By Elizabeth Medina, Vienna, Austria, June 12, 2001
On this day of our Independence, these thoughts come to me.
What defines a nation is the mutual recognition established between people who identity with similar values and aspire to a common future.
- Mutual recognition
- Between people who identify with similar values
- Aspiring to a common future.
When one studies the Philippine Revolution of 1896, the founding of the First Republic on June 12, 1897, but instead of focusing on the isolated events or a very short period of time crammed with outstanding external landmarks, we take a broader historical view, it is possible for us to see and understand that the process of our Revolution was a very weak and imperfect one that lacked, in various degrees, these three essential elements.
This became clear to me when I studied the revolutions against Spain of the Latin American colonies, from Venezuela and Colombia to Argentina and Chile.
To be very brief, the American wars of liberation were carried out by a group and social class that had mutual recognition, who identified with similar values: European, of the Age of Enlightenment, and who aspired to a common future —to help liberate each other and, in each new Republic, assume the leadership of their government, replacing the Spanish.
The Latin Americans who led the revolutions against Spain and won their independence between 1810 and 1823 —191 (in 2021: 211) years ago, and 75 (in 2021: 88) years before Filipinas and Cuba— were educated creoles and mestizos, the descendants of the Spanish and Europeans who colonized and settled in Hispanic America. They were from the same race, the same social class, the same cultural background. Their armies, logically, were mestizos and descendants of black slaves, often peasants and agricultural workers obligated to serve by their employers or harangued by religious who were revolutionaries. Mexico’s revolution was the exception. It was a social revolution led by the ilustrado priests Hidalgo and Morelos, unified by the indigenous people’s devotion to the Virgin of Guadalupe. In contrast, the leaders of Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile were military sons of the landed aristocracy. They were all, however, inspired by the American and French revolutions.
It took over ten years of military struggle to accomplish the shared objective. Cuba’s revolution against Spain from 1868 to 1878 was only the first of three wars of independence and was begun by a Spanish creole who liberated his slaves and proclaimed two objectives: to abolish slavery and free Cuba from colonialism. And yet, Simón Bolívar, who led the continental liberation and whose dream of unity inspired them, expressed grave doubts, asking himself just before he died whether it had all been worth it.
The Philippine Revolution against Spain only lasted two years, and no sooner was the First Republic proclaimed then we were invaded by a rising world power that was already an entrenched military presence and recognized by the European nations as the new foreign ruler.
The Philippine Revolution had been inspired by the educated, nationalist middle class, who fought shoulder to shoulder with urban workers and rural farmers and peasants. It was financed and fought as well by members of the bourgeoisie, by creoles, Spanish and Chinese mestizos and a few Spaniards. It was a heterogeneous and culturally and racially mixed movement. But in order for the Republic to have any credibility in the eyes of the international community, the upper classes, creoles and mestizos who had initially not supported the revolution, were incorporated into the project of forming the Republic and took over key roles for which they were sometimes not best prepared or ideologically fit.
Rather than shared values, a mutual, unifying recognition among all of these actors, and a shared aspiration for the future that they were ready to build, setting aside their differences, what motivated the rebellion was the hatred of the friar orders and the injustices of the Spanish administration. One could say that the positive inspiration of Rizal was insufficient and was lost after his execution, turning into a religious or divine revolutionary mystique similar to the Mexican people’s devotion for the Virgin of Guadalupe. There was no unifying identity or project for nation building among the elite or ilustrado groups. They acted motivated by loyalties that were fragmented and differentiated, and saw the common people’s aims and dreams as subordinate to their own.
In this way the stage was set for the triumph of the United States and the beginning of a new, great experiment for molding the Filipino people in the image of a new Father.
