Laughter and long memories from Down Under

HISTORY MATTERS - Todd Sales Lucero - The Freeman

President Marcos was recently in Australia for a state visit and found himself in a controversial and embarrassing situation. President Marcos was caught on live television giggling like a schoolgirl (no offense to legitimate schoolgirls) when asked to explain about the devastating effects of his father's brutal dictatorship. The reporter was taken aback by the giggling, not understanding why the president would laugh away a question that was connected to his father’s plunder. The reporter didn’t mince words and instead directly called him out for his callous reaction to an otherwise serious question.

I was recently in that part of the world and visited Australia for a week. I can personally say that Australians are relaxed and laid back. Perhaps not as laid back as we are. But enough to immediately give any tourist the lasting impression that Australians are a friendly people. You’d be walking along a busy street in central Melbourne or having a stroll in one of the smaller towns like Sassasfras or Olinda and you'd get friendly hi's and hellos from the residents you pass by or from patrons inside shops and restaurants.

Not everyone greets everyone, of course, but many do. And for many first time Filipino tourists, it feels strange being greeted by complete strangers. Our culture, unfortunately, does not teach us this uber-friendly hospitality to strangers because I think most of us feel weird talking to complete strangers in the streets, perhaps afraid of being branded "feeling close". That is why it is puzzling why President Marcos did not have a roaring success during his visit, what with the protesting senator during his address to parliament and of course his now-humiliating interview.

While our relationship with Australia is not as "strong" as that of our US relations, Filipinos have been trading with them since the Spanish period. Filipinos were some of Australia's earliest foreign workers called "Manila Men", who worked in the pearling industry of northern Australia. Employers preferred them because they were "responsible, daring, and fatalistically brave". These early OFWs played an integral part in developing the pearl, trochus, and beche-de-mer industries in that part of the country.

During WWII, Australian forces helped liberate the Philippines. And while our idea of the Leyte landing is usually of MacArthur and US troops, there were in fact Australian soldiers who also landed in Leyte to liberate us. Thirty Australian soldiers were even killed and several wounded, with a few interned by the Japanese after the fall of the Philippines in 1942.

Several Filipino presidents made official visits to Australia. Manuel L. Quezon established his government-in-exile in Australia at the height of Japanese occupation. In more recent years, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo visited the country twice while President Benigno Aquino III made one. President Duterte, who only visited 20 countries in his six years as president, did not go to Australia. And PBBM's recent visit was his first.

When you take Australian-owned airlines going to Australia, they show this introductory video where they recognize the ongoing role and standing of the Aborigines, Australia's first people, as "traditional custodians". Australians are cognizant of the horrors of colonial rule, being a former British colony as well. So later generations have become more understanding of the plight of those suffering from brutal governments. Naturally, this includes countries where the population often suffers from lack of services due to massive corruption such as the Philippines.

The Aborigines believe that dreams are spiritual memories of their ancestors, and that these memories are meant to guide and remind the current generations not to make the same mistakes of the past. Perhaps PBBM believed that most have forgotten his father's dictatorship and plunder, but unfortunately for him he was in a country where remembering the past is part of its culture. PBBM may have thought he could use laughter as a charming defense. That backfired and humiliated him and the Philippines.

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