Q:Do you think that the PH culture is as unique than other Asian cultures in a sense that it is distinctively appealing to westerners like the colorful festivals in east Asia, geishas, colorful traditional clothes etc? They see PH as an ex-colony :'(
Apart from the perspective of a Western eye, of course our country is unique. Leon Ma. Guerrero called our culture “cosmopolitan” because while we are Asians, given the indigenous cultures we still have in our islands, we can also be a bridge between the East and the West given our unfortunate colonization of almost four centuries (Spanish and American). There are also some things that our colonizers could never change. Like our love for the spiritual (which the West are already shedding off), and our musicality reflected in our sad kundiman and other Filipino genres and musical instruments uniquely ours, etc. there are actually a lot to like about Filipino culture that Westerners will find appealing (not that it matters). But perhaps we must also believe it to be so.
Yes, I’m also aware of how some of our American visitors see the Philippines, as an ex-colony, and in a sense that is true. But as a Filipino, I think we are also in the position to remind them that they must beware of being condescending, because colonization, like human slavery and other atrocities, are grave, dangerous, and evil. As we should own up to the mistakes of our countrymen in the past, they should also own up to the mistakes of those before them. How? By being culturally sensitive every time they visit our country. They must remember that even when the Philippines had a working national government in 1898, they aborted it and took that away from us. Generations of Filipinos fought them in the fields and mountains, and when they gave the Filipinos opportunities to climb the political ladder, many brought the battle to the US Senate culminating in the decision of the US to grant Philippines its independence in 1945. They must be reminded of history, that for me, is a great balancer of perspectives.
I noticed also, and i think it is natural, that many Filipinos are looking for their identity by rationalizing the uniqueness of their origins. That is a noble task, but I will also warn you of the danger. Some have taken that path and went overboard, hating everything Western, and reducing nationalism to mere feelings of romanticized love of everything Filipino without thinking it over and wrestling on it. We must remember and acknowledge that both sides have had errors committed, and that our loyalty ultimately does not lie on nationalism per se, but on Truth. This will make us avoid the error of racial superiority, that our former colonizers have committed.
Human groupings have one main purpose: to assert everyone’s right to be different, to be special, to think, feel and live in his or her own way. People join together in order to win or defend this right. But this is where a terrible, fatal, error is born: the belief that these groupings in the name of a race, a God, a party or a state are the very purpose of life and not simply a means to an end. No!
While the Filipino and American forces struggled to hold their positions in Bataan from January to April 1942 in the defense of the Philippines against the Japanese invasion, they were subjected to the heat of the sun, hunger and incessant attacks from the Imperial Japanese soldiers. But the attack was not only physical but psychological and ideological as well.
Here is one flier I found at the archival collections of Jorge Vargas. It’s one of those fliers the Imperial Japanese threw at the Filipino and American soldiers holding the lines in Bataan at the time. It contains the best summary of the logic behind the Japanese propaganda called the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.” Using their knowledge of Philippine history, the Japanese would use the familiar but somehow truthful rhetoric of European and American imperialism in Asia and its effect on the still-born Philippine independence of June 1898. While we do not deny the evils of colonization and imperialism in Asia done by Western powers, we should also not deny that many have also ridden the bandwagon of a “unified Asia” or the “Asia for the Asians” for their own ends. Anyone advocating a concept of a ‘unified Asia’ against the ‘West’ should take heed of this history lesson. The world is not as simple as dividing its hemispheres of East vs. West, of ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ Especially in the historical context of the Philippines. There are extremes to avoid. There are dichotomies too simplistic to be real.
By fighting the oppressors, the Empire of Japan (of the early 20th century) had become an oppressor itself. And the Philippines was caught in the middle.
I have had time to think and to pray about my situation and that of my nation and to have God’s will for me clarified… I must live through this difficult period of our national history with the Christian people of Germany. I shall have no right to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people…Such a decision each man must make for himself. Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order that Christian civilization may survive, or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization. I know which of these alternatives I must choose, but I cannot make that choice in security.
Letter of Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Reinhold Niebuhr, July 1939.
Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany who bravely sided with the Jews during the Holocaust, smuggled Jews to safety in Switzerland, and was involved in the failed Valkyrie plot to assassinate Adolf Hilter. He was the leader of the underground Confessing Church who seceded from the Nazi state church through the famous Barmen Declaration of 1934. He was instrumental in making the horrors of the Nazi regime known outside of Germany. He was imprisoned, and was executed in a concentration camp on April 9, 1945.
The defeat of his nation for truth, or the victory of his nation for a lie? He knew the choice he had to make.
