A diverse, Global Nation
“Boholano” is Spanish, English or Filipino for “Bol-anon,” the identity I prefer if I were writing in “Binol-anon” or “Binisaya.” I grew up in Bohol in my first 19 years, after my birth in Tuburan, Cebu (Sugbo) in 1928. I was born of a Bol-anon father, Teodoro (Doro) Lloren Abueva, and a Sugbo-anon(which I prefer to Cebuano) mother, Purificacion (Nena) Gonzales Veloso. Therefore, my ethnic identity is Bol-anon-Sugbo-anon or simply Bisaya, which is my mother language and geographic identity.
But Bisaya connotes all of the Visayas which should include the peoples of West, Central, and Eastern Visayas, and all the peoples there who speakIlongo or Hiligaynon, Kinaray-an, Sugbo-anon, Waray, and Binol-anon. I say “peoples” to emphasize our plural ethnic-linguistic-cultural identities: how we identify ourselves as a people or community in regard to other Filipinos.
By law (the Constitution) we, mga Bisaya, and all other Filipinos, are citizens of the Philippines. The “Filipino nation” as our inclusive community is only presumed. It is not specifically defined—in the 1935, 1973, and 1987 constitutions. The Malolos Constitution was explicit: “Article 1. The political association of all Filipinos constitutes the nation, whose state shall be known as the Philippine Republic.”
We, mga Bisaya, and many more ethno-linguistic peoples of the Philippines make up the Filipino Nation. To mention only a few others: the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Ifugaos, Bicolanos, Maranaos, Maguindanaos, Lumads, Tausugs, Palaweños, Mindanaonons. We speak no less than 15 major Filipinolanguages, not just “dialects” as we wrongly call them.
The survival of our many mother languages shows their vigor and tenacity and our resilience as separate ethno-linguistic-cultural communities through many years of Spanish and American colonialism, and the much shorter Japanese occupation. For this our fragmented geography has been a major factor. On the other hand, many Filipinos learned English under American influence. This is a unifying element in Filipino nation-building anda distinct advantage in a globalizing world. But English is also a divisive and alienating force for Filipinos who mainly speak it, and those who don’t speak it and prefer their mother tongue, or our national language.
Like it or not, the legal imposition and learning of Filipino as the “evolving” national language and an official language based on Tagalog is unifying the nation. After all Filipino is an indigenous or native lingua franca propagated by the schools and the mass media, official usage, and domestic travel. In 1988, as President of the University of the Philippines, I initiated the policy on the development and use of Filipino as a language of undergraduate instruction in the University at par with English, and encouraged as well the development and use of other Filipino languages.
However, it should also be admitted that the widening use of Filipino is weakening and even killing our other Filipino languages, undermining our multicultural and linguistic heritage as a nation. Thus the urgency and importance of the nascent Mother Language Education (MLE) initiative that will teach our children their Mother Tongue as their bridge in learning science, mathematics, Filipino, and English.
We should realize that we are a fast-growing, developing nation and aspiring democracy. With our population of 94 million, the Philippines is now the world’s 12th most populous nation, although in land area our homeland is among the smallest (in 71st place). With some 10 million Filipinos abroad as permanent residents or transient workers, we are truly a Global Filipino Nation, far more multi-lingual and multi-cultural than ever before.
A weak but awakening Nation
Despite more than a century of nation-building, however, one of the reasons for our inability to develop and democratize effectively has to do with the failure of our leaders to unite, challenge and inspire our diverse peoples as one nation and to solve our problems of poverty, inequality, unemployment, and injustice. Too many of our leaders particularly, as well as citizens, may not love our country enough to transcend our selfish personal and family interests when called upon to obey the laws, elect leaders, support change and reforms, and sacrifice to promote our common good and national interest.
These deficiencies mark us as a weak nation in the face of our grave problems and challenges. We are unhappy when we observe the national unity and progress of the Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, and Singaporeans.
One scholar has suggested that we accept the reality that we, Filipinos, are really many different nations, not one. Another has raised the question whether Mindanao belongs to the Philippines, Mindanaonons being essentially and historically “a Southeast Asian nation.”
Every nation needs social and political trust as “social capital.” In this regard the Filipino nation has a troubling deficit. In my national U.P. survey in 2001 majority of our respondents agreed with these test statements: (1) “Most Filipinos do not trust each other” (57 percent) ; and (2) “Most Filipinos would know what is for the common good but care only for what is good for them and their family” (73 percent). Moreover, there is social class animosity as may be shown by the response to this test statement: “In our society, the poor people are oppressed or exploited by the rich and powerful people” (65 percent).
All Filipinos enjoy religious freedom. However, Muslims resent their relative poverty, deprivation, exploitation, repression, and underdevelopment compared to the dominant Christians. Thus the perennial Moro struggle for political and cultural autonomy, if not secession, and the Moro rebellions since the early 1970s. Some Muslims regard themselves more as Moros, or Maranaos, Maguindanaos, and Tausogs, than as Filipinos.
On the other hand, the so-called Maoist Communist rebellion dates back to 1968, succeeding the Soviet-oriented Communism that began decades earlier. Most NPA rebels feel the noted grievances of the Muslims more than they share a Maoist communist ideology.
There is growing resentment of our highly centralized, Manila-centric governance expressed in the term “Imperial Manila.” This fuels the legitimate demand for regional and local autonomy and even federalism, to achieve national unity and development in diversity.
Ideas for nation-building and unity focus on what may be done to strengthen our weak Filipino nation. Led by Senator Leticia R. Shahani and Dr. Patricia B. Licuanan, The Moral Recovery Program in 1988 urged our people to develop: “(1) a sense of patriotism and national pride, a genuine love, appreciation and commitment to the Philippines and things Filipino; (2) a sense of the common good, the ability to look beyond selfish interests, a sense of justice, and a sense of outrage at their violation; (3) a sense of integrity and accountability, an aversion towards graft and corruption in society and an avoidance of the practice in one’s daily life; (4) the value and habits of discipline and hard work; and (5) the value and habits of self-reflection and analysis, the internalization of spiritual values, the emphasis on essence rather than form.”
We celebrate our national unity in ending the 14-year Marcos dictatorship peacefully in 1986, which the world acclaimed. We proudly commemorated our Centennial of the Filipino Revolution and the First Philippine Republic in 1996-98. We take pride in Gawad Kalinga as a people’s movement in confronting poverty and nation-building. We rejoice in every victory of Manny Pacquiao and applaud the recognition of outstanding Filipinos in other global competitions.
More than before we may want to work as one in the wake of our generally peaceful 2010 elections, with hopes of national unity, good governance, and much less corruption. Instead of pitying ourselves as victims of our colonial past and “a damaged culture,” we should assert our national identity and destiny as Indios Bravos in a borderless world.