Rediscovering Rizal and the Filipino Spirit

I do not recall reading and learning about Jose Rizal’s essay entitled “The Philippines a Century Hence” in my compulsory Rizal class in college. Or maybe it was one of the required readings and I wasn’t paying attention. How I passed that class and managed to graduate with honors is one of the many mysteries of my life. So I am delighted to be a reacquainted with it through Randy David’s “Public Lives” column on the Philippine Daily Inquirer entitled “If Rizal had been a Moro”.

The following lines, quoted by Professor David from the English translation of Rizal’s essay, really resonated with me: “Thus began a new era of the Philippines. Its inhabitants lost their old traditions and memories of their past. They gave up their writing, their songs, their poems, their laws, and began to learn by rote other doctrines they did not understand, another morality, art forms that were different from those inspired by their climate and their manner of thinking. Thus they declined, lowered in their own eyes, ashamed of what was their own. They began to admire and praise whatever was foreign. Their spirit was broken…”

And that is why Filipinos have been forced to “gamble away the miseries of an insecure life…for the hope of obtaining something uncertain,” as Professor David noted. He reflected on Rizal’s essay as he imagines the Bangsamoro nation’s struggle for emancipation.

Working with a diverse group of Bangsamoro people on several projects through the years and being blessed to have several of them as friends, I don’t believe their spirit has ever been broken. They remain proud and determined as ever to fight for their right to self-determination. So the Bangsamoro spirit is alive and well.

It is the Filipino spirit I am worried about. Especially the spirit that lives in the souls of our political leaders.

The Filipino spirit has been described as fun, water-proof, unbreakable, warrior-like, warm,  and welcoming. Sometimes it is also characterized as crab-like (as in crab mentality, no offense to my favorite crab, because for all we know they are actually trying to defy gravity in climbing out of the basket and not pulling one another down), balimbing (the star-shaped fruit of my childhood to represent how easily we shift political allegiances), showbiz (referring to both our amazing talent in performing and our penchant for gossip and intrigues), and enterprising (could either mean “ma-diskarte” in finding ways in every situation or “oportunista” as in taking advantage of certain situations).

If we examine the adjectives used to describe the Filipino spirit, they all speak of our adaptability and creativity. And according to visionaries and experts, those are the two things that are key to not just surviving, but thriving, in the 21st century.

Contrary to popular belief, creativity do not belong to a special kind of people doing only artistic activities. Creativity is a process that begins with a flash of a new idea, a hunch or a fresh look at an existing concept. And we only need to look around our Filipino families and communities to see the many different expressions of that creative spirit. We see them in our hilarious play of words as we name our micro-enterprises; in our witty Pinoy jokes; in the acronyms of our political parties, social clubs, and civil society organizations; in our games and contests; in our clever jingles and advertisements.

Nobody does creative the way Filipinos do. According to Sir Ken Robinson, who was knighted by the British monarch for his contribution to creative and cultural education, most original thinking comes through collaboration and cultivation of diversity. And I can’t think of any nation who pulls off collaboration in diversity as amazingly as Filipinos who live in 7,100 or so islands (high tide and low tide and super typhoon-ravaged or not) and speak up to 175 different languages.

And that is why I am not buying the b.s. of some of our politicians who tell us that the Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) cannot and will not work because of inconsistencies, incongruences, and unconstitutionality. Come on, when did those things ever stop Filipinos from doing what feels right for them? We have creatively worked around the absence of a no-fault divorce law and the presence of very strict anti-corruption law.

Politicians who give all sorts of excuses not to pass the BBL are not doing so because of the Filipino spirit of adaptability and creativity. They are doing it in the name of the colonial spirit of domination and control. If they truly want to be in the right side of history, they better brush up on the writings of Rizal.

First appeared on Mindanao Times, June 25, 2015