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Independence Day 2023 Series: National Identity and Modern Nationalism, Part 3


Looking back at the fractured history of the Philippines since the landing of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, one question comes to mind. Why was the bravery, quest for national identify, nationalism, and patriotism of the Filipino revolutionaries during the Spanish occupation did not transfer to the present crops of Filipino leaders? And if it did, why they went to the “wrong” crowd (rebels)?

From the time General Emilio Aguinaldo and company frontally confronted the Americans in the battlefield in 1899, only the HUKBALAHAP (or Huks) carried the fight against the invaders (Japan, then the United States) who trampled Philippine shores. “Independence or death!” was General Antonio Luna’s battle cry against the Americans, but his bravery has been long forgotten because he had the ignominious fate like Andres Bonifacio who was felled by a Filipino assassin’s machete (bolo) loyal to Gen. Aguinaldo.

The answer to the profound questions posed earlier lies in the strategy that the Americans employed to effect wholesale behavior modification for Filipinos beginning with the arrival of the Thomasites in 1904. It was a human experiment that robbed Filipinos of their true identity by transforming them methodically into the image of Uncle Sam.

Through progressive intervention, Filipinos were introduced to American history at the expense of their own. Language (English rather Filipino) became part of the strategy to affect the desired changes the Americans wanted to accomplish. This overarching strategy included interventions in other areas like defense, that because the government was militarily ill-equipped after both wars it was involved in, Filipinos needed America’s protection from external security threats.

In 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act allowed the United States to basically do what they want to do with the Philippines “with the consent of the Filipino people” courtesy of then President Manuel Roxas who became America’s surrogate president. The Military Bases Agreement that Roxas pushed for was passed in Congress in 1947 for a 99-year lease on a number of Philippine military and naval bases. Former President Ferdinand Marcos Sr., had it shortened to 50 years up to 1991.

This is a confounding condition that many Filipinos will perhaps not understand because of what we have become - Westernized. Perhaps an example will do. Supposing a two-month-old daughter of a White American couple was kidnapped by Muslims and raised as a Muslim, brainwashed that the girl grew up to be a Jihadist with lots of anti-American bent. How would the American couple take it, much less the American public? Mad as hell, I’ll say.

For Filipinos, however, it is one of gratitude towards the Americans. There was clearly a shift of the Filipino mind from Spanish to American influence. From a few months old democracy, Philippines was taken over by the Americans and slowly transformed into what it is now – a culture, mind and body subservient to the former master.

The remnants of colonialism, colonial mentality if one will call it that, is so pervasive that the ideals that Bonifacio and Gen. Luna espoused had become anathema to American (or Filipino) thinking as personified by how Filipinos view today’s insurgencies. So, how can we explain this other than that to say that the Philippine project was a very successful experiment? Recent surveys of Filipino’s perception of China and the United States indicates that majority of Filipinos will prefer the latter, including accommodating what the Americans want to reinforce such belief.

Let’s pause for a minute and listen to a couple of 17th century thinkers – Rene Descartes and John Locke, explain the nuances of epistemology – of consciousness and knowledge transfer. French philosopher Rene Descartes proposed that because we think, is evidence of the presence of mind distinct from the body. This notion came to be known as the Cartesian Theory of man’s dualism. Consciousness, according to Descartes, is irrefutable because it is observed from within and not from what you actually see.

The problem with this is that do we believe what we actually see or what we think it is we are seeing. That even if what is in front of us is illusory (American benevolence assimilation, for example), our hatred towards 300 years of subjugation from the Spaniards can color our thinking, that our mind tells us that President William McKinley’s “benevolent assimilation” is acceptable and that America’s promise of independence, armed forces modernization no matter how delayed or protracted (illusory) was the real deal – the perceived reality.

British philosopher John Locke disagreed with the Cartesian concept of mind and body dualism. Locke introduced us to the concept of personal identity and survival of consciousness after death. Locke believed that consciousness can be transferred from one soul to another, and that personal identity goes with consciousness. This is heavy stuff because it goes against what St. Augustine preached that man is originally sinful, and Descartes’ position that man knows basic logical propositions.

Locke believes that everyone is born with an empty mind and with time, is shaped by experience, sensations and reflections. Therefore, consciousness is related to personal identity but not in the brain, as Descartes and Augustine argued about life, death and immortality. Brain can change but consciousness (or memory) remains the same. In essence, what Locke was saying was that in the Last Judgement, in order for a person to exist after death, that there has to be a person after death who is the same person as the person who died.

Perhaps an example would illuminate. When a person dies, the body rots, and the soul loses its substance (departs), but consciousness (or memory of who that person was) remains intact. When a person loses consciousness as in insanity, dementia or utter forgetfulness, the soul (or thinking substance) and body remains the same but is a different person. The body and mind might have committed the crime, but it was not the same person who did it – the insane one did it.

Ergo, Locke posited that neither the soul or thinking substance is necessary or adequate for personal identity overtime. Personal identity for him is psychological continuity. We are all familiar with the rock group Journey (that Arnel Pineda is now part of). When we hear the songs, we associate them with the group’s identity – “Journey,” although they are no longer the same original rock. The band’s identity transferred to other minds (generation) despite the fact that bandmembers have physically changed.

So, what has this got to do with national identity and nationalism? What Locke was saying was that the memory of our revolutionaries should have transferred in substance to the next generation. In other words, Filipinos should have continued to resist the Americans despite their superiority in many things. What Locke and others failed to take into account, however, was a guy named Julius Caesar who would later come along and employ what is now popularly used by governments and entities with sinister agenda, albeit imperial in nature, to lead people or a group – “divide and conquer.” (To be continued)

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