It is said of Filipinos, that despite all the virtues they display as expatriates working overseas, there is one, major, national flaw they are incapable of transcending. That flaw is factionalism. The history of Filipino communities overseas is a never-ending series of attempts to form associations, which then divide and erupt in backbiting and recriminations, until, in turn, the various factions splinter into more factions. Add to this the tendency to associate according to provincial or linguistic origin, and the circumstances inevitably result in that perennial Filipino complaint: “Why aren’t we more influential abroad?”
At the height of the political crisis afflicting Manila, there were allegations that government diplomats were sent to Riyadh, in order to consult with the Filipino community in Saudi Arabia. Summoned to a meeting, Filipino workers later claimed that what was presented to them as an attendance sheet was transformed into a manifesto of support for the administration. Similar efforts were said to have been undertaken in other countries with large expatriate populations. Beyond accusations of deceit, however, there is the perennial disgust expressed by Filipinos around the world, for the lack of attention given them by Philippine Embassy officials, and the corresponding bootlicking the same officials display whenever Filipino politicians arrive.
These complaints remind me of an interview, given by the writer Arturo Rotor, in which he reminisced about his stint as Executive Secretary of the Commonwealth government-in-exile during World War II.
“My short stint with the Commonwealth government-in-exile cured me of whatever political ambitions I may have had. In all my life, I have never seen such intrigues, such lust for power and influence. Everybody scheming for his own dear self, trafficking in rumors and innuendos, ever on the watch for any opportunity to curry favor with the President, even if he had to stab a friend in the back…Back home I had looked up to them as the leaders of the nation, paradigms of probity and selflessness that the youth were supposed to emulate. But in Washington I saw them differently. Servility beyond belief, sycophancy in all its modulations…spineless, fawning toadies…ever ready to provide a menial service…every ready to anticipate [the] slightest wish…”
From the propagandists in Madrid in the 1880s, to the Hong Kong Junta of the late 1890s, to Washington D.C. from 1942-45 and Maikiki Heights, Hawaii, when the Marcoses established their shadow court 1986 : Filipino leaders in exile or the people surrounding them – have often exhibited flaws in their character and behavior that equals the notorious back-biting and hostility that puts so many Filipino communities abroad to shame.
Jose Rizal, the Philippine national hero made near-Calvinist exhortations to his fellow 19th Century expatriates in Spain to dedicate themselves to industrious pursuits, earned the mocking nickname “Papa” or Pope; and he himself would be bitter about the intrigues and politicking among the Filipino community that resulted in a falling-out between himself and Propagandists like Marcelo H. del Pilar.
The most famous example of bickering and divisiveness among Filipinos abroad took place in the wake of the establishment of the Hong Kong Junta, formed by revolutionary leaders who exiled themselves to fulfill the terms of the Pact of Biak na Bato with Spain. Having gone abroad, Emilio Aguinaldo received word that the revolutionaries left behind had started to divide the last two installments of Spanish reparations among themselves: Isabelo Artacho, Artemio Ricarte, Paciano Rizal and others passing a resolution to the effect that the Filipinos left behind should have the money. The revolutionary leaders at home promptly received a check for 200,000 pesos (representing installment number two) from the Spanish Governor-General and divvied it amongst themselves; Aguinaldo promptly convinced the Junta in Hong Kong to nullify the Pact on account of the terms being violated (the money was supposed to go abroad); and Aguinaldo was given the authority to be the custodian of the funds in hand in Hong Kong.
The poor ex-president and his supporters, living under the most edifying circumstances (they were poor and parsimonious with what money they had) were then systematically harassed by Isabelo Artacho, former secretary of the interior of the Biak-an-Bato Republic, beneficiary of the division of the spoils, who remained unsatisfied because his request for a reimbursement of expenses amounting to 508.75 pesos had been denied by Aguinaldo in reaction to the hijacking of the funds meant to go to the Junta. Artacho went to Hong Kong and started an acrimonious process of litigation to strip Aguinaldo of the money he was holding in trust for the resumption of the Revolution. After making a complete pest of himself, and after assailing the integrity of Aguinaldo, Artacho finally agreed to a settlement amounting to 5,000 pesos.
And, as borne out by Rotor’s reminiscences, the next time the Filipino leadership found itself in exile, the duration was marked by petty politicking and bickering among the courtiers. Filipino exiles in the United States during the Marcos dictatorship would also squabble among themselves even as they began to be accused of being “steak commandos” by the people left at home.
No summary of the less-than-sterling record of prominent Filipinos abroad would be complete, of course, without the wretched sight of the Marcoses who, in discredited exile, were subjected to the patriotic harassment of Philippine Consul-General Buddy Gomez, who entertained the press with his exploits and systematic harassment of the banished strongman and his wife.