We were a maritime culture, so why don’t we have ships?

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2009

Education betrayed national interest
OVER the years, I have seen misconceptions and missed opportunities in textbooks, public utterances of people of power and influence, and facts about the country which result from public policy or lack of it.

Misconceptions and missed opportunities are closely related and if the potential beneficiary of missed opportunities is a nation, the misfortune can be magnified to the size of a nation and the duration of history.

Misconceptions about the nation and its virtues and resources can also affect scientific research and creativity by diverting attention away from vital but overlooked concerns; and research agenda can be so much the poorer for failing to engage needed but overlooked facts about the country.

And while missed opportunities due to misconceptions may not necessarily waste manpower, time and resources, it can lead to failure to produce rich contributions to national well-being and progress both for the now and the not yet.


Observations, conversations and reflections over what we see in the country, what we hear people say about the country and what government do to and about the country, including legislation and public policy, reflect three things I feel to be misconceptions.

These are: 1) because the Philippines is an archipelago, it is culturally disunited; 2) colonization severely hindered social and economic progress; and 3) autonomy is the quick way to hasten the development of the as yet underdeveloped peoples of the country.

The assumption is that our archipelagic homeland is doomed to be culturally divided and plagued by disunity and that we find it very difficult to get our act together. That we find it difficult to get our act together is a fact; but not probably because of the waters that keep our islands apart.

Shared language and customs are indicators of cultural unity and integration; and it is among the water-bound sections of the country where we find this kind of integration. Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Oriental Negros and much of Mindanao share a common language. And they are all separated by water.

The Ilocanos are culturally united with the peoples of the Rio Grande de Cagayan with whom they have been connected by the waters of the Balintang Sea and the Cagayan River; but they did not get culturally integrated with the peoples of the Cordilleras who are their immediate land neighbors.

The Tagalogs around the lakes of Bai and Taal and the Pasig River have also enjoyed rich cultural integration.

This is not the case of the land locked peoples of our country. Much of inland Mindanao has dozens of languages and differing cultural identifies.

The Cordillera peoples whom we have lumped together as “one people” are really a plurality of peoples speaking different languages and up to not long ago had to keep peace among themselves by peace pacts to lessen their head-taking forays against one another.

The seas and waters which seem to separate us from one another are not magical. But they have been the great blessing and transported natural resources for our ancestors who, without doubt, were a great seafaring people whose maritime culture is even today memorialized in the smallest unit of our local government—the barangay.

It was those boats and ships which made our ancestors share their goods, their language and culture, and even their genes. This was how the boats integrated us in the process; and why there was great difficulty in integration where the boats could not go.

We were a maritime culture, so why don’t we have ships?

Missed opportunities

We had great forests once upon a time with excellent hard wood. We had rich deposits of iron. All which a maritime culture could wish for, we had.

But instead we opted for land transportation with vehicles we do not produce and burning fuel we do not have.

We seem to have deliberately avoided offering in our universities anything like naval architecture missed having the manpower for large-scale shipbuilding. The result is a Navy without much ships and the Coast Guard riding motorcycles from South Korea and Japan.

And thousands of our seamen are on board foreign vessels because their country has failed to provide for them, not from bad will perhaps, but from improvidence.

We do blame many of our sea disasters on overloading. And that is correct. But the overloading is not merely a function of greed on the part of ship owners. It is a function of the lack of ships to answer the needs of our people. (Our planes serve mainly the moneyed.)

If we look at the earliest laws of the United States when it occupied the Philippines, the building of highways was prominent.

It was for conquest, of course, but it was soon to be an excellent infrastructure for the marketing of Ford cars; and the production of civil engineers to build the roads and highways for motor vehicles may have been part of the plot.

Our universities provided the engineers. Not bad, but where were the shipbuilders?

This was how our education betrayed our long-range interest, because even the educators shared the misconceptions.

Was it narrowness of vision? Or a willingness to play the game of the foreigner with no regard for the national interest? Where were the intellectuals?


If by “colonization” we refer to the occupation of the country by the Spaniards from the 16th century and by the Americans from 1899 to 1946, there was much reason for grief, and we do not trivialize the sufferings and struggles of our people.

Nonetheless, there is a truism from the disciplines which study the contacts of peoples with one another—that is, that in the encounters of peoples, there is the inevitable exchange of ideas and technology which when creatively received, mental and intellectual as well as technological horizons grow and develop.

Despite the human costs which came with oppression, oppressors come and go. Ideas and more effective and efficient ways of doing things (what we call science and technology) tend to remain and benefit the nation so that we need not reinvent the wheel.

This is probably the reason why the erstwhile centers of colonization such as Cebu, Iloilo and Manila have continued to be centers of growth and development—not because colonial power established them but because the human and technological infrastructures retained by our people from colonial heritage have become ours by the transformative process of “yesterday’s visitor” having become “today’s native.”

While it is undeniable that colonial encounters did lots of wrong, yet we do our ancestors injustice by continuing to present most of them as having been so stupid and supine as to have passively allowed themselves to be enslaved.

We have to assume them intelligently calculating their moves as they faced the foreigner. The ground of engagement was uneven, no doubt, but our people were not stupid.

Our ancestors were aware of their interests, and within their horizon they calculated their interests and made their own moves; and as they matured in vision and experience, they threw off the alien to build new bridges with the wider world.


That autonomy is a short cut to development must be a misconception. It has not succeeded. In our case, it begs the question. Autonomy is self-management. What is there to manage in depressed, gravely underdeveloped lands and peoples?

So we pour tax payers money into those depressed regions; then make the “autonomous” governments answerable to the national government for every peso given them. What’s autonomy that is micro-managed by a very centralized national government?

Why not the other way around? And give time for a process of emancipation to allow political and economic maturing so that autonomy is a goal to achieve rather than a gift on a silver platter? Political decisions are fine but they need to satisfy the rigor of reality check.

By now the drift of this conversation may be obvious: without high quality intellectual perspective on national development, the country can only grope and live on political guesswork and romantic fantasies whose dreams outpace intellectual grasp.

To be duly elected is to be legal; but legality of power does not add a whit to official IQ!

Empowerment must be foun-ded on reality, on reliable knowledge and information to guide policy so that misconceptions may be avoided and decisions guided by timely recognition of opportunities.

The natural sciences can reveal the facilities of the nation, and the social and human sciences may reveal the values by which and for which decisions may be made. And these are possible only under conditions of excellent education.

Good solid education is a first and indispensable step toward empowerment. And empowerment is our responsibility.

(Dr. Florentino H. Hornedo of the University of Sto. Tomas Graduate School has authored 13 books in philosophy, education, culture and history and a Palanca awardee for literature. He is a member of the National Research Council of the Philippines). –Florentino H. Hornedo, Manila Times

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