Rethinking Nationalism: The Sad Life of Artemio Ricarte
Finally, at long last, the long lost veteran of the Philippine Revolution returns to his country. It was 1941, and his memory of Filipinas when he last saw it in the 1900s was a Filipinas that was united against another hegemon that replaced Spain, the United States. He successfully led the revolution in the Philippines in its first phase (against Spain) and in its second phase, in what would be known as the Philippine-American War. His name was General Artemio Ricarte.
He was there when he rose up among the ranks of the Katipunan. Having been one of the leaders of the national revolutionary movement, Ricarte was the one who stopped Bonifacio in pulling the trigger against Tirona during the controversial Tejeros Convention which relegated the founder of the Katipunan to a mere Director of the Interior, an insult Bonifacio would have accepted, if not for a tirade by Tirona. Ricarte fought on under the Magdiwang (Bonifacio’s faction) and even disagreed in the surrender of Biak-na-Bato, where the Spaniards offered a truce to the Revolutionaries (which the Spaniards never intended to fulfill). He fought on against the new conqueror, the United States, and even refused to swear allegiance to its flag when he was captured. Even after Guam, Ricarte never gave in. He was eventually exiled to China, but with the American consul in China playing tricks on him, he decided he would go to Japan. During that time, Japan was very sympathetic to independence movements in Asia. Mariano Ponce and Sun Yat-Sen would often meet in Yokohama, Japan. It was on that same place that Ricarte settled in. He built a Filipino restaurant there and refused to go back to the Philippines even when he was invited by Quezon to the inauguration of the Philippine Commonwealth government.
But in 1941, Japan had become an empire. The Philippines was “privileged” to be grafted to it. And the Japanese offered Ricarte a return trip home, with perks and with a mission, to herald the Japanese arrival to free the Asian nations subjugated by Western imperialism, and build the ‘glorious’ Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.
But as he returned, oh how different the Philippines had become. What was once a generation of patriots guided by the nationalism of 1896 in which he belonged, has become a generation of an ‘American-sponsored independence.’ What was once a country who expected the assistance of Japan for the Philippine Revolution after the Sino-Japanese War has become a country that saw Japan taking away that gift of independence from the U.S. What is ‘ la independencia’ anyway?
He was on the wrong side of the fence. The Filipinos changed in a single generation. This was not entirely the fault of Filipinos. The Americans, compared to the Spaniards, were more humane, more open, and gave more opportunities for the Filipinos to rise up to the political and economic ladder. The U.S. had become the “friend” of the Philippines no matter how dubious that might be, a sort of love-hate relationship, if you could put it. When Japan invaded the country on December 1941, the U.S. was about to give independence to the Philippines in a few years time (on July 1946). But as Filipinos saw it, here was Imperial Japan, taking all that chance of freedom away, and worse, the Revolutionary Hero Ricarte was assisting them!
In 1944, Ricarte was eventually coerced by the Japanese (against his will) to force the population into submission by leading the Makapili, the organized Japanese militant group that drafted volunteers for the Japanese Army. A Makapili member is infamously known as having a bayong on his head to cover his face, as he would point a person from the lined-up men as being suspected of subversive activities. One pointing of the Makapili by his finger and the person being pointed at would be doomed.
As F. Sionil Jose correctly put in his novel on Ricarte, “Vibora!”, Ricarte would run to the Cordillera mountains to escape with the Japanese as Allied forces chase them deeper into the mountainous ranges. Ricarte would not be able to find out that his wife would herself be murdered by the Japanese.
When does nationalism end and excessive pride begin? When does true for fellowmen end and subtle lie of racial ‘greatness’ begin? It happened in China during the hyper-optimism of Mao. It happened in Germany during the height of nationalism fanned afire by Hitler’s charisma. It happened in Japan, when the extreme loyalty and nationalism of the Japanese have numbed them to the point that they could commit unimaginable atrocities against other races. Even F. Sionil Jose in his Ricarte novel failed to answer. The reader would only be left with a searing judgment of not pointing a finger at Ricarte since he was just a victim of circumstances. One would wonder, that’s it? No redemption at all?
How many Ricartes roam the Philippines? How many of them who were once full of idealism and nationalism are now angry at the government, at the convoluted bureaucracy, the blatant corruption? Is nationalism, that vague notion of a big picture, the real answer? Ricarte failed to realize, and maybe he did in that forest as he was running for his life, that it is not nationalism—or loyalty to his people that can save us. For in the end, we will not be judged as nations but as individuals within our respective nations.
F. Sionil Jose said, “We are our own enemy and we have to have the courage and the will to change ourselves.” Is it really enough to change ourselves? How? How do we fix the ficklemindedness, that dark depravity that is deeply rooted not only in the Filipino psyche but in all the ethnicities of the world?
