The Philippines is a country by colonial edict — much like the way the old Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia were, as well as many African nations. They are meaningless hollow pin-up states cobbled together for the sheer pleasure, vanity, and mercantile ambitions of their former imperial architects. In the case of the Philippines, even the name of the state itself — derived from Philip II of Spain — is a legacy of Spanish colonial rule. So the Philippines is not a nation in any real natural sense. It is an amalgamation of various disparate tribes, sultanates, and kingdoms that submitted to or were made to submit to central government in Manila by Spain and, later, the United States.
For much of its history, Filipinos pretended that the Philippines actually stood for something without bothering to do the hard work of coming up with something to stand for. As such the simple fact that the Philippines stands for nothing even after 66 years of “independence” makes instilling some sense of nationalism — much more, patriotism — a rather exasperating exercise to say the least.
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Compare this sad situation to the happier prospects of nations that actually have something about their collective characters to be proud of. Craig Nelson introduces his book Rocketmen, with the story of a 1969 Senate briefing (shortly after Apollo 11 landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon) where Fermilab physicist Robert Wilson is asked how a $250 million atom smasher he proposes be built will contribute to the security of the United States. Wilson responded by saying that it will contribute nothing, but that the American people’s capacity to undertake endeavours like those is what makes the United States of America worth defending.
Indeed, the question is often asked of Filipinos: Is the Filipino worth dying for? Considering the awesome might of the Chinese military now starting to stare down a gun barrel pointed squarely at the neighbourhood pipsqueak trying to stake a claim on the only set of swings in the school yard, it seems that the Philippines may need to start relying on the only resource it can objectively count on — young warm bodies. If it comes down to mobilising the troops and drawing upon reserves, then the obvious thought will pop into the 18-25 year-old average male Filipino mind:
Is the Philippines worth defending?
Perhaps the United States will beg to differ to the most likely answer to the above question. The Philippines after all offers strategic assets to the US’s aspirations to secure its interests in the Pacific. In that sense, the United States is the Philippines’ “friend”. It is in that consuelo de bobo that Filipinos have grudgingly learned to content themselves with defining themselves along with more contemporary roles they now have so readily embraced — the call centre capital of the world, and the world’s labour pool for low-skilled work.
Why, despite its enormous population, has the Philippines for so long remained but a mere sub-element among the big elements that form part of a broader more globally-relevant landscape of influence? Perhaps it is because Filipinos don’t really expect much of themselves. Indeed, the current president of the Philippines, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III is an embodiment of this collective psychological condition. While, on one hand, many Filipino nationalist drumbeaters lament our lack of a palpable national dignity, the non-dignity of the Filipino was further baked into the fabric of the society when Noynoy was elected President in 2010. There was no dignity in electing to the highest office in the land the most unqualified, the least inspiring, the most inexperienced, and the least motivated among the candidates at the time.
How then can we claim to be moving forward towards a future of greatness and prosperity when we continue to take significant steps backward? Perhaps it is when we learn to appreciate that nations are built from the ground up and not from the top down that real sustainable change will begin to take hold. Change cannot be “architected” unless people already possess an inherent will to evaluate their present behaviours and attitudes and exhibit an equally inherent ability to execute the solutions the resulting observations beg. Just seeing how Filipinos cannot even be bothered to implement even the easiest and most obvious solutions to the myriad of problems staring them in the face pretty much tells us what our prospects for future prosperity really are.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.