The Philippines was once Wakanda

When were we Filipinos last truly proud? Or, what would a Marvel movie featuring Filipino superheroes look like?

Manny Pacquiao made me proud.

When I backpacked through Mayan ruins, Mexicans would smile broadly, make punching motions, and beg me for “firma de Pacquiao.”

I asked why they admired him when he knocked out their countrymen. They sincerely felt kinship with Pacquiao making the sign of the cross in the ring, not trash-talking Floyd Mayweather.

When I handled an Indonesian TV company’s IPO, the program director described races to place ads for two sets of running updates: volcanic eruptions and Pacquiao fights.

Growing up hearing foreigners’ jokes about Imelda Marcos’ shoe collection, I reveled in the sense of national dignity Pacquiao the boxer restored.

But we would not cast Pacquiao as “King of Pinoy Wakanda.” He stepped down as living symbol to be just another politician.

Reflecting over the Edsa revolution, one realizes we have erased our modern heroes. Unless we cast former president Fidel V. Ramos and add push-ups before ritual combat, we would likely reach further back into history to Antonio Luna, Gregorio del Pilar, Lapu-Lapu or Sultan Kudarat.

“Black Panther” is hailed for its narrative of African-American identity, complete with Xhosa accents and Maasai beads. “Kayumanggi Panther” would force us to choose elements of Filipino identity to showcase.

Perhaps the thought exercise would remind us of that one moment when we were a real world Wakanda.

Our story is far more powerful than vibranium. In 1986, the world hailed us after ordinary people stood in the streets and stopped tanks. We stood as a beacon of democracy to the entire world.

But that moment seems long gone, celebrated neither in our streets nor our movies.

Wearing yellow is now unthinkable; people explicitly call to wear black or white to Edsa. More Filipinos proclaim “Wakanda forever!” than sing anthems such as “Bayan Ko.”

Instead of being the day we set aside politics and celebrate the essence of being Filipino, Edsa’s anniversary has become divisive. It has become a day to protest, a day for the communists to hijack with
recycled slogans.

Edsa has become a generational divide. It has become a pretext for bitter old men to harangue youth on how they do not know history (and for youth to ask whose duty it was to teach them).

Jim Paredes is, fairly or unfairly, known more for shouting at the “Duterte Youth” in the middle of Edsa, on Edsa’s anniversary, than for his immortal song “Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo.”

Pit Maliksi wrote in the Inquirer last Feb. 23: “Many young people prefer trivialities and petty matters instead of issue-centered discussions” and “young Filipinos are ignorant of history.”

No one asks why students — who spoke loudest against deposed president Ferdinand Marcos’ state burial — are not writing in the Inquirer about making Edsa’s story their own, instead of bitter old men and their open letters to millennials.

Mocha Uson posted a meme on Facebook last Feb. 18: “Napaiyak din ba kayo sa drama ng mga aktibistang madre sa Edsa? (Were you also led to cry by the drama of activist nuns at Edsa?)”

We are not even stunned that an assistant secretary can now post such things during Edsa’s anniversary. Or that Filipinos were far more outraged by missing Bonifacio High Street Park cats.

Sadly, Mocha has proven our implicit consensus to push Edsa, like Pacquiao, down from defining national moment to ordinary politics.

Despite our unwitting erasure and revisionism, today’s youth should aspire to take us back to Wakanda, especially critical youth who see Edsa as a frustrated promise.

Today’s youth must decide whether to reclaim the image of ordinary heroes facing down tanks that fateful day in 1986, to discard it all and find heroes elsewhere, or to simply cast Mocha as Shuri.

We must reappropriate what in our history inspires us. It is silly for heirs to Asia’s greatest democratic legacy discard symbols all the way to the Laban sign, then discuss our birthright in the language of a Hollywood movie.

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