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Jun 02nd
Home Columns Reinventing the Philippines Filipinos Are Indeed the Italians of Asia (Part 8 of the "Filipino Psyche" Series)
Filipinos Are Indeed the Italians of Asia (Part 8 of the "Filipino Psyche" Series) PDF Print E-mail
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Columns - Reinventing the Philippines
Wednesday, 20 February 2008 15:48

A ‘sterile anger’ is the emotion now dominating public life in Italy, and outraged cynicism is the order of the day – Sociologist Ilvo Diamanti

Newsweek magazine features the Italians in its Feb. 25, 2008, issue. The article says, “Italy barely functions. Yet its people are happy. What explains this?” The same statement and question can be asked also of the Filipinos.

After this writer made two trips to Italy in 1982 and 1983 and visited nine Italian ceramic plants, I told my friends in the Philipines and in the United States that “the Philippine homeland is the Italy of Asia, as Filipinos – because of the Iberian contribution to the Filipino heritage – are supposedly the only Latinos in the Orient.” There are of course a lot of similarities between the Spaniards and the Italians, as the Iberian peninsula was once a part of the Holy Roman empire.

There are also marked contrasts between Italy and the Philippines. As the American ambassador to Rome said in 1982, “Italy is a poor country with rich people.” I explained then to my Italian hosts and ceramic industrialist-partners that the opposite is true with the Philippines. I said that the Filipino homeland is a very rich country (in resources) but with very poor people.”

I said also that perhaps Filipinos share the unofficial Italian national motto: “il piccolo é bello.” Yes, “small is beautiful” seems also to be the Filipino national slogan.

Like Filipinos, “Italians have come to see themselves over the years as survivors.” Both the Italians and the Filipinos emerged from the ashes of World War II and even shared almost common tragedies in the 1970s: Italy had the Red Brigade terrorists while the Philippines had the communist rebels; Italy had “gangsters as well as terrorists turned kidnapping into an industry” while the Filipino people suffered at the hands of warlords as well as kidnapping that had become a cottage industry (even up to now).

And of course both countries are heavily influenced by the Vatican, for better or for worse. And Italian and Filipino politicians, with a common culture of corruption – from Roma to Manila – seem to share the same DNA.

Even Italian comedian Beppe Grillo’s appeal to the outside world, "Please, invade us," has been used by Filipino wags and pundits. Remember when the United States still had bases in Clark and Subic and Filipino comedians said that the only way for the Philippines to become prosperous again was to be an American territory. How? By invading the American military bases and declaring a second Filipino war against the United States. Then the American Marines would invade again!

If Filipinos peruse the Newsweek article and read in-between the lines, they would realize the commonality between the peoples of Italy and the Philippines. Again, for better or for worse.

A Simmering Rage: Failure to do anything about the trash piling up on Naples's streets is one sign of the Italian government's powerlessness

By Jacopo Barigazzi, Barbie Nadeau and Christopher Dickey | NEWSWEEK

Feb 25, 2008, Issue | Updated: 11:15  a.m. ET Feb 16, 2008

To read the Newsweek article in its entirety, please go to

To those who cannot access the article, here are some excerpts: QUOTE . . .

The hottest film in Italy right now, in just about every sense of the word "hot," is "Caos Calmo" or "Quiet Chaos." It is the story of a widower who cannot pull his life together and sits on a park bench, watching the world pass him by. Sure, one reason it's at the top of the box-office charts is controversy over a sex scene (about which more later). But the movie also touches deeper nerves. The truth is that, much like the widower, Italy is watching the world pass it by.

As recently as the early 1980s, the country's gross domestic product was on a par with Britain's, and Italy looked set to be a driving force, if not quite in the driver's seat, of a newly united Europe. But those days are long gone. Luca Cordero di Montezemolo, the chairman of Fiat and president of Ferrari, likens Italian government to "a car so heavy, so expensive, so difficult to steer, so old, that whoever the driver may be, you don't win." At this point, government is not just dysfunctional, but nonfunctioning. (Snipped.)

Wherever Italians look, it seems, there are signs of rot both figurative and literal. The streets of Naples have been subsumed beneath suppurating piles of garbage for months with no solution in sight. And while Naples is stinking, Venice is sinking. Grand plans have been proposed to save the city, which is flooded nine months a year. But the 10-year multibillion-euro project put forth by Berlusconi was shelved by Prodi. Tourists overwhelm Florence, but instead of improving infrastructure, the city council is thinking of moving Michelangelo's "David" out of town to lessen the congestion. Then there's Alitalia, a fleet of albatrosses laboring under enormous debts that are emblematic of Italy's can't-do economy. In 2004 and 2005 the country's economy did not expand at all, and throughout the decade it has lagged at or near the very bottom of Europe's already torpid growth rates. Last year, Italy grew 1.8 percent, far slower than the rest of the euro zone.

Yet for all this, many Italians feel that the country still has the potential—the creativity amid the chaos—to make a magnificent comeback if only … what? "I believe a lot of people are asking themselves the same question I ask myself," says Pino Arlacchi, a former member of Parliament and senator, and a leader of the anti-mafia fight in the early 1990s: "Why have we not succeeded in turning the page in this country?"

