The Modern Propagandist: Federalism and the Philippines.
I’ll start this off with a confession. Philippine history never really interested me as a kid. I dreaded the moment our Sibika at Kultura teacher would arrive in the room and make us memorize the name of the governor-general who governed the country, or the year the Andres Bonifacio created the Katipunan, or countless vague information we will only forget after the long tests and recitations.
I only became a student of my own country in college, when my fervor and determination to serve the nation is in its highest. My friends and I never had an organized body of thinkers and doers, or a slogan, or a single-minded advocacy for that matter; we’re just a group of college kids who talked about politics and the society inside a jam-packed jeep or bus, trains, bars, fastfoods or anywhere in public space, as long as there’s someone nearby who can hear us. We believe that by just these simple things, we are unconsciously making them think, even for just a passing moment. We are subtle propagandists. We believe people should think beyond the date when Rizal was executed, or how many islands does the Philippines have.
Discussion of the Philippine history back in my elementary days is always filled with questions of ‘Who’. ‘What’, ‘When’ and ‘Where’. Apparently, dealing with the ‘How’ and ‘Why’ to Filipino gradeschoolers is too much for us to handle and we are quite unprepared for the critical thinking these questions entail.
One of those great ‘How’ questions I like to ask myself (and my friends) is: How we became a nation? How did a group of 7, 107 islands came to be known as the Philippines of today?
AN ARCHIPELAGO OF KINGDOMS
Way before the Spanish empire claimed the Philippines as its own, the archipelago is already thriving with several kingdoms, clans, nomadic tribes, sultanates and confederation of barangays. Each region, each province, has its own form of government, independent against the neighboring tribe. The island form of Luzon is comprised with several kingdoms or tribes warring against each other. The Rajahnate of Cebu was in a constant rivalry with the tiny island tribe of Mactan. The Kingdom of Butuan has its own flourishing golden empire. The Sultanate of Sulu was at the height of its power, recognized by its neighbors as a fearsome kingdom of Tausugs. It is, as they say, an each of its own.
For practical purposes, Spain rounded up the whole archipelago and called it a country. It was a forced unity, rooted for political and geographical reasons instead of racial homogeneity. True we are part of the Austronesian race, but Spain tore any form of cultural ties between our Malay brethren, introducing Western religion and culture similar to that of Latin America. For all intents and purposes, the Filipino ‘race’ is only formed throughout the Spanish colonization. It is noted that even the revolutionary sentiments are divided throughout the archipelago, with most people in the Visayas of the Central Philippines more loyal to the Spanish crown than the Tagalogs in Luzon.
American resistance is greater in Visayas and Mindanao than in Luzon. Let us not forget the Moro War between the Americans.
THE ISSUE OF THE NATIONAL LANGUAGE
One of the ground-breaking reforms enacted during the Philippine Commonwealth is the declaration for the country’s national language, Filipino. It is a language heavily based in Tagalog, a language extensively spoken in Manila and other parts of Luzon but not so much in Visayas and Mindanao. According to the National Language Institute, Tagalog was chosen based on the following factors:
1. Tagalog is widely spoken and understood in all Philippine regions
2. Unlike Visayan and Bicolano, it is not divided into smaller daughter languages
3. Its literary history and legacy is the 2nd richest of all Philippine languages next to Spanish, just like Tuscan which became the basis for Italian language.
4. The prehispanic language of Manila, Philippines’ economic and political center, is Tagalog.
5. Spanish may be the preferred language of Filipino intellectualists and reformists, but Tagalog is the medium of language of the revolutionaries especially those from Katipunan.
As someone who grew up in Metro Manila all her life, I didn’t have to learn or use a different language deviating from my native tongue in school. It felt natural that Filipinos would embrace Tagalog as their own. Now that I’ve learned so many things and traveled to various parts of the Philippines, I realized the issue of a common language became the source of frustration for most of our brothers and sisters outside Luzon, especially those Filipinos in the South. I couldn’t blame them, most of them wanted to preserve their own language and culture. The only form of resistance they see is to stubbornly insist on using their own language, or a foreign language (Spanish or English), for official and business matters.
Adding fat to the fire is the strict implementation that no other Philippine language should be used in official or national functions. Singing the Philippine anthem in another language apart from Filipino is a crime altogether on its own.
The issue of the national language isn’t the root of most discontent; rather it’s the effect. What is significantly lacking in our national identity is the origin of a common language, one that Spanish and American imperialists managed to solve by ‘uniting’ us under Spanish and English. That reinforces the belief that technically and semantically, our history as a Filipino people only began during colonization. Colonization, for better or for worse, formed the Filipino identity we know now, and one we keep on misunderstanding, unfortunately.
It felt funny realizing this just now, because during my history lessons in highschool and elementary, Spanish colonizers are often depicted as evil oppressors and/or villains who are in our way of achieving the desired freedom. Even Rizal understood the dynamics and complexities of gaining independence as a nation. That’s why his primary advocacy is to make the Philippines a province of Spain, not to uproot the nation from the empire. But then again, Philippine independence from Spain is an inevitable twist of history, an inescapable fate whose effects are still being felt until the 21st century.
I made it obvious in this blog that I’m a firm advocate of federalism. We can’t keep on insisting that we have a ‘united’ ‘collective’ perspective as a nation; that we have the same sentiments and opinion on the history that formed our nation.
We are ‘united’ for political reasons; it makes sense that if there’s one thing which will ultimately unite us, it’s a political reform.
Federalism may not outright eliminate the problems that are deeply-rooted in our society (e.g corruption, political dynasty, etc.) but one thing it gives is the accountability for each and every Filipino to decide who can govern them.
Let each region be accountable over its own people. Just like the good old times, don’t you think?
Violent reactions are very welcome. Just post your comments below. A healthy discourse is never bad :)