On the outside looking in

Michael G. Yu
An expat Filipino dad wonders about the state of Filipino values and how today's news will shape his children's perception of their home country

FILIPINO, NO MATTER WHAT. Michael Yu (with wife Sharon and kids Kiara and Timmy) wants his children to be proud of their country. Photo from Michael's Facebook page

MANILA, Philippines – Several recent news items have caught my attention, most of them about how acts of violence seem to be increasing in the Philippines.

First, I read about a spate of robberies at convenience stores, two of which ended up in deaths. The reason this hits close to home is quite literal: a 7-11 in the Scout area of Quezon City was one of the stores where a fatality occurred and I lived in that area for many years. Knowing exactly where the store is somehow makes the news painfully real. 

I also read about the brutal murder of a US national named George Anikow for the most insane reason. The American “tapped” (this is the term used in the news report) the luxury car of 4 young Filipinos as it entered Bel-Air village in Makati. They all promptly rushed out of the car, mauled and stabbed the American to death simply because (and they were quoted as saying, referring to the American) “gago ‘yan.” 

Then there was the news about a young model being raped and killed by a supposed “friend” over an argument about some malicious gossip that was spread. The reason for the abduction gone horribly wrong: to “teach a lesson.” Unfortunately, that’s the final lesson she will ever learn.

That’s just the stuff published in the news. Surely there are other instances of crime that go unreported.

For example, I remember witnessing an actual mugging while driving along Quezon Avenue one night: a burly man had grabbed a young lady from behind in a grasp she couldn’t break free of no matter how much she struggled. I remember wanting to turn back and do something — anything — but had no way of doing so since I was too far along in traffic.

I never saw a news report on that and I pray that the victim came out of that alright.

Is this really what human life is worth today: a fistful of cash, a dented car, a bruised ego? If people are capable of murder for such insignificant things, does it even surprise us that immoral killings on a larger scale (like the Maguindanao massacre) occur and corruption is widespread when the stakes are much higher?

As a Filipino father, I worry about my children’s identity. They are — and always will be — Filipino. I do not want them to lose sight of that.

But with what is happening in the Philippines, the longer they live as outsiders looking in, I am afraid the day will come when they disassociate themselves from our country and lose pride in their heritage because, honestly, behavior as described above isn’t something to be proud of.

Then, there is the news of Typhoon Pablo, which has left hundreds dead and thousands more adversely affected in its wake — violence wrought by nature and not within our control, but violence nonetheless. With today’s instant access to news via the Internet, it is always worrisome to see the images coming out of the Philippines.

And although this knowledge brings some sense of connection, I also feel a certain degree of powerlessness, being so far away and not being able to do something more concrete.

It has only been a year since I’ve relocated to Hong Kong and I still feel like a visitor. I continue to associate more closely with the goings-on back in the Philippines. When they are older and can understand more, will my children be surprised that I continue to feel for my countrymen and their welfare? Possibly.

And maybe that is the partial answer to keeping my children connected to their cultural roots. 

Times like these remind me of the spirit of bayanihan that pervades the country whenever crisis hits. So many people come together to help those who have been affected. Donations start pouring in, volunteerism grows.

In the face of adversity, it becomes strikingly clear that the Filipino value system, no matter how much it gets buried under the avalanche of negativity and violence, still exists. 

Sure, we may be living outside the land of our birth, but we carry with us values that make us proud to be Filipino: empathy, compassion, sense of family. By emphasizing these traits, maybe more positive news will come to fore and the violence we have control over will end.

If, starting from the home, we all focus on what is good about being Filipino, then maybe our collective sense of pride will slowly regain strength, and being Filipino will still mean something for future generations, no matter where they are in the world. – Rappler.com

Michael G. Yu currently works for a Chinese-owned multinational company in Hong Kong as head of Corporate Human Resources. Other blog entries he has written for Rappler are: Mornings as meant to be, Soc Villegas, autism and the challenges of parenthood and The evolution of diaper changing, among others.