The problem with all ‘peoples of the Philippines’ is that we have developed a kind of a partnership of pain-inflicting and pain-enduring, one side of us the sadist, the other side the masochist—and through the blessings of the continuing ignorance about how to build a just and fair, and honestly democratic country, we have come to enjoy this partnership, and now, it has become us, and all those who wish to see our collective experiences using another lens are deemed needing redeeming because they are lost, and thus, like the Good Shepherd in that other part of us, we have to call them back into the fold, rain or shine, in good or bad weather, and if still they do not want to hear our voice, we call them—as I have been called many times by people with the Tagalogistic bent—reactionary.
Curiously, one of the aims of the “Filipino as a Global Language” conference held at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa in 2008 and attended by two national artists of literature and a top-brass government administrator of historical knowledge and historical knowledge production is “to avoid regionalism”—a goal that to me, is not only insulting as it is insensitive, but is also hopelessly ignorant of the realities of Philippine life in its complexities.
One good guess for the faddish popularity of that immoral phrase—‘to avoid regionalism’—that denies as it deprives the rest of the peoples of the Philippines the public space they deserve is the kind of sociological and anthropological inquiry in the 1960s that was fueled by an attempt to rush the ‘Filipinization’ of everything and anything Philippine, including the ‘Philippine’ language—declared the ‘national’ language—that was to be the embodiment of our collective life, as this collective life demanded to be expressed in a national conversation that required one and only one language, as this one and only one language is the only that is capable of doing so.
With the imposition—that is the key word here: imposition, by law, and by the navy and the army that attended that law—of the ‘national’ language, academic scholarship went on a roll and then, lo and behold, someone talked about the ‘patterns of culture’ of the peoples of the Philippines, and these patterns evolved into stereotypes and profiles that until now, are still being used to explain who we are and our defects, and the possibilities for these defects to be corrected, if at all.
Thus evolved what we call the ‘hiya’ school of thought—one that included, among others, issues about smooth interpersonal relationships, and why corruption from the higher-highest echelon of government to the lowest-ranking barangay tanod or barangay paramilitary force continues to hound and haunt us until today.
The ‘hiya’ in the ‘hiya school of thought’ became so powerful that most academics believed in it, and because the whole exercise of knowledge production was reinforced by repetition especially in the popular media and in the school system that was held hostage by a cabal of educationists who did not know any alternative to explain who we are according to the framework of the essentialist concept of ‘hiya’ and other characteristics of all peoples of the Philippines.
Other key institutions of Philippine society and the churches caught this produced Philippine-produced ‘knowledge of the Philippines and its people’, and albeit tacitly, also believed and promoted it. Think of songs and rites and rubrics and ceremonies in churches in the Tagalog language in Ilokano churches in the Ilokano-land. Think of the Laoag International Airport with that banner, huge in the blue Ilocos skies and constantly made to dance gracefully by the Ilocos breeze, announcing that here, here in this Ilokano-land, you are to be permitted to speak only in Tagalog (well, Filipino is written in that banner) and English. And in Ilokano schools, young educands in the grades are prohibited from speaking in Ilokano, at the cost of their snack or lunch money or both.
The education sector produced a metaphor for all this systematic act of valorizing the experience from the center, with scholars and artists and social scientists giving their blessings to this reclaiming of ‘brownness’—indeed, a reclaiming devoid of historical correctness but uselessly repeats the mistake of Gat Jose Rizal the national hero about a ‘Malayan’ heritage—with the production of a thick book supposedly about ‘Filipinoness’, thick at 885 pages, but with the culture of the center at its center, with only a sprinkling of what passes for the diversity of peoples in the Philippines as a token recognition that there is that other Philippines that has been historically, culturally, educationally ‘othered’. And yet, that book, Brown Heritage, adopted a totalizing strategy to account everything Philippine—or Filipino.