Some people say the problems of the Philippines are due to its people having no sense of identity. If we settle on an identity we can all agree upon, it can lead to a sense of love of country that may lead to good effects, perhaps reduction of corruption due to patriotism. Not a bad idea, actually, but I believe that’s not it. The problems of the country go deeper than that.
I say we have an identity already, but we don’t know how to properly develop and care for it. One idea may have compounded the issue: that Filipinos should look inward for aspects of Filipino culture. This means excising foreign influences and sticking only to what’s “home-grown.” Basically, it’s ethnocentrism. There’s just one problem: everything that’s “home-grown” is limited to Stone-age technology. There is no modern Philippine indigenous culture.
Several history teachers have already told me that the Philippines’ indigenous cultures are all old, non-advanced technological societies, where people wear loincloths and live like wild tribes in the jungles (well, that’s the stereotype). There is barely any modern technology or modern ideas. They usually have an old – backward, if you may – way of life. If we look only to “home-grown” culture, this is where we’re left with.
I believe most of our local populace have been conditioned to embrace the primitive lifestyle and mindset in order to arrest real meaningful development. Thus, we see anything indigenously Filipino as the bahag-wearers. For example, look at some mass media representing indigenous Filipinos. Anito, among the first all-Filipino-developed games, is set in the ancient Philippines, the bahag era. We also had a cartoon movie of our own some time ago, Princess Urduja. Again, set in the “bahag” times. Whenever we use the insular premise on our culture, we end up with a backward view of our own Filipino identity. That is complicating things.
Being Open to Foreign Culture the Right Way
If there is any modern Filipino culture, it always has foreign influence in it: Spanish, American, and others. Since we have no modern Filipino culture, we have to absorb some foreign influences. This includes technology, because most technology, if we think of it as complex machines and computers, tends to come from abroad. If some Filipinos would say, “become modern by using foreign technology! No! That is traitorous! Our Filipino identity comes only from within!” they are actually inhibiting the solution.
One thing I would like to point out is that the Philippines itself is a product of colonialism. We wouldn’t be the Philippines if we were not colonized, we wouldn’t even be organized as a single nation without it. Colonization made the Philippines, and it is thus a part of our real identity. We cannot remove the foreign stuff and effects of colonization and insist on “indigenous” material only. Otherwise, we are left with nothing. We’re not Filipinos. We’ll just become tribes that hate each other (because that’s what we were before we became a nation).
If we want to settle on our identity, we just have to accept the good part of the foreign things that come to us.
There are some who say other countries were successful in making their own indigenous culture the source of their success. They cite Japan and South Korea as among these. Unfortunately, they are mistaken. Both of these countries adopted foreign culture as part of their cultural identity that we know today.
Japan for example actually copied the Chinese Tang dynasty. That’s why kimonos bear similarity to Tang dynasty dress (like bathrobes tied with a sash). That’s why roofs of the era bear upward-rounding tips, similar to Chinese temples. Just read the history, such as this book called Japan’s Cultural History: A Perspective (this says much of Japanese discipline was influenced by Buddhism, which permeated Japan’s warrior culture, leading to Bushido), or the classic textbook East Asia: Tradition and Transformation (by Fairbank, Reischauer and Craig), where a chapter is titled “Early Japan: The absorption of Chinese Civilization.” Fast forward to the Meiji Era, Japan had absorbed some western technology and items (like uniforms) for their development. The Japanese at times considered it important to absorb some foreign things to improve their culture and society. They generally didn’t worry about it tainting their “identity.” They took in what they needed.
Just look anywhere else around the world. While many parts of the world remain in traditional settings, many people are already wearing western clothing. Go to Egypt, Samoa and the Pacific Isles, Haiti, South America, Mongolia, and anywhere else… you see people wearing western-style shirts, jeans, jackets and more. And they don’t see it as a cultural offense. This is practical clothing.
Let me draw attention to the recent viral post about “Filipinos vandalizing their own country, while foreigners clean it up.” It was mainly about a Japanese national in Baguio who cleans an overpass and even gave it a new coat of paint. This is a sadly ironic thing, wherein the people who might even be proud of their nationality, brazenly saying “Pinoy Pride,” are the ones who are ruining their own country. The foreigners who are supposedly “invading” are actually doing great public service! In a way, we could say these foreigners are more Filipino than any of us!
Being hostile to anything foreign and insisting on an identity that is purely indigenous are things we should definitely drop.
The Parochialism of Philippine Society
Perhaps the greatest obstacle to having a homogenous “Filipino” identity is resistance from the different Philippine ethnicities. I remember Claude Tayag when he guested in Anthony Bourdain’s show, he said “one must be a Kapampangan (or insert your ethnicity here) before becoming a Filipino.” Thus, this points to the issue of ethnocentrism among Filipino subgroups, such as Ilocanos, Kapampangans, Warays, Bicolanos, Mindanaoans, and obviously, Muslims and other tribes. It would seem that even today, these ethnicities don’t like each other and would rather not cooperate with them. This parochiality continues to be among the sources of disunity and roadblocks in society.
This is often raised on the issue of language. Some Filipinos decry English as something that destroys our Filipino identity (my rebuttal to this is in another article). Others also decry Tagalog having been imposed as a national language by being declared as “Filipino.” I also hear from educators that Filipino was intended to synthesize words from the various languages in the country. But this surely failed, and is a vain attempt, and the roadblocks can be explained by the ethnocentrism described above.
I had always believed that one requirement to developing a stable Filipino society is to drop our tribal ethnocentrism and embrace even people of other tribes as our fellows. Parochiality prevents Filipinos from doing so. They embrace KKK (kapamilya, kadugo, katribu, kababayan, ka-etc.) more than anyone. Or they embrace KKK and would rather kill anyone else. And we wonder why our government is like that these days. A contrast to guys like the Japanese man who cleans a flyover in a foreign land.
Returning to Basic Decency
So what is our real problem if it’s not our identity? It’s our actual practices. It’s our lack of belief in basic decency. What we really do in our daily lives defines our identity. What we proclaim with our mouths is nothing more than hot air if not matched by our actions.
To me, the Filipino identity never had a problem. It is Filipino attitudes and actions that constituted the problem. For example, many Filipinos like to project their pride – which actually causes more problems than solutions.
When some say there is a lack of love for the country or society, it is in fact the lack of belief of Filipinos in basic decency and respect for others.
Many have lamented that Filipinos actually do not act the values they preach. They see these and “being good” as a means to an end. Such being good to a person so they can get favors, such as money, or even a drink later to they could get drunk. So if they do not get a reward in the end, they will cease doing good. And not only that; some Filipinos, when they see people doing good for no reward, they even jeer and say, “Tanga! Wala ka ngang makukuha dyan! (Stupid! You won’t gain anything from that!)” Apparently, crab mentality manifests in a way to prevent our people from doing good.
In my church, we often teach that we become decent not because we expect a reward. We do it because it is our duty. Unless people see that being decent is a duty, and not means to a reward, they are likely to remain asswipes. Thus, that for me is a solution: be decent, with the returns you want being society as a whole being decent as well.
This for me should be part of the true identity of Filipinos. It can be part of the identity of any country as well. Because by restoring basic decency, we show a good example to the world and that proves we are a good people. Not singing or dancing or showing off talents: showing decency will do it. Either we do good or we become among the indecent Filipinos shaming our identity.