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‘Bhinneka Tunggal Ika’ means ‘Unity in Diversity’

/ 01:40 AM August 29, 2016

FROM SABANG in Aceh to Merauke in Irian Jaya, Indonesia is home to a diverse group of people who have contributed to the richness of culture and tradition of the country. These are the Batak in North Sumatra, the Dayak in Kalimantan, the Ambonese in the Moluccas, the Javanese, the Sundanese, the Balinese, the Acehnese, and the Minangkabau, each with a different language. The difficult task of bringing together all these diverse groups under one governing system, as stated in its motto “Unity in Diversity,” represents one of the great accomplishments of any nation in the 20th century.

Last week, the Republic of Indonesia celebrated its 71st anniversary as an independent nation. On Aug. 17, 1945, just two days after the surrender of Japan in World War II, Sukarno and Mohammed Hatta signed the Indonesian Proclamation of Independence.  The proclamation was very simple and consisted of only two lines: “We, the Indonesian people, declare herewith our independence. Matters regarding the transfer of power and other affairs will be arranged in an accurate manner and within the shortest time possible.”

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After 350 years of Dutch colonial rule, Indonesia was free.

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If there is anything that has always impressed me about our cousins to the south, it is their sense of nationalism and love of country; and perhaps, this is best reflected in the way they display the national flag during Independence Day celebrations.

I recall that during our stay in Jakarta, whenever Aug. 17 came around, all the houses, large or small, as well as government buildings, prominently displayed the red and white emblem of the nation, as well as buntings of the same colors. Perhaps, some people would say that this was done because of orders from an authoritarian government. That may be true, but some of the good practices that we continue to observe were originally imposed under disciplinary conditions and enforced by parents or teachers.

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President Sukarno who is considered the founding father of the Republic of Indonesia, once said, “Great nations honor their heroes.” In support of this idea, he proceeded to cover Jakarta with a number of huge, conspicuous statues and memorials that have made the Indonesian capital famous as a city of monuments. It was Sukarno’s hope that these monuments would help Indonesians cultivate pride in themselves, their nation and the individuals, concepts and events that shaped their country. His drive for an independent Indonesia is immortalized in these memorials.

The most spectacular of them is the Monas (National Monument), a 137-meter-tall marble tower crowned with a 14.5-meter bronze flame coated with 32 kilos of pure gold. It is located in the center of a one-square-kilometer park known as Medan Merdeka (Freedom Field). Some people have irreverently referred to it as Sukarno’s last erection.

On Jalan Sudirman is a statue dedicated to Indonesia’s youth. It is symbolized by a muscular fellow supporting a flaming plate high above his straining body. The monument officially represents the spirit and the drive of the youth in the development of their country. Some Jakartans have baptized the statue as the “Pizza man” because he does have the look of one with a hot pizza plate on his hands.

Another familiar landmark is the striking figure of a man breaking his chains, located at Lapangan Banteng in front of the Hotel Borobudur Intercontinental. It commemorates Indonesia’s military and political victory in its dispute with the Dutch over Irian Jaya, the western half of New Guinea in 1963.

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Whatever may have been the shortcomings of President Sukarno, no one can deny that he bequeathed to his people a sense of pride in themselves and in their nation. These monuments, all over the city, have contributed to reminding the Indonesians of what they have accomplished and of what they are capable of achieving and, perhaps, this is part of the secret behind the fierce sense of nationalism so evident among its people.

How many statues or monuments do we have in Metro Manila or around the country that honor our heroes or commemorate important events in the history of the nation? The ones that do exist appear to be small, puny symbols, as though we were being more modest rather than wanting to proclaim to the whole world our pride and satisfaction in our achievements.

A case in point is the People Power Monument along Edsa corner White Plains Street in Quezon City. It is quite small and its surroundings are bare, such that it easily gets lost when traffic builds up in the area. I recall that when the memorial was being discussed, there was concern about the cost of the project, and so what we got was, well, what we got! A memorial should be a place of peace and quiet, where people can stop to remember and meditate on the events that took place, as well as the people who were involved.

It should be a source of pride and inspiration for our countrymen.

When the leaders of Indonesia decided to put up their monuments, I imagine there must have also been grumbling about the expenses that would be incurred in such projects. The money could be utilized for more schools, better health centers and new infrastructure. Today, it appears that it was money well spent, because they have contributed to the sense of national pride and unity among the Indonesian people.

As Indonesia marked its Independence Day anniversary, I was reminded of my own personal ties with its people. My father, Modesto Farolan, served as Philippine envoy to Jakarta for almost 10 years, closing out his tour of duty as dean of the diplomatic corps. This was his second home and his love affair with the Indonesian people was such that shortly after he left the country in 1978, he passed away. Our only daughter, Carmela, was born on Aug. 17, and so we have a more personal reason to celebrate the day.

For being a home away from home, terima kasih (thank you), Indonesia.

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TAGS: country, Hero, History, Independence Day, Indonesia, opinion
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