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Recherche en sciences humaines sur l’Asie du Sud-Est

20 | 2012
Recherche en sciences humaines sur l'Asie du Sud-Est

The Insufficiency of Filipino

L’insuffisance de la nationalité philippine

p. 183-196

English Français
This essay is an exercise in the histoire des mentalités that traces the evolution of the
characteristic ethos in relation to State and nation in the Philippines. Whereas State-
propagated nationalism and associated rituals are inescapably present, these fail to evoke
the sense of belonging to a shared civil world. It seems as if the public sphere of the State and
the private sphere of everyday life do not articulate, which is practically enhanced by the
systematic exclusion of the ordinary citizen from the oligarchic political process. As it is
often expected that a civil society rooted in the emerging middle classes has the potential of
bridging the gap and of providing the cultural leadership that moulds the nation, the
evolution of their members’ ideas, from militant idealism to current self-centred morality,
will be brought into focus against the dynamics of the political economy and of a culture that
is increasingly divorced from the practice of everyday life.

Cet essai relève de « l’histoire des mentalités » et trace l’évolution du génie spécifique liant
l’état et la nation aux Philippines. Tout en étant bien présents, le nationalisme diffusé par
l’état et les rituels associés sont incapables de renvoyer à un sentiment d’appartenance à un
monde civil partagé. Tout se passe comme si la sphère publique de l’état et la sphère privée
de la vie quotidienne n’étaient pas coordonnées, ce qui – en pratique – est renforcé par
l’exclusion systématique du citoyen ordinaire d’un processus politique de type oligarchique.
Comme il est souvent attendu qu’une société civile enracinée dans les classes moyennes
émergentes ait le potentiel de combler l’écart et de produire le leadership culturel modelant
la nation, l’évolution des idées des membres de celle-ci – d’un idéalisme militant à l’actuelle
moralité nombriliste  – sera mise au grand jour, à l’opposé de la dynamique de l’économie
politique ainsi que d’une culture de plus en plus séparée de la vie quotidienne.
Entrées d’index
Mots-clés : histoire et identité philippines, nationalisme, oligarchie contre homme ordinaire,
société civile, classes moyennes, intervention culturelle américaine, instruction civique,
principes de construction sociale, histoire culturelle
Keywords : Philippine history and identity, nationalism, oligarchy versus common man, civil
society, middle classes, American cultural intervention, civics in school, principles of social
construction, cultural history

Texte intégral

1 According to Gomperts et al., Indonesia’s pre-war nationalist leaders understood
the need of historic symbols for legitimating a nation-state’s cultural and national
identity. Since they were fully aware of the emotional appeal of Majapahit, they
claimed it as the forerunner of a united Indonesia. Next to this, the authors even
assert that no nation can survive without knowledge of its historical past (2010). If
this is so, history has been most parsimonious in giving the Philippines its share, as
the first state on its soil was the result of Spanish imperialism. Even so, the colonial
history of the Islands must be deeply understood if we want to appreciate the
present, distinctive Filipino (Pinoy) way of life, and the festering problem of

The problem of nationhood

2 The depth of American cultural imperialism is demonstrated by the listlessness of
nation-building. In a country like Indonesia, the erasure of the humiliation of the
colonial past was not so much a priority as a matter of course, and it is
inconceivable that Indonesians would invoke Dutch imperialism to explain the
history and shape of their present nation-state. In the Philippines, however, the
Grant of Independence is still celebrated with the lowering of a conspicuous
American flag on the current hundred-peso bill, and the names of Taft, Harrison,
Lawton and the like live on. Even so, many places have been renamed after certain
national heroes and many more after not-so-heroic presidents, among whom the
name of Quezon leads the pack in obfuscating the history of provinces, towns,
villages, and streets.
3 Who cares? The very cultural imperialism that thwarts nation-building also
destroyed historical continuity, and so the sense of Philippine becoming was erased.
As a “modern”, American-educated nation, people should face forward and be
progress-oriented, basically agreeing with Henry Ford’s dictum “history is bunk.”
Even so, with or without history, certain circles recognised that the depth of the
colonial impact had led to the “mis-education of the Filipino” (Constantino 1966)
and a “colonial mentality” that kept inferiority feelings alive while blindly
accepting the superiority of anything Stateside. As a result, in 1972 the Marcos
dispensation proclaimed the Educational Development Decree that, among other
things, should remedy the “problem of nationhood.”
4 Subsequently, school teaching became bilingual, the soft subjects, such as social
studies, history, and civics henceforward to be taught in the vernaculars and
Filipino, and arithmetic, mathematics, and natural science in English. At the same
time, textbooks were developed that should instil self-conscious pride in being
Filipino (e.g., Mulder 2000: ch. 3). Since then, first graders must study the legal
complexities of citizenship, the panoply of national symbols, and a long list of
beauty spots and other geographical features of the country. The teaching of history
should emphasize 19th  century nationalism and the Revolution against the
oppressive Spaniards, even as the American rape of the First  Republic has to
compete with the new coloniser’s munificence. Thanks to Mother America, Filipinos
became literate, healthy, democrats, and citizens of the modern world. Upon
counting these blessings follow the Freedom Missions, the Commonwealth, and the
Grant of Independence in 1946, to which it is typically observed that the Grant
came at a time that the country lay in ruins, was wallowing in poverty, and had no
identity as a free nation.
5 Under the rule of Marcos, school education apparently did not succeed in
instilling a sense of nationhood, and so, in 1987, Senator Leticia Ramos-Shahani
proposed to conduct research into “the weaknesses of the character of the Filipino
with a view to strengthen the nation’s moral fibre.” It resulted in a report, Building
a People, Building a Nation, in which a panel of prominent intellectuals, among
other things, concluded that Filipinos show a deficiency of patriotism and
appreciation of their own country, and are not in sympathy with their government.
As a result and similar to the appeal of the Educational Development Decree, they
proposed that schools be tasked to propagate such values. Subsequently, in 1989,
Values Education became part of the national curriculum.
6 Regardless of social scientists holding values to be conclusions of experience and
practising teachers knowing that “values are caught, not taught”, schools are still
supposed to convince their wards that they should be proud of being Filipinos, love
their country, appreciate the good work of their government, and be willing to
sacrifice for the common welfare. Preferably, they should be law-abiding, too. At
the same time, the experience of poverty, injustice, and ineffective governance
drives many people away from their native soil.

