On being Filipino

The awareness of being Filipino does not come naturally.  We may be surrounded by all the symbols of nationhood – the flag, monuments, maps, pictures of our national heroes and the historic events in which they figured – but, though these may conjure stirring images of the nation, they do not necessarily bind us to the nation. We may sing the national anthem and recite the pledge of allegiance everyday, but these do not automatically evoke in us a consciousness of being part of the nation.

To be part of the nation is to care about what happens to it.  It is to see our personal lives as inextricably linked to its successes and failures.  This identification allows us to share in the glory of the nation’s achievements, but also to feel accountable for its ruin.  Otto Bauer, the Austrian social democrat, put it this way:  “When I become aware that I belong to a nation, I realize that a close community of character ties me to it, that its destiny forms me and its culture defines me, that it is an effective force in my character.”

A national identity is one of many affiliations into which we are involuntarily thrown in the course of our lives.  Some of these affiliations become salient to us insofar as we acknowledge and weave them into our own personal narratives.  The nation penetrates our consciousness by producing consequences in the way we think, feel or act, and, indeed, in how others treat us.

A Filipino may see his identity as both an asset and a liability. If our country is at war, the government may call on every Filipino to defend the nation, and our conscience may prompt us to come to its defense as a matter of duty.  At immigration counters abroad, we may be rudely awakened to the fact of our Filipino identity when we are made to step aside for a closer scrutiny of our travel documents.  In foreign lands, we may find solidarity and security in the bosom of fellow Filipinos.  But others may experience embarrassment in their company.  When the country is praised or criticized by foreigners, or when a Filipino is singled out for adulation or ridicule by the rest of the world, we may grow in self-esteem or wither in shame.  Either way, our consciousness of being Filipino is sharpened.

Filipinos did not always imagine themselves as a distinct people. This realization was a very slow process.  It came as a function of their historic struggle against colonial oppression.  Outside their own families, our ancestors tended to think of themselves as belonging to small tribal or ethno-linguistic groups.  Under Spanish colonialism, they thought of themselves as children of the Church, or as subjects of Mother Spain.  When they resisted Spanish oppression, they did so initially as separate communities.  These isolated revolts began to fuse into a national uprising only with the rise of the Katipunan.  The colonial powers were aware of the divisions among them and fully exploited them.

The thinkers of the Philippine revolution believed that the struggle against colonial domination could not be won unless the Filipinos learned to think of themselves as one nation.  Thus, the ideological task of the anti-colonial war focused on the creation of a strong Filipino identity — a positive consciousness and acceptance of the responsibilities of being Filipino.  Apolinario Mabini’s work “The True Decalogue” was a tool that was explicitly developed to prepare Filipinos for nationhood.

Here is an abridged version of Mabini’s Ten Commandments for the Filipino:

  1. Love God and value your honor above all things, for God is the source of all truth and justice, and your honor is what commands you to be truthful, just, and industrious.
  2. Worship God according to your conscience, for God speaks through your conscience
  3. Develop your God-given talents always according to what is right and just, for by doing so you contribute to humanity and you honor God.
  4. Love your country more than yourself, for this is the patrimony of your race, and the hope that you will bequeath to your children.
  5. Put your country’s well-being before your own, for its happiness will likewise be yours and your family’s as well.
  6. Strive for your country’s independence, for only you can have any real interest in its advancement, and your own liberty depends on its being free.
  7. Do not recognize in your country the authority of any person whom the people have not elected, for authority comes from God and God speaks through the conscience of every man.
  8. Build a republic, never a monarchy, for a republic makes a people noble and worthy, while a monarchy exalts only one or a few families and builds a dynasty.
  9. Love your neighbor as yourself, for this is a sacred duty that God imposes on both of you.
  10. Treat your countryman as more than your neighbor, and see in him a friend, brother, or comrade with whom you are bound by one fate, the same joys and sorrows, and common aspirations.

To revisit Mabini’s Decalogue today is not only to see how the imagination of this great thinker was so far ahead of its time.  It is also to realize how incomplete the project of the Filipino nation remains 111 years after Emilio Aguinaldo declared Philippine Independence.


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