A mirror to see ourselves: Three views of the Filipino




The Manila Times



BUT for one of the newly accredited blogger journalists who excitedly called BBM’s inaugural address “superb and amazing,” no one has seriously taken time to analyze and critique the salvo of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. into the dicey world of presidential speechmaking. Most of us have been daunted by the unusual length of the address (2,720 words and more than an hour to deliver), and have been reticent to talk about its themes and style. This is a pity because our 17th President essayed here a fresh and generational take on how Filipinos look at themselves, and how they appear to others. Faith in the Filipino In the concluding section of the address, the president launched as his peroration an affirmation of faith in the Filipino and all his countrymen. In a ringing tone, he declared: “You will not be disappointed. So do not be afraid. With every difficult decision that I must make, I will keep foremost in my heart and in my mind the debt of gratitude I owe you for the honor and responsibility that you have conferred on me. Whatever is in a person to make changes for the better of others, I lay before you now in my commitment, I will try to spare you. You have other responsibilities to carry but I will not spare myself from shedding the last bead of sweat or giving the last ounce of courage and sacrifice. “And if you ask me why I am so confident of the future, I will answer you simply that I have 110 million reasons to start with. Such is my faith in the Filipino. “Believe, have hope. The sun also rises like it did today and as it will tomorrow. And as surely as that, we will achieve the country all Filipinos deserve.” Whenever I hear or read an effusive and optimistic appraisal of our people’s capacity and prospects for the future, I always read them against the light thrown by essays and books that in my lifetime have guided and instructed me on the subject of Filipino nationalism and its central ideas, in order to decipher anything new or difference of insight. In that spirit I read President Marcos’ inaugural address against the light of two significant pieces of literature and scholarship in Philippine letters. An article by the late diplomat, author and scholar Leon Maria Guerrero, which was published by the Manila Chronicle in 953. It bore the title “What Filipinos Are Like” and has been anthologized in various collections of Filipino essays. A lecture by historian and Jesuit professor Fr. Horacio de la Costa, S.J, which has been anthologized in various books under the title “The Filipino National Tradition.” As exercises in self-appraisal and examination of the national character, these pieces can fittingly be read with Jose Rizal’s classic essay, “The Indolence of the Filipino.” What Filipinos are like I found Guerrero’s essay in his book, We Filipinos (Daily Star Publishing Co., Manila, 1984), a collection of various articles and speeches written and delivered during his long and distinguished career. The essay is an arresting piece of self-appraisal of our people and our national characteristics, and how foreigners see us. He singles out for examination and criticism of our people’s lack of self-reliance and imitativeness. He wrote: “For more than four centuries of colonial rule, we were not allowed to rely on ourselves. Colonialism also suggests the reason for a certain unwillingness to accept responsibility. “We were also the Asian people that remained the longest under Western rule. “Magellan raised Homonhon on the horizon in 1521, by 1572, Legazpi had destroyed the Muslim power in Manila. “By way of contrast, Japan was not occupied until 1945, and then only briefly; China never lost its independence, and neither did Thailand; India was not annexed until the middle of the 19th century.” On Filipino imitativeness, Guerrero wrote: “Our adaptability or imitativeness is, like our family system, largely selfprotective. Colonial peoples quickly learned to adapt themselves to foreign ways. The penalty was, at the very least, a kick in the butt. So in colonial Philippines, the man who could speak Spanish or English, had a reasonably better chance to get a job or a promotion. That the Filipinos showed a precocious ability to imitate, and to imitate to perfection, is perhaps indicated by our national male costume, which is a shirt worn with its tails out. “Our mimetism has at least one more source other than self- preservation. Those Asians who complain that Filipinos are excessively Westernized to the point of losing their Asian identity forget that there was nothing else for us to be. For religious reasons, the early Spanish missionaries did a thorough job of destroying all repositories of native culture that they could lay their hands on. “Shorn of their native traditions, isolated from the rest of Asia and the world by a strict policy of exclusion, we Filipinos had no alternative to Western civilization. The American occupation confirmed it with material advantages and political institutions that seemed unrivaled by anything Asia had to offer. As it had been since time out of mind, Westernization appeared to be the key to personal and national progress, and imitation the easiest method of Westernization.” Guerrero concluded his penetrating essay with these unsparing words: “Since we have grown accustomed to borrowing our ideas, we have lost much of our capacity for independence and originality of thought. We have also developed an extraordinary credulity of mistaking form for substance, words for deeds, programs on paper for achievements. A slogan is coined, a speech is made, a law passed or an order given, and we imagine that the deed is done. We are told by higher authority that a diplomatic victory has been won, and in utter disregard of the facts, we believe it, just as readily as we would have believed the opposite. What saves us is our ability to laugh at ourselves. A lively sense of the ridiculous has helped to keep alive our sense of proportion.” The Filipino national tradition The other mirror which I use to measure effusions of faith in the Filipino is a Lenten lecture delivered by Fr. de la Costa at the Ateneo de Manila University on March 19, 1971, which he entitled “The Filipino National Tradition.” His lecture is bold in its observations and conclusions, and he admirably wraps everything together under a singular national tradition. According to de la Costa, the Filipino national tradition can be summed up in five principles: pagsasarili, pakikisama, pagkakaisa, pagkabayani and pakikipagkapwatao. Elaborating, de la Costa said: “Pagsasarili is the principle of selfreliance. It is the burning ambition of every Filipino to be a person in his own right, to make up his own mind, to do his thing. He may not say so in so many words. He may not even be completely conscious of this drive within him but it is there. Pagsasarili is to own oneself. “If we Filipinos put so high a valuation on pagsasarili, it is perhaps because we have been denied it for so long. One of the great evils of colonialism is to put a premium on dependence, to make survival itself depend on being dependent, on not being oneself, not being one’s own man, being a non-person, having someone else make up one’s own mind, doing someone else’s thing, not one’s own. “And so more fortunate foreigners to whom an inscrutable Providence has granted the opportunity to be always self-reliant must try to live with this hang-up that we have about pagasasarili (self-reliance). y and stand beside the other nations of the world, not on crutches but on our own feet, thinking and speaking and acting as freemen and as citizens of a true republic in name and in fact… (only then) can we rightly claim to have achieved and deserved our independence.” He concluded the lecture with these words: “The thrust of our historic experience as a people has been toward pagsasarili, toward that state of society wherein every man can possess himself, and can have access to that share of our national resources whereby he can in truth possess, and be, himself. “It was to this end that every Filipino may at last, in Recto’s words rise from the knees he has bent in beggary that our heroes made the sacrifices that they did.” Filipino self-reliance at its best As a cautionary note to our younger politicians, we Filipinos must be wary of falling into the trap of American exceptionalism, which is the idea that the United States is inherently unique among nations in being destined and entitled to play a distinct and positive role on the world stage. Exceptionalism has been rightly criticized as a species of narcissism. This is not for us. Guerrero and de la Costa belong to that breed of Filipino intellectuals who would urge us to temper our enthusiasm and sense of self-importance. They graduated at a time when the country had just recovered its independence, when our people were testing themselves in the art and challenge of self-government. It was also a time when Filipinos were acutely self-conscious about their national independence. There was then plenty of questioning and self-doubt. The two, one a diplomat of the republic and the other a historian and member of the Society of Jesus, went on to distinguish themselves in their chosen fields and became illustrious figures in Philippine arts and letters. You might say that they personified Filipino self-reliance at its best. On their breast, we can rightly profess, with President Marcos, our faith in the Filipino.