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MONDAYS WITH PATMEI | Same old, same old

AS I watch images of huge numbers of Filipinos gathering to worship the Black Nazarene and the Santo Niño de Cebu, it got me thinking.

How can we harness that devotion, passion, sacrifice, creativity, determination, and reckless disregard for their personal health and safety to build peace and develop our local communities?

Is that level of energy triggered only by religious icons and feasts?

Concerts by globally famous pop stars also trigger the same enthusiasm, but mostly from Filipinos who can afford it and who are plugged into pop culture. There is also some level of sacrifice and determination involved in braving Metro Manila (where global artists usually have their concerts) traffic.

Even Coldplay’s Chris Martin remarked: “We’ve seen some traffic, but I think you have the number one worst traffic in the world. So thank you, thank you for making the effort to come through all that bulls**t to be here.”

Now why can’t Filipinos be bothered to do the same for political action?

Some would argue that Filipinos showed up at EDSA that ousted Marcos, Sr. But was it really because of “tama na, sobra na” or because Cardinal Sin called on the faithful and statues of the Virgin Mary and rosary beads were held up amidst the crowd?

Add to that are popular entertainers who wore yellow, wrote pop songs, waved the L-sign, and threw confetti. It was a concert, too, come to think of it.

It is not because there has been no genuine political opposition pushing for social change, but the grassroots movement seems to always be drowned by the economic and political elites who tend to end up taking over.

Just like during the anti-colonial revolution against Spain when the local elites also bungled the whole deal (if you want only the dramatic highlights, there are good historical movies you can watch that will help you understand what happened). Then later the struggle against US colonialism was repackaged by the local elites (again) as “Filipino-American Friendship.”

The usual suspects — the principalia, the local elites, the Western (usually American) educated (including the lower and middle-class recipients of scholarships) — seem to always make sure things remain the same. Because it keeps happening to be viewed as a mere coincidence.

I am reminded by The Atlantic article written by James Fallows in 1987 entitled “A Damaged Culture.” He had a very dark view of the Philippines that was still fresh from the euphoria of the 1986 people-backed coup d’etat that ousted Marcos, Sr.

Fallows wrote: “Americans would like to believe that the only colony we ever had — a country that modeled its institutions on ours and still cares deeply about its relations with the United States — is progressing under our wing. It’s not, for reasons that go far beyond what the Marcoses did or stole.”

He noted that the Philippines illustrates “that culture can make a naturally rich country poor.”

The “damaged culture” he was referring to — the lack of nationalism and lack of national pride.

Teresa S. Abesamis, a Fellow of the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP), wrote an article published on BusinessWorld in January 2021 that reflected on what Fallows wrote in 1987.

She noted that when we were “discovered” by the Spaniards in the 16th century, we were a group of islands in an archipelago. “The colonists, for better administration and control, in coordination with Catholic missionaries, mobilized populations into towns ‘bajo dela campana’ (under the church bells) where municipal halls, markets, and schools were set up. That is how we began to become a country.”

Under the Americans, who were new to colonialism when they colonized the Philippines, “tried to turn us into brown Americans,” Abesamis wrote. We copied their government structures and political systems. We had to speak English in schools and in our official communications. Our rich indigenous folk traditions, arts and crafts, music, and literature were replaced by “modern” American-style entertainment, products, and brands.

Abesamis proposed in her article that we focus on grassroots community development with the barangay as the lead.

“Small is beautiful, and in our context, often more effective. Let our communities sing our songs, patronize, produce, enjoy, and take pride in our varied and multicultural arts and crafts. This, to me, is what our nationalism should be about,” she concluded.

I am inclined to agree with Abesamis on this one, based on my experience in politics and governance and in implementing development projects. When local governments, especially barangays, are independent and empowered, they thrive. They get creative and innovative.

It is when “the national” intervenes in local affairs that conflict usually starts.

Eric A. San Juan from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of Ateneo de Manila wrote in his paper in response to Filipino “damaged culture”: “Before the arrival of the Spaniards in the Philippines there was apparently no state, nor was there a structure of national unity throughout the archipelago.”

The dominant level of political organization was the chiefdom, he added. Thus, “power was authorized personally and locally, not by official sanction.”

In short, we were the only nation in Southeast Asia subjected to Western colonialism before it has developed a central state structure. “There was no authority system developed so as to unite the population’s sentiments under the common identity of a civil government.”

So, San Juan noted: “From the history of authority, it is apparent that Philippine leaders have represented no more than their own patronage.”

Our leaders have commanded people’s loyalty only for themselves, without turning that into allegiance to the nation. San Juan blames the elite for this failure.

Which brings us to this on-again, off-again “national” project of changing our constitution that is getting ridiculous. It is as if the main barrier to our development as a country is our constitution.

I doubt if the majority of Filipinos, even the educated ones required to read it in class, know all the provisions and how they impact their daily lives. There has been no serious education campaign about all our constitutions — from the Malolos Constitution to the current one.

So how can we even take seriously that the proposed changes now are through the initiative of the people?

When I start seeing crowds of Filipinos who demonstrate even just half of the intensity seen during the Black Nazarene feast and the creativity and dedication showcased for the Santo Niño de Cebu during Sinulog directed to change the charter, then maybe I will start believing that it’s indeed the people’s initiative (without added incentive).

Judging from the level of interest among the majority of Filipinos (not to be confused with the vloggers, social media influencers, and mainstream opinion makers), it’s probably another deal being brokered by the local elites.


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