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July 29, 2011


In Philippine socio-economic planning, the cultural factor is most often neglected or ignored.  The enormous impact of culture on the economy is a reality that many people, particularly technocrats and politicians, do not see.  The reason for this is perhaps a limited concept of culture which confines it to the arts.
      Culture, however, is much more than the arts.  It is a system of vital ideas that contains, energizes and directs virtually every aspect of social life and man’s relationship to his world. It touches everything from the humanities to the sciences, from religion to technology.  It is the “matrix from which values, attitudes, motivations and skills emerge”.

      UNESCO defines culture as “the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only the arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.”

Culture Underlies All Social Phenomena, Processes, and Relations

      Jurgen Marten, in his essay “Culture as A Dimension of Development”, asserts that culture is not a social phenomenon that can be isolated or susceptible to isolation. It is not a separate human activity. “It is a property, a certain quality of all social phenomena, processes and relations and, in this sense, all social phenomena, processes and relations are open to a cultural assessment.”

       It is upon this basis that Marten recommends the unity of economic, social, and cultural policy as a basic principle in development planning. Cultural tasks should be linked with economic, political and social tasks. Otherwise, the desired development goals may be inadequately realized or not achieved at all.

Capital Is Necessary But Not Sufficient for Development

       Dieter Weiss, in his essay on “Culture, Perception of Reality, and the Newly Emerging Planning Paradigm,” links development strategies with cultural background. Latin- American, African, Arab, Indian and Southeast Asian ways of handling development problems seem to be clearly different from each other. He observes that the tremendous inflow of financial resources as a consequence of oil riches have hardly had any effect on the development performance of Egypt, in contrast to performance of the resource poor, but extremely efficient and successful countries in Southeast and East Asia such as Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.

       For Wiess, it became clear that “contrary to conventional economic theory – capital is a necessary condition,  but by no means a sufficient one….Far more important than large supplies of capital is the human factor:  basic values and attitudes, motivation, learning capacity and achievement orientation, technical knowhow and a social discipline, a sense of responsibility for the common good and the community, and a particular capacity for flexible adaptation to a changing international environment.” The decisive factor, according to him, is perhaps the human cultural resource.

There Is No Universal Path to Development

      The idea of development arising from the strengths of each culture and from the particular features of each ecosystem is, of course, entirely at odds with the dominant “universalist’ thinking. But there is really no universal path to development.  In contrast to ‘universalist’ thinking, a core culture-based approach needs no models to emulate.  A developing country should not look for the image of its own future in so-called developed countries, but in its own culture and ecology.

      Each society must find its own strategy inasmuch as the social unit of development is a culturally defined community and the development of this community is rooted in the specific values and institutions of this culture. Thus, the cultural identity of this community is of fundamental value.   The emphasis on cultural identity is absolutely essential in this context. To ask people to abandon their own native culture if they want to develop is a contradiction in terms

All Models of Development are Essentially Cultural

       All models of development are essentially cultural.  They reflect a culture’s perception of the problems faced by the society, and they incorporate solutions to those problems based on that perception, and developed from the cultural resources of the society itself, in order to address the specific situation in the particular society. Although culture and development are inextricably linked, it is culture that plays the crucial role because it “is the sum total of original solutions that a group of human beings invent to adapt to their natural and social environment.” (Mervyn Claxton, “Culture and Development Revisited”) Culture is a society’s life support system.

      That is why external models and techniques cannot be successfully transferred without adaptation. Throughout history, and across all cultures, a people’s culture has always been linked to its development. That link was broken in recent times, especially in African and other developing countries, because of the near universal application of the Western model of development, and b/c of the internalization of Western technology.

The Perils of Inappropriate Development

       The Western model was originally “appropriately made” for Western societies but has subsequently been transferred to developing countries as “ready-made” ones.  Herein lies the fundamental flaw:  The Western model of development was transferred to, or borrowed by, African and other developing countries in their pre- and post-independence periods with little or no adaptation.

