Friday, August 25, 2006

"Here, Even Maids Have Maids"

Today I am taking a respite from the Petron Oil Spill to talk about this very perceptive social commentary of the Philippines by a foreigner (and an aristocratic foreigner at that). Sir John Mansfield Addis served as Ambassador to the Philippines from 1963 to 1969. Educated at Britain’s most exclusive schools (Rugby and Eton), Addis was a British patrician who fell in love with the Philippines and developed life-long friendships with several Filipinos during his 3-year stint in the country.

Incidentally (since most Filipino bloggers seem preoccupied with this issue), Ambassador Addis was gay and was a good friend of General Hans Menzi, the founder of Manila Bulletin (who was also gay). In fact, Addis during his tour of duty here preferred to stay in the bohemian district of Ermita rather than in snobbish Forbes Park where most diplomats of his rank usually live.

Here he comments about the padrino mentality and the "tyrannical" tendencies of all Filipinos, rich and poor alike. As a foreigner, Addis was surprised to see the prevalence of maids, “boys,” alalays and yayas at all levels of Philippine society (“Here, even maids have maids”). He also found distasteful how even his polite and well-educated Filipino friends would assume “a different air” when dealing with their house-servants and how their servants would assume a posture of “paid deference” and “ingrained obedience” when dealing with their betters. Ambassador Addis said that some "cataclysmic event" or revolution must happen for Philippine society to truly change. So here are some Addis’s observations as written by James Hamilton-Paterson in the book “America’s Boy: The Marcoses and the Philippines.

“The ‘tyrannical’ behavior he noted is by no means confined to the wealthy elite, however. Nearly everyone in Manila seems to have servants in one form or another. The middle class have servants, and even quite lowly people turn out to have dogsbodies living out at the back somewhere. ‘Here, maids have maids,’ as someone wryly observed, and the padrino mentality extends to the grubbiest urchin boss of a gang of glue-sniffing waifs. The streets of residential subdivisions at seven or eight o’clock at night become a blaring hubbub of car horns as breadwinners return and sit outside, hooting imperiously until some skivvy runs to open the tall, blank metal gates which form the only breach in high cement-block walls topped with barbed wire and broken glass. The idea that any of these white-collar workers might actually get out of his car to walk five yards across the street and ring the bell (or even use his mobile phone) is as ludicrous as the notion that he might consider the peace of the neighborhood. On the contrary, the horn is the naked proclamation of the arriviste, and the more people that hear it the better.

Needless to say, certain people look after their servants exceedingly well, with thoughtfulness and civility, but they tend to be the ‘older’ families. They very often have strong links to a particular province, so the servants will tend to come from the same village or neighboring town, all speaking the same dialect and with constant news of home. Usually the family will ensure that such long-term retainers will have a house to retire to on their provincial estate and that their children will have an education and are decently looked after. This, of course, is what paternalism properly is. Exactly the same system was once common among more enlightened families in Europe, until it was virtually ended by the First World War. The interesting thing is that there still has not been a ‘First World War’ in the Philippines, in the sense of a cataclysmic event that overturns an entire social order. The Second World War was cataclysmic indeed, but it did not radically change overall social relationships. Some now think that, in default of revolution, the class structure will simply erode gradually and patchily under the democratizing influences of urbanization, mobility and increasing financial independence.

The Filipino elite is a fascinating mixture of ‘old’ money and new, and delicate snobberies still exist between the two. The phrase ‘Manila 400’ was taken to refer to the little principalia class of intermarried families who effectively owned and ran the entire country. This dated phrase has been widely misunderstood as literally meaning four hundred families, whereas it is simply an expression of an exclusive social set. It was originally supposed to have referred to the number of people who could fit into Caroline Astor’s ballroom at the end of the century.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

All his observations are true, regretably he failed to recognized what causes this kind of behavior.He contented that old money people treat their servants very well, some probably do but some probably are not so nice too.We don't have the statistics to this matter, that's why it's not fair to say in general.We should not forget that most these traits that we acquired came from the influenced of the Spaniards. We were under the Spaniards, for 333 years and they instill a system that promotes a master- servant atmosphere in almost all levels our social class.Landlords ruled over vast lands and numerous people, they installed "Encargados" and empowered them to become masters of the "sacadas".Ambitious as we are, when were able to gain our freedom , we decided to emulate the system of the Spaniards.We all wanted to become masters in our own little way.Most of the heirs of the Spaniards also became and still the prominent families in our country.Look at our other customs, like Fiesta, siesta and cockfighting they all came from our colonizers.So blame it on the conquistadores.However, if you look at other countries, they too have their own social classes.Every country got their own elites and also their own dirt poor, its just a fact of life.However, may I also note "upward mobility" is another thing.This will all totally depend on the policies by the government and the economic condition of a country.some countries just got a lot more opportunity for their citizens to move upward,our country doesn't really give us such opportunity, that's why a number of our people are dirt poor.