Comparing 21st Century Philippines and Medieval Europe
A thousand years ago, give or take a hundred, our ancestors lived in feudal Europe governed by Kings and Dukes and Lords and what not. Countries were relatively small and there was often much disagreement about boundaries and titles. Many rulers expanded their land holdings through marriage, inheritance and conquest.
Society had several layers, perhaps similar to the A. B. C and D class divisions used by marketing professionals here in the Philippines. The nobility were the A class, they owned most all of the land and ruled all who lived upon it. The B class were the second tier of nobles, land owning but owing allegiance to their Lord, a kind of middle class of sorts. The C class consisted of the artisans, Freemen and merchants, craftsmen and yeomanry. The D class were the serfs, the peasants who tilled the lands for their landlords, who owned very little but a few tools and clothes and would be born into serfdom, live as serfs and die as serfs. They were hardly better off than slaves.
The lines are a little blurred here, today. We have the minority A class who own the majority of the land and the industry and commerce. These are the really big names in Philippines society and most would look more at home in Madrid than Manila. Before the Spanish were sent packing, these were the “Filipinos”. There were the peninsulars who were born in Spain, the insulars born here and the mestizo’s who were of mixed blood. Everyone else was labelled as “indios”, the Malay-Filipino majority in other words. Filipino was a term used to label those who were born here, owned land here but were definitely not “indios”.
The original leaders of the revolt against the colonial rulers were all “Filipino’s”, leading their loyal serf “Indios” into battle against the Spanish. I don’t believe they had any intention of giving the Indios a fair share of the pie, they were merely cannon fodder. Today little has changed and the D class and much of the C class are collectively known as the “masa”. The masa are too busy keeping some rice on their tables to worry about revolt, revolution, redistribution or anything else remotely political.
In medieval days, the serfs were treated similarly and while they may have risen up on occasion, these revolts were isolated exhalations of frustration, quickly quelled. Any long term changes in power were carried out at the upper levels, using the middle levels for management and the lower levels for muscle. The only people to really benefit from the power struggles were the upper classes.
What made it possible for the lower classes in Europe to break free of the bonds of serfdom was the industrial revolution. Mechanization spread the wealth. People with talent and ingenuity and chutzpah were able to get ahead without the traditional leverage of land and the riches that were generated from this real property. People colonised other continents and attitudes changed the farther they were able to move from direct feudal rule.
In the Philippines, it has been only a few generations since the Spaniards were removed from power, fewer still that Filipino’s in the modern sense of the term have had a say in their governance and so the old ways still remain. The wealth of the land for mining, agriculture and industry is still held in the hands of the elite few, maybe 20 families or so. Beneath them, “running” the country and so on are another 100 families and then there is the (slowly) growing middle class and below them the “masa”, or D class.
The D class, a majority of perhaps as much as 65% of the population, are kept in poverty and check by their adherence to the dogma of the Catholic Church. The poverty cycle will never be broken while they continue to breed like rabbits, forbidden to do otherwise by the church. When the government; put in power by the elite and their campaign contributions, toe the church line and focus on agriculture instead of industry (manufacturing), there is little hope for the small land holder who can’t even feed his own family for a year from his acreage, if he has any.
The elite control the church, who do their bidding by telling the masa who the elite want them to vote for, ensuring the cycle continues. There is no real change here, the 20th anniversary of EDSA had more police in attendance than supporters as people perhaps finally grasped nothing changed after People Power.
Look at how people here live. The rich live in walled castles and estates with guards, gates and the modern equivalent of drawbridges. All the way down the line to the C classes they barricade themselves in against the lower classes. If you don’t, the have nots line the boundaries and stare at the haves. Or they squat and take over the land knowing the law will save them because that law (the Lena Law forcing land owners to compensate squatters with money or a new place to live it they cleared them off their own land) was a sop to the masa in the name of “land reform”. The majority of land that was reformed has been public lands and the property of the hapless middle class, too busy earning dollars overseas to protect their land on a daily basis.
You walk any suburban street and it is all walls and gates, barbed wire and guards. Sari sari stalls peer out of barred windows, everything sold must fit through the small gate in the bars or else risk opening the door and a rush of thieving poor people. Every house has some small business going, even if it is just to keep the helpers busy. Even relatively poor people have helpers. Wages are low to non-existent when people will work for room and board and the employer has the status of having other human beings working for them as servants. Serfs. People who have few choices and little say in how they are exploited, mistreated and used to boost the ego of their employer.
The schools are controlled by the church, ensuring the people get little in the way of a worthwhile education but come out well versed in the myth and ritual that perpetuates the church’s stranglehold on their thinking and opportunities. Only the well off can afford a decent education where, funnily enough, the amount of religious instruction is noticeably less with more attention, and time, given to useful subjects such as maths, English, science etc. Out of 23 (mostly college graduate) Filipino’s under 30 I have asked “How many centavos in a peso” only one so far gave the correct answer! But they can all cross themselves and say the rosary!
Often the “Lord of the Manor” is an absentee landlord, off at the Crusades overseas however this time he or she is earning greenbacks rather than Redemption. The church still holds sway over daily life, threatening excommunication and other mythical punishments to fit the dogma they have developed and fine tuned over two millennia. In medieval times the first son inherited everything, the second son would become a mercenary (travel abroad as an OFW?) and earn his inheritance at the point of his sword and the third or often enough illegitimate son would join the clergy. Rich fathers would purchase a bishopric for the illegitimate son, knowing he would make a pretty penny and it would keep him and his mother from usurping the inheritance of the legitimate offspring. Illegitimate offspring would be handed over to the local convent or monastery and brought up there, well away from prying eyes. How similar is that to today’s situation here with the church taking care of these delicate matters for the well heeled and even their own wayward members? Funny how the well off, rich and famous can get annulments in short order, everybody else takes years!
I am no expert on medieval Europe, or the Philippines for that matter. But for me the similarities are hard to ignore. Take a walk around your neighbourhood and watch the village idiot roam around talking to him or herself just as they would have in the middle ages, only the rich can afford proper medical treatment for their mentally ill family members. Look at all the micro businesses that eke out a basic living for their owners, the walls and gates and guards, the dogs roaming loose, the garbage piling up and the simple outlook of the peasants with little in their future but more of the same. Wonder why there are cleft palates and cleft lips and even still cases of leprosy, all conditions born from poverty, poor hygiene and insufficient diet. Then ask yourself when will this country have it’s “industrial revolution” and what will be the outcome?