Prints and Traces

All of the Filipino people in all corners of the country joyously cheer the Gilas Pilipinas basketball players for their admirable achievement in the current FIBA World Cup. Yes they deserve to be accorded loud cheers. They have made basketball enthusiasts all over the globe believe in the Filipino’s skill and love for basketball.  Even the teams who have defeated them acknowledge their good performance.

It cannot be denied. Basketball is a national sports phenomenon and Pinoys have nurtured an extraordinary affection for it since time immemorial. My father was a basketball player during his own time. I myself have since childhood been addicted to it. Back in high school days, nothing could stop me from playing basketball on whole afternoons until twilight time. Sometimes, along with other basketball lovers, we would even play during moonlight nights, because my hometown had no electricity then and so we took advantage of the moonshine. O yes, I am conversant of the “old rules” of the game at a time when there was yet no PBA, when there was yet no Toyota and Crispa, and long before there was a Jaworski and an Atoy Co.

All claims and declaration to the contrary, basketball is the Filipino’sde facto “national game”. How can it be otherwise? Basketball is an offspring of  American culture. And we love it. In fact, it’s the favorite sport of priests and would-be priests in Catholic seminaries. Yessiree, whatever the Americans do, we do. They have their NBA, we too have our PBA.   If they can dank the ball to the ring, we see to it we can do the same — how? By importing stilts, like Blatchie! Haha! And so our players, surprisingly, have grown taller. So, we can now join the FIBA World Cup.

Oh, nothing is more apt and fitting than Gilas Pilipinas as the name chosen for the Philippine basketball team to the FIBA. Gilasa Tagalog word which means rare show of dexterity or skill.  From this word originates the expression pakitang gilasto exhibit a semblance of skill or apparent dexterity or talent. The name suits the team very well, especially after the admiration and recognition it has earned from “sports buffs” all over the world,

But the display of skills and dexterity by the basketball players is not a monopoly of the Gilas Pilipinas. Other Filipino athletes in other sports events have shown their own “gilas” as demonstrated in the Asian and World competition arena. This is likewise true not only in sports but more so in the performing arts—in singing, dancing, and in other stage acts—and even in such contests as would require mental acuity like the chess match.   As far as exhibition of talent or show of skill is concerned, we can safely say that the term Gilas Pilipinas can be used as a description of the Filipino character in a generic sense—that is, as a people or as a nation.

But, if we venture to make a closer examination, in the spirit of self-critical reflection , we would encounter characteristics that don’t quite seem admirable. In the first place, “to exhibit or show skill” may only be about an insignificant event. What has caught obsessive energy as an exhibition of a talent or skill may not necessarily be a matter of worthy concern and consequence in the life of the nation and people. Or the act could just be a very individual concern or it could just be an act of image-building.

          We are all first hand witnesses to such acts commonly called papogi, which are merely intended to garner pogi points all for self-glorification. And this is the favorite hobby of the politicians, mind you!   They have developed varying degrees of mastery in the act of image-building by their respective brands of pakitang gilas. And it is no wonder that in all their actuations they accuse each other of namulitika! They know where their hearts lie. Sincerity is out of the question. What are pursued in their agenda of governance are unsustainable programs that do not factor in liberating the people from age-old penury. Lo and behold, these politicians have bloated themselves in wealth and luxury during their incumbency, their singular preoccupation as public officials being the pursuance of getting pogi points in all conceivable opportunities. Tiyan sila magaling!

Truly, we have been accustomed to this vice of image-building in almost all spheres of our social life, we seem to mistake the inconsequential and the superficial for the significant and the essential. Our culture has been blotched by a kind of blindness by which we seem to glory on the skin-deep in artful oversight of the truly meaningful. This is evident in a kind of motivation—or is it obsession?—                 to perform an act or celebrate an event for the purpose of getting a page in the Guiness Book of Records. We often go to unlimited extent, exhaust our energies just to get a record ranking for vainglorious undertakings that do not at all redound to general social development or cause the uplift of the human condition.

The generic tag for this pernicious mentality is false hubris or hollow pride! We have totally forgotten the exhortations of our elders and mentors who told us that “Clothes don’t make a man”. If we extend this adage to analogize social phenomena, buildings and streets and bridges or infrastructures don’t necessarily factor as genuine determinants of development or progress.

And if we try to locate what areas of undertakings wherein Pinays have been achievers in excellence, we find that this is mostly in such events as “beauty pageants”. And these occur quite frequently they surely entice many of our better-looking women to focus their untainted thoughts on these affairs the whole year round, spending all their waking hours in preparing their bodies for the momentous event when they would bare their skin to the maximum and walk with all imaginable types of attention-getting gait on the ramp. And they represent the Filipino womenfolk, mind you. But by all standards they must possess Caucasian features, never mind if they do not have Filipino tongues.

And if by the blessing of Aphrodite our best bets for these beauty pageants win every year for ten years or so, would the problem of poverty and under-development be solved?   How many of our Filipino women have gotten titles of Miss Universe and Miss World and Miss Inernational ever since we have joined these pageants? Has our economy moved forward with their title crowns? Have our masses been emancipated from the miserable morass they have sunk into all these years? Oh, only one out of 50 million will get rich!

WE are a very queer people! Our maleficent culture has been a great obstacle in our development as a nation. We might also want to ask: Who among our FIBA basketball players have really brought honor to our Gilas Pilipinas team? Are they Philippine-grown? What about our football players, are they Philippine-grown? But we are so proud to own them and adopt them! All for what? In order to uplift our people’s deplorable economic plight? Of course not. It’s all for the chance that the Philippines will be sikat. Hollow glory!

And now—here is what constitutes the queerest of all! Our own leader—the spokesman of our nation-state—President Benigno S. Aquino III! What does he wear as a badge of honor as he stands before the Western world as our leader?   The despicable badge of subservience to foreign powers? Oh, speaking before the Filipino communities in Europe, he boasts about the smooth traffic situation in certain sections in Metro Manila! And the huge and exceedingly tall buildings in the metropolis!   Which he considers as signs of progress! What funny absurdity!

What President Noynoy has chosen as indicators of his vaunted economic growth haven’t even figured an iota of change in the utterly depressed state of the masses of the Filipino people! For every big lie and bragging he issues, some sector of the population sinks deeper in economic hardships. For every flick of his tongue as he babbles in doublespeak, his military minions make some terroristic acts against the Lumad tribes and peasants in the countryside.

This is a manifest mentality and exercise of pakitang gilas — an attitude and habit of giving always undue importance to inconsequential matters —matters which have no bearing to the unreality of development or to the reality of underdevelopment in the country. Until such time that we shun the practice of giving high premium to external appearances rather than the essentials, we will never move forward as a people.

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