7 As many columnists, educators and officials have it, the absence of vigorous
nationalism is at the root of all sorts of problems, and so, over the years, the phrase,
however often repeated, has got a hollow ring to it. The evocation of “nationalism”
as a blame-all could be related to the fact that in native Tagalog-Filipino the idea is
inherently vague. Consulting Fr. English’s Tagalog-English Dictionary, we find the
equivalence of nasyonalismo and pagkamakabayan, pagkamakabansa, diwang-
makabansa, pag-ibig sa bayang-tinubuan o inang-bayan. Because love for country is
often thought to be love of its state, one may find the equivalency of estado and
bansa, bayan, and pamahalaan, and with this hotchpotch we may have come to the
source of the convenient vagueness of the term.
8 Roughly translated, the aforementioned notions of nationalism may be rendered
as “to be pro-country”, “to be pro-nation”, “to be pro-nation-spirited”, “to love one’s
native soil” or “to love mother-land”; at the same time, state becomes people/nation,
country, and regime/government. Such equivalences bedevil the subject, even as it
would not take a sociology sophomore much effort to disentangle the mess. When a
movement in the southern Philippines calls itself Bangsa Moro, it clearly sees itself
as the spokesman for the Moro Nation, that is, a grouping of people on the basis of
the idea of sharing history and identity. In brief, bangsa or bansa refers to
Anderson’s felicitous term “imagined community” (1983). Naturally, the Bangsa
Moro movement aspires to run its people’s own affairs in their homeland or bayan.
9 It is not that Tagalog-Filipino totally ignores such shades of meaning as it refers to
nationality as kabansaan or “sharing in a fellow bansa”, at the same time that
pagkamamamayan refers to belonging to a certain place (bayan), and thus means
citizenship. Next to these, we have the idea of “state”, that is, of a territory (bayan)
under a government that holds sway over the people (bansa) living there. This very
condition of lordship, however, tells us nothing about people’s loyalty to that state
or about their eventual identification with it.
10 Historically, nationalism as identification with the state is a recent phenomenon
that was consciously fostered in 19th  century Europe as a means of building the
strength of the state through popular identification with its regime. Subsequently, it
became possible to mobilize the populace to celebrate their state and to wage war
in its name for whatever reason, because “right or wrong, my country. ” At bottom,
such blind loyalty to the state has nothing “natural” to it, but is the result of the
propaganda of the owners of the state. For such nationalism to arise, it needs to be
propagated and taught, but if people distrust the message and do not accept it
wholeheartedly, the citizens will not identify with state or regime, and their loyalty
cannot be expected.
11 In order to impress on first-graders their belonging to the nation-state, they have,
in step with the American example, to study an array of national symbols. Whereas
the flag is a powerful one among these, emblems such as the bangus (milkfish) as
the national fish fail to arouse positive emotions. More amazing is it to claim the
lechon (roast pig) as the national food, as it arrogantly excludes the Moslems, and
the poor, to boot. Next to these identity markers, we find the endless repetition of
certain ceremonies. Schooldays begin with raising the flag (that in many cases was
struck half-an-hour earlier), singing the anthem (right hand on the heart), and
reciting the nationalistic vow. Following in this track, all sorts of meetings, from a
social of the tennis club to the deliberations of the Senate, go through this ritual, in
which obligatory prayer takes the place of the nationalistic vow. Depending on their
schedule, people may have to endure this rigmarole up to five times a day, and so
one wonders whether its deeper meaning has not worn thin. In the place of my
research, the flag was up day and night at the town hall, and so it was at the
provincial high school. This apathy corresponds with the disinterest in national
days, such as Bonifacio Day, Rizal Day, Heroism or Bataan Day, Independence Day,
National Heroes Day, etc., that merely remind people of the closure of banks,
schools and offices, and the leisure to clean the house. For all that, most are happily
unaware that such days have been created to celebrate the State and evoke the
spirit of nationalism.

