Untying Filipino nationalism

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)


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