The Accidental nation

Bill in Oz has asked “is the Philippines is a nation or an empire”? James Fallows wrote about a damaged culture (link) in 1987.

I think it is an accidental nation. Let us look at how it happened. And then look at how the damage to the culture could be repaired to make the place better in maybe one generation if a critical mass works at it.

Short historical background

This is a simplified view of how LuzViMinda became Felipinas, King Philipp’s islands, run from Manila:

  • Barangays under datus, some rajahnates as shifting alliances of datus and their barangays;
  • Kingdom of Tondo as a trading empire with a natural harbor, fertile plains, a river and a lake;
  • Kota Selurong founded by Muslim Malays from Brunei, called Maynila by the natives in Tondo;
  • Spanish conquest, Intramuros was built where Kota Selurong was, Manila became the new capital;
  • King Philipp II recognized privileges of datus in exchange for loyalty to him, they became principalia.

Forced labor was the norm for the normal people. There was a racial hierarchy in the islands, the Spanish casta. Indirect rule via Mexico was centered more on extraction than on government.  A society based on that perpetuated habits of power and subservience. Jose Rizal wrote in the El Filibusterismo: what if the slaves of today become the tyrants of tomorrow? Little really changed over the years:

  1. The Spanish modernized in the late 19th century, instituted laws, but they were often misused by the privileged;
  2. the Americans brought democracy and ordered land titles, but here again the privileged often bent the rules;
  3. Quezon constituted a republic, but that republic degenerated after the war due to elite group infighting;
  4. Marcos instituted authoritarian rule, but even he broke his own official rules, his followers as well;
  5. Cory re-established a republic with more checks and balances, but it got hogtied by infighting.

Finally the true constitution of the Philippines remained that of master and servant, and groups fighting to have their share because they knew nothing else but that in their lives. The short-lived Republic of Aguinaldo, especially if one looks at the movie Heneral Luna and what happened there, lived by exactly those rules, but let us look at the Three Constitutions that are relevant:

  • The 1935 Constitution gave the President massive powers, but the postwar republic still degenerated,
  • The 1973 Constitution tried another system but that also failed because of the people running it,
  • The 1987 Constitution was good in theory, but in practice slowed down reforms and progress.

So it is the people or how they interact that is the problem. As migrants and OFWs we are great when others lead us, but among ourselves we just create a mess.

Miscommunication and Resentment

Tagalog dress, early 1800s

One man envious, the other shows his status… this illustration is early 1800s!

Even within Filipino overseas associations there are the same phenomena as in Filipino politics that lead to no or little results or even harm, these I think are the following:

  1. Distrust, because the other will usually try to get what I have, and I might be left with nothing. The harsher types say, OK before I am disadvantaged I will disadvantage others. This leads to miscommunication, because of distrust and because of so many different languages. And because so many people say one thing, but have a hidden agenda behind it.
  2. Arrogance, because in all the centuries it was the only way to get a somewhat decent life. Humility meant you were nothing, courtesy meant subservience. This of course leads to resentment among those who are humiliated all the time, never can find simple normal pride and recognition – these people either become tyrants or rebels or resign totally.
  3. In-group formation with a high degree of uniformity. Strength in numbers to be able to get something for the group, but distrust leads to suspicion of other ideas or people with a certain degree of independence of thought or action. The power structure within the group is such that the leader may lord over others as long as he is nice to them, and may of course be arrogant in order to give the entire group more status.

These are summary observations and just my personal opinion. Family groups are still the most natural and human alliances I have observed among Filipinos, religious groups OK, but in political groups, the tone can get ugly because finally it is about “survival” for those involved. There is some degree of trust among groups that have formed naturally such as ex-classmates, co-workers etc. – all good to hold on to in an often hostile environment.

Three foreign ideas – Christianity (Mexico), justice (Spain) and democracy (America) tempered this, but only within the groups that had fully understood them. For other groups, they became tools in the game of power, their stated principles became arguments to defeat others. Or the in-groups used these ideas against the out-groups in a weird continuation of colonial power patterns.