The Filipino way

12 The lack of enthusiasm for celebrating the nation-state contrasts with the days
that express Filipino-ness and exemplify Pinoy civilisation. The days in mind are
Christmas, Holy Week, Flores de Mayo, All Saints’ Day, and the town fiesta, and
special occasions, such as the common outpouring of grief at Corazón Aquino’s
demise (2009), the massive sympathetic mourning after Flor Contemplacion’s
execution in 1995 in Singapore (Rafael 2000: 212-27), or when world-class boxer
Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao defends his title; then roads are deserted and
everybody is glued to the box. These are the real national days that, like Pacman’s
victories, evoke identification with the nation or bansa. A state that commemorates
itself stages a military parade; national community, however, is expressed through
pride in sporting events or the victory of a beauty queen, and the emotions sparked
by popular religious observances. Then people spontaneously express their
belonging to each other and their way of life.
13 The problem is not, as ever so often stated, that Filipinos do not love their native
land or are reluctant to identify with its people. They do, much the same as almost
everybody in this world. They are willing to sacrifice themselves for its welfare as
overseas’ workers in the “prison without bars” of the Middle-East. Sure, they do not
do so for the Republic, however often the latter hails them as “heroes of the nation”,
but in order to keep their loved ones afloat in a country that does not offer any
prospects. In brief, it is not a shortage of love for the native land, but a deficit of
confidence in the State and the class that runs it. So, when a regime is distrusted,
schools may propagate all the national symbols they can muster, but, in the absence
of credible national leadership, to no avail.
14 As a result, Filipino-ness is expressed in its “little-traditional” forms, and not in
symbols that stand for history and nation-state. Filipino-ness belongs to home and
community. It is there that one finds the shared and distinctive representations of
the Filipino ethos; these emblems belong to individual families and communities,
such as the diplomas on the wall, graduation pictures, the cute Santo Niño, the
serene Lady of Lourdes or the stark Mother of Perpetual Help, the plaza with its
diminutive Rizal statue, the town hall and church, the basketball court, the band,
the bus waiting shed, the fiesta and processions. All of these do not refer to an
exemplary centre; they refer to nothing more than themselves. Up to the present,
therefore, Filipino civilisation is expressed in a concrete style of life rather than in
the abstract sense of an encompassing nation-state.
15 Naturally, this “little-traditional” scope is reflected in the principles of social
construction of the lowlanders who trace descent bilaterally and whose religious
imagination mirrors their kinship organisation (Mulder 1997: ch. 2). In their view,
the social arrangement is a moral edifice based on family ties, the “sacred” position
of parents, hierarchy and the essential inequality of individuals who are obliged (or
not) to each other through “debts of gratitude” that spell their tangible life world. In
the absence of an alternative, sociological understanding, they experience their
moral inequality as a matter-of-course. As a result, the social studies-curriculum is
devoid of a discussion of the concepts of civil society and democratisation, other
than vague statements about the equality of citizens according to the Constitution
that is repeatedly invoked as the Mariang Makiling- or Godot-like saviour of the
nation (Mojares 2002: 1-19).
16 Experience-near existence shades off into the not-morally-obliging space that
appears as the property of others, of politicians, officials, landlords and economic
power-holders. Whereas this area may be seen as “public in itself”, it is not
experienced as “of the public” or “for itself”. It is the vast territory where “men of
prowess” (Wolters: 1999: 18-9) compete for power as the highly admired social good
(King 2008: 177). For the vast majority, however, the public domain is an anarchy of
impersonal and thus a-moral relationships where one ventures—if at all—to serve
one’s political and economic well-being. It is the area reported about in the
newspaper and other mass media that provide the ephemeral images and scandals
by which it is, often deceptively, substantiated.
17 In this time of mass media, with a television set in almost every home, it is the
pseudo culture of simulacra à la Baudrillard (1988) that pervasively dominates the
media. Even as politics hold the pride of place, it is consumed as a kind of spectator
sport that offers no serious competition to the lowest-common-denominator
programmes broadcast country-wide. Hence, everyday culture radiating from the
centre offers little to hold on to. Through the interminable bombardment of fleeting
symbols and messages, people are anaesthetized against nationalism and
identification with the State, against the ideals of active citizenship, and against the
hope for the rule of law. They know that politics is too much talk and little
substance, so why waste one’s time through speculating about the desirable state of
affairs? As a result, people feel that they had better focus on survival, the safety of
their family, and the consolation of religion.
18 At this point, it may be appropriate to note that religion, as a keystone of
individual identity, has been patently prospering in Southeast Asia, and so in the
Philippines, since the 1960s, and promises to be going strong for a long time to
come (Mulder 2003: ch. 9; Willford et al. 2005: introduction). Even as this religious
drive is individual-centred in confirming a person’s moral worth, such religiously
driven righteousness can also exert not to be underestimated pressure on those
who hold political power. It was the Church’s appeal that played an important role
in the mass demonstrations against Presidents Marcos and Estrada, similar to
religion being the driving force that ousted the Shah in 1978, and a key factor in
President Suharto’s resignation in 1998 and the subsequent ascendancy of Moslem
leader Abdurrahman Wahid. In Thailand, the neo-Buddhist Major-General
Chamlong Srimuang of the Force of Righteousness Party brought down Prime
Minister General Suchinda Khraprayoon in 1992, and possibly protesting Buddhist
monks are more effective than Aung San Suu Kyi in undermining the Burmese