The Filipino people submitted and agreed to “learn to be an independent and democratic country” under the putative tutelage of the U.S. because of their prodigious capacity as a people to adapt in order to survive, and to mold themselves to the demands imposed on them rather than assert their popular sovereignty given the basic condition of disunity, and the deaths or surrender of the popular (non-elite) leadership. Aguinaldo on his own was never going to be enough to lead the Filipinos. He was not a statesman, a thinker, he was a small town leader who became putty in the Americans’ hands. By then the entire nation was fragmented again.
The creole and Spanish mestizo ilustrados knew that the U.S. regime was all about neocolonial theater foisted on a demoralized people with a fractured leadership they had lost faith in. The creole and mestizo class saw the futility of resistance and the advantages of adaptation. They were conservatives, pro-Catholic Church, pro-monarchy, anti-republican. When the Spanish Civil War broke out, the Sorianos gave their financial support to the nationalist, Catholic Church faction of Franco. In 1898 they did not want to be ruled by an indigenous republic. They wanted to remain as an elite in the shadows and preserve their aesthetic and extremely pleasant way of life, which U.S. rule assured them would remain intact.
U.S. rule did not strengthen our unification process as a people; rather I see that it put us in a limbo in which apparent progress, prosperity and political freedom covered up the profound contradictions that had led to the Revolution against Spain, and persisted without solution under the United States and afterwards.
Today we celebrate our freedom not on July 4, but on June 12. This is because we did in fact identify as a people with the declaration on June 12, 1897 in Kawit, Cavite of independence by General Emilio Aguinaldo and our Republican Army. But it was a romantic identification.
The independence granted by the U.S. in 1946 was a formal independence, a release in name only from outward dependence. But in our bodies, in our minds, we did not declare ourselves free. We listened to the authority over our country declare our freedom, to avoid rebuilding our shattered country. Instead, the U.S. rebuilt Japan. Our new native and mestizo political class jumped into their Made in the U.S.A. patent leather and wingtip statesmen’s shoes. They too were Made in the U.S.A. with Philippine raw materials.
And of course, the U.S. kept firm control over our “Republic”, politically, economically and through its intelligence and military industrial complex.
The conditions under which our people live today speak for themselves. The Filipinos must seek kaginhawaan and kasaganahan elsewhere, because in their own land they have no future except to try to survive by hook or by crook, in spite of a government that they would probably be better off without, and a Church that continues to thrive on the innocent piety of a people with an addiction to suffering.
I am not saying that the Republic inaugurated on July 4, 1946 is not a valid Republic. But I am saying that validity can be formal and upheld by the international community of nations, and yet a government may not have the moral force or the will to serve and guarantee the rights of all its citizens. A government may be a bureaucracy that becomes increasingly irrelevant, that may in fact only serve the interests of and shower benefits on the most obstructionist elements of society.
On the other hand, a nation can exist even if it is not ruled by any one given government, even if its members are not limited to living in one single territory, and even if that nation is not recognized by any state.
Today there are seven million Filipinos in foreign countries, approximately 10% of the population in Filipinas. The Filipinos outside the country and their families within it, are a parallel Filipinas that is completely separate from the formal bureaucratic national construct, but that is absolutely essential to the latter’s survival and continuance. The informal Filipinas serves and buttresses or floats the formal one. It’s like the human body and the spirit. When the human body is terminally ill, the spirit remains in it for a very long time still, and keeps it viable. Until the time comes when the body shuts down, and then the spirit flies home, free.
A national identity seems to begin to be clearly configured after 100 years. It has been 100 years (120 years in 2021) since the United States annexed the Philippines. A hundred years since the Filipinos began to move away from their Hispanic-Filipino past, from the Spanish language, and began to embrace English and the North American culture and way of life.
It has been sixty years (seventy years in 2021) since growing numbers of Filipinos began to migrate, first mainly to the U.S., then to all the countries of the world where jobs were to be found for Filipino professionals and skilled and semi-skilled workers.
And wherever we are, we take Filipinas with us in our hearts, and we work, whether directly or indirectly, whether passionately or dispassionately, whether consciously or unconsciously, for her welfare through the welfare of those we love who have remained behind.