Finding new arrangements

One could live well in the Philippines if one stuck to one’s own and did not care too much about many things. It can be a good arrangement. But it seems discontent is rising among Filipinos. The old ways of doing things may no longer work for them. Possibly many have seen how it can be elsewhere, may even have built better lives than before, and want another level of recognition. Somewhat like the ilustrados who profited from the economic boom of the late 19th century wanted the Spaniards to recognize them as full citizens, starting with recognizing them as people:

  • People need to be given opportunities. I like the initiatives towards promoting SMEs, the initiatives to help the poor send their kids to school, and improved public schooling.
  • People need to be given true justice. The present justice system is slow and seems to protect simple people little. One can rot in jail for years without trial as a poor man.
  • People need to be taken seriously. Those who do not have the capability to express themselves well have not learned it. But their concerns may nonetheless be valid.

Who does it does not matter. The entire elite bear a certain responsibility for this situation. Who bears fault is another question. But responsibility for ones legacy goes back four generations according to Jewish tradition, if I remember correctly. The advantaged, who have the knowledge and the capabilities to change things, are the ones who will have to remedy the situation. Otherwise there may come those who use the situation to their advantage, or even chaos. The accidental nation can only become a healthy nation if all people see they have a part in it.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, München, 16. February 2016

15 thoughts on “The Accidental nation


    The Nation: 1965

    By Quijano de Manila (nom de plume of Nick Joaquin)

    The profile of the controversial present becomes incontrovertible, set against the past.

    June 12, 1965—MID-DECADE of the Seething ’60s finds Philippine society knocking itself hard. We glance at the state and say that, politically, we are a failed society. We study the prices and say that, economically, we are a bankrupt society. We peruse the crime figures and say that, spiritually, we are a violent society. We devour the latest scandals and say that, morally, we are a sick society.

    Some may wonder how anybody so sick could knock himself so vigorously. Others may argue that the seeming vigor is the delirium of fever.

    Are we in excelsis or in extremis? Neither. We are in transitu.

    The 1960s will go down in our history as the decade during which we finally got off the ground and saw everything with fresh eyes. The transition has been from earthbound to airborne, and is a transcending of the peasant. This has nothing to do with politics or economics. In fact, the reason we have no clear picture of today is that we’re always being offered either a political picture—good or bad, according to which faction is the painter—or an economic picture, again either happy or gloomy, according to whose statistics we are citing. But a nation is not its politics or economics. A nation is its people. And a nation changes only when the people change.

    We are all agreed that we have to change our basic viewpoints and attitudes if we are to become progressive and dynamic; at the same time we fear the dynamics of change, we dislike the risks and uncertainties that the modern industrial nations have accepted as a way of life. We cling to the static society, where today is just like yesterday and tomorrow will be just like today. And we are so fearful and so furious today because that society has exploded from under our feet; we are up in the air; and nothing will ever be fixed again: not prices, not morals, nor ideas, nor creeds.

    That’s the revolution we’re undergoing at the moment.


    You don’t find much psychotherapy in the Philippines. Seeing a shrink is an admission of emotional weakness, a no-no in a society that prizes power. After all, that’s what shame is, isn’t it? The opposite of power? The undermining of esteem. So if we view “face” as a self-defense mechanism against shame, we are basically looking at opposite ends of the power spectrum, where power is ego-gratification.

    The bare-faced reason for all of this are the dynamics of power dating back to the days of King Felipe’s principalia and perpetuated in different ways until today.

  3. @bart reyes: correct. “symied by those who govern with self interests.” ever since most datus accepted King Philipp’s rule, it has been similar. Yes, there was the but they all were exiled, mostly to Mexico. The other usual place of exile was, called Fernando Pó during Spanish times (nothing to do with the actor and candidate) off the West coast of Africa.

