Sometimes it takes a casual occasion to rouse us from mundane thoughts and prod us to ponder on issues of great relevance.
Lunching with ladies (two in their blooming 90s and two in their swinging 70s), I looked forward to a fun exchange of saucy news bits and chuckles over political comedies in the halls of power.
While waiting for our orders, I came across the piece “Nationalism — or lack of it” that prominent economist Cielito Habito had written in Inquirer Opinion (8/29/17). Without showing them the column, I asked my lunch companions why they thought the Philippines was being left behind in the march to “tiger” status of our neighbors in the region.
The responses were quick. Lolita Tan said, “Walang disiplina” (No discipline), and Susan Ople Sr, “Kulang ang malasakit sa bayan” (Concern for the country is lacking). Norma Cruz said, “Kailangan Buy Filipino” (We need to patronize local products), as she pushed the ensaladang pako and “flying tilapia” toward me. Chato Dinglasan was silent for a moment, then exclaimed: “Walang nationalism!”
I was surprised and awed by their answers, and enlightened by their awareness of the national situation. There must be more Filipinos out there who hold such views but prefer to hide their sentiments than go against the current.
In my years as private-sector representative at the National Economic and Development Authority in Calabarzon, I never heard anyone utter the word “nationalism” as if the subject were taboo. Strongly pushed then was planting okra and jathropa (tuba-tuba) or raising shrimps for export, in order to alleviate poverty. A few tried, but later lost their shirts. Result: The price of shrimps in the local market jumped sky-high, never to fall again. No wonder even the World Bank’s chief economist Joseph Stiglitz later sounded remorseful about its wrong prescriptions to the Third World.
It is unfortunate that at a time when the country needs it most, nationalism is not only lacking but in fact totally misunderstood and distorted to suit political ends. In the United States, President Donald Trump wrongly invokes nationalism to justify his anti-immigrant policies when in fact, behind his political gambit is racism of the Ku Klux Klan variety. In like manner, China’s incursions in the West Philippine Sea are clearly acts of territorial aggression, and not inspired by nationalism.
The unifying influence of nationalism in achieving national goals may now be difficult to concretize. But no real social transformation can take place without a national consensus on how best to solve the gargantuan problems we face today. With everyone moving in different directions and the modus in public affairs being “to each his own,” the next generation is bound to face a blank wall.
Having squandered the legacy of our forefathers, we continue to unlearn. We continue to dissipate our natural resources and lay waste to our mountains and watersheds to enrich a few. We invest heavily in education for foreign development, emasculate history, and threaten to abolish Filipino, the language that binds this fragmented archipelago. Our solution to agricultural woes is importation and smuggling, not national policy review or R&D (research and development). Finally, in pursuit of peace and order, we kill one another.
Now that President Duterte’s “build, build, build” infrastructure program has been rolled out—a bold step in spurring development nationwide—a national team must be formed to augment the government team in shepherding the project’s implementation. Here, the citizenry is called upon to close ranks—not to protest or simply oppose for partisan ends, but to assert the primacy of the national interest in assessing proposals and contracts. The mind-boggling cost of this venture requires the consolidation of forces to ensure its success.
This is the essence of nationalism—unity in thought and action. Given a chance, nationalism could be our missing link to greatness as a people and as a nation.
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Eva Maggay-Inciong, 84, taught history and political science in her younger days, and was also cochair of Neda Calabarzon. From the academe she engaged in farming, which she found “friendly to the soul.”