Changing middle stratum

19 Whatever the changes in lifestyles and world view of the members of the
educated middle classes, we should bear in mind that they are exemplary to the
rest of the populace. They are the producers, disseminators, and consumers of
mainstream and alternative ideas; they are the mainstay of public opinion, and
their milieu is the matrix of ideas about the desirable order of society. For a while,
in the 1960s and during the late-Marcos and early-Aquino years, progressive and
nationalist ideas emanating from their quarters appeared to fire the public
imagination. Nowadays, however, in a globalizing world, the nation seems to have
been lost sight of, at the same time that primordial and professional bonds give
reason to behaviour.
20 If we compare with the long period of the gestation of the idea of “our nation-
state” in neighbouring Indonesia—pertinently present as of 1900, then
institutionalising in the 1910s and 1920s in the Budi Utomo and Sarekat Islam
associations, and from the 1920s onward in political platforms—then post-colonial
nationalism in the Philippines has been no more than a flash in the pan. In 1946,
when “sovereignty” was granted, the country was willingly more dependent on the
USofA than during pre-war days. Whereas, in the 1950s, this was emphatically
protested by politicians like Claro M. Recto and Lorenzo v. Tañada, the historian
Teodoro A. Agoncillo, and the social-activist author Amado v. Hernandez, their
nationalism was not widely understood, even as toward the end of the decade then
President Carlos P. Garcia initiated a “Filipino-First” economic policy. Altogether,
these early stirrings resulted in the efflorescence of nationalistic, social-
emancipatory, and anti-authoritarian movements in the 1960s that went
underground after the declaration of Martial Law on the 21st of September 1972.
21 Following the assassination of Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino on 23  August 1983, the
ideas of the sixties resounded again throughout society. As the former students had
meanwhile become professional, this was most vociferously the case in their
demonstrations in the business heart of Makati City and in the ever more audacious
opposition press. When Marcos’s shenanigans came to a head that catapulted
Ninoy’s widow Corazon to the presidency in February 1986, it seemed as if social
reconstruction was within arm’s reach. It didn’t last, and if people on the
progressive side were still in doubt, the Mendiola massacre of peasant
demonstrators toward the end of January 1987 made it abundantly clear that the
now-restored oligarchy called the shots. Even so, the formers’ intellectual heritage
lived on through the early nineties in a lively NGO scene and the alternative press,
but politically the idealists had been marginalized and henceforward their ideas
were irrelevant to the public agenda.
22 Meanwhile, they have been replaced by a vast generation of professionals who,
as Martial Law babies, went to school under the dictatorship. As this was a time of
state developmentalism, it induced a career-orientation in the students that has
continued into the present. Their formal education was and is precariously low on
social science and humanities content; at best they are oriented to future progress,
resulting in generations that tend to be socially inattentive and devoid of a sense of
history. This runs parallel to the sea change in technology that has overwhelmed
their experience of life. As McLuhan commented in now far-off 1964, the medium is
the message, and new media, new “extensions of man», new sources of power,
production, and efficiency irreversibly change the world and with it, mentality.
23 If momentarily concentrating on these media, we note that, in the wake of the
idealistic 1960s, television intruded into every home, and as it did, it banished
books. Gradually, the calculator and, later, the bar-code expelled mental arithmetic.
In the early 1980s, the computer came of age and revolutionised information and
communication technology, at the same time that stereo and, later, videoke, drove
out the guitar; in the 1990s, the internet and e-mail picked up, and since it has
become rare to see someone lick a postage stamp. From the early 2000s on, people
have become cell-phone addicts. When we reflect on the effects of these changing
media on the way we live and imagine life to be, we’ll realise that it is an abyss that
separates the 1960s with its belief in social constructability from the present.
24 In those recent olden days of the 1960s, it appeared as if there was some integrity
between the Filipino way of life and the way it was thought to be. Nowadays,
however, the outside world seems to have been disconnected from experience as
people have to go by industrially and foreign produced images. With television and
its illusions, they entered a pseudo-reality in which it becomes increasingly
problematic to separate the real from the fantastic. As a result, people stick to their
identity-confirming inner circle and hold on to their career, as all of us are finally
experiencing Buddha’s truth that life out there is maya, delusory, indeed.

