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No Free Lunch

Nationalism as ‘oneness’

/ 01:35 AM September 29, 2015

I FINALLY got to see “Heneral Luna” over the weekend. It wasn’t until after three failed attempts (because tickets to the next showing were always sold out—a good sign) that my wife and I finally made it, by buying tickets a day in advance. The spontaneous applause it evoked from the cinema audience at the end tells me that I’m not alone in how the film touched a spot among those who are unhappy with what our nation has become, or has failed to be.

Gen. Antonio Luna’s signature line sums up the film’s underlying message: “We have a bigger enemy than the Americans: it is ourselves.” In another scene, he laments, “It is easier to bring heaven and earth together than have two Filipinos agree on anything.” The movie takes on particular significance for me as I have long lamented how our country has been held back by a lack of “oneness”—a unity of purpose and mission that would have us merit the word “nation.”

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This to me is the nationalism we’ve always lacked, not the xenophobic kind that seems to disdain anything, or anyone, foreign. Not a few among us harbor such disdain for foreign investors, for example, that restricting them has been enshrined in our national policy, and continues to be, having found its way into our Constitution. Never mind the jobs they could provide for Filipinos who may otherwise be driven to seek their fortunes serving those same disdained foreigners anyway—right in their own turf. We’re also seeing such disdain seemingly directed even at compatriots who chose to take on citizenship elsewhere, even as their hearts could well be forever bound to their motherland. For others, it could be more fear than disdain, seemingly traced to a basic lack of self-assurance (borne perhaps out of a historically-rooted inferiority complex?) that we could well stand up to competitors from beyond our shores.

As to that lack of oneness that General Luna saw to be our formidable enemy, we continue to see it, well over a century later, in Filipinos from all walks of life and wherever they may be. We see it graphically in the vitriol many critics have spouted in reaction to the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law, some admitting to not even having fully read the document, and betraying deep-seated prejudices and naked bigotry. We exemplify it when we lambast government for failing to collect proper revenues through faithful tax and customs administration, and yet find every creative way to avoid or evade paying the right taxes on our earnings and transactions.

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We see it in motorists who, confronted with traffic congestion, create a new counterflow lane that only makes the situation worse for all. We see it in Filipinos overseas, in how their associations based on geographic origins split up repeatedly when election losers “secede” and form a new group based on increasingly finer definitions of their local origins in the homeland. And we’re guilty of it when we discuss poverty and hunger in forums held in plush five-star hotels, amidst much wasted food and freezing air-conditioning—and then fail to take any meaningful direct action afterwards.

It’s exemplified in our legendary crab mentality, when we seem unwilling to help one another achieve greater heights, as if shared underachievement is better than having someone get ahead so that he/she might pull the rest of us along. We see it in how large companies keep their workforce under contractual arrangements of less than six months to avoid having to provide the normal benefits associated with regular employment. We see it in small business competitors loathe to teaming up and pooling resources to respond to volume orders, preferring to go “kanya-kanya” even if it means foregoing opportunities for growth and expanded market reach. We see it in endless political bickering in a society where honor seems hard to find, and where no one owns up to wrongdoing or takes accountability for his/her actions. We see it in dysfunctional government rules and processes that fail to promote the greatest good for the greatest number, but instead appear to serve the interests of an already advantaged few.

We will soon elect the leaders who will usher us into the third decade of the millennium. As we do, we need to choose a president who could best bring about the oneness as a nation that has eluded us from General Luna’s time up to the present day. We need a president who will unify rather than divide, and exhibit the statesmanship not to be bound by party affiliations in rallying people—whether leaders, scholars, workers, business persons, activists or ordinary citizens—to work toward a shared vision for the country. After all, the president, once elected, ceases to lead only those who campaigned for and voted him/her to office, but becomes the leader and servant of all Filipinos.

We thus need to be discerning as to who could most ably pull together disparate groups and erstwhile contending parties in our society to rally in pursuit of a true Filipino nation marked by shared prosperity and inclusive sustainable development.

Blogger Myra Mortega aptly sums up “Heneral Luna’s” significance, observing how “the film ultimately confronts our notion of nationalism: Who are we as a nation? Why do the same societal ills continue to plague us until now? What are we doing about it? It makes us ask the hard questions that we might be even afraid to answer. The good thing about it is that it has opened a venue to openly discuss these things—and (hopefully) to eventually act on them.”

Among other things, I would hope to see “Heneral Luna” impel us all to choose our leaders right.

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TAGS: Antonio luna, Film, Heneral Luna, History, Movie, nationalism, opinion, Patriotism
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