The end of the nation-state

The Philippine Revolution of 1896 had a clear target: the power and absolute control of the Filipino nation-state. But the country’s archipelagic configuration contributed to its political disarticulation. What hungry revolutionaries and insurgents in Luzon achieved after Biak-na-Bato is something that the natives of Mindanao are not quick to accept. Mindanao has never been conquered, as young Filipino Christians and Muslims here have been taught. What it means to be Filipino has been difficult to grasp, but understanding the values of one’s local culture meant that a young boy in the South knows what it fully means to be a Tausug or a Maranao.

Jose Rizal and the other members of the Propaganda Movement were all guided by the core principles of the Enlightenment. They believed in the true power of statehood, but they lacked the unifying paradigm of a territorially defined Filipino nation. The noble intent to end oppressive colonial rule was there, but the country as a whole was ill-prepared to determine its own destiny. So, what transpired thereafter was a co-option of a political movement, which came to be exploited by the remnants of a tyrannical regime—the elitist and dominant ruling class stationed in the capital.


Graham Taylor explains that “the nation state provided a universalizing and internally consistent set of ideas about the role of the state in the process of human development, an essentialist view of human nature or the human condition and a utopian vision of the future.” This has remained clear in the last decade or so. But past administrations have been wanting in terms of effectively redistributing the country’s resources, which remain concentrated in the hands of the few.

For instance, it remains uncertain what the Philippine state can actually give to communist insurgents in terms of concessions in view of the fact that the Philippine government does not have full control of our future. The power of the oligarchy has remained influential, as quick-fix solutions since the presidency of Corazon Aquino have not been able to dismantle the old order. The logic of Philippine politics has remained to be that of patronage and personality.


Taylor notes that “the nation state played a central role in the maintenance of fixed and stable political cultures and stable identities around universal and essentialist categories.” This is true, for instance, in countries like Germany. The social market economy model still plays a central role there, but what is important to note is that Germany after World War II did embrace a unified concept of human dignity.

Our own concept of equality and social justice is still anchored in the idea of the nation-state. Political institutions, including the Church, form the political dynamics that is grounded in reason and dialogue. Yet, it is clear that the change in the political climate early into the new administration threatens that dynamics. President Duterte has since effectively decentered and disarticulated political power in the country.

His attacks on the Church and, now, the mainstream media indicate that he wants to break away from the old tradition where power is conveniently sought at the center. His veering away from a traditional ally like the United States and his making friends with China is no more than his radical and nonlinear approach to nation-building. In fact, he is playing well the card of cultural and political hegemony to his advantage.

The penultimate advance that the President intends to pursue is in his idea of a federal republic through constitutional change. His message has become clear both to his supporters and critics. Yet, nothing is lost in this march toward the dissipation of political power. Finally, the people of Mindanao now have the most powerful voice in Malacañang who will determine the course of their destiny as a people.

 Christopher Ryan Maboloc, PhD, teaches philosophy at Ateneo de Davao University.

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TAGS: Commentary, Government, nation, Nation-State, opinion, Philippine Revolution, politics, republic, state
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