Civil society?
25 Ever since, in the 1920s, Filipinos got leeway to run their affairs, the public
sphere has been the arena of traditional or money politics, presided over by, first,
the colonial and, later, the neo-colonial oligarchy. The members of this class regard
the country as their private preserve and exploit it to their advantage;
consequently, they have and had no interest in creating a vibrant public of
participating citizens. As a result, ideas about the public or common welfare miss a
broad social basis, at the same time that the public realm is perceived as the field of
contest of political and economic interests. For most people, therefore, it is a sphere
to defend oneself against or to take advantage of, as one’s real life and identity
belong elsewhere.
26 This concurs with the experience of contemporary mass society in which people
do not actively participate; they are simply there, much as one is in a forest without
participating in nature. In contrast with the activist student generation of the 1960s,
the new urban middle stratum is not eager to be involved in “public” affairs.
Besides, these days such affairs are obfuscated by the permanent bombardment of
messages that emphasize the importance of individual lifestyles and consumption.
So, whereas the mass demonstrations that finished Presidents Marcos and Estrada
evoked the image of a vigilant civil society, deeper analysis shows that it were
hegemonic interests that engineered public opinion. Accordingly, occasional
popular mobilisation occurs “in the name of civil society” rather than as its product
(Hedman 2006).
27 Apart from this, where would a vigorous civil society hail from? In the 1980s and
1990s, with the efflorescence of all sorts of cause-oriented groups and NGOs, people
were easily led to believe in the vitality of civic consciousness, at the same time that
the very proliferation of such groups demonstrated their basic flaw, often joked
about as, “Two Filipinos is two NGOs. ” To get people to stick to a cause or a
program, even when it is clearly to their advantage, is almost impossible as long as
they remain leading-personality oriented and as perennial interpersonal rivalries
keep them from making common cause. No need to say that this quality easily
reduces them to playthings of power-holders and their divide-and-rule tactics.
28 There is more to this. A vigorous civil society as a watchdog against political
horse-play and economic manipulation can only flourish if it has a vast recruitment
base of well-educated and critical people. Even as there are quite a few of such
citizens, we should realise, as Anderson cautioned in 1988, that the educated
middle stratum of Philippine society is being haemorrhaged through emigration,
mostly to the USA, and so fails to develop into a significant competitor of the
oligarchy (1998: 212).
29 Ergo, in the absence of a significant civil opponent, the Philippine State is hostage
to the political and business interests of oligarchs that have no stake in
strengthening it; on the contrary, through loop holing the Constitution and a highly
personalised political system, corruption has consciously been built in (Villacorte
1987). As a result, politics is held in low esteem at the same time that public life is
subject to interests over and against which the citizens feel powerless.

30 In view of this situation, there is little cause for wonder that most people
doggedly pursue their own course irrespective of others (kanya-kanya). In a way,
this agrees with the propagation of consumerism that stimulates people to acquire
the status symbols that mark their individuality. In other words, where society is
lost sight of, its component members come to the fore, and so the focus of public life
is on outstanding, single individuals, rather than on the impersonal “generalised
other” or something as intangible as the public interest.
31 At present, the social life of the nation is appreciably open to the world, and has
become part of a post-national global environment that is not subject to any
ideology or ethical system other than the rules of political and economic
expediency. Because of people’s dependence on it for survival and advancement, it
intrudes into private life, which may give cause to frustration. Subsequently, they
express their grumbling in newspaper columns and letters to the editor, in values
education courses, in sermons and exhortatory speeches that all emphasize
decency, sacrifice, and personal virtue as the well-springs of good society. This self-
centred orientation leads away from legal or ideological attempts to come to grips
with the public world that remains hidden in vagueness. It is there to watch, not to
actively participate in. As a result, only minimal demands on the state and economy
can be expected to emanate from the new urban middle stratum.
32 This moral self-centeredness dovetails conveniently with the interests of the
state-owning class. Its introduction of values education in order to improve the
quality of public life seamlessly connected with its roots in family and person-
centred morals. Later on, this thinking resounded in the repeated appeals for moral
reform that emanated from then President Arroyo. Whereas suchlike social
imagination necessarily fails to come to grips with society-in-the-abstract, it may be
soothing to the individual soul. One may even argue that it comes timely in a
borderless world that leaves the person thrown back on the comprehensible,
identity confirming areas of experience, such as family and religion.

