by jun asuncion
This post is not intended as an academic work but just my personal thoughts on this Independence Day and as my reply to a comment on my earlier post Strengths And Weaknesses Of The Filipino Political Character.
A Hindu-Muslim Archipelago. We know of Datu Puti as one of the Bornean Datus who ruled in the south during the pre-Hispanic period. During the Spanish time Raja Colambu was the King of Limasawa, Rajah Humabon of Cebu, Sultan Kudarat Of Maguinadanao, Datu Lapulapu of Mactan, Rajah Lakandula of Tondo, Datu Macabulos of Pampanga, Datu Urduja of Pangasinan and Rajah Sulaiman III of Manila. There were many other Datus and Rajas all over the archipelago whom the Spanish colonial power called Las Islas Filipinas, the Islands of the Philippines. Hinduism came to the Philippines via traders between 1350 and 1389 from the island of Java during the Majapahit Empire (1293-1500) and exerted great influence on the natives of the archipelago only to be superseded within a short time by the Islamic conquest of Majapahit empire and the coming of Islamic Indonesians and Arab missionaries in the 15th century.
Hence, the archipelago was dominantly a Hindu- Muslim archipelago as Sultans, Datus and Rajahs are all Hindu-Muslim titles of rulers and nobilities. If I identify myself with the pre-Hispanic archipelago, then I’m a Hindu- Muslim; if I identify myself with the time and culture I was born in, then I am a Christian.
Genetically of Malay race, our dominant ancestral, pre-Hispanic civilized society was a Hindu- Muslim society. However, not all people at that time were Hindu-Muslims as there were people who were trapped or isolated themselves up in the mountains and were neither islamized when the Muslims came nor catholicized with the coming of the Spaniards. They still exist today as “cultural minorities” (a label I dislike) like the Igorots, Aetas, Ati (Negritos ethnic group) etc. with their own culture, political organisation and system of beliefs.
The very first people who inhabited the archipelago- or some places of it- long before the invention or evolution of today’s dominant religions were animistic in their belief and world view. If I identify myself with those primal ancestors of 20-30 thousand years ago – in the belief that my family and genetic lineage can be traced back to them- then I am an animist, a being who is one with the forces of nature and see spirits in them, or much later a syncretist of Hinduistic origin who believes in Anitos, Diwatas or Bathala.
Hindu-Muslim Social Hierarchy. The independent Hindu-Muslim barangays in the archipelago and the sultanates in the south all attest to existing social communities, communities with hierarchical systems of Ruling class as Sultans, Datus or Rajahs, of Intermediate class as the Freemen or Maharlikas and of the Ruled or Unfree-class as the Alipins or slaves.
There were interbarangay commerce, cultural exchanges, etc., all transactions suggesting a kind of confederative co-existence,yet no common identity, no common laws, no central government that kept them together or a court that settled interbarangay conflicts. The mythical legal code of Kalantiyaw which was supposed to bring order to the folks of Negros was proven to be a forgery.
From Code of Kalantiyaw to Mt. Sinai. This changed with the coming of the Spanish colonizers who already have in them the concept of national government, of a nation or country, of a central powerful monarchy that rules over vast territories and colonies. But before that there was this catholization that took place, the biblization of the Hindu-Muslims, and later the changing of names, like Rajah Humabon becoming Carlos, or Mariano Kagalitan to Mariano Asuncion.
But the social structures remained the same, more or less. Allowed to keep up their lordships over their barangays, the now catholized datus had to subjugate themselves however to the new ruling class, the Spaniards, or to the new omnipotent Catholic King of Spain. In effect, the whole archipelago with all its barangays was reduced to the lower class level, if not to that of oppressed or slaves, the Alipins. In fact the new ruling class introduced a new form of intricate slavery- the polo y servicio which is a system of forced labor within the encomienda throughout the island colony.
From Suppression to Explosion. The suppression of emotions through centuries of encomiend and hacienda slavery and injustices ultimately led to explosion. This big-bang in the history of the archipelago gave birth to the concept of freedom and nation during this colonial period which culminated by the end of the 19th century; by June 12,1898, 112 years ago, the Spanish dominion (which historically started in 1649 with the Sumoroy uprising in Samar) has ended and the first Philippine Republic was born.
This short historical review is not meant to refresh our knowledge but to remind us that the past explains a lot of things the way that the Filipinos are now, our character strengths and weaknesses and offer us clues as to why reciprocity, “debt” of gratitude, passive-aggressive traits and the like are so intense and complex among the Filipinos for the Western observers.
As one Western commenter has observed about Reciprocity and Utang Na Loob:
“I am guessing that this (Reciprocity) basically a very deep instinctual drive in all cultures, but I am curious as to why it is so exaggerated and complex in Philippines…Philippines has intensely hierarchical family and tribal structures, probably even before the foreign oppressors arrived. Within such a system those beneath perceive themselves to be powerless and lacking in rights. Without rights, any act of support would therefore seem like a gift rather than a duty. I am guessing the intensity of Utang Na Loob is derived from this.”
