To be young and Filipino
HINDSIGHT - F. Sionil Jose (The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2019 - 12:00am

Rebecca Añonuevo, who was my graduate student at De La Salle University, invited me recently to speak before her students at the Navotas Polytechnic College where she is now president. Navotas Mayor John Reynald Tiangco said the town supports the school and tuition is free.

I’ve never refused an invitation to speak before this country’s youth for, I think, as an old writer, I have so much to tell them and at the same time learn from them. This is the youth that will make our future.

I am witness to the coming and going of three generations and I have taken note of the differences between these generations and also mine. There have been many significant changes, even in terms of population growth alone, and its physical challenges.

When I was in college, the population of the Philippines was only around 20 million. We are more than a hundred million today. The solutions to the agrarian problem that were propounded in the 1950s are no longer feasible today. There was so much forest land then that could be opened to land-hungry farmers. Such land is no longer available, yet we still have to produce more food for our own people.

The job requirements in my youth were often basic. Today, to get a good job, applicants must know a lot of technology. There were few Filipinos working abroad then too. Today, only jobs abroad seem more profitable and attractive to today’s college graduates.

I’m taking cognizance of these changes because it is important for us not only to adapt to them but also to recognize the reasons for our abject poverty – what we are all very aware of but don’t seem to care about. That in a region that has quickly modernized, we are the ones who have been left behind.

We may have many of the trappings of progress, but certain verities that hamper the process of modernization still remain – the barnacled attitudes, the landlord mentality of our elite, and not just physical poverty but the poverty of spirit in our people. It is such a tattered cliché, but three generations have passed and not one of them has actually been energized by a nationalism with social goals.

How then can we convince our very young to be Filipinos and, as such, to change themselves and this country as well? All of them are now nurtured by social media. Information is now readily available on almost any topic, much of it through the internet. How should all this information be processed so that the young people will be more concerned with how their roots in this country should grow, and recognize that there is always something bigger than themselves?

So we come to the basic problem of nationhood. Why we are such a divided people. Why we can think only of our families and our clans. It is important that we do, but we must be able to connect our familial interest to the broader interest of nation.

Nationalism, although it has been debased in the West, is still a great and necessary unifying element in so many of the young countries, particularly those that have just achieved freedom from colonization. While, in many instances, this colonialism gives us an identity and also a purpose for being, it is necessary for us to destroy its vestiges because many of the elites in this country have acquired the motivation of the old colonialist, which is to exploit their own people. Indeed, Rizal was correct in saying that the slaves of today harboring memories of this slavery will become the tyrants of tomorrow.

I tell my young audiences to revive in themselves the old and solid virtues on which my generation was weaned – good manners and right conduct. These is so much profanity in social media today, and civic discourse is muddied and debased. If the President and those who follow him blindly want to drown in their own cesspool of vulgarity, let them. But we must not accept as fact their rationalization that vulgarity is what the masa understand. That is an absolute lie! Go to any farming or fishing village, listen to the masa talk. It can be earthy but it is never profane or debasing.

I remind my young audiences how our history is tarnished with so many betrayals, our leaders betraying their followers, followers betraying their leaders, and Filipinos betraying themselves willfully, consciously. We see this happen in every election, when the people elect a candidate because he comes from the same tribe, or is a movie personality, or has an easy and memorable name, with no regard for the candidate’s honesty and their concept of public service. For which reason some of our highest officials are actually rapists and murderers, thieves and plunderers. As I said before, only a corrupt society supports corrupt leaders.

It is important for our young people to know our troubled history to recognize the role of betrayal in shaping it, and that betrayal weakens the nationalist impulse. It is our knowledge of history that will educate us. It will at the same time teach us that we are often our own worst enemy, and that to have a viable future, we ourselves must undergo profound spiritual cleansing to see and understand the very core of our problems. Only then can we develop in us as a free people the capacity for critical thinking so that on every occasion that we are challenged we know which path to take.

I tell the young people that I hope with their vast knowledge of what we are, we will also develop within our deepest being a sense of purpose, a creed in life that will make life itself more meaningful. The truth is, this most precious gift from God has no meaning and it is up to us to give it meaning so that we will be different from the hogs that only live to feed on the trough.

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