This political season, with all its uncertainties and strange turns, may yet trigger the surge of a new nationalism among our people and in this country.
I sense it lurking underneath the popular anger and cynicism about politics and government today under the leadership of President BS Aquino, amid the general sense of expectation from the prospect of national elections in May next year.
I glimpse it in the resurgence of historical themes and subjects in Philippine cinema, as evidenced especially by the critical success of the film “Heneral Luna,” which depicts the assassination of the revered General Antonio Luna, at a critical time in our struggle for independence against America.
I feel it in the fervor with which people are discussing the burning issue of Sen. Grace Poe’s citizenship and divided loyalties, and her evident lack of qualifications for seeking the Philippine presidency.
I notice it in the way the language of nationalism is creeping into the language of politicians, who normally think of self more than nation in their public life.
I notice it finally in the increasing frequency and annoyance of many people with President Aquino’s refusal to wear the flag pin and his insistence on wearing his yellow ribbon instead.
People care about these things lately.
Two pledges of allegiance
I was reading and listening online the other day to Sen. Bongbong Marcos’s speech in Filipino at the formal launch of his candidacy for vice-president in Intramuros last Saturday.
Stirred by some of his words, I quoted some passages to my wife (who is also a writer), particularly the part where BBM spoke of leading “a revolution in heart, mind and action.” He said: “Sa tulong ninyo at ng bayan, pamumunuan ko ang isang rebolusyon sa puso, isip at gawa tungo sa isang tunay at makabuluhang pagbabago.”
(With your help and our countrymen’s support, I will lead a revolution of the heart, mind, and action towards true and meaningful change. I will lead a campaign to achieve our dreams in our lifetime.)
My wife said that the words reminded her of the pledge of allegiance (Panatang Makabayan) which we were all required to recite in school. She could remember the thing almost line by line, so she suggested that I Google it to make sure.
Being an Internet believer, I googled the thing. And in no time, I got a copy in my hands of the original pledge.
But then I got a surprising and unwelcome bonus. It turns out that there are now two versions of the pledge.
From poetic to pedestrian to unconstitutional
Recitation of the Panatà is required by law at all public and private educational institutions for Filipinos or containing a majority of Filipino nationals. This guideline was set in Republic Act No. 1265, one of many national symbols and laws, which were approved on July 11, 1955. The act was implemented in schools through Department Order No. 8 of what is now the Department of Education, which was approved on 21 July 1955.
And so it went for everyone in all schools across the country until November 2001, when an ambitious politician who got appointed for some reason as Secretary of Education, got the dumb idea of revising and updating the pledge for modern times. The politician was the late senator Raul Roco, who ran for president twice and lost.
His idea was to use shorter words and shorter lines than the original.
The original Panata contains the pithy “Sisikapin kong maging isang tunay na Pilipino sa isip, sa salita, at sa gawa. (I will strive to be a true Filipino in thought, word and deed.”)
The revised version introduced the wooden and pedestrian, and possibly unconstitutional: ”Naglilingkod, nag-aaral at nagdarasal nang buong katapatan.
Iaalay ko ang aking buhay, pangarap, pagsisikap Sa bansang Pilipinas.” (Serving, studying, and praying faithfully.
I offer my life, dreams, and successes / To the Filipino nation.)
I say unconstitutional because it introduces prayer into our schools, whereas our constitution emphatically decrees a strict separation between Church and state.
Most striking and appalling is this: The original pledge was prescribed by law. It was revised unilaterally by a mere secretary of education and politician.
I don’t know whether President Gloria Arroyo is aware of this, but this all happened during her watch. So even then it was not unheard of for a government official to dictate by whim an alternative version of an official way of doing things.
President BS Aquino had therefore precedent on his side when he came up with “the alternative truth” to the Mamasapano massacre.
No useful nationalism
In his 1988 essay, “A Damaged Culture,” and in his 1994 book Looking at the Sun, the American author James Fallows flung at the Philippines and our people the scathing criticism that we Filipinos do not have “a useful nationalism.”
He wrote: “When a country with extreme geographic, tribal and social-class differences, like the Philippines, has only a weak sense of national unity, its public life becomes a war of each against all.”
He continued: “Individual Filipinos are at least as brave , kind and noble-spirited as individual Japanese, but their culture draws the boundaries of decent treatment much more narrowly. Because the boundaries are limited to the family or tribe , they exclude at any given moment 99 percent of the other people in the country.”
“Because of this fragmentation, this lack of useful nationalism, people treat each other worse in the Philippines than in any other Asian country I have seen.”
In spite of our national revolution of 1896, and the proclamation of national independence in June 1898, in spite of all our sacrifices and losses in the Philippine-American War; in spite of our full achievement of independence in 1946, much ahead of our neighbors in East and Southeast Asia, and in spite also of all the efforts of nationalist teachers like Renato Constantino, we are a people who are curiously wanting of a strong sense of nationalism.
In the film, “Heneral Luna,” Antonio Luna framed it as a choice for every Filipino: “Bayan o sarili.” Country or self.
We face the same choice today as they did yesterday.