Culture of the ruling class

33 In establishing their dominion, the Spaniards were successful in co-opting the
former chieftains (datu) and the upper echelon of freemen (maharlika) of the
disparate communities (baranggay). Through creating this privileged stratum of
native principalía as their henchmen and the old wisdom of divide and rule, the
separation of the political class from the common people evolved from early
colonial times. Through the imperial policy of gathering the population “under the
bells”, these original principalía became the kernel of urban, i.e., of pueblo society.
34 A separate class of people that evolved in and around Manila were the Chinese
who were attracted by the opportunities the colonial emporium held in store. Many
of them took native Christian wives, so that by the time the Chinese were expelled
from the Islands (1766), a considerable number of Chinese-Filipino mestizos could
step into their fathers’ shoes. Entrepreneurially minded, they came to dominate the
retail trade of the Islands and seized on the opportunities—just as exponents of the
principalía did—the commercialisation of agriculture and the opening up of the
country to world trade offered.
35 Since a measure of political clout and money attract each other, the two classes
fused and, as the 19th  century proceeded, their intermixture gave birth to the
identifiable ancestors of the current state-owning elite (Simbulan 2005). In the last
quarter of the century, this highly successful middle class had begun to send some
of its male offspring to the venues of higher education in the colony and the mother
country, giving rise to a stratum of Hispanicized intellectuals, the so-called
ilustrados, who matured as the vanguard of Filipino nationalism.
36 If these “enlightened ones” would have had it their way, and if the Americans had
not betrayed the Revolution, it could have been that their incipient cultural
leadership would have created a transcendent national ideology that could unite
Filipinos as a nation. What comes to mind in this respect are the works of José Rizal,
the ruminations on the State of Apolinario Mabini, the ideas of Pedro Paterno, T.H.
Pardo de Tavera, and Isabelo de los Reyes as “the brains of the nation” (Mojares
2006), Lope K. Santos’s dream of social justice as unfolded in his then widely-read
Banaag at Sikat (“from early dawn to full brilliance”, 1906), the authors of the
hugely popular nationalistic or “seditious” theatre plays, and the establishment of
the schismatic Iglesia Filipina Independiente.
37 It would not be. We noted the emergence of a hybrid native middle class and
should be aware of the pettiness of its political position. Hence, when this
bourgeoisie joined Aguinaldo’s Revolution, most of its members did so in the hope
of combining their economic acumen with political influence; at the same time, the
majority of them was not interested in ilustrado idealism. As the realists they were,
they would soon accommodate to the new American overlord who was, in fact,
generous in dispensing political opportunity. When, in the 1920s, the lease to the
new master was relaxed, they stormed ahead in plundering the country’s resources,
as if they had never heard of the idea of the common welfare (Anderson 1998: 202-
3). If there was such an idea at all, it was the Commonwealth with the United States
that beckoned.
38 With the Grant of Independence in 1946, we witness the, at least for South-East
Asia, curious spectacle of a privileged class that had always been subservient to its
masters becoming the tutelary heir to the latter’s power. As a colonial creation, it is
colonial history that legitimizes the present oligarchy that has long lost its roots
among the ordinary folks. Largely mestizo and culturally oriented to the world of
the West, its members do not feel to have more in common with the ordinary
people than the vernacular to give orders in. As a consolidated, privileged class,
whose power has been used to protect its landed and other interests, it stands in
opposition to those its members refer to as the “common tao” (people).
39 In other words, if there is a problem of nationhood or an absence of identification
with the common weal, the problem should be pinned on the country’s oligarchy.
Repeatedly, the ordinary people have expressed their desire to partake in the
country’s course and destiny. Think of the efflorescence of the Katipunan that
initiated the Revolution of 1896, the socialist and communist movements of the
American period, the popularity of the Democratic Alliance (1945), the hope of the
masa expressed in the elections of Magsaysay (1954) and Cory Aquino (1986), the
landslide victory of “Erap” Estrada (1998), and his 30% of the vote in 2010, but
whatever the hopes of the ordinary folk, they would persistently be betrayed by the
state-owning class that is averse to their emancipation and nationalism. Let
everybody in the land express their belonging through watching a glorious
Pacquiao, but the humble “common tao” should stay clear of politics and the affairs
of State, even as they are allowed to cast their vote.
40 With the elite’s power of determining the contents of the mandatory curriculum,
school teaching keeps it this way. The course outline of the subject of “History and
Government” is political through and through, and should build up to having an
independent state with sovereignty, three branches of government, and foreign
relations. To anticipate this situation and long before contact with Spain,
primordial communities are said to be ánd Filipino ánd to possess all of these,
which implies that there was nothing to learn or that the continuous process of
change and becoming does not apply in the Islands. People there had a high
civilisation, even wrote down [some of] their laws as the baranggay chieftain (datu)
lorded it over the thirty to one hundred families of his jurisdiction. So, long before
Montesquieu formulated the Trias Politica (1748), the datu is said to be invested
with legislative, executive and juridical power, at the same time that he is the head
of the armed forces. This is very much in the image of the absolute monarch who
proclaimed “l’état, c’est moi” (the state, that’s me) or of somebody like Marcos, the
usurper of freedom and rights, and ordinary dictator.
41 The school’s approach to history and government is crammed with this type of a-
historical and irresponsible statements, at the same time that it keeps the becoming
of the state-owning class meticulously out of sight. Instead of presenting the
cultural history of the slow evolution of a potential nation—an endeavour that
would connect the past to the present—political chronology takes over. Through
chopping up in seemingly unconnected episodes, such as the Spanish colonial State,
the Revolution of 1896, the Philippine-American War, the blessings of American
colonialism and the Commonwealth, the Japanese Occupation, Liberation, and
Independence, continuity and becoming are lost sight of. As if to highlight this rape
of history, the last period is presented through individual presidential reigns,
Martial Law, New Republic, the EDSA demonstrations of 1986 that undid Marcos,
more reigns, the EDSA demonstrations of 2001 that ousted Estrada, and President
Arroyo’s administration.
42 Because this periodisation highlights transient affairs, observations on the period
of Independence read like a newspaper. Some texts are adamant that politics is
powered by opportunism, corruption and shady deals—in which sense the picture
of a rotten society is no different from that in the mandatory course of Values
Education. In spite of such occasional realism, all texts must enumerate every
president’s noble intentions that, alas, invariably come to naught, even as it is never
explained why this is so.
43 On the basis of so much “legitimate symbolic violence” (Bourdieu, Passeron 1977:
13-5, 24-5), it becomes well-nigh impossible to understand social life, let alone to
identify with the nation and its past. So, if, theoretically, school should foster a
sense of self that comes to include the wider community, we may safely conclude
that the way it shapes this demand makes it impossible to imagine that one, as a
student, is personally involved. Besides, at the same time that much attention is
devoted to the birth of ilustrado and popular nationalism in the period preceding
the Revolution, the present invocation of Rizal, Bonifacio, and Mabini is no better
than evoking phantoms of the past that are safely on the far side of the watershed
event of the American occupation. Ironically, current Indonesian school texts still
refer to Rizal, the Revolution and the First  Republic as exemplary for the
awakening of (anti-colonial) nationalism in Asia.