        The underlying values of that model, which are firmly rooted in Western culture, prevented its successful transplantation to the very different socio-cultural structures of most developing societies. Furthermore, no attempt was made to graft the development model on to local traditions.  Its transplantation, therefore, created a rupture with those very traditions which prevented it from taking root.  If it had taken root, the imported model would have been given autonomous life and would have been able to survive, perhaps even flourish, without the need for an external support system.

             “Westcentrism is the ideological base of globalization. International
              organizations and institutions, such as the IMF,  World Bank, GATT,
              and even APEC,  were established and   guided mostly by Western
              interests, intentions and principles.  The value standards and rules of
              the  game in global affairs are   all set and controlled by the West.
              Sustainable development cannot be realized without a reasonable
              solution to this  problem. (Gao Xian, “Culture and Development:  A
              Sustainable Model in the Twenty-First Century”)

        The general developmental effect of the failure to identify and isolate the non-assimilable cultural aspects of the Western development model is evident throughout most of the developing world, especially in Africa. African agriculture, for example, which is the most important economic activity in the region, engaging as it does 70 per cent of the population, is in crisis. FAO estimates that some 40 million people in the region are vulnerable to hunger.
        One main cause of this crisis is the inappropriate application of Western agricultural techniques resulting in considerable environmental degradation. The introduction of monoculture, which is suitable for temperate conditions but highly damaging in tropical conditions,  leaves the soil without cover for long periods, allowing the heavy tropical rains to cause splash erosion and the soils to harden under the tropical sun, thus causing laterization.   African traditional, mixed cropping systems, which kept the soil under constant crop cover, have now been recognized as being more effective and more environmentally safe than temperate monocultural practices. But irreparable damage has already been done to the agricultural potential of Africa.
       Tropical conditions favor a more rapid reproduction and proliferation of insect pests which attack cultivated plants than is the case in temperate countries.  Crop rotation, practiced in traditional tropical agriculture, helped control such pests because pests specific to particular plants were given less opportunity to multiply, in contrast to the planting of a single crop year after year as in monoculture.  The practice of monoculture facilitated the build-up of insect pest populations which are responsible for the loss of up to forty percent of crops in tropical agriculture.

        We need not look far for examples of inappropriate development. Fr. Brendan Lovett discovered that prior to their being subjected to the market system, the indigenous peoples of Southern Philippines and Mindanao had access to about 109 different food stuffs.  Their food throughout the year had a richness associated with life in the tropical forest and a subsistence economy.  But the moment they became part of the modern market system, their diet deteriorated to a mere 30 to 35 varieties of food stuffs (Brendan Lovett, A Dragon Not for the Killing).  The richness of their way of life suffered when they were forced to participate in a market system which made them market dependent, which they never were.  They are no longer masters over their own destiny.

        The question of appropriateness is relevant not only to agriculture and technology but to the world view and values, beliefs systems, knowledge, skills and practices, core principles and ideas shared by a society –  the unique totality of which constitutes what we call cultural identity

Cultural Identity as the Basis of Social Participation for Development

       Cultural identity is a sine qua non for becoming active in the world. Cultural identity is the fundamental source of social empowerment.  Rob a people of their identity and they become passive, lost, indolent, uncreative and unproductive, prone to depression and substance abuse, and plagued by a pervasive feeling of malaise and powerlessness.

      “In order to involve people as active participants, development
      must be consistent with their fundamental socio-cultural traits,
      world view and values,  and cultural principles. Only then can
      the enthusiasm and creative potential of the people be mobilized.”
      (1990 Report, South Commission)

       A culture sensitive process of development will be able to draw on the large reserves of creativity and traditional knowledge and skills that are to be found throughout the developing world.  Such enrichment will give development firmer roots in the society and make it easier to sustain development.

