Lack of Public Outrage Over US Navy Officer’s Insult to Philippine Dignity Says a Lot About a Broken Political System

A US Naval officer by the name of Travis W. Zettel has been fired from his command of Los Angeles class submarine USS Bremerton after reports emerged that while stationed in The Philippines, he hired multiple prostitutes to entertain himself and members of his crew. But while Zettel has clearly brought his own nation into disrepute, he has likewise insulted the dignity of The Philippines by enforcing a colonial mentality wherein the females of a conquered nation are valued not as human beings but as inanimate property that exists to serve the foreigner. While The Philippines has long ceased to be an American colony, Zettel’s behaviour enforces a mentality of the past that must be fully exposed so that it can at long last be eliminated.

In Korea, both independent and mass media continue to shed light on the issue of Japanese abusing Korean women known colloquially as “comfort girls” during the decades long Japanese occupation of Korea. And yet while the Japanese abuse of Korean women in the 20th century continues to shape Korean views on modern history while simultaneously influencing wider debates throughout Korean media, Philippine media has been eerily silent regarding the story of the prostitute hiring US Naval officer.

The lack of attention to Zettel’s insulting of Philippine dignity is symptomatic of an environment in which Yellow journalists are too busy looking for new ways to slander President Rodrigo Duterte than they are looking for ways to highlight injustices against The Philippines. There ought to have been calls throughout all quarters of the Philippine media for the US Ambassador to be summoned over this incident. Furthermore, US diplomats must offer not only a written apology to the Filipino people for the undignified behaviour of Zettel, but assurances must be made that such incidents will never be allowed to happen again. Yet because of an all too complacent general public, Yellow media are allowed to get away with their journalistic negligence.

While Zettel’s disgraceful behaviour is reprehensible, what is more worrying is an attitude of complacency not just among the predictably anti-patriotic Yellow media, but within a culture that refuses to admit that things can be better, that injustices must be corrected and that national dignity must be persevered. It is somewhat ironic that those calling for a suicidal “nationalistic” (aka pro-oligarch and protectionist) economic policy are not willing to defend the nation in the way that other more economically open and consequently more confident nations would do in an instant.

In a piece published on Rizal Day, I wrote the following about the dangers of socio-political complacency in The Philippines and the negative effects it has on economic progress for the nation:

“More than any foreign power or organisation, the socio-political complacency among far too many in The Philippines threatens the country’s independence in the sense that wasted potential can make it so that the sacrifices of heroes like Rizal were with hindsight, in vain. President Rodrigo Duterte has clearly reinvigorated the Rizal spirit in many of his people who continue to support their political leader in overwhelming numbers. Yet even among some Diehard Duterte Supporters, there is a complacent spirit that focuses more on defending against increasingly meaningless and frivolous attacks by the outdated mainstream media flunkies, rather than focusing on achieving a permanent positive transformation of the nation through the creation of a federal-parliamentary system (one that Duterte has endorsed on multiple occasions) that would likely see Duterte’s forward thinking reforms carried through for the next hundred years.

Rizal stood up against a political system he wanted changed and paid for it with his life. In 2018, all that it would take to change today’s bad political system is a sacrifice of some time and effort. Such minor sacrifices represent a very small price to pay in order to keep the dream of both Rizal and of Duterte alive”.

The mentality of Rizal would not allow a foreign sailor to take advantage of Filipinas in the way that Travis W. Zettel has done, without holding the US to account. To cite but one example, Turkey continues to hold elements of the US state to account for committing wrongs against Turkey in the recent past and this has not negatively effected other areas where Turkey remains a NATO partner to America. The fact of the matter is that foreign powers of any kind respect a dignified rather than a complacent partner. Therefore, if anything, by standing up for Philippine dignity in the face of Zettel’s disgusting behaviour, elements of the US would consequently realise that they cannot take The Philippines for granted. Instead, The Philippines has sent a message to the US that no one really cares how much abuse the people have to put up with at the hands of a former colonial overlord.

The same underlying reasons for public and media lethargy over the Zettel scandal helps one to understand why others in The Philippines remain complacent about much needed constitutional reforms which would entail a shift to a federal-parliamentary system, along with the elimination of constitutional prohibitions on modern, forward thinking foreign direct investment (FDI).  A nation not willing to stand up to insults from former colonial powers is clearly a nation ill-suited to stand up to corrupt and ineffective elements of an internal political system. This is why the attitude of complacency is not only a blow to Philippine dignity but a ball and chain on the ankle of Philippine economic progress.

Forgiveness is only a virtue so long as it is not a self-sacrificial one. And yet, although forgiveness is indeed a cultural characteristic of The Philippines, Filipinos would do well to learn that there is a difference between forgiving a past wrong with grace on the one hand and allowing one’s back to be used as a walkway by those taking advantage of the kindly nature of Filipinos, on the other.

It is time for The Philippines to do what Pakistan did last year and use a parliamentary system to elect a party led by an individual willing to build bridges of friendship with others while standing tall against insults to national dignity simultaneously. It has been the election of Imran Khan’s PTI which has changed the dynamic between Pakistan and its allies as well as between Pakistan and its sometimes ally, the United States. Imran Khan has consistently made it clear that he will put the interests of his country above that of any other. This represented a clear shift from the policies of prior leaders who frequently did whatever the US asked of Pakistan, even when this unleashed terror originating in Afghanistan onto Pakistan’s soil.

While Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has robustly stood up for the dignity of his nation, because he governs within the framework of a presidential system with inbuilt term limits, it is far easier for foreigners who are ill at ease with Duterte’s strength of character to simply wait until he is termed out of office before changing their mentality, in the hopes that a future leader will once again exhibit the weak and complacent attitude that still stifles much of the economic and political growth of The Philippines.

By contrast, if Filipinos were to say enough is enough in respect of foreign insults and domestic political stagnation and in so doing, called for the establishment of a federal-parliamentary system, all foreign powers would be aware that any popular party and prime minister could potentially govern the nation for decades to come. This would force countries like the US to adjust their position vis-a-vis The Philippines, just as PTI’s victory in Pakistan has forced America to do so in respect of the attitude it takes towards Islamabad.

Taken as a whole, Zettel’s despicable behaviour is a major issue, but the non-reaction from The Philippines is a bigger issue as it is symptomatic of the fact that complacency in the face of bad news deemed to be “expected”, is largely tolerated rather than scrutinised. To put it another way, one could imagine the fits of hysteria that the Yellow media would be whipping up if a Chinese or Russian Naval officer did what the American Zettel has done. This tells one all one needs to know about the hypocritical nature of the Yellow media in The Philippines, as well as all one needs to know about how weak public scrutiny of elites remains potent in a country that deserves much better.

Comments are closed.