As a program coordinator for local government units (LGUs) at the Institute for Solidarity in Asia (ISA), I’ve had the wonderful opportunity of traveling to many different parts of the Philippines to work in partnership with cities and municipalities outside Metro Manila in implementing a governance reform program called the Performance Governance System (PGS).
In particular, my work has brought me closer to the cities of Bislig in Surigao del Sur, Butuan in Agusan del Norte, Bayawan in Negros Oriental, and Talisay in Negros Occidental. I have also had the chance to be involved in a few interventions with Balanga, Dinalupihan and Orani in Bataan, Dipolog in Zamboanga del Norte, and Legazpi in Albay, and to interact with the province of Bataan and the cities of San Fernando in La Union, Masbate, and Mandaue in Cebu.
I had never set foot in most of these places prior to working at ISA but because of my personal encounters with them I feel my world view has been expanded. The map of the Philippines in my mind is now more colorful and textured because of them, and I can imagine our nation better because working with these localities has increased my awareness and interest. I owe them my deeper, stronger sense of nation.
Traveling around the country has also made me realize that it is possible to feel part of a community even if you are not from there–you can contribute and be welcomed even if you start out as a stranger. It is a wonderful feeling to be able to share in an advocacy and a collective vision. To be willingly part of something that recognizes the importance of the common good–that’s what solidarity has come to mean for me. It’s a strong force we can tap into as we try to transform our country.
Solidarity and imagination are so important to nation-building. We need to nurture a healthy sense of nation that is inclusive instead of insular. While it is understandable to be proud and biased toward our own cities and provinces, we need to learn how to be national and global in our thinking. Inter-dependence cannot be overemphasized in these modern times, when everyone is working toward globalization. In this regard, travel and exposure help to provide us with different perspectives and ideas for connecting.
The scholar Benedict Anderson coined the term “imagined community” to refer to the nation as a “socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves to be part of that group.” He adds that “members…will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion.”
And while the construct of the nation may be imagined, it is very much real and alive for most of us. We seek ways to make it tangible every day, and we do this by putting in time and effort to build a stronger country.
For me, this is best captured in what ISA president and ardent nationalist Alex Lacson calls our “Dream Philippines,” which he describes as “a country where dreams are possible no matter how high they may seem. This is what we want. This is the Philippines we deserve. This is the nation we will build.” The best part about these words is that they tug at our hearts and minds and invite us to dream, Philippines–just in case we have forgotten.
We are often told not to be strangers in our own country. I believe this and remain infinitely curious about our places and our people. I know there are others who feel the same way, and I hope we can share this thinking with many more. The truth is, it is such a joy to see more of our country–to find out about our countrymen’s stories and aspirations, and to be part of them somehow. My work enlivens me because it connects me to my fellow Filipinos. The learning never stops.
If you are looking for ideas and inspiration, why not pay a visit to the towns, cities, and provinces I have worked with? They have a lot to offer–and there is so much they can share about transformation and what it takes to imagine their future in our nation.
An anthropologist by profession, Diana San Jose is currently a program coordinator assigned to help implement the Institute for Solidarity in Asia’s (ISA) governance reform programs in local government units in Mindanao. To learn more about her work with the Institute, visit isacenter.org.
DIANA SAN JOSE