Untiying Filipino nationalism

Marius Carlos, Jr.

First published in the Philippines Graphic July 4, 2016 Issue


What is Filipino nationalism? Where are we headed collectively, as Filipinos?

The national artist Nick Joaquin once wrote that our nation would have never existed without colonialism. A facile reading of Joaquin’s Culture and History would easily irritate a whole spectrum of readers, from extreme left to extreme right. No one (except perhaps Quijano de Manila) would be brave (or crazy) enough to suggest directly that our concept of nation-ness was indeed borne from the womb of human atrocity – colonialism.

Joaquin suggested that only Spain and America were “kind” enough to pay attention to our land and through the colonial act. The Western emperors, in their rush to pillage, accidentally caused groups of people to imagine a place called the Philippines – a beautiful land, but a land in crisis.

This may well have been the first seed of national consciousness which paved the way for more nationalist dreams and other Filipino imaginings. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to gain the attention of the various linguistic groups that were headed in different directions. The idea of a singular entity, the nation, shifted the loyalties of the Pampangos, Tagalogs, Cebuanos and through state enforcement, the indigenous peoples from the North to the South. The very same idea, borne of colonial exploits and fantasies of a global Spanish empire, served as the backbone of what would be a long and arduous journey to independence. But this was just the beginning.


A ravaged contradiction

Truly, the word Philippines conjures such contradictory images. Popular media “sells” the country as a hot tourist destination to foreigners. We are bombarded by images of native festivals and mundane activities like riding the jeepney. These images are crammed together in a postmodern pastiche ready for tourist consumption.

Our thirst for tourist-sourced cash has forced us to create a fantastical totality of spectacles with branding worthy of any corporate campaign: “It’s More Fun in the Philippines.” Filipinos openly support this exoticization of our land, if only to help bring in much needed cash for the tourism industry. It was also the nation’s way of letting the world know that it’s still there. Nothing could be more painful to a nation than to be forgotten by fellow nations. If we cannot offer the world the cultural artifacts of a bloody Cultural Revolution or the proud traditions of the samurai and sushi, then we could at least offer the image of a virgin land, ready to be ravaged. And ravaged we have become.

Filipinos are very “matiisin” or patient citizens. That which we fail to understand often becomes part of the ever-increasing background noise of life. A taxi driver once told me that he couldn’t read. “How do you manage?” I asked the man, as we drove along Mindanao Avenue. “I remember the shapes of the letters. I know what Entrance looks like, but I don’t understand what it means. I know what Exit looks like, but I can’t read it.” This taxi driver, a man in his forties perhaps, exemplified the type of adaptation that many Filipinos possess. He remembered the contours of his old enemy: the written word. He couldn’t understand the strings of letters but he knew what they looked like. He learned how to live with them. It wasn’t a particular easy life, but he managed.

There is plenty in our own country that we barely understand as citizens. We barely understand how our government works. We vote once every few years and after the results are given to us, we are at the mercy of the good Samaritans we thought we put in place. We chew on the promises of the politicos like tough pan de sal which has become gritty with the sand of poverty. Our children swallow the emptiness of governmental plunder and fraud, which makes the stomach hiss with acid and it is slowly burning their throats. We learn to walk with the beat up slippers of corruption and yet, we continue to trudge along, hopeful that one day, we’ll finally enjoy the pleasures of being a Filipino.


Becoming Filipino

Giorgio Agamben, an Italian Philosopher, wrote that Adolf Hitler’s “final solution” or the Holocaust was surprisingly systematic in the way it stripped people of their identity and rights. It is wrong to assume that Hitler abandoned political finesse when he ordered the extermination of the Jews and Gypsies.

Agamben states: “One of the few rules the Nazis constantly obeyed throughout the course of the “final solution” was that Jews and Gypsies could be sent to extermination camps only after having been fully denationalized. When their rights are no longer the rights of the citizen, that is when human beings are truly sacred.”[1]

The idea of “sacred life” is essential to our own idea of “becoming Filipino.” To become Filipino was not to fetishize the idea of a perfect Philippines nor to worship cultural icons like Rizal or Lapu-lapu. To do so would be to deny the realities of our existence. The cultural nationalism being force-fed in schools is constantly being reduced to its simplest parts.

