TODAY IS Bonifacio Day, and the National Historical Commission will officially launch activities leading to the 150th birth anniversary of Andres Bonifacio in 2013, with President Aquino attending ceremonies at the Pinaglabanan Memorial in San Juan City and Vice President Jejomar Binay at the Caloocan shrine. There will be other commemorative activities in various Bonifacio shrines in Manila, Quezon City and Maragondon, Cavite, where he was executed.
Over at UP Diliman, the College of Social Sciences and Philosophy’s history department had an early start with a wreath-laying ceremony at the Bonifacio monument in front of Vinzons Hall last Monday. There were several cultural presentations, including “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa,” perhaps better known as one of the activist songs popularized by Inang Laya (check out YouTube).
Appropriately, the wreath-laying rite came right after a well-attended, university-wide flag ceremony held in front of the iconic Oblation statue and led by UP president Alfredo Pascual and UP Diliman chancellor Caesar Saloma. President Pascual reminded the faculty and staff that the flag ceremony is done at all government offices on Mondays but that UP has always been reluctant to make attendance mandatory, for fear that this would make the ceremony too routine. Yet, he added, UP’s flag ceremony is important, a chance to renew our commitment to the national university and to the Philippines as well.
I could not agree more. My own college also holds a Monday flag ceremony but it has been difficult to convince more people to attend. There are faculty members who will drop in, but I have yet to see students attend (the Student Council representatives argue that Monday is not a class day).
I do wonder if indeed the flag ceremony has become too routine. It is required in grade schools and high schools but appears to have lost its meaning for many Filipinos. I also feel that this goes together with our sense of patriotism becoming superficial—for example, being a fashionalista and wearing flag T-shirts. That is, of course, not a bad thing, but we need more substance in expressing our love of country.
I’m even more disturbed by the way we seem to be losing our sense of what patriotism and, by extension, heroism means. I am so dismayed that my son’s social studies textbook devotes several pages to Manny Pacquiao, who is held up almost as a hero bringing pride to the Filipino.
If we seem to so lack heroes, it is because there is too little discussion of what it means to love one’s country. The term “makabayan” comes to mind, but notice how it has sometimes come to be equated with having leftist political ideas.
It’s interesting that in the United States, talk of “patriotism” has more right-wing connotations, of people who define a love of America as defending the homeland from anyone who isn’t a white, Anglo-Saxon Protestant. The last US election campaign was comforting in the rejection of Mitt Romney and his antiimmigration rhetoric. (I lived in Texas in the early 1980s and was always amazed at how Mexicans were seen almost like enemy invaders, with Texans forgetting that they were the ones who took land away from Mexico in the 19th century.)
My point is that the espousal of patriotism and nationalism should not be the monopoly of any one political ideology. In the context of the Philippines in the 21st century, Bonifacio’s poem might offer us new possibilities of creating a more wide-reaching sense of love of country.
Foremost, Bonifacio’s poem is rich with metaphors from nature—for example, the metaphor of “Inang Bayan” (the motherland) giving warmth, like sunlight. The 11th and 12th stanzas are very specific in referring to how nature—every branch, every tree, forests and meadows, and the clear waters from mountain springs—should remind us of Inang Bayan.
Loving the Philippines can then be linked to environmental protection, maybe starting with the question of how much of our forests and meadows and mountain springs have been lost since 1896, when Bonifacio wrote that poem, and how much more we will lose from our neglect of our natural resources. Defending the environment can cover so much, from antilittering campaigns, cleaning up our waterways and our air, all the way up to a clear policy on the use of our mineral resources.
Defending the environment as an act of defense of the motherland makes it much more doable, and draws us away from the more militant connotations of patriotism. It’s tough enough getting students to attend a flag ceremony without getting them to think of love of country as wearing red pants and wielding a bolo, as Bonifacio’s stereotypical statues suggest. (I sigh, too, thinking of Rizal’s statues and how his carrying a book again distorts our sense of love of country and of heroism.)
Bonifacio’s poem actually allows us to see him as more human, almost a romantic revolutionary, overwhelmed by emotions. Bonifacio was passionate in describing a country enslaved, with freedom expressed as unshackling ourselves from slavery (“ng pagkatimawa ng mga alipin”). That theme resonates today for a nation still enslaved by poverty. Even the precolonial aliping saguiguilid probably had better lives because they were considered part of a household, unlike the many overseas Filipinos who live at the margins of inhospitable countries where they, well, slave away.
Freedom to be
With Bonifacio’s birthday only 10 days from International Human Rights Day, we can link human rights to love of country. Filipinos need to have freedom from want, from hunger, from ignorance, and from fear before we can talk about being Filipino, and loving the Philippines.
After revisiting Bonifacio’s poem, we may be able to rethink the terms “patriots” and “heroes,” to include those who have defended, even died for, the environment. Heroes, too, should include those who battled poverty and defended human rights. Here it’s worth remembering human rights and social action workers who died in the MV Cassandra disaster on Nov. 21, 1983. They were all serving the poor of Mindanao: Good Shepherd sisters Mary Consuelo Chuidian, Mary Concepcion Conti, Mary Virginia Gonzaga and Mary Catherine Loreto; two other Filipino women religious, Josefa Medrano, FMA, and Amparo Gilbuena, MSM; Pastor Ben Bunio; and lay leaders Boy Ipong, Evelyn Hong and Sena Canabria.
Survivors recall how these social action workers helped other passengers get to safety, at the cost of their own lives. Among those workers, too, were Sr. Antonette Berentsen and Fr. Simon Westerndorp, both Dutch, who were not lacking in their love of the Philippines and of Filipinos.
Awareness of heroes and heroism in our midst, drawn from Bonifacio’s poem, may make us better appreciate flag ceremonies and the other rituals around love of country.
For a comprehensive history of Bonifacio’s poem, including two English translations, go to: kasaysayan-kkk.info/docs.ab.pagibig.htm