I CONFESS. I mourn the death of Queen Elizabeth 2nd. The sadness I felt was similar to losing a beloved relative. I surprised myself with that little "OA" reaction. I had a valid explanation, I thought. She is literally my queen. She served as Queen of Canada for almost half of Canada's existence. Her face is in every coin and bill. Buildings, highways and universities bore her name. Her presence was felt everywhere, except in politics.
The British empire is long gone. In its place is the Commonwealth, an association of sovereign states comprising the UK and its former colonies. They regard the British monarch as head of state. It is hard to explain and defend the relevance of a monarchy, constitutional monarchy, and the Commonwealth in our complicated times. I will not attempt lest I be "canceled" for being an apologist. But I think it is unfair to label everyone who is sad about the queen's death as ignorant, foolish or one with "colonial mentality." It is sickening to see allegations from supposedly intelligent people, like the Carnegie Mellon professor, who wished the queen an "excruciating death."
Once upon a time, we Filipinos had a king, too. For three centuries we were part of Spain. To my knowledge (and I've quickly consulted a historian about this), Jose Rizal did not write or speak a bad word about the Spanish crown. He mostly laid the blame on the friars. He even opposed the rebellion and wanted the Philippines to become a province of Spain. He also offered to serve as a doctor for the Spanish army when war broke out with the US in Cuba. In the early years under Spain, the missionary Augustinian friars told on the abusive conquistadores to the King, who readily abolished the encomienda system and slavery in our islands. It wasn't all bad.
It has become conventional wisdom, almost de rigueur, to blame kings and monarchs for the past sins and abuses of colonialism. It is deemed anachronistic to fangirl about the monarchy and the drama between the Windsor brothers and their wives. Yes, the royalists sided with Franco in the Spanish Civil War, but it was also King Juan Carlos who brought democracy to Spain after Franco died. During a period of chaos and turmoil, Mexicans invited a French royal to briefly become their king. Britain flirted with republicanism after they beheaded King Charles 1st, but they eventually saw the utility of restoring the monarchy.
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The monarchies of France and Russia had a violent end. But the "humanist" regimes that followed were inhuman and horrific. The conflict in France did not end with the beheading of King Louis 16th and Marie Antoinette. It took a dictator and self-crowned emperor Napoleon to restore sense and order. When the Soviet experiment ended after 70 years, Russia rediscovered a fondness for the imperial Romanov family who had a murderous end at the hands of Marxists. The city that was renamed Leningrad has reverted to the Tsar's namesake, St. Petersburg.
What does this all tell us? That history is rich with disparate facts to support the narratives we like. There was King Leopold of Belgium who treated the Congo as private property and extracted riches through forced labor and torture. I'm sure there are many more horror stories. Emperor Hirohito, in whose name Japan went to war, is also the emperor who told his people to "bear the unbearable" and surrender.
Let's circle back to my favorite royal, Queen Elizabeth 2nd. In her 70-year reign that started when she was just 25 years old, she navigated through many changes and pressures. The world was so very different then. The British is held responsible for exporting the law against homosexuality to its colonies; a law which Singapore, a former colony, repealed only this year. In 2013, Elizabeth gave her royal approval to the law on same-sex marriage, and was reported to have supported it as early as 2003. She also spoke on gender pay gap, saying: "My government will make further progress to tackle the gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability or sexual orientation." She said this while keeping the "political neutrality" of the royal institution. These were unimaginable pronouncements when she was a young queen. It not only became possible, it won her more respect.
Few institutions can stand for tradition, continuity and change at the same time. Today, the forces of tradition and change seem headed for a fatal collision. Each side wants to cancel the other. Harry and Meghan stood for change but displayed disrespect for the traditions within the monarchy.
I regard the British monarchy as an institution that showed respect for the old and an appetite for the new. Here lies the lesson for us Filipinos whose only connection to the British was the forgotten invasion of Manila in 1762 and the conspicuous presence of Pinay nurses in London hospitals. What is that institution for us? Do we possess something, anything, that embodies our traditions, that keeps us grounded, united and ready to embrace change?