The crisis in the Crimean Peninsula of Ukraine is worrying the rest of the world but is generally ignored by Filipinos. Why, many Pinoys may not even know where Crimea or Ukraine is. (Ukrainians may not know where the Philippines is either.) To some Pinoys, however, the very mention of Crimea brings to mind the Crimean War of the 19th century immortalized by Alfred Lord Tennyson in his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
This is a poem our teacher in Literature asked us to memorize early in our schooling. Among the lines I remember best are the following:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
Mention the poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade” to ordinary Filipinos and they wouldn’t connect it to Crimea or to Ukraine. They may not even be aware that it’s in praise of the bravery of British soldiers against overwhelming Russian forces in the Battle of Balaclava. Chances are, the first thing that would come to their mind upon hearing the poem’s title “The Charge of the Light Brigade” would be the unconscionably high power rate being charged by Meralco. They know that the heartless, unsympathetic “light brigades” of Meralco are always eager to cut off their lights (puputulan ng ilaw) at the slightest delay in the payment of their bills.
I wouldn’t blame ordinary Filipinos for being generally parochial in their thinking and couldn’t relate to the Crimean crisis. They are so engrossed in eking out a living that they would ignore issues that wouldn’t add anything on the table (except scandals and show biz?).
Sad to say, parochialism is not limited to the Great Unwashed. This is also very evident in the House where congressmen generally look at how bills, especially appropriations measures, would benefit their districts and themselves. Rep. Rene Relampagos of Bohol is one of the few exceptions. Recently, he filed a bill that’s definitely not parochial because it pertains to national symbols, like making adobo the national food.
I have no beef against adobo. On our first years of married life, my wife Lynn used to cook adobo because we had no ref and adobo stored in a glass jar wouldn’t get spoiled for a long time. As an Ilocano, however, and since we already have a ref, I’d go for the more healthy “saluyot” or “dinengeng” as the national food. I’m sure those from other regions would push for their favorites, like Bicolanos rooting for “laeng,” (I prefer “kinunot”), and Cebuanos, for “lechon” (the best in the land!).
Speaking of “lechon,” I once overheard this conversation between two female friends, both married. The first one was complaining about her husband, an inveterate skirt chaser despite suffering from hypertension and a host of other illnesses.
The second woman advised her to keep loving him despite his womanizing ways. A very sound, calming advice? I thought so too until I listened further.
“Buy him lechon regularly and spoon-feed him with it lovingly,” she added.
Going back to Relampagos’s bill, national symbols could indeed enhance national unity. On the other hand, foisting them could also spark debates along regional or cultural lines and worsen the Great Divide. This happened with the move to base our national language on Tagalog. Look at the resentment continually expressed by Cebuanos who considered it an attempt to impose Tagalog culture on them.
This language issue reminds me of an anecdote about a middle-aged Ilocano who won P1 million in a televised contest held in Quezon City. A television reporter immediately interviewed him in Tagalog, a language almost alien to him. Here goes the interview that sowed head-scratching confusion because of language differences:
Reporter: Ano ang gagawin mo sa premyo mo?
Ilocano: Bibili ako ng daga.
Reporter: Ha? Bibili ka ng daga? Anong gagawin mo sa daga?
!locano: Tatalunin ko.
Reporter: Tatalunin mo ang daga?
Then, somebody explained to the reporter that “daga,” which means “rat” in Tagalog, is “land” in Ilocano while “tatalunin, ” “to defeat” in Tagalog, is “to farm” in Ilocano.
Reporter: Ah, nagsasaka ka pala!
Ilocano: Oo Kung minsan nagsa-sapatos o sandals.
(To the non-Ilocanos, “nagsasaka” means “barefooted.”)
On second thought, some symbols could break regional barriers and get nationwide approval. Note that our legislators are (supposed to be?) representatives of the people so the way they collectively behave could be symbolic of the country. With our kind of lawmakers in mind, here are national symbols that every region could support:
National Fruit: Balimbing
National Sport: Politics
National Mascot: Crocodile
National Fish: Shark
National Dance: Cha-cha