In a sense, all of us are egoists, particularly those of us who are writers because we are in everything we write and our personal memories are our best assets.
The reverse political tack, however, is taken by those who identify themselves with the poor, who claim community with the poor in our slums because they have lived in Tondo. But once these politicians have reached the pinnacle of their dreams, Tondo and the poor are forgotten.
For egoists, personal preening begins with “modesty aside," followed by a torrent of self-praise. This self-glorification is also very evident in the way we like to be addressed. My wife told me of her embarrassment when she introduced a professor as Professor So-and-so. He cut her short and re-introduced himself as Dr. So-and-so.
This hankering for titles to convey a prestigious or superior place in social hierarchy is part of our character.
Filipinos are deeply aware of ego. Introductions of public speakers are their curriculum vitae – education, from high school to advance degrees, past positions, awards. And many times, the speaker will repeat and embellish the information.
Filipino organizations proliferate to accommodate ego, social climbing, and personal ambition. In California, for example, there are hundreds of Filipino organizations. It is not unusual for a person wanting to be president to start his or her own organization. I don’t think there are more than a thousand immigrants from my hometown, Rosales, Pangasinan, in the San Francisco Bay Area but there are two Rosales organizations there.
Manila newspapers cater to ego. Our major dailies, compared with other respectable papers in the world, have unusually extensive "society" pages.
EGO CAN OBSTRUCT consensus for the common good. Ego has crippled political organizations that otherwise would have been united and strong.
That major upheaval in the late 1940s, the Hukbalahap uprising, our understanding is that it was defeated by Ramon Magsaysay with American assistance. That is only part of the truth.
I had wanted to understand why the Hukbalahap failed. Was it because the leaders were urban intellectuals and the soldiers were farmers? Or was there an ethnic rivalry between the Tagalogs and the Pampangos who led it?
In 1985, I brought together the four surviving Huk leaders, Luis Taruc and Casto Alejandrino, both Pampangos, and Fred Saulo and Jesus Lava, both Tagalogs. All four had been imprisoned for not less than ten years. When they met that morning in my bookshop, although they had had a falling out, they greeted each other amiably. The quarrelling began after lunch.
I have a bit of knowledge of Marxism and I listened carefully to their Marxist-loaded arguments, which became very heated. I soon realized that their arguments had very little ideological validity, that it was their vaulting egos that had destroyed the organization, the same ego that has also emasculated the New People's Army.
This ego and the self-righteousness of our leaders sunder our political parties. I remember an old argument with Harry Benda, the Czech scholar who specialized in Southeast Asia. We had talked about the necessity of a Filipino revolution, a continuation of 1896. He flatly concluded it would never happen because, as he said, "You Filipinos are such a divided people. Look at the Katipunan."
I know Harry Benda will one day be proven wrong, although I might not be able to see that triumphant event happen.
LET ME NOW ILLUSTRATE specific examples of Filipino ego-centrism.
Imelda Marcos epitomizes extravagance. She is over-coiffed, over-jeweled, overdressed. And those 3,000 pairs of shoes – the world still talks about them, even those who know little about the Philippines or Filipinos.
Ferdinand Marcos, too, for all his Ilokanoness, was a fastidious dresser, and also prided himself on his physique. He was always combing his hair. He even tried poetry to illustrate his literary prowess. He attracted loyal followers because of his perceived intelligence, patriotism, and military service, although some of his war medals are phony.
Max V. Soliven personifies the Filipino yabang. And, why not, he deserved all his awards. He was a spellbinding speaker: I remember his PEN Jose Rizal Lecture in Baguio, extemporaneous and without notes. It was a bravura performance. His essays on history, culture, and politics were brilliant. He could have easily ingratiated himself with Marcos because he was a fellow Ilokano. He fought Marcos instead, and the dictator respected him for it.
Carlos P. Romulo, the country's foremost diplomat, and author of I Walked with Heroes, I Saw the Fall of the Philippines, and I See the Philippines Rise, was the original. He was barely five feet tall, and handled this shortcoming with great self-confidence, wit, and humor. He said he stood on a couple of telephone books when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly after he was elected its president. He also said a dime is more valuable than a nickel. And this takes the cake: “My wife, Beth, charged me in court for assault with a dead weapon.”
The Duterte ego is as gigantic as the Titanic. It is even perhaps unique. It is shock treatment -- the same technique used to treat catatonic patients. It draws immediate reaction, but come a time when constant use induces numbness. To prevent that, Duterte has to concoct new and even perhaps more outlandish techniques.
The extreme opposite of the peacock leader is the selfless champion who gains devotees with his unadorned activism and simplicity. President Ramon Magsaysay comes to mind immediately. He was down to earth and identified himself with the masa, as Duterte now does. The similarities end there. Knowing his limitations, Magsaysay surrounded himself with the best and the brightest of his time. When he made mistakes, he corrected them immediately. No Filipino leader has equaled him.
I define hindsight, which is also the title of this column, as the lowest form of wisdom. From that you can deduct that when it comes to humility, I am number one.
First published in the Philippine Star, January 26, 2019 https://www.philstar.com/opinion/2019/01/26/1888182/ego-enemy