Begin strongly | Inquirer Opinion

Begin strongly

12:30 AM January 10, 2020

“United we stand, divided we fall.”

Six simple words saying two simple messages. Simple yet profound, simple yet defying understanding.


It is the year 2020 of the 21st century. The past is past, full of lessons we can continue to learn from. We cannot do anything about what has happened, but we can transform the pain of failure to solid bricks of wisdom. And where we were correct and productive, such is priceless fortune, a clear guide for today and tomorrow.

No lesson, though, for Filipinos so crucial and necessary to learn and re-learn than the simple clear, “United we stand, divided we fall.”


Is unity unattainable? Apparently so if we are thinking of everybody. National unity, though, requires at first only the unity of a critical mass, of an effective number driven by a common and higher cause. From their vision, their action, and their inspiration, a nation will stand united.

What about dissent? Let it come. Dissent provides the contrast, and contrast provides the tension that stirs creative ideas and alternative visions. A united nation accommodates dissent and is stimulated by it. After all, freedom becomes possible only when an idea is allowed to be imagined and expressed. If the collective will be prejudiced by such an idea, that idea will not find fruition. It may at a later time, but only if it resonates under a different moment, a different atmosphere.

While dissent, or not necessarily dissent but simply contrasting, goes on, the critical mass of unity and the power of its inspiration can keep society steady, productive and optimistic. However, should the critical mass waver, the outer rings around it will waver as well. Change, then, can quickly take on different forms, even opposite from what is, and another cycle is about to attempt a new pattern.

That is life. That is the salt mines. It is not perfect but it can work and work well, even thrive. If not, discontent will overpower the status quo with or without a messiah in sight – though moments like these necessarily produce messiahs.

A new year is a natural time for rebirth, especially for Filipinos after a Christmas and New Year season. Because of the way, we throw ourselves with virtual abandon at celebrating these annual fiestas, the respite that comes afterward, the near exhaustion from endless activities with family and friends, and the thought of what was spent, or what needs to be paid, we find pause and reflection. As we do, let us resolve to start with the right foot, with clarity, with resolve. Most of all, with a little more wisdom than the year before.

The first wisdom is to begin with our strength, not our weakness. United we stand is our strength, divided we fall is our weakness. This principle is for all people but especially for people with an embedded culture of bayanihan. If Filipinos have been more recently defined as fractious and divided, the truth if this is the clear answer to why we have fallen into bad times. We cannot address the natural challenges of nature, of livelihood and productivity, of technology and global competition when we choose to first fight ourselves.

Our first wisdom, then, is the lesson of our disunity and the dire consequences because of it. We are either one people, or we are one hundred ten million individuals. We are a nation or we are warring families and tribes. We are citizens with responsibilities and accountabilities, or we are partisans with no ideal bigger than the politician we follow.


From the beginning, our trajectory must be upward, towards a better future full of hope and our responsibility to build the basis of that hope. That future is collective and, in it, we must find our rightful place and contribute our obligation, accept our rewards and pay for our mistakes. We cannot be greater than the whole, and our vision cannot end with ourselves and our families. Without reaching out and connecting to one another, we are our own millstones keeping us chained to our misery.

There must be an ideal bigger than our pride and ego, bigger even than those principles we hold dear if they keep us from our harmony and the common good. Too many fights have separated deep bonds among family members, relatives, and friends in the name of principle when what was driving us apart was our refusal to see that which is higher than ourselves.

I look at the ordinary Filipino and he lives a life of few options, of few opportunities. Others have literally none, forced by circumstance to survive at every turn, and that survival the only motivation for action – wrong or right. At the same time, I have seen that the few options of today were hardly there yesterday, that few are much more than none or hardly any. As the numbers of the impoverished go down, the numbers of options and alternatives go up. All the more we strive now to take advantage of a momentum.

Our economic freedom must be won so that our higher freedoms can then be addressed. Human rights are varied and of different grades. The finer ones will elevate our lifestyle and refine our culture – but impossible when we are gripped by landlessness, homelessness, and hunger. Our political and religious freedoms are superfluous when we grovel before the masters of the world needing their products, resources, and protection. Our economic freedom is not only money, but it is also productivity, it is material self-reliance.

There will be no better future without a price. If we have poverty, if we have corruption, if we are bullied by some of our own or by others beyond our motherland, then the price we pay will have to be more. The poor among us have long been paying that price for most though they have the least. Because we thought they are not part of us. United we stand, divided we fall.

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TAGS: dissent, Unity
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