    “SAMBAYANAN bago SARILI.” The Spanish applied the old Latin adage “divide et impera” – divide and rule. The datus transformed into the principalia. Some of the principalia became ilustrados. Principalia and ilustrados became politicians when the Americans came. The mentality of many was “BULSA BAGO SAMBAYANAN” (Felipe Buencamino in the Heneral Luna movie) or “GRUPO BAGO SAMBAYANAN” (Mascardo or the Kawit Brigade versus Heneral Luna who was one of the few who cared, Mabini also).

    There was a Filipino from the common classes (I don’t use the word masa anymore, it is the modern equivalent of Indio if you ask me, looking down on one group) who once told me that the Filipino state or nation is just the government and the ruling classes (makapangyarihan) for him. That is why for most Grace Poe supporters, it is irrelevant whether she turned her back on the state or nation, because they don’t see that state or nation as truly theirs anyway – it belongs to the entitled.

    @Karl: sovereignty in theory is nice, national defense is good, but if politicians are willing to sell out for example to China – others sold out to the USA like Buencamino in the early 20th century, others collaborated with Japan some very willingly like Ricarte “El Vibora” others to keep the nation alive others to survive – then it is a sovereignty that is theoretical, and for most common Filipinos things would not change much, just like from 1898-1902, OK later things changed a lot.

    There are two major rifts that make the nation unstable: the rift between the advantaged and the disadvantaged, and the rift among the factions of the advantaged. Plus of course that the different groups care about themselves first, somehow logical because the state/government/elite that thinks it already is a complete nation does not care about them for the most part. Of course there is a growing awareness – OFW/migrant experience shows how much we have in common, Internet, common issues experienced.

  4. the accident continues while a slow maturing age of learning to right the wrongs of the community is happening. first world doesnt happen in a day. unifying a diverse set of islands peoples of different faiths and backgrounds ~ grts symied by those who govern with self interests.SAMBAYANAN bago SARILI.

  5. @Manong sonny: the island-state question is a very good question. The answer is that there are many ways to complete things, and all the discussions on Federalism go in that direction but miss the point. The language discussions are also significant, because the key to resolve fragmentation is real communication which is only partly taking place in the Philippines. Third factor is the culture of leadership, which in successful postcolonial states comes from older state traditions.

    @Karl: just two examples: Indonesia and Malaysia had already formed more stable states by the time they were colonized. So the modern states could build on traditions like those of the original states that became Federal Malaysia, or the Javanese monarchy – the Javanese aristocracy mostly formed the elite that built Indonesia.

    The arc to Manong Sonny’s question here is that both Malaysia and Indonesia still had Bahasa, which was the lingua franca of the entire Malay triangle even the Philippines, but of course the Philippines was cut off from that. To some extent the Tagalog language which does in its true sophistication have traces of what used to be a kingdom formed the core of Bonifacio’s revolution… Aguinaldo used more Spanish… Quezon tried to impose Tagalog on everybody but even now only half understand it.

    The Latin American states all had one thing in common which made internal communication and consolidation easier – Spanish language, each of the states have their own respective Spanish dialect with native loanwords. They had similar issues, but for the most part a larger Spanish migrant population or almost everybody was mestizo like in Mexico. Cuba was difficult and needed a revolution to consolidate because of the slavery (sugarcane and tobacco) and racial issues.

    The former USSR nations all had their respective old common traditions and most speak Turkic languages which are about as close to one another as Tagalog, Bikol, Bisaya. Former Ottoman colonies like Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary all had old states to build a new tradition on, even if everything changed completely because of colonization. OK Romania was a bit accidental, a unification of three areas, which is why the biggest square in Bucharest is Piata Unirii. They also had 300+ years of colonization which is VERY long, like the Philippines.

    • By King Philip’s decree, Spanish was to be the lingua franca of the empire, including the Philippines. Alas the implementation fell short especially in the Philippines. I strongly suspect the numbers of Spanish would-be teachers were prohibitive. Gold or other material goods would have been a strong pull factor as in the Americas. Instead only the pull for conversion of souls could motivate for a long stay in the oppressive heat, being virtually cut off from Spain and other conditions of the tropics.