National transcendence?
44 In spite of all the phraseology about “nationhood”, “moral recovery”, and the
underdevelopment of “nationalism”, there is nothing that reminds of a national
doctrine other than silly lists of national symbols and beauty spots, and ever-
repeated anthem singing and flag-raising. The contrast with Indonesia’s Panca Sila
ideology and Thailand’s theory of The Three Institutions is striking, as these
teachings clearly evoke an exemplary centre that lends legitimacy to the
institutions of the State and that sets certain parameters within which national
discourses can thrive. They also eventuated in Indonesians and Thai identifying
with their nation-states as matters-of-course.
45 As far as the Philippines goes, it is a could-have-been, as the institution of the
State has never been held in great esteem. Colonial in its origins, its contempt for
and exploitation of the populace couldn’t lend it much legitimacy. If anything, the
State was something to stay away from or to take advantage of. Accordingly, its local
representatives, the principalía, developed a political culture of artfulness and
deceit in balancing the demands of a powerful overlord with their own interests
(Corpuz 1989: xii-iii). When they were finally put to the task of organizing the State
on their own, they duly wrote the foundational ideas of People’s Sovereignty,
Justice, Separation of Powers, Popular Representation, and (quality) Education in its
charter. However, since all or most of these are no better than figments of a foreign
imagination, they were never taken seriously, and so, when Marcos’s remarkable
predecessor, Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon, established himself as a
virtual dictator, he held no scruples about editing the 1935 Constitution to his liking
(McCoy 1989).
46 Since then, a perennial deficit of popular endorsement, poor performance, and
political manipulation prevented the institutions of the State, such as the President,
Congress, and the Supreme Court, to develop into shining, transcendent centres of
the nation. As a result, there is little high-cultural substance to overarch the little-
traditional way of life of the general public. The only nation-wide institution that
could possibly qualify is the Church, but few are those who would point to the
Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines as an authoritative centre, not only
because it dirties its hands in politics or because of its unpopular position regarding
reproductive health, but most particularly because church-life belongs to the parish
and its local traditions.
47 Arguably, History is the great institution of a nation-state for sanctioning its
identity. It is the source of emotive symbols that lend pride and reason to the
present as the presumptive continuation of a semi-mythic past. Even so, whereas
the Indonesians have their Majapahit and the Thai their Sukhothai, American
imperialism cheated the Philippines of the glory of being the first Asian nation to
defeat, seven years ahead of Japan, a Western power—an event that inspired
nationalists from Sun Yat Sen to Sukarno. Unfortunately, the Americans kept the
humiliation of being a colony alive at the same time that they were over-eager to
denigrate the country’s cultural past and relegate it to the dustbin of irrelevance.
Through creating, in Nick Joaquin’s metaphor, a lettered generation of people
without fathers and grandfathers, or, in the colonial trope, Little Brown Brothers,
culture and history were aborted, and with it confidence and pride in identity and
continuity. In brief, American aggression and tutelage brought about a cultural
48 The history of the Philippines begins with the Spanish conquista, and if we keep
our focus on this political event, history has given the Filipinos a bad deal. Political
history, however, is ephemeral; it is like the events of the day in the newspaper that
serves to wrap salted fish the day after. If we want history to cohere, we have to be
aware of the spirit of the times, of intentions and motivations. Since these
constitute the gist of history, we had better follow Febvre’s call for tracing the
evolution of the ways of thinking and experiencing of the common man, the elite
and other relevant groups (1973). When we follow this advice, we will find the
relevance of the past to understanding current existence. What began with the
introduction of the plough and new crops, the wheel and the horse, Catholicism and
the printing press, and the opening of the country to Asia and the world, had its