The best way to suppress resistance is to ensure that destruction of history. History isn’t a textbook. History is the movement of peoples and the (non)resolution of societal conflicts. Despite the false consciousness being forced upon us by the state itself, we cannot deny poverty or hunger any more than we can deny that we desire for a better life.

The Filipino’s national consciousness has been described as fragmented and nonsensical. It has been accused of lacking depth and richness. But what could be richer than a never-ending dialectical struggle to uphold the sacredness of life? This is our nationalism. It is a kind of nationalism that evades sanitized academic categories in favor of “the Real.” Those who discredit this consciousness, which hinges itself in the daily struggle of social classes, are bound to fail.

A TV commercial goes: “para kanino ka bumabangon?” (For whom do you wake up?) Filipinos wake up for the ones they love the most. Filipino nationalism can be likened to Filipino love: fiery and fatalistic. Patay kung patay. If you love someone, you allow yourself to be consumed by love. You don’t let a third party waltz in and take your love away. You love with all your being, because no one else can love our nation like we do.


[1] This passage is found in the essay Beyond Human Rights in Agamben’s book Means Without End: Notes on Politics (University of Minnesota Press)



In literature and in real life, words and actions are interpreted as “acts” because they convey not only a message (content) but also expressions: protest, outrage, anger, love, happiness and so forth. Presumptive President-Elect Rodrigo Roa Duterte’s win over Poe, Roxas and Binay was a vote against blatantly elitist politics. It was an expression of protest and rebellion against an existing neoliberal system that repeatedly failed to deliver relief to the masses.


A vote for the unknown


To the middle classes and landowning classes, a vote for Duterte was not a “vote for change” but rather, a vote for the unknown. Digong did not have the feel or aura of Erap Estrada, which made him all the more threatening.  Erap Estrada had the aura of someone who was predictable. Digong on the other hand, included in his political discourse the possibility of reaching out to the Moro rebels and the New People’s Army. Jose Maria Sison, a senior consultant and founder of the CPP-NPA, was Digong’s professor at the Lyceum. As of this writing, Sison had already recommended the imprisonment of outgoing President Noynoy Aquino. Beyond his crass jokes and seeming carelessness in how he handled himself in public, little else is known about the local Davao politico. When Digong visited the Makati Business Club, he confused and worried most of his audience. He was described as “unsure” of what he wanted to do in his term. In a TV interview, a member of the MBC stated “maybe he wanted socialism, to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor? But people have to understand, it’s never free. Socialist countries have a very deep tax base.”


Let’s stop there because nothing could be less interesting than the campaign period. The campaign period, both real and in social media, was the product of calculated moves. The spectacle was manufactured and synthetic. A puppet show for the masses. A song and dance number to make you remember their names. Now that the election is about to reach its conclusion, it’s best to ask ourselves: did we commit a mistake in voting for Digong?


Oligarch vs. oligarch


If we were to examine the path that led to Digong’s victory and how he was embraced by the masses, we can easily see a vote for Digong was a protest vote against the neoliberal agenda. It was a vote against our continued dependence on the United States, the diluted efforts of the government to respond to basic needs of the people and it was also a vote against the oligarchic Aquinos. The point of contention here is the increase in support for BBM (Marcos). Was it amnesia that caused Filipinos to WANT a Marcos back in Malacanan Palace? It’s easy to fall back to a routine blame game where millennials are the target. However, voters come from all segments of society and abroad, older migrant workers voted for BBM. It should be understood in this context that a vote for Bongbong was a vote AGAINST the Aquinos. We have fallen into the trap of fighting the battle on behalf of another oligarchic family. Since Bongbong’s campaign focused on the act of forgetting, it was assimilated easily, because the act of forgetting the horrors of Martial Law was easier for the masses to accept than the act of remembering, which renewed the horrors for everyone. The binary of hope versus fear came into play. The genuine discourse of Martial Law was set aside in favor of the fantasy discourse of Bongbong, which followed the conventional design of promising everything to the masses.


