“Kain tayo,” President Benigno S. Aquino III said in a toast at the welcome dinner, APEC Economic Leaders meeting.
President Aquino explained to our guests, “When a Filipino is about to have a meal, he is always compelled to share what little food he might have with anyone around, even if they are complete strangers. He does this by saying in our language, ‘Kain tayo’, or ‘Let’s eat’. And he will not begin to eat until the offer has been accepted, or kindly refused.”
“This is an invitation not only to share whatever food is on the plate, but also more importantly, an invitation to be a friend.”
It struck me to be profoundly Filipino, in a week where, to be honest, has left me to question my faith in Filipinos.
The toxicity is palpable in the air, with guys like Noli de Castro, a former Vice President, and Ted Failon, a former Congressman, now both restored to their role as commentators — not journalists, not insiders, but commentators with whatever axe to grind that seem everyday to be Bishops in the Unholy Order of the Church of the Vile, and Venomity leading the charge to seemingly ensure that everything that is horrid, and wrong in society gets dredged up.
Okay, there is no such word as ‘Venomity,’ but there should be to describe poisonous rancour, and vitriol commentary or opinion of near villainous proportion that goes against every sense of logic, rhyme, reason, or reality.
And they are not alone.
Social media is rife with Reverend negastars of the Unholy Order of the Church of the Vile, and Venomity, spewing every hateful scorn at the inconveniences that have come their way in the past week or so that APEC 2015 has been in full swing.
None of us deny the inconveniences.
We have many who walked literally miles and miles in our streets, pushing strollers to get home. And our heart goes out to those struck waiting while buses or other public transport are locked, unable to move from one part of the city to another. We have friends who have to travel hours and hours in traffic, unable to move, unable to progress in their day.
Then there are those who work for a living — cogs in the wheel of government who travel from Cavite to Manila, or Bulacan to Manila to slave away; and who directly and indirectly are working to ensure that their part in APEC 2015 works. They’re the guys who wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning, to brave our already crowded streets, and by dinner time, famished, in near exhaustion; the adrenaline gone from their system demanding sleep and rest because tomorrow is another day to wake up, before the crack of dawn to slave away as cogs and peons.
There are massive inconveniences for everyone.
For every Phil Dy (@philbertdy) who tweeted , “Learned today that trains don’t run while APEC delegates are on EDSA. Because fuck you, that’s why.” Dy continued, “Honestly I don’t see why this whole APEC thing couldn’t have been done via teleconference.”
“It’s how we do things now. The only real benefit to having all these people in the same place is that stupid photo where they’re all wearing national costumes.” (tweet)
“It’s not worth putting the capital on lockdown for the sake of meaningless speeches and a photo op. Photoshop na lang.” (tweet)
“The only thing the public wants to see from this summit is Nieto and Trudeau making out. Give the people what they want!” (tweet)
Phil Dy is merely a representation of many such opinion. What guys like Phil Dy don’t appreciate is the diplomacy that goes behind the scenes.
Each leader gets a few minutes to talk with their counterparts, sometimes on the sidelines, for just a few minutes, and sometimes a full-blown meeting like Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and U.S. President Barack Obama in bilateral discussion .
It is a few minutes they don’t normally have in their schedules. Perhaps, it is a few minutes to interact, to put a face, for a lack of better term — their colleagues. It is hard enough to be the leader of a nation, and it is hard enough to have friends in such high powerful positions. Each nuance, and every uttered word and body language judged, while advocating a position for your country, for your home team. And sometimes, it is best to shake the hand, and look a friend, and a foe in the eye.
It trickles down for everyone. Not just the leaders of the countries around Asia-Pacific, but for the business leaders who share common goals and interest who could be meeting a colleague for the first time to begin new relationships in business, or in politics, or old ones reinforcing well established relationships. The talks are non-binding in many cases, but perhaps somewhere in the crowd listening to guys like Jack Ma, someone gets an idea, or a different perspective, an insight. There are many such permutations.
Our country is spending ten billion pesos and so many inconveniences and sacrifice, and that is the part we have to play in the world stage.
But for every Phil Dy in the world, there are guys like Elbert Cuenca who wrote, “No doubt, we could’ve been better informed on how affected people residing and working in Metro Manila would be, but you won’t see me playing the blame game and insulting the people tasked to ensure a successful, and more importantly, safe and secure APEC conference.
I choose to rally behind my country and support its endeavours to show the world that we are one that’s capable of hosting the most powerful leaders of the world.
To support our country, all I really have to do is keep quiet and deal with the inconveniences of this week in a personal manner.”
“Old, but tough,” Por Requinto wrote on his Facebook wall. “Rugged, but reliable. Inconvenient, but thug.” Those were the words he described his first car. Which he bought in May 2015. It is a 1995 Kia Pride. He described it as his practice car in preparation for his married life.
“Tonight I put him to good use,” Por Requinto said. “On my way home at around 9:30pm, I saw a lot of commuters stranded along East Service Road, hopelessly waiting for a ride home. I’ve been a commuter all my life (in fact, until now) so I know exactly how it feels to be desperate, tired, and sick of the poor public transportation in this country, especially in times like this.”
It is that kind of generosity that is profoundly Filipino. He was giving what little he had, and sharing it with others.
Our country is not very prosperous. At least not yet. For now we can share very little of us to the world. Perhaps, a quiet moment of reflection for the Leader of the Free World to view the sun setting on Manila bay.
“I’m a firm believer that you cannot have a sheltered economy and expect it to grow,” President Aquino speaking to Southeast Asian commentator, Karim Raslan. “We cannot have those inefficiencies and expect to be able to compete on a worldwide basis.”
“We see ourselves as having a bigger voice on the world stage because of our presence in Asean, especially since we have one of the biggest populations proportional to the rest.”
“The last line stuck with me after I left him,” Karim Raslan wrote in his piece, “Noynoy Aquino and the Great Philippine Turnaround.”
I don’t know if you noticed this. The world leaders arriving had mostly their own aircraft. Our president flies a charted aircraft whenever he has to go to an APEC meeting. It is… a humble reminder of our place in the world.
“Kain tayo,” toasted President Aquino, was apt really. This is who we are as a people, a welcoming people, a happy people, and a generous people who give what little we have, and perhaps we ought to remember it. Perhaps, amidst the inconveniences of the week we have forgotten that core trait — not core value — but core trait of being Filipino.
“Kain tayo,” or “let’s eat,” is an invitation as President Aquino said, not only to share whatever food we have on the plate — — whatever generosity however little we could offer, but also more importantly, an invitation to be a friend.
Perhaps, most especially with China, as we share with their leader how profoundly welcoming our country could be, and what joys to be discovered here. That’s diplomatic soft power too. The same with other APEC members — to share who we are as a people so that when they go home, to share that experience with others. That we share in collective humanity that spells the difference between solving our issues with violence, and solving our issues with diplomacy, and perhaps along the way, we trade not just goods, but the welcoming hand of friendship.
APEC 2015, more than anything, is an invitation to be a friend.
This post originally appeared on Facebook as a note.