To all my countrymen, Happy 117th Independence Day!
But, are we really free? Have we really achieved freedom?
Three hundred years of Spanish colonization, forty years of being under the control of the Americans, and another three years under Japanese occupation, we, Filipinos, lost our identity. And when one loses his identity, he cannot live freely. Knowing who you really are is the first step to becoming free.
When we think about the Japanese people, innovation comes to mind.
When we think about the Americans, what comes to mind is freedom. America is the land of opportunity where everyone is free to pursue their own dreams.
But when we think about the Filipinos, I cannot think of a single word to describe us. Hopefully, it’s not the widespread corruption, poverty, or conflict in Mindanao that describes us.
More than three hundred years of being under the control of other nations robbed us of our identity. Until now, we are still struggling to find that identity.
Even our sense of nationalism is very shallow. Our Pinoy Pride is limited to Manny Pacquiao, beauty pageants, competitions (Weren’t you proud of El Gamma Penumbra?), and recognitions abroad.
But when you think about it deeply, what does it really mean to be a Filipino?
Colonial Mentality: A Cause or Effect?
We have become a copycat nation. It’s not because we lack originality, but because we lack identity in the first place. Our identity is somewhat in our colonial mentality because we have been told for more than three hundred years that we are an inferior race, that other nations’ products are better than ours.
Colonial mentality has been deeply ingrained in our culture—from the products we patronize to how we do our work. When given a choice, we would choose an American product over a Filipino product. At work, a certification from a local body is nothing compared to a certification from a foreign firm. Big Filipino companies hire foreign consultants when there are also Filipino consultants who can probably offer the same advice.
But honestly, it’s not our fault either. Most mainstream Filipino products, TV shows, and movies are made by those who settle for “puwede na ‘yan” or mediocrity. Another thing about our Filipino culture. We keep on creating second-rate imitations of American or foreign products. Side by side with the original, which would you prefer to buy as a consumer?
Would you rather watch Gagamboy who has the same powers as Spider-man or the real thing? How about Lastikman which came out after the success of Spider-man? By the way, the plot of Lastikman was pretty much the same as the first Spider-man movie with Tobey Maguire. And his archenemy was also riding a glider-like thing like the Goblin. Yeah, Lastikman was very original.
Most Filipinos live up to their “second-class” citizens stamp.
The same goes with many Filipino employees, services, and practices. Maybe it’s not really because we lack originality, but because the best practices are employed by foreign firms. After all, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. But, why can’t we come up with our own Filipino way of doing things? Or has the Filipino way become synonymous with mediocre or imitation?
Don’t get me wrong. There are Filipinos who do amazing jobs. There are Filipino products, movies, and even services that are very much original and so much better than foreign products, movies, and services. The independent movies. The locally-made shoes from Marikina. Many Filipino products, services, and people are original and world-class.
But, they are not mainstream. They do not get the attention they deserve because they get associated with the poor “Made in the Philippines” label—cheap, second-rate imitations. Most of the time, they get our attention and, more importantly, our support only when they get recognized abroad—another sad thing about our colonial mentality.
Colonial mentality is also deeply ingrained in the Filipino youth. Most of the youth’s dreams are geared towards working overseas or in large foreign companies.
Even I am not immune from this colonial mentality. The blogs I follow and the books I read are mostly by foreign writers and authors. I am not even comfortable writing in Filipino because most of my training in writing (such as writing reports, essays, and case studies) were in english. I write terribly in Filipino. I am also trying to employ the strategy of American writer and blogger, Seth Godin, on my blog by writing short blog posts everyday. I simplified the design of my blog similar to the blog, Daring Fireball, of American John Gruber. I am taking a blogging course made by the Australian Darren Rowse. All because I think they do the best practices.
There’s nothing wrong with patronizing foreign products, especially in an increasingly connected and global world. It’s easier to travel to other countries now with airfares at record-lows. It’s easier to communicate and share ideas and best practices with the help of the internet.
Maybe our colonial mentality is simply an effect of falling so far behind in terms of culture, technology, or creativity. Maybe we patronize foreign products and services because we cannot do them yet. Maybe we need to learn from others’ best practices first before we create our own original versions or find our own way.
But, we are not in any way an inferior race. We are not second-class citizens.
Now, more than ever, we need to find our identity in order for us to progress together as a nation. In an increasingly connected and global world, we need to find our identity—an identity to unite us, an identity to differentiate ourselves from other nationalities, an identity to strengthen us in the face of global pressures, and an identity to contribute to globalization.
The Filipinos’ Identity
Maybe we do not value freedom (or make the most of our freedom) as much as the Americans do. For us, Independence Day seems like just another holiday. Maybe we are not as innovative as the Japanese. Maybe we are not as efficient as our Asian neighbors. But, what sets us, Filipinos, apart?
I read a comment somewhere that Filipinos are overly dramatic. At first, I got offended. But then, I realized that there is some truth to it.
And maybe there’s also a bright side to it.