The Genesis of Subservience

       To suppress and weaken these roots and successfully impose an alien culture on a people is to reduce them into a passive, docile mass subservient to the power wielders of the alien culture. They lose their originality, native intelligence and skills, treasure troves of knowledge, accumulated wisdom, and creativity

       They lose their collective will and vision of life.  They become disunited, self-serving, indulgent and short-sighted. This is why the first objective of a colonizing power is to erase the cultural memory of the conquered people, to induce a collective amnesia about their past and supplant it with the culture of the colonizers. In this lie the roots of Filipino derivativeness and inferiority complex vis-a-vis the West.
         “It turns out that education under our system is dominated by
          subservience to the economy and therefore is only preparing
          people to move into the market system, and therefore is not
          geared towards denying the validity of a non-market way of life.
          So human beings are being schooled out of their own innate  
          sense of what makes for human dignity and freedom”(Lovett)

 Serving Another Country’s Need Through Education

       Our country has been spending valuable public money for the education of Filipino professionals in science and many other fields.  But since the cultural sources of their education are Western, it is inevitable that the expertise they acquire will be more applicable or appropriate to a Western industrialized society than to the rural, agricultural setting of most Philippine provinces.  So a great number of our graduates will end up migrating to rich Western or Westernized countries.   “It looks like the Philippines is spending its money for the training of manpower for the more affluent countries…This, then, is the essence of our colonial education – the training of one’s country’s citizens to become another country’s assets.”(Florentino Hornedo, “The Cultural Dimension of Philippine Development”)

       Of course, one can always argue that our overseas Filipino workers bring home much needed foreign exchange.  But the drain on our intellectual and creative resources as well as the public education budget is also tremendous, not to mention the negative social consequences of migrant work to the workers themselves and the families they leave behind. 

Overly Technical Education

       It seems that lately, taking advantage of the globalization of work opportunities,  our  secondary and tertiary  schools have become more and more like vocational schools, somewhat patterning themselves after the many technical and vocational schools that have been sprouting in our midst since the 70s.

       But vocation-oriented training has to be balanced by humanistic and cultural education.  Do we properly educate our children in what it means to be human, especially in a world which they share not only with people but with other sentient beings? Do we really inculcate in them social discipline, a sense of responsibility for the common good and the nation, and ecological awareness?  Do we truly and profoundly make them understand what it means to be a Filipino in the context of a multi-cultural setting not only within our archipelago but within the whole of Southeast Asia and the world?

Professional Tribalism

        I am afraid that our overemphasis on technical education may develop expertise and the professions but may also breed selfishness, lack of social responsibility and professional tribalism, which arises from the cult of the professional ego.  This is clearly a manifestation of the materialism of industrial or industrializing societies where, for instance, scientists advance science for its own sake no matter what the social costs, medical doctors gang up on outsiders to protect the medical “establishment,” and businessmen sacrifice valuable goods or form cartels just to maintain enormous profits.  Society becomes splintered into ruthlessly competing self-interest tribes of experts, each with its own god or king(celebrity figures such as Stephen Hawking in physics or Bill Gates in technology and business), church or temple (convention hall, opera house, museum, etc.), holy book(professional journal or manual), sacred language (jargon) and religious attire (business suit, white laboratory gown, etc.).   Each tribe is after its own good alone. Professional advancement is the highest good. And financial success the highest reward (a market of warring, competing tribes?)

       Who then cares for society as a whole?  It seems that with few exceptions, we have in our midst economists who formulate policies as if people do not matter, scientists who pursue knowledge uninformed by social considerations, artists who create for other artists and art experts alone, politicians who place party interests above all else, and officials more worried about self-preservation than their people’s well being.  These things are now common knowledge and much thought and study have already been made on the “barbarism of specialization” (Jose Ortega Y Gassett, The Revolt of the Masses).  Can we educate the Filipinos, whether formally and non-formally, against this barbarism?  

Alienation from the Community

       Furthermore, since our educational system is highly Westernized,  it follows that as one ascends  the academic ladder,  the more Westernized and alienated from his cultural roots the Filipino becomes.  That is why the more specialized A Filipino’s education is, the more likely he or she will find his means of livelihood away from his community, perhaps in Manila or some other country.   An Ifugao child who receives only a high school education is more likely to remain in his community than another who finishes college.  And the reason for this is not just because the latter has greater work opportunities, but because his education is not culturally rooted in his community, especially if it is a rural, indigenous village.

