Letter to young Filipinos on the land I love
THERE WILL always be people—Filipinos and foreigners alike—who will say negative things about our country, and I want you to be prepared for those moments when you will hear about them. “I hate the Philippines,” some of them would say. Now that you’re back in school, where you learn to sing and pledge your love for country every week, you may feel hurt or confused.
They rant about the corruption, the traffic, the laziness, the lack of discipline. They say Filipinos are hopeless, and call naive those who think otherwise. They compare us to other nations and lament how far we have been left behind.
But when you think of the Philippines, ask yourself how well you actually know our country. What you do not know, you cannot appreciate, and what you cannot appreciate, you cannot love. When you cannot love your country, emotions like hate, indifference and frustration can easily set in. As Aristotle once said, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”
Learn more about our country. Look beyond the colonial period to see the glory of our ancient past, of the kingdoms of Butuan, Maguindanao, Sulu and Tondo, of the brave and proud people of the Cordillera. Look beyond the heroes in history books and peruse stories of the untold heroism of ordinary people. There is more to celebrate than Rizal, though there also is more in Rizal to celebrate.
Look beyond Metro Manila, which is the focus of most of our headlines. Look beyond what you watch on TV. Many of our country’s problems and triumphs never make it to the news. Look around you: What are the issues that are going on in your community? What is at stake for the people you encounter? Keep a listening ear because everyone has a story to tell.
Explore your own country before you aspire to visit distant lands, and take not just pictures but also lessons from the places you visit. Immerse yourselves in these diverse experiences, for these will mold your opinion of our nation. When it comes to civic consciousness and cultural knowledge, the country is your classroom.
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IT’S EASY to hate your country when you focus on the negative. But when I think of the Philippines, I do not think of the corrupt officials, the incessant road repairs, the disasters, the tragedies and what-could-have-beens, the mentalities that have often been ascribed to us. Yes, I have seen these things, and more. I have seen the sad plight of indigenous peoples; I have heard the sound of chainsaws and falling logs. I have heard moving stories of justice delayed, and justice denied. These things are real, and they are painful at times. But I do not allow them to eclipse my view of what the Philippines is—and what the Philippines can be.
Instead, I think of my family, my friends, and the people I have met in my travels that better represent what our country is all about.
I think of my parents in Los Baños, and their passion for the church and the environment. I think of the park surrounded by stately acacia, the long drive surrounded by pili trees, and the comforting presence of Mount Makiling’s beautiful slopes. I think of my grandparents in San Pablo, our rambutan and lanzones trees, and the tranquility of the Seven Lakes.
I recall the honest woman in Maguindanao who picked up the cell phone I left in a jeepney, and, upon returning it to me, said: “I’m just being a good Muslim.” I think of the Batak family in Palawan who showed me hospitality on a stormy night, letting me stay in their house even at the expense of their comfort. I think of my mentors who have generously shared their time and wisdom, and my classmates and friends with whom I share happy memories.
When I think of everyone in the country who has touched my life, I am overwhelmed by the goodwill they have shown, and it is the same goodwill that I vow to share with others.
And, of course, I think of the beauty of our land, from the captivating islands of Batanes and Tawi-Tawi to the volcanic majesties of Mayon and Kanlaon. I think of the beaches of the Visayan islands with the hope that they would stay forever white, just as I hope that our mountains would stay forever green, and our seas forever blue.
Every country, like every person, has a dark side, and we must thirst for the inconvenient truths about our nation, and be willing to make the sacrifices they require of us. But they should never lead us to frustration, not just because of the brighter side that we sometimes refuse to see, but also because we can always do something to make our country a better place.
The power of hope lies in its ability to help fulfill its own promise. When you see hope in the Pasig River, you will be encouraged to support efforts to clean it. When you see hope in our government, you will be encouraged to vote. And when you see hope in our country, you will be encouraged to stay.
The dawn that Rizal imagined is yet to come, but there are stars in our history that should serve as glimmers of hope for the future. We have fought against foreign oppressors and never given up until we regained our freedom. We have braved the fiercest of storms and the most tragic of calamities. We have
suffered much, but like the indefatigable sun that rises every morning, our smiles—and hopes—have not wavered.
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AH, THE BEAUTIFUL mountains, the captivating islands and beaches, the sunset of passion, the sunrise of hope, the hands and hearts that make me feel at home, the smiles that light up even the darkest and stormiest day, and the promise of a brighter future: This is the Philippines that I know, the Philippines that I love.
Gideon Lasco is a physician and medical anthropologist. Visit his website on health, culture and society at www.gideonlasco.com.