repercussions on mentality and eventually aroused the spirits of popular, ilustrado
and elitist nationalisms, the idea of Filipino identity, and ideas on how to give these
shape in a free country.
49 It is regrettable to note that already in the days of the successful Revolution
against Spain, the nationalist potential of all and sundry imagining to belong
together was effectively debilitated. Firstly, through the liquidation of the popular
Katipunan leader Andres Bonifacio soon after the petty bourgeois leadership of
Aguinaldo had effectively taken over. Then, through the blatant self-serving nature
of most members of the leading class (e.g., Guerrero 1982). Thirdly, through the
explicit exclusion of the common people when the principalía set up their Malolos
Republic (1898-99) that, fourthly, lorded it over the populace so abusively that many
became nostalgic of the Spanish past (ib.: 175-79). No wonder that at the time the
Republic was fighting the Americans, many of the ordinary citizens turned their
back on it and even offered organised resistance, such as the Guardia de Honor in
Pangasinan. As a result, there is no cause for wonder that, in 1902, the peasantry of
Palanan, Isabela, had no scruples in delivering the Republic’s President Aguinaldo
to the Americans after he had sought refuge there (Joaquin 1988: ch. 10).
50 Apart from the endemic split between the haves and the have-nots, the equally
endemic opportunism of most of the erstwhile republican leadership made them
side with the Americans as soon as they recognised which side their bread was
buttered on. Whereas popularly based pockets of resistance against the new
supremacy held out until 1912, the Americans had little trouble in dousing the
principalía’s nationalist impetus, firstly through opening up political and economic
opportunity, then through saturating the privileged class with American-style
modernity and school education.
51 What remained, in spite of the American steamroller, was and is the Pinoy way of
life with its multitude of distinctive features, in which we recognize and the deep
past, and Spanish cuisine and Catholicism, American fast-food, coke and historical
obfuscation, and the inescapable onslaught of ever new media. Even so, in spite of
these vicissitudes, there is much more continuity in the epic of Philippine becoming
over the last 500  years than between the heyday of Majapahit and present-day
Indonesia. This continuity demonstrates a certain national transcendence and a
culturally colonial past that can usefully serve to create the sense of nation, such as
plausibly pioneered by Corpuz, Joaquin, and Zialcita.
52 When we train our attention on the history of the political-economy, however,
we’ll see that, under whatever regime, a consolidated, privileged class developed
whose interests are opposed to those of the common people. As the modern day
principalía, they have no interest in providing the cultural leadership an imagined
community needs to refer to. In this they are supported by a social imagination that
is myopically focussed on the immediate experience of life and media that almost
exclusively centre on political personalities.

The insufficiency of nationhood

53 The insufficiency of Filipino nationhood lies in its failure to mould the population
into an organic whole or an encompassing moral order in which people imagine
that they belong together. In the absence of a shared narrative of collective
emancipation that ties private life to an authoritative centre of nationhood, we find
two nations in the independent Philippine State, that is to say, the largely mestizo
elite and the “common tao.” Since these “nations” cannot articulate, it keeps all and
sundry—inclusive of the members of the new middle classes—from identifying
with the whole and prevents them from developing into a nation of responsible
citizens. As a result, nation building remains a task stretching way into the future.
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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier
Niels Mulder, « The Insufficiency of Filipino Nationhood », Moussons, 20 | 2012, 183-196.

Référence électronique
Niels Mulder, « The Insufficiency of Filipino Nationhood », Moussons [En ligne], 20 | 2012, mis en
ligne le 27 novembre 2012, consulté le 29 janvier 2020. URL :
http://journals.openedition.org/moussons/1690 ; DOI : 10.4000/moussons.1690

Niels Mulder
Niels Mulder has retired to the southern slope of the mystically potent Mt. Banáhaw, Philippines,
where he stays in touch through niels_mulder201935@yahoo.com.ph.

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