“For ALL we like sheep have gone astray. Each of us has turned his own way… “
“For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…”
The Good Book seems to equalize all ethnicities. All have their dark sides before the Almighty.
History here offers an answer hard to swallow. Truth.
Truth does not side with either the colonizer or the colonized. Truth points out both the excesses of the conqueror and the conquered. It gives an ugly view of reality—but it is reality. It is truth just the same. Truth humbles the pride of nations, and exalts men and women who are humble enough to accept its painful lesson. That is why Truth can have the guts to say in the face of angry millions who agreed with the massacre of the Jews, “They too are human beings like us!” Truth can say in the face of millions of stoic suicidal loyalists of Imperial Japan, “Where is our conscience?!” Truth can speak even in the appealing face of ethnocentrism, with the very words of Rizal: “Genius has no country, it blossoms everywhere. Genius is like the light, the air. It is the heritage of all.” It is truth that could have saved Ricarte from the trap that he was caught in.
Truth. Only a few side with it. And siding with it can cost you dearly. Which is why truth is a rarity these days. Is our nationalism built on and balanced by truth? This truth that this country is just temporal, like all other civilizations and countries that fell and are now forgotten? Truth that the country is not really the land or its symbols or even its culture, it is the people? Truth that yes even a people can err and what matters is the choices each individual makes? Or are we easily swayed by that self-exalting pride and romanticized/emotional patriotism that we ourselves have created?
Rizal may be accused as too Western or too Spanish by some of us. But he was a real nationalist in a sense that he never confused the emotional euphoria and romanticized imaginings of ‘nation’ to what the purpose of nationhood is, for mutual duty and responsibility, nothing more. But as we live this life, we would discover that even these duties, no matter how noble, are not enough to fill the vacuum within the human being. We need something more.
May all those who are nationalists (me included) heed this lesson as a warning.
*Photo above, Ricarte’s family and their Filipino restaurant at Yokohama, Japan.
What led Germany to this strange pass [Nazism] was itself strange. After the war [World War I], many were happy to wipe away the old order and rid themselves of the kaiser. But when the old monarch at last left the palace, the people who had clamored for his exit were suddenly lost. They found themselves in the absurd position of the dog, who, having caught a car he was so frantically chasing, has no idea what to do with it—so he looks guiltily and then slinks away. Germany had no history of democracy and no idea how it worked, so the country broke apart into a riot of factions, with each faction blaming the others for everything that went wrong. This much they knew, under the kaiser there had been law and order and structure; not there was chaos. The kaiser had been a symbol of the nation, now there were only petty politicians.
So the German people clamored for order and leadership. But it was as though the babble of their clamoring, they had summoned the devil himself, for there now rose up from the deep wound in the national psyche something strange and terrible and compelling. The Fuhrer was no mere man or mere politician. He was something terrifying and authoritarian, self-contained and self-justifying, his own father and his own god. He was a symbol who symbolized himself, who had traded his soul for the zeitgeist.
Germany wanted to restore its former glory, but the only means available was the debased language of democracy. So on January 30, 1933, the people democratically elected the man who had vowed to destroy the democratic government they hated.
Hitler’s election to office destroyed the office.
On the 120th anniversary of the founding of Rizal’s La Liga Filipina (July 3, 1982 to July 3, 2012) and on the day that we were freed from American dominion (July 4, 1946), let us remember how the Liga was carefully thought out by Rizal when he saw that the Propaganda Movement in Spain was in vain. An ingenious plan of building a Filipino civic organization, the first of its kind in the country, Rizal saw Liga as creating a distinct ‘Filipino’ nation in the hearts and minds of his countrymen within the social milieu of the Spanish rule. A nation within a Spanish colony. It is thus a fulfillment of a statement Rizal made when he said:
"If our countrymen are counting on us here in Europe, they are very much mistaken…The battlefield is the Philippines…there we will help one another, there together we will suffer or triumph perhaps. The majority of our compatriots in Europe are afraid…they are brave only so long as they are in a peaceful country! The Philippines should not count on them; she should depend on her own strength."
We wonder how Rizal thought of constructing what is to be the Filipino nation? How do we build a country from the ground up? We are fortunate to have the main objectives of the La Liga Filipina recorded in our history. This is, shall I say, a primer to — How2BuildaNation101:
1. To unite the whole archipelago into one vigorous and homogenous community;
2. Mutual protection in every want and necessity;
3. Defense against all violence and injustice;
4. Encouragement of instruction, agriculture, and commerce; and
5. Study the application of reforms
As we can see, Rizal never saw nationalism as an end in itself. Leon Ma. Guerrero writes, “Rizal’s concept of a nation, as we should remind ourselves on occasion, was moral, unselfish, responsible, based uncompromisingly on a general recognition of mutual rights and duties… He never confused national independence with individual and social freedom.” (italics mine)
What happens when ideology intermingles with the spiritual? When nationalism or any other ideology intermingle with the church? Here is the story of a lone German Lutheran minister who fought the hegemon that was Hitler.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945)
Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.
