Our Philippine identity

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

The past is the present, isn’t it? It’s the future, too. We all tried to lie out of that but life won’t let us.” — Eugene O’Neill

Filipinos are undergoing an identity crisis. Every cultural trait is being subjected to the question: “Is it Filipino?” We are still looking for an answer. The answer to “What is Filipino?” lies in the prejudicial question, “What is culture?” It is culture that makes a Filipino a Filipino and not a Malaysian or Indonesian.

Culture has been defined as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, custom and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” To be human is to belong to a culture. Four elements present in all cultures are: technology, institutions, language and arts. These can change in only two ways: by invention or by borrowing. Things invented are part of the indigenous culture of the society which brought them forth; things adopted, or adapted, became part of our indigenous cultures; Spanish and English, part of our national culture.

The “real Filipino” had been defined as a “decolonized Filipino.” We take exception to this on two grounds. First, it totally disregards the positive aspects of colonialism. It is true that the Spaniards failed to integrate themselves with the natives. As a matter of fact, they couldn’t even identify with the Philippine-born Spaniards or with the Spanish mestizos. But Spain had more advanced techniques and a much higher degree of civilization than this archipelago. In the process of colonization, they did diffuse their culture and created a new synthesis and a new unity that was richer and more varied than what existed in the islands before.

Second, to decolonize means to bring to a pre-colonial status. To reduce nationalism to colonialism spelled backwards is to emulate the Mediterranean sailors who guarded themselves against the fatal sirenical songs by singing them in reverse. To decolonize the national language would mean the purging of thousands of Spanish words that have been assimilated into Filipino and the abandonment of the Roman alphabet for the syllabic script. If there is anything more reactionary than going back to colonialism, it is going back to pre-colonialism. Prehistoric Philippines was not a Garden of Eden from which our forefathers were expelled because they ate of the tree of colonialism. In every stage of his formation, the Filipino was himself plus his circumstances. He lives in his culture as his culture lived in him. What is needed is redirection. The future is alterable, the past is not. The objective should not be a decolonized Filipino, but a supra-colonial Filipino.

Progress is not a natural law. The wheel was 46 centuries old when Spain introduced it in the Philippines. What one generation gains may be lost by the succeeding ones. Aside from the fact that culture is acquired, shared, transmitted and gratifying to human needs, culture gravitates towards integration. It was Spanish acculturation that homogenized Philippine society. After the initial resistance to Spanish conquest (the Spanish Army in 1590 was composed of 400 men) and the inertia that blocked urbanization had been overcome, the Filipinos were very receptive to Christian acculturation. Some people ridicule the mass baptisms during the initial period of Christianization, but France, England and other major Christian nations were converted in much the same way. There were uprisings against forced labor, feudalistic monopoly, friar abuses, but not against the technological, institutional, linguistic and artistic benefits of Christian civilization.

By the last decade of the 19th century, the descendants of the diverse barangays could already think of themselves as one people with a growing sense of unity and nationhood. They became the first Asians to declare their independence from colonial rule. The Revolution, indeed, signaled the birth of a nation. The placenta was Spain’s. With the American occupation, the mother got buried along with the afterbirth. The Tagalogs have a saying: “Ang hindi marunong lumingon sa pinanggalingan, ay hindi makararating sa paroroonan.” It is their folk way of saying that nations without a past have no future.

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