I have always been proud to be a Filipino. Having a little flag on my ring finger might be a trivial way to show it on this 115th day commemorating our freedom, but the truth is that I carry that flag in my heart every day of the year. Today we celebrate the birth of a free people (not too long ago at all), but the real joy should be in living it every day.
The sad part is that it’s not always a “joyful” experience–being a Filipino, that is. I’ve experienced discrimination as a Filipino, I’ve been ashamed of our government, I’ve been frustrated beyond all frustration because of some of our people’s cultural quirks, and Lord knows that travelling with a Philippine passport is a pain in the ass. I drive to school everyday and I see poverty right outside my window. I see the overcrowded and filthy squatter neighborhoods (go on and scold me for being “politically incorrect” just there)– and they’re not even three minutes away from some of the most expensive gated communities in Metro Manila. For someone who’s never been to Manila before, it can be shocking. For someone like me who has lived here my entire life, it’s often easy to forget. You just… get used to it. You get used to it when what you should be is something closer to infuriated.
We say we are a free people, but what what we do with that freedom is as important as attaining freedom itself. For all the moments of frustration with and anger at my country, there are also moments of joy that only make the love that I have for the Philippines grow. It’s for those moments and for the hope of future happiness (because joy and happiness are really quite different) that I gladly trudge through the difficulties that are our reality.
“There is a need to sow the seed,” a line from a Francis Magalona song goes (props to you if you know it!): “Toil the soil and plod until your hands bleed.” I’m a firm believer in the somewhat distressing theory that we have no clue who we are as a people. We forget the past so easily, and that alone will lead us down a road of passive self-destruction and into nothingness. What use will freedom have been if we allow that to happen? There is a nation to be built yet.
Allow me to leave you with a poem by Gemino Abad. Think of our inang bayan, countrymen. Really think. “For if now we are at war, the terror / is our rootlessness…”
O, months still to the day of Election,
and yet my thoughts again
to my country turn…. Ai, what country?
what fiction, what myth of nationhood?
yet too is it real as you imagine her
and call to her yearningly with a rush
of unreasoning passion, Inang Bayan!—
a thousand islands, fisher folk and peasants,
a few cities barnacled with squatters, and
over all supersession of politicking trapos.
O my ad hoc country, bless you! Sprinkled
with blood of martyrs over four hundred years,
and still, it is forever Advent. What then
have they witnessed to? Empty crib of Asia,
firstborn republic in shambles,
from day one of alleged independence,
pillaged after every election by her leaders,
their cronies and kindred, and judges,
and petty bureaucrats, without end.
But I—yes, what have I done? Nothing, sir,
nothing at all, I only teach, I write, I try
to think, and mercilessly tried, my sons
looking to America for their country.
I have no words to tell them it would be
Treason, for if now we are at war, the terror
is our rootlessness since we have no faith
except in cunning of calculation of profit.
But yet, what can I do? still nothing,
nothing at all, I teach, I write, I try to think
and not despair, for I do not know
upon what ground may fall the seed
I sow. Ai, what seed? neither do I know,
abhorring platitudes, what other thoughts
my words veil, nor what feelings direct
their sap and gall. I must only believe
that every human effort toward good,
whenever tested and tried, bears fruit
in time and space and patience.
I see little good still in my country,
but I will have no other. Inang Bayan!
yearningly I cry, my heart her fool.