For a country that “exports” so many OFW’s, treasures imported goodies, and cares so much about shout-outs from foreign celebrities, we know precious little about other countries. Reportage about foreign countries is fairly rare, and mainly consists of plain factual coverage culled from press agencies. Our Araling Panlipunan is relentlessly inward-looking, ostensibly to instill patriotism. A more sophisticated version of this mentality pervades higher education. Social science university departments tend to limit their subject matter to our geographical borders. Even researchers, who are supposed to form the vanguard of knowledge production, can find their endeavors confined to “Filipino” topics, or to putting a clear “Filipino spin” on their desired theme.
Where does this insularity come from? History, to a large extent. As a Hispanized, predominantly Catholic society, the Philippines can seem less like an Asian country than a Latin American nation that got lost in the wrong ocean. At the same time, the Philippines is generally unable and unwilling to embrace its Hispanic heritage and kinship to Latin America. Either way, it’s hard to see ourselves as part of a real transnational community whose other members we ought to learn about.
Secondly, our lingering colonial hangover tends to give rise to simplistic and (ahem) questionable attempts at nation-building. Developing unity beyond clan and tribe, and addressing glaring issues like widespread poverty, should be our top priorities. Compounded with our tendencies to parochialism, we’ve come up with the notion that real patriots hyperfocus on the Philippines, while those who show too much curiosity about foreign lands suffer from “colonial mentality.”
The truth is that we, as a nation, lose so much by failing to deepen our knowledge of other countries, including those that we consider far away and vastly different. I got a refresher on this concept last semester, when I got the chance to teach a class on Comparative European Politics at the Ateneo. My amazing students already had a solid grasp of European history and European Union institutions, so we were able to dive into the nitty-gritty of comparative politics pretty quickly.
My students did me proud, not just from the quality of their analysis, but from their readiness to draw practical insights from abstract discussions. Lectures would be about European institutional set-ups, but they frequently channeled these ideas into papers considering whether federalism or parliamentarianism would be workable options for the Philippines. They also scoured academic literature for ways to deal with newer problems like fake news. They already taught themselves to see connections between “foreign” systems and their own lives in the Philippines.
These young people show how we can all benefit from critical thinking combined with a comparative perspective. We can learn from the mistakes and the best practices of others, before experimenting with the fate of our own country. For example, studying countries with stable institutions can show us why and how we need to strengthen our own institutions. We also learn that many countries have experimented with authoritarianism, and, in the words of historian Leloy Claudio, we are statistically more likely to end up with an Idi Amin than a Lee Kwan Yew.
On a more psychological note, comparison and genuine connection with other countries can function as a type of “reality testing.” By looking at several country cases, we will have a better idea of what a plausible interpretation of our own history looks like. This will make us more resilient against disinformation and historical revisionism. Otherwise, we become like the stereotypical shut-ins who are most vulnerable to gaslighting.
In short, we shouldn’t have to choose between learning about the world vs. caring for our own country. As we try to preserve democracy and build a better future, let us remember to educate ourselves about the world beyond our borders. It’s no less than our patriotic duty. – Rappler.com
Jamina Vesta Jugo is a doctoral candidate in Political Science at the University of Goettingen and a part-time lecturer at the Ateneo de Manila’s European Studies Program.