The Economics of Dependency

       Our educational system remains colonial rather than culturally appropriate. Many of our schools do not produce people who are highly resourceful, creative and adaptable to a fast changing and extremely complex contemporary world. They encourage dependency, a job-seeking, employability mentality rather than originality of thought, entrepreneurial qualities and self-reliance on native skills, knowledge and strengths. 

       Our colonial experience seems to have conditioned us to seek rather than create work opportunities, to adapt rather than to innovate, and to conform rather than to lead.  The captive Filipino mind, having been alienated from its creative roots, cannot generate economic opportunities within its native settingbecause of this alienation.  The needs and values it serves are external to itself. We borrow alien thought and value systems and forms of expression and produce nothing but derivatives and clones, superficiality and mediocrity?  We forget that we can only be truly productive using our own thought processes.

The Power of Indigenous Thought

       Harnessing our own minds, understandings, definitions, categories and concepts is certainly to have confidence, power and control over our own lives.  Economic power naturally follows from this.  For instance, if we worship alien ideas of beauty, whose art works, music, fashion models and beauty products do we glorify and spend for?

       If we do not see the virtues of our systems of traditional healing and medicine, how much do we spend for imported drugs, medical technology and expertise?  (Dr. Juan Flavier once reported during a Senate hearing that within the first five years of a serious health care program harnessing the resources of Philippine traditional healing and medicine, we could save as much as fifteen billion pesos in medical expenses). In the Philippines, the expertise of a psychiatrist schooled in Freudian thought has often been found to be ineffective for treating culture-specific mental disturbances that a local babaylan could cure in a matter of minutes. But we do not bother to investigate and document the basis for the babaylan’s effectiveness, so that the tradition she represents languishes and is often forgotten. The erosion of the vernacular medical knowledge means depriving people of cheap and well-tested methods of medical treatment and the implementation of new ones that most people cannot afford.

      This reliance on our own traditions does not mean, however, that we become blind to new and perhaps better ideas from other cultures, but our traditions should remain as the basis because they are in consonance with our psyche and our needs, containing wisdom tested through time. Likewise, ancient Chinese acupuncture, successfully blended with Western medicine, has been receiving a lot of worldwide recognition and scientific validation in recent times, earning for the Chinese not only prestige but a lot of income. 

The Dona Victorina Syndrome

      The moment we began to view ourselves through Western eyes, what we held sacred suddenly became worthless, our virtues turned into vices, and our strengths began to be seen as weaknesses.  Anything indigenous became a source of embarrassment and uneasiness.  We would hide whatever is native sounding or native in origin.  Centuries of being regarded as backward and inferior by the white colonizers engendered in us a collective self-contempt, a psychic malady I would term the Dona Victorina Syndrome. 

      The Dona Victorina Syndrome, a manifestation of acute inferiority complex, is disastrous for national development.  It denies and confuses us about our identity as a people.  A people without a strong sense of identity will have no psychic or spiritual center around which to organize their lives. For instance, the moment we identify with American values, ideals and symbols, we begin to think as if America’s concerns, problems and solutions were our concerns, problems and solutions.  We begin to lose sight of our real needs, concerns and problems, which are unique to our situation and require quite different but appropriate responses and solutions.  Not only this, our sense of priorities becomes skewed, incapable of distinguishing between the essential and the frivolous.

      There can be no national unity without a sense of pride in being Filipino. For how do we expect a Filipino to care and work for the good of the nation if he does not even believe in being Filipino?  If at the slightest opportunity, he would eagerly migrate to other countries in pursuit of a foreign identity? If at the slenderest sign of political instability, he will stash away his savings in a foreign bank? 

      The basis of collective self-respect and respect for each other – and thus of social cohesion and nation-building – is always a sense of one’s worth as a Filipino,  a firm belief  in one’s own strengths and creativity.  Such brilliant men as Jose Rizal and Ninoy Aquino laid down their lives for our country because they believed that the “Filipino is worth dying for”.  That is why we regard them as heroes.  They are architects of national unity and salvation.  We can achieve no less.