    • Sonny whatever the Kings decree,most of the Spanish who came to the Philippines were missionaries who’s main langauge was Latin ( the liturgical language ) with the main goal of saving souls. I have read that the missionaries in order to ‘save souls’ learned the local language of the Filipino peoples..But did not teach Spanish… except to the Spanish colonial officials…

      And Spanish was replaced by English with the American conquest..So go back to ‘start’ for everybody.And the wealthy have the advantage again.

      Latin was abolished in the liturgy in 1960′ after Vatican 2 So even that was lost as a unifying thread..

    • Bill, regarding Latin as a lingua franca for Christendom: was on steady decline since medieval times.

      “When Newton published the first edition of Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy) in 1687, the books were available only in Latin. In 1704, Newton’s Opticks was published in English. In such a short time, English had overtaken Latin such that Newton began his publishing career in Latin and ended it in English.

      By the late nineteenth century, Latin was used only by a few branches of science and even then only to coincide with the tradition of scientific nomenclature (e.g. anatomy). For traditional reasons also, the Roman Catholic Church continued to celebrate mass in Latin even though the congregation was largely unable to understand the language. By this time, it seemed that Latin had finally expired as a useful language to learn for communication purposes.”

      Jesuit high schools had stopped teaching Latin by 1955. Only ecclesiastical Latin was used for theological studies and formal doctrinal declarations. Catechists and missionaries used the vernacular since Spanish times. At the minimum major regions used regional vernacular to learn religion. Ratio of 1 missionary to 4000 natives made Spanish prohibitive as medium of communication, i.e. missionaries learned the regional vernacular.

  6. Are we bucking the evolution into island-states like ancient Greece? We could try defining ourselves by language and population and see how our resonances resolve themselves. Which is Sparta? Athens? Ithaca? Just pagmu-muni-muni …


      “The advocates of federalism, whoever they may be, must create an environment that is conducive to the integration of the polity rather than its fragmentation. Indeed, they must oversee a process that facilitates the circumspect and level-headed discussion and debate on federalism among all sectors of the community.

      “Because federalism is not just a political framework, it is also a frame of mind.”


      Since the enactment of the local government code of 1991, LGUs nationwide have been part of an experiment in devolving authority to the local level. In general, this experiment has been a success. Greater responsiveness to local development needs resulting from local autonomy has been borne out by study after study. The central question here is how to resolve some of the gaps of the current system, which involve a lack of revenue raising capacity by poorer jurisdictions, and how to improve local governance overall.

      Three candidates have offered three alternative solutions. With the growth of our urban centers, there is a need to address many complex problems facing the nation at the local level. Those problems are not going away. Which of these options would provide the best avenue for doing that? One seeks to provide a local development fund, apportioned on a strict per capita basis. Another seeks to provide fiscal transfers from richer jurisdictions to poorer ones to fund projects but also for general expenses. A third seeks to constitute LGUs into federal states with greater fiscal autonomy.

  7. I thought I was the one confused here.
    Post colionization only happened in the late 19th century to the mid 20th century.
    That happened worldwide,not only in the Philippines.

    Fall of communism led to more nations
    Some former USSR nations are now back as they were.

    Why are ae an a accidental nation?
    Are we that in a rush? Rome was not built in a day.

    • Neph, The appearance of many nation-states-to-be during this time, as you point out, also begs the question quo vadis? Individual aspiring nation-states are each unique as to what kind of people/governance they must evolve to. PH has now a clearer history to show us the way. Of course, not before we inform/educate ourselves of that history is and have EVERY Filipino on the same page. Only then can we validly say whether we a federal or unitary republic or parliamentary system of governance or whatever else is suited for us as one nation-state. Irineo’s blog has more than once touched on these points, viz our history series.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *