Our Culture is Our Destiny
Extract from a speech at the GK Summit in Boston
12-14 June 2009

Lee Kuan Yew said “culture is destiny”. Your set of beliefs will determine how far you will go in life. If you believe you are a failure, you will be a failure. If you believe you are great, you will be great. If you want to excel, you must build a culture of excellence. If you want to become great, you must build a culture of greatness.

Lee Kuan Yew said that this applies not only to an individual person. It also applies to a people. A people’s culture will determine the destiny of that people.

We were a colony of Spain for 333 years, which ended only in December 1898. For 333 years, the Spaniards in our country did not treat our people kindly. In fact, they treated our people harshly, violently. At the height of its power in our country, there were just around 40,000 Spanish soldiers in our country, controlling and subjugating more than 1 million Filipinos. The Spaniards conquered and subjugated our people physically, through superior weapons. But more importantly, they conquered and subjugated the spirit of our people.

To ensure that the almost 1 million Filipinos will not be united in a revolution against the 40,000 Spanish soldiers, the Spaniards sowed disunity and division among our people. This they did as a policy. When the Spaniards left our country in 1898, the two most serious problems they left the Filipino people were these – first, the Filipino had lost his faith in himself, his self-respect and self-confidence. The Filipino had a very low and negative self-image of himself. Second, the Filipinos did not trust one another and could not work with each other.

The American rule of our country for the next 42 years aggravated these problems. So did the Japanese occupation of our country from 1941 to 1945.

We became a free people only in 1946 – that is 63 years ago. If you deduct 14 years of Martial Law from there, we are just 49 years old as a free people. As you can see, we are still a young nation, a people that is still in search of itself, a nation that is still trying to find its own place under the sun.

But today, our Philippines is perceived as the most corrupt country in the whole of Asia and the 11th most corrupt in the whole world.

Today, our country is considered one of the poorest countries in Asia despite the fact that it is the 5th richest in mineral deposits out of 239 countries in the world, and has one of the richest natural resources in the planet, including one of the most extensive marine life biodiversity in all the world.

Today, according to a Time Magazine article dated 24 November 2008, almost 10 million of our youth are growing up without a father or a mother by their side because he or she has to work abroad.

Today, almost 11 million of our youth are classified as out-of-school youth. They are school aged and should be at school, but they are not at school. They are out there in the streets or in the squatter colonies or in the mountains of poverty.

Today, out of 20 million families in our country, 5 million families are homeless, living in the slums as squatters.

Today, the problems first created by foreign invaders and rulers of our country still exist in the hearts and minds of many of our people. Many of our people still have no faith in the Filipino and consider our Philippines a hopeless country. Many among us still bash the Filipino in front of foreigners and speak negatively about our country. A number of our political and government leaders, while in public office, just serve themselves and their families, and not the public interest. Many business people only think of themselves and their families, and not at all about their employees and their employees’ families.

Kanya-kanya at pamilya-pamilya pa rin lang ang marami sa atin. As a people, we still have difficulty attaining national unity.

One of the major challenges we face today is this – how do we heal ourselves as a people? How do we repair the damage in our culture that was deeply inflicted in us as a people for almost 400 years? How do we build the greatness of the Filipino? How do we make the Filipino truly great and respectable in the eyes of the world?

Truly, we need to rebuild the greatness of our people, and this we can do and must do piece by piece, block by block, group by group, town by town, city by city – until such time that our archipelago of 7,107 islands truly believe in one fundamental thing – that we Filipinos are one people. And that as one people, we are also just one family.