The price of sovereignty | Inquirer Opinion

The price of sovereignty

So, how’s a sovereign Philippines doing after two years of Rodrigo Duterte? Still breathing, thank you, though a crippled democracy steadily losing territory to the rising new world hegemon China.

On June 12, we celebrated the Philippine Republic our forefathers proclaimed in 1898. The birthday a week later of Jose Rizal, whose execution lit the fuse of revolution after three centuries of Spanish rule, always seemed preordained. Sweet was that victory, brief though it was before our infant nation fell to America.


Getting back what they lost became our forefathers’ new Holy Grail. Unfortunately, the vigorous new American empire was far more technically advanced than our nation of peasants and laborers, teachers and craftsmen, artists and poets schooled to obedience.

Now began another fateful division of our forebears into those who clung to the dream of sovereignty and those willing to be subjected to the new colonizer, who turned our islands into its own strategic power base, source of raw materials and captive market in the Pacific.


The revolutionists fought hard for three years of the Filipino-American War, with an estimated death toll anywhere from 250,000 to a million from war, and the famine and disease it brought. Gen. Daniel Bell’s scorched-earth policy — burning houses, livestock, carabaos and rice fields — reduced barrio upon barrio in Leyte, Negros, the Ilocos and Southern Luzon to the same “howling wilderness” made famous by Balangiga, Samar.

When Miguel Malvar, the last Katipunan general, surrendered from a broken revolutionary network in 1902, he said he surrendered only because his starving peasant supporters begged him to let them plant rice in the next planting season on landscapes of death.

“What is revolution, after all, but the hope for a better life?” was the question in our grandparents’ lifetime. Today, 120 years later, Filipinos have been shocked into the reality of their continuing thorny road to nationhood.

Now they begin to understand our history of invasion by three empires, each leaving cracks in the native psyche. Historian Rey Ileto in “Knowledge and Pacification: On the US Conquest and the Writing of Philippine History” zooms into how decisively America created these cracks.

Like the Spanish friars burning effigies of our ancestral gods, America systematically created distance in the Filipino mind from both the revolution and the Filipino-American War. New generations would inherit amnesia in the American public schools, along with health and sanitation programs, consumer goods and entertainment, all for “benevolent assimilation.”

This further alienated the Filipino psyche from itself, becoming acquiescent to the thief of its own forefathers’ revolutionary victory. From this already twice divided psyche would cascade woes that bedevil this nation to this day.

Memory as the substance of nation recurs in the theme “unfinished revolution” — in 1943 when Japan “granted” Philippine independence, in the ’50s when the Huks demanded land reform, in the ’60s when Diosdado Macapagal used it as his presidential campaign theme, and again in the ’70s when militant students called America’s Vietnam War a repeat of the Fil-American War that stole the revolution they then vowed to complete.


Land as both key and root of unrest, poverty and ignorance, manipulated by the Filipino elite, is the longest-standing pattern in a nation never quite sovereign, and never quite a democracy.

And now it faces the serious double threat of China militarizing our seas on a dubious historical claim with our own President’s complicity, and the startling influx of three million Chinese nationals as residents.

As friendly countries challenge China’s thrust for hegemony, which threatens free navigation on the largest ocean in the world in an increasingly interdependent world, recognizing this threat and somehow uniting in active resistance is today’s steep price a divided psyche must pay for Philippine sovereignty. Can it?

* * *

Sylvia L. Mayuga is an essayist, sometime columnist, poet, documentary filmmaker and environmentalist. She has three National Book Awards to her name.

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TAGS: Inquirer Commentary, Jose Rizal, Philippine sovereignty, Sylvia L. Mayuga
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