Fantasy and myth-making


Digong’s win represented the utopian dreams of the Filipinos. We are already seeing how his presence is changing people’s behavior on a micro scale. People are attempting to discipline themselves and they are showcasing the idea of “change begins in the self.” Why? Because they are reproducing the fantasy in real life. The viral meme of the bus driver who said he can’t park just anywhere because “Digong might get angry” is proof of the reproducibility of the Digong discourse. The figure of Digong is being assimilated and reinvented so that it would matter to everyone, which is an interesting development because this hasn’t been the case for the past few presidencies. “Tatay Digong” as many would call him on social media, struck more than a handful of chords when he first appeared on national television as a messiah of sorts. Of course, he is not a messiah. He is a local politico, an ordinary man. What is bringing him right now to the peak of power in this land is the democratic will of the Filipinos.


And so we wait, with bated breath, how this small act against the neoliberal agenda will far against the external powers and structures that have controlled us since the Americans first took interest in our fair land.

Ang Mga Bagong Monumento

August 4, 2009

            Ang isa sa mga pekulyar na katangian ng mga monumento ay ang kawalan ng kasaysayan. Ang mga rebulto at iba pang mga monumento ng nasyon ay kailangang mawalan ng kasaysayan upang maging monumento. Sa ganitong paraan, maaari silang itayo sa isang lugar bilang dekorasyon; isang paalala na may particular na mga tao na nabuhay noon. Ganito rin ang nangyari sa mga popular na laman ng kasaysayan tulad ng Gomburza, Rizal, Bonifacio, etc. Nakikilala ang mga mukha at kung minsa’y nakikiliti ang imahinasyon. Ngunit sa huli ay ang mga monumento ay itinayo bilang isang paraan ng pagkalimot sa nakaraan.


            Sa Alemanya, mayroong isang malaking hukay sa isang eskinita roon. Isang malaking hukay lamang, upang ipaalala ang ilang mga pangyayari noong Holocaust. Sa kawalan, may kasaysayan. Mas maigi pa sana ang ganitong mga monumento. Masalimuot at nakakahiya mang isipin ang mga pangyayaring ipinaaalala ay may tunay na kuneksyon ito buhay ng nasyon, at ang mga taong nakapaloob rito.


            Ganito rin pag may mga sikat na taong pumapanaw. Nang buhay pa sila’y kaliwa’t kanan na batikos ang inaabot o kaya ay hindi naman sila talaga mahalaga pagdating sa mga politika. Ngunit pag sila’y biglang wala na, daig pa ang mga santo. Walang dapat magtaka sa ganitong uri ng “pagmomonumento”; kailangan tanggalin ang kasaysayan para mabuo ang rebultong walang katangian kundi maging isang simbolo. Kailangan patagin ang identidad, upang maging bahagi na ng kultural na nasyonalismo ng namumunong uri. Kailangang pabanguhin ang pangalan at ang imahe, upang ang dumi at dugo ng mga nakaraang taon ay mahugasan sa imahinasyon ng marami. Kailangan grandiyoso at hindi-makakalimutan ang pagbuo ng bagong monumento; sapagkat pagkatapos nito ay magkakaroon na rin ng dahilan para sa taunang paggunita. Dadaan ang mga taon at ang rebulto ay makakalimutan na; pero may mga papalit rito. Tulad ng mga batang nagpa-anod ng mga bangkang papel sa ilog na marungis, may mga tao sa kasaysayan ng lipunang Pilipino na magiging bahagi ng politikal na adyenda sa ngayon. Ngunit kapag naubos na ang init at ang monumento ay wala nang matatag na kuneksyon sa mga tao ay babaling ang atensyon sa pagbuo muli ng mga panibagong simbolo ng kagitingan.

            Sapagkat sa ganitong paraan lamang mananatiling buhay ang mitolohiya ng estado at ang fiyudal na sistema sa lipunang Pilipino.


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