Maybe Filipinos are overly dramatic. But, it’s because we have a big heart. Remember our #puso campaign during the FIBA games? We were so close to beating the giants like Argentina and Croatia with just the sheer amount of heart of our players. They played with a lot of desire.
We like to have a deep, emotional reason for everything we do. We like everything we do to be meaningful, to be based on love, to be based on our values.
And maybe that love, together with our ideals and values, is our identity.
We are defined by our immense capacity to love, conservatism, respect, humility, and resiliency. We are the only nation with a word for collective effort towards a single goal, even if most of those who exert effort do not benefit at all—bayanihan. (Have you seen the most common image for bayanihan: The iconic carrying of a nipa house by a group of men? I still don’t understand how some of those men will benefit from helping carry one person’s house. It doesn’t make sense, but we, Filipinos, are simply like that.)
Also, there must be a reason why Jose Rizal is our national hero, not Andres Bonifacio. Maybe it’s because of his ideals.
Losing Our Identity: Our Ideals, Our Values, and Our Heart
Unfortunately, in this day and age where progress is measured by Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth rate, production, and consumption, our identity seems impractical. After all, love, conservatism, respect, humility, and resiliency are not really helpful in producing a good or a service. Therefore, they are not helpful to achieving a higher GDP growth rate. (Unfortunately for the whole world, measuring progress using growth rates and GDP is not sustainable. The environment and the renewability of resources should also be taken into account. So does the distribution of wealth.)
We discount our identity because our values and ideals cannot feed an empty stomach.
Worse, we are totally forgetting our identity because of social pressures, widespread poverty and corruption, hopelessness, and globalization.
Take the case of the passing of the Reproductive Health (RH) Bill. It was a challenge because we are a conservative nation with deeply-rooted Catholic values. Yet, we compromised our values for the sake of convenience and practicality. There is a third alternative. But, it is impractical and very difficult to implement—educate people about sex. Being a Catholic nation, we could even teach others about the sanctity of sex. (I know these are not enough as solutions. But, shall we brainstorm and help each other out and find a long-term solution?)
The RH Bill is an easy way out. It’s a quick fix. It’s a half-measure. It works for a while, but not in the long-term.
But really, who am I to complain about passing it? I haven’t even done my part by researching about it, understanding it fully, or going out and sharing my thoughts about it with others during the time when it was still a burning issue. (But next time, I vow to be more informed about the issues our nations are facing and talk about them.)
My point is, in the face of poverty, social pressures, getting ahead, and globalization, it’s easier to compromise than to exert a tremendous (unrealistic and impractical) amount of effort to uphold our values and ideals.
Sadly, now is the time we need our identity the most, yet now is the time we are losing it.
Diversity and Unity
Our country is an archipelago of 7,107 islands and our nation has as many dialects. No, not really. But, we are a diverse nation. We have our manileños, cebuanos, kapampangans, bisaya, ilocanos, ilonggos, and so on. Each group has its own characteristics, language, and even stereotypes. Even our Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) seem to have characteristics of their own.
Yet, no matter how diverse we are, we are united in our ideals and old-fashioned values. These ideals and values are the things we share in common.
The real challenge for us, Filipinos, is to remain true to our identity in this fast-paced world full of compromises. We also need to go back to our values and ideals and integrate our identity in our daily lives once again. And we need to do it together.
We need to be united in integrating our identity with our definition of progress. (Believe me, GDP growth rate is not a sustainable indicator of progress.)
We need to be united in hoping for our country.
We need to be united in making individual sacrifices for our country. Collectively, our sacrifices will go a long way.
We need to be united in upholding our values.
We need to be united showing our bayanihan spirit once again.
Our Contribution to Globalization
One of my favorite scenes in the first Avengers movie is when Captain America asked Agent Phil Coulson what he thought about his costume:
Captain America: The uniform? Aren't the stars and stripes a little old-fashioned?
Agent Phil Coulson: With everything that's happening, the things that are about to come to light, people might just need a little old-fashioned.
In this age of globalization, loss of culture and identity, gross inequality in the distribution of wealth, and excessive consumerism, the world needs a little old-fashioned.
And maybe this is a chance for us, Filipinos, to share with the world our old-fashioned ideals and values.
This is a chance for us to integrate our identity in our products, our services, the way we do our work, the way we do business, and the way we interact and deal with other nationalities (and even with our fellow Filipinos).
In everything we do, we can show our genuine love, respect for others, and our no-one-left-behind bayanihan spirit.
In every product we make, we don’t need a Philippine flag stamped or a “Made in the Philippines” label to make it nationalistic or patriotic. We just need to pour our hearts out in every product we create.
Our identity—our ideals and values—is our greatest contribution to globalization. We have inspired the world many times before especially through our resilience. It’s time to inspire them again with our old-fashioned values.
Apparently, our being overly dramatic in everything we do makes us original. It is our passion that makes us unique. And maybe that will help us come up with original products—not copycat ones.
And maybe, just maybe, the world needs just that.
Image: Marlon E