(Snipped.) Then, Italy's public debt soared as bills for the social programs it instituted in the 1970s started to come due and political parties padded out the bureaucracy with patronage jobs. "There's huge corruption," says Sapelli. Finally, in the 1980s there was the Italian lira. The government boosted the country's exports and mollified the private sector not by encouraging research, development and innovation, but by cheapening the currency.

In hindsight, says Sapelli, the dazzling GDP figures of 25 years ago were "just an illusion." Unlike Britain, which was well on its way to becoming a modern Western service economy, Italy was breathing "the last sigh of an industrial system" that was shored up "with enormous public expenditure." And by 1992, the illusion wasn't looking so grand. The revelations of the "Clean Hands" arrests and prosecutions exposed corruption in the old established Christian Democratic and Socialist parties that had traded governments back and forth for generations. They were swept out of power, their leaders prosecuted, even forced into exile—but narrow-minded venality and criminality stayed.

Perhaps it's to be expected that, as sociologist Ilvo Diamanti puts it, "a sterile anger" is the emotion now dominating public life in Italy, and outraged cynicism is the order of the day. With politicians talking mainly to themselves, only artists and entertainers seem to give voice to the mood on the street. The most popular political writer in the country, without question, is comedian Beppe Grillo. On his widely read blog and in public spectacles his diatribes echo the old cry from the American movie "Network": "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore"—and then some. Last September millions of people rallied around the country for Grillo's V-Day (that is, Vaff-Day, or "go f––– yourself," day). "We have nearly 80 crooks in Parliament," Grillo told NEWSWEEK over the phone from his home in Genoa. (Actually there may be more: 24 who have been convicted of various crimes, an additional 57 who have had public legal problems, plus those who've never been caught.) Grillo appeals to the outside world: "Please, invade us. Help us!"

Joking aside, a big part of Italy's problem is that it relied on outside forces too often in the past to save it from internal problems nobody dared address. It's a society so full of bureaucratic impediments and social fractures that "there is freedom only as long as you don't rock the boat," says Andrea Mandel-Mantello, chief executive of the boutique investment bank AdviCorp. Although Italians are famous as entrepreneurs, it's extremely difficult to start an enterprise, or to grow from a midsize business to a big one capable of competing globally. "There is just too much friction," says Mandel-Mantello. "It's like Rollerblading on cobblestones."

Italians have come to see themselves over the years as survivors. In the aftermath of World War II, says Arlacchi, "they had the mentality of people who'd been bombed." Nothing would be as bad as what went before, and it could get a whole lot better. Which it did. The 1950s and 1960s were phenomenally prosperous years of reconstruction. But then came the 1970s, which were years of terror for many Italians—especially for those who had money or were making it. The Red Brigades sowed fear everywhere, sometimes with the collusion of people in government, while gangsters as well as terrorists turned kidnapping into an industry. (Snipped.)


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Last Updated on Monday, 30 March 2020 10:19
Comments (5)
1 Tuesday, 12 May 2009 21:24
Very interesting. I'm Italian myself with a number of Filipino friends, and I notice the similarities between the two groups. Beauty contests, pictures and statues of the Virgin Mary and the saints all over the house (or the yard or the store, for that matter), big family gatherings, importance of godparents, etcetera. I was recently at a mall in Toronto, Canada, where I live, and there were a number of people of Filipino descent as well as some Iranians and other people of Middle Eastern descent there. It struck me as somewhat strange how the Filipinos looked much more different from Italians (well, other than the odd mestizo with enough Spanish blood to pass for White) than Middle Easterners do yet are so much more similar to us culturally.
Of course. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a Filipino version of the Jersey Shore series on MTV because Filipino Americans sometimes act loud and thuggish like some Italian Americans. That would be crazy!
3 Thursday, 16 June 2011 05:30
Religion, language similarities(problema,regalo,musica,etc), strong family ties and huge interest in music..some of the many things that both people share. i've been to italy and i have several italian friends in social networks nowadays and i don't feel being treated diffrently just because im asian. and besides italians are as well admirers of filipino talents, as charice pempengco is now a sensation there. what a pleasure!
4 Thursday, 16 June 2011 05:32
Religion, language similarities(problema,regalo,musica,etc), strong family ties and huge interest in music..some of the many things that both people share. i've been to italy and i have several italian friends in social networks nowadays and i don't feel being treated diffrently just because im asian. and besides italians are as well admirers of filipino talents, as charice pempengco is now a sensation there. what a pleasure!
5 Monday, 30 March 2020 10:21
Here is a suggested Filipino-&-Italian battle cry for the ongoing pandemic: VENI, VIDI, VICI COVID-XIX.
It means in English, "I came, I saw, I conquered COVID-19."
There are reportedly more-than 200,000 Overseas-Filipino workers (OFWs) in Italy, including Filipino brides married to Italians. Know why Filipinos like Italy and why Italians like them (especially the OFW-medical workers) also?
Because Filipinos are "the Italians of Asia" -- per my Feb. 20, 2008 (2-0-0-8) essay:
God bless the Philippines, Italy, the U.S.A., especially the Italian-American communities, and the World.

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