Hummus, kimchi and the West Philippine Sea

EYES WIDE OPEN - Iris Gonzales (The Philippine Star) - April 15, 2021 - 12:00am

Hummus, made of chickpeas, tahini sauce and squeezed lemon juice, is considered a symbol of tensions in the Middle East.

Israel and Lebanon are both claiming hummus as their national dish, a reflection of their strong sense of national pride.

I remembered these so-called hummus wars when I was in Lebanon last year, in a charming restaurant surrounded by war-torn buildings in downtown Beirut, devouring the best hummus I’ve ever tried.


And then there’s the battle over kimchi.

Nobody is doubting that the fiery pickled condiment is South Korea’s national dish, but last year, China said that its pao cai, a similarly fermented dish, is the international standard for making kimchi.

This was after China gained the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for pao cai, insisting that the new standard proves that the country had set an “industry benchmark” for “the international pao cai market,” according to the Korea JoongAng Daily.

In the Chinese language, pao cai includes kimchi.

The debate over which country is the home of kimchi has angered South Koreans. A South Korean newspaper called China’s claim to kimchi as “its latest bid for world domination.”

Imagine that – Lebanon and Israel are passionately defending their right over hummus while South Korea is standing up against China over pickled cabbage.

In stark contrast, here in the Philippines, we are so deeply divided we can’t even unite to defend the West Philippine Sea which is rightfully ours.

It is the livelihood of our fishermen, the future of our fisheries sector – which contributes 3.6 percent to the country’s economy – and potentially our oil and gas resources that are at stake here. Yet, we hesitate to defend it.

Why, for instance, did the spokesperson of the Armed Forces of the Philippines react the way he did when ABS-CBN journalist Chiara Zambrano and her crew reported on the presence of Chinese navy ships in our territory?

AFP spokesperson Marine Major General Edgard Arevalo said: “While we understand the journalists’ insatiable desire to be ahead in reporting, we appeal to them to exercise prudence in the course of their job.”

The question Arevalo should be asking is this – what were the Chinese boats doing there?

Many on social media echoed Arevalo’s statement, questioning the ABS-CBN News team’s motive, with some even accusing it of aggravating tensions between the Philippines and China.

They’re missing the point and it is appalling and heartbreaking.

The Philippine vessel was sailing 100 nautical miles from Palawan, well within our exclusive economic zone (EEZ). Isn’t it ironic that Filipinos are harassed by Chinese vessels within our territory?

1SAMBAYAN, the group led by former Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio, is urging all Filipinos to strongly oppose China’s creeping encroachment of the Philippine EEZ in the West Philippine Sea.

This we must do, indeed. As a country, we may be perennially divided on many issues, but the story of the West Philippine Sea, one of the biggest threats to our sovereignty, should easily unite us.

Sadly, that is not what’s happening and the question begs to be asked. Where is our sense of nationalism?

Why does it feel like we are still in the hands of our colonizers who have pitted us against each other using the tried and tested divide-and-conquer playbook?

The Filipino nationalist

The Philippines has a storied past and it’s partly the reason why we lack a strong sense of nationalism. The influence of our conquistadores has resulted in the diffusion of our values and identity.

In establishing their dominion, the Spaniards, for instance, created the native principalía. They made the local chieftains their henchmen, separating the political class from ordinary folks, successfully dividing the country into classes.

Cultural imperialism

And then there’s cultural imperialism – think Hollywood movies and Texas-style burgers – an opioid of sorts that seduced us and thwarted our nation-building efforts early on.

Filipino historian Renato Constantino said it best when he noted that the depth of the colonial impact had led to the “miseducation of the Filipino.”

The result of all these is the lack of Filipino nationhood which, in turn, failed to mold the populace into imagining a self-sufficient nation that is truly for the Filipino.

And so we fail, in times like this, to collectively defend what is ours and to stand up against the enemy. But let us stop being slaves of our colonial past.

It’s not too late to show our love for our country, especially with this glaring encroachment on our territory, which will affect not just our place in history, but also our economic and political future.

It’s certainly more than just a dish like hummus and kimchi.

Indeed, to be a Filipino nationalist is to embrace in one’s being that fervor to fight for our country and everything in it – its territory, its culture, its people, our hopes and dreams. What could be wrong with that?

Let that resolve burn in our hearts. Let our voices be heard, now more than ever, and let our collective might be strong enough to show the world that, as we say in our national anthem, this land of the morning is a cradle of noble heroes and never shall invaders trample thy sacred shores.

Iris Gonzales’ email address is eyesgonzales@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @eyesgonzales. Column archives at eyesgonzales.com

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