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The Artist Abroad

Resilience or submission?

/ 11:55 PM July 15, 2016

MANILAResilience. This is a particular quality Pinoys seem to have in abundance, one lauded by observers, foreign or otherwise, as it was at the recently concluded 10th International Conference of Philippine Studies—held at the venerable Silliman University in Dumaguete City.

Held up as a virtue, resilience was rightly remarked upon as a note of grace that has allowed the population since time immemorial to survive the innumerable onslaughts, natural and manmade, from colonial exploitation and endemic and massive corruption, to super typhoons such as Yolanda, tsunamis and earthquakes.

All true. But can resilience also be a synonym for docility? Cannot an excess of it lead, unwittingly or not, to a near state of, if not outright, docility, a docility that may even contain hints of masochism?

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The conference theme was “Re-imagining Community, Scholarship, Citizenship,” with its implied homage to the late Benedict Anderson. I thought it would be time to reimagine as well the national character itself, for from it, the nation evolves.

Let’s then reimagine the national character as less prone to smiles, still there, but now with darker hints and hues. Let’s do with fewer smiles and more of a pushback—though I suppose one can push back while smiling. Fine: Let us push back and smile at the same time. It is often essential to forego the pakikisama spirit, especially when those who seek to maintain the status quo and paper over inconvenient truths make appeals for it.

It might be, as a good friend remarked, due to the Christian maxim of turning the other cheek. But turning one’s cheek too many times only invites exploitation; it can also mean complicity in our own oppression.

Of course, we do have considerable segments of the population who, growing tired of always backing away, instead reject an establishment that has always favored the elite. Historical examples abound: from the Dagohoy rebellion in the 18th century, and the 1896 Revolution against Spain, to the 1986 People Power phenomenon and the continuing twin insurgencies of the Muslims and the Maoist New People’s Army. I broaden this spectrum to include those driven to crime due to a massive lack of opportunities for improving their lives. I exclude those elements of the elite who are truly criminal but cloak themselves in accoutrements of respectability. As has been said, steal a loaf of bread and you go to prison. Steal a railroad (or a Golden Buddha), and you wind up a senator—or president. If Duterte is serious about cleaning up our society, he should begin at the top—where the addiction is to the drug of unfettered power—and cease this illegal and immoral war on the poor.

I neither endorse nor reject violent pushbacks; we have had many of those in our history, where these suddenly erupt seemingly without warning (though those warning signs were there all along). Precisely to avoid such bloody eruptions, the lid must be lifted to relieve the pressure that would otherwise cause troublesome sentiments to boil over.

To take just one example: Perhaps the ridership of the LRT and the MRT can form an association to put systematic pressure on transit officials to improve the current situation that results in a shortage of cars (hence, sardine-like conditions in them) and frequent breakdowns. People moan and bitch, but they could take it a step further and organize.

Resilience can also be a synonym for compromise, for which we seem to have a propensity. We saw it at Biak na Bato, in late 1897, when the Aguinaldo government agreed to a truce with the Spanish colonial regime even though it was only a matter of time before the nationalist forces would have worn down Spanish resistance.

We saw it with elite members of Aguinaldo’s Cabinet, wanting to cut a deal with the putative American occupiers during the 1899 Philippine-American War, ready for accommodation as long as they could continue to hold on to their privileges.

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We saw it during the Ramos administration, when it asked for the return of one of the bells of Balangiga, rather than insisting on the three church bells spirited away by the U.S. Army.

We saw it very recently, in the statements Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay made just before the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision to junk China’s nine-dash claim to a whole ocean, that the country should engage in bilateral negotiations with Beijing—exactly what the Chinese have always wanted–thus undermining the Philippine strategy. Backtracking even as it was clear we would win a legal victory! With friends like these who needs enemies?

Resilience too often becomes a code word for submission, to move forward in a way that abets forgetting rather than remembering. Why is it that the scenario after every natural disaster rarely varies, when fingers are pointed and responsibility shirked? Why is public anger extraordinarily vociferous when public venality and corruption is exposed, but then with a shrug of the shoulders, dies down and it’s back to business as usual?

Why are the Marcoses still in power? Why have their cronies never been brought to the courts? Why are ill-qualified candidates more often than not elected to public office? Why do we continue to have political dynasties? The populace doesn’t seem to tire of this endless cycle of predictable zarzuelas.

Resilience or submission?

Copyright L.H. Francia 2016

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TAGS: “Re-imagining Community, 10th International Conference of Philippine Studies— Silliman University, American Occupation, Benedict Anderson, Biak na Bato, citizenship, Marcoses, national character flaws, Permanent Court of Arbitration, Philippine national character, scholarship, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Perfecto Yasay, Spanish colonialism
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