Have Filipinos changed?
FROM A DISTANCE - Carmen N. Pedrosa (The Philippine Star) - July 29, 2018 - 12:00am

Yes they have. This can be attributed to three things: the millions of Filipinos abroad, our present leader and particular individuals obsessed with daring and perfection.

But the change has still far to go if we want to reclaim what we were in the early days of our history. I believe that had we not been colonized we might have been a different race altogether.

The millions of Filipinos who have gone to work and live abroad have absorbed many cultures. They realized that there was much more to change in the country if they were to return and help it pull itself up.

The children of these Filipinos speak many languages and they try hard to meld their origins with the new found cultures. When President Trump attempted to stop immigration to the US, he did not know that a Filipino had written a book on “On thousand and one ways” to evade immigration authorities. In a sense they are the first world citizens. They come home bringing their talents and skills learned abroad. To me the most obvious example of their eclectic as new Filipinos are the many signs of restaurants opening with food from the countries they came from. It is not just food, but skills they have learned abroad as engineers and even as computer experts. It will take a book, indeed more than a book, to chronicle the change they bring home with them.

But Arturo Valdez, who led a group to trek to the top of Mt. Everest has another mark for the new Filipino. He says the progress of Filipinos come from his past and says perhaps our best achievement is the balangay. In the past we built and invented the balangay piece by piece so that that Filipinos will be reminded that there was a time they were so bold and inventive. The balangay he said should be a national symbol because it made possible the migration of people in the region.

The Balangay (formerly synonymous with Butuan boat) is a plank boat adjoined by a carved-out plank edged through pins and dowels. It was first mentioned in the 16th century in the Chronicles of Pigafetta, and is known as the oldest watercraft found in the Philippines.

I first met Art Valdez in a meeting we arranged with Chinese embassy officials. We wanted to see how we could push for a common effort to preserve the sea rather than fight about it.

We lost touch until last month with the announcement that a replica of the wooden balangay was set to sail from Manila to China on April 28, 2018. Three identical wooden boats crafted from a centuries-old design set off from the Philippine capital for China on April 28 to retrace a historic trip by a Filipino sultan and showcase longstanding maritime ties.

The sultan died there but the Chinese emperor at the time honored him with a shrine. I met some of his relatives in a visit a few years ago.

Valdez is aware of the implications of the trip at a time when the Philippines and China still have a territorial conflict over parts of the South China Sea. But that is the point. There should be no conflict.

“These waters never divided us. These waters unified us,” he said. “And this boat, as a replica of an ancient boat, is a symbol of that relationship.”

He wants to “rekindle Filipino pride and faith in a forgotten heritage, our maritime consciousness.”

“It is very sad because we are a maritime people. We should be gifted and natural in the waters but colonialization robbed us of that consciousness. I am doing this to help rekindle that spirit,” Valdez said. This project reconnects us to our pre-Spanish period at the same time that we need to reach out to our neighbors in the Asian region. There has been a hiatus in which we lost that connection in the Spanish and American colonial periods.

“We explore our past and our capacity as a people with the balangay. We can be proud of a race that was not reluctant to take the high road of adventure by relying only on instinct and nature. We should look to that past as we face contemporary problems whether it is church vs. state, the invention of the Filipino Badjao made balangay and the success of the Galleon trade with the Philippines as its entrepot.

He noted that the ‘balangay,’ known as the Butuan boat, was the first-ever wooden watercraft to be excavated in Southeast Asia demonstrating early Filipino boat-building genius and seamanship expertise during the pre-colonial times.

“Found only in the Philippines where a flotilla of such ancient boats exists, the Butuan boat was utilized by our ancestors to maintain trade relations with neighboring islands around the country and empires around Southeast Asia.”

He said the extensive utilization of balangay for trade “confirms the active involvement of our forefathers in robust commercial activities in Asia as early as the 10th and 11th centuries.”

To reconstruct the boats, Valdez and his team hired boat builders from the Sama Dilaya tribe from Sibutu and Sitangkai islands of Tawi-Tawi.

But all these difficulties were made up for by the beauty they encountered on their voyage. Dolphins swam alongside the boats. You will see just how beautiful the Philippines is if you make a round around all the islands. He said it’s time to bring back the rich maritime culture of the Filipinos and also to show the world that the Filipino Can, in tagalog “Kaya ng Pinoy.”

“The port visit of the two balangay boats of the “Voyage of the Balangay” project is a timely reflection on the mess we have made of our country.

The two boats, the 15-meter Diwata ng Lahi and 24-meter Masawa Hong Butuan, completed its run of Philippine coastlines.

The voyage is not just an ordinary adventure, nor is it just an experiment to relive how our forefathers scoured the maritime routes of the world, but it will take longer than an editorial to relate what the voyage is all about and wants to achieve. Let’s just stick to what team leader Art Valdez, the anchor of the?Mt. Everest Team, says the voyage symbolizes.

Politically, this new Filipino is marked by the Duterte phenomenon. No one thought an obscure mayor could win the presidency. Even he was not aware that Filipinos have changed.

We are more politicized and willing to experiment with new a way of life as we switch to federalism.

Duterte’s crowd is omnipresent or present everywhere including Filipinos abroad. The Duterte campaign became a fever and many caught it in towns and cities in most parts of the country. Traditional politicians cannot overcome this kind of fever because friends of Duterte groups were spread out over Facebook and Twitter.

Mayor Rodrigo Duterte is omnipresent to at least a third of the 100 million Filipinos who are connected by the internet everyday. The fever spilled out of social media into the real physical world.

The popularity of Mayor Rody Duterte is indeed hard to break because the people have spoken through Duterte crowds and it is clear whom they wanted as president to bring us to a new era. Filipinos have found their mettle and with the new leadership they may as Arturo Valdez says return to the past of boldness, invention and drive for perfection.

FILIPINOS ABROAD
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