I invite you today to strengthen our love for our people, for our land, and to reflect on the new Filipino nation that I believe is on the threshold of rebirth, this time all over the world, and with the real possibility of attaining the three requirements that I referred to for true nationhood:
1st: A People with a strong sense of mutual recognition.
That we can look upon each other and see our best qualities, our essential virtues reflected in each other, giving us a sense of being proud of our fellow countrymen and women, of our children, parents, siblings, and also of those who are not our direct family, but who are our greater family.
A strong sense of mutual recognition can only be formed when a people knows their history, identifies with it, cherishes the past and is inspired by the past to remain cohesive in the present and make sacrifices for a better shared future.
2nd: A People who identify with similar values.
That our greatest value: love for the family, and our greatest virtue: human compassion and loving kindness, can be extended to each and every Filipino we meet and relate with.
The similar values of the Filipinos were formed, not between 1946 and the present, but from pre-colonial times until 1901. And the weakness of our national memory, the lip service given to bayanihan, point to the superficiality of our relationship to that crucial past. We haven’t studied the past, we lost its mystique, we lost its language.
3rd: A People who aspire to a common future.
May it become our common aspiration to learn more about our uniqueness and rich human experience as a people, and learn to work for the betterment, not just of ourselves and our blood kin, but of every Filipino, because we realize that we have all come from the same trials and sufferings and can only progress together, by giving ourselves unstinting support, help and encouragement. Again, our indifference to the plight of our poor and ignorant fellow Filipinos lies in our ignorance of who they are, and of who we are. Because we have forgotten what our past once meant for our great-grandparents, we became set adrift on a vessel captained by others, we bought false promises and renounced our own heritage because it was too difficult and too complicated to reach agreement amongst us all.
In the past are those who loved us and had faith in our potential, and gave their lives so that we might never say: no, that past has nothing to do with me. Those people are strangers, failures, losers. I’m better than them. Bahala na sila.
A nation is not born by official decree, not even by writing and passing a Constitution. A nation is born when a people realize that something real and precious binds them to each other and so they feel happy when they are striving for important things together. Even if some others don’t share the same feeling or have the same priorities. Even more than language or race, national identity is a realization in the collective mind, heart and body that “we” have come into being. More than words, it is a feeling shared by very many people that makes it natural for them to invent shared projects. The opposite of it is avoidance, withdrawal, indifference. The “we” versus “them”. The ones who are “in” and the ones who are “out” and must be kept “out”. We all know what that is like.
Is it any wonder that words such as:
Kalayaan, kasaganahan at kaginhawaan, para sa isa’t-isa at para sa ating buong bayan.
Liwanag ng loob. Kabutihan ng kilos, kalinisan ng isip, puso at gawâ.
Kaligayahan na tayo’y pilipino, at ang kabutihan ng ating lahi’y nagbibigay ng kabutihan at liwanag sa buong mundo.
…are smiling slogans pronounced in town fiestas and political rallies or other events to create a theatrical fiction of unity?
Because we say it, but we don’t feel it. We’ve been taught to feel little, and when we feel something strongly, we hide it because if we show it, we feel ashamed.
Our great-grandparents were less imprisoned by shame than we are.
If we study our past, we can see this in the writings they left behind. There was no doubt in who they were. There was no confusion.
This is just one thing we ought to go back to learn from them.
 There were many degrees of mestizaje, and these revolutionary leaders were racially and culturally part of the elite.
 It is high time for Filipino youth to study these fascinating parallel revolutionary histories, but in Spanish. In English they lose power.
 And even then, this world does everything it can to condition it; this world seems to be an enemy of freedom.
 Currently ten million, and one million leave each year. https://www.ilo.org/manila/areasofwork/labour-migration/lang–en/index.htm#:~:text=Globally%2C%20more%20people%20than%20ever,the%20world%20continue%20to%20grow.
 Actually, Filipino men began emigrating to the U.S. around World War I.
Photos by unsplash.com@donniiee96