulf States using the peso coins to take cans of softdrinks off the dispensing machines. We often hear about some Pinoys bringing with them bath towels from hotels as well as head sets from airlines as “souvenirs.” Don’t be surprised if some of the headsets you see your fellow passengers at those FX taxis bear the tag “Cathay Airways” or some such airline—probably the man or woman beside you brought home the headset that’s issued during all flights.

Some of our countrymen probably think these acts are harmless and innocent, but this is the type of behavior that puts the Filipino nation in a negative light. Surely, those Arabs who felt cheated upon opening their soda- dispensing machines full of Pinoy peso coins must have thought Filipinos are a bunch of thieves.

In the last three years, tourist arrivals in the country have been growing at double-digit rates, thanks to the successful efforts by the Department of Tourism to attract East Asians, particularly Koreans. We also have lots of foreigners coming in, many of them investors and top managers for the blooming outsourcing companies here in the Philippines. They may have come here in the country with the thought that we Filipinos are gracious and hospitable.

As a people Filipinos are indeed gracious. But many of us still have a lot of things to learn, especially when it comes to living in an urban context. Surely, lots of our foreign visitors are shocked to see Pinoys pissing against a wall and throwing garbage in the streets. Worse, Filipino drivers, both rich and poor, behave like rascals behind the wheels. One recalls a very innocent question that an 8-year-old Filipino-Aussie boy asked his mother barely 10 minutes after they hit the road from the international airport: “Mom, don’t they have lanes here?” To which the irrepressible mother replied, “No, they make their own.” Imagine what went on in the mind of a boy so used to Sydney’s strict traffic rules.

In places like Brunei, Malaysia, New York, and Washington DC, drivers immediately slow down upon seeing pedestrians attempting to cross the streets. In the Philippines, drivers would even harass the pedestrians by stepping on the gas pedal upon seeing them trying to cross the street. Such barbarian behavior should have no place in the country’s “globalizing cities.”

Such behavior signals one thing—that most Filipinos are nothing but hillbillies trapped in the urban setting. This is not to denigrate rural dwellers but to highlight the fact that the pattern of human settlements and disparity in population density means the rules of human behavior are different in rural and urban, nay globalized, settings. For instance, waste in rural areas is largely organic; disposing them straight to the environment is even “sustainable.” In the rural setting, settlements are sparse; letting the animals run wild is romantic. In urban, globalized settings, people who now ride cars and jeepneys must learn to respect those who walk the streets. And those who walk the streets should learn to appreciate the fine and manly art of going to toilets to relieve themselves. And everybody should learn the value of proper waste disposal.

Filipinos never had an industrial revolution; thus, most of us have not experienced working and living under the strict rules of compact, organized, regimented and rules-based existence. Many of us, rich and poor, simply came to the “city” and went straight to working mostly in the formal and informal services sector, bringing with us obsolete values, traits, and habits. In other countries that experienced a similar path of development, the State through its instrumentalities—city ordinance, traffic rules, educational system, local government units, zoning, among others—played an important role in changing people’s behaviors.

In the Philippines, the state failed in this job. But it’s not too late to work on this one. Maybe the private sector could help. It’s time we brought the Pinoy’s habits, traits and behavior up to “global standards.”

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