      The loss of the Filipino sense of dignity and self-worth began with the advent of colonization, especially because of colonial education during the American period. Education in this country being relatively an elite privilege until the present, it is the Filipino elite who became the most Westernized and developed most a damaged self-image as Filipino. There is no such thing as a damaged culture, only a damaged self image. If a “damaged culture” exists at all, according to a well-documented study done by Mahar Mangahas of the Social Weather Station, it is only among the Filipino elite, who has the lowest opinion of Filipino culture.
The Great Cultural Divide

      The colonial powers inevitably encouraged and supported the emergence of an elite class with whom it could easily collaborate. A serious consequence of this is cultural fragmentation. In the Philippines, this created theGreat Cultural Divide between the Western-educated ruling elite and the more or less culturally indigenous majority. Without a common cultural identity there is no common action.  A culturally fragmented and atomized mass is the worst conceivable source material for the development process. We have a soft state because of  self-serving elite intervention and manipulation.  As a result, the culture of the bureaucracy is more attuned to the needs and values of the elite than to that of the vast majority of Filipinos.

      We have so much to learn from other countries when it comes to unity, especially setting aside our differences in times of crisis,. “If there’s anything I envy abt. the Chinese, it’s their focus and ability to pull together as a people” (Belinda Cunanan, from “Political Tidbits”, PDI Nov. 10, 2001)

      If are to become one nation,  we have to begin deconstructing the very negative self-images we have imbibed through centuries of colonial misrule and mis-education, especially among the elite who are the power wielders and thus have the greatest responsibility to serve and be one with the people.  We can never erect a viable nation if we continue to denigrate ourselves, even in the presence of foreigners.
Social Self-Images As Self-Fulfilling:  The Need to Develop a Strong Shared Vision

      It is the image a people create of themselves that is the psycho-cultural basis of their strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and failures.  For a nation’s self-image tends to be self-fulfilling (Kenneth Boulding, The Image) If in our minds we think we will be defeated, we have already lost.  If we think we are an inferior people, we will tend to lower our standards and be satisfied with good enough.  Negative self-images, whether individual or collective, can cause untold social and cultural damage.  We have to begin celebrating our genius as a people and not continue to neurotically wallow in our defeats. According to Dr. F. Landa Jocano, why do we tend to celebrate our defeats – like the Fall of Bataan and the Death of Rizal – whereas other peoples celebrate only their triumphs. Abraham Lincoln was also assassinated but nowhere do we find his body being depicted as he was falling down.  Instead, we find him at the Lincoln Memorial seated with dignity, majestically presiding over the destiny of his nation!

      We have nothing to lose by creating and working for the most exalted and inspiring images of ourselves, especially because we are a highly relational, participatory and creative people with a strong nurturing and caring orientation. 

Shared Identity as the Basis of Development

      Development is a cooperative venture requiring communication and deep understanding between people.  All participants must have access to a common code of meaning or else the whole project will simply repeat the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. (Friberg and Hettne, The Greening of the World: Towards a Non-Deterministic Model of Global Process).

      If development is envisaged as the result of voluntary cooperation and autonomous choices    by ordinary men and women there is no way of escaping a cultural definition of the social unit of development. It is difficult for people to cooperate with each other politically when they are divided socially and culturally.  Communities with a shared culture are much more basic units of development, because they allow for the forging of a genuine consensus among their members.  Social cohesion can only be obtained where people share a framework of social reasoning. It requires a common universe of discourse.

     The need to strengthen national consciousness and unity, however, should not be used as an excuse to weaken local cultures.  The state should rather allow local communities to define and govern themselves and to develop separately while at the same time to see themselves as part of a larger developing entity.

