Does the quality of a people’s nationalism reflect in the character of their economy and their culture?
I think it does; and I believe we need to create a stronger sense of ourselves as a distinct people; we need to develop a sharper sense of who we are.
We may have a Philippine state, but not yet a Filipino nation. For us the diffusion of national awareness—the incorporation into the national community of all sectors of our population—is still a work in progress.
We need to create for ourselves a more rounded kind of nationalism—a forward-looking nationalism focused on the effort to account for ourselves as a people—and to claim our place of dignity in the world community.
The quality of freedom
I recall the historian O.D. Corpuz musing on why Filipino nationalism grew more intense after Independence. Only then—in the course of the negotiations over “parity rights,” the US bases and the modalities of post-colonial relations—did our elite and middle class realize that Philippine and American national interests did not necessarily coincide.
Our closest neighbors, the Vietnamese, won their freedom unequivocally. So that, at the end of sacrificial struggles against the Chinese, the French, and the Americans, they could turn, undistracted, to the work of growing their economy and redeeming themselves from poverty.
By contrast, we Filipinos received our Independence without needing to engage popular nationalism. Both the ilustrado elite and the municipal factions “easily accepted the regime of electoral politics introduced by the Americans as a . . . peaceable way of staging their broad rivalries” (Ruby Paredes).
Filipinos of face and heart
In Corpuz’s view, only the dark peasants—the “Filipinos of face and heart”—wanted independence without reservation. The small-town principalia feared the outbreak of social revolution. The ilustrado elite and the urban middle class were of two minds, because they feared Japanese invasion, racial extinction from overwhelming Chinese migration, and loss of the protected American market.
Indeed Corpuz judged the whole of the American period as a “continuing erosion of the nationalist ideals of the Revolution and the First Republic.”
To the American academic Alice H. Amsden, “docility” so characterized Filipino nationalism that our country missed “the upheavals, cleansing, and redistributive effects of post-war decolonization.”
But the Filipinos hadn’t always been so submissive. In fact, it was the ferocity of guerrilla resistance in the Philippine-American war that drove the US colonialists into ever-closer collaboration with the Filipino gentry. And the “compadre colonialism” they lighted on worked better than either side had hoped.
Lukewarm to liberty
In the national elections for the first (1907) Philippine Assembly, the Nacionalista newcomers easily outvoted the collaborationist Federalistas by running on a platform of “immediate independence.”
But Corpuz notes that as soon as they were in power, the Nacionalista leaders showed themselves “lukewarm” to nationalism and the prospect of early independence. Asked by Commissioner Cameron Forbes on the election eve what they intended to do with their certain victory, Osmeña and Quezon “practically admitted to me that what they wanted was office, not independence.”
Because of this abandonment of nationalism by our electoral politicians, the nationalist role fell by default to radicals out of the cultural mainstream.
These included the millenarian rebel, Felipe Salvador, whom the Americans hanged in 1911; the confraternity of the colorum, who regarded independence as a sacred goal; the Sakdalista rabble-rouser Benigno Ramos; the Central Luzon socialist, Pedro Abad Santos; and the first Filipino converts to international Communism.
As a result, nationalism came to be defined as anti-Americanism—in Corpuz’s view, “distracting Filipinos from a positive or holistic understanding and practice of nationalism.”
Seditions and conspiracies
Beneath the cozy partnership between Washington’s colonial overseers and their Filipino partners, populist nationalism erupted periodically in seditions, conspiracies, local uprisings, and incoherent protests throughout the American occupation.
As O.D. Corpuz sums up the period: “The Nacionalista campaign for independence without nationalism ended with the inauguration of a republic on 4 July 1946.
“On that same day, the President bound his government to have the Constitution amended to give Americans ‘parity rights’ to exploit the archipelago’s natural resources. In the next year, an executive agreement gave our military bases to US forces for a hundred years.”
Not yet a nation
Indonesia is rid of the Dutch and Vietnam of the French. But for our country the United States continues to be a constant and overpowering presence. As in Latin America, our resentment of Washington’s impositions on Manila—coupled with our awareness of how utterly dependent on Washington we are (particularly in the teeth of an assertive China)—has turned our nationalism inward.
As one side-effect, we Filipinos, even in the age of globalization, remain ideologically protectionist. Hospitable we may be as a people; but we keep foreign investors at arm’s length. We keep our economy heavily regulated, though we’re forced to export people instead of products.
No escaping structural change
We all realize there’s no escaping structural change in our political, economic and social institutions. But what direction should change take, and how is it to be organized?
Certainly we must speed up market opening and reduce the costs of doing business, if our country is to catch the new wave of growth building up in East Asia. We had missed the “economic miracle” of 1965-1990 that enabled South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore to enter the First World in one generation.
During the 1980s, economic growth in our country was among the lowest in the world—lower even than Africa’s below the Sahara.
Not only are we among the poorest: we’re also among the most unequal. But, to narrow the income gap, public policy has been depending on little more than “trickle-down.” And, ironically, growth trickles down only where there already is a measure of equality—when (as the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz asserts) “every individual, every family, has the basic education and the good health enough to take advantage of the opportunities the expanding economy offers.”
In my view, we cannot escape eventually adopting a time-bound “positive discrimination” program for our poorest provinces and local communities.
We will also need a stronger, more coherent, more efficient state. Late industrialization involves intense learning as well as production experience, and requires an extensive role for intelligent government. Bureaucratic reform should start with the next President’s ceding to the Civil Service Commission his or her authority over appointments below that of undersecretary.
Earning our freedom
Decolonization left us so many problems one tends to agree the circumstances of freedom’s birth affects its quality. Rizal himself notes that a people does not receive its freedom, but earns it.
Certainly we need not accept our lot: we can aspire to make it better. After all, we Filipinos are not a cipher in the world: we’re a people a hundred million strong. But we will need to enlist popular fervor in our effort to catch up with our vigorous neighbors in the fastest-growing region. And in this effort our overseas contract workers, our “OFW heroes,” should be our vanguard. We should make growth—and its quality—the hallmarks of Filipino nationalism.