"The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it. This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law. The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties. The old Israel had been both — the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force. But with the Church it is different: it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression. Otherwise evil will be heaped upon evil. Only thus can fellowship be established and maintained.” - Bonhoeffer
A commemorative post for Dietrich Bonhoeffer, one of the great heroes of the 20th century. He was executed on April 9, 1945 in a concentration camp under the direct orders of Hitler, a few days before the fall of the Third Reich.
(Video with the Translation can be watched on the video’s homepage on Youtube.)
Thoughts on Nationalism
Exactly four years ago, I still remember that expressing patriotism meant being a weirdo. A mentor of mine rode a plane. She was fortunate to have another Filipina for a seatmate. The seatmate kept sharing stories about her foreign husband, and then she told my mentor, “Buti ka pa, pa-travel travel nalang.” The next topic was how her husband hated her cooking of the delectable Filipino food called tuyo. Of course my mentor exclaimed, “Sobra naman sila. E yung cheese nga nila e amoy imburnal.” What’s so surprising was the reply of the Filipina. “Uyyyyy, patriotic!” As if patriotism was an anomaly in itself, when in fact our Asian neighbors are more patriotic than ever.
Now, patriotism or nationalism has become a fad. Team Manila releases cool t-shirt statements all related to love of country. Even Starbucks have tumblers and mugs with the label “Philippines” (Philippine Eagle design) or “Manila” (with the jeepney design). All these aren’t bad at all. It’s just that we haven’t gotten past the romanticist trap in our nationalism, in that any criticism against the country, even if valid, is unacceptable to us.
Rizal never romanticized his love of country. It was not emotional, but it was born out of pain. He saw both sides of the coin. Yes, there were many things to be proud of. He was never impressed by Niagara falls and instead preferred the little humble falls of Los Banos. He loved his people and even annotated a history book in an attempt to discover who the Filipinos were before they were conquered. At the same time, his love was also grounded in the fact that we have a dark side too. Even Filipinos can harsher to their fellow Filipinos than the Spaniards were. Who could forget Dona Victorina de de Espadana, that social climber, that noisy lady who drives Sisa mad, that if she lived today would be like those ladies who wear boots in the heat of the sun at Serendra and would utter broken English just to appear to be “spoken in dollar”? How about in our history? Who could forget Emilio Aguinaldo, that amidst the defeats of the revolution, found time to sentence Andres Bonifacio to death? Rizal’s love of country accepts the situation of the Philippines as it was. Therefore any critic would be welcomed by him, saying, "I bless all insults if they bring such results. Long live all the enemies of my country, if their lives are a medicine for my people!”
We need a balanced love of country, one that does not get deluded by ethnocentrism, even if it’s so tempting to degrade and insult the colonizer. Rizal’s concept of love of country was grounded on principles of justice, mutual responsibility, and education. No race was higher than the other. "Genius has no country," Rizal uttered in that famous speech in Hotel Ingles, "it is the heritage of all."
Oh how tempting it is to create a history that compromises truth for it to appear that we Filipinos were a greater race than we really are, exaggerating facts. Take for example the Laguna Copperplate Inscription. Some people see it as a glorious testament to our precolonial civilization, when in fact it is just a mere receipt! There is not even a proof that tells us if the artifact was really made here. For all we know it was just brought here by a trader.
We make everything a big deal like this stone of Baybayin found in Luzon just to comfort ourselves, deluding ourselves in the name of nationalism. Are we that desperate? We are looking and trying to redefine our identity, but should that search and exaggerations define our identity? One must never forget how Marcos himself did that to Philippine history—to create history out of thin air with a made-up history book he entitled “Tadhana”.
Let us imbue the nationalism that Rizal had—one that does not shy away from the truth even when it hurts our pride, one that is responsible enough to own the faults and mistakes of our people, one that recognizes the loss done to us by our colonizers but one that also refuses to blame our colonizers for our present malady, one that wishes to stand on our own two feet and contribute to the world stage, instead of having us beg for other countries to support us, one that does not pretend to be who we are not but accepts who we really are, wholeheartedly willing to change for the better.
Patriotic spirit and sentiment are being awakened. We owe that to the insults of Retana, Quioquiap, Astoll, etc. I bless all insults if they bring such results. Long live all the enemies of my country, if their lives are a medicine for my people!