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IMPULSES | Can we still repair our ‘culture’?

By Herman M. Lagon


THE PHILIPPINES, a country with immense potential and a promising future is gradually shedding the vestiges of an outdated past that no longer serves its people.

A renowned investigative journalist, James Fallows, penned an article over three decades ago in The Atlantic Monthly titled “A Damaged Culture: A New Philippines?” His insights, although contentious, continue to captivate the attention of scholars, technocrats, and political pundits in the Philippines. While his observations are astute, there is room for a more nuanced perspective.

During his research, fallows, who spent just six weeks in the country, argued that the Philippines’ culture has played a role in its underdevelopment, suggesting that “culture can make a naturally rich country poor.” He pointed out the slow progress in various sectors, including manufacturing, agriculture, services, and more, framing it as a cultural failure rooted in a lack of nationalism.

One point of agreement is that culture indeed plays a pivotal role in a nation’s progress. However, the critical question remains: What constitutes Filipino identity, culture, and heritage? This identity crisis persists, with many Filipinos still aspiring to live the “American Dream” and willing to exchange their citizenship for a green card. The country has millions of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), many of whom may never return due to economic and political challenges at home.

Fallows noted that while the country witnessed changes after the EDSA Revolution and the end of the Marcos dictatorship, the transformation appeared more cosmetic than substantial. The new elite seemed to perpetuate the same social dynamics, leaving the majority with minimal progress. The wealth gap persists, with a small number of families dominating major industries.

During the administration of President Noynoy Aquino, there was a sense of healing and progress. The Philippines boasted economic strength, burgeoning industries, and improved education. Confidence in government institutions was on the rise.

However, the Duterte regime and the current Marcos administration have brought serious challenges, including rising prices, corruption, human rights abuses, fiscal crisis, budget misappropriation, unemployment, learning crisis, and strained international relations. Despite these setbacks, there are glimpses of progress, particularly in infrastructure and crime prevention.

Despite these ups and downs, the Philippines remains a country with a promising future. Filipinos are gradually defining their identity, letting go of ineffective past practices. Empowerment is on the rise, with the role of social media and civil society in holding officials accountable. Many ‘woked’ individuals—young and old—are becoming more involved in politics and social causes.

To propel the Philippines forward, a culture that values human dignity, meritocracy, and reason may be more relevant than a strict sense of nationalism. As the world becomes more interconnected and diverse, a humanistic culture embracing diversity and internationalism could lead to new opportunities and perspectives.

Rather than clinging to a narrow definition of Filipino identity, let us celebrate the global community, act locally, and think globally. With a revitalized culture that fosters love, service, and excellence, the Philippines can overcome its challenges and harness its natural riches for a brighter future.

Ultimately, a “repaired culture” that embraces humanism and internationalism may be the key to unlocking the Philippines’ true potential.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.



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