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A love, a pledge—and Pinoy pride

The Philippine flag flutters on windows and streets this month. Newly elected senators and representatives prepare to take office. In Panatag (Scarborough) Shoal, Filipino fisherfolk continue to ply waters riddled with foreign fleets. In Cyprus, the body of another Filipina worker has just been found stuffed in a suitcase and thrown in a toxic lake. Elsewhere, Filipinos beam with pride watching the YouTube clip of “A Whole New World” being sung by Pinoy artists.

What does it mean to be a patriotic Filipino these days? And why is it important to be one? I’m not the only millennial who’s ever wondered why we had to recite the “Panatang Makabayan” at school like a daily litany. Surely, there’s more to this than just commenting “Pinoy pride” on every Catriona Gray and Manny Pacquiao video out there.

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The standard definition of patriotism is “love of one’s country.” The “Panata” itself opens with the pure, unflinching line “Iniibig ko ang Pilipinas.” It then enumerates the ways we ought to show this patriotic love: obeying rules, studying well, serving others and fulfilling our responsibilities as citizens, to name some. In other words, it urges us to actively contribute toward an ideal Filipino society.

It sounds peachy until you try to do it. Just try for a day or so to deliberately become the Filipino described in the pledge. It’s hard. You can’t even commute to work without being constantly tempted to jaywalk, to cut in line, to curse this blessed country because commuting in its streets is a nightmare.

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This is the challenge: No matter how many years of our lives we spend reciting the national pledge, it’s hard to be a true-blue patriotic Filipino because our country is hard to love. Sure, we have amazing beaches and breathtaking sunsets and a host of virtues, but you wouldn’t even remember those when a horde of people are fighting you for a seat on the bus, or when yet another mayor or senator gets involved in a graft case.

It’s easier instead to adopt a “proud Pinoy” attitude when a Filipino athlete or beauty queen takes the international spotlight—and then to flaunt this attitude as a form of patriotism. But “Pinoy pride” as we know it is passive, hollow and completely arbitrary. Scientists may even tell us that it’s only a matter of psychology—humans simply have the tendency to bask in reflected glory. Typing out a proud comment on YouTube or Facebook has nothing to do with the active patriotic love we declaim in our “Panata.”

In the vast desert of ersatz patriots, the genuine ones stand out. There are Filipino professionals who choose to stay and serve despite career opportunities elsewhere; workers here and abroad who thoroughly

fulfill their duties despite personal hardships; brains and talents who dedicate their abilities working with the underprivileged.

There are those who remain upstanding in every aspect of their citizenship, and those who fearlessly question and oppose the wrongs they see in their community. And, perhaps most underrated of all, there are Pinoys who consciously strive for excellence in their work instead of settling for the bare minimum, because they understand that other Filipinos rely on their service.

In them, we see why it’s vital to love a country that’s hard to love. Many would say that the value of patriotism is that it benefits the nation as a collective. We obey traffic laws, we perform well in our jobs, we engage in social action because our nation needs us to.

But extending this reason, we can say that patriotism also benefits us as individuals. Our laws and social engagement (ideally) work not just for our fellow Filipinos, but ultimately for our own personal welfare as well. We help our nation, our nation helps us back.

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The thing is that all of this is a choice. At least for this generation, patriotism is not something that’s forced down our throats all our lives. Past high school, few of us would remember the words in our national pledge. Even fewer would reflect on them. As we become full-grown citizens, love for this country becomes a deliberate decision.

It’s up to us to act as the “Panatang Makabayan” bids us to: serving unselfishly and staying true to a promise, even when it’s incredibly difficult and often distressing.

After all, isn’t that what love is?

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