Human Communities, not the State, are the Ultimate Actors in the Development Process

      In mainstream development thinking, the state is always seen as the social agent or subject of the development process. From a human development perspective, human beings or small communities of human beings, are the ultimate actors. Most states are, after all, artificial territorial constructions, usually the result of international wars or internal colonialism. The concept of a nation-state implies that the territorial boundaries of the state coincide with the boundaries of a culturally homogeneous nation.  This is the exception rather than the rule in a world with about thousands of culturally diverse peoples but only 182 states.
      We have to encourage celebration of the unique cultural identities of cultural communities through various activities and expressive forms to provide for communication and sustainable development. Failure to do this may lead to violence, deviant behavior, depression, and suicide. Positive programs can encourage harmony and engagement in society. Underlying these programs is the attitude of tolerance and respect for cultural diversity.

       A nation’s development, then, can be viewed as proceeding along apparently divergent directions, one,towards a shared cultural universe at the national level and. two, towards the greatest possible intra-cultural diversity at the local level.

All Cultures Have Potential Importance for Human Life

       The principle of cultural identity and diversity has to be applied to all kinds of cultural units, whether local communities, ethno-linguistic groups, nations, religions and civilizations. Every culture, however “unsophisticated” or “advanced” it may be in mechanistic technology, has unique strengths and virtues that make it potentially important for human life.  There are, for example, many habitats where tribal people have been able to eke out a sustainable livelihood while the modern way is ecologically devastating and unsustainable. If our criterion of cultural achievement is the degree of ability to survive even in the most inhospitable geographical conditions, surely the Eskimos and the Bedouins, among others, would come out on top.

       The principle of cultural identity does not mean that cultures cannot be criticized.  If all cultures on earth are to survive, most of them have to change some of their beliefs and practices in order to become compatible with one another.  Cultural relativism has a limit as exemplified by our condemnation of such forms of behavior as exploitation, oppression, torture, terrorism, racism, and genocide.
      Based on the above assumptions and statement of principles, it behooves us to formulate a national action plan, if not a national policy, for culture in development.  We need a national advocacy to enhance investment in cultural resources as a key factor in development strategy.  We have to integrate cultural and economic planning and enable the government to adopt a cultural perspective in development planning.  There has to be an effective system for financing the cultural elements and dimensions of social life not only for economic advancement but as a foundation of social cohesion, without which social well being is unattainable.

Appendix A

The affirmation and strengthening of a society’s cultural base for the purpose of development involves the following seven factors, which we may call the Key Factors for Culture in Development Planning:

  1.   Development of a positive, constructive social self-image and articulation of a nationally acceptable vision for Philippine society
  2. Cultural Sharing, Cooperation and Unity
  3. Cultural Empowerment, Justice and Equality
  4. Cultural Diversity and Creativity
  5. Cultural Awareness and Literacy
  6. Cultural Tolerance and Sensitivity  
  7. Institutionalization of Cultural Principles in the bureaucracy and other social institutions
  8. Preservation, Protection and Promotion of Tangible and Intangible Cultural Heritage
  9. Character of the physical environment and the ecology

Appendix B

We also need to develop a framework for properly and adequately monitoring and evaluating the progress of a society’s cultural base. That is, we need to formulate indicators of cultural growth within a development matrix if we are to know whether we are moving forward or not. The following indicators are suggested:

  1.  Diversity and multiplicity of social form
    The more space and/or opportunities of social co-existence (organizational forms) are offered to a community, the more forms and participation possibilities will be generated, enlarging the space for social protagonists and for the accumulation of social capital(stock, resource),  which is the pillar of development support. And the accumulation of social stock in any community is decisive, not only to face old problems, but mainly to give faster and more effective answers for new challenges of any nature.  Participation should be actual and active rather than vicarious and passive.
  2.  Forms of activity/Rituals (technological, scientific, medical, artistic, religious,  academic-scholarly, psychological, economic, political,  etc.)
  3.  Systems or Forms of Decision-making (juridical, legislature, executive, academic,  ecclesiastic, corporate  bodies;  village councils, panels of experts, etc.  
  4. Mode of production of goods and services
  5. Character of the physical environment and the ecology
  6. Myths and History
  7. World View, Vision of the Future