Filipino intellectuals as “merely” intellectuals

If you ask a first year Filipino high school student who does he think is the greatest Filipino intellectual, aside from having a hard time figuring out the meaning of the word intellectual, he will either give you a blank stare for an answer or will blurt “Jose Rizal” only because he cannot anymore think if this country has one in the first place, aside from the national hero.

I graduated from the best university in the Philippines where one can brush elbows with the country’s intellectuals. It is not unusual to attend a lecture of a winner of the Palanca Award, a National Scientist or someone who is a Fulbright scholar or an expert in international relations, military defense, women’s issues, biotechnology, theater and visual arts, botany, the list goes on – scientist and artists who are well-respected in their respective fields.

Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce
Filipino Ilustrados: Jose Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Mariano Ponce

Nothing can be sadder, however, that this intellectualism is not reflected in national development. An outsider, say, a man from the moon, who happens to land in the Philippine soil, will never conclude that the Philippines has existing intellectuals. Okay, I know these images are pathetic and lame. However, the fact that intellectuals in the Philippines are pathetic and lame, that declaration, I will stand by.

I remember riding a jeepney, a form of public transportation common in the Philippines, and meeting a professor of Community Development in the University of the Philippines. While we were both trying to compress our bodies to give the remaining sitting space to incoming passengers per order of the conductor, the topic of our conversation shifted to the role of intellectuals in the Philippines. She said that Filipino scholars are too cerebral to shift their attention to the people in the grassroots. Being a scholar in the Philippines means being “pedestalized” and at the same time ignored

Filipinos treat some of their intellectuals like the way they worship their movie stars. We place them on the pedestal that we end up missing the point why we call them intellectuals; we cannot appreciate the knowledge they have to share because the glitz and glamor of their erudition blinded us like the absence of talent for most of our movie stars and the lack of it superseded by the controversies, scandals, and intrigues they create.

Some of these intellectuals, those who are too unlucky to be uncharismatic and not good looking will only wallow in oblivion and unfunded researches.

We are a nation of people who always misses the point, the essential.

Randy David a an immenent Filipino sociologist
Randy David an eminent Filipino sociologist

Randy David is one of the few Filipino intellectuals who is given enough media attention so that he is able to express his academic views in the tradition of the pop culture, a great sociologist who knows how to make use of pop media to make the public understand, at least those who can read English, and re-examine our Filipino-ness. However, I see this to be detrimental rather than beneficial to the intellectual community in general. Allowing David this greater access to mass media, and barring other school of thoughts from stating their cases due to their lack of access to the media, creates a monochromatic perception of Filipino society. Of course David is not the only good sociologist this country has.

In the academe necessary debates bring light to new way of looking at a certain phenomenon, in the Philippine media this does not happen. Media exist in sound bites, headlines, sweeping videos. Simplicity is paramount; if one wants to explain something, in order for the public to understand his point he has to simplify it, and stating an important commentary on the role of people power, something that defines history, in 60 seconds, is not at all helpful and can be very dangerous. It will only lead to misinterpretation, misunderstanding, or even the collapse of a nation.

For any ordinary Filipino the academe is represented by a single face – that of David’s. So here we see a good example of an exulted Filipino intellectual dialectically positioned against a much bigger community of intellectuals whose line of thinking are divergent therefore unable to have their line of thinking represented and be made known to the bigger Filipino nation, ignored. Some of these ideas may be better than that of David’s.

I believe that the Filipino nation is one of the most intellectual nations in the world. Our scholars are well-respected all over the world. But why is this not seen in the country’s economic performance, political maturity, and societal growth? Filipino intellectuals are one of the most articulate in any international conferences; they propose sensible ideas on analyzing different phenomena that boggle mankind, but when they are in the Philippines they become dumb.

Filipino intellectuals are detached from the hustles of ordinary Filipino lives. They cloak themselves with robes of erudition and pedantry. Intellectualism, knowledge production are ends in themselves. What’s next after acquiring knowledge is left for the public to figure out.

Unless the intellectuals of this country do not immerse themselves in the nation’s problems and join in the great debate of Filipino-hood then they’ll remain useless erudites and pedants, or better yet books in libraries that gather nothing but dusts.