Marawi lakecannot be just based on money, the people of Marawi have made clear (link). A natural sense of Heimat (roughly: home and heritage) is tangible in the statement of the Ranaw Multi-Sectoral Movement: “A city symbolizes its people. Built upon the aspirations and dreams of its people. Nurtured by and reflective of the identity of its people. We are not building a city from debris. We are rebuilding a city from history and from memory.” This sounds so very different from the mentality in Manila, which did not care enough about its legacy destroyed during World War 2.

Soul and tradition

“a city is not merely the sum of its buildings. Not merely an occasion for economic gain.” the statement also says. Metro Manila, for the most part, seemed to me at least 90% based on money.  “This is an invasion of a different kind. This one threatens to rob our soul.” the Maranaws say. Strange that Manilans did not notice or care about that kind of invasion just after World War 2.  Maybe only a few people really cared for Intramuros back then. But escaping into a wasteland of malls and subdivisions with nothing but commercialism and glitter does not seem like a solution.

German cities were practically all rebuilt, as much as was possible, from history and memory – even from plans that were hidden in caves to preserve them. People cleared wartime debris with shovels by themselves in small groups. While it is also true that many German city centers look similar due to quick rebuilding after the war, with the same chain stores and a non-remarkable architecture, there was an effort to rebuild, or to at least match the new with the old. Munich was rebuilt well. But that was because a sense of identification was there. Also part of the hard to translate Heimat.

A people adrift?

But what are people without roots, without any home? Just workers and consumers maybe. Or worse, not caring at all. Not caring if the dirt accumulates in the rivers of the city where one lives. Not one’s home really. Because one cares for one’s home. What do people without a true home in their hearts care for? To survive first, to get rich after that. They might not care if those who used to live next door to them when they were still poor and struggling are victimized by tokhang. They might not care who occupies their country as long as their economic lot is good and they feel safe.

Many families and regions have their sense of home – it isn’t as if colonialism destroyed everything among mainstream Filipinos, meaning Christian lowlanders. Whether it is ancestral homes that some clans have, or certain fiestas and saints, or churches. Quiapo Church and its living Nazarene tradition. The great churches of Albay. Or UP Diliman, the home of my childhood, which grieved over an old but beloved shopping center recently (link). But of course there was a lot of migration recently, from provinces to the cities and abroad. Part of the fabric of tradition may have ripped.

What future?

The pride of the Meranaw, their resolve not to sell out, is something that I feel deepest respect for. So unlike many especially in the cities of the Philippines who just care about malls, stuff, trends. My SUV is bigger and shinier than yours. Make way for my Ferrari, do you know who I am! No? Just went to buy the latest Dolce Gabanna. So what if I am the mistress of Mr. Ugly Toad? Haha! Most Filipinos lived in bahay kubos in 1910. Only a few rich had these ancestral homes. Now what? Many have uglier places now and take drugs to feel better, while some are rich beyond all belief.

And the protest against Chinese mega-casinos planned on Boracay has been weak – except for those directly affected on the island. This is no longer about the Spratleys, where only few Filipinos live. “The blueprint of this city is in the hearts and minds of the Meranaws” said the people of the lake. WHAT national blueprint do Filipinos have in their hearts and minds? Hopefully not like in Cambodia, where Chinese casinos abound (link) but “most Cambodians.. are seeing little benefit from this investment.” But would Filipinos even care? Maybe, like so often, when it is too late.

Or will they just be “resilient” – meaning adjusting to nearly anything. Chinese become dominant? Well, everybody will probably just whiten their skin like Persida Acosta! Enough of masquerades. Might be that many, even most, Filipinos have to find their way home inside themselves first of all. Then it might still not be easy to fix and rebuild so much that is damaged. But then it could be done without pawning the future of generations to come, without condemning them to being like slaves. “With fierce determination to keep our people free and dignified.” say the Maranaw. Much respect.

Irineo B. R. Salazar
München, 1 April 2018