Utang na Loob is a form of reciprocity which, as the name suggests, a Filipino version or expression of it. The short historical review has shown that for the majority of the Filipinos- before, during and even after colonial times- their history is a history of slavery or servantry, from our tribal past to the alipin sagigilid or mamamahay during our Hindu- Muslim past and to encomienda, hacienda and peonage slaves during the catholization. (It is said that peonage was the employed by the conquistadores wherein the Filipino workers were granted debt to their own slavery afterwards for failure to work off the debt, becoming permanently tied to their Spanish employers). Even up to now, the servantry is still very much a part of our socio-economic culture. Only that now, the government exports this “labor force” to other countries.
With the coming of other colonizers, the Americans and the Japanese, the Filipinos were again forced to assume the slave mode and to suppress aggression in order to survive.
Nature or Nurture?Against this historical backdrop and if we believe that personality is also moulded by external forces, then we can rightly assume that the Filipino collective personality is a product of his total experience which is layered in complex mixtures of genetics and external circumstances over a long time. The resulting product is a distinctly Filipino character. This explains the complexity of our traits when juxtaposed against other Asian people and other cultural groups.
We Have Our Own Identity. Hence, this cry for the search of Filipino identity is a travesty, a political distortion in my view aimed at controlling the masses by sneakily activating their slave mode. We already have our own identity. I’m very cautious when I hear such phrase as “landslide victory” for then I suspect that the old trick has functioned again, that psychology has been politically abused or misused again. Also, it’s not wrong when a Westerner observes that there is exaggeration in our reciprocity trait, wrong maybe in the sense that it collides with their Western concepts of democracy and bureaucracy but in themselves our Filipino traits can never be wrong. It is not the search for identity but it’s about the search for a political system that fits our own character without sacrificing universal virtues as justice, freedom, human rights, etc.
In truth, the past still lingers in us and this is where self-serving politics get their power. Our Western commenter has mentioned that “a number of deep human traits… could potentially be exploited. One of these was called reciprocity”.
Landslide Win.When politics is just about power, then it’s only there to exploit available resources to support that power. This is very visible in our politics especially during elections. The character traits of the people are the number one target of this exploitation, material resources comes next to it. It’s not the vote that’s being bought but that Utang Na Loob of the people. A politician who is good in that will have that landslide win.
Still In Progress. Indeed, the trait of Utang na Loob- as all other Filipino traits- has evolved out of this collective past, of the confluence of events and the need to survive physically, psychologically and socially. All traits had developed and been retained because they have this survival value. And while our social evolution is still in progress, I think that these traits that we have are also undergoing some mutations. Our Filipino traits are not static and final, we are changing or are being changed by events and time. We ourselves are witnesses to how these traits conflict with things new to us or things which require other cultural tools or constructs that are either foreign to or less develop in us.
Our Utang Na Loob is easily related to our slave mode than to our noble or lordship mode. This trait can only develop with such intensity and character out of social and economic survival necessity. You cannot experience the attitude of thankfulness with such intensity for things that are natural to you or that you have in abundance. Hence, from those who live in paradise, don’t expect Utang Na Loob; the same with our Tabon man in Palawan, our pre-historic ancestors who inhabited our caves thousands of years ago. I don’t think they knew Utang Na Loob as we know it now- or Hiya, Delicadeza, Freedom, Corruption, Alipin or Injustice. These things came to the archipelago with Islamization and Catholization. With these foreign oppressors, heaven is won but paradise is lost.
You’ll find this Utang Na Loob in abundance from those who experienced hell or deprivation of basic things. For the majority of us our history was a history of deprivation. Those were hellish times under foreign enslavement. There were some Filipino families who profited from these periods of hell, who maintained their feudalistic vast haciendas even until now, who still practise landgrabbing and colonial slavery practices as peonage and force labor and many of them are in the government posing as public servants. But in truth they are masters of exploiting Utang Na Loob, Hiya and Pakikisama.
Passive-Aggression. Certainly, with such a background of slavery where it was not safe to express anger or opinions but rather safer to resort to suppression and pakikisama in order to survive, we can only expect that passive-aggression is a part of colonized Filipinos’ coping or defense mechanisms. We know in psychology that families who forbid or deny their children the natural need to express feelings of hostilities produce adults who have this disorder. But it’s out of context to say- as our Western commenter has said- that it is a form of national sabotage if he means by it that Filipinos are using passive-aggression actively and consciously to destroy their nation and political development.
A Happy Nation? Though I can confirm the presence of this negative trait in our society, I disagree with its willful or conscious use of national sabotage. Yet I believe that this goes on in the unconscious level in our political dynamics and hinders progress. Passive-aggression might have been a form of rebellion- or sabotage- against the colonial government at that time, a conscious one. But now, I look at it instead as extension of colonial destruction. For the destruction of the people through colonial oppression and maltreatment doesn’t end with the disappearance of the oppressors but it continues, this trauma, this learned helplessness and passivity. Combined together, i.e., Spanish, Americans, Japanese, those were 425 years of trauma, suppression and slavery, of abuse and insult to the Filipino psyche. And add to that those nightmare decades under Marcos and Arroyo. Do you expect a healthy and happy nation by now?
I